Thursday, May 25, 2006

House of Catfish & Ribs, Daly City

I'm trying to figure out our itinerary for an upcoming trip to South Carolina, so I've got Southern food on the brain today. Hence, this entry about the House of Catfish & Ribs -- a hole-in-the-wall that I used to drive by on my way to/from work. (It's right next to the Colma BART station -- which was my stop back in the days of commuting via public transportation.)

This isn't an in-depth review by any means, because it's been a while since I've eaten here, but if you're in the neighborhood and craving some ribs, definitely check this place out. The ribs are tender and fall off the bone, the sauce is spicy -- making for a finger-lickin' good meal.

It's not really the type of place you sit down at (there are only a handful of seats), so business is mostly to-go. It's probably best that way because the service here is so-so. And I recall the hours being sort of funky, so be sure to call before you head over.

House of Catfish & Ribs
270 San Pedro Road
Daly City, CA
(650) 997-3700

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Satura Cakes, Los Altos

Last month, I mentioned that Satura Cakes would be opening soon in Palo Alto. With that opening now nailed down for June 2, I decided that I should probably try out their Los Altos location. You know, so I could determine whether or not it's worth getting excited about their new bakery. And after sampling two of their cakes, I have concluded that it is indeed worth the anticipation.

I was in downtown Los Altos yesterday around 5pm, so a few of the goodies were already sold out for the day. But there was still plenty to choose from -- cakes, cookies, pastries, chocolates. I was tempted by a ganache-filled fig that was dusted in cocoa powder, and the mango pie piqued my interest, but I decided to devote my calorie consumption to the cakes.

I picked up slices of the Satura Shortcake ($5) and the Banana Chocolate ($4). I have to say, the shortcake is quite pricey when you consider that the slice is, oh, maybe a 1.5" square. That's it, people. So, $9 poorer, I walked out of the bakery with a cute little box with a label attached indicating that these treats should be eaten today. Of course, I complied.

After dinner last night, Jon and I brought out the box. The Strawberry Shortcake was delicious -- the cake was moist, the whipped cream frosting was light and not too sweet, and the strawberries were fresh. Jon's first bite into the Banana Chocolate resulted in an odd reaction. The chocolate sponge cake is rolled with a caramel banana cream. But looking at the cake, you might think the cream is mocha. So when you get caramel banana instead, it's a little strange. Once I explained to him what the cream was, he enjoyed the rest of it. I really liked the chocolate sponge cake, but wasn't crazy about the cream filling.

Those of you waiting for the Beard Papa to set up shop in the Peninsula (downtown Redwood City, to be specific), will be happy to know that you can get your cream puff fix taken care of at Satura. When I dropped in yesterday, the two flavors offered were caramel/banana and green tea. I think they were all out of vanilla. The cream puffs are $3 each (which is a little steep), but you can also grab 5 for $10 (much better).

Although Satura's Palo Alto location isn't even open yet, there are already plans to open two more in the Peninsula by the end of the year. Good news, yes, but it means I may have to join a gym if they set up shop closer to my house...

Satura Cakes
200 Main Street
Los Altos, CA
(650) 948-3300

Opening on June 2:
320 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Coming Soon to Los Gatos: Cocoa Bon

A while back, I wrote a little something on Cocoa Bon -- a local company that makes wonderful chocolate products. And just last week, one of the owners wrote to let me know that the store is moving from Valley Fair to downtown Los Gatos. (The family-run business is actually based in LG.)

Set to open in mid-July, the new store will offer an expanded selection of goodies -- including ice creams, truffles and drinking chocolates. AND there will even be a little lounge area. I can't wait!

P.S. Whenever I polish off a tin of Cocoa Bon treats -- which is fairly often -- I hang on to the containers because they're both cute and functional. I keep a tall tin in my car full of quarters (for feeding meters), a small round tin in my office for pushpins, etc.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Double-Double Trouble

So the co-workers and I just got back from In-n-Out, where a petite older woman equipped with a red cooler walked right up to the counter and said, "I called in an order for 75 Double-Doubles."


