Monday, January 30, 2006

A Wine Bar? In Redwood City?

savvySure, they're popping up all over San Francisco, but I was a little surprised to learn that downtown RWC now has its own wine bar: Savvy Cellars. It opened in early December, near the Fox Theatre.

Here's some background info on the place, from a San Jose Mercury News column:

[Jennifer] Ayre, a Bay Area native, was laid off from her tech job in 2003 and decided to hit the reset button. She wanted to find a successful business plan in an industry she was interested in.

"I learned more and more about the wine industry, and I thought, 'This is good,'" Ayre said. Having previously lived in Seattle, she moved back to Washington state, where she spent two years learning about wine and achieving sommelier status from the International Sommelier Guild.

Then it was back to the Bay Area, where she hunted for the right spot for Savvy Cellar. Redwood City, she discovered, was searching for a business like hers that could bring pedestrian traffic to an emerging dining-and-entertainment district.

Savvy Cellar is geared toward casual wine drinkers who aren't expert tasters and might be skittish about making expensive mistakes. All the wines are rated 90 points or higher (which means someone with some sort of credential thinks they're good) and cost $39 or less per bottle.

In addition to offering wine tastings, Savvy Cellars hosts artists receptions and features live jazz on Sunday nights.

Savvy Cellars
2048 Broadway Street
(650) 363-8737

CreoLa, San Carlos

It's been nearly two years since my last trip to New Orleans, and the city's famous beignets still haunt my culinary dreams. While there, I indulged in the warm, doughnut-like pastries every day. I dragged Jon to Cafe Du Monde (of course) as well as several Cafe Beignets around the French Quarter.

Back here in the Bay Area, if I hear that a restaurant has beignets on the menu, you can bet that I'll be there. Which is how we ended up at CreoLa on Friday for dinner.

Although New Orleanians may be right when they say that you can't find authentic Cajun and Creole food outside of the city, CreoLa comes close. There were so many fried items on the menu, I had a really hard time making a decision! But I knew for sure I had to get one particular appetizer: oysters, wrapped in bacon, dipped in a batter and then deep-fried. OMG. How could you go wrong with that combination?! Delicious.

As if that wasn't enough deep-friedness for me, I also ordered the crawfish hush puppies, which were served with a remoulade sauce. They were tasty, but I actually prefer plain ol' hush puppies smeared with a bit of honey butter (the way I enjoy them when visiting the in-laws in South Carolina). Jon started his meal with the hearty and flavorful jambalaya, which featured Andouille sausage and chicken.

For our entrees, I had the porkchops with buttermilk mashed potatoes (a special); Jon had the Sunday chicken, which came with a side of cornbread stuffing. While the stuffing was excellent, the rest of it rated just a "good" in my book. (Maybe next time we'll try the alligator medallions!)

For dessert, we had to get the beignets, of course. They were fine, but not up to New Orleans' standards -- where they're so light and airy, you can eat half a dozen in one sitting. A better choice was the combo pie, which is a combination of the two other pies on the menu: the French silk (chocolate mousse) and the velvet pie (peanut butter mousse). It's so simple, yet so awesome. And, yes, you can order up a cup of chicory coffee -- just like in New Orleans.

CreoLa only seats about 60, so I'd recommend calling for a reservation if you're planning to stop by during the weekend. Dinner is served seven nights a week, while lunch is only offered on Wednesdays (I know -- random). While the decor feels a little dated (I could do without the fake greenery and flowers), the service was friendly and efficient. I would definitely come back here if I'm craving a taste of the Big Easy. Sadly, though, my search for beignets as delicious as Cafe Du Monde's continues...

Pssst! Next month, the restaurant will celebrate Mardi Gras by offering a special dinner: four courses for just $25.

344 El Camino Real
San Carlos, CA
(650) 654-0882

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ramen Rama, Cupertino

Okay, I admit it. My interest in trying this place stemmed from both my love of noodle soups and my love of the name. RAMEN RAMA! (It's just fun to say!)

It was a big bonus that we (two Co-Workers and myself) ended up liking the restaurant. Ramen Rama is located in a typical strip mall in Cupertino; but we were pleasantly surprised to walk into a clean and contemporary dining space. Our server was extremely friendly. It turns out, Ramen Rama and the restaurant next door to it (Red Miso) share a kitchen and an entrance, so you can order off of either menu.

Even though I didn't order falafels during my first trip to House of Falafels (a couple of weeks ago), I was determined to get some ramen today at Ramen Rama. And I went all out: I ordered it with the Suicidal soup broth; it's the highest level of spiciest on the menu. Our waiter mentioned that a lot of customers from Singapore deem the Suicidal too tame and order the "triple Suicidal." He said if my straight-up Suicidal wasn't spicy enough, they could add more heat to it. It actually wasn't THAT spicy, but I didn't ask for more because I was happy with the overall flavor.

