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New Bay Area French bakery chain: La PanotiQ

A few data points on La PanotiQ: I've stopped by the location in Mountain View maybe a dozen times, and tried about two dozen items. There are only two items that I recommend:

1. The caramel plait: it looks like a generic danish, but it's great, with intense caramel/buttery goodness:

2. The chocolate temptation, a mousse cake with a hazelnut base, and chocolate mousse:

Everything else I've tried ranges from mediocre to terrible. In terms of the quality/price ratio, I think Alexander's Patisserie down the street is way better.

One innovation: they sell Bicycle Coffee, and you can buy a large Bicycle-branded "growler jug" filled with cold brew:

In terms of importing uncooked frozen pastries from France: Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos does that. The croissants are below average.

Jul 04, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

French Fries: SFBA Dish of the Month December 2014

Just a note about the demise of fries: Little Chef Counter in San Jose at San Pedro Square Market shut down, so no more duck fat fries from them. That space will become "Lou's beach shack," a seafood place run by a co-owner of the former Lou's Village.

Jun 11, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Doppio Zero in Mountain View

Pizza Boca Lupo in San Pedro Square got its VPN certification. In my mind, that lowers the stature of VPN status: I consider their pizza to be a rubbery, stale version of good Neapolitan pizza. Pizza Boca Lupo prominently displays their illuminated VPN sign.

According to the owner at Doppio Zero, the VPN certification was done digitally: They shot digital video of the pizza making process, then transferred the video files over to Naples, and the "certification" was done remotely. The owner indicated that the inspection was not rigorous. The owner's exact quote was "you pay the money, you get the certification."

Jun 01, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

French Fries: SFBA Dish of the Month December 2014

I recommend the yucca fries at Joya in Palo Alto:

They are analogous to cuñapés, which are also made with yucca flour. they have a really addictive firm-yet-chewy texture inside, and are nicely crispy on the outside. If you've never had them, it's worth a trip. $6.50.

May 21, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Okonomiyaki in South Bay/Peninsula

I tried the okonomiyaki at at the demo station at Mitsuwa in San Jose. Tsuruhashi Fugetsu is the guest restaurant. $8 for pork, or $10 for shrimp+pork. Open 11 AM - 7 PM through May 24:

I don't recommend it; it's lacking the addictive chewy pancake-ness that I'm looking for. It also seems to have a lot of lettuce / cabbage filler. It's better than the version at Bushido, but I prefer the version at Izumiya in SF Japantown.

With a dozen people in front of me, the wait was only 10 minutes.

May 19, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Okonomiyaki in South Bay/Peninsula

Mitsuwa center on Saratoga is hosting an Okonomiyaki vendor from Japan in their demo area. Avalable from 11 to 7. Have not tried it, but other reliable people say it's good. Through the 24th. The line is about an hour wait.

May 17, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

A review: Stan's Donut Shop in Santa Clara

Yes they are that good. One thing to keep in mind: they usually stop making donuts around 11 AM-ish, so if you want donuts hot out of the fryer, you need to show up before then.

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

A few data points on Castro St, in terms of stuff that's either good or different than what you'd find in SF/Oakland:

RYOWA has a rather different style of ramen; The Noodles are super-springy: it's like your mouth is full of rubber bands. I've found that people either love this style, or hate it. Also, the "RYOWA" spicy sesame broth is different from what is offered at many places, and people either love it or hate it. Personally, I love both the noodles and the broth, so it's always my go-to ramen joint. Also: the karaage (fried chicken) at RYOWA is outstanding: I have not found karaage elsewhere that is as good. The one strange thing: the complementary tea they serve is horrible; I refer to it as "ash tray tea."

Blue Line pizza uses a crust that's rather unusual: it's like a dense cornbread cracker. They have deep dish and thin crust versions: I recommend the thin-crust, which shows off the crust better. It's pricey.

There is a new re-opened gelato place: "Midtown Cafe": it's across the street from Gelato Classico. They serve gelato from Lush, which you can also get in SF/Oakland, but if you happen to be there, the mojito sorbet is fantastic: better than some actual mojitos I've had.

