Mochas Among the Greenery

Wendy and Colorful Trees

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”  Now, while I agree wholeheartedly with Cicero here, I feel he may have omitted a few other necessities in life – such as one’s morning cup of coffee.  I function much better after I’ve had two cups of that delicious brew.  It awakens my senses as part of my daily ritual for facing the world.   Coffee can be highly useful and beneficial in a variety of manners.  One of the many ways I use coffee is to reuse it’s byproduct – coffee grounds.  I have a small garden on my balcony at home, and I have found used coffee grounds are excellent as plant food, due to its high levels of potassium, nitrogen, and other trace minerals – all of which are important for healthy plant growth.  But is there such a place where coffee and plants come together in a beautiful, harmonious environment?  Yes, there is.

Grubb Nursery 01

Located in the Bayview area of San Francisco, there lies a hidden garden of wondrous delights known as Flora Grubb Gardens.  Established by landscape designer Flora Grubb (yes, that is her real name) and French chef Saul Nadler in 2003, this charming array of plants and plant accoutrement is a feast for the senses.   There is also a fountain within the garden, in the form of Ritual Coffee Roasters,  a coffee distributor that has one of its stores inside. Established in 2005 and launching a coffee revolution, Ritual’s main goal is “to craft the very best cup of coffee available anywhere.  Period.”   One may get tea or coffee, and wander about the luscious grounds, admiring the elegant plants and handiwork of clever artisans.  I ordered a mocha from the friendly and attentive barista.  It was that flawless cup of perfection true coffee connoisseurs seek.  I sipped my beverage and began my journey among the greenery.

Vertical Garden on Metal Wall

One of my current obsessions is vertical gardens.  They provide a beautiful, living wall of art, and introduce the wood element to an environment in a chic and unexpected way.  Pictured above is a grouping of six vertical panels of rich succulents.   Each panel measures 20″ by 20″ and is available for purchase at Flora Grubb, or at their online store (plants not included).  I’d love to try my hand at creating a vertical herb garden perhaps using one of these boxes.  More information about the D.I.Y. vertical garden panel is available here:  http://shop.floragrubb.com/vertical-succulent-garden-d-i-y-panel/  Flora Grubb also offers a great tutorial on making you own vertical garden:  http://floragrubb.com/florasblog/?p=894

Grubb Furniture 03

Since Christmas, I’ve been debating what to do with my leftover string  lights.  I’m thinking of draping them along some kind of metalwork, like the beautiful filigree pieces above,  Using reclaimed scraps from a variety of sources, they make great conversation pieces, and work well indoors or out.  Although more intended for vines and foliage, I think string lights would adorn them quite nicely.  Classy and colorful Fermob garden furniture can be seen throughout.  The neon green-yellow chair on the right is part of their Luxembourg Collection, while the other pieces are all part of their Bistro Collection, which is based on the original French design patented in 1889.   I’ve been thinking about acquiring some of those folding chairs, too.  I really like the blue one in the bottom left.   More information about their Bistro furniture can be found here:  http://floragrubb.com/florasblog/?p=2450

Buick Planter

Broken items or things in disrepair often attract sha, negative energy, into an environment.  Is it always important to either fix the damaged item, or re-purpose it in a new and fashionable way.  This classic car, a functional beauty in its heyday, has been reincarnated as a planter.  It’s almost apocalyptic in how the plants, a wood element, have taken over this very metal automobile.  It works brilliantly in this space because you have the other three elements working together in harmony alongside the wood and metal (the sunlight and red wall representing fire, the earth below, and the water sustaining the plants).  I like how they use every available area in the car to house a plant.  There are even trees growing through it!  A miraculous and thought-provoking piece of living art.

Comfy Concrete Chaises.  Photo courtesy of Flora Grubb Gardens.

Comfy Concrete Chaises.  Photo courtesy of Flora Grubb Gardens.

These concrete chaises were deceptively comfortable.  I sat here for a while with my mocha and didn’t want to get up.   Many people have mixed opinions about this pair of cement seating, but I like it.  However, I imagine they would be difficult to move around the property.