And let me just remind you that a Double-Double consists of two patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions -- all stacked high between the buns.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's Cooking: Pizza di Spaghetti

A while back, I saw Giada De Laurentis make Pizza di Spaghetti on her television show and kept thinking that I should try it some time. And that time was last night. It's the perfect meal when you don't feel like putting forth too much effort, and happen to have some leftover spaghetti sitting in the fridge.

Oddly, there are three discrepancies between the recipe that's in the book and the recipe that's on the FoodTV site:

Book = 1/2 cup milk
FoodTV = 1/4 cup milk
(I think the 1/2 cup was fine.)

Book = 1 cup parmesan
FoodTV = 1/2 cup parmesan
(There ain't nothing wrong with a little extra cheese! I also swapped the parmesan for aged provolone.)

Book = 1/2 cup olive oil
FoodTV = 1/4 cup olive oil
(I definitely side with the web site on this one. In the middle of cooking, I had to drain quite a bit of the oil out of the pan because 1/2 cup is WAY TOO MUCH!)

The dish turned out well -- love the extra-crispy edges! -- and I will definitely make it again the next time we have some extra spaghetti. But I have GOT to remember to cut down on that oil!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No-Bake, No-Fuss Pot de Crème

choccupsI do not like Rachael Ray. Her stupid little sayings. Her wild hand gestures. She just bugs me. Which is why it pains me to say it, but I must admit: I'm tempted to make those chocolate cups that she whipped up on "Oprah" yesterday.

Her take on pot de crème actually looked really good and, as with all of her recipes, they require very little time or effort. There's no baking required -- which is especially nice because with this heat wave we're experiencing, who wants to deal with a hot oven?

Chocolate Cups with Whipped Cream

2/3 cup whole milk
1 egg
2 tbsp sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp hazelnut liqueur or dark rum*
4 demitasse cups
1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
Mint springs for garnish, optional

1. Heat the milk in a small pan over moderate heat until it comes to a boil.

2. In a blender or food processor combine the egg, sugar, a pinch of salt, semi-sweet chips and liqueur. Run the processor or turn on the blender to a low setting. Pour in the boiling milk in a slow stream. The hot milk will cook the egg and melt the chocolate. Process or blend for 1 minute, until smooth. Spoon chocolate into 4 demitasse cups and chill.

3. After dinner, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add a little sugar and beat to combine. Top the chocolate cups with a dollop of cream and garnish each cup with mint sprigs. Place cups on saucers and serve with demitasse spoons. If you use teacups, this recipe will yield 2 cups, rather than 4.

* During yesterday's episode, RR said you can use the booze of your choice.

And that is IT! I love that they look much more complicated than they are... But I still hate Rachael Ray.

Monday, May 15, 2006

New Yogurt Shop in Cupertino

Now open on DeAnza, near Stevens Creek: I ♥ Yogurt. I believe today is their first day in business. Perfect timing, considering it's another 80+ degree day in the neighborhood and fro-yo sure sounds good.

I ♥ Yogurt
10133 S. De Anza Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 725-0200

New-ish Restaurant in San Carlos

When downtown San Carlos' A Tavola suffered a small kitchen fire and relocated to Redwood City in June 2005, the move was expected to be a temporary one. But that status was soon changed to permanent. Then in March 2006, Town opened up in the old A Tavola space. (Both are operated by the same team, and they are sister restaurants to Milagros in RWC and Nola in Palo Alto.)

According to Town's Open Table profile, the restaurant "features hand cut steaks and chops, the freshest seafood, local organic produce, hand-crafted cocktails, and a wine list with a focus on California, Washington and Oregon wines."

716 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA
(650) 595-3003

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Who's Your Puff Daddy?

beardpapa_puff_croppedI had every intention of holding out for the Redwood City Beard Papa to open this summer. But, after running around the house singing/rapping(?), "I love it when you call me Beard Papa," all weekend, I couldn't wait. Since Jon and I happened to be in downtown San Francisco today, I popped into the three-day-old location in the city and sampled my first Beard Papa cream puff.

