Good Eats, Shorts, and a Grandma in South Bay
Okay, I'm back down here with a friend who has business meetings all day. I'm also visiting family. But if anyone wants a lunch partner at a great place, I should be available most everyday......
But my real question is where I should go with my grandma for dinner. Here's the problem. I forgot to bring pants. In the PNW, we don't have to wear pants. I can go to any restaurant in Portland and wear shorts and not feel like a loser -- at least not in summer.
Last time I was down, my grandma and I had an excellent meal at Amber based on the recs here. I also went to several places recommended in this thread:
I'm going to go to one for lunch today in just a few minutes, too. (My friend is in Mountain View, so Indian is aplenty.)
I'd like a midscale place that my grandma can be comfortable -- not too noisy and not too divish, if possible. But somewhere with really good food in most any cuisine. Oh, and it'd help if I didn't have to go buy a pair of pants today.
She lives in Los Gatos so not too far from there would also be helpful.
btw, I'm lazy, but eventually I will post pics and reports on my last big food visit. I ate A LOT of good food because of Chowhound. (Last night I had a very good meal at Ruen Pair in Albany also from recs here.)
On the way out, we made a quick stop at Madras Cafe for masala dosa and chappathi channa. I preferred the dosas at Dasaprakash and Saravana Bhavan, mainly for the filling, but Madras's had a very clean flavor. I just liked the richer, more intense versions from the other two. The paratha was really nice, good layers and lots of char. Very nice chickpea curry. Also got a lightly sour lassi.
Made our way to Champa Garden just after the big chowdown group. We got the green papaya salad Lao style, the riceball salad, the angel wings, the catfish panang, and the pineapple and shrimp curry. We also got some leftover beef salad from the Chowhounders. Everything was great. Really terrific. Curries were complex and interesting with the nice finishes of kaffir lime leaves and coconut cream. (Should have been spicier.) The sausage and riceball salad was wonderful. The best version of such salads I've had and it's one of my favorite types of salad. Very good papaya salad. Loved the beans and the RIPE tomatoes. The spice level was as I remember from Thailand, but I don't think they made it fully as fishy as a Lao style salad should be. (And they admitted such.) The angel wings were the second best I've had. The filling was a little too processed and bland. The sauce was WAAAAAY too sweet. Added a ton of spice to it and then it was perfect. I think they're very worried about making stuff for the American palate. Beef salad was very nice also. Interesting sour flavor. I've had some great Thai meals in the US at TAC Quick in Chicago and Vieng Thai in Houston and this is right there with them. This would be good in Thailand.
Thanks for all the recs everyone. A very good trip. I'll post pics when I eventually have them up, but it may be a long while.
I think Dasaprakash may disappoint after Saravana Bhavan. If you want absolutely the best dosa around, heada mile or two east down El Camino to Madras Cafe and get the masala dosa. The crepe is even more complex tasting than at Saravana Bhavan, though the chutneys aren't quite as good. If you want meat, Shalimar is across the street and does great tandoori. If you want to travel to Santa Clara, just drive a few miles down El Camino and try the Bangladeshi food at Cafe Dhaka.
Alternatively, head up to downtown Palo Alto and go to Hyderabad House - a self-serve Indian that's a cut above (way, way better than Amber Cafe). If they have an achari dish like the achari gosht, order it: it's the best achari I've ever had, including places in London. It's on University Ave. two doors down from Borders.
Ended up going and it didn't disappoint at all. This is the most South Indian I've ever eaten, though, so I may just not have an experienced palate. I thought it was right there with Saravana Bhavan.
I got the Karnataka troika, a combo with masala dosa, iddly, and bisi bele. The bisi bele was tasty, almost like a jambalaya or risotto in its creaminess. It did kind of need a little chutney to brighten it, though. The sambar was rich and creamy, but with a little acidity and chile heat for balance. The iddly was fine, quite sour, but moist and light. The dosa was right there with Saravana's, I think. The filling was possibly even better, imo, and Saravana's was the best masala dosa filling I've had up to this point. Dasaprakash's was creamy yet had texture from the potatoes. It was very oniony, but slightly sweet. Very complex.
