Sunday, March 07, 2010

California Academy of Sciences

We visited the California Academy of Sciences this weekend. Of course the museum parking lot was already full 20 minutes after the museum opened. This just affirmed how much I hate parking in SF. We decided to look for parking and eat at our favorite place in that area, San Tung. If you go there, be sure to get the Dry Fried Chicken Wings. I had to get 2 orders this time (they are just that good!). I dropped my wife off to put us on the wait list and start ordering food. Needless to say, she was already half way through the meal before I could park and join her. After that and a short walk, we finally got into the museum.

The museum itself doesn't look so impressive on the outside. On the inside   its a whole other story including a 3 story rain forest biosphere, multiple aquariums, and a green roof (a roof covered in plants). The rain forest is full of butterflies, birds, and plants. The butterflies were a great test for my Canon 70-200 f4L ISM lens. The top of the biosphere, the canopy, provides the most opportunities for great shots as there are plentiful flowers for the butterflies to feed from.
To the left you can see a great shot of the owl butterfly. You can clearly see the eye of an owl in that wing. Some think the eye resembles the predator of the butterfly's predator.

I was lucky to have so much sunlight today because even with an image stabilizing lens you still need a pretty fast shutter speed to shoot at 200mm. I'm sure on a cloudy day, these shots would have been blurry or full of noise.

The bottom of the biosphere is a huge salt water aquarium. At 2:30pm a diver goes in and talks to everyone about the fish there. Afterwards they throw food in so you can see the fish swarm. There are a lot of other underwater exhibits, but the darkness makes it hard to take any photos there.

Of all the amazing exhibits in the museum, my daughter's favorite was the little kids corner which only had some cheap toys and puzzles. To leave, we had to pull her out of there kicking and screaming. Oh well, I guess you have to be a bit older to appreciate a rain forest in an urban city.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mustard's Grill

After noticing a gradual decline in the quality of the food at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) we decided to try a new restaurant when showing my cousin around Napa. We ended up choosing Mustards Grill for its kid friendliness and recommendations from Chowhound and Napa Valley locals.

Whenever I go to a new place, I try to ask the waiter/waitress what's popular. If you ask them what's best, sometimes they just say what's most expensive. We ended up ordering two of the most popular dishes, the Famous Mongolian Pork Chop and the Grilled Hanger Steak. We also ordered the Grilled Squab and the Fish of the day, which was Black Cod.

We found the food to be fairly good. The pork chops had a sweet glaze, which was deliciously sweet and tender, but some people may find it too sweet. The hanger steak was very tender and juicy, but I did not care too much for the watercress sauce that was on the side. The squab was also quite tasty. The only disappointment for me was the fish, which I actually mistook for chicken when I first tasted it. Overall, I think the food is seasoned a little on the heavy side which tends to mute the flavors of the ingredients instead of enhancing it. I think most Americans actually prefer stronger seasoning in general so you may find the level to be perfect. Also the portions are a wee bit on the small side so you may want to order appetizers if you're pretty hungry.

The service was good, which is average for the restaurants in Napa. We were seated promptly and the waitress was courteous and answered all our questions about the menu and helped us pair a wine with our food. The place is very accommodating to kids, but despite their welcomeness, I would still feel awkward bringing a misbehaving child to any place with white tablecloths such as this.
Value-wise, the food is moderately priced for what you get. For the area, it's probably even on the less expensive side with their most expensive dish being around $27.

I would definitely go there again and probably ask to reduce the seasoning just a tad and maybe start with a few appetizers. By itself, it may not be worth the 1hr drive, but if you're headed out there anyhow, its definitely worth stopping by.

Mustards Grill Photo taken from flickr.