After hearing how crowded the NYC store was when it opened two years ago, I was expecting a long line. But there were just a few people in line in front of me. The menu board listed quite a few items, but all -- with the exception of the vanilla cream puffs -- had "coming soon" stickers slapped over them. So I guess it was vanilla cream puffs... or vanilla cream puffs. At least for now.

The cream puffs are served straight from the oven, so they're still warm. The pastry actually consists of two layers: the outside pie-crust-like pastry is nice and crunchy, while the inside choux pastry is light and airy. (Most cream puffs are made from only choux pastry.) The coolness of the filling is a good contrast to the pastry shell. The little black specks in the whipped cream custard confirm that Beard Papa does indeed use real vanilla beans in the puffs. (Madagascar beans to be exact.)

While I thought the cream puff was very good, it's not something that I find myself craving. Maybe it's because I'm not a big fan of vanilla? I am looking forward to trying some of the other goods that the store will be offering -- like the green tea flavored puffs and the chocolate-covered eclairs. (I did see a woman leaving the store with a bag full of Beard Papa boxes, so clearly there are those who can't get enough of the cream puffs. I hope she can consume that many in one sitting, because they're meant to be eaten the day they're made.)

And in case you're wondering, the Redwood City location is scheduled to open by the end of June in August. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

Beard Papa
99 Yerba Buena Lane
San Francisco, CA
(415) 978-9972

Now Open: El Grullense on Woodside Road

Finally! About a week behind schedule, the newest El Grullense opened for business yesterday. And, as can be expected on Day One, service wasn't the smoothest -- but at least the food was still awesome. (Here's my review of the El Camino Real location.)

The restaurant is much bigger than I expected. Located in a newly renovated strip mall on Woodside Road, the space is clean and airy. There isn't a lot in the way of decor, although their are colorful murals and paintings gracing the walls. And about half a dozen flat-screen TVs mounted throughout. In the back is the bar area, which also includes a couple of candy machines and a jukebox. The salsa bar is situated beside the soda station, in the middle of the restaurant.

The menu board is quite extensive, but lacks the food photographs that you'll find at the El Grullense on El Camino. Although there was only one person in line in front of us, it took FOREVER to get up to the cash register. There were actually two registers, but only one was being used at the time and only cash was accepted. (About half a dozen people were huddled around the sole register in use -- maybe training?) When it was our turn to order, it turned into a ten-minute ordeal. I wanted the two taco combination (comes with a soda, rice and beans for $5.99). For some reason, it kept ringing up as $8.50. After repeated attempts to correct the error, the cashier gave up and charged me about $5 for my meal. Jon's chicken burrito was no problem.

Next up was the wait for the food, which we ordered to go -- yet it was brought to us on a dine-in tray. The server quickly realized the mistake and took the food back to the assembly line to be properly packed up. A few minutes later, we had our bag and were out the door. But when we got home and looked inside, there was an extra burrito. No idea how that happened, since it wasn't on the tray the server almost gave us.

The glitches were understandable, given it was El Grullense's first day in operation. The staff, although clearly a bit stressed, was still super-friendly. And the food more than made up for any errors. Their hot sauce is the best (one of the hottest I've come across in a Mexican restaurant), and the beans are good and cheesy. Yummm. Plus, we got a free burrito!

(Pssst... The parking lot in front of the restaurant is really small, but there's a larger lot in the back.)

El Grullense Grill
768 Woodside Road
Redwood City, CA
(650) 368-3325

Monday, May 08, 2006

Joy Luck Place, Cupertino

dimsumFirst rule about going to Joy Luck Place for lunch: Get there early. We arrived around noon today and it was fairly packed. The restaurant is located in the Cupertino Village strip mall -- behind the Ranch 99 there. There's a massive dining room, with private space available for large groups as well.

