Monday, October 30, 2006

Erik's Delicafe, Redwood City

I am not much of a sandwich person, yet I still find myself drawn to Erik's Delicafe. Since I used to frequent the establishment back in my Santa Cruz college days, I think the appeal is partly nostalgia for me. I won't go to Quizno's, Subway or Togo's, but Erik's I will gladly order from.

Erik's isn't the kind of place you crave or even go out of your way for. I happened to be at a fabric store in Redwood City yesterday when I spotted it in the strip mall. Since my husband had never been to an Erik's before, we decided to pop in.

There's nothing fancy about the menu here. In fact, you could argue that the sandwiches can easily be made at home in your own kitchen. And what's wrong with that? Erik's offers simple, solid food at affordable prices. And, at a time when fancy sandwich shops are charging double-digits and leaving customers dissatisfied, Erik's is a nice respite. The sandwiches are made to order (quickly, might I add) with fresh ingredients. I usually opt for the half-sandwich/cup of soup combo. (I love the names of the sandwiches -- yesterday I had the Raging Bull, but the R.E.O. Speadwagon is also fun to order.)

I admit that the ambiance here is a little cheesy -- with the fake barnwood walls and ceilings, iron kettle in the room, etc. But where else around here can you get your beverages served in mason jars?

Erik's DeliCafe
See web site for locations throughout the Peninsula and South Bay (mainly the latter).

Friday, October 20, 2006

Junnoon, Palo Alto

When we went to Junnoon on Wednesday night, I was a little surprised that the place was so packed. First, it was Wednesday (is that the new Thursday? which *was* the new Friday?). Second, I made my reservation on Open Table just a few hours prior, and it looked like there was quite a bit of availability for the evening.

When you enter the restaurant, there's a lounge/bar area that looks quite comfy. But the actual dining room -- at least when we were there -- had an awkward configuration to it. There were a lot of tables set up for 6-10 people, so maybe that's why it was so strange. A table of 3 was sandwiched between a party of 6 and a party of 10 (or so). What a miserable spot. Most of the tables for 2 were next to each other, with little room between tables.

But on to the food ...

Jon started with the Bombay Crab and Cod Cake, while I ordered the Minced Beef Patty. The cake was delicious, and had a lovely presentation on top of the mung bean relish. When my dish arrived at the table, I was a little surprised. I thought the patty was encased in puff pastry ... But what I got was a patty and some bread on the side. Hmmm. It turns out, I got the Velvet Lamb Kebob by mistake. D'oh. It was okay -- maybe it would have been better if I wasn't so looking forward to the Beef Patty. The lamb mixture was pan seared, but overall, too mushy for my taste. The flavors were nice though.

For our entrees, I had the Rice Flaked Sea Bass and Jon went with the Junnoon "Kaathi" Roll with chicken. I loved the crispy rice topping on the Sea Bass, and the fish itself was moist and flaky. The best way to describe Jon's was: chicken, wrapped in an omelet, wrapped in "paratha" bread. The thing was a monster, but it was so tasty, he ate it all up.

I absolutely love Mango Lassi -- it may be my favorite thing at most Indian restaurants -- and Junnoon serves a version that also includes Passion Fruit. It was so yummy, I had to order two.

Except for delivering the wrong appetizer to me, the service was fine throughout the night. I was too full (damn Mango Lassis!) to try out any of the desserts, but upon glancing at the menu, none of them really stood out to me as must-tries.

Around the same time that Junnoon opened up (in February), another upscale Indian restaurant arrived on the Palo Alto dining scene: Mantra. I'd be interested to check out that place soon to see if the food is as good as Junnoon's.

150 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 329-9644

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Update: Beard Papa

Judith sent me an email this morning with the scoop on the Redwood City Beard Papa:

Grand Opening!
November 10, 2006

835 Middlefield Road, RWC
Hours: Sun-Thurs = 9am-10pm; Fri-Sat = 10am-11pm

Vanilla Cream Puffs: 1 = $1.75; 6 = $10; 12 = $20

Special flavors will be rotated weekly, but may include: chocolate, caramel, gree tea, pumpkin, milk tea and strawberry. (Prices are slightly higher for these non-vanilla flavors.)

FREE! The first 50 customers for the first 5 days to order 12 or more cream puffs will receive a Beard Papa Coffee Thermos.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gochi Fusion Tapas, Cupertino

Yes, yes, I have raved about Gochi in the past ... But that was when my experiences were limited to the midday. With mainly rice and noodle dishes on their lunch menu, I couldn't figure out why the words "fusion tapas" appear in the restaurant's name. Well, now that I've been to Gochi for dinner, I get it.