The ramen noodles were quite good. And I loved that the garnishes included green onions and black fungus strips for added texture. Since I ordered the daily special -- the chicken cutlet -- my large bowl of ramen came with a plate of breaded and fried chicken. Very crunchy on the outside, but not that juicy on the inside. The portions here are pretty substantial, so there was no way I was going to finish it all, even if it was a superior piece of chicken.

Other dishes ordered at my table: The Cupertino with udon instead of ramen (I like that you can make that substitution with any of the soups); pork gyozas; fried rice; and the grilled okra (which was just okay -- I prefer my okra fried). The total for everything came to about $30. Sodas, by the way, are free during the weekdays.

We all agreed that while the food and service were good, it did seem a bit pricey for noodle soup. Still, we're putting this on our list of lunch places to visit again. Between both the Ramen Rama and Red Miso menus, there are plenty of other dishes for us to sample here.

Ramen Rama
19774 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 996-8830

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Yankee Pier, Santana Row

yankeeKnowing that Bradley Ogden is behind Yankee Pier, I had pretty high expectations of this place. But, after lunching here today with my sister, we both walked away disappointed.

The restaurant, located in Santana Row, has a New England seaside vibe to it. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw all of the deep-fried goods on the menu. It was a tough decision between the fried clam strips and the popcorn shrimp, but I went with the latter because I was also ordering the linguine with clams entree. My sister had the Yankee Salad (apples, walnuts and blue cheese), the butternut squash soup and the tuna melt. All of the above were just okay; nothing spectacular or even really good.

The only things we would order again: the Big Fat Buttermilk Biscuit and the frozen lemonade (mine was flavored with mango puree, my sister's red raspberry puree) . So if you're asking, "Wait, does this mean you'd actually go here AGAIN?" The answer is, yes, I would give it another try. Next time, I'll probably order the clam chowder, maybe an oyster dish or the fish and chips. I'll let you know how that goes.

Yankee Pier
378 Santana Row, Suite 1100
San Jose, CA
(408) 244-1244

University Circle, East Palo Alto

The other morning, Jon and I were driving to Ikea -- where, among other things, we picked up a six-pack of their yummy cinnamon buns (just $4!) . While stopped at the freeway exit, we noticed that next-door to the San Francisco Soup Company's EPA location (which I previously wrote about) is a LuLu Petite. I had no idea that it had opened up there! I think the eatery has been around since October or so? In addition to hot specials, pre-made salads and sandwiches are available.

LuLu Petite is from the people behind San Francisco's Restaurant LuLu and Azie; there's also another LuLu Petite in the city's Ferry Plaza Building. In the (650), they operate Zibbibo in Palo Alto.

LuLu Petite
1950 University Circle, No. 100
East Palo Alto, CA
(650) 329-8668

P.S. In case you're wondering, it looks like the Four Seasons right there is opening next month. They're accepting reservations for February 1 arrivals. The hotel itself will feature an Italian restaurant (Quattro), as well as a bar (cleverly named The Bar) with indoor and outdoor seating. Much to my delight, The Bar is going to offer a traditional afternoon tea!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Coming Soon to RWC: Fatburger!

Nick just emailed me from L.A., where he lunched at Fatburger today. On his tray liner, he noticed that a franchise is opening soon in Redwood City. Woo-hoo!

Here's the information I was able to dig up on various web sites:

Solomon Ets-Hokin and James Chung with Terranomics paired up to represent Southern California's popular hamburger chain Fatburger in the lease of 2,000 square feet of retail space along Theatre Way in Redwood City, CA. Fatburger signed on to a 10-year deal to commence on April 1, 2006. The lessor was Blake Hunt Ventures, Inc. This will be just the second Fatburger location in all of Northern California.
The only existing Bay Area Fatburger, which opened last year, is in Pleasant Hill. And I guess this PR blurb isn't counting both the Pleasant Hill AND Sacramento locations as NorCal?

Rapper E40 is one of the investors behind the local franchises. Here's an excerpt from an August 2005 interview with him:

Q: Why did you start a franchise of Fatburger?

A: Back in the day, if you listened to any of my raps, I'm always talking about buying a franchise, and not buying an $85,000 car before you buy a house. The first thing I wanted to get was a Popeye's Chicken ... I was looking on the Food Channel and they're saying that hamburgers are No. 1. So my wife, she's good friends with Merton Hanks, ex-49er. Merton knows Chester McGlockton, he's doing the Fatburgers, so I called Chester. He's [McGlockton] a good friend and my neighbor before he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. He played for the Oakland Raiders at the time ... Chester knows I'm a stable guy, good dude, family man, businessman, and we got together and put in on 10 of them. The first one opened up two weeks ago [in Pleasant Hill], and the second opens up in Redwood City, hopefully in March. Me and Chester got all the rights of them in Northern California.