So I'm going to apologize because I don't know the official name of most of the food I ate today. I was lucky enough to have two Chinese-speakers with me, so they could easily communicate with the servers. I can recognize my favorite dim sum items, but with this pair in tow, I was able to get a few dishes I don't normally order and I trusted that they would choose wisely for the table. (Note: I've heard that the service here can be bad, and that may be the case if there's a language-barrier.)

From what I can remember, this is what we ordered: shrimp rolls, shrimp dumplings (har gow), crispy shrimp dumplings (in a fried wonton wrapper, served with sweet mayo), pork and chicken with rice wrapped in banana leaves (mai gai), steamed pork buns (char siu bao), baked pork buns, pork in a sweet crust/shell, pork dumplings (siu mai)... Hmmmm, I don't know why we seemed stuck on shrimp and pork today... Oh, and we did grab a plate of the turnip cake -- as our veggies for the meal. (Nevermind that it was pan-fried and thus, probably the unhealthiest of everything we consumed.)

Except for the pork item with the sweet exterior (I didn't like the flavors) and the turnip cake (too mushy), all of the choices on our table were quite good. I thought the shrimp rolls and the mai gai were the best of the lot. I'm looking forward to going back soon and sampling even more of the dozens of dim sum items on Joy Luck's menu.

Joy Luck Place
10911 N. Wolfe Road
Cupertino, CA
(408) 255-6988

Donde esta El Grullense?

Okay, remember when I said that the newest El Grullense would be opening last Friday? I lied. But that's only because the staff at the El Camino/RWC location had given me bad information. Apparently, despite crews working late into the night, they couldn't get the new restaurant open on time.

I drove by this past weekend and the "coming soon" signs were still taped to the window. It looks like the furniture is in place though. So any day now...

It's probably best to give a call before you head over to the soon-to-open Woodside Road location. (650) 368-3325

Naomi Sushi, Menlo Park

On Saturday night, Jon and I were leaving a gathering in Los Altos where lots of "heavy appetizers" were served. Since the evening was all about meeting new people (the incoming class for Jon's graduate school program), we realized that with all of the chatting, we had barely eaten anything. So we decided to drive around Los Altos a bit, in search of food.

It was 8:30pm -- remember, it's a SATURDAY -- and we found NOTHING open. Jon thought of a fish'n'chips place that he passes all the time during his bike rides, but it was shutting down as we drove by. It was about then that I decided I was craving sushi. We hit El Camino Real, destination Naomi Sushi.

I had read a lot of good things about the restaurant and was delighted that it was still open when we pulled into the parking lot. The space is broken up into two rooms, with a sushi bar in the front. The menu is primarily sushi, although there are a handful of Japanese dishes as well (including udon, which I love). But on this particular night, we were there to sample some sushi. And the tempura appetizer -- because fried foods are my weakness.

While I liked the mix of veggies in the tempura order (yams, zucchini, carrots, squash) and the batter itself was good, there was a little bit too much excess batter for my taste. But I just left the extra crispy bits on the plate, so no big deal.

Now on to the sushi... Jon was happy to see that the menu states that you can create your own sushi. He hates restaurants that don't let you request a specific combination. He went with the tuna and avocado, which was fresh and delicious. Then we split two rolls (eight pieces each): eel and crunchy shrimp; and spicy tuna topped with spicy yellowtail. Thumbs up for both, but I will say that the crunchy shrimp part of the first roll wasn't quite what I expected. I mistakenly thought it would have tempura shrimp inside the roll. It turned out to be tiny shrimps and cucumber (the crunchy) and crab meat. And the spicy roll was not THAT spicy. Thank goodness for wasabi.

The next time we visit -- and we both agreed there would be a next time -- I may have to order the Omakase (chef's choice) to experience a better range of sushi. I was happy with the service (my cup of green tea was constantly refilled, the staff was friendly), and the price is about what you would pay at any other sushi joint.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, they close at 9:30pm on a Saturday night. We barely made it in!

