Friday, December 30, 2005

Living on Leftovers

This year, Jon and I spent part of the holiday season on separate coasts; after celebrating on Christmas Eve with my family, he immediately hopped on a red-eye flight bound for Hilton Head Island, SC. In his absence, I was left to forage for food all by myself. You see, between the two of us, Jon is really the chef -- the one who gets some satisfaction out of cooking and baking. Me, not so much.

Luckily, this past week, I have been blessed with lots of leftovers. One of my favorites was the Roast Prime Rib of Beef with Horseradish Crust that my brother-in-law made for Christmas Eve dinner. In case any of you out there enjoy spending time in the kitchen, here's the recipe.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Three Seasons, Palo Alto

Last night marked my third visit to Three Seasons' Palo Alto location (the other two are in San Francisco and Walnut Creek). Jon was out of town, so it was just me, my sister and her husband. But don't worry -- we still ordered enough food to feed at least four.

Broken up into a number of categories -- spring rolls, satay, soups and salads, small plates, large plates, noodles and sides -- the menu is surprisingly extensive. Here are my favorites in each:

  • Spring rolls: I like to go traditional here and order the version filled with pork and shrimp. Although dipping the rolls in just the peanut sauce is a perfectly delicious way to eat them, I add a little of the chili sauce as well (a.k.a. "The Rooster Sauce").
  • Satay: It's a close race between the teriyaki beef and the Malaysian lamb, but the latter wins out (even though I would like the accompanying curry sauce to be thicker).
  • Soups and salads: The tropical fruit salad features chunks of pineapple, mango, papaya and cucumber. Dried cranberries, glazed walnuts and a spicy dressing are also tossed into the mix. There's a nice contrast of ingredients (soft, crunchy, sweet, spicy).
  • Small plates: Three Seasons' happy buns are a twist on the more often-seen steamed pork buns. Instead of pork, you get Peking duck. And I love the hoisin chili sauce that comes with it.
  • Large plates: The Chilean sea bass is brought to the table in a small, jade-colored porcelain bowl (points for presentation). The steamed, silky white meat is swimming in a savory broth that is flavored with ginger, shitake mushrooms, fried shallots and white lily buds. Being the noodle-whore that I am, I also like the cellophane noodles in this dish.
  • Noodles: This category is limited to only two contenders. My vote goes to the tiger prawns and garlic noodles, although I opt for no parmesan on top. (Parmesan? In Vietnamese food? I don't think so.)
  • Sides: The blue lake green beans manage to be crispy and juicy. Sauteed with shitake mushrooms and shallots, they are some of the best I've had.

My sister has been raving about Three Seasons' banana-chocolate spring rolls for months, but during my previous meals here, I had skipped dessert. Since the third time is indeed a charm, I was finally able to sample the spring rolls last night. And, yes, they lived up to all of the hype. Four crispy rolls filled with bananas and chocolate, drizzled with caramel, are served up with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. If you like bananas, you're in luck: The fried banana is another excellent dessert choice. I also ordered a glass of the Inniskillin Cabernet Franc (an ice wine made with red grapes). Delicious.

During each of my dining experiences here, the service has been great. The place can get a little loud when it's busy (which is often), but that just adds to the energy. It's nice to know that this stretch of University Avenue can handle two wonderful, contemporary Vietnamese eateries -- Three Seasons and the previously reviewed Tamarine.

Three Seasons
518 Bryant Street
Palo Alto, Ca
(650) 838-0353

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Friday's Not So Alive

So it looks like developers will be able to move forward with their plan to tear down the old Bay Meadows racetrack and replace it with homes, offices and retail space.

This means the end of Friday's Alive. The end of $1 admission, $1 hot dogs, $1 beers, $1 sodas, $1 racing programs ... PLUS free live music. (The racetrack offers plenty of other dining options, too, but they'll set you back more than a buck.)

The good news is that Bay Meadows will still be open in 2006, so there's at least one more season of Friday's Alive. The event returns on February 3, with Super Diamond rocking it.

SF Soup Company, East Palo Alto

Yes, I know it's called the SAN FRANCISCO Soup Company -- and it is one of the things I do miss about working in the City -- but Peninsula-ites can rejoice because there is an outpost in East Palo Alto.