Side notes to this story:

  • According to the city of RWC, the new downtown cinema/retail complex that will include Fatburger will also be home to a Marble Slab! The complex is scheduled for a spring 2006 completion. (The movie theatre will have 20 screens.)
  • Some of the other cities where Fatburger plans to open up shop include Palo Alto, San Mateo, Cupertino, Milpitas and San Jose.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Reconnecting with Your Food in HMB

rogueCourtesy of today's Daily Candy:
Friend of a Farmer

Your coffee’s fair trade, your veggies are organic, and lately you’ve been harboring fantasies of wielding a hoe.

Before you ditch your Hudsons for overalls, let chef Kevin Koebel introduce you to your potential neighbors. By putting the names of farmers on the menu at his Half Moon Bay restaurant, Rogue Chefs, Koebel breaks the ice between you and the guy who dug up your Brussels sprouts.

The charming Arts and Crafts-style cottage is a perfect backdrop for starters like local berta chard with warm cherries and mascarpone or marinated local beet salad with candied grapefruit. Seats at the chef’s table put you within finger-slicing distance of Koebel. Sample two- or five-ounce tastes of small-production wines from Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Carmel to pair with your house-made gnocchi or juicy, smoked pork chop.

It’s the closest you’ll get to the land. Without ruining your manicure, that is. Rogue Chefs, 730 Main Street, at Correas Street, Half Moon Bay (650-712-2000 or

In addition to serving up brunch, lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers Saturday morning culinary classes. I might have to check out their prepared foods some time...

Fiesta Del Mar Too!, Mountain View

Last week, we celebrated my sister's birthday at one of her all-time favorite restaurants: Fiesta Del Mar Too! She and her family have been coming here for years. On average, they now enjoy dinner here at least once a week. And it's easy to see why; the food, service and ambiance are all top-notch.

Fiesta Del Mar (the original) opened on Shoreline Boulevard in 1991, while FDM Too! opened four years later in the downtown location. Both are known for their margaritas and seafood items.

Upon seating you, the waitstaff delivers a basket of chips (good, not great chips) and a trio of tasty salsas (my favorite is the hot red one). My sister and her husband have probably sampled everything on the menu and they were the ones who suggested I try the Shrimp Alex. Now, I'm hooked on the spicy dish -- which features rather large shrimps -- and I hardly ever order anything else here. I also like to start off with a cup of the chicken soup. Jon usually opts for chicken quesadillas or tacos. You really can't go wrong with whatever you order.

Okay, there is one downside of FDM Too!: It ain't cheap. The Shrimp Alex, for example, will set you back about $18. But when you're looking for something a little higher quality than, say, Chevy's and a vast selection of tequila and a fun Friday night, this is your place.

Fiesta Del Mar Too!
735 Villa Street
Mountain View, CA
(650) 967-3525

Friday, January 20, 2006

Jon-Minh's House of Chicken & Waffles

I don't know how people do it. How do people come home from work and prepare full-on dinners on a regular basis?!?

We made an attempt last night (starter, entree, side, dessert), and I think that won't be happening again -- on a school night -- for a while. This was the menu:
  • Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries and Balsamic Vinaigrette
    (Point Reyes blue cheese and crumbled bacon, optional)
  • Finger Lickin' Chicken
  • Mashed Potato Waffles
  • Scharffen Berger Brownies
Here's the waffle recipe, from Dorie Greenspan's Waffles: From Morning to Midnight:
Mashed Potato Waffles

2 russet potatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finally chopped
⅔ cup milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

Makes about six 6½-inch waffles

1. Peel and wash the potatoes. Cut them into small, evenly sized pieces, and put them in a large pot of cold, well-salted water; bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until you can pierce the potatoes easily with a fork. Drain and reserve about ½ cup of the potato water. Transfer the potatoes to a large mixing bowl.

2. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over low heat and saute the chopped onion just until it softens a bit. Pour the oil and onion over the potatoes, then add the milk to the still-warm skillet -- just to take the chill off it. Pour the milk over the potatoes.

3. Mash the potatoes with the oil and milk. Add ¼ cup of the warm potato water, reserving the rest, and continue to mash until the mixture is smooth and looser than mashed potatoes you'd serve as a side dish. If it seems stiff, add more potato water, little by little, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and season liberally with salt and pepper.

4. Preheat your waffle iron. If you want to hold the finished waffles until serving time, preheat your oven to 200°F.

5. Finish the batter by beating the eggs into the potatoes. Whisk together the flour and baking powder and fold them into the potatoes with a rubber spatula.

6. Lightly butter or spray the grids of your waffle iron, if needed. Brush or spray the grids again only if subsquent waffles stick.

