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foodzings: September 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Restaurant Week - Amada

As some of you may know, this past Sunday marked the start of yet another Restaurant Week in Philadelphia. I planned ahead this time and made reservations at Amada. I'd been wanting to go there forever, so this just seemed like the opportune moment. The restaurant is fairly sizable. It's shaped strangely, with a bar on the far left, a kitchen in the middle, and several dining areas. We ended up at the one in the back, the one you have to go around the kitchen to get to. It's a beautiful place. Clean, tasteful, lots of wood. It was fancy but not schmancy. It was really nice, I felt like a big dork in there.

The names of all their special cocktails are of spanish movies. How cute is that? A restaurant after my own heart, I tell ya! I tried some of the "Tinto" sangria. It was pretty good. Strong too. Very cinnamony.

So the deal was that you picked 2 choices from the first course, 2 choices from the second, and a dessert. So starting with the first... We picked the white bean and ham stew, the spanish octopus, garlic shrimp, and serrano ham and winter melon. The stew was delicious. That white foamy stuff is some type of potato puree, possibly infused with air? The octopus was mild, had good texture, and came with tiny grilled onions (or maybe they were shallots)? The garlic shrimp were, y'know, garlicky and good. The ham with the melon? Omigosh. So good! The most ripe melons you can find, which they put some sugar on and bruleed, and then put ham over. I loved it!

Moving on to course two! Beef shortrib flatbread, grilled chorizo, grilled scallops, and chicken breast with truffles and fried egg. The flatbread, basically like a little pizza, was topped with shortrib meat and other stuff. This was delicious! There was a "weird" taste in it, and after some thought, I realized it was honey. A shortrib pizza with honey. Strange, but good. The chorizo I wasn't crazy about. It had that funny chorizo aftertaste. Something with the paprika I think. The scallops were unbelievable. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned. I have no idea what the green stuff that was drizzled on it was made with, but it was perfect and I would have put that green stuff on everything if I could. The chicken was also excellent. Juicy with a strong and pungent sauce. I really loved everything (even if the chorizo didn't do it for me).

The dessert choices were a spanish rice pudding and some type of cream with berries thing. I wish they had more of a selection. I didn't like the pudding much. It had raisins and I don't like raisins in anything other than cookies. Sorry, I just don't. The cream thing was good (sorry, the picture came out terrible so I left it out).

The service at Amada is excellent. The waiters are friendly, a different one brings out each dish. Frenetic, yet entertaining. I think they might play some music, but it's just background so you can definitely have a conversation. The staff will totally help you to decide and give recommendations. I think it's definitely worthy of some of the hype surrounding it. Now I want to try out his other place, Tinto! Perhaps at the next restaurant week.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wedding at Dominic's

So the whole reason I was out in San Francisco in the first place was to go to A and E's wedding. They've been engaged FOREVER and they finally got hitched. The ceremony and reception were both held at Dominic's at Oyster Point, in South San Francisco. It's on the water, and it was beautiful and peaceful.

Ah... weddings. Booze, booze, and more booze. And it was aflowin'. See that little card? It was a menu of everything they would feed us. How cool are they? I love it, a food list memento.

There were these little sandwiches and tartlets for appetizers. Surprisingly, I wasn't hungry enough to even try them. What's become of me?

For dinner, it was a buffet. Always a safe choice. So much more casual, with no need to pick from between the filet or the halibut or the chicken. Excellent pasta salad and fruit salad. The ziti was also good, and the fish was fabulous. It was stuffed with crab or something. I love anything stuffed with crab!

Oh, and the wedding cake? My word. Flippin delicious! Seriously, some of the best wedding cake, EVER.


Tapas Time

Lunch on saturday was a new experience for me. J took me to downtown Mountain View. That's the home of google. Or at least the city is, not downtown. While we were eating, we saw a bunch of googlers. You could tell because they were wearing google tshirts. We went to Cascal to have tapas. It's a pretty cute place. Lots of rich and warm colors on the inside. Servers wearing guyabera shirts. The place is cool.

We sat outside on the sidewalk and had some cocktails. I had a regular caipirinha and J went with the caipirinha cosmo. What a girly man. My caipirinha was good, and strong! I got a bit tipsy within a couple of sips.

