Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cafe Torre, Cupertino

You don't expect to find a white tablecloth restaurant in a bland, suburban strip mall... But that's exactly what you get at Cafe Torre.

Located near the busy intersection of DeAnza and Stevens Creek Boulevards is this charming Italian eatery. During a recent lunch visit, owner Vince Torre greeted us at the door and showed us to our table. After just a few minutes inside the warm and cozy restaurant, you easily forget that you're in the middle of a mall. It is one of the few restaurants in the area where you could have a nice, business lunch/meeting. (Park Place, just across the street, is another that comes to mind.)

The menu was more extensive than I expected -- with a number of salads, pastas and sandwiches to choose from. After we ordered, a basket of country-style bread was brought to our table. A short while later came our three dishes: linguine with clams for me, Caeser with grilled chicken for one co-worker, and penne puttanesca for another. We all deemed our food to be quite good. I'm happy to report that my clams were not from a can, and the tomato sauce was simple yet flavorful (lots of garlic!). The service also gets a thumbs-up from me; the staff was friendly and efficient.

Although the prices are a bit high to make Cafe Torre a regular lunch stop for me, it was definitely an enjoyable meal. My pasta dish was $15, but I noticed that the sandwiches are all just under $10 and they are HUGE -- plus they come with fries and a small green salad. (Unfortunately, I'm not a big sandwich eater.)

Cafe Torre
20343 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 257-2383

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Next Big Sweet Thing

beardpapa_puff_croppedWhen we were driving through downtown Redwood City last week to get to the Old Port Lobster Shack, it was hard not to notice all of the construction going on. The "On Broadway" project that was supposed to wrap up in late 2005... then early 2006... now has a May 2006 completion date.

As previously mentioned, the new retail/dining/cinema development will include a FatBurger and a Marble Slab. Now comes word that there will also be something called "Beard Papa." Strange name and old-man mascot? Yes. But apparently, they serve up amazing cream puffs -- fresh from the oven (they're baked, not fried), filled with a vanilla cream custard, and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

So a little history on the place: The full name is Beard Papa Sweets Cafe. It is a Japanese chain that boasts about 250 stores worldwide. It's already opened locations in NY, NJ, SoCal, Hawaii and Boston. A San Francisco one is coming any day now. In addition to the vanilla cream puffs, they apparently offer rotating flavors such as green tea, chocolate, strawberry, royal milk tea, caramel and coffee.

Oh, and it's no coincidence that the mascot resembles Santa Claus. As one company spokesman said, "When people think of Santa Claus, it makes them happy, and so Beard Papa makes people happy."

Cupcakes and donuts be warned: Japanese cream puffs are coming!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Holidays at Hotaru

I know I've professed my love for Hotaru before, but in addition to its wonderful sushi and Japanese cuisine, there is another reason to love this place: It is open 365 days a year.

I hate having to think about whether a restaurant is closed or not on a holiday -- and with Hotaru, I always know the answer. On holidays, the Sunday schedule applies: lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner 5-9:30 p.m.

And, in case you're wondering, Hotaru is just as busy on holidays as it is the rest of the time. Jon and I went for dinner last night (President's Day), and at 6 p.m., there was already quite a back-up. Luckily, I had already enjoyed my unagi, hamachi and tempura udon by then.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sigona's Farmer's Market

I just got back from Sigona's and decided to pen a quick post about it while it's still on my mind. This place is great. Fresh fruits and veggies out front. Inside, about a third of the store is devoted to bulk food, candy, dried fruit and nuts. Pasta, snacks and other groceries are available as well.

Don't forget to check out the freezer, where you'll find Marianne's ice cream -- a sentimental favorite from my Santa Cruz days.

Sigona's Market *
Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; (650) 329-1340
2345 Middlefield Road, RWC; (650) 368-6993

* Hmmm... I wonder if the goods are priced the same at these two very different locations...

Old Port Lobster Shack, Redwood City

After posting about the OPLS a couple of times (first here and then here), I decided it was time for Jon and me to actually check the place out for ourselves.

