Monday, August 28, 2006

Alana's Cafe, Redwood City

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. But on the weekends, it's tough for me to drag myself out of the house in the morning to get a bite to eat. So when we do make the effort to go out for breakfast, it had better be good.

I was having trouble sleeping in on Saturday morning, and since Jon and I were already planning to hit the driving range early, I figured we should grab food somewhere while we're out and about. Alana's came to mind because we've driven by it before and I always comment on how cute it is. The restaurant is located in a blue Victorian, broken up into several dining spaces and with a lovely garden/patio in front.

Since it was a bit chilly when we arrived, we opted to dine inside -- at the table-for-two next to the faux fireplace. I ordered a hot chocolate (not water-based -- yay!) and a small stack of the Swedish oatmeal pancakes with bananas on the side. Jon went with the Farmer's Garden plate (homefries, tomatoes, scallions, mushrooms, cheddar and provolone sauteed and topped with two poached eggs). He also got a blueberry-lemon scone, one of three fruit options they had that morning. (The other two were cherry-something and papaya-coconut. I was surprised by that last one, and wasn't sure if I even heard her right.)

The pancakes were delicious! The oats made for a nice texture, but didn't overwhelm the batter or -- what I feared -- make it too dry. It's got a good flavor to it, too, so you don't need much maple syrup. Jon's scone was awesome. It was fresh out of the oven, so it was warm with a crusty top. He approved of his Farmer's Garden dish as well, as evidenced by the clean plate he left behind. The homefries were also a hit. Ideally, I'd like them a tad crispier, but they were perfectly seasoned.

The service was just as impressive as the food and ambiance. The staff was very friendly -- a tough task at 8am on a Saturday!

Since we got to Alana's shortly after they opened, it wasn't too crowded while we were there. But I hear this place gets crazy-crowded on the weekends. While we were in the middle of our breakfast, a man walked in to meet a friend of his who was already seated. "Isn't this place great!" he exclaimed, as he made his way to the table by the window. The friend confirmed that it was. And Jon and I also looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

Alana's Cafe
1020 Main Street
Redwood City, CA
(650) 366-1498

Friday, August 25, 2006


Cocoa Bon
Last week, I received an email from Chris at Cocoa Bon, letting me know about the grand opening of their new place in downtown Los Gatos. Unfortunately, I was out of town last weekend -- or else you know I would not have missed the chance for chocolate and wine tasting. Anyway! The new store, which should be bigger/better than the old Valley Fair one, is now open and I am definitely going to check it out soon.

Cocoa Bon
78 West Main Street
Los Gatos, CA
(408) 354-5900

The Counter Burger
I haven't had a chance to go to The Counter yet (it just opened this week), but James wrote to tell me about his experience:
[My] friends and I had to go check it out this past Saturday. However, we didn't end up ordering a regular burger; we ordered one with every single possible topping (all the cheeses, toppings, and sauces) and we dared our friend Tim to finish it within 30 minutes. The burger ended up weighing 5 pounds and had a total of 54 toppings... The entire thing was a sight to behold (and apparently no one had ever attempted it before).
You can read more -- and see the crazy photos -- at his web site.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Eating Elsewhere: NYC and Boston

We got back late Tuesday night from a week-long trip to the East Coast. As you can probably guess, there was a lot of good eating to be done in NYC and Boston. Believe it or not, the photo below is a FRIED TWINKIE from the Chip Shop in Brooklyn.

deep-fried twinkies

Although I was a bit skeptical, the Twinkie turned out to be quite good. The outside had a nice crunch to it, while the cake was still spongey and moist. (I think the heat from the frying process causes the cream filling to melt/become absorbed into the cake.) The raspberry coulis was a fancy touch! Here are some of the other food highlights from our vacation:

New York
  • Lunch at The Modern Bar Room, before taking in the MoMA.
  • Afternoon Tea at the Tea Box, on the lower level of Takashimaya.
  • Crispy rice with spicy tuna at Koi. (We first had this dish at the original Koi location in L.A. and loved it. So of course, when our hotel restaurant turned out to be Koi, we *had* to pop downstairs for a bite.)
  • Breakfast at Balthazar. (When you're dining here, it's easy to pretend you're in Paris.)
  • Small plates at The Stanton Social. (I loved the French onion soup dumplings! And the dessert of warm doughnuts!)