The dinner menu is COMPLETELY different from the lunch one. Much more extensive, with really creative offerings. But just like lunch, this place gets packed in the evening. When five of us showed up without reservations last night at 6:10pm -- 10 minutes after they opened their doors -- we were told that there was ONE table available for us, but we would have to finish eating by 8pm. No problem, especially given how efficient the service was.

We shared all of the dishes, including: crab coquettes; sashimi (no one seemed to want the chewy octopus!); hamachi carpaccio; braised beef tongue (for real); pizza with crab meat, cheese, bacon and mushrooms (sounds strange, right? not bad though, and apparently one of their most popular items); BBQ eel claypot; and ground chicken claypot.

My favorites were the hamachi (the ponzu sauce added a nice, light flavor), the beef tongue (so tender) and the eel claypot. When I come here for lunch, I usually order the unadon (eel over rice). But the claypot took the dish up a notch -- with more flavors and CRISPY rice. SO GOOD. If they had that on the lunch menu, I'd order it every other day. And never get sick of it.

The desserts were fairly standard, with the Earl Grey Creme Brulee being the most distinctive of the bunch. The green tea ice cream was another good way to end the meal -- not too chalky, not too sweet.

Oh! I must also recommend the Shochu cocktails here. (Shochu is often referred to as the "Japanese vodka.") I had the lychee drink last night and it was refreshing and yummy. Another reason why coming here for dinner is better: cocktails!

Gochi Fusion Tapas
19980 Homestead Road
Cupertino, CA
(408) 725-0542

Friday, October 13, 2006

La Baguette, Palo Alto

It's hard to believe, but one of my favorite bakeries in the Peninsula is actually located in the shopping mall. It's not tucked away on a cute side-street in downtown Menlo Park. Or housed in a charming bungalow or Victorian. Nope, it's just sitting there next to a Banana Republic and a big ol' Macy's.

But let me tell you, I could eat their raspberry rings morning, noon and night. In fact, I have had it for breakfast ... as well as for dinner (just last night, which is what prompted this post). My husband always opts for one of their sandwiches. They're pretty simple but yummy -- just the delicious bread, meat, cheese and BUTTER. Yes butter. How Parisian!

There are lots of other great treats here, too, including cakes that look divine. And if raspberry rings aren't your thing, you can't go wrong with one of La Baguette's croissants.

La Baguette
170 Stanford Shopping Center
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 321-0535

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oakville Grocery, Palo Alto

I stopped into Oakville last night to pick up some Tea Sweets -- these excellent little cookies that are made by Amai Bakery in NYC. But as soon as I walked in, I knew I was in trouble. Yes, there's a reason why I only pop into the store a few times a year. It's dangerous, I tell you!

You'll want to put every other thing you come across in your basket. Pumpkin spread! Waffle mix! Fig balsamic! Pomegranate simple syrup! And then there's all the prepared foods and sandwiches.

After about half of an hour, I walked out having spent about the same amount of money as we normally do for a week's worth of groceries. But all I had in my bag were cookies and a couple tins of tea. *sigh*

And this is why I can't go back to Oakville until 2007!

Oakville Grocery
715 Stanford Shopping Center
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 328-9000

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Waiting for Beard Papa

Okay, for months now, I've heard that Beard Papa is "opening soon" in Redwood City. I heard June, then August, and September ... And now, people, it is OCTOBER. So where are the cream puffs?! (4-5 months does not equal soon!)*

Of course, I Googled. Nothing concrete came up. The Beard Papa corporate web site just gives an address (835 Middlefield Road), but no opening date.

Then I got smart and searched the Craigslist job postings. Sure enough, there was one for "Supervisor, Barista and Baker Positions" for the RWC location. The jobs were posted on Sunday for an October 20th hire date; but it also says the doors will open this month. Fingers are officially crossed now!

This is my favorite part of the job description:
Our location will be in the new entertainment hub of Downtown Redwood City next to the new 20-screen Century Theatres (just opened in July) and the Fox Live-venue Theatre (with recent concerts from Hootie and the Blowfish to Dave Brubeck).
Hootie? And the Blowfish? What kind of potential employees will be lured by this?