I also got a pesseret because I've never had one before. Basically a big dosa with fresh ginger, red onions, and green chiles inside. Loved how aromatic and spicy it was, but with a very fresh flavor. Cleared my sinuses.
So I was very happy. I went in having read some of the relatively recent reports about greasy food with flat flavors. I'd say that this and Saravana Bhavan, though, are pretty much tied for the best Indian I've had on this trip and a big step up from most. (Although I'd like to try Southern Spice again for ala minute dishes. I think if the dishes I liked had been freshly made they would have been really good.)
I'll try to get to Madras and maybe the Bangladeshi place tomorrow. Thanks.
Madras is my favorite South Indian restaurant in the area. It's a dive, but it's good (and cheap!). If you're there on the weekend, try one of the specials - kohtu paratta or madras paratta. Off of the regular menu, I enjoy the dehi vada, chappathi chana, and masala dosa. You really can't go wrong here.
Lunch today at Nha Toi, which is discussed here:
Was VERY tempted to eat at Manresa tonight. Very. If I had pants and shoes, I would have, but I called and they said that business casual with slacks and dress shoes was required. It'd be enough of a pain to go shopping for pants, but I'm not going to buy shoes, too. That would have made the meal quite expensive unless I just hit a Wal-Mart (and I can't imagine there's one of those in Los Gatos). Even worse, as if to punish me, I just got done watching the Check Please episode with Manresa. Aaargh!
Instead, I went about 1/4 mile from where I'm staying in Mountain View to Chaat Paradise. Got the House Thali 2, an order of chaat samosa, and bhatura. Nothing made me go wow, but it was all enjoyable. The paratha were very nice -- charred all over, well-layered, and no raw flour taste. I think I'd like to just try a bunch of breads there.
Considering hitting Dasaprakash still tonight if my roommate ever shows up. It's nice to be in a place where the mediocre Indian is better than the good Indian where I'm from.
Thanks so much for your daily reporting. Your appetite and persistence for chowish food and experiences are amazing!! I usually leave those chowlunches so full that I can barely eat dinner...sometimes I wish that I could physically eat more...
Too bad about not being able to go to Manresa; there's always next time. Just remember to bring the pants. Their tomato tasting menu on 9/26 sounds really good.
Sounds like you're on an Indian spree. I've read many good things about Tirupathi Bhimas in Milpitas but haven't been.
We also had a good group lunch in Milpitas at South Legend Sichuan, if you like Sichuan food.
You don't strike me as a dessert kind of guy, but in case you're in Los Gatos and have a sweet tooth, I've been dying to try Fleur de Cocoa. They've just started making French-style ice cream, so I need to go check them out. Maybe Grandma might like?
Enjoy the rest of your visit, and we'll enjoy the rest of your reports. Look forward to any follow up photos!
re: Carb Lover
Thanks for the recs. Grandma's out of town now, so I'm mostly on my own. But I actually do like desserts. I'll see if I can get over there and pick something up tomorrow. I wish more dessert places were open late like Pix up in Portland. Don't know what my schedule for tomorrow is yet, but Milipitas might be a good stop on the way home. I made a stop in Newark on the way home last time.
Yep, Indian. Went to Amber Cafe and Saravana Bhavan. Got the cholewale samose from Amber along with the rampuri kebab. Both were disappointing. The samosa filling lacked flavor and the chickpea curry that came with it was like peppery bean soup. Flat. The kebab was better. The paratha still tasted of uncooked dough a little and the meat had an odd mushy texture, but its flavor was decent, the meat mixed with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices, drizzled with lemon juice.