  • Meatball sandwiches at Quincy Market. (It was so hard to pick just one place to eat in there!)
  • Italian in the North End of the city, specifically at Piccolo Venezia.
  • Breakfast at Tealuxe.
  • Fried dough and Fenway Franks at the Red Sox-Yankees game.
  • Fried Ipswich clams at Jasper White's Summer Shack.
  • Dessert at Finale.
  • Yummy pizzas at Todd English's Beacon Hill location of Figs.
And now we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming of local eating establishments!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bad Blogger

I've been a little sluggish in regards to posting lately... I'm still eating out a lot, but not necessarily at new places (maybe once a week?) and not necessarily in the suburbs (shame on me). Plus, it's summer -- so the hammock in the backyard is more enticing than the computer in the back office.

I didn't even get around to posting that:
  • Carvel opened in Los Altos. At Foothill Crossing on Homestead Road.
  • The movie theater FINALLY opened in downtown Redwood City. Hopefully, that means the restaurants (Fat Burgers, Beard Papa, etc.) will be in business soon.
  • The Counter Burger in Palo Alto had a pre-opening party last Friday and then held fundraisers (for local charities) the next day. The party was to help get their staff trained and ready to go. The official opening is next Monday, August 21.

Oh! I lunched at the Saratoga Country Club last week. I didn't bother blogging about it because: 1) It's not open to the public, and 2) It wasn't a very good experience. The service was funky as heck -- strange because the staff should (I think) be warmer, considering that the clientele consists of members who dine there often. The first person we encountered actually gave us a dirty look when we walked in (a party of eight) because apparently he was too busy doing nothing to put together a larger table for us. Then the waitress almost got into an argument with my sister about whether or not her fork was dirty -- it was, and the waitress finally conceded defeat. But if a diner says a fork is dirty and requests a new one, why stand around staring at the fork -- holding it up to the light -- and turn it into a debate? Just grab another frickin' fork, lady. In addition to the not-quite-right service, the food wasn't THAT great. On the menu, the coconut shrimp was described as being served "with plantains." You know what their definition of "with plantains" is? A two-inch, half-slice of a plantain. I kid you not. It was more like a plantain garnish. The coconut shrimp was actually tasty, and I liked how buttery the rice and veggies underneath it were, but I couldn't get over my plantain disappointment.

So that's all I know. With Jon starting school soon, I'll probably find myself scavenging for food around the Stanford campus a bit more. If anyone has any suggestions, as always, they are much appreciated.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Alexander's Steakhouse, Cupertino

I must admit, I was a little skeptical about this place. Even though I had read numerous positive reviews, I just couldn't bring myself to believe that -- in the middle of Vallco Shopping Center -- was some kind of culinary gem. Driving by the place didn't offer any reassurances, as the exterior of the restaurant is dull and uninteresting.

But once you enter the building, you're instantly transported into another world -- one where you can drop $100 for an ounce of caviar or 2-3 times that much for a cut of Kobe beef. In case you had any doubts that they're serious about their meat at Alexander's, the first thing you notice here are the shelves of beef dry-aging on the other side of a window.

While waiting for other members of our dinner party to arrive, I must've said at least half a dozen times, "THIS used to be an EL TORITO!?!" Sure, the outside wasn't pretty. The inside, however, was sleek and contemporary. The waiting area included a couple of comfy couches and a stone fireplace, as well as a decent-sized bar.

Once our party of six was complete, we were seated at a corner table in the first dining room. Alexander's is indeed a steakhouse, but there are lots of Asian influences. (The menu actually reminded me of a place we ate at in Tokyo.) We snacked on edamame, seasoned with togarashi, while deciding what to order. So many things sounded so good, that we ended up over-ordering. I can't possibly go into detail about everything that made its way to the table. Instead, here is a quick rundown of what we liked and what we didn't like:

The Good

  • Mushroom Soup (the soup changes regularly)
  • Maine Lobster Tempura
  • Sea of Cortez Scallops (the scallops are gigantic)
  • Crab, Crab and Crab Again
  • Hamachi Shots (before shooting these into your mouth, you may want to loosen the hamachi et. al. from the glass a bit; otherwise, the sweet ponzu sauce is all you get at first and it's overwhelming)
  • Filet Mignon
  • Cow & Crustacean (the steak part was good, the lobster presentation was so-so)
  • 28-Day Dry Aged New York
  • All 4 Love (I liked 3 out of 4 of the beef presentations -- the kobe sashimi was eh; the marinated jicama that the kobe was wrapped around was overly sweet)
  • Mac 'N Cheese (with truffle oil!)
  • Sauteed Chanterelle Mushrooms
  • Crimini Mushrooms
  • Haricots Verts (with bacon!)
  • Mashed Potatoes (mmmm... so buttery, and with chives!)
  • Steak Fries (these are HUGE -- you only get three to an order -- but deliciously crispy and well-seasoned with cumin)

