Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sibby's Cupcakery, San Mateo

Where does the time go?

I've been meaning to post about these mini-cupcakes from Sibby's for over a week now:


They are just as delicious as they are adorable. Jon and I ordered 2 dozen for a recent holiday dinner party. Since we believe in variety, we went with the Sibby's Sampler — which I'm told is anywhere from 4-6 flavors.

We were quite pleased with ours: mocha, grandma's teacake (chocolate), gingerbread, snickerdoodle, eggnog and carrot. In fact, we — and our guests — enjoyed them so much, Jon and I are now scheduled to bring a batch of Sibby's mini-cupcakes to Christmas Eve dinner.

Here's the thing about Sibby's though: There's a minimum order of 1 dozen for the regular cupcakes or 2 dozen for the minis. And they don't have an actual storefront. You call/email your order and they'll either deliver it for a fee, or you can stop by their San Mateo location and pick up yourself. Whichever way you go, it's definitely worth checking out.

Sibby's Cupcakery

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bistro Vida, Menlo Park

Over the past couple of years, Jon and I have enjoyed dinner at Bistro Vida on numerous occasions. I love the ambiance (feels much more like a bistro in Paris than its neighbor, Left Bank restaurant) and the food is usually quite tasty. BUT ... the service is not the greatest. Friendly, but slow.

I kept hearing that the weekend brunch was the real reason to come here, so I finally got around to stopping by on Sunday morning. It was around 11:30am, and the restaurant was about half-full when I walked in. But over the course of my two-hour meal, it filled up almost entirely. Families. Small clusters of friends. Couples. Bistro Vida clearly has widespread appeal.

I ordered the French toast along with a side of frites (which are great here). Maybe my expectations were too high, but I didn't find myself loving the French toast. It was fine, but not addictive — as other diners have deemed it. The texture was more crunchy than eggy, so it's different than most French toasts that are served in restaurants. Different can be good thing, but in this case, it wasn't for me.

I'm glad I made it to Bistro Vida for brunch, but I think I'll stick to the dinner for future visits.

Bistro Vida
641 Santa Cruz Avenue
Menlo Park, CA
(650) 462-1686

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tanglewood, Santana Row

When my sister heard that her absolute favorite server from the The Grill on the Alley (in the San Jose Fairmont) had been hired at Tanglewood, she immediately made a reservation for the Santana Row eatery.

Now I have to say, I haven't had the greatest dining experiences at the upscale shopping center. Food sometimes seems far too pricey for what you get. Stunning decor, but service is lacking. A lot of the restaurants in Santana Row are offshoots of well-known/successful local establishments (e.g., Chris Yeo's Straits Cafe and Sino, Bradley Ogden's Yankee Pier).

Tanglewood comes with a nice pedigree as well. The restaurant's proprietor is Roland Passot -- who is behind San Francisco's highly regarded La Folie. And Chef Quentin Topping is a graduate of Harvard University as well as the California Culinary Academy.

When I went to the Tanglewood web site the afternoon of our dinner reservation, I spotted a buttermilk-fried quail dish that sounded incredible. Did I mention that it comes with honey-butter mini biscuits? Drool. Sadly, it wasn't available the night my sister and I were there. But they had another quail option, served over grits and with a small salad topped with a fried quail egg. Although the quail itself wasn't fried, it was still quite tasty. And those grits were awesome. I could have eaten an entire bowl.

My sister opted for the Ahi salad that I don't remember much about. All I know is, she practically licked her plate clean. So it scored high marks with her.

Given that the Chef spent some time in the Boston area, I decided that my main entree should be a "Real New England Lobster Roll" (as the menu describes it).


I was a bit hesitant because the roll comes dressed, instead of naked, but the lobster mixture was delicious. There were chunks of sweet lobster meat, crunchy chopped celery, creamy mayo, and even a hint of curry. It was a nice combination of flavors and textures. Oh, and they did the bread right (i.e., a buttery New England-style hot dog bun). The onion rings were also very good.