I really liked Saravana Bhavan. Ate WAAAAAAY too much. Ordered three items: the combo #2, the dosa masala, and the channa bhatura. All were quite good and nothing was over $7. Came out super quick in massive portions. Really, though, I was most impressed with the flavors. The curries and sambar were very nice, well-rounded and rich. The the medhu vada was moist and light. The idly was light, slightly chewy but not doughy or greasy. The dosa was thin, crisp, and ginormous with a pleasant sourness. And the filling was terrific. It reminded me of a knish filling in some ways -- onions, potatoes, and mustard seeds. While I haven't gone out of my way to give this place competition on this trip, this is the best so far. I had some dosa left over and gave my roomy a bite. He's been to India several times and never really enjoyed the food. He really liked this. Not sure what that means, but it's interesting. btw, got a pound of sweets, too. I really like Indian sweets. While they weren't up to some of the places I've been in Chicago, they were still tasty, better than anything I can get up north.
Someone come and roll me to bed.
Did more of my usual thing for lunch today and snacked around.
Started by heading to Chaat Cafe (on Blossom Hill, apparently the Los Gatos one is now called India Oven). I knew it wasn't going to be among the best on offer, but I wanted to try this local chain because a place in Portland, K2 Kebab, just opened with a VERY similar menu and approach. And I know the owners of that place are from the Bay Area, so I suspect it could have been where the idea came from.
Had the samosa chaat, cholay bhature, and seekh kebab. I thought it was all fairly mediocre. The chickpea curry was pretty bland and the samosa interior of potatoes overly dominated by dried red chili. The samosa pastry was okay, but could have been crisper. The chutneys definitely were needed and helped a lot here. But I've had much better in Portland even. The cholay bhature had the very bland chickpeas along with the overly thick puffed bread. Not crisp or thin enough. The kebab was also -- even moreso -- dominated by dried chili. Very dry, too. This all was about $15 and I could have done better at a lot of buffets, I think. They did appear to be making items to order and there were primarily Indians in the back. But I've had plenty of bad food in the countries of origin.
After that, I went over to Story and Grand Central Shopping Center, or whatever it's called, at the corner of McLaughlin (sp?). That was fun. It was like being back in SE Asia. Bought some cheap cooking utensils at the housewares store. Went to the food court and decided on banh khot, a dish I like. Also got a freshly squeezed sugar cane juice a couple doors down. The banh khot had plenty of fresh herbs and lettuce, plus fishy nuoc cham. The khot themselves were decent, but not great. They were a bit greasy and tasted like it. Plus, they only had one sliver of shrimp in each. They really tasted much more like onion. But I liked it still. I'd probably try the hoi next time, or the xeo next door, which is what most people were getting. I was the only Caucasian and got plenty of stares, plus some corrections on my pronunciations, which I actually appreciate. In Portland they're always careful NOT to correct, which I find annoying.
Went down to King & Story after that to see how things have changed. Boy, that Target area... Either the Mexicans have finally assimilated or God is punishing them: Panda Express, Jamba Juice, Cold Stone, Starbucks, etc. You, too, can be like everyone else. At least Mi Pueblo and Tropicana were still hopping, maybe even more than I remember. Trying to get through the parking lot was sure like driving in Mexico. Went over to El Naranjo near Tropicana because I saw a sign for "huchepos", aka tamales de elote or fresh corn tamales, one of my favorite things. Interesting taqueria menu. If I had the time, I'd order a bunch of stuff. They even have pupusas and I suspect they're either far Southern Mexicans or Central Americans. Lots of aguas frescas, too. The uchepo was decent. A little less masa and a little more fresh corn would be nice, but it was light and moist served with crema and cheese. The cheese sucked. It was cotija. I think it was canned parmesan, honestly.
Not sure what to do for dinner yet. I'm in Mt View now, so maybe Indian.
