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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.

Jan 15, 2015
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

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

Zola in Palo Alto

Until the new Blue Bottle place opens in the Varsity Theater, I have been getting my Blue Bottle espresso fix at Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos; they just recently got permission to serve Blue Bottle espresso. Red Berry rotates through beans from different roasters, so they only have Blue Bottle beans maybe once or twice a week. Their extraction is consistently excellent.

Zola opened in the former location of Roast Shop, which was a very short-lived kosher deli.

When Monique's went out of business, another chocolatier moved in: Timothy Adams chocolates.

Nov 18, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

I was at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City today and noticed they have a special truffle menu:

Each item contains 3 grams of truffles. I declined; a bit steep for me.

In the South Bay, Alexander's Steakhouse offers truffle shaving upgrades for some dishes, but I haven't sampled.

Nov 15, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

New Alexander's patisserie venture, downtown Mountain View

I stopped by Alexander's Patisserie today in Mountain View.

The big news: I found the espresso to be fantastic. They use their own custom blend, called the "Toro" (keeping with the steakhouse theme), which they get from Equator Coffees & Teas. Unlike 3rd wave coffee, which is mostly super sour / citrusy, the Toro blend is richer, with a nice balance of nutty/bitter/sour, plus great body. They have a seasoned barista who knows how to calibrate their espresso machine; great extraction, super crema. Their espresso is my second favorite, after Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, which uses a roaster in Italy.

They had several tarts available: lemon, vanilla, chocolate, and maybe another one. The chocolate tart is OK:

They use Valrhona chocolate. The bottom part is a dense chocolate ganache, and the top part is chocolate mousse. The chocolate has a citrus flavor note, which is not my favorite. Also, the crust is not savory enough: it's hard and not so flavorful.

The lemon tart has silver leaf: That's the first time I've seen anything but gold leaf on pastries:

I also tried a butter croissant, hot out of the oven:

It's excellent. Based on my croissant review:

I would put it tied with Satura cakes at 4.8/5. It has a very dense (almost too dense), moist, pull-apart interior, with fantastic butter flavor, without being greasy. The outer shell could be just a tad crispier, and maybe less "mealy", but it's still great. $3.50 for a larger-than-typical size.

I do not recommend the macarons ($2 each); I tried a chocolate and vanilla. The interior is super-dense, almost like a dense truffle, or a fudge brownie; the almond meal cookie part is very thin, and almost an afterthought. It doesn't have any of the "starchy chew" that I crave in a macaron; I prefer the ones at Pamplemousse in Redwood City.

They are having "inventory difficulties". In the morning, they only had tarts and macarons available. Then they ran out of tarts before noon. They put out their croissants shortly after noon. They are not yet organized enough to be able to tell you when things will be available throughout the day.

Oct 17, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

What are your thoughts on the city's coffee offerings?

B2 Coffee in San Jose (San Pedro Square Market) has Verve cold-brewed coffee served from a keg, with a nitro tap. I think they brew it each night. I thought it was OK.

Oct 06, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Any place one can buy Kouign Amann in SF?

Pamplemousse Patisserie in Redwood City has started offering Kouign-amann every so often (not every day).

It's very respectable: good buttery flavor, nicely layered, while being lighter and less dense than others:

However, it's missing the caramelized goo that's so addictive; I would say it's better than Starter Bakery, but not as good as Satura Cakes. Not worth a trip.

Oct 01, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area


I stopped by Jack In the Box and grabbed 3 cronuts for $2.19:

They are fried to order, but I found them to be meh. They're really small, and don't have the benefits of either a good donut or a good croissant. You can hardly tell they are layered. Not recommended.

Sep 16, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Favorite Ice Cream 2014

More alcoholic ice cream data points:

- SP2 Communal Bar in San Jose has a root beer float on the dessert menu (using Treatbot ice cream). For $8 extra you can get a shot of Gosling's Dark Rum. Never tried it, because ... that is crazy expensive.