* While I didn't think the Beard Papa cream puffs were to-die-for (as some people do), I thought they were good -- and I'm interested in trying some of the non-vanilla flavors. Also, to me, they aren't worth a trip up to San Francisco. But sure I'd go across town to grab one.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Site Update

PHEW!!! I just switched over to the beta version of Blogger, which includes some cool new features. One of which is the ability to label/categorize posts. So I just went through EVERY SINGLE post on this site to give them each a label. (I don't know if anyone actually signed up for the RSS feed of this site, but hopefully, my updates these past few hours didn't cause any weirdness.)

While labeling posts, I noticed that my Manresa review is now cut off! Right in the middle! Strange stuff. I'm not sure how that happened. But I guess that means I'll just have to go back again soon!

Higuma, Redwood City

Since I've heard that Higuma gets ridiculously crowded at lunchtime -- it's a small restaurant with maybe a dozen tables, and five chairs at the sushi bar -- Jon and I decided to try out the place for dinner. At 5:30pm. Chances of any place being packed at that hour are usually slim.

The restaurant was about one-third full when we arrived, and the take-out service was doing brisk business. We settled into a seat by the window, but with a clear shot of the sushi bar so we could watch the chef in action. (Thankfully, the restaurant has a courtyard-ish area in front of it, so you don't have to look out on to busy El Camino Real.)

There are a few dishes that I tend to use as a measurement of how compatible a Japanese restaurant is with my palate: unadon, tempura and udon. Higuma offers all three; I went with the unagi over rice last night. Jon opted for an all-sushi dinner.

The unadon was about a B- in my grade book. I would have liked it grilled just a bit more, for more texture/crispiness on the outside. The sweet basting sauce had a nice flavor to it. But I was telling Jon that part of the problem is that I have become addicted to Gochi's unadon and find their offering to be so superior to most other places I've visited.

Jon enjoyed his various sushi items -- the fish was very fresh-- but was slightly disappointed in the spicy tuna roll. (That's his Japanese restaurant barometer.) He prefers the spicy tuna served down the street at Naomi.

I pointed out, however, that the service at Higuma is much better than Naomi. The staff at Higuma was so attentive -- checking in with us often, making sure our cup of hot tea was always filled. They were such a delight. Whereas at Naomi, we've often sat there for a while waiting and waiting for someone to stop by our table to take our order, refill a drink, etc.

I'm definitely putting Higuma on my list of places to revisit. I've still gotta try the tempura and udon here! And some of the nigiri, as I only had one bite of Jon's sushi last night.

(BTW, I don't think the restaurant is open during the weekends at all. And, in case you have trouble finding it, it's located in a white cottage with a navy awning, and is just south of Whipple Avenue.)

540 El Camino Real
Redwood City, CA
(650) 369-3240

Monday, October 02, 2006

Manka's, Inverness

manka'sOkay, this is going to be a LOOOONG one!

When we planned our anniversary trip to Manka’s, we only reserved dinner at the lodge’s restaurant one night (Friday) because we thought it would be lame to eat there more than once -- despite the fact that we had only heard/read good things about the restaurant.

Well, it turned out that breakfast at Manka’s was complimentary both mornings we were there because they had a chef-in-training in the kitchen. And c’mon, who can pass up a free three-course breakfast!

But wait, dinner on Friday got such rave reviews, we also decided we needed to eat there again on Saturday.

Yes. We ended up eating FOUR meals at Manka’s during our weekend there. So call us lame. I don’t care because we were so frickin’ well fed. I got over the whole exploring other places thing after biting into their delicious biscuits at Friday’s dinner. So I’ll back up a bit and start there… making my way through all of the culinary delights at Manka’s.

Friday Night
The aforementioned biscuits. They tasted like biscuits I had had before. Bite after bite, I kept trying to place it. Finally, we realized that Manka’s biscuits were similar to the famous Meetinghouse biscuits! They served them with a scoop of spiced butter, but we barely spread any on. The biscuits are so good, you don’t need any butter! And coming from me, that’s really saying something.

Next up was the warm beet puree that was poured over a chilled garlic panna cotta. Yeah, that’s right -- garlic panna cotta. By itself, maybe it would have been weird; but combined with that puree, it was divine.

Then we had the salt cod cakes that featured a crispy exterior, flaky fish, and chunks of warm potato. Delicious. Even though I’m not a salad person, I even liked the arugula and tomatoes on the side. Yes, this restaurant could do no wrong.

The palate cleanser was basically a cucumber sorbet. It did its job.