7. Spoon out ½ cup of batter (or the amount recommended by your waffler's manufacturer) onto the hot iron. Smooth the batter evenly almost to the edge of the grids with a metal spatula or wooden spoon. Close the lid and bake until brown and crisp. Serve the waffles immediately or keep them, in a single layer, in a rack in the oven while you make the rest of the batch.

The recipe recommends a garlic-rosemary oil as a topping, but anything else that you would serve over mashed potatoes will do as well.

And in case you're interested, the Scharffen Berger Brownies recipe can be found here. Warning: They are really rich and dense!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Win a Quiznos

Nick alerted me to this Quiznos contest: You (yes, YOU) can win one of a dozen franchises by entering in-restaurant sweepstakes, a sub sandwich recipe contest* or a video contest.

* The idea of a sub sandwich contest reminds me of the "Sandwiched Out" episode of The King of Queens: When the guys' neighborhood restaurant, Coopers, names a new sandwich "The Deacon," Doug gets angry, claiming that Deacon is taking credit for his sandwich creation. A VERY FUNNY episode.

New Restaurant in Redwood City

Open as of yesterday: The Old Port Lobster Shack. The restaurant promises delicious and authentic New England seafood. The menu boasts "the ultimate lobster roll" -- which is basically chunks of lobster meat on a grilled roll, served with your choice of sauces (including aoli). You can also pick your own lobster fresh from the tank and have it steamed, grilled, baked or sauteed.

The seafood eatery takes over an old Togo's location, and the space has really been transformed into a lobster shack -- complete with picnic tables and seaside signage as part of the decor.

(The web site doesn't offer much information; but the menu is online.)

Old Port Lobster Shack
851 Veterans Boulevard
Redwood City, CA
(650) 366-2400

New Restaurant in Palo Alto

Wow. The Chronicle's Food section is all over the Peninsula today! Here's another item from the Inside Scoop:

Caffe del Doge a Venice-based coffee roaster and cafe has opened at 419 University Ave. (near Waverly) in Palo Alto.

What's unusual about this coffeehouse is that customers can choose which kind of beans they want for their espresso from a staggering 10 or more choices, and how they'd like it prepared: straight up, or in a variety of fancy coffee "cocktails" like espresso Marco Polo ($2.50), a spiced espresso with cream or Caffe Pedrocchi ($3.70), espresso with mint cream.

Besides coffee, the 50-seat cafe serves a selection of cured Italian meats, salads, panini and aperitivi.

The cafe is now open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but may stay open later in the near future.

New Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

From The Chronicle's Inside Scoop:

As he takes over the old Anchorage restaurant, just north of Half Moon Bay (4210 N. Cabrillo Hwy.), Cetrella owner Paul Shenkman is realizing his dream of owning the cliffside property he first spied when he moved to the Bay Area nearly 20 years ago.

In August, Shenkman will turn the Anchorage into Sam's Chowder House. He's shooting for a traditional New England-style seafood house, the kind found along the East Coast.

"When I moved out here in 1987," says Shenkman, "I was amazed that up and down the coast, these kinds of places don't exist."

The property, currently split into two, closed about 2 1/2 years ago. The remodel, by Barry McAdoo Design, will gut the inside, creating one large space. An oyster bar will command attention near the entrance, but will compete with the floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views.

Cetrella chef Lewis Rossman is the consulting executive chef.

Slurpy oysters and cracked crab are some of the traditional oyster bar offerings, but Shenkman will introduce non-New Yorkers to the pan roast -- a mix of seafood steamed in broth, cream and herbs -- which he first had at New York's Grand Central Oyster Bar.

There will also be a full menu with seven to eight varieties of grilled fish, all things fried, and clambakes, either tableside or set up privately on the beach below for parties.

Non-seafood choices include grilled steak, pork chop and chicken.

And, as the name implies, there will be a variety of chowders, oyster stews and seafood soups that rotate through the menu. Entrees will be $19-$26.

There will be 125 seats inside, 40 outside on a deck and Adirondack chairs set on a bluff right above the beach. Just in time for summer -- or at least the Bay Area's version of summer -- Sam's Chowder House is set to open Aug. 1.

Mmm... "all things fried"... I'm SO there.

New Restaurant in Burlingame

From The Chronicle's What's New column:

OPENING / Prime on the Avenue

The cuisine: The focus is prime rib, but the menu reads like a traditional steakhouse. Appetizers like beef carpaccio showcase Prime's filet mignon, and seafood is prevalent. Entrees are meat-heavy, served with sides such as Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, creamed corn or spinach and vegetables. For dessert, try chocolate mousse with Belgian chocolate sauce.

The team: Owner Salim Dahud, who ran the now-closed Tannour in San Francisco, has partnered with investors including Johnny Brattesani of Caesar's in North Beach. In the kitchen is Michael Nancovski, most recently the executive chef at Oakland's Lakeview Club.

