eatzalot's Profile

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Goat Cuisine in the Bay Area

As I mentioned earlier, one of my friends (more of a connoisseur of South-Asian cooking than I) had spoken about good goat cookery at Zareen's, during a leisurely lunch there. I can't recall details at this point (two months later), but I seem also to recall seeing it on the printed menu (i.e. the menu we actually ordered from).

On a point of particular interest such as this, I wouldn't (and don't) rely on website menuswith their many and frequent limitations. I suggest telephone and speak to Zareen directly, for definitive information, if you don't want to inquire in person. The number at Zareen's is 650-641-0335.

Mountain View for Two Weeks

"I simply cannot reconcile MV today with the grungy town I recall from my grad school days in the 80's, what a CH heaven it has turned into!"

The explanation is actually simple, and familiar to nearby residents, but it doesn't always surface in region-wide forums like this one (nor in journalism by people from elsewhere or too young to recall the critical events).

Downtown MV's business district was badly depressed by 1980 (well documented in Perry's 2006 and 2012 photo-history books).* In the days you remembered, Castro St. had four traffic lanes, narrow sidewalks, and residues of an old general business district (once including clothing stores, tire stores, hotels, etc.)

The city then created a temporary revitalization tax district, and remodeled the downtown's look from 1988 to 1991, with related redevelopments (Performing Arts Center, new City Hall, new parks, library) continuing into 1993. Castro St. became TWO traffic lanes, new wider sidewalks, and "flex zones" (parking or outdoor seating space, at local businesses' discretion). The vacant storefronts were already largely filled by 1991 (I saw it happening); new businesses that came and prospered were, more than anything else, restaurants. Despite turnover,** the total number of restaurant properties grew considerably, and is now over 100 within a few blocks. Already by the early 90s the downtown had developed a pedestrian and dining draw, which continues (ebbing and flowing somewhat with the local economy, but always a radical difference from the previous "ghost town" era).
* "Castro Street appears quite desolate and bleak in this 1982 photograph... The only people on its narrow brick sidewalks are two souls waiting for a bus. By the 1980s, most shoppers had abandoned downtown for the malls..." - Perry, ISBN 0738531367 (2006), p. 78

**I'm part of a VERY informal effort to document the restaurants that closed since those days. Some 70 total, including old familiars like Blue Sky Café, Fogg's Tavern, and Sue's Indian Cuisine; but the majority now gone are places that opened and closed after the revitalization.

Who are the best food/restaurant bloggers in SF, and where do they eat?

However, I just explained to you that I addressed general historical context that Birdsall himself offered, therefore considered relevant; moreover, I quoted above in this thread, avowedly, from de Gouy's book for PROFESSIONALS making these toasts in US restaurants and cafés in the 1930s (cited also in the 2014 comment to Birdsall). De Gouy even went on at length about profitable pricing!

Was anything else not clear?

Who are the best food/restaurant bloggers in SF, and where do they eat?

May well be. However, I was specifically addressing (a year ago when it came up) Birdsall's historical remarks, regardless of price. Such as (quoting Blue Bottle founder James Freeman) "I could name a dozen other Tokyo cafes who have been serving beautifully executed coffee and toast pairings for decades ... Toast is not a new thing!” to which Birdsall added "our specialty toast is an Asian import—like sushi or ramen—with a distinctly San Francisco flavor."

He didn't mention that fancy toast finishings -- some of them remarkably similar -- were familiar and in print in the US over the last century too, even if not recently fashionable. For all that anyone has said on this subject, Tokyo may have originally gotten the idea from US restaurants.

Venerable Ming's (Palo Alto) not closing after all [This just in: Venerable Ming's (Palo Alto)-- closure for reconstruction]

Just posted in Palo Alto: Old Ming's to auction its memorabilia

Why are they standing in line ?

I was going to say, hipster ramen fans stand in lines because they all like to do (and of course, order) the same things. Plus, then they can whine online about crowds.

Who are the best food/restaurant bloggers in SF, and where do they eat?

I haven't seen anything like _custom_ breads in older cookbooks on fancy toasts. Varied breads were common though. De Gouy (veteran chef and a US celebrity in the 1930s and 40s), writing here for cooks and restaurateurs, says:

"... vary the toast, feature as many toasts as possible, as this will pay great dividends. Feature toast made with almost any kind of bread."