We got the tapas sampler. It came with a bunch of different little things. All beautiful. There was some delicious really thinly slice ham. I'm not sure what type, but it was damn good. There was a potato fritatta type of a thing. Sorry, I can't tell you what anything was, I can only describe it. The two little dishes had some ceviche in one and some fish in another. They were both ok. A piece of toasted bread with some kind of liver pate, which I actually liked. Deviled egg, yum! Mussel, not so bad. My favorite thing was what I thought was a mini sausage wrapped with bacon. But oh no! It was a date filled with goat cheese, then wrapped in bacon an grilled. So good! So surprisingly good. I might be going to Amada this weekend, so this was definitely a good intro.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Trip to the Secret Garden

I have several friends in the bay area, so it was great to catch up with them. I passed by this place in mountain view and had to include it. I like the name. It would be even better if it was Pho King instead of Pho Queen. But they're funny either way.

We went to Korean Secret Garden restaurant for dinner. It was somewhat later, and we got a table all the way in the back. The service was horrible. Just horrible. But really, korean restaurants aren't exactly known for their service, so it didn't really bother me. J ordered some soju. It's like the official liquor of korea. Made of rice and sweet potato and some other stuff. Like sake is to Japan. Like cachaca is to Brazil. It's just what we drink.
We ordered a pajon (big pancake with stuff mixed in). It was too thick! Usually, they make it thinner and it's big and round, so it's slightly crispy. This one was thick and all folded over. And way too many scallions. I've had much better pajon in my life. What a damn shame.

J ordered the soondubu. That's a pretty famous soft tofu hotpot dish. He got one with out spice so that his kid could possibly eat it. Frankly, it looked a little bland to me. What's soondubu if it's not firey red and spiced to the gills?

D ordered a dolsot bibimbap with seafood. It comes in this sizzling hot stone bowl, so everything is kinda crackling when they bring it to you. I also think she didn't put any of the spicy kochujang in it becauase their other kid might have wanted to eat. What's with babies and not being able to eat spicy food?

L ordered a special combo dinner. Poor L, they completely forgot about his order. We were all well into eating ours when we reminded the server (see, I told you that the service sucked) that he still needed his food. Oops. But once he got it, things were much better. Those shrimps are flippin huge.

J went with the traditional bibimbap. Always a good solid choice. While he was mixing his up, he found a piece of orange in it. I've never seen that before in any bibimbap I've ever had. Intentional, or not? You make the call.

As for me, I went with my staple, ojingaboekum. Or stir fried squid. And what can I say.... but I've certainly had better. Yeah, it was alright, nothing too special. I've definitely had much more fabulous versions of this dish. On the other hand, their selection of banchan (the little side dishes) was good. And their kimchis, especially the cucumber one and the radish one, were excellent. As for the rest of the food and certain the service, that needs a bit of work!

Korean Secret Garden
3430 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA

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Gilroy - garlic capital ain't no lie

On friday I drove back to the south bay from crappy mariposa. On my way, I passed through Gilroy. Gilroy, don't you know, is the garlic capital of the world! They have a famous garlic festival there every july. It's one of my dreams to attend it one day. The strangest thing about Gilroy, and something completely unexpected that just hit me, is that the whole town smells like garlic. Seriously. Would I make this up? It's not offensive, but it is just not normal. I mean I've passed plenty of places that smell like poo, like Kennett Square and what not. But garlic, that's a new scent to be wafting.

While there, I stopped for lunch. I didn't know my way around so I ended up at some random strip mall by the highway. And by chance, I had my first hawaiian plate lunch at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. I'd seen this plenty of times on tv, so I was excited to try. This place is a chain, but we don't have any around Philly.

I wanted to try a bunch of stuff. But they were very limited in the menu and what combos you could get. I even asked if I could make my own combo, but he didn't understand me. Seriously. I told him I wanted to get three things and he could charge me extra, but he just said we can't do that. Why the hell not? Can a restaurant not be flexible? Dear L&L, allow your patrons to make their own combos. Please.