Justina, Plant and Coffee

Pictured above is my friend Justina with her coffee and a new addition to her plant family.  It’s a crassula of some kind, but I cannot tell you which one.  It’s cute, though.

Grubb Nursery O2

Gardening is one of those activities that is life-affirming and nourishing at the same time.  From a feng shui perspective, it is one of the few actions that incorporates the physical touch of all five of the elements:

  • Wood – The plants themselves
  • Fire – The sunlight for the plants to grow
  • Earth – The soil in which it grows
  • Metal – Gardening tools and implements
  • Water – Also needed for plants to grow

Yin and yang theory also plays a part here.  Many people use gardening as a stress reducer from their hectic, technological yang-filled lives.  Gardening can be a relaxing yin activity, which helps to replenish and balance out stress levels, bringing one back to nature and away from a highly mechanical world.  In addition to being a creative outlet, gardening is also good exercise for people of every age, from young children to retirees.  Not to mention one can grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Most home-grown veggies taste far better than the store bought varieties.   There is also aromatherapy of sorts working outdoors provides – the various scents of the soil, plants, flowers and air can literally invigorate the soul through olfactory means.  (The smell of fresh-cut grass is a proven aphrodisiac.)

Grubb Plants

The scenery and items at Flora Grubb Gardens are constantly changing and evolving, with new wares coming in almost every day.   I plan on returning here on my next business trip to San Francisco, to see what is currently being offered.  And to have more Ritual Coffee.  (Used coffee grounds also act as a bug repellent, for insects that meander through the soil, such as ants and slugs.  It’s not toxic to them, but will definitely keep them away.)  Come of think of it, I may not be able to wait that long for Ritual’s fine roasts – thankfully, one can order all of their coffee right here:    http://www.ritualroasters.com/store/  I believe is was Thomas Jefferson who said, “Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world.”

Flora Grubb Gardens

1634 Jerrold Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94124

415 626-7259

Hours:  Monday – Saturday  9:00 am – 5:00 pm,  Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

http://www.floragrubb.com/idx/index.php

Ritual Coffee Roasters (located inside Flora Grubb)

415 694-6448

Hours:  Monday – Thursday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, Friday – Saturday  9:00 am – 4:30 pm,  Sunday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm

http://www.ritualroasters.com/

Raphael: An Artist Studio

The color yellow in feng shui is an alluring example of the earth element, introducing a vibrant cheerfulness to any environment.  Some color researchers feel that this shade can  strengthen one’s immune system, confidence, and well-being.     For feng shui guidelines, it is best used in living rooms, kitchens, dining areas, and entry halls.   Yellow can work for other areas, too, but it depends on which pigment is selected for which location.  A primary yellow, for instance, would be much too yang in its energies for a bedroom; the occupant would have trouble sleeping and could become agitated.  But a pale yellow would work well for rest and rejuvenation.  Yellow can also bring a glowing fire element into a space, depending on the hue.  The luminosity of the various yellows in the painting above adds depth and sensuality to the piece without the effort of  reds or purples.   It also brings a brightness to the restaurant hallway in which it resides.   Be it citrine, amber, or goldenrod, the color yellow makes a valuable  impact to one’s surroundings.

Nestled amidst the bustle of Ventura Boulevard lies an artistic oasis of the cultivated kind known as Raphael.   I came here the other day with my friend Hanh, and was highly impressed.  All of the elements here are beautifully displayed, and the use of color is that of a painter’s palette.   The main dining area of the restaurant is tastefully decorated.  Intriguing art, comfortable seating, and unique light fixtures are some of the striking features here.  One of my favorites was the lavish yellow wall panels.  These golden room dividers help to add a sense of warmth and luxury to the dining experience.   Another item that captivated my attention was a handmade glass light fixture.  With its fiery tints and triangular shapes,  it can act as one’s own personal sun if they sit at this specific table (pictured above).

The outside of Raphael is a stoic stone edifice that masks the style and grandeur that awaits inside – until you see the succulents.  A massive wall of living plants encloses the outdoor terrace dining, adding a rich and lively wood element to the earthen structure.

