San Francisco | Family Style Dinner at Al's Place

Al's Place, San Francisco
Al's Place, photo source: Bon Apetit
Last Friday, we found ourselves walking down Valencia, our eyes scanning for the bright blue walls of Al's Place - the San Francisco establishment that was named "Best Restaurant of 2015" by Bon Apetit, much to the glow of SF natives. By some miracle, Sam had managed to score a reservation, and we were both looking forward to a dinner laden with flavor and fresh produce.

We were greeted by a bustling atmosphere, and friendly staff. Somehow, we scored a table off to the side of the restaurant, so we didn't have to share with another couple. Haha, does that sound antisocial of me?

While waiting to use the restroom, I was able to observe the kitchen (which is open if you like that kind of thing - like me), and watch as Chef Aaron London yelled out orders with a commanding authority and precision usually reserved for the military (I grew up in the Army, so trust me on this one). This command leads to what is clearly a very tightly run eatery while maintaining a fresh and new vibe that makes the dining experience feel fun and

Before going to Al's, we had made the decision to order their tasting menu, an option they call Family Style. If you like trying lots of dishes, but hate having to order off the menu (because decisions are hard!), then this is a great option. Plus, the value was great - lots of bang for buck, to be sure!

An array of items from the Snackles section: olives, almonds, fries with applesauce, and something that tasted like a zucchini with avocado and greens that I couldn't quite find on the menu (let me know if you know!)
To start, they brought us four of their Snackles (I kept wondering if they misspelled "snackies"?): spice coated Vadouvan Almonds, olives, the fries with smoked apple sauce, and something else that I honestly can't remember (but I promise, it was tasty). Of these four, my favorite was definitely the fries, which were fresher than the In n' Out/McDonalds variety fries I'm usually a fan of, and the apple sauce dip was genius.

Baby lettuces with an avocado based sauce, decorated with even more veggies and flowers
Then we started with the mains, all of which are produce based at Al's Place - meats are relegated to the Sides portion of the menu, which agrees well with every Michael Pollan book I've ever read. First up was their Baby Lettuces, which our waiter informed us is "actually pretty fun to mix around and eat with your hands." The herbed avocado had a nice hint of citrus to it, and the lettuce was... you guessed it, super fresh.

Lightly cured trout with crisped potatoes, greens, cucumbers and tomatoes
Next out was their cured trout with crisped potatoes and brightly arrayed tomatoes and cukes. It took us a while to realize the trout was indeed trout and not slices of tomato - that's how bright the color was! I think this was my favorite dish of the night, but not a huge surprise given I'm an Alaskan at heart, and we love our fish up North.

Green bean casserole, burrata and tomatoes
Third was the green bean casserole with burrata, followed by their grits (which were everything a good grit should be - warm, savory, and smooth). And a campanelle with a tomato sauce spiked with... fish sauce? I'm not sure of the exact ingredient, but that's what it smelled like, so I made a note to self to try it out later.

The final course was a brownie dessert, which was a total God-send, since I'd been craving chocolate all day. It was warm, all for sides of the square were crispy edges, and the center was filled with a caramel-like sauce with peanuts. Oh, and it was topped with peanut butter ice cream... Sam let me eat more than half of it. That's love, folks.

Anyway, our server left us with a note card for feedback. We both agreed and wrote: "One of the best meals we've had since moving here!" and then rode off into the sunset in our Uber Pool chariot with a couple of kinda drunk strangers (because it's SF, and that's what we do here).

If anyone has any good recommendations for what we should eat next, please let me know! I want to maximize my two years here.


San Francisco | The Conservatory of Flowers

Our friend, Ernest, was in town this weekend, so we took him to San Tung for some of their legendary wings, and followed that up by a walk in Golden Gate Park. We had free tickets to the Japanese Tea Garden, and to the Conservatory of Flowers through the SF Library's "Discover and Go" program (totally worth it if you live in the area... because free is always worth it). Since the conservatory had slightly higher Yelp reviews (a whole half star!), we decided to go there, and hit the tea garden another day.

It was a nice little outing - although I don't think I would pay full price to go there. There were five different rooms of plants and flowers. One of the rooms was full of cacti and succulents, which made the hipster in me jump for joy.

We read all the signs (because that's what adults do, right?), hammed it up for photos, and had a dose of plants to last us a lifetime.

Then we went to eat burritos and tacos at El Farolito. Mostly because the wings at San Tung weren't quite enough to give us heart attacks, and we thought burritos would seal the deal.

San Tung, flowers, burritos... it was a good weekend, friends. Hope everyone had a fun weekend of adventuring!