So I went with the hawaiian barbecue meat and fried shrimp combo. Basically folks, this "hawaiian barbecue meat" they speak of is korean bulgogi. Except they use a much crappier cut of meat that is full of gristle. Eek. The shrimp were good. They're butterflied, panko'd, and fried. Yum. This was the regular size that comes with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. As you can see the two scoops of rice are huge. I don't know what kind of scoops they use, but they must have been made for elephants. The meat itself wasn't anything special. It was saltier than normal bulgogi, and like I said, some bites were so chewy that I had to spit it out. That's not a good thing. But I'm very happy about having had my first hawaiian plate lunch and look forward to having my next one in hawaii!

Friday, September 14, 2007


Thursday was my visit to Yosemite. Right after I took off, I had to take a gas break. Next to the station was the Bravo Farms Cheese Factory. Yes, they actually made cheese there, plus it was a shop with all kinds of food related stuff. You know the cute little shops in cute little towns that specialize in food stuffs like salsas, hot sauces, dried fruits, and the like.

I found this fascinating line of items - Fartless Factory. Fartless corn bread, fartless popping corn, fartless chili bowl, a pair of fartless factory tightie whities. Very amusing stuff.

Here is a picture of real california cheese being made. I'm not sure what's going on here, but I've seen this process on the food channel a lot. It was cool to see it in person. I think there's curds in that vat. Those little arms were swooshing everything about. Mr cheese man had to mug it up for my camera.

Ah Yosemite.... It's grand. And vast. And enormous. There's not so much big trees here as big rocks. Huge rocks. El capitan - the big giant granite monolith. Lots of falls, but unfortunately they were dried up at this point of the year. Everything is just big. You feel so small being this little person in this giant park amongst huge bits of earth. It's very humbling.
I just kept on stopping and taking pic after pic. I would have loved to have had time to climb something.

Luckily for visitors to Yosemite, there are much better choices for food here, than at Sequoia. This is also a big camping park, so there are many markets to stock up on staples. The main store is fairly big, bigger than the average trader joe's, and pretty much is a regular grocery store. There is also a food court! And several delis and grill joints. There is also a swanky hotel called the Ahwahnee and there's several fancy restaurants in there.
I spent the night in a little town called mariposa. I think it used to be a gold mining town. It has a cute little "downtown" strip area that about 1/4 of a block long. Not much to eat at all. I had the worst chinese food in my entire life that night. It should have been a bad sign when I asked the girl what the noodle soup was like and she said "bowl". Then I said what kind of broth is it and she said "noodle and some vegetable". Then I finally said what kind of broth, chicken or beef and she said "chicken". I went with something else completely and it was the worst chinese food ever and one of the worst things I've ever had to eat in my life. Thank goodness I ordered a thing of plain white rice and made sure she gave me a little thing of hot sauce. Were it not for that white rice I would have starved. Then the damn motel didn't tell me that breakfast ended at 9:30, so when I showed up at 9:45 all the food was gone. Damn you mariposa california! Never again...

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Wednesday was my trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The centerpieces of these parks? BIG ASS TREES. Whoa. Sequoia is home to the biggest tree in the world. 36.5 feet in diameter. 265 feet tall. When I say big, I say big. Look how small these tibetan monks look. These trees are also very orange. It was just so strange as I'd never seen trees like this before in my life.

Food in Sequoia? Ugh. Not much to be had really. It's more of a camping park, and so really, you should be cooking up your own food on a fire you build. They do have a decently stocked market for those campers. I'd been snacking on beef jerky and fig newtons all day. I wanted real food, but there was only one little snack grill place open that had burgers and hot dogs, and I wasn't quite feeling it. So I just picked up a cracker jack and a jones soda to go and kept on snacking for the rest of the day. It wasn't until after I bought the soda that I noticed it was sugar free and made with splenda. Even still, it was pretty good. Look at these cute little s'mores kits that they sell. I don't ever remember seeing anything that handy and prepared when I was growing up.

As I left the park, I took the windiest road ever. EVER. Seriously, I gave myself motion sickness driving back. It was rather unbelievable. And it took forever. I stopped in the bustling metropolis that is Visalia to get something to eat. Of what I saw, my choices were 7-11 or chinese buffet. I went with chinese buffet. As shocking as it was to me, it was actually pretty good. I had the worst expectations going in, so perhaps that helped. But really, I've had much worse chinese food in my life.