So last night, we went in search of the restaurant -- which I had been warned is difficult to find. And it was. We drove around a bit before spotting it; it's basically right around where Middlefield meets Veterans Boulevard (next door to the Supercuts).

The entire drive there, Jon kept saying, "I don't like the idea of a lobster place that's not anywhere near the water." "I don't like lobster places in strip malls." Things of that nature. But by the time we finished our meal, he wasn't hating on the place anymore.

After hearing such good things about the lobster roll and the fried clams, I was bummed that neither was available last night. Apparently, they had a very limited amount of lobster due to the storms in the Northeast earlier this week. Since the menu is printed daily, I assume they had the rolls earlier in the day ("out" was handwritten next to several menu items), but they were long gone by dinner time.

I was able to get a lobster cake, however, and that was delicious -- lobster meat, bell peppers, avocado and a panko crust. It was served over a bed of greens that had been lightly drizzled with dressing. I also tried the New England clam "chowdah." I loved the bacon and plethora of potatoes in it.

Jon ordered the fried fish plates, which is basically fish'n'chips. Several filets of Atlantic cod were coated in panko for a course and crunchy crust; and the fries were thin (some more like slices) and crispy.

Another highlight of the OPLS: the beverages! I had a ginger beer, which I had NEVER seen/heard of before. It was clean, crisp and a tad spicy thanks to the ginger. (Jon tells me that if you mix it with rum, you have a cocktail that's called the Dark and Stormy.) Also on the drinks menu is Moxie, a New England thang. Me, I thought it was nasty and tasted like cough syrup. Jon drank the entire bottle, perhaps partly out of nostalgia (he grew up on the East Coast). It couldn't possibly be the taste! Bleh!

Since there was no lobster roll to be had during this visit, I demanded that we return so that I can try them. Priced at $16.75, they had BETTER be awesome.

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

Monday, February 13, 2006

Manresa, Los Gatos

When Restaurant magazine came out with its 2005 list of the top 50 restaurants worldwide, I couldn't help but notice that not a single San Francisco eatery made the cut. In California, honors went to Chez Panisse (#13), French Laundry (#3) and Manresa (#38).

Of the three, Jon and I had not yet been to Manresa. So we decided we should check it out some time... And that time was last night.

First of all, let me start by warning you that this restaurant is tucked away behind Santa Cruz Avenue (a main drag in Los Gatos). It's not the most convenient location, and the quaint exterior of the restaurant belies the extraordinary culinary experience that awaits you once you step inside.

Although most people in the dining room seemed to order the chef's tasting menu, Jon and I opted for the three-course meal. Partly because a good number of the tasting menu items at restaurants like Manresa scare Jon (he doesn't eat foie gras, shellfish, sweetbreads), and partly because we just didn't have the energy for a marathon dinner.

There was not one, not two, but THREE amuse bouches. First up was a salty mango lassi. I love me some mango lassi, but I didn't care for the saltiness of Manresa's version. The second amuse was a salt cod fritter. Delicious. Finally, there was "The Egg" -- a custard-like egg, sherry vinegar, chives and maple syrup layered in an eggshell. On the first bite, the contrast between the egg and the maple syrup was a bit too strong. But subsequent bites -- once the runny yolk had been broken -- were much better.

Now, on to the actual food that we ordered! Jon started with the butterfish, served sashimi-style with olive oil, chives and sesame seeds. It was light and fresh. I went with the abalone in brown butter, which sat atop layers of onion

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chocolate Month

In case you couldn't tell by all of the chocolate-oriented programming on FoodTV this weekend, February is considered Chocolate Month. So I thought I'd chime in with a quick post about an excellent chocolate dessert I had on Friday night: Mexican chocolate churros served with chocolate sauce and a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Delicious!

The churros are currently on the Village Pub's dessert menu, which changes often (get it while you can!). In a previous post, I professed my love for the restaurant's chocolate souffle. We ordered it again on our latest visit and it was just as good as I remembered.

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

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pho Hoa, Cupertino

I know, I know, it's a chain pho restaurant. So how good could it be, right?