Sakoon is good for Indian. Also: they have a blood-orange manhattan on the cocktail menu that is outstanding. Get it with Bulleit. They have happy hour every day 5-7 PM.

Cascal is good for two things: caipirinhas and Paella. For some reason, the caipirinhas at Cascal are better than at any other place: I'm not sure why, since they use the same Leblon Cachaça that everyone else uses; it might be the sour mix? The drinks are half price before 6:30, Mon-Fri. They are also somehow able to produce really good paella, with a slight crust on the bottom, despite the fact that they serve it up rather quickly: it's great for sharing. I haven't found any tapas that I can recommend.

May 14, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

San Jose without a car

Here are my recommendations for downtown San Jose:

In the morning: Hit Vero's Coffee Bar for a shot of espresso, but only if they are pulling the HoneyCo Classic espresso blend; Otherwise, go to B2 Coffee at San Pedro Square, and try their cold brewed coffee, served on a nitro tap.

Caffe Frascati has pastries from Dianda's: I recommend the almond torte.

Happy Hour:
- SP2 communal Lounge: Happy hour is 3-7 every day. great hoisin glazed ribs, fries, grilled cauliflower, and quite a deal for HH. They have a really good cucumber-basil gimlet.
- Firehouse #1 Gastropub: great spice-encrusted chicken wings. And their rusty ginger blade cocktail is good.

For lunch or dinner:

Ike's sandwiches are good, but only because they are loaded with Ike's "dirty sauce," which packs a huge dose of umami.

Vung Tau: I'm addicted to the ca phe sua da (iced coffee) at their second location in Milpitas: I don't know if it's as good in the San Jose location. Their food is $2 more expensive than every other Vietnamese place, but seems to be almost double the quality, so yea it's worth it.

The fried oyster Po boy at Louisiana Bistro is amazing: it's super crunchy and salty and oyster-flavored, so it punches right through the bread. And the bread pudding is good. I don't recommend anything else there.

Da Kine Island Grill is a Hawaiian place with great Kalua pig sliders. Avoid the Tiki drinks.

Back-a-Yard has great goat curry on Thu/Fri/Sat, and awesome jerk chicken wings.

Nemea: a Greek Taverna. The lamb riblets are outstanding: It puts Evvia to shame. The grilled octopus appetizer (not the octopus salad) is excellent. The fried smelt and Greek coffee are very good. Complementary bread is house made. I've tried a bunch of other stuff on the menu that was a let-down.

For the most decadent fries ever, get the duck fat fries at Little Chef Counter in San Pedro Square. A Bargain at $5.

Also in San Pedro Square, Vino Vino is a very quick and casual wine bar; you can just walk in, then order, then take a seat, then hang out. The seared ahi tuna salad is great: nicely encrusted. I have not found any good wine there; just the ahi and Tiramisu.

For dinner / late night only:

For something unique, go to Cafe Stritch Friday/Saturday night and ask for the mac & cheese waffle: it's not on the menu.

Nomikai has really good 5-spice duck pizza/flatbread. It's a hip Asian-fusion bar specializing in Japanese whiskey: I'm not into the scene, but I'm willing to endure it for the pizza.

Late night jazz: Wed-Sat The Hedley club has a totally different jazz band each night, and sometimes it's fantastic. Or not.
Drinks are lame: I order a N.A beer and just hang out.

For cocktails, Paper Plane has some incredible craft cocktails: currently on the menu: Milky way (like a super-refined pina colada), gin gin mule (better than a Moscow mule), airmail (rum drink with kick), Spice of Life (house made cucumber soda / aquavit). The best drinks are no longer on the menu, but you can still order them: West Indies Sour (cognac, allspice liqueur, Cabernet wine), The Perfect Lady (a perfect gin fizz: maybe the best gin drink ever), Presidential suite flip (like mint coffee, with a whole egg), violet fizz, Mont Dolent (amaretto and just enough absinthe). They also have super decadent fried pork belly Chicharrones: I think they take just the fat layer of a pork belly, and deep fry it.