His next 40+ recipes include sweet and savory toasts, some of which I mentioned in the Birdsall story comment. "Cheese and bacon toast" seems to've been a hit, from de Gouy's preliminary remarks (versions of it appear in a couple of his home cookbooks too):

"You may use any kind of toasted bread, from plain bread to fruit bread, but each portion should be composed of two slices of bread of different variety. A good seller for either breakfast or luncheon."

My point was, fancy toasts are among those perennial ideas "rediscovered" when a new generation arises, unaware how familiar it used to be. (Like, say, chafing-dish cooking, or cold-brewed coffee, or one other example I don't dare mention for fear of sparking another revival...) Knowing them is a side benefit of reading unrecent cookbooks, as I recommended in my Chowhound profile years ago.

Who are the best food/restaurant bloggers in SF, and where do they eat?

If you folks are going to quibble about the fancy toast thing, how about mentioning some of its real history. It's hardly a recent idea in the 2000s, nor in Asia. (In a comment to a Birdsall story, I cited prominent US cookbook sources from the 1930s, 1960s, 1980s. It's one of those old food ideas that gets revived and "rediscovered" regularly.)

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

I sure hope you order them "well done," that's the minimum step to render In&Out fries palatable, in my experiences. One of I&O's biggest quirks is that the printed menu is minimalistic, you must research (or grow up in So. Cal.) to learn that most of the interesting options aren't written down.

I actually can appreciate In&Out's unique aspects. That's partly because of growing up in a household that made its own French fries from fresh potatoes (not uncommon in the US as recently as the 1960s, before the fast-food industry mushroomed, and most Ameicans began experiencing most of their fries "out"), which produces a style different from the twice-cooked French-bistro "frites" that are the model for MacDonalds et alii. And the burgers are a particular, honest type. The chain is almost unique, it pays its people far more than competitors do (managers, about twice as much) and gets good employees therefore. But, not my first preference for hamburgers.

fiesta del mar [Mtn. View]

More _La Fiesta_ intelligence (with the benefit of another meal there):

The spicy specialties I mentioned are menued as pollo al chipotle, carne asada a la diabla, and camarones picantes. That last is a complex stir-fry with herbs and other ingredients. Among a diverse group of shrimp sautés commencing the menu's seafood section (others: with chorizo sausage, with a garlic-cream sauce). Some people go to La Fiesta just for Grandma's Special (first thing on the menu, century-old recipe, chicken in an orange-colored cream sauce) but I think it's also about the richest dish there. Charming customs include the salsa trio brought to each table (I remember that at Fiesta del Mar also), and the light clear citrus-accented consommé that starts most meals.

Also, La Fiesta opened 1977; is by far the senior restaurant cited in this thread. (FDM itself, thread title and first of the Casa Feliz group, began 1991.)

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

Yes thanks for detailed report!

Trivia notes:

"We had the Tan Tan noodles (oddly called Dan Dan at home)"

A Chengdu street-food specialty much discussed and implemented around here. Past survey threads:

Literal pinyin has always been "dàn dàn miàn," which is what most Sichuanese cookbook writers in English have called it (from Delfs 40 years ago to Dunlop's "Land of Plenty"), but phrase gets rendered in anglicized restaurant variations including also "don don noodles." Dan Dan is nearest the accurate pinyin; kudos to your restaurants at home. Schreckers in 1976, and again Dunlop more recently, give a vivid account of the dish's quasi-onomotopoetic name and vending by street hawkers. (As the dish became known in the US, it experienced grotesque distortions in non-Sichuanese restaurant kitchens with gloppy sauces, peanut butter, etc. but the authentic light fresh genre -- it isn't a specific recipe but a genre -- can be delightful.)

In&Out's hype, on closer inspection, derives chiefly from people who grew up with it in Southern California where it started (placing it among regional novelties like White Castle); includes elements of uniqueness (food approximates home cooking, potatoes sliced fresh on order, etc.); and leans strongly on "off-menu" traditions including ordering fries "well done" so they're more edible. For each rhapsodic In&Out testimonial online, there are 10 others from people who, on experienced consideration, prefer other restaurant hamburgers (and especially, fries).

SRF "American Kobe" Roast Beef @ Costco

N.B., literal USDA Prime is a niche category, traditionally "rarely available in retail stores" at all, and priced independently of the common grades. It has mostly been for the restaurant market.

fiesta del mar [Mtn. View]

More on the family tree I just elaborated after bbulkow's post, La Fiesta is specifically not part of Casa Feliz Inc., it has independent ownership and management, but is related to the Feliz owners through a marriage (all this was explained by a family member there, a year or two back) and I believe shares a molé recipe or two.