Well, as someone whose mother made pho quite often when I was a kid, let me tell you: This place does pho really well. If you enjoy noodle soups as much as I do, get over any chain-food hang-ups you may have and get to Pho Hoa. It's fast. It's cheap. And the portions are huge.

The Co-Workers and I eat here regularly -- just today, in fact -- so I don't know why I haven't mentioned it before. The restaurant tends to fill up after noon, so we try to sneak in just before to beat the rush. No matter what, the service is efficient and the food generally comes up quickly. (There is really nothing to say about the ambiance here. Do NOT try to take a date to Pho Hoa!)

Adventurous types will appreciate the more unusual meat offerings -- including tripe, fatty flank and tendon. My usual order: the fried roll (#28) and beef noodle soup (#1, regular size for me). I load up my bowl with the Rooster (chile) sauce and dive right in.

Pho Hoa
1089 S. De Anza Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 366-0544

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ramen Rama, Cupertino: Redux

Since my first visit to Ramen Rama a few weeks ago, I've been back several times. On this latest trip (today), I substituted the usual ramen noodles with the thicker udon. It was delicious! I ordered them with a shoyu (soy sauce) broth and barbecued pork. Bamboo, bean sprouts, green onion and an egg are included as garnishes. As I almost always do with udon, I added a little kick to the dish with some shichimi togarashi (a peppery Japanese seasoning).

The bowl was the perfect size, and I think it set me back about $7. (Sodas are still free during weekday lunches.)

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

Update on the Old Port Lobster Shack, RWC

So, a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Old Port Lobster Shack had just opened up in Redwood City. An early review I read indicated that it might be only so-so. (Maybe the bad experience could be attributed to the fact that they were brand-new and were still working out some of the kinks?)

Lately, however, I've been hearing much more positive things about food -- especially the lobster rolls, fried clams and chowder. I'm actually really interested in trying out this lobster roll, since I never knew such a thing existed before the Lobster Shack opened. (Jon, who is from the East Coast, is familiar with them.)

Three things: 1) Apparently, the restaurant is a little hard to find. 2) You may want to call to confirm when they are actually open; Catie wrote to say it wasn't open on two trips she made to the place. 3) Unfortunately, the web site still hasn't been updated with an actual menu so I'm not sure what kind of price point we're talking about here. (BTW, I think the offerings change on a regular basis because the Lobster Shack prints out a daily menu.)

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

Al's Fish N' Chips, Redwood City

Okay, so right after I posted about Al's last night, Jon called up inquiring about dinner. Good timing. With fish and chips on the brain -- and not much in the fridge -- we decided to take a trip over to the strip mall that is home to Al's.

The restaurant is clean and has a contemporary feel. The space itself is not very large (it seats maybe 20?), but based on what we saw, it looks like most of their business is to-go.

While waiting in line, we surveyed the beverages in the drink fridge. The bottled, carbonated sangria sounded interesting -- but not necessarily in a good way (I had carbonated iced tea in Europe and that was disgusting) -- so I went with a Jarrito juice drink. There were actually quite a few Mexican beverages to choose from.

Which brings me to my next point: Al's Fish N' Chips almost seems like a misnomer for the restaurant. Yes, they do offer fried fish with a helping of fries. BUT, it's got quite a few other seafood offerings and a Mexican food bent. For example, the menu also included fried calamari, crabby cheese bread, shrimp louie, crab louie, New England clam chowder, tacos, shrimp cocktail (Mexican style), ceviche tostada, guacamole, black beens, cheese quesadilla.

So there appear to be two main themes to this place: deep-fried food and Mexican food. We went with one of each last night. I ordered the fish and chips, while Jon had the fish tacos, both of which are made with cod.

Jon enjoyed his tacos -- which consisted of a couple of pieces of fried fish, cabbage, tomato salsa and a sauce of some sort. And I thought the fish'n'chips were great. The batter wasn't too thick/heavy, but it coated the fish just enough to give it a nice, crispy texture. (I assume the pieces in the taco were the same, but I didn't actually sample any of Jon's dish.)