My sister ordered the chicken, which was sort of a take on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It was served over mashed sweet potatoes, with tiny marshallows sprinkled on the plate (even toasted -- a sweet detail!) and some cranberry sauce. Tasty. But I looked at her plate after she finished off her meal, and there were just too many bones to have to pick through. I don't like to work that hard to get some meat.

Next up were the desserts: a triple-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for me, and an apple tart with salty caramel ice cream for her. They were good, but her ice cream was the only stand-out on both of our plates. (That's a little glass of cold apple cider in the photo below.)


The service throughout the evening was top-notch. The server my sister had come to see was actually off the night we dined at Tanglewood (bummer!), but I'm sure he couldn't have done much better than our waitress did. This restaurant, by the way, is beautiful. Dark wood, patterned silk upholstery on the banquettes, and this cool sueded table liner (instead of the usual white paper that sits on top of most restaurant tables). I loved watching the kitchen's sliding glass doors -- such a simple idea, yet it makes so much sense (you get to peek into the kitchen, the servers can see each other and there's no risk of bumping as someone comes in and someone else goes out).

Okay, so is there any downside of this place? Yes. The portions are small. And they're not cheap. My sister and I are not big eaters, yet we found ourselves still hungry after our three-course meal (that was just over $100, pre-tip). If I go back to Tanglewood, I might have to order a couple of appetizers in fill me up. I'm sure they'll be delicious, but whether or not the bill will be worth it is another question.

334 Santana Row, #1000
San Jose, CA
(408) 244-0464

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shiok, Menlo Park

I hadn't heard of this restaurant before Colin emailed to tell me about it. But once I took a look at the menu, I put it at the top of my list of places to try.

First of all, I have to say: Since we didn't have any prior experience with Singaporean food, we went into this rather blindly. We didn't know what the go-to Singaporean items were -- the Pad Thai or Shaking Beef of the cuisine, if you will. So we just picked what sounded good (from the lengthy menu) and crossed our fingers.

We chose well.

Since it was a chilly night, I quickly ordered myself a cup of the delicious, sweet honey-ginger tea. For our starters, Jon and I went with the Beef Samosa with Yogurt Mint Sauce and the Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce. The lightly breaded chicken was good (you definitely need to dip it into the sauce), but the samosas were outstanding. Inside the crispy pastry shell was a minced beef, onion and potato mix that was flavorful but not too spicy.

Noodles and rice -- comfort foods to me -- seemed like perfect entree selections for the evening. The Hor Fun is described as stir-fried broad rice noodles in rich egg gravy, with vegetables and your choice of seafood, beef or chicken. We opted for just the veggies. While we were expecting a heaping plate of noodles, what we got looked more like a stew. This is because that egg gravy is really thick. But there were definitely a lot of noodles in the bowl, and it was a satisfying dish.

Because I love Chinese sausage and claypot dishes, the next entree was a no-brainer for me: The Claypot Rice with marinated chicken, Chinese sausage, mushroom and bok choy. Simple and tasty. It reminded me a lot of a meal my mom used to make quite often when I was growing up.

Finally, we got to the dessert menu. In keeping with the theme of ordering food that's reminiscent of my mom's cooking, I ordered the Banana Roll (sans the ice cream -- it was just too cold!). Again, the beauty is in the simplicity: Just sliced bananas in a spring roll-wrapper that had been deep-fried. Awesome. Jon ordered the Fried Ice Cream, which was coconut ice cream with a layer of sponge cake around it, deep-fried and then drizzled with chocolate syrup. I didn't sample his, but since he ate it all, I can only assume it was good.

The decor here is attractive, but nothing fancy. I was a little thrown by the melamine cups, plates and spoons; it just seemed a tad too casual. When our bill arrived, we were surprised that our three-course meal was under $50. Maybe all of that plastic dishware (less breakage) helps them keep costs down?

Shiok Kitchen
1137 Chestnut Street
Menlo Park, CA
(650) 838-9448