The vibe: The former Gau Poang Chinese restaurant has been remodeled with burgundy tones, a full bar and a bronze-framed carving station.

Prime on the Avenue, 1425 Burlingame Ave. (near El Camino Real), Burlingame; (650) 344-7446. Dinner nightly. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Appetizers, $7.50-$9, entrees, $17-$34, desserts, $5-$7.

Oh, and there was a bit of scandal surrounding the restaurant. From the San Mateo County Journal:
The prime rib restaurant gearing up to open on Burlingame Avenue changed its name on Dec. 1 from Burlingame Prime to Prime on the Avenue after lawsuit threats were made.

General Manager Salim Dahud said the change came after House of Prime Rib in San Francisco threatened to sue because they believe they have the exclusive right to Prime Rib in a company name. The House of Prime Rib was OK with Prime on the Avenue.

“We didn’t want to deal with that, we’d rather focus on getting things set up and the quality for our customers,” he said.

There was also a rumor Broadway Prime may also change its name for the same reason. But the ownership denied it and said they are keeping the name.

President of the Business Improvement District Ross Bruce said it isn’t uncommon when a similar business is opening up for the senior of the two to ask them to change the name. He said this is to help not confuse patrons but also so the new business does not capitalize on the established business.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Hotaru, San Mateo

hotaruSince I had the day off today and Jon did not, we decided to meet up for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants: Hotaru. It's a no-frills Japanese eatery, where the focus is on good service and great food.

We discovered this place about three years ago, when Jon started working in San Mateo. The restaurant, located downtown, is just a short drive from his office. But regardless of whether you go at lunch or dinner, you want to go early to avoid the rush. Because, boy, does this place get crowded. (Today, for example, the restaurant opened for lunch at 11:30am; by noon, the 50 or so seats in the main dining space were already filled.)

I almost always get one of these two dishes: Tempura Udon or Curry Udon. It's not that often that I can find the latter on a menu, so I have a hard time passing it up whenever we eat at Hotaru. I also order a couple of sushi items (usually hamachi and unagi). Jon orders only sushi here -- opting for the spicy tuna and several veggie rolls (avocado, cucumber). Some days, we splurge and get the Dragon Roll: shrimp tempura, unagi, avocado, cucumber. Yummm. (They really do tempura right here.)

Be sure to look at the specials listed in the back of the restaurant. Yes, there are some misspellings on the menu; but this place is so tasty, even I can get over that.

BONUS: There's an Ichiban Kan -- sort of a Japanese dollar store -- located just half a block from Hotaru. It's no 100 Yen store, but Ichiban Kan usually stocks a good selection of Japanese candies and knick-knacks.

33 E. Third Avenue
San Mateo, CA
(650) 343-1152

Friday, January 13, 2006

House of Falafel, Cupertino: Round Two

Okay, I couldn't stop thinking about those falafels... and the dolmas... and the baklava. So I had to go back today to try them all out. I ordered the Veggie Plate so that I would get to sample more items: two falafels, two dolmas, hummus, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh, jajeek salad, pita. I tasted everything, but couldn't possibly be expected to eat it all. That would have been a ridiculous amount of food for me.

The verdict on the falafels: They were awesome. Super-crispy on the outside, tender and spicy on the inside. (Next time, I'm definitely going to order the Falafel Plate.) The baba ghannouj was also really good.

And I just finished my afternoon pick-me-up: a sweet slice of baklava -- worth the $1.50, as well as the calories.

Sweet on Sibby's

sibbysI forgot to mention last week that Sibby's Cupcakery is open again! The business was temporarily shut while it moved its operations.

Although based in downtown San Mateo, Sibby's delivers all over the Bay Area (from San Francisco to Mountain View). Through the end of the month, you can get 50% off the standard delivery charge.

By the way, January's flavor of the month is "Mmm Good Mocha Coffee" -- a mocha cupcake topped with rich coffee frosting.

P.S. Speaking of cupcakes! If you haven't seen SNL's Chronic of Narnia rap by now, you must. (And yes, it is cupcake-related.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

House of Falafel, Cupertino

Since our company moved to Cupertino just over a year ago, the Co-Workers and I have engaged in an ongoing search for good lunch spots. There are a few that we already frequent (Pho Hoa, Mandarin Gourmet), and now we seem to have a new one to add to our list of regulars: House of Falafel.

Located in a strip mall along Stevens Creek (across the street from Sears), it's easy to miss this place. There's not much to say about the decor. The place is simple, but clean. Bottles of chile sauce (similar to the Rooster found at Vietnamese restaurants) and tahini sauce line the dozen or so tables inside. The folks behind the counter are extremely friendly, the dishes are served up fairly quickly, portions are large, and the prices are low.