- District Restaurant in Oakland has a Guinness ice cream float, but it's totally lame; It's just Guinness and ice cream.

- Some Pizzeria Delfina locations offer an affogato using their house-made gelato, and for an extra $6 you can get a version "Corrected with Amaro Cio Ciaro," which is a bittersweet herbal liqueur. I may actually try that some time.

I've seen a few other embellished affogatos:

- Tin Cup in Palo Alto sprinkles dried orange peel on top

- Red Berry sprinkles chopped nuts on top (using soft serve, which is non-optimal IMO).

Jul 27, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Favorite Ice Cream 2014

A few ice cream data points:

- There are two items I find to be outstanding at The Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley. Almost worth a trip for these:

1. The wild cherry phosphate, with a scoop of crème fraîche ice cream:

2. The Dublin Honey float, which has Guinness, honey ice cream, chocolate syrup, and a float of port wine:

- I recommend the Shakin' Jesse at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Oakland or Emeryville. It's a shake made with vanilla ice cream, espresso, and Guinness. Very addictive.

- Donato Enoteca in Redwood City had a cherry semifreddo, so obviously I had to try it:

It was only available for one day as a special dessert. It was OK; I'd be interested if other folks have found crave-worthy semifreddo.

- A new Asian-fusion restaurant opened in Palo Alto: Mandarin Roots. On the dessert menu is a Hong Kong eggette waffle, with coffee ice cream made with Philz "So Good" blend of Coffee:

The ice cream is less sweet, and tastes exactly the same as the coffee.

- I've tried a bunch of Humphry Slocombe flavors; the only one that wowed me was toasted pine nuts / rosemary.

- I think Humphry Slocombe vanilla is the best for an affogato; the espresso comes in contact with the dry / icy texture of the ice cream, and freezes, forming a crispy espresso coating. I get them at Bitter+Sweet in Cupertino. It's even better than it looks:

- At Scoop Microcreamery in Palo Alto, they have a really good / addictive Biscoff-n-cream flavor. The flavor is better than the speculoos flavored products at Trader Joe's.

- For those interested in Strauss organic soft serve, Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos just started serving vanilla and chocolate, Fri/Sat/Sun only. It's OK; not worth a trip, but worth trying if you happen to be there.

- Yoogle in Mountain View is a froyo place. Normally, I'm not enamored by froyo. But their oatmeal cookie flavored froyo is super good. They also serve the more mainstream flavors of Lush gelato.

- The Lavazza Espression cafe in Santana Row has "espesso," which is a creation of molecular gastronomy that the menu describes as "Ferran Adrià's coffee that you eat." It's a mousse / gelato / jello substance. Worth tyring once.

- A visit to Chabot Science center is not complete without stocking up on astronaut ice cream (it's actually cheaper on Amazon).

Palo Alto/Menlo Park rant

"Ground Up," the coffee stand in the AOL building, has closed.

Jun 25, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Some new things in downtown San Jose

I stopped by Arepa Swing today. They are located in the San Pedro Square Market, in the second building next to TreatBot. They had their grand opening last week. Sadly, I don't recommend the arepas.

I got an Arepa with Cuajada cheese. $5:
The cheese is very good: like ricotta cheese, but way better. However, the arepa itself was meh. It's similar in style to the arepas served at Coupa Cafe in Palo alto, but not half as good. The edges of the arepa were nicely crispy, but the rest of the arepa was dense and almost under-cooked.

Unlike Coupa Cafe, where you wait 15 minutes for them to make an arepa to order, Arepa swing serves up an order in about 1 minute, because the arepas are cooked beforehand and stored under a heat lamp:

Jun 14, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Steakout, unusual grass-fed hamburgers, downtown Mountain View

I tried the Spätzle at Bierhaus:

Lightly pan-fried, with just enough Gruyère to keep it together. The ham flavor permeates the dish. It was crazy good, and significantly better than the Spätzle I had at Stein's for Oktoberfest last year.