The Bad

  • Sashimi Quartet (I like my raw fish to be relatively uncluttered -- so the fish itself really shines -- and this dish just had too many other flavors going on for my taste)
  • Crab Hand Roll
  • Portobello (described as "Gruyere Fondue" but was basically a portobello mushroom with some melted cheese on it -- disappointing because I was expecting some fondue presentation!)
  • Sweet Corn Medley

The good definitely outweighed the bad. My absolute favorite savory dish of the evening was the Maine Lobster Tempura. It was ridiculously good. The tempura coating was nice and light, so that it didn't overwhelm the sweet lobster meat. Next time, I would seriously consider just ordering two orders of this small plate for my entree. The only downside to this awesome dish was that it was really hard for anything else I consumed to follow in its footsteps...

That is, until the Eden dessert came along! The platter consisted of an apple souffle (with caramel sauce), peach souffle glace, and strawberry/chocolate fondue. I loved everything about this dish. The consensus among the table was that this was hands-down the best dessert. The Chocolate (Valhrona chocolate crunch cake) also received a big thumbs-up. But the trio of Creme Brulee (blueberry, Meyer lemon and mint) didn't fare so well. The Devilish (milk chocolate cheesecake, truffles, chocolate ice cream) fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Given how much food we indulged in, we were pretty full by the time the bill arrived. Yet the restaurant had one more treat in store for us: cotton candy! You know we couldn't pass that up. The flavor of the night was Leapin' Lime, so three bright green spun sugar creations were brought to our table. Delicious!

P.S. I wish I had brought my camera because the presentation for a lot of the dishes was really something. Beautiful plating.

Alexander's Steakhouse
10330 N. Wolfe Road
Cupertino, CA
(408) 446-2222

Friday, August 11, 2006

Marvin Gardens, Belmont

I don't know exactly what it is about ramshackle-looking eateries with large patios filled with rustic picnic tables, but I kinda like them. Maybe it's because, even in the fancy Silicon Valley, they don't feel compelled to be slick or pretentious. Maybe it's because their focus is on serving good food and drinks in an environment that's conducive to hanging out for hours with good friends.

And, in the case of Marvin Gardens, occasionally, you get to experience the residual trembles from the nearby CalTrains. And by nearby, I mean literally right behind the the restaurant's patio area -- right over your head as you enjoy your pint and burger. After a few trains, you just learn to pause your conversation. No biggie.

Jon and I met up with a couple of friends at Marvin Gardens last night. I ordered the fish and chips, which consisted of beer-battered rock cod. (The fish part of the plate was good -- better than the chips.) Jon ordered the veggie pizza, which he enjoyed (an individual-size is probably sufficient for one person). Our compadres ordered the fish and chips as well, and the El Gato burger (ground sirloin on toasted French roll with green chili pepper and jack cheese).

The restaurant's web site boasts that they serve "primo excellent food," and although that's a bit of an exaggeration, our meal here was quite tasty. I would go back again and, when I'm not wearing a white t-shirt, maybe try the half slab of ribs.

What I found especially appealing about Marvin Gardens is that everywhere we turned -- inside and outside -- there were groups of people that looked to be having a grand time. Young, old. Women, men. Families, coworkers, friends from back in the day. It's a neighborhood-joint kind of place where things are easy, casual and most importantly, fun.

Marvin Gardens
1160 Old County Road
Belmont, CA
(650) 592-6154

Monday, August 07, 2006

Coupa Cafe, Palo Alto

I think this is my new favorite cafe in the Peninsula... Not that I really had a previous favorite... But this place has everything I like in a cafe:

  • Good ambiance (comfy and cozy, with indoor and outdoor seating)
  • Good food (including lots of sweet or savory food options)
  • Lots of beverages to choose from
  • Friendly service (order at the counter, they'll bring the food to you)
Jon and I stopped in yesterday before catching an early screening of "Little Miss Sunshine" (which, by the way, is hilarious!). Jon ordered a blueberry scone, BLT croissant sandwich and orangeade. I had a slice of Quiche Lorraine and an iced "Chuao" chocolate. The grand total was about $25, but it was a good amount of food (his sandwich and my quiche each came with a small helping of salad). Food-wise, the only gripe was that the crust on the quiche was gummy in some spots, and yet perfectly flaky in others.