1328 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA
(650) 321-6902

Friday, May 05, 2006

Panera, Cupertino

About two weeks ago, I got my hair cut by a woman who happens to be a Cupertino native. So, since I work in the area, I asked her what's good to eat around here. "PANERA!" she exclaimed, adding that she "craves their bread all the time."

So I finally gave it a try today, and you know what? Her enthusiasm is well-placed. At around noon today, Panera was crazy-crowded with young student-types, older office-worker-types -- the usual weekday crowd in Cupertino. The cafe/bakery has only been open a few months, so it's still quite clean and nice. The menu offers a good selection of breads, pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches. There were five of us dining today, and here's how our orders broke down:

  • Me: Roast beef sandwich, which came on a delicious Asiago bread -- which would have been even better if it was toasted for a crunchier melted cheesy top.
  • Coworker #1: Chicken panini, which he said was tasty, but deemed too small.
  • Coworker #2: Pepperblue steak sandwich, which was pretty skimpy on the steak, but had a good flavor.
  • Coworker #3: Half-sandwich plus a bowl of soup combination. He opted for the French Onion soup, but they have about half a dozen to choose from every day.
  • Coworker #4: Half-sandwich plus a small salad combination. He chose the Fuji apple chicken salad, which looked -- and apparently tasted -- quite good.
Each of our lunches came with a small bag of Krunchers kettle chips (thumbs up for those). Everyone enjoyed their meal, and we all agreed that the best deal was the "You Pick Two" -- choosing between the bowl of soup, half sandwich, half salad. I think they were about $7, which is barely more than the cost of a sandwich, but it seemed like they made for a much more substantial lunch.

Although it was a little too warm today for me to consider a soup, I am looking forward to trying Panera's. Another coworker, who had visited earlier in the week, highly recommended the broccoli cheddar soup -- which is served daily.

Service was fine at Panera, with our orders coming up surprisingly quickly considering how busy it gets. I think this place is going in our regular lunch rotation. Now that we've discovered it, we'll never have to eat at LeBoulanger again!

20807 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 996-9131

Reminder: New El Grullense

Good timing, since today is Cinco de Mayo. The newest El Grullense opens today.

El Grullense
768 Woodside Road
Redwood City, CA
(650) 368-3325

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Restaurant in Cupertino

We just got a flier in the mail about this new place, Wahoo's Fish Taco, located next to the Elephant Bar. It's a chain, with locations in California, Nevada and Colorado; but this is only the second Bay Area outpost (the other is in San Jose). Here's the description on the flier:
"Wahoo's Fish Taco serves a unique menu featuring Mexican dishes with a Brazilian twist in a beach-casual atmosphere. Known for charbroiled fish tacos and Banzai burritos, we also serve chicken, steak, pork, shrimp and veggie dishes. All ingredients are prepared fresh daily."
Personally, I don't have high hopes for this place, although I haven't ruled out giving it a try one of these days. Since "fish taco" is in their name, maybe they at least do that well.

19626 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 466-4771

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Michael Bauer, Blogger

Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer has officially entered the blogosphere! His blog is called Between Meals, and here's an article detailing what he hopes to accomplish with it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Kirk's Steakburgers, Cupertino

It had been a while since I tried a new place for lunch, so I joined the co-workers today for a trip to Kirk's Steakburgers. Located right next to the freeway on-ramp, this restaurant is not about the ambiance. The dining space is lined with booths on the side, with tables for four set up in the middle. At one end of the room is the kitchen/counter; at the other, a small-screen TV and a condiments bar.

I opted for a regular ol' steakburger with jack cheese and mushrooms, as well as a chocolate mint shake. I didn't bother with the fries because they're steak fries, which means they won't be crispy, which is how I like them. (The onion strings did look very crispy, however.)

The burger itself was very good -- a juicy, charcoal-grilled 1/3-lb patty. I had to get rid of all of the mushrooms that were piled into my burger because they appeared to be canned mushrooms, which are a no-no in my book.

The milkshake was basically a too-sweet chocolate shake with some mint syrup poured in. I wish they would just make it with mint-chip ice cream. But, hey, what do you expect from a place that doesn't have fresh mushrooms. (I know, I just can't get let that go!)