Then we had the meat dish: a lamb shank that was shared. The server doled out a bit for each of us, then left the remainder on the table for us to fight over. The meat just fell off of that bone, and the beans on the side were quite tasty. There was also a yummy lamb meatball. Since I opted for the cheese course, I graciously allowed Jon to eat more of the lamb.

The cheese course consisted of two goat cheeses that I do not remember the names of. Sorry. One was a tad too salty for my taste, I do remember that. But I loved the figs poached in port and the candied/fried walnuts. Yeah, who wouldn’t love candied/fried anything!

Finally, we got to the dessert: upside-down plum cake with freshly whipped cream on top. One server presented the cake, the other followed him around with a gigantic bowl of whipped cream. He made sure that whatever dollop he gave you was sufficient before moving on to another table. That dessert was simply awesome.

Saturday Morning
manka'sJon and I started with a pot of black tea each. Then we were served small glasses of fresh Gravenstein apple juice. So naturally sweet and good.

The first food item we got was a wheatberry porridge with chopped apples, served beside a pool of dairy milk. It sounded very hippie-dippie, but tasted great. In fact, I need to learn how to make this at home.

Coming in second was a plate of goat cheese soufflé and scrambled eggs. Sure, anyone can make scrambled eggs, but that soufflé was a thing of beauty. The texture was perfect – crisp on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside. That soufflé didn’t even stand a chance with Jon, who does not consider himself a fan of goat cheese.

We ended our breakfast with a wedge of waffle (about a quarter the size of a standard round waffle) that was topped with honey syrup and those same candied/fried walnuts from dinner. Apparently, they know they’re going to have satisfied customers if they let them walk out the restaurant with memories of those candied/fried walnuts on their minds/palates.

Saturday Night
So I should mention that Manka’s menu changes daily, depending on what the kitchen gathers from local farms and such. Which is why we were cool with coming here two nights in a row; we knew we’d get something completely different -- but hopefully just as delicious.

Jon decided to go vegetarian on Saturday, while I stuck to the regular menu. My meal started with a mussel soup, while his was butternut squash. While both were good, I preferred his.

Next, I enjoyed squab served atop escarole with chunks of toasted bread thrown in. Jon’s was pretty much the same dish, minus the bird. And I believe he had tomatoes on his plate. For the third course, I was served a chunk of pork belly with haricot vert and figs; no bacon for Jon.

The palate cleanser was billed as “an ice of Inverness apples” but it was more like apple-flavored whipped cream. Good spices (cinnamon, cardamom) in it as well.

The main course is where mine and Jon’s meals diverged the most: I had venison with fingerling potatoes, while he had special dish that consisted of lobster mushrooms, zucchini and house-made spaetzle. As good as mine was, I thought his was even better.

The rest of our dinners were the same: We shared a cheese platter with goat’s and cow’s milk cheese. I really liked that Humboldt Fog! It was rich and creamy, not too tangy, slightly sweet even. I have a feeling it would be great when paired with anything (Manka’s served it with quince).

Finally, we were treated to a slice each of the flourless chocolate torte, with poached pears and mascarpone. Delicious!

Sunday Morning
manka'sOur final meal at Manka’s started with fresh-pressed orange juice. Then a plate of dairy cheese came to the table. I loved the figs with huckleberry sauce that accompanied the cheese. I could have easily eaten an entire bowl of the fruits.

Next came a poached egg served over creamy polenta, with two strips of bacon on the side. I have to say, usually I prefer fried polenta; the creamy version doesn’t do much for me. But this was the best polenta I’ve ever had. It was great by itself, but add in that salty and crispy bacon, and the flavors and textures were superb.

Breakfast ended much the same way that dinner on Friday night did: with a plum cake and whipped cream. The nighttime version had a hint of almond to it; other than that, they seemed quite similar. I liked it the first time it was served to us, and still liked it the second time.

So our stomachs were very happy all weekend, thanks to the kitchen at Manka’s!

P.S. I mentioned that breakfast was free both mornings, but dinner was not. Friday night set us back $58 per person (excluding the optional cheese course); the fixed priced for Saturday was $88. I really don't know why there's such a huge increase. Except that the restaurant seems to be busier on Saturdays. Sure, there were more meat items on the menu the second night, but Jon went veggie anyway, and it wasn't $30 more in quantity or quality.

P.P.S. I tried to take photos at dinner, but the lighting was too poor. And of course, using a flash would have been a faux pas. The breakfast photos turned out a little better because I put my dishes directly underneath the small lamp on our table.

30 Callendar Way
Inverness, CA
(415) 669-1034