I was going to try the Lamb Shawerma, but then noticed a large plate of meatballs, potatoes, carrots, rice and pita bread, coming out of the kitchen. I was intrigued, and had to have it. So I ordered the Izmir Kefta -- and I didn't regret that decision.

Two of the co-workers ordered the Chicken Shawerma, and one ordered the Chicken Kebab. Those with the shawermas ate theirs all up. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, thanks to being slow-roasted on one of two prominent rotisseries (the other holds lamb). The Chicken Kebab guy proclaimed that the hummus was REALLY GOOD, and he -- like the others -- enjoyed his chicken. (His dish did take a little longer to prepare, because of the grilling of the kebabs.)

Okay, so none of us got any falafels on this outing; but one of my fellow diners -- the one who told the rest of us to give this place a try today -- had actually eaten here before. And he said the falafels are excellent; crunchy yet fluffy, and nicely spiced.

Since my plate of food was so big, I didn't bother ordering any starters (although I do love me some dolmas). But next time, I think I'll grab a piece of baklava to go; it would make the perfect afternoon sweet treat. (I'm craving it right now!)

House of Falafel
19590 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 446-2411

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bravo Taqueria, Redwood City

Maybe it's because we're in the process of planning a trip to Los Cabos, but lately, I've been craving Mexican food. The past two nights, Jon has been kind enough to pick up dinner at our go-to taqueria, Bravo.

We've been frequenting this place for about a year now. When Jon and I moved into our house, on the recommendation of some friends who live in the surrounding area, this was the first eatery we visited. In our enthusiasm, we didn't notice until AFTER we ordered that Bravo does not accept credit cards. Cash and checks (who carries checks anymore?) only. Luckily, Jon scrounged around the car and found enough spare change to cover our bill. It was a rather embarassing way to start our relationship with what would become a regular place for us.

Bravo has been around for more than a decade, serving up healthy Mexican food -- based on the owner's family recipes. Everything is prepared fresh, after daily visits to the local produce stands. My favorite item on the menu is simple: the burrito, stuffed with marinated carne asada, rice, cheese, etc. While I stick with a plain tortilla, there are other choices (whole wheat, spinach, tomato). And I prefer my salsa hot; you'll recognize it as the one with the chili seeds visibly floating in it. If you like things a little more mild, try the salsa verde.

I also like the nachos -- again, with carne asada because the meat is so juicy and flavorful. My husband is a big fan of the fish burritos, which are made with grilled red snapper. The only thing we've had here that I can't whole-heartedly endorse is the ceviche.

You can wash your meal down with an aguas fresca or horchata; Dos Equis and Corona beers are also available. In the soft-drink department, you'll find both American and Mexican brands. For two bucks, you can complete your meal with a helping of homemade flan. Yum.

Bravo Taqueria
980 Woodside Road
Redwood City, CA
(650) 364-3511

New Restaurant in Belmont

This just in from The Chronicle's Inside Scoop:

Italian-born Vincenzo Cucco and Paolo Dominici, who own Bacco in Noe Valley (737 Diamond St., near 24th Street) are opening a second restaurant, Divino, next month in Belmont.

The restaurant, at 968 Ralston Ave. (near El Camino Real), will take over the space of the former Cafe Bellagio. The menu will be similar to Bacco's, featuring daily changing risotto and gnocchi, grilled meats and simple desserts.

Cucco will continue to cook at Bacco in the evenings, but will man the kitchen at the 70-seat Divino during what he expects to be a busy lunch. The new restaurant is located near Oracle and several other large companies.

"It is very competitive, and the only way to make a little more money is to open something else," says Dominici. "One small restaurant is not enough to support our families."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Dim Sum Spots

Me. My parents. Christmas Day. We were hungry. But our dining options were limited. We were driving around near my sister's house when we saw a parking lot full a cars -- an indication that SOMETHING was open. It was Loon Wah, a Chinese restaurant that serves both Mandarin- and Hong Kong-style dim sum.

Initially, we were a bit confused, but we eventually worked out that you can get your food two ways: 1) look at the picture menu, write down what you want on the piece of paper supplied to you, hand it to a server, and wait; or 2) ask for items that are coming around on the carts.

My dad and I consumed: scallion pancakes, porridge, fried eggplant, shrimp dumplings, pork buns. My mom polished off a plate of greens of some sort (she's the sole vegetarian in the family). It was all quite tasty.

Prior to the visit to Loon Wah, the last time I enjoyed a good dim sum meal was in Millbrae. My friend Barbara suggested that we meet up at Fook Yuen, a place she frequented with her family when she was growing up in Pacifica. I can't tell you want we ordered because: 1) I don't remember (which is why I need to blog about things -- serves as a record of what I did); and 2) she ordered a lot of the dishes in a language that is foreign to me.

But if you find yourself on El Camino Real in Millbrae one of these mornings, definitely stop in at Fook Yuen. It may not look like much on the outside (there are fancier/bigger dim sum restaurants on that street), but the food is awesome. And you'll want to go early on the weekends; this place gets crazy-crowded.