I like the Caesar salad at Il Fornaio, because if you ask for extra anchovies, they really pile them on, and the dressing is great. Good complementary bread, too.

- I agree about the cookies at Specialty's: the semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies, hot out of the oven, are heavenly.
- The Greek donuts (Loukoumades) at Nick the Greek (A sort-of fast food Greek place) are very good. I also like their avgolemono soup.
- The Tiramisu at Vino Vino in San Pedro Square: One of the best around.
- The bread pudding at Louisiana Bistro

Just outside of San Jose, in San Jose Japantown: It's close enough to take Uber:

SJ Omogari Korean Restaurant has good Hae Mul Pa-Jun (seafood pancake).

Hukilau is a Hawaiian place that has awesome Teriyaki short ribs.

The ice cream mochi at Jimbo's is OK: worth trying once, if you happen to be there. The mochi at Sheu-Do is OK, worth trying once.

Also a little outside of downtown:

Smoking Pig BBQ: The brisket is excellent and consistent: order it fatty. I find their ribs too dry. Their peanut butter pie is a winner.

Potstickers : SFBA Dish of the Month May 2015

I did a taste test comparison of sheng jian bao (pan fried pork buns filled with soup):

Shanghai Garden in Cupertino:

Shanghai Flavor Shop in Sunnyvale:

The version at Shanghai Flavor Shop in Sunnyvale is vastly superior. There is no comparison: Better flavor, better quality meat inside, more soup inside, better texture: crisper on the outside and moister on the inside; downright addictive. I've had the version at Shanghai flavor shop about 6 times, and this is the first time I tried them from Shanghai Garden.

However, there is nothing else to recommend at Shanghai Flavor Shop: It's a one-item destination. People always order the sheng jian bao, then they order something else, but only for the purpose of giving their teeth something to do while waiting the 12 minutes it takes for the sheng jian bao to cook.

I always get them to-go: they are very hot out of the kitchen, and they take about 10 minutes to cool off to eating temperature anyway. I've found the only sure-fire way to eat them without squirting juice all over the place is to make an incision on the top with a knife as a pressure-relief, then bite into them and simultaneously slurp, to avoid the juice running down your chin.

May 09, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Best chocolate chip cookie in SF, Oakland or Berkeley?

I recommend the semi sweet chocolate chunk cookies from Specialty's Bakery when they are still warm out of the oven. I'm addicted. I think most locations do at least 2 batches per day, so you can get them warm if your timing is right. Multiple locations. They also sell the cookie dough mix.

Apr 28, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Palo Alto/Menlo Park rant

Which espresso blend did you try? The Hayes Valley, 17FT Ceiling, or the single-origin?

Apr 18, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Cragel by House of Bagels

I mispoke. I went back through my archives, and it turns out the Pastrami at Gunther's in San Jose is bland and unremarkable:

Sorry about the false alarm: This is not the pastrami you are looking for. We must continue to fork over $17.95 for the Reuben at The Refuge.

One novel data point: Gunther's chocolate chip cookies are about as close as it gets to raw cookie dough:

They seem more like par-baked cookies that need additional baking time at home. It's almost like a truffle ganache.

Instead of Gunther's: if you are in that area Fri/Sat/Sun for brunch or lunch, grab the smoked salmon sandwich at The Table in Willow Glen:

Apr 17, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Palo Alto/Menlo Park rant

I went to the HanaHaus Blue Bottle location the other day. A couple of pluses:

- I really like the waffle. It's just like at the Mint Street location: it's soft, but also really springy and addictive; almost like a brioche.

- They were pulling the usual Hayes Valley blend, and also a single-origin espresso bean from Guatemala that is not normally served at Blue-Bottle-enabled coffeehouses: It has a sweet, chicory profile, with decent complexity; I think it's better than the Hayes Valley blend (richer, thicker body, more nutty), and about as good as their new "17FT Ceiling" blend. The extraction was perfect.