Sadly for me, the hours (Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm) conflict with my work schedule. BUT, a limited selection of the Soup Co.'s products are also carried at Andronico's in the Stanford Shopping Center. So I can still get my tomato bisque to heat up at home.

If you're lucky enough to make it into the actual EPA store, have a bowl of Mexican chicken tortilla for me. Garnished with cheese and blue tortilla chips, it is SO GOOD! Perfect when the weather is cold and rainy, as it has been for the past 20 days.

Pssst: Sign up for the free emails to find out what the daily specials are, and you could also win free soup!

San Francisco Soup Company
1950 University Avenue
East Palo Alto, CA
(650) 322-7687

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tamarine, Palo Alto

Once upon a time, the Slanted Door was my destination when I wanted wonderful Vietnamese food in a sleek and sophisticated setting. But in recent years, I -- and other Peninsula foodies -- have been able to get all of the above without driving 30+ miles up Highway 280.

In late 2002, Anne Le (no relation to me) and Tammy Huynh opened Tamarine. The restaurant's elegant decor -- woven floors at the entrance, a slate bar, white linen tablecloths, upholstered chairs, dark-wood paneling -- is a perfect match for their creative and contemporary cuisine.

Diners here come in all makes and models, including couples, large groups of friends (there is a private dining room), families and business associates. I've gone here on Date Night with my husband. This is where we brought the in-laws when they were in town. My sister and I have lunched at Tamarine on numerous occasions. And of course, I've forced San Francisco friends to dine here just so they can understand why we no longer deal with the culinary insanity that the Slanted Door has become.

As with many Asian restaurants, the food is meant to be eaten "family style." Sharing plates means you get to sample a lot more of the items on the menu, so I've got no complaints with that. Although nearly a dozen visits has yet to yield a bad dish, I do have a few favorites:

  • Tuna tartare (chopped Big Eye tuna with cucumber and chili served in half a coconut, along with fried wonton chips);
  • Shrimp rolls (rice paper rolls filled with shrimp, pork and mint -- good by itself, but great when dipped in the hoisin/peanut sauce);
  • Papaya salad (the shredded fruit is highlighted with chewy strips of dried beef that are bursting with flavor);
  • Hoisin lamb chops (as delicious as the lamb is, I think I love the accompanying crispy sweet potato fries even more); and
  • Shaking beef (tender and juicy cubes of filet mignon served on a bed of watercress).

In addition to plain ol' jasmine rice, you can get six -- yes SIX -- other variations. I like the hainan, which is infused with ginger, chicken stock and garlic. And presentation is not overlooked on something as seemingly simple as the rice: each serving is wrapped up in a banana leaf.

To satisfy my sweet tooth, I usually end the meal with an order of the banana beignets; they remind me of the fried bananas my mom made when I was a kid. At Tamarine, you get three piping-hot beignets, with a scoop of coconut ice-cream in the middle. I also can't resist a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee (warning: it's super-strong), which comes to the table with the coffee, ice and condensed milk already combined. (Some restaurants let the coffee drip at your table, so you end up stirring it into the glass of ice and milk yourself -- a process which can sometimes get a little messy.)

The service is generally good from start to finish. The waitstaff is attentive and friendly, plates are changed regularly, and water glasses are refilled before they're empty. Although I have read some diner reviews that indicate that this isn't a good place for kids, I recently brought my four-year-old nephew here and they were very accommodating. They sliced up a bowl of mangoes just for him, brought extra wonton chips, etc.

Tamarine manages to pack them in during lunch (weekdays only) and dinner (daily), so reservations are always a good idea. But, if you can't get a spot in the main dining room, there's a large communal table next to the bar that's ideal for walk-ins. Wherever you end up sitting, be sure to take a spin through the restaurant to check out the artwork gracing the walls. All are auctioned off periodically, with proceeds donated to charity.

While Tamarine has plenty to offer, I especially love knowing that with the gas money I'm saving by getting my Vietnamese food fix in Palo Alto instead of San Francisco, I can splurge on one of the specialty cocktails. Mmm ... lychee martinis ...

546 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 325-8500

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Is this thing on?

Yes, this is the prerequisite initial post that ponders whether this thing really works. And if it does indeed work,dining-out-related posts will soon follow.

As you were.