Loon Wah
1146 S. De Anza Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 257-8877

Fook Yuen
195 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA
(650) 692-8600

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Grill on the Alley, San Jose

For the second year in a row, our company dinner was held at The Grill in the Fairmont Hotel. Last year, due to a flight delay coming back from Las Vegas, Jon and I arrived late. This year, we were present for the entire meal. ALL FIVE HOURS OF IT.

Now, I'm not sure how you normally eat, but FIVE HOURS of eating and drinking is a lot in my book. SEVEN COURSES, each paired with a fine wine. Here was the eating itinerary:

First Course
Osetra Caviar Plate served with Garnishes and Blini
Comtes, Taittinger, De Champagne Rose, Reims, 1996

Second Course
Smoked Salmon and Sturgeon served with Terragon Butter and Garlic Toast
Joseph Phelps Ovation, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2000

Third Course
Portobello Mushroom Ravioli served with Kobe Beef a la Bolognese
Ambullneo, Bulldog Reserve, Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2003

Fourth Course
Magret of Moskovey Duck, served with Five Peppercorn Sauce Flambe Armagnac
Turley, Dusi Vineyard, Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2003

Cranberry Sorbet with Skyy Melon and Lemon Float

Fifth Course
Main Lobster with Truffle Butter Sauce
Chauteau Mouton Rothschild, Bordeaux, 2002

Sixth Course
Mixed Green Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette and Cheese Platter

Traditional Buche de Noel
Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, 1999

It was a ridiculous amount of food and wine -- all so very good. Jon doesn't eat caviar, so I got to double-up on the first course. Although the lobster was sweet and delicious, my favorite course was the ravioli. And the refreshing cranberry sorbet palate-cleanser was also especially yummy.

The only thing that disappointed was the Buche de Noel. Growing up, my mom would bring these French cakes home during the holidays; the one served at The Grill barely resembled what I'm familiar with. Traditionally, the cake is made of a sheet of genoise that is spread with mocha or chocolate buttercream, then rolled into a log shape. The Grill's version did have a layer of sponge cake, but it was wrapped around three flavors of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, coffee). And rather than just having meringue mushrooms as a garnish, this buche was completely covered in meringue (I was expecting chocolate frosting). It was pretty and elegant, but wasn't quite right to me. (Other people at the dinner LOVED it.) My disappointment in the dessert itself didn't stop me from enjoying the awesome dessert wine, of course.

I think I'll be ready to eat again in 48 hours.

The Grill
172 South Market Street
San Jose, CA
(408) 294-2244

Friday, January 06, 2006

Cocoa Bon, Santa Clara

cocoa bonI spent my lunch break today at Valley Fair, where I couldn't help but pop into Cocoa Bon and sample a few sweets.

The company makes about a dozen chocolate products, and several cocktail-flavored jelly beans (cosmo, mojito, bellini and sangria). Here are my favorites -- i.e., the ones I liked enough to buy:

  • Original Chocolate Mint has a thin, crispy peppermint shell with dark chocolate and a bit more peppermint on the inside. I preferred it over the Dark Chocolate Mint, which is more like a Junior Mint.
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry is just as it sounds -- a Washington state dried cherry enrobed in dark chocolate.
  • Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean is perfect for caffeine lovers; there's a crunchy bean at the center.
  • 72% Dark Chocolate is more bitter/less sweet than your average dark chocolate. Lesser percentages were also available in the store; and according to the web site, Cocoa Bon also makes an 80%.

The Los Gatos-based company makes everything in small batches, using high-quality ingredients. While you can find their line at a number of stores in the Bay Area (including some Whole Foods), the Valley Fair outpost is the only dedicated boutique.

Cocoa Bon
Westfield Valley Fair
2855 Stevens Creek Boulevard
No. B2295
Santa Clara, CA
(408) 261-2439

Kitchen Gadgetry

Recently, Jon and I found ourselves in a Williams-Sonoma. Of course, we walked in thinking we would just be buying some tea, and we walked out with a couple of new gadgets that we didn't really NEED:

  • Kuhn Rikon Safety Lid Lifter Deluxe - Basically, a can opener. The device actually cuts through the outside of the can -- instead of the top -- so it really does lift the lid and, as a result, you get no sharp edges. Plus, the gadget itself has no protruding blades.
  • OXO Good Grips Pizza Wheel for Non-Stick Pans - Because Jon likes to eat frozen pizzas for dinner, we've accumulated several pizza wheels over the years. BUT, we still couldn't resist adding to our collection when we saw this one. The plastic wheel makes it safe for non-stick surfaces, so we've been using it for more than just pizza.

