Monday, November 27, 2006

Dairy Queen, Redwood City

After picking up Jon from the airport on Friday night, we drove by the Dairy Queen on Woodside Road. It was 9:02pm and the lights were off, the place totally shut down. Weird, right?

The next night, while on a KFC run (please don't judge me!), we noticed that across the street -- where DQ sits -- it was all dark again. Two nights in a row. Nothing going on at the DQ. Was it closed? Say it ain't so!

Jon spotted a sign in the window and decided to drive through the deserted parking lot to check it out. Turns out, they were just closed for the Thanksgiving holiday week (yes, an entire week) so they'll re-open this Wednesday.


Jon always gets some sort of peanut butter-related Blizzard (I think) and I'm all about the kids' size chocolate-dipped cone. Of course, now that I'm writing this, I really want a DQ cone. Just 48 hours until the doors open again ...

Oh! BTW, did you know that there's a Foster's Freeze in Menlo Park? I had no idea, until the other day. So I guess if DQ ever does close (which I hope it never does), at least we know that's nearby.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Bentley's, Woodside

After talking about going to John Bentley's for months and months, we finally ate there this past weekend. Located in an old firehouse, the restaurant is quite charming. The front dining room isn't very large. The focal point of the space is the rather modern fireplace that I really liked (you know, the whole juxtaposition between old and new thing). We were seated in the outdoor-ish dining room. I think it's technically a porch, but it totally doesn't feel like it because of all the enclosures and heat and comfy banquette seating that they have going on back there.

To start, I had one of the evening's specials: figs stuffed with blue cheese, served with greens and crostini. I could have done with a little less cheese in my figs, but it was fine (I spread some of the excess on the bread). Jon had the Dungeness crab cakes, which were tasty, but hardly special in my book. (Note: Maybe I've just never had outstanding crab cakes -- even in Baltimore -- so I don't know when it's really impressive and when it's not.)

Moving on.

For my main course, I enjoyed another special: halibut served over wild rice with green beans in a delicous beurre blanc. Loved it. The fish was so tender and flaky. Jon ordered the roast rack of lamb with scalloped parsnips and a grain mustard sauce. Parsnips! What a nice change from the usual potatoes. Very very good.

Finally, for dessert, I went with the panna cotta with strawberry and mango sauce, while Jon chose the apple tart with (some flavor I can't remember) ice cream. His was better, hands down. The tart was fairly large in diameter, but it was also pretty flat. There was just a thin layer of sliced apples in the puff pastry shell. Excellent. My panna cotta was a little too soft for my taste; sure, I like it creamy, but firmer (more gelatin, please!).

All in all -- food, service, ambiance -- it was a good meal, but nothing spectacular. For the most part, the dishes seemed fairly safe.

Although I'm glad we finally tried it, I think the next time we feel like spending $150 on dinner, we might have to drive right past John Bentley's and over to Village Pub instead.

John Bentley's
2991 Woodside Road
Woodside, CA
(650) 851-4988

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kanpai, Palo Alto

I recently learned that the owners of Menlo Park's Naomi Sushi -- a place Jon and I both like -- opened another Japanese restaurant in Palo Alto. Kanpai takes over the space formerly occupied by Jidai-ya. How do I know this? Because the chopstick wrappers still say Jidai-ya on them.

Details, people.

Anyway! In terms of ambiance and service, Kanpai is definitely a step up from Naomi. It's not too slick though, so you'll still be fine wearing jeans and sneakers here.

This is what we ordered:
  • San Jose tofu (deep fried cubes in a light, flavorful broth)
  • Edemame
  • Ikura (salmon roe)
  • Hamachi (yellowtail)
  • Toro (fatty tuna)
  • Kanpai Special Roll (tempura shrimp + avocado + eel)
  • Tempura asparagus
  • 49er Roll (tuna + avocado + spicy yellowtail)
  • Palo Alto Roll (um ... I can't remember!)
One of the nice things is that the nigiri is sold in single pieces ... Well, it's nice in that if you're just looking to sample something, you're only committed to one bite of sushi. But the prices are a bit steep, I think. Our overall dinner came to about $80.

I thoroughly enjoyed my selections, but Jon remarked that his -- which are the last three on the list -- were just okay. He thought the asparagus was too bitter and the 49er Roll not spicy enough. And this is coming from a man who doesn't even like really spicy food; I guess his point was that it was bland.

We ate fairly early last night -- and it was a Tuesday night -- so Kanpai wasn't too crowded during our visit. But I hear that the place gets packed later in the week and during the weekend. While I would definitely make a return-trip here, I may have a tougher time convincing Jon -- especially with so many other good sushi/Japanese food options in the area.

330 Lytton Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 325-2696

Monday, November 13, 2006

St. Michael's Alley, Palo Alto

Okay, this is going to be short and sweet ... Because I'm in the middle of working on several freelance articles ... And I wanted to mention this little eatery, but don't have time for anything too detailed.

I met up with some friends for brunch at St. Michael's Alley on Saturday, and since it was the first visit for everyone, we all commented on what a cute place it is. (Note: I like that they actually offer brunch both weekend days, and not just on Sunday.) The dining room isn't very big, but there are a couple of outdoor tables and seating at the bar as well.