I agree La Fiesta sticks to its knitting, I've found it consistent in at least 15 visits over a dozen years. Also, Bay-Area Mexican restaurants (just like Chinese restaurants) seem obliged always to "pad out" their menus, as someone recently put it in another thread, with Mexican dishes their market expects. But there are some house specialties as I mentioned; they are mostly explicit in a specialties section of the menu, and the gracious, alert Señora who closely manages La Fiesta (and often serves as hostess) has been a reliable guide to them. That's why you ask questions in restaurants!

Not long ago another table, which had ordered some widely available genre Mexican dishes, asked what were those interesting-looking plates we got. They were some of the specialties with chipotles -- camarones alla diavola or whatever that stirfry's called, and one of the meat versions with disk-shaped papas fritas -- which I again, risking tedious repetition, emphasize have always been very hot-spicy, at the if-you-have-to-ask-further-don't-order-it level.

fiesta del mar [Mtn. View]

FYI the main empire related to this thread, Casa Feliz Inc. (see below for offshoot) -- photos of a couple of the principals appear at some of the restaurants -- comprises the two seafood places, FDM (original of this whole group, since 1991) and FDM Too, as well as Agave -- those 3 all in MV -- and Blue Agave Club in Pleasanton. I had the impression there was at least one other related "Blue Agave" elsewhere. I was also informed that Vive Sol in MV and Palo Alto Sol (at that time, another Sol was planned in RC but not yet open) were connected.

fiesta del mar [Mtn. View]

"So La Fiesta is el mero mero?"

I'd say more La Fiesta a place I, and others I know (who live in the area and have had ample opportunity to try these various restaurants) like and return to, for its particular specialties I named. The molés are where it has most in common with the other restaurants, the other stuff I mentioned is more unique.

These related places (incl. Vive Sol not far from the same neighborhood) seem to've benefitted from a common grandmother, whose sauces would tip off an observant diner that the restaurants are connected. But Agave (the newest business, on Castro) also has shone with more "regional," exotic stuff, as I touched on -- haven't seen so much of that at the others.

And keep in mind these are all a tad more upscale, a little more expensive and polished, than for example neighborhood taquerias, or the folksy (and nominally Tex-Mex) El Paso Cafe over on El Camino, or most of the local _Salvadoran_ competition like La Bamba (which we all like very much, for food and value).

"I didn't understand the negs originally given to this place. It seemed really well organized when I was there."

Plenty of good reasons for such. A restaurant can have an off period. Or the one experience wasn't to the taste of the people writing (mostly strangers, unless you know their writing history). It sometimes takes me a few visits to a place to realize how misleading my early impressions were! And gripes attract gripes -- someone pans a restaurant for whatever reason; others join in who wouldn't have initiated a thread. (I have, just occasionally, seen Chowhound threads on a restaurant where virtually everyone posting has what any regular or experienced diner at the restaurant would spot at once as an atypical or eccentric take on the place.)

fiesta del mar [Mtn. View]

Just in case anyone didn't know about this:

The extended family that operates both FDMs (Fiesta del Mar, and FDM Too in downtown MV) also runs several other, upscale-ish Mexican restaurants in and near MV with either "Fiesta" or "Sol" in their names; and various others around, with "Agave," notably the Agave bar-grill on Castro that opened 2012, part tequila-fanatics' bar, part celebration of regional Mexican specialties, many of them ancient with formidable Nahuatl names (Huitzilopochtli, Xochitl, cuitlacoche). That Agave, when it opened, was too authentically Mexican in that it didn't offer chips and salsa automatically (a custom from _US_ Mexican restaurants) -- some of los gringos complained, so the restaurant went with the flow. Also not specifically Mexican, but worthwhile there, has been the option of getting the fresh guacamole [OK that part is Nahuatl] with bits or salsa of Habanero peppers on request, if you like things spicy. Nicely marinated and spiced cochinita pibil, too.

I've had particularly good experiences over the years in many meals at La Fiesta (a branch of the same owning family, but not the part that runs the main restaurant group) on Villa street a few blocks from Castro, for its specialties: VERY SPICY stir-fries with chipotles; molé sauces; vast Caldo de Pollo bowls (served in clear glass with vegetable and avocado bits, clear broth seasoned with lime juice -- highly restorative on cold Winter days).

