Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Madison and Fifth, Palo Alto

pumpkin risottoA few weeks ago, I mentioned a "New York-style" restaurant had opened in downtown Palo Alto. Since then, I've passed by Madison and Fifth several times and it's always been really busy. So last night, Jon and I finally decided to check it out.

The decor is colorful, but certainly not NYC-hip (you would never find Carrie Bradshaw in a place like this). The walls are covered with murals of NYC scenes, and lots of mirrors (this came in handy when the young, female hostesses needed to check themselves out). We had the option of dining indoors or out, but we went with the former because the patio-style dining is just awkward here. Basically, they have a half dozen or so tables for two along the sidewalk. One member of the party has to sit with their back to the street, and there's no barrier between the diner and the public strolling by. (They should take notes from Niebaum-Coppola down the street; I believe they have planters or some other nice barrier set up.)

So what is this "New York-style" food? Basically Italian-American. And the menu was pretty extensive -- divided up into salads, appetizers, pastas, pizza, entrees and daily specials. Here's how our meals broke down:
  • Gratin of Pear Carpaccio - Thinly sliced pears, crowned with crushed walnuts, asiago, honey-vinaigrette and arugula. The dish was served slightly warm, so the cheese was good and melted.
  • Caprese - In addition to the usual mozzarella and tomato, the salad included avocado and roasted red peppers.
  • Pumpkin Risotto - Served in a small gourd filled with creamy risotto. There were chunks of lobster meat, asparagus and a few slices of black truffles as well.
  • Steak - I didn't notice how this was described on the menu, but when the plate arrived at the table, it included slices of meat and a cabbage salad piled on top of a large, crispy potato pancake.
This was a heavy meal, and the portions were generous. In terms of tastiness, Jon may have put it best: "None of the dishes was better than the sum of its parts." We liked all of the components of the dishes, so the meal was good; but we weren't wowed by any of the combined flavors and textures. I will say that this place gets an "A" for presentation. (Sorry for the terrible photo up there. I only had my camera phone to work with last night.)

The service was also great. Our water glasses were never empty, plates were removed promptly. And our waitress was super-friendly. I'll even forgive her for mispronouncing several of the specials (e.g., "four-grah" instead of "fwah-grah").

When I was reading through the menu at the beginning of our dinner, I mentioned to Jon that there were so many things that sounded good, we would surely have to come back. But once the bill came, I had second thoughts about repeat visits. Our total was about $100 and I admit I was slightly surprised. It just didn't feel like a triple-digit meal (or restaurant) to me.

Using the SF Chronicle's rating system, I'd give Madison and Fifth 2 stars overall (good) and 4 dollar signs (expensive, more than $25 for entrees). Oh, and by the time we finished our dinner, the place was nearly full and the noise level had reached about 3 bells (talking normally gets difficult).

Madison and Fifth
367 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 323-3900

(Note: The restaurant's business cards indicate that their web site is, but as of today, the site isn't up.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hu-Chiang Dumpling House, Cupertino

Yesterday, the co-workers and I were wandering around the Cupertino Village strip mall, which is full of all sorts of Asian eateries. It was hot and we needed to make a decision quickly. We didn't feel like going to Joy Luck again. We walked into a restaurant that smelled bad, so we quickly walked out. And then I remembered a place that Catie had written to me about a couple of months ago: the Hu-Chiang Dumpling House. So that's where we went -- and I'm so glad we did!

The dining room isn't very large, but the tables are packed in pretty tightly. The slipcovered chairs dress up the space a little bit, but there's still not much that stands out about the decor here. The service is friendly and efficient. And if you go for lunch, don't come too late. When we sat down around noon, about one-third of the tables were still empty. By the time we left, there were folks waiting around.

After her visit to the Hu-Chiang Dumpling House, Catie had nothing but good things to say about the crab dumplings -- which happened to be one of the items we ordered. She was right; they were great. (She also mentioned that the dipping sauce is "a tad vinegary" -- again, I agree with her.) The crab dumplings and the Hu-Chiang juicy dumplings were both of the soupy variety, which I believe is considered Shanghai-style. You've got to eat these in one bite, or else you'll lose some of that juicy goodness. And the wrapper is quite thin, so be careful when you pick them up or else they may fall apart. The pork and cabbage dumplings were less soupy, and therefore, less favored by my lunch companions and me. One of my co-workers grew up in Hong Kong, and he would not stop raving about the juicy dumplings (he's already talking about going back next week).