I stayed at the Best Western in Three Rivers. You won't get confused, there's only one. Outside of the office was this lime tree. Yes folks, in California, you actually see fruit trees. But not only fruit trees but citrus fruit trees! Gosh, I wish I had a lime tree in my backyard. I would make margaritas all day long! I want to say that the Best Western rocked, it really did! I even had a fridge and microwave in my room. And their continental breakfast was also great. I made myself a waffle and ate that on my drive to Yosemite. Along with a banana and some muffins, I was quite good to go!

Palo Alto Sushi Fun Time

For dinner tuesday night, A and I met up halfway between where she was and I was. A suggested Miyake, a sushi spot on Palo Alto's University Ave. Palo Alto, if you don't know, is home to Stanford University. Yes, people who go there are really smart. Freakishly smart. It's also one of the most wealthiest universities in the universe, so the campus itself is really beautiful and swanky. The main strip is also fairly swanky as well. Nicer than any college or university I ever went to... not that I'm knocking University Circle in Cleveland or Guadalupe in Austin, but we didn't have sushi joints.

Miyake is made for college kids. It's cheap. It's close to campus. It prides itself on getting people drunk on sake bombs. It has disco lights. Did I mention it's cheap? In the short time we were there, they put the lights on a couple of times and made some kids get up on chairs and do sake shots. Do you see the lights? And all the mirrors on the walls? But at least there's no pretense here. They know people are here to just have a good time and get drunk and maybe have some mediocre sushi. Let's not pretend it's haute cuisine.

A got a few rolls... the summertime roll, a spiy tuna roll (it was supposed to be a hand roll but it came out a regular roll), and another roll with eel in it. I loved the bright and colorful dishes they served everything on.

I wasn't really feeling like sushi, so I went with a nebenyaki udon. I had no idea it would come in a giant metal cauldron of a bowl. It was huge. It tasted ok. I didn't expect much. It was only $8 or so, and the bowl was huge, so it was rather a bargain. In any other normal japanese restaurant it would have been 1/3 of the size and at least 50% more expensive. So all in all, it was a good deal.

I also got a spicy california roll. It was also ok. Better than I expected really. Beautiful plate. The service here is fairly fast and friendly. It's a very strange looking place inside. Large dining area, one entire side being the sushi bar. There is a sushi conveyor belt. The decor sucks, and there are two out of place giant corinthian columns in the middle of the dining rooms. But I hear the place is really fun on the weekends and when you scream "sake", everyone else screams "bomb".

140 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-9449

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Adventure in Afghans

I travelled on 9/11. Yes folks, I'm that much of a badass. And then I went and ate afghani food! Yeah! But seriously, I did do these things. The travelling part was a breeze. It was one of the most pleasant and smooth flights I've ever had. Plus, the flight was about 40% empty. It was lovely.

I met up with A at an undescript strip mall in San Carlos, home of Kabul Afghan Cuisine. I've never had afghan cuisine before. I mean I've had middle eastern, but I never knew what kind of middle eastern. Can I just lump all middle eastern food into generic middle eastern? Probably not. So this was going to be a new and novel experience for me.

First, a side salad. Everyone gets this I think. It was a perfectly ordinary salad.

A went with a veggie combo plate. You can pick 3 different options, and she went with two helpings of the pumpkin, challaw kadu, and one of the eggplant, challaw badenjah. That eggplant looks like brown slop but it was actually good. But not anywhere close to being as good as that pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin. Now, the only pumpkin I've ever eaten was pumpkin pie. So when A raved about the pumpkin, and everyone on yelp raved about the pumpkin, I was skeptical. But of course, I wanted to try it. Oh man, it's so good. I never envisioned pumpkin being this tasty! We're not sure how it's prepared, but we think it's just hunks of pumpkin slightly seasoned and cooked. So simple, yet so good.

I went with the chef platter, which is the non-veggie combo. I had the aushak, which is dumplings served with yogurt and meat sauce, and two fried things - sambas and bulanee katchalu. So this aushak stuff. It was really good. But strangely enough, it was like a pot sticker/ravioli with meat sauce. Seriously, the meat sauce was very positively italianesque. I liked them regardless. The smaller fried things, the sambas, were good. It was stuffed with some kind of veggies and I used the green sauce that accompanied my dish. It was a mysterious sauce, but it almost seemed mexican-ish as I swear I tasted tomatillos in there. The big fried thing, the bulanee katchalu, was ok. There was a strange spice in there that tasted like medicine, so I just didn't eat it. I also got two pieces of a thick bread, they call it afghan bread. This bread is awesome.