The two FDM sites proper specialize in seafood (as the names imply) and that's what to concentrate on, there. And I wouldn't read too much into just one visit trying random things, as the OP did here in 2004 -- that's not enough to assess either the house strengths or the typical experience; it might cause some impressions, but I don't find it produces the most useful guidance for other diners. (After dealing with that situation countless times from both sides.)

US Govenment dropping dietary cholesterol warnings

Good discussion, but please note thread drift. This topic was specifically on "link between dietary cholesterol intake and serum cholesterol levels" -- whereas the HSPH link concerns much broader questions about major dietary fat intakes.

Feb 19, 2015
eatzalot in Special Diets

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

"Padi and Jayakarta are both within an hour of San Jose (at least, outside of rush hour)" -- therefore, yes, helpful if the OP really wants to go that far from SJ for something presented as an afterthought to the original requests here. Dozens of other restaurants similarly or less remote from SJ, but within the original request list, could probably also be suggested. My point was just, Rijstafel isn't a Bay Area specialty, isn't widely available here, and no one has yet recommended any near SJ.

My last mention of Morrison Wood had nothing to do with learning international cuisines. The point (as for other trenchant cookbook authors now off mainstream radar) was read to learn things you didn't know about US cooking culture and history, if that's of interest. Much as people read earlier Sichuan cookbook writers _besides_ Fuchsia Dunlop to learn about limitations of her book. A passing point for anyone interested -- though Wood does present a memorable vignette of Rijstafel (his spelling) in colonial Indonesia.

Crunchy martini olives!

Interesting question. I use stuffed olives often (for other things than martinis) from big jars kept in the fridge and since you mention it, they do seem to lose some texture.

The armchair food scientist in me is speculating about an enterprising solution. I haven't tried this with olives, but soaking with mild solutions of calcium or magnesium salts (such as Epsom Salt) adds crispness to other pickled vegetables, it's a standard trick with cucumber pickles -- do some recipe searches for examples -- and might work with olives too by adding a pinch of the mineral salt, possibly predissolved, to the jar. (Calcium and magnesium are vital nutrients anyway, commonplace in food; but they tend to harden the cell structure of vegetables -- you might have heard the term "hard water," contraction of "hard beans water," a term important during the 1800s settling of the western US when travelers found that some natural spring water had high mineral content that caused means to petrify when you cooked them, to the point of being inedible, so sometimes a sign would be left, "hard beans water here." I'm proposing harnessing that principle more gently.)

Feb 17, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Who knew that Log Cabin, Mrs Butterworth, etc, syrups do not contain actual maple syrup?

Good links, thanks!

But do you also see _my_ point re price? Given a product available for a few dollars a pint (which most people past adolescence use sparingly), I think paying the prices charged for hokey commercial substitute syrups is bizarre. Especially since you can make them yourself, easily, for almost nothing, per my earlier reply here several years ago.

Feb 17, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

Yes, you can find it here and there around California and the US (just as you can also find Wiener Küche or zakuski or gouvetsi, here and there). Still, alas, to the OP's question "anyplace to get rijsttafel that is worthwhile" near San Jose, I don't know any, nor does anyone responding so far.

(Check out Morrison Wood's first cookbook that I mentioned though, if you get a chance. He promoted cooking with spices and herbs and international cuisines at a time when most American food writers were extolling bottled mayonnaise and green food coloring.)

Desperate Budweiser add screams "we are cheap beer"

Actually I recall US "Budweiser" in an earlier heyday as almost an intermediate national brand -- there was plenty of competition for cheap beer. Sung beer jingles that blared from all TVs in the 1960s and 70s:

Busch Bavarian Beer!
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- [yodeling]
Clear as the mountain air!
-- -- -- -- -- -- --

I've had beer from a pitcher
And from a German mug;
I've filled up a paper cup, I've poured it from a jug.
I've had beer mild, I've had beer bold, I drink it whenever I can;
but a beer is a beer is a beer is a beer
until you've tasted Hamm's!

It's the water --
that makes it Olympia Beer!

Not to mention Burgomeister ("Burgie"), Miller Hi-Life, and Coors, though the last might have been more a competitor to Bud (and made a great point about its water sources, as maybe a distraction from the want of flavor). Refreshing on a warm day though!

Feb 17, 2015
eatzalot in Beer

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

"The way chowhound parces up the posts makes them hard to follow for me!"

Yes, it takes getting used to, and a little juggling to see all the posts, but you can set options (those various dingbat symbols near the top of the thread display) and anyway, it's important to see them all in a discussion like this.