Since the TV was tuned into Rachael Ray, who I find extremely annoying, the wait for the food may have felt longer than it actually was. We estimated it was probably 15 minutes from the time we ordered at the counter, to the time they brought the food to our table. With just one person doing the cooking, and a second person dealing with the register, it made sense that the food might take a little while. (The service was friendly, and that's more important to us than waiting a bit longer than expected.)

There were no desserts on the menu (nope, no flan!), but after a meal at Al's, you could easily stop in a few doors down at the Baskin-Robbins for a sweet ending to your evening.

Al's Fish N' Chips
2139 Roosevelt Avenue
Redwood City, CA
(650) 366-FISH (3474)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New-ish Restaurant in Redwood City

Jon's had his eye on this place for a while now... waiting... and waiting for it to open. And recently, we got an advertisement in the mail confirming that Al's Fish N' Chips is open for business. (I think it's actually been open for at least a few months now.) We haven't been yet, but I'm sure we'll be trying it out real soon. Word on the street is that it's quite good.

Al's Fish N' Chips
2139 Roosevelt Avenue
Redwood City, CA
(650) 366-3474

Now Open: Quattro, EPA

Today's Chronicle has more details on Quattro, the restaurant in the brand-new (just opened last week) Four Seasons:

OPENING / Quattro Restaurant

Contemporary Italian cuisine using local artisanal sources, and select boutique Italian and Californian wines, headline Quattro Restaurant and Bar at the just-opened Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto.

The cuisine: Appetizers range from burrata with heirloom tomatoes to grilled calamari surrounded by cannellini beans. A nine-item pasta and risotto menu follows with, for example, Castroville artichoke risotto tortino, available as a large or small plate. Fish, fowl and red meats come next and include truffle and Parmesan-crusted chicken scaloppine served on a bed of Tuscan kale and pancetta potatoes.

The team: Italian-born executive chef Alessandro Cartumini comes from the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was the executive sous chef at Acacia Restaurant.

The vibe: Wood, glass, generous space and deft lighting define Quattro. A courtyard and water fountains, visible through the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling glass walls, give the place a gracious, away-from-it-all style.

Quattro Restaurant and Bar, 2050 University Ave. (off Highway 101), East Palo Alto; (650) 470-2889. Lunch, dinner daily. Appetizers, $8-$20; starters, $12-$25; main courses, $25-$36; desserts, $8-$10.

The restaurant does have a web site, but the menu isn't available online.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Prince of Wales Pub, San Mateo

The $1 beers and $1 hot dogs at Bay Meadows race track just weren't enough for us on Friday night, so after losing a few bucks on the horses, we headed around the corner to The Prince of Wales Pub.

This is a bar that has managed to survive more than three decades -- without any marketing gimmicks, big-screen TV, pool table, fancy cocktails, etc. The first time I visited Prince of Wales (which was several years ago), a band comprised of half a dozen octogenarian was there to entertain the crowd. Darts and a couple of arcade games are also available. But the real reason to come here isn't for any kind of scene; it's all about the fish and chips (served with garlic ketchup!). And, if you're brave, the Habanero Hamburger. Finish one of these bad boys -- a beef patty with a sauce made of chile oil, horseradish and habaneros -- and your name and photo go up on the "Wall of Flame" for all to admire.

To wash down your fish and chips or that spicy burger, the Prince of Wales offers 70 bottled beers and 11 draught beers for its Beers of the World Club. On a warm day, the outdoor patio is the perfect spot to hang out.

If you're looking for good, cheap British fare (of course "bangers and mash" are on the menu) in an unpretentious, friendly setting, this hole-in-the-wall is a must.

TIP: You order your food at the bar in the back, they call your name when it's ready, and you pick it up yourself. There's no table service here.

The Prince of Wales Pub
106 E. 25th Street
San Mateo, CA
650) 574-9723

Friday, February 03, 2006

Sino Restaurant + Lounge, Santana Row

sinoWhen my sister and I walked by Sino the other day, we couldn't helped but be lured in by the beautiful design -- the water wall, dark wood furnishings, hip metal curtains, curved bar, deep red walls, leather seating.

The place is so gorgeous, we knew it would be tough for the food at this three-month-old modern Chinese restaurant to live up to the decor. And, it doesn't really, but it is still a perfectly good dining option in Santana Row (albeit pricier than your average dim sum spot).