(Those folks at OXO are SO smart! The angled measuring cups are also pure genius.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Inside Scoop

So what happened to the SF Chronicle's Grace Ann Walden? Last week, her food/restaurant column was written by Amanda Berne -- who was supposedly just "filling in." This week, the newspaper tells us: "Beginning today, Amanda Berne is The Inside Scoop columnist." WTF?

My journalism world hasn't been rocked this hard since Elaine Corral left KTVU.

What's Cooking: fri-TAH-tuh

frittataDespite a lack of culinary skills, every year, I have at least a few cookbooks on my holiday wishlist. I don't know if it's the beautiful food photography or wishful thinking (maybe someday I'll enjoy cooking?), but I always ask and always receive these books. This year's batch included Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian.

Last night, Jon made one of the frittata recipes in the book (this one). It was delicious! And Jon said it was super-easy to make.

(During one episode of her FoodTV show, Giada poured her frittata mixture into mini-muffin pans instead of a large skillet. An excellent idea for a dinner party!)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Breakers Cafe, Redwood City

After waking up and finding ourselves without any power on Saturday morning, Jon and I decided it was a good time to give Breakers Cafe a try.

Located in the Woodside Plaza, the cafe -- which is open for breakfast and lunch daily -- is easy to find, thanks to the cockatiel squawking outside of its doors. Step inside, and there's a long bar on the left. Comfortable booths line the sides of the room, while tables fill up the space in-between. I have no idea how long this place has been in business, but judging by some of the regulars, it's been around quite a while.

Aside from the giant mural covering an entire wall (with its depiction of Emerald Hills, the Stanford lands and the Woodside skyline, it's an homage of sorts to the surrounding area), there isn't much to say about the decor here. It's clear that Breakers' focus is on good, solid food and friendly service.

The menu features all of the breakfast classics: egg dishes, French toast, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, etc. Jon opted for the "early-bird special"; it included eggs, sausage links and hashed browns. I went for a half-order of French toast topped with fresh bananas. It was simple and tasty -- no fancy breads, no fancy syrups. I also couldn't resist a side of hash browns, which were super-crispy. Just the way I like 'em.

Even if there isn't another black-out any time soon, I think we'll be coming back to Breakers for more breakfast goodness.

Breakers Cafe
270 Woodside Plaza
Redwood City, CA
(650) 369-9162

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Village Pub, Woodside

Last Friday night, we headed up the road to Woodsiiiiide! Okay, I doubt that anyone living in the upscale town would actually approve of this urbanized pronunciation. Residents here include Larry Ellison, Neil Young, Steve Jobs, Shirley Temple and Koko the gorilla (the one who knows sign language).

In the only part of Woodside that actually seems to have anything going on, sits The Village Pub. With dark wood, boxed-beam ceilings, deep-red upholstery and a big fireplace, the space has a club-like feel to it. Cozy yet sophisticated. Although business casual attire is preferred, when my husband and I dined here for the first time a few months ago, the first thing I noticed was a woman at the bar wearing riding boots. (They're big into horses here.)

On our second visit, Jon was hoping they would have the same appetizer special he had previously enjoyed: an heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad. But it was no ordinary tomato and mozzarella dish. This one was prepared table-side (they wheel a cart over to you), with the server tearing up fresh basil leaves on the spot. And the cheese? It was flown in THAT morning from Italy. I didn't actually get to sample this appetizer because Jon ate it ALL up. So I can only assume it was excellent.

Unfortunately, they were not offering that salad this time around. So Jon opted for a half-order of the gnocchi and I chose the sweetbreads. Before either of these items came to the table, the waiter brought us an amuse bouche of tuna tartare with artichoke puree. Delicious. We were equally satisfied with our starters, both of which were quite rich. The crispy sweetbreads were served with a poached egg on top of a pile of frisee, small chunks of pancetta and a brown-butter vinaigrette. Jon's truffled potato gnocchi was accompanied by mushrooms and a parsley root sauce.

Next came another complimentary treat: small espresso-size cups of fennel soup with poached lobster. I don't even like fennel much, but this was yummy. I wish I could say the same of my entree; I chose the monkfish, which was a bit dry. (The last time we were here, I had a wonderful grilled leg of lamb.) Jon chose better: his daube of beef, served with horseradish and a cauliflower mousse, was awesome.

But, it all worked out well in the end: Because I didn't finish most of my entree, I had plenty of room left for dessert. We ordered the warm chocolate souffle (which serves two and takes about 20 minutes to prepare) and the apple-butter beignets. We easily finished off both dishes.

The service here is excellent -- with silverware constantly changed out, water glasses constantly refilled, the knowledgeable and friendly server checking in on you often. The place does get busy, so reservations are recommended. If you can't get a table in the main dining area, there's always the bar... That is, as long as you can still order the amazing souffle over there.

The Village Pub
2967 Woodside Road
Woodside, CA
(650) 851-9888