Don't order off the regular menu at Estrellita except for the outstanding chicken Oaxaca. The rest is as boring as you surmise. The specials are what make the place sing, and there's a choice of 4 (sometimes more) each night. The web site hasn't been updated in years and doesn't list them. Estrellita is by far the best midscale Mexican in the area.
I looked at Consuelo's menu in Santana Row and it actually LOOKED pretty good. I don't know if I'll be able to get to any Mexican or not.
My grandma wasn't feeling that great today so we decided to stay close in to Los Gatos and get something quick. We went to Main Street Burgers. Walking in I thought it was going to be lame, nothing better than Burgerville up in Oregon. I've done a lot of burger surveying in Portland (mostly bistro burgers) and this was only a minor step down. In fact, it'd probably fall somewhere in the middle for quality. The fries were crisp, the bun had some substance, and the toppings were reasonably good quality. The meat was juicy and cooked so that it was still pink. It could have been more seasoned (you Californians seem really anti-salt) and had more beefiness, but it was good. A little spendy, perhaps, for the fast food atmosphere, but I don't really have a feel for prices down here. I think it was about $7.50 for the burger plus an extra buck for fries or two bucks for onion rings (which I got, and they were decent as well). It was a hefty 1/3 lb of beef, btw. And you can get a 1/2 lb patty.
I went to Layang Layang for lunch today. Got roti canai, beef satay, and petai belacan. I've only eaten a little bit of Malaysian in my life: Malay Satay Hut in Seattle and Portland, Banana Leaf in Vancouver, BC, and one other place in Portland that I can't remember the name of right now. I'd say that Banana Leaf and Malay Satay Hut are better. The roti canai was the best item. It's very thin and stretchy with intermittent crunchy brown splotches. The yellow curry has a decent amount of flavor and aroma. The satay wasn't charred enough and some of the chunks were pretty chewy, though most were very tender. The marinade was really flat, though, and it had a dead spice flavor to it. The peanut sauce was pretty good, however. Slightly spicy, peanutty, and with rich curry flavors. The belacan was the worst item. The belacans I've had have all been drier and more intense. They warned me that it would "be smelly", so I do wonder if they toned it down for the gringo. It seemed watered down -- a bit soupy -- with soy and oyster sauce components that overpowered the shrimp paste. The only realy shrimpiness came from a few whole dried shrimp in the mixture. It also had TONS of onions in relation to the beans. Maybe I should have tried the green bean or okra versions. I didn't finish it.
Yeah, there was a rec for Estrellita's before and I looked at the menu because they allegedly have southern Mexican regional specialties and the owners are, I think, from Chiapas. But it seemed damned typical Tex and Cal Mex with fajitas, burritos, standard enchiladas, etc. Only one or two dishes that went outside that, from what I could see.
I'm not so concerned with it being "gourmet", but sometimes midscale places like Dona Tomas can make slightly more effort at true regionality and "authenticity". Plus, might be a little more comfortable for my grandma. I'm always surprised by how few midscale, regional Mexican restaurants there are in the Bay Area. I think we might have more in Portland. (We have six.)
Consuelo's in Santana Row (the newest European style mall in San Jose) is a popular "gourmet mexican" restaurant, touted for their tequilas & cocktails, housemade tortillas, and chic-y atmosphere. I've never been though. It gets mixed reviews, some love it, some won't return.
Consuelo Mexican Bistro
377 Santana Row, #1125
San Jose, CA 95128
I've also seen recs for Estrellita's in Los Altos and Fiesta Del Mar (2 locations) in Mountain View.
I've been to Aqui's in Willow Glen and in San Jose and it tries to be gourmet mexican (or rather Cal-Mex, or mexican inspired) with organic, fresh ingredients but it's not something I'd recommend: flavors fell short, almost chain-like good but boring consistency.
We ended up at James Randall's in Los Gatos. My uncle wanted to try it. It's a small little place, nice, but not overly schmancy, with maybe 8 tables. I wore shorts and my ... ehem ... sexy legs were on display in the big floor to ceiling window that we sat next to.