A Long Overdue Update on Post-grad Life

It’s been a while since I last wrote a post, and a lot has changed in that time. In case we haven’t been in touch (although, if you read this blog, we probably have been… because you are most likely my mom), here’s a quick run-down of what I’ve been up to. Photos are kind of varied in quality and haphazardly arranged, please forgive me. It's late, and I want to sleep.


IN MAY, I went on an awesome trip with my college fellowship (tbh I don't remember where we went, but it was fun and woodsy... see above photo... I'm lurking in the very back).

Then, my alma mater decided to cast me out into the real world, with nothing but the clothes on my back and my biology degree. It was a bittersweet time of celebration (sort of because I graduated, but mostly because I made eye contact with Lin Manuel Miranda before the ceremony), and goodbyes. The goodbyes were the toughest part.

Leaving behind friends, and lab-mates in at Penn was harder than I anticipated; but also made me realize how blessed I had been to have those people in my life for the past four years. (But for real, where will I ever find a group this big to eat dim sum with now???)

Afterward, we took a family trip to DC, and spent some time back home in Alaska. It was good to spend time with everyone there.


IN JUNE, I moved to start working in San Francisco! It was a big month for me, to say the least. Highlights of the month? Definitely (1) exiting a chapter of long-distance with the SF bae, (2) moving closer to all of my family living in NorCal, and (3) a visit from my cousin.

June was also the month I entered the trials and tribulations of finding an apartment in San Francisco. Guys, I won’t lie - it was tough, and a total wakeup call that I was no longer a college student. I spent hours on Craigslist, staring at poorly lit iPhone photos of various apartments in my group’s price range AND weren’t completely sketchy (and let me tell you there weren’t many). I learned a lot through the process though, and will post about it later on. In the end all the work was worth it because…


IN JULY, I found and signed the lease on my very first (real) apartment! My parents came at the end of July to help me and my roommates get settled in. I really can’t thank them enough… They pretty much single-handedly turned our apartment into a home. It would have taken me a month to do what they did in a week.

While they were here, we also snuck over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where I relived the magic of Finding Dory. But actually… I really did. I got separated by my parents at one point, only to eventually find them waiting at the Open Ocean exhibit. For ten minutes, I lived Dory’s life. Except, my parents didn’t build an elaborate trail of shells to find me, and weren’t worried about me in the slightest (but those are mere details). Meanwhile, my dad found Nemo and Dory in one shot.


Now it’s August, and I’m not sure what life will bring. I think I’m finally settled in. I have a church to call home, and a general routine that feels comfortable. A big surprise for me has been the amount of free time I have, now that I’m “just” working and not stuck in the crazy work-sleep-repeat cycle that defined my time at Penn. Maybe that will mean getting back into a blogging rhythm that I haven’t had since high school. (Given my track record with blogging the past four years, probably not.)

Goodnight, friends. My roommate and I did spin class today, and I nearly died, so I think I deserve some sleep.


Hello 2016

Ching is ready to go back to Penn.
Somehow 2015 came and went, and here we are in 2016. 2015 was a big year in many ways. It was my best academic year at Penn yet (though I had a rocky start), it was the year I decided to pursue dentistry, it was a year for relationships, it was a year of unexpected circumstances, and the year of Star Wars VII (I had to include that one). Overall, 2015 grew me into a better version of me, and now I'm ready to head into a new year. 

This year has all the makings of being an even bigger year than 2015. Why?

It will be the year I get my first "real job." 

It will be the year I start moving forward with my life in big ways.

It will be the year I relocate on my own for the second time in my 21 year tenure on this planet.

It will be the year I start paying my own rent.

It will be the year I try to figure out what it means to be a healthy, balanced person who isn't obsessed with school (hopefully). 

In short, this is the year I become something akin to an adult. Note, I said akin to an adult. No promises, but I'll try my best. 

Anyway, my bags are packed, and I'm ready to start my last semester at Penn. What a four years it's been! I've enjoyed my time, but I think it's time to go soon. I'm excited for what lies ahead, and hopefully will chronicle some of that here. Thinking of also writing a few how-to posts in the future. Nothing very exciting, just tips on studying for science courses and the like. I realized when I was giving my younger sister advice that I've actually learned a good deal about what it means to study well for science. May as well spread that love. 

Time to start working on Abbey's blog design, over at Surviving Our Blessings. It's so nice seeing how much her blog has grown since I first worked on her blog. She's great and you (dear reader) should go check it out! 
© Lauren In Vivo 1
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