Now, that brings me to the one thing at our table that I would definitely not order again: the soup with "fresh and salty meat." The meat turned out to be extremely fatty pork. The broth for the soup was fine, but I couldn't handle all that fat. The one co-worker who ended up eating most of the soup later got sick. I'm convinced it was that soup. So I wouldn't go there.

Oh, and another warning: The dumplings are ridiculously hot when they're brought to you. But they're worth it, even if you burn your mouth.

Hu-Chiang Dumpling House
10877 North Wolfe Road
Cupertino, CA
(408) 873-4813

Screaming for Ice Cream

As you know, it's been crazy-hot this week. So on Wednesday night, after having dinner at Naomi Sushi, we hopped over to Cold Stone in Menlo Park. Jon and our friend Rick each ordered "I Like It" (small) ice-cream bowls. I abstained because: 1) I think Cold Stone is overpriced, 2) I don't care for the service there, and 3) I was still pretty full from dinner. Jon and Rick's order came to about $12.

And I repeat, Cold Stone is overpriced. Way overpriced.

Fast forward 24 hours. I decided that I needed some ice cream, but would avoid all of the problems from the previous night by going to Rite-Aid, where: 1) A single scoop is only 99 cents, 2) The service is fast and friendly, and 3) The ice cream was actually my dinner.

Thankfully, after Rite-Aid acquired Thrifty in 1996, they still continued to serve Thrifty ice cream -- with the cylindrical scoops! I went with the Strawberry Cheesecake last night, but there were all sorts of other flavors available (Pistachio Nut, Medieval Madness, Rocky Road, Butter Pecan). It's not gourmet, but it's what it always has been to so many people who remember it from their childhood (including myself): It's good ice cream at a good price.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Back A Yard, Menlo Park

IMG_0814"Back a yard" is Jamaican slang for the way things are done "back home." Now, I have never been to Jamaica (some day, I hope!), but I imagine that the food cannot be much better than what you can find at Menlo Park's Back A Yard.

Primarily a take-out joint, there are only four tables in the restaurant. Last night, Jon and I popped in, ordered our dinner and in less than ten minutes, we were back on the freeway headed home. (If your commute takes you by the Willow Road exit, this place is super-convenient.)

Back A Yard's menu offers a variety of jerk, barbecue, fried seafood, daily specials and side items. I ordered the Jerk Chicken meal. The portion was huge. For only $8.50, I got a pile of moist and flavorful chicken (spicy, but not too hot); perfectly fried sweet, ripe plantains; red beans and rice that had a hint of coconut; and a small serving of salad. I didn't touch the salad because I was too full after shoving forkful after forkful of the other delicious Caribbean food into my mouth.

Jon ordered the Caribbean Cobb Salad ($7.25), which has all the usual Cobb components plus some of that wonderful jerk chicken. He also ordered a beef patty. Since I was picturing a slab of grilled meat (like a hamburger), I was perplexed by this selection. But -- OMG -- it was so good. It's basically a flat meat pie, about the size of my hand, filled with spicy minced ground beef. I could really become addicted to those tasty, flaky pastries. Especially since they're just $1.85 each.

For dessert, I picked up a slice of the sweet potato pudding. It's a dense dessert, glazed on top and with raisins sprinkled throughout. I ate about three-quarters of it before collapsing on the couch in a food coma...

Note: Back A Yard also offers catering services -- something I need to keep in mind in case we have a graduation party for Jon next year!

Back A Yard
1189 Willow Road
Menlo Park, CA
(650) 323-4244

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Coming Soon to Los Altos: Whole Foods

Yep, that's right. Whole Foods' domination continues, with a new store slated to open soon in Los Altos (4800 El Camino Real). The single-story, 55,000-square foot market will offer two levels of underground parking, which is enough for about 360 cars. It sounds like the set-up will be similar to the San Francisco (California Street) and San Mateo locations -- which have conveyer belts that deliver the grocery bags down to the parking area.

The Los Altos location has been posting job opportunities on various sites, so I'm guessing that the doors will be open around August/September.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Recommendation: Continental Caterers

It's June, which means that the wedding season is in full swing. So I thought I'd give props to my own wedding caterer from a couple of years back.

Menlo Park-based Continental Caterers did an awesome job -- from start to finish. We worked with Paul Alexander, the president of the company, to plan our menu. After the tasting, we refined the menu a bit more until we were 100% satisfied with our selections. We didn't have a wedding coordinator, so Paul's assistance was invaluable to us. He helped us with way more than just the food, offering ideas (when asked) about the timeline, the layout of the room, the rentals, etc. Continental Caterers also provided an event manager, which made a big difference as well (again, because we didn't have an actual coordinator).