The menu is a bit boring, I would say. I got the double pork chop with polenta. My grandma got the beef tenderloin with blue cheese scallop potatoes. And my uncle got the rack of lamb with fingerling potatoes. We all got salads, too, and finished by splitting a flourless chocolate cake with berry compote.
However, even if the menu items were a bit unexciting, everything was prepared very well and the ingredients were excellent. My hearts of romaine salad, eg, had early girl tomatoes that were perfectly ripe and very fruity. My uncle's (essentially, but they don't call it that) caprese salad had heirloom tomatoes that looked as if they were picked from the farm that morning.
The lamb, despite being cooked medium (as asked for), was melt in the mouth tender. The tenderloin, which was asked to be medium, but was closer to medium rare, was also supremely tender. My pork, which I asked to be medium rare (I REAALLY hate pork that's overcooked and I'd rather take my chances with pink pork) was cooked closer to medium well (no pink at all) was still very juicy and adequately tender. Nice grill marks and crusts on everything. I would say that for me the items were a bit underseasoned. Also, the sauces that came with, mostly demi-glaces, it looked like, were perhaps a little subtle, but I tend towards intensity rather than subtlety. Everyone loved their sides.
The flourless chocolate cake was a little dry, but had a lot of chocolate flavor. Perhaps if it was a little less cold it would have been a bit bit creamier and less chalky. But it was in an acceptable range. The berries were fantastic.
I only took a few pictures, but when I post on my blog I'll put them up. Who knows when that will be, though, so I thought I'd give a little back.
Restaurant James Randall
303 N Santa Cruz Ave
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Oh, one more complaint about the place: the bread. They used that overly dense but squishy, crackly, but not crunchy, crusted sourdough that I really don't like that's all too typical the closer you get to SF. I don't think it was any better than the stuff you can get at the grocery store. And the butter was rock hard.
In Los Gatos, The Pasteria & Market might be a good choice. It sounds like something casual enough that shorts would be ok but I haven't been there. Very recent report:
Not far from Los Gatos, I've been meaning forever to try Chez Sovan, a longtime favorite. It's divey but I thought you might like it based on your last visit's post. It's in Campbell/South San Jose. Lots of mentions but here is the only report with details I could find:
(Edit: I can't remember if it's the Campbell location that's divey or the North San Jose location that's divey so I might be wrong that it's divey).
A unique and hard to find elsewhere place that you must visit (this one I've been to a few times) is Zeni for ethiopian food, in the west San Jose area. Not divish at all. Best report for Zeni is katya's long post:
Lastly, we've had numerous awesome Vietnamese in San Jose led by Carb Lover in the South Bay Vietnamese Lunch Series, the most recent one being at Nha Toi in downtown San Jose:
Of the places in the South Bay Viet Lunch Series, the non divey places were Vung Tau, Nha Toi and White Lotus.
And I'd love to have lunch with you while you're here. Contact me through email (my address is on my profile page).
re: Alice Patis
re: Alice Patis
Alice, other lunch options might include the crispy pata at Tribu Grill in San Bruno or DeeDee's Indian Buffet in MV...too casual?
What should the Zuke (of Ken and Zuke's) not miss in the Bay Area?
-Wednesday is "Lengua in Salsa" day at La Perla
224 Lux Ave
South San Francisco, CA
Too casual for me? I'm alone on lunches right now. I hit Southern Spice yesterday. Didn't realize I could order off the menu and just stuck with buffet. Ranged from mediocre to decent, nothing bad. The best items I tried were the pepper chicken (which I assume is the same as their chili chicken on the menu), Navrattan Korma, and Bhindi Masala. Flavors were a bit flat, but it was buffet. I wish I would have ordered some dosa off the menu, though, when I saw one of the workers come out with a fresh piece. Dosa just doesn't work as a buffet item. It gets all soggy.