I grabbed a New Orleans Iced Coffee: it was much more mellow and rounded than the same version at the Mint Street location. They had a pretzel bun with Gruyère that really needed to be warmed up first.

Also new-ish: a Sushirrito place opened up next door. The line was out the door and down the street (just like when Cream first opened)

Cragel by House of Bagels

I tried the cragel at Bagel Guys Bakery in San Jose near Meridian / Hamilton Ave. They have Nutella and cinnamon flavor. It was OK, but fell short of expectations. Not worth a trip. If you are in that area, then instead get the burnt almond cake at Dick's Bakery, and/or a pastrami sandwich at Gunther's Restaurant.

Apr 15, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Pi Day - best South Bay option?

Pizza Studio (the Chipotle for pizza) is selling their pizzas for $3.14 today. But I don't recommend their pizzas; I think they are pretty bad.

Mar 14, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Quick and Healthy Fast Food in the bay area?

I've sought out fast food that is lower in saturated fat / hydrogenated oil. It's really difficult to find, despite the fact that I'm not so concerned about higher carbs, calories, or sodium. A lot of places slather their vegetables in oil/butter, or use hydrogenated oil (or oil that has converted to transfat in the fryolator), or add cheese to everything. Vegan food often uses coconut cream, cashew cream, or avocado to get a creamy mouth feel, and that can be high in saturated fat.

Here are some options that are lower in saturated fat, but not necessarily low in carbs/calories/sodium:

- The vegetarian wrap at DishDash (Sunnyvale or Milpitas). You can ask for it without feta cheese. The wrap is very simple, but really, really good. I've had it maybe 20+ times. their hummus is really good as well.

- "Papa's Portobello sandwich" at Veggie Grill: it's super plump and juicy, not rubbery. Almost as good as a burger. If you sign up for their email newsletter, you get a coupon for a free entree on your birthday.

- "Art's unfried chick'n" at Lyfe Kitchen in Palo Alto: it's surprisingly good for fake fried chicken.

- The Prolific Garden sandwich at The Prolific Oven in Palo Alto. You can ask for it without cheese. Of course, all sandwiches at the Prolific Oven come with a slice of cake, so, you have to deal with that somehow: my solution is to give it to the pan handler who always seems to be loitering outside.

- Oren's hummus mushrooms. I dislike the hummus, but the mushrooms and pita bread make up for it. I assume the awesome mushroom gravy is just mushroom juice and not oil.

- The roasted cauliflower at Vesta: they make it in their wood-fired oven. I assume it's super easy to make at home, but I've been too lazy to try.

- The grilled calamari at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City.

- Draeger's has an amazing (and expensive) quinoa salad with sweet potato. Trader Joe's sells a frozen "quinoa duo" that is 70% as good, and 1/4 the price.

- The Bolani from "East and West Gourmet Afghan Food", sold at whole Foods, Piazza's, and various farmer's markets. Heat it up in a toaster oven at 350 for 7 minutes, then eat it with hummus.

- I think the best hummus is Trader Joe's organic hummus; the second best is Trader Joe's eggplant hummus; it's great with the above bolani.

- sushi isn't bad, as long as you avoid the rolls that have creamy spicy sauce. And as long as you don't use soy sauce, which is off the charts with sodium. I think the best value for sushi is at Piazza's: I find their stuff to be slightly better than an average sushi restaurant, and far better than Safeway.

- Piazza's also has a really good portobello sandwich, as long as you ask them to leave out the cheese.

Mar 05, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Redwood City and surrounds

You ordered the wrong items. I've also tried some of those, and had the same experience as you.

At Dontao Enoteca, I have found these to be consistent winners: This stuff is also a very good value:

- pesto / salame pizza: $13.

- focaccia di manzo (steak sandwich) : only available at lunch. $10.

- piadina emiliana: very simple, but fantastic, made-to-order flatbread with mozzarella and tomatoes: only available at lunch. $8.

- bigoli pasta with oxtail: $17.

- grilled prawn salad: $11. only available during lunch.