At our reception, these were some of the things that we especially loved:

  • Blackened Tiger Prawns
  • Seared Ahi on Wonton Triangles
  • Cornmeal-Crusted Eggplant Napoleon
  • Miniature Pizzas
  • Ice Cream Sundae Bar

(Note: Continental Caterers doesn't really specialize in wedding cakes. We ordered ours from the Noe Valley Bread & Bakery.)

Oh yeah, perhaps the BEST part of Continental Caterers' service was the picnic basket that was packed up for us at the end of the night. Hours later, after the reception, Jon and I realized we really hadn't eaten much and were still famished. Luckily, we had our basket filled with all sorts of goodies!

Update: Restaurant James Randall

Now that the kitchen remodel is done, Los Gatos' Restaurant James Randall is back in business! They're open for lunch Tuesday-Friday, 11:30am-2:30pm; and dinner is served Tuesday-Sunday, 5:30-9:30pm.

Coincidentally, I was just racking my brain this morning trying to think of a good place to go in Los Gatos, that wouldn't be too pricey. On RJR's lunch menu this week, the Mixed Greens (peaches, candied pecans, manchego) looks tasty, and I think Jon would be all over that Pulled Pork sandwich (on Dutch Crunch!). But I might have to drop in for dinner and order the Pancetta-Stuffed Figs with Endive Salad... Or the Tempura Roll with Spicy Tuna... Mmm... The menu is making me hungry, even though I *just* ate lunch!

(The hours above are from an email that the restaurant's proprietor, Brenda Hammond, sent me. But the web site shows slightly different/longer hours. It may be a good idea to call them up to confirm if you're heading over towards the tail-end of the hours I listed.)

Restaurant James Randall
303 N. Santa Cruz Avenue
Los Gatos, CA
(408) 395-4441

Update: The Counter Burger

I got an email this weekend from the folks at The Counter Burger, which I blogged about waaay back in March. Although they were hoping to be up and running this month, it's looking more like a late July opening.

Since The Counter Burger did make GQ's list of top 20 burgers in the country, I think it'll be worth the wait!

The Counter Burger
369 California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 654-8900

Friday, June 16, 2006

Japanese Snack Attack

chocpockySo a few weeks ago, I paid my first visit to Mitsuwa -- the gigantic Japanese supermarket located in San Jose. I had lunch there, along with a couple of co-workers, and didn't bother blogging about it because it was an underwhelming meal (tempura udon). But you know what was totally overwhelming in a good way? Mitsuwa's snack/candy aisle! It was quite awesome. And I figured I'd be going back there again and again for my Pocky and Gummy Choco fix.

But that all changed yesterday.

Yesterday, I was introduced to Imahara Fresh Produce, which is actually even more convenient for me to visit. Their selection isn't as extensive as Mitsuwa's, but there's still plenty to choose from. (For those of you who can't get enough macadamia-related snacks, Imahara carries Hawaiian food items as well.)

While Mitsuwa is hard to miss on Saratoga Avenue, Imahara is more obscure -- tucked inside a strip mall next to a JoAnn Fabrics. They don't take credit card, so you'll need cash or a check if you want to satisfy your own Pocky craving (yes, there are several flavors available!).

675 Saratoga Avenue
San Jose CA
(408) 255-6699

Imahara Fresh Produce
19725 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 257-5636

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rio Adobe, Cupertino

A while back, my hairdresser -- a Cupertino native -- proclaimed that Rio Adobe, a Mexican/Southwestern restaurant, is her favorite place to eat out in the area. With such an enthusiastic review, I had to give it a try.

Yesterday, the co-workers and I walked in just before noon. There was no line at the counter, and a handful of people sitting at the tables. Within half an hour, the line would be consistently long and most of the tables (inside and out) would be full.

Even though we got there when it wasn't too busy, service was still a little sluggish. (My advice is to go around 11:30-11:45am to avoid the lines AND get your food faster.) I went with the Taco Plate (two tacos, rice and beans for $6), while everyone else at the table ordered the chicken quesadilla.

When my plate (finally) arrived, I was shocked by the quantity of meat. There was a generous helping of steak on each taco, which was good (more meat!) and bad (hard to eat). I like that the tacos don't come with a lot of extras -- just the meat, cilantro and onions. There's a salsa bar in the corner of the restaurant, so you can easily add some heat to your meal. The rice and beans were decent. The chips piled on top of my plate were great (fresh, warm, lightly salted).