As promised, that Chuao was spicy! At first, it goes down nice and smooth. Then suddenly, the chile and pepper kicks in and you feel the heat. I loved it. Coupa is actually known for its Chuao Chocolatier treats -- with unique fillings such as banana caramel and chevre -- as well as the strong Venezuelan coffee that's served up here.

We were in a bit of a hurry, so didn't really get to relax and hang out as much as we would have liked to. (I dig the leather couch in the back room, situated right in front of a fireplace.) Next weekend, maybe!

Coupa Cafe
538 Ramona Street
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 322-6872

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pho Vi Hoa, Los Altos

On Monday, my sister and I had plans to lunch at Alexander's Steakhouse in Cupertino -- sort of a recon mission, so we could determine whether we should reserve a table for a larger siblings + spouses dinner later. I was reviewing the menu all Monday morning, pondering which appetizers and entrees and desserts we would order. (Mmm... Hamachi Sashimi...)

So we pulled into the parking lot and stumbled upon a mall security truck and a Sheriff's car blocking one lane. No problem. We went to the next lane. Then we got out and headed towards the door, where an employee was loitering. He proceeded to tell us that the restaurant is closed on Mondays. CLOSED! How did I not notice this during my half-a-dozen visits to the site that morning!

Anyway. I asked him for other nearby lunch recommendations, and you know what he told me? "There's a TGIFriday's across the street." Um, no. So my sister and I got back in the car all disappointed and famished (not a good combination). She then decided that she would take me to her favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Los Altos. She had been raving about Pho Vi Hoa for so long, that I put up with the sort-of far drive (remember, I'm HUNGRY) to check this place out.

When we arrived at the little strip mall in Los Altos, the parking lot was crazy -- full of bad drivers who were probably just as hungry and cranky as we were. We fought it out and got a parking spot, then walked over to the restaurant, where we were greeted by a line. *sigh* I was so unhappy. Like you would not believe, and so I started whining about how we could have just gone to Pho Hoa down the street from my office, and what makes this place so special, and blah blah blah... Goodness, I was such a pain.

But the thing about pho places is, the turnover is pretty quick. The wait ended up only being about five minutes, which probably felt like five million to my sister, who had to at least pretend to listen to me. She eats here about once a week with her husband, so she didn't even need to look at the menu. The waitress came over in about 30 seconds flat to take our order, which I was not prepared for. But we both ended up getting the classic Bun Thit Nuong -- a bowl of rice vermicelli with grilled pork, served with fish sauce. It was really, really good. And it made me shut up. The quality and flavor of the meat here is better than what you get at Pho Hoa, making it definitely worth the longer drive. We also ordered the Goi Cuon -- shrimp and pork spring rolls -- which were very tasty as well.

With a couple of drinks, two large satisfying noodle bowls and the appetizer, our total (before tax and tip) was about $25. It seemed a little pricier than Pho Hoa, but you'll find less fat on your meat and nicer ambiance at Pho Vi Hoa. So yes, the next time my sister drags me here, I won't be such an ingrate!

Pho Vi Hoa
4546 El Camino Real
Suite A12
Los Altos, CA
(650) 947-1290

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Birthday Dinner

I celebrated a birthday not too long ago, and Jon gave me the option of dining anywhere my heart (and stomach) desired. So where did we go? The Old Port Lobster Shack.

Yes, I know I've written about my OPLS dining experiences before (not once, but twice). But during this visit, in addition to the outstanding naked lobster roll, I ordered the fried Ipswich clams for the first time. At $21.75, the appetizer seemed a little pricey, but hey, it was my birthday.

Thankfully, like the $17.75 lobster roll, they turned out to be worth every single penny. The clams are whole, with the belly on. We're not just talking about some frozen strips here. The clams are sweet and crunchy and delicious.

The clams portion, which also comes with a helping of fries, is rather generous. Between Jon and I, we actually didn't even finish them off. I sat there for a while after devouring my lobster roll, hoping to make more room in my tummy for those remaining clams. But no go.

And this brings me to my only problem with OPLS: I'm always so satisfied and full from the appetizers and main dishes, that I never get a chance to try out their desserts. And I love me some dessert. So, sadly, I did not enjoy any of their homemade bread pudding or blueberry pie on my birthday. Oh well -- at least it's a good reason to make yet anothe visit to OPLS!

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

P.S. The SJ Merc finally published a review of the restaurant this past weekend.