- grilled calamari appetizer: $10, or $5 during happy hour 3-6 PM.

- clams/mussels in garlic/wine sauce appetizer: only available during dinner. $10, or $5 during happy hour 3-6 PM.

- straight shots of espresso. They rotate among about 5 beans from a supplier in Verona. The single-origin bean from Timor is a god shot. The bean from India is terrible; the others are excellent, and far better than anything else I can get on the peninsula. Their extraction is perfect.

Feb 21, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Roti canai / roti prata SFBA Dish of the Month January 2015

I had the roti prata at INDO in Palo Alto:

Excellent, and super addictive. Very thick/stretchy. Lightly crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. The Curry sauce was great. It's also consistent: I've visited maybe 8 times. It's my favorite version of roti in the South Bay; I've also tried roti at Shiok, Rangoon Ruby, Layang Layang, Banana Leaf, and Merlion.

Favorite Ice Cream 2014

I tried McConnell's Turkish Coffee ice cream. I picked it up at Andronico's:

I don't recommend it. I found the coffee flavor to be lack-luster, a little weak, and slightly metallic: Nothing about it reminded me of Turkish Coffee. The coffee grounds didn't do much for me: not quite enough texture to matter.

Jan 10, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Foie Gras Is Legal in California Again!

Martins West in Redwood City will have Foie Gras on the menu tonight. See their Facebook page for details.

Jan 07, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Dungeness Crab Prices 2014/2015 Season

Today, the post-holiday price is $10/pound at Lion Supermarket in Milpitas.

Jan 04, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

patisseries in Bay Area (SF and East Bay) that sell caneles

For many canele recipes like this one, lining the molds with food-grade beeswax is often recommended. In the Bay Area, it's available at the "Small Bees" honey stand, which appears at various farmer's markets.

Jan 03, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

patisseries in Bay Area (SF and East Bay) that sell caneles

Did you use real copper molds (they run about $25 for a *single* canele mold), or the cheaper silicon molds? Which brand?

Jan 03, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

patisseries in Bay Area (SF and East Bay) that sell caneles

One comment/caption says "Not on the menu - just Chef gifts out."

Jan 03, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Dungeness Crab Prices 2014/2015 Season

I got lazy and bought a pre-cooked whole crab at Safeway for $6/pound. Big mistake. The body was OK, but some legs had a whiff of ammonia.

Dec 12, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

I ultimately decided to try a truffle dish at Donato Enoteca in Redwood city: the Tajerin in butter sauce with 3 grams of truffles, for $40:

The truffles were shaved in the kitchen, not at the table. The truffles were also shaved super-thin. Unfortunately, I didn't get much aroma, and the butter sauce overwhelmed the dish. Not recommended. A total let-down, actually.

Then, Urbani had a Black Friday discount, so I decided to order one ounce of tuber magnatum pico at $117 per ounce. I receive two small truffles:

I weighed them on a precision jewelry scale, and they came out to 24.60 grams, which was annoying: a little more than 3 grams short of an ounce, which was just small enough not to make it worth trying to get a refund/exchange.

Anyway, I made several pasta dishes, like this one with thin pasta with a mild butter/garlic/sage sauce:

The truffle aroma was subtle; it didn't have the huge impact I was expecting, but it was better than the version at Donato.

Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog

I got the Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog last year, and I agree with tre2012: "Harsh cheap liquor and way oversweetened".

So this year I picked up some Advocaat Liqueur at Beltramo's in Menlo Park. It's the Dutch version of eggnog liqueur. It's sort of like eggnog, but bitter, and tastes like it would be used mostly as a mixer. The New York Times has a recipe for a snowball:

which is Advocaat with 7-up. It is quite tasty and refreshing: like a lime version of an orange creamsicle.

Nov 30, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

Was that real foie gras, or the monkfish liver ("foie gras of the sea")?

What was the price? Or was it somehow "given away for free"?

Nov 29, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Restaurants Open on Thanksgiving?

OpenTable has a fairly comprehensive list of upscale restaurants open on Thanksgiving.

Nov 25, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area