Team Chicken Quesadilla LOVED their choice. They could not stop talking about how good it was. And I admit, looking at the crispy quesadillas on their plates, I wish I had also ordered the same. Oh well... There's always next time!

Rio Adobe
10525 S. De Anza Boulevard
Cupertino, CA
(408) 873-1600

Coming Soon to Los Altos: Carvel

GrandOpeningApparently, Carvel is ready to take the Bay Area by storm -- opening up THREE ice cream shops. Los Altos' Foothill Crossing shopping center will be home to the only one in the Peninsula though. (Berkeley is also getting a Carvel franchise soon, and the Brentwood location recently opened.)

I've only had Carvel once (in Long Island, I think?), and can't remember much about the experience. So I'm looking forward to checking it out this summer.

Foothill Crossing
2310 Homestead Road, #H
Los Altos, CA

Monday, June 12, 2006

Naomi Sushi, Menlo Park: Redux

The last time I went to Naomi, I vowed to return and order the Omakase -- which literally means "entrusting" in Japanese (you're leaving it up to the chef to decide what to prepare for you). I made good on that promise when we stopped in for dinner the other night.

The menu indicates that to best create your Omakase meal, the chef needs to know how hungry you are, what you like/don't like, etc. But when I placed my order, no questions were asked. Luckily, I'm pretty open to all sorts of sushi. I did, however, ask how much food would be involved to make sure it matched my appetite. I was informed that the Omakase would include a couple of dishes, then 4-5 sushi pieces. Perfect.

Here's what came to the table:
  • Thinly sliced scallop bathed in lemon juice and garnished with a dot of chile sauce.
  • Yellowtail with black pepper and garlic chips.
  • The sushi platter included toro (fatty tuna belly), white tuna (albacore), yellowtail and sea bream. On the side were a couple of pieces of fish tempura (possibly snapper?) and a few other veggies (cucumber, portobello mushroom).
All of the fish was fresh and very good. For future visits to Naomi, I think the Omakase is definitely the way to go. Even though it can be a bit riskier than ordering a la carte, you're likely to get the highest quality fish that the restaurant currently has available. And, you may end up trying lots of great things that you would have previously shied away from (although none of the sushi I was served is considered that adventurous!).

(Note: The Omakase price will vary, depending on what the chef makes. On the night I went, my meal was $33. If you have a specific budget in mind, it's probably a good idea to communicate that with the server.)

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

SCAP Fundraising

If you love Vietnamese food and love a good cause, have I got just the thing for you. The Southeast Asia Children's Project (SACP) is holding a fundraiser on June 24.

Jim Keim, the director of SACP, wrote to let me know about the organization's efforts: "SACP is dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking and to the treatment of its victims. Our volunteers, mainly from the Bay Area, travel on a regular basis to Southeast Asia to work on various projects including the creation of a documentary on trafficking (the plight of Vietnamese women trafficked into Cambodia), in the training of social workers, and in the provision of educational scholarships to girls at risk for being sold into prostitution. We are currently active in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand."

More details on the fundraiser can be found here, but below is the general info:

June 24, 7-9pm
Devi Yoga Studio
1011 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Ticket - $25

P.S. Even if you can't make it to the event, you can contribute in other ways. To support the important work that SACP does, I'm putting a donation in the mail this week.

Caffè del Doge, Palo Alto

Caffè del Doge -- a Venice(that's Italy, not CA)-based coffee company -- has just one North American location. And luckily for us, it's in Palo Alto.

I won't go into the history of Caffè del Doge -- you can read all about that on their web site. I'm just here to tell you about their delicious European-style hot chocolate. It's super-thick, rich, creamy. While I loved it, I should warn you that it's not for everyone. Jon took a sip and was not impressed, maintaining it was like "drinking hot pudding." (Whatever!)

When I stopped in, it was about 9am on a Saturday, and there were still some seats available. But word on the street is that this place gets crazy-crowded later in the day.

Caffè del Doge
419 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 323-3600

The Best Bagels in the Bay Area

I must admit, I am no bagel expert. Sure, I spent a summer in NYC and picked one up every morning on my way to my internship, but that hardly makes me a bagel connoisseur. Growing up in the Bay Area, donuts (not bagels) were my thing.