In contrast to the robust yellows of the dining area, the lounge is hued in shades of blue and green, with wood-paneled walls and squared lighting.  I love the use of  rectangles and squares here, providing a stability while dining.   A medium-sized bar lies directly across.  One aspect here I did not care for – feng shui wise – was the mirrored ceiling, which can be glimpsed in the top left corner of the photo.  Reflective ceilings are considered very high energy, and will cause difficulty in one being able to rest.  However, being that this is a place of business and not a residence, I found this to be a rare exception to the rule.  But no one should hang a mirror over their bed on the ceiling – ever.  In addition to the tawdry tackiness of how it looks,  the occupant of the bed will suffer a variety of problems.  Don’t do it.

And now on to the food!  Raphael is experimenting with their Happy Hour at present, but we sampled their selection of three small plates for $12.00.  The selection of the three items changes daily upon the discretion of the artist, chef Adam Horton.  He combines various Asian cooking elements into his nouveau cuisine.  The three masterpieces above were sublime in both taste and presentation.

  • On the left we have Amberjack lounging about in a pool of delicious curry sauce, with baby carrots.  A coconut puree acted as garnish.  Incredible.
  • In the middle we have tomatoes, burrata cheese and kimchi, served warm under glass.  When I lifted the glass up, smoke billowed out.  Dinner and a show – I love it.  Tasty and tantalizing.
  • On the right we have Wagyu beef accompanied by bacon-onion jam.  The little half egg roll garnish is filled with a mellow bleu cheese.  Mouthwatering.

And below are the other things I sampled:

Savory Martini – A gin based martini with celery bitters, dry vermouth, Parmesan stuffed olives, and a solitary cocktail onion.  I love martinis – especially a Gibson – and this one combined my love for cheese into the concoction.  Also available with vodka.  Decadent and classy.

Roseberry – An ideal summer beverage!  Fresh pressed raspberries, lemon, and gin pool their talents together wonderfully.  Garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.  A prime example of yin and yang, with the savoriness of the gin and rosemary, and the sweetness of the fruit.  I love the ruby color of the drink as well.  Addictive.

Ginger Shandy – Ginger beer, vodka, Corona, and liquid ginger perform exquisitely in this lush summer cocktail.   I especially liked the use of yuzu foam across the top, giving it a nice froth.  These are dangerous – I could drink them all day.

Macaroni and Cheese – A small crock of steaming macaroni and cheese.  Comfort food at its finest.   Unlike other versions of this classic, Raphael uses jalapeno juice in the compound, adding a spicy yang element to the entrée.  Hanh and I were only going to share one order, but it was so good we couldn’t resist and enjoyed a second round.  Piping hot and satisfying.

Habanero Tincture
Photo courtesy of H. Nguyen

All of our beverages were created by our bartender, Chris Parke.  A true mixologist, Chris educated us on the ingredients on each drink, as Adam had on the food.  One interesting bit of knowledge I learned was what a tincture is.  In the world of mixology and bartending, a tincture is an essence of something to its most potent form.  Used in some of the libations at Raphael is their own homemade Habanero Tincture.  I sampled only a few drops, and it packed a powerful punch.  I quickly followed it with some water.   I can see how it would be amazing in a food or beverage, though, once it was diluted.  Hanh and Chris were much more courageous than I; they each took a whole shot of the tincture (pictured above).   It gives whole new meaning to the term fire-eater.   On my next visit, I plan on savoring some wine from their choice selection, and perhaps take in the best of all artistic creations:  Dessert.

Raphael, A Dining Experience

11616 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, CA 91604
818 505-3337

Hours:  Lunch:  Monday – Friday 11:30 – 2:00,  Dinner:  Sunday – Thursday 5:30 – 9:00,  Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 10:00,  Happy Hour:  Tuesday – Friday 5:00 – 7:00

http://raphaelonventura.com/

Note:  Closed Mondays for Dinner, and weekends for Lunch.