The next time I'm in the mood for a burger and shake, I think I'll head over to In-N-Out -- which cooks up perfectly good burgers and fries. Plus, it's much cheaper than Kirk's! (My lunch today was just over $10.)

Kirk's Steakburgers
1330 S. DeAnza Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 446-2988

Town & Country Village
855 El Camino Real, #75
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 326-6159

2388 S. Bascom Avenue
Campbell, CA
(408) 371-3565

Eating Elsewhere: Carmel, CA

We drove down the coast to Carmel this weekend to celebrate my nephew turning five. Carmel is one of those destinations where we don't do much except relax, eat, shop, hit the spa, eat some more. So here were some of the food highlights and lowlights:

  • On Friday night, Jon and I went to the aptly named Pacific's Edge -- which sits right along the coastline. We were lucky enough to get a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Whenever a restaurant boasts such breathtaking views, you have to wonder if the food is going to live up to the beauty of the natural surroundings... or if the menu is relying on the view to win people over.

    We had dined at Pacific's Edge a year or two ago with Jon's parents, and everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal. This time around, however, the food didn't quite live up to my expectations.

    Jon and I decided to go with the three-item dinner; you can select three, four or five dishes from the main menu. Soon after ordering, we were treated to a delicious amuse bouche of yellow squash soup with parsley oil.

    Next came our first course: "steak and eggs" (beef carpaccio and a leek-gruyere quiche) for me, and marinated brussel sprouts for Jon. The carpaccio in my dish was great, but the quiche -- which may have been better if it was at least warm -- was underwhelming. The bland crust was filled with a layer of egg custard, then a layer of gruyere. I didn't taste any of the promised leeks in the quiche. Jon's plate looked (and tasted) phenomenal though -- with grapes, dry ricotta and bacon vinaigrette served with his brussel sprouts.

    Fortunately, my second course was awesome. I opted for the Monterey Bay abalones, which consisted of four pieces that were pan-fried to perfection. The abalones came with a side of garlic flan. I love garlic and I love flan, but I did not love that garlic flan. Jon's second plate was the kampachi, which is a sashimi-grade version of yellowtail. I didn't get a chance to sample it, so I'm guessing it was REALLY good.

    For our final dinner dish, I had the quail breast and Jon had the rack of lamb -- both of which were superb. And maybe we should have stopped there... Because the desserts were a disappointment.

    I ordered the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate. As its name implies, it consisted of three chocolate preparations. The chocolate and caramel bombe was yummy, as was the capuccino ice cream served on a layer of chocolate. The warm chocolate tart was not warm and, like the quiche, suffered from a so-so crust. Jon hardly ate any of his Apple Tart Tatine. The five-spice ice cream was good, but the tart itself and the sauce it was drowning in tasted like burnt sugar. Terrible. Perhaps the best sweet treat of the evening was brought to the table after our meal was complete: the complimentary miniature strawberry shortcakes were excellent.

    So, although we got a better table this time around than on our first visit, the food wasn't as good as I remembered. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it a 7.

  • Since Saturday was rather chilly and it even rained a bit, it seemed like a good day for Afternoon Tea. We had been to the Tuck Box a few years ago and decided to make a repeat visit. We shouldn't have. From what we could gather, there was only one tea option (ceylon black). And there were no traditional tea offerings -- except scones, that weren't even very good! Jon ordered an omelet, while I went with a deviled egg sandwich. It's a bit of a misnomer since the egg salad inside the sandwich had no kick to it (as deviled eggs should). And there were olives in it. Huh. I was still hungry after we walked out of the Tuck Box (good thing we had a plethora of snacks waiting for us in our hotel room).

  • On our way home on Sunday, we made a stop in Santa Cruz for lunch. One of our favorite places on Pacific Avenue is Zoccoli's Italian Delicatessen. The sandwiches are fantastic -- a great way to end our weekend getaway, especially after a few other food missteps!