However, I have it on good authority -- from New Yorkers who do indeed know their stuff (my husband included) -- that the House of Bagels is THE place to go for bagels around these parts. Jon and I stopped in at the downtown Palo Alto location on Saturday morning. There was quite a selection (all the usual suspects -- plain, everything, onion, garlic, blueberry, egg, etc.) and a variety of cream cheeses in the fridge. The bagels are slightly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. And Jon says they're made the right way (i.e., the New York way): you boil the bagels before baking them.

Also, the House of Bagels carries another New York treat: black and white cookies. Yep, this place is the real deal, people.

House of Bagels
526 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 322-5189

Apparently, there are more than a dozen HOBs in the Bay Area, but I've only visited the above location. And Jon claims you can find their bagels in grocery stores, too, but I think it's best to go straight to the source if you can.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Junnoon's Grand Opening Ceremony (?)

Even though it’s been open for over three months now, downtown Palo Alto’s Junnoon just announced its grand opening ceremony plans. Scheduled to take place next week, the event is detailed in an email with the eye-catching subject, “Come Smash A Coconut on June 13.” (The lack of periods, the asterisks and the centered text are all straight from the email.)

This is not your garden-variety ribbon-cutting ceremony

Junnoon is the latest addition to Palo Alto’s dining scene, with modern Indian cuisine showcasing the finest local ingredients in healthy, bold, flavor-intensive dishes
Help Junnoon celebrate its grand opening by smashing a coconut on the patio for good luck (that’s how it’s done in India — 1.1 billion people can’t be wrong)
Come throw a coconut, and while you're at it, throw back a few specialty coconut cocktails
Enjoy hors d’oeuvres from Junnoon’s culinary team, who honed their skills at these world-class restaurants: Tabla and Tamarind in NYC; Cinnamon Club in London; Bombay Club in Washington, D.C.
Floyd Cardoz, of the critically acclaimed Tabla and Bread Bar in NYC, is Junnoon’s consulting chef
Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres from 5:30-7 p.m.
Palo Alto Mayor Judy Kleinberg will smash the first fruit at 6 p.m.
150 University Ave. (at High St.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

New Restaurant in Palo Alto

Madison & Fifth just opened its doors this week in downtown Palo Alto. It’s described as “a New York style restaurant.” I'm not exactly sure what that means though, so I’ll have to do a walk-by and check out the menu soon.

Madison & Fifth
367 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA

Monday, June 05, 2006

Teuscher Chocolates, Palo Alto

truffeJulie wrote to me last week to let me know about the opening of the new Teuscher boutique at Stanford (it's in the old Swatch location, near Tiffany). She raved about the chocolates and the friendly staff, so I had to check it out for myself. I stopped in yesterday and I admit, I was overwhelmed by all the choices. But I finally decided on the champagne truffe (the house specialty), dark chocolate champagne truffe, dark chocolate truffe, 88% chocolate bar and an iced mocha. (They offer a small selection of beverages, some of which are made with their wonderful chocolate. Right now, you order inside, but soon the outside walk-up window will be ready.)

Julie also mentioned that Teuscher's champagne truffes are Oprah's favorite -- and after sampling them, I understand why. The creamy chocolate treats are flown in from Switzerland weekly to ensure their freshness, and they're made with high-quality ingredients (for example, the champagne center actually contains Dom Perignon).

In case you're wondering, chocolate this good does come with a hefty price tag (about $1.85 for a champagne truffe, $5.50 for a chocolate bar). Kids -- if you're allowing them to indulge, too -- will go nuts for the molded chocolates in fun shapes like pigs, butterflies, elephants, airplanes, etc.

(BTW, truffe and truffle are the same thing, different languages. Teuscher prefers the French spelling, so that's what I went with in this post.)

Stanford Shopping Center
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 384-0916

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Eating Elsewhere: Hilton Head Island, SC

Jon and I just returned from a visit with his parents, who reside in Hilton Head. It's an idyllic resort town where golfing, tennis and going to the beach are the major pastimes. What makes it an even better vacation destination is the great food that can be found there.

On the casual front, Captain Woody's is a must. You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu. I usually order a basket with fried oysters and fried shrimps, plus a side of hush-puppies (which come with delicious honey-butter). Jon almost always gets a grouper melt sandwich.

For something a little nicer, it's got to be Michael Anthony's. They have a salad that is one of my absolute favorites: poached pear, sweet gorgonzola and honey-roasted pine nuts. We've never had a bad dish here, and the desserts are worth saving room for.

So if you ever find yourself in Hilton Head, both of these eateries are definitely worth checking out.