I made sure that we left room for Beard Papa's. Since I knew there was one in south bay, I had to fit that in. So on my way to Sunnyvale, I made sure we stopped at the one in Redwood City. This particular Beard Papa's was in an adorable downtown-ish revival type of shopping / eating / cultural area. You could tell the area was being all fixed up and swankified. There were all kinds of shops, restaurants, bakeries, theaters, everything. And there were older buildings with their original authentic architecture. Man, I could live here, I thought to myself.

Or maybe I just wanted to live here so I could go to Beard Papa's every day. They're still as good as I remember them being. A large and well-textured pastry, overflowing with oozy delicious vanilla dream of a cream. I bought 3, but I only ate 2. Are you impressed?


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

West Coast Busy Bee

I'm on vacation y'all, and in the bay area to boot. Just got here and have lots planned. Much of that involving food, of course. I've been here for 8 hours and already have two things to post. This is going to be a great week!

Stay tuned...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sidecar - Gastropubbin'

L had picked a gastropub for this past Sunday night's dinner. What is a gastropub? I have no idea. But it's a pub that actually cares about the food they serve. It's not just burgers and chicken wings. And of course they have a good beer selection. Located in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, the Sidecar Bar & Grille will have been around nearly 2 years . It's in a very unassuming corner on 22nd and Christian, caddy cornered from a dry cleaners. I biked there and showed up at 22nd and Catherine and nothing was there. I was very confused. Then I thought oh, maybe it's 20th and Catherine so I biked there. It wasn't there either. Then I found out it was at 22nd and Christian. You could see how I could be easily confused.

It's a rather small place, with a long bar and kitchen on one side of the building and tables on the other side. There is also some outside seating. The menu isn't very big, but they also have specials. With their food, they offer beer recommendations as to what type of beer would go best with that dish. The restaurant itself is quite pleasant and on the quiet side. There is one small tv in the corner. Early on a sunday night it wasn't very busy, so we were able to have a real conversation and actually hear each other. I think there may have been some music playing, but I didn't notice it. It was a nice change from having to scream to talk to your friends when you're at a regular pub.

We got served by the owner and he was super helpful, attentive, and spent lots of time explaining to us about all the food and helping us decide on what to order. L went with the chicken and duck empanadas, which was a special. B got the fried fish, which came with hush puppies and honey butter. I went with the pulled pork sandwich. We split a calimari appetizer.

Let me tell you, the calimari was fantastic. I'd had calimari the weekend before and man, that calimari didn't compare at all to the calimari at the sidecar. This was probably the best cooked calimari I've ever had. Perfectly cooked to give it the perfect texture. I don't know how they timed this so perfectly. And the kicker was the dipping sauce that came with it. It wasn't a regular old marinara, it was slightly mexican-ish in flavor. Man, it was a perfect complement. I could have eaten this stuff with a spoon.

My pork dish was also excellent. It came slightly sandwiched between two pieces of some cheesy cornbread. I've never had cheesy cornbread before (topped with cheese), and I have to say, I liked it. My cornbread pieces were slightly charred on the edges, but it wasn't a big deal. They were still quite good. The side of slaw was good too. The pork was well flavored and very tender. The bbq flavor wasn't too strong or too sweet, it was just right. It looks like one hot mess in the picture, but believe me, this dish was great.

I'm not regularly a dessert gal, but L mentioned the pecan square that they have here as being excellent. They basically take what would normaly go in a pecan pie and make it into a flat square, about 3x3 wide. It has a crust on top, they put ice cream on it, and drizzle it with a caramel sauce. Oh my goodness. This was so freakin good. It wasn't too sweet like pecan pie usually is. It was incredibly chewy, which I loved, and it had a rather mild flavor. It didn't even taste like nuts really, it was just chewy and delectable. The ice cream on top made it that much better. See how good it was, I couldn't even take a picture of it before I took a big bite of it. L and I split this and it was really more than big enough for the two of us.

If I lived near this neighborhood, I would come here all the time. Seriously. They make the food with so much love here. The staff is too nice. They have cheap beer specials. I think this may be the start of a lovely affair.