Dishes enjoyed at our table: cinnamon-pear pancakes (the daily special); fruit sundae (which was basically a fruit salad, served in a bowl -- not a parfait glass, as I thought it would be -- with granola and yogurt); and Blue Monkey pancakes (blueberry and banana combined). All were delicious, and not too pricey. My short stack of pancakes and a side of crispy bacon came to about $10.

The restaurant wasn't too crowded when we showed up (which was good for us, since they don't accept brunch reservations), but it started to fill up around noon. On a sunny morning, when people aren't huddled inside their warm homes underneath a pile of blankets, I imagine that St. Michael's Alley probably attracts even more diners looking for a tasty meal, as well as lovely ambiance and service.

St. Michael's Alley
806 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 326 2530

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Oakville Grocery's T-Day Menu

I have absolutely no intention of ever -- EVER -- cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily, there are other members of my family who enjoy doing that. But if you're playing host this year and feeling a little unsure when it comes to your culinary skills, get yourself to Oakville Grocery.

They're offering traditional, but definitely gourmet, to-go meals. All you have to do is reheat, place on pretty platters, and serve at your Thanksgiving table. You can even test out Oakville's Thanksgiving meals at their customer appreciation parties, scheduled for this Thursday night at the Stanford and San Francisco locations. The entire Thanksgiving menu will be available for you to enjoy, as well as some goodies from the Fall Catering menu. (I'm sure this is going to be waaaay better than Costco free food sampling!)

From Oakville's press release:
Starters include homemade butternut squash and pear soup, wild mushroom tartlets, Medjool dates stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts and petite crab cakes. Side dishes range from our traditional classic cranberry sauce, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, turkey gravy and artisan bread dressing with fennel and apples to Oakville favorites such as creamed spinach with Parmigiano Reggiano, maple-baked sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts with pancetta and cippolini onions. Oakville is known for its wonderful cheese and charcuterie selections and the stores are brimming with local and imported artisan products from house-made Gorgonzola Torta to Farmer’s pate.

As for dessert, finish off your feast with an assortment of delectable pies from Napa Valley’s Sweetie Pies Bakery. Choose from freshly baked apple crisp, classic pumpkin or maple pecan.
You can order your Thanksgiving meal from Oakville as late as Sunday, November 19. And in case you can't make it to either of the parties this week, call them up and they'll fax you a menu. So easy, it's making me think that maybe I should host a Thanksgiving dinner one of these years!

Oakville Grocery
When: Thursday, November 9, 6-8pm
Where: Palo Alto (Stanford Shopping Center); San Francisco (The Cannery at Del Monte Square)

Friday, November 03, 2006

La Bodeguita del Medio, Palo Alto

I love this place. It's as simple as that. The food, the drinks, the vibe. La Bodeguita is now one of my favorite restaurants in the Peninsula.

Last night, Jon and I walked in (without a reservation) just after 5:30pm. Since that's what time the Cuban restaurant opens, we didn't have a problem getting a table. But if you're planning to arrive after 7pm, get a reservation. The main dining room -- as well as the bar area, which features some tables as well -- were both full when we were done with our meal.

We started off with a pair of mojitos. Fantastic. Even though I had to go non-alcoholic because I forgot my ID and the waitress actually carded me! Anyway. The drinks -- they live up to their reputation as the best mojitos in town. With rum or without.

For our appetizers, I opted for the empanadas -- a trio of flaky pastries stuffed with shredded pork -- and it was delicious. Loved the textures and flavors, and even the coconut sauce lightly drizzled over the dish (I'm not usually a fan of coconut-anything). Jon couldn't decide between the crab cakes and the croquetas, so he ordered both. The crab cakes were good, but weren't anything extraordinary. The deep-fried potato fritters, however, were awesome with the tamarind-chipotle dipping sauce.

The entrees: I had the ropa vieja (tender shredded skirt steak served over yellow rice with a few plaintain slices) and Jon had the masitas (spicy roasted pork with white rice, black beans and carmelized onions). We couldn't agree on whose dish was better (I thought mine, he thought his), but we did come to the consensus that both were amazing. The only disappointment for me were the plantains. They were on the dry side, and some slices were even gummy. I actually prefered the sweet plantain chips that served as garnish on my plate.

I purposely didn't finish off my entire dinner because I was saving room for dessert. We decided to share the Havana Bananas, which consisted of carmelized bananas, walnuts, and vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon. It was simple and tasty, but nothing special.

Last night, there were quite a few large groups in the dining room -- and this does seem like a great place to imbibe and dine with a gathering of friends.The decor here has a tropical feel to it, and Hemingway's influence is clear (his picture is on the menu, and his words are featured behind the bar). The restaurant's walls are filled with paintings from Cuban artists.

You may not be able to make it to the original La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana. But I can't imagine the food is that much better there anyway. And the Palo Alto eatery does offer plenty of rum cocktails and even cigars. No passport required, but remember to bring your ID.

La Bodeguita del Medio
463 South California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 326-7762