Since we were there for lunch, we focused mainly on the dim sum menu; the only entree we ordered was the short ribs -- which were fine, nothing special. Like traditional dim sum restaurants, the servers here bring trays to your table (you can also order from the menu). We immediately picked up a bamboo steamer filled with tasty pork buns. It was a great way to start off our meal.

Everything that followed was pretty good, although there were a couple of missteps with the service/menu: The Shanghai Dumpling, although listed as a ground beef item, was actually made with ground pork. Weird. And the waiter presented us with what he said were Scallop Mushroom Dumplings, but they turned out to be the Shrimp & Chive Dumplings. Not a big deal... Except we had also picked up a plate of the Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings).

Since we're both big fans of mango, we ended our meal with the Shrimp & Mango Roll (plump shrimps and slices of mango in a rice-flour wrapper); and the Mango Pudding. Since the roll was deep-fried, the mango was warm and I just couldn't get over/used to that so I only had one bite of it. The pudding, however, was fantastic. Its delicate texture was derived from the combination of mango ice cream and gelatin -- making it lighter than your usual puddings.

Since the menu is so extensive, there are plenty of options to choose from here. So I'm sure we'll be back to sample some of the other dim sum offerings... and order that Mango Pudding again.

Sino Restaurant + Lounge
377 Santana Row
Suite 1000
San Jose, CA
(408) 247-8880

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Restaurant in Palo Alto

From The Chronicle's Inside Scoop:

Let's hope that 632 Emerson St. (near Hamilton) in Palo Alto isn't cursed, too, as Mantra takes over the failed Stoa space. Previously, the location was home to Higashi West.

The California cuisine theme will remain, but instead of vegetarian food, owner Krishan Miglani is creating a California menu with East Asian touches, primarily Indian.

Chef Robert Cibrowski, most recently at the Atlantis in the Bahamas, is ramping up quickly. The restaurant is set to open later this month and serve dinner nightly. His menu will include dishes like braised, fall-off-the-bone short ribs, potato cakes spiced with fenugreek. A tandoor oven installed in the kitchen will turn out dishes such as tandoori roasted quail with huckleberry compote. Entrees will be in the $18 to $26 range.

Heather Koster, who has designed some Kimpton Group projects, has redesigned the interior with tones of rust and gold and a retooled, elegant bar area.

Miglani also owns Zingari (501 Post St., at Mason), an Italian restaurant in San Francisco. This second venture will include new partner Tony Ashwani.

Oak City Bar & Grill, Menlo Park

On a scale of 1-10, I would give Oak City a 4 overall. The food and service just don't justify the expense.
  • The Food
    Jon ordered a glass of shiraz, spinach salad with pears, fish'n'chips and a side of mac'n'cheese. I ordered a pot of tea, ahi tuna tartare and lamb chops. There was nothing special about any of our dishes, except the mac'n'cheese gratin. Bubbling underneath the crunchy garlic herb croutons was a satisfying mixture of radiatori, white cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan.
  • The Prices
    Our total bill was about $100, and -- considering that the food was just okay -- it definitely was not worth it. To put this in perspective: When we dined at Range in San Francisco a few weeks ago, we enjoyed excellent food, more food even, and for about the same cost.
  • The Service
    I realize that servers can have a bad day, but I noticed that the table next to us (a middle-aged couple) received better service. Our waitress didn't share any of the specials with us; our side of mac'n'cheese came as we were FINISHING our entrees (my guess is she overlooked that order); and she didn't offer to box up any of the food left on our plates (despite the fact that most of my entree remained). Maybe I'm just being nit-picky here, but I expected more from the service. I expected to feel welcome in the restaurant.
  • The Ambiance
    I actually really liked the overall design of Oak City. Only the tree mural on the far left wall seemed out of place in the otherwise elegant space.
While my favorite part of a dinner out is usually the dessert course, we skipped it last night because we just wanted to get out. And THAT is saying a lot about our experience here.

Oak City Bar & Grill
1029 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA
(650) 321-6882