Separately today you mentioned Campbell. Its little downtown or commercial district has a pleasant compact restaurant cluster well worth exploring, with a few notable places that get discussed on this board by people familiar with them. Also, that little downtown is well serviced by one of the rail lines direct from downtown SJ area. Don't omit to check out the rail connections, their coverage in this county is uneven but they do connect up some of the notable little downtowns,where restaurants and pubs cluster; and they can be more convenient than driving. (In the early 1990s a co-worker from Hamburg praised the "highly civilized" Caltrain line up and down the SF peninsula, specifically because it connects many little downtowns with beer pubs, so he and his friends could go bar-hopping at will, without a car -- "and the trains are even restroom-equipped; what more could one ask?")

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

"and Chez Sovan"

But Sovan was specifially dis-recommended by ckshen earlier in this thread, hence my wording. hargau and I also had an exchange here on that point, a couple of hours ago.

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

Basically, hargau, no -- to my knowledge anyway. The fascinating genre of Rijstafel (Indonesian rice table) is extremely rare in my experience traveling around the US (in sharp contrast to the Netherlands, where it's as common as Indian food is in modern Britain, and for related reasons; in fact newly arrived Nederlanders have asked me where to find "good" Rijstafel in silicon valley, as if they assumed it was everywhere). It's one of the remarkable world food specialties (Viennese cuisine is another example) with only occasional outposts in the US I think. It never developed enough traction for name recognition and mainstream fashionability.

A pity -- I've been on the watch for it since the 1970s after reading a loving account (used to introduce a curried lamb recipe) in Morrison Wood's "With a Jug Of Wine" (1949), one of the cult-classic US cookbooks that stayed in print decades after publication.

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

ckshen's experience of chez sovan already posted upthread was not a recommendation.

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

As Cambodian restaurants aren't commonplace in the Bay Area, I believe that one is the sole example _recommended_ in this thread so far located anywhere near the OP's requested town.

Visiting San Jose -recommendations dimsum/szechuan/bbq/cambodian/etc

"I don't think Cambodia and Indonesia had much direct influence on each other."

I referred above to _culinary_ influence and overlap. I don't know about anyone's book, the connection I mentioned was cited by Cambodian cooks. (Of course, they could be wrong.) And as mentioned, I saw the characteristically Indonesian _black_ pepper (rather than the chilies you just mentioned) on the dishes I ate. Nothing you've cited truly conflicts with what I wrote, so I wonder what was the point? I'm sure if you look into it enough, you too can learn about the Indonesian-Cambodian culinary connections!

Would be interested in your own views of Tommy Thai's Cambodian menu (the immediate topic), once you too have eaten through it.

Who knew that Log Cabin, Mrs Butterworth, etc, syrups do not contain actual maple syrup?

Answering your opening question,

1. It tastes like maple.

2. It's a distinctive indigenous North-American product. Food histories I've read describe how the practice of cooking grain mushes and serving with maple syrup was already established among Native Americans when European settlers came; it quickly converted them from their old-country habits of using butter as the main condiment with mushes.

In fact, it's not all THAT pricey (further, the substitutes aren't as much cheaper as their ingredients might suggest). A local family-owned restaurant group in my own native SF Bay Area, Crepevine (interesting, good-value $10 meal plates built around crêpes, sandwiches, etc.) is distinguished by some little quality details and among them I noticed maple syrup (Canadian, grade B) on all the tables for breakfast service. No messing around with hokey substitutes.

Feb 16, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Heinz Sriracha Ketchup Sucks, But Lee Kum Kee's Is Pretty Good

Actually for most of US history, ketchup was a genre of condiment (mushroom ketchup, lemon ketchup, lobster ketchup . . .), made at home, unsweetened. In the late 20th century, the bottled commercial stuff narrowed people's everyday understanding of "ketchup," while its makers increasingly added sugars (and to many other condiments and processed foods) because consumers rewarded it by preferring the sweeter versions.

US "Chili Sauce" such as Heinz makes is not a hot sauce at all (not even slightly), but a traditional tomato-ketchup variant with vegetable bits, including sweet peppers. ("Cocktail Sauce" as in shrimp cocktails is a further variant, with horseradish.) It's kind of old-fashioned now, but "Chili Sauce" is a classic mild condiment for sandwiches including burgers, and called for in some old recipes. "Russian dressing" (classic dressing for shrimp or crab Louis, Reuben sandwiches, etc.) was often based on mayonnaise and chili sauce plus savory bits of this or that (a common formula in 20th-century US cookbooks).

Feb 16, 2015
eatzalot in Features