Visiting from Toronto and looking for the best affordable eats
My boyfriend and I will be visiting the Bay Area for a week in mid-June. While he was born and raised in Toronto, I gotta say I'm a true Vancouverite at heart. Living in Toronto for two years has left me sorely missing the Japanese Izakaya-style restaurants back home. I also miss amazingly fresh sushi without having to shell out $100 (which is what has to happen out here in Toronto). I've always heard how SF is a tremendous food city, so I have high gastronomical hopes for this trip! What is can't miss in this city for about $15-$30 per person?
My boyfriend has recently been converted to a ramen-lover, and we've encountered great places in NYC and Vancouver...what's the best the Bay Area has to offer? He's also a huge fan of pho (as you can see, we're just a bunch of noodle-lovers).
We have plans to go to Swan's Oyster House, grab some chowder on the Wharf, check out the Ferry Market and spend a day in Napa. We've already made reservations at Manresa in Los Gatos as our one big splurge meal.
We'll be staying in Santana Row. We'll have a car so anywhere from Carmel to Napa (or something like that, I'm kind of geographically-challenged) is fair game. He's worked in SJ for several months so he knows his way around (hopefully).
Also appreciated are suggestions for drink places. I love a good martini, but I avoid anything that contains a flavoured vodka like the plague.
And one more thing (just out of curiosity)! When I was eating at Frontera Grill in Chicago, I started chatting with someone from SF who travelled ALL THE WAY there just to experience some "really good" Mexican food. This seemed a bit counterintuitive... Mexican food is of course sorely lacking in Toronto, but it's gotta be pretty decent in SF, right?
The good news is you can get ramen and pho near San Jose. The bad news is Santana Row is (depending on traffic) an hour to 90 minutes from San Francisco and two hours or more from Napa Valley.
The Wharf is a massive tourist trap and chowder is not a San Francisco specialty.
Best cheap eats:
If you're thinking of crossing the bridge (or taking BART) to the East Bay, I'd recommend Pizzaiolo in Oakland for inspired drinks. They are $7 - 9 for cocktails, but the care taken in concocting them makes them worth it. They make their own tonic, for chrissakes. Their food is also excellent, and if you're careful (and don't count drinks) you'll be able to get dinner within your budget. I recommend getting one appetizer, one pizza, and one of the Contorni - this will be plenty, and not break the bank. The owner, Charlie, is a Chez Panisse alum, and so the whole menu is seasonal to reflect available produce.
If you like Vietnamese food, I will again recommend Oakland - a vibrant Chinatown with fewer tourists. Binh Minh Quan has delicious food and is open for lunch and dinner; if you're looking for cheaper, more authentic fare, Cam Huong has great sandwiches and dessert drinks - I recommend the pork chop banh mi and any of the following drinks: taro and coconut, black-eyed pea, and basil seed with fruit. If you want Chinese pastries, go to ABC, nearby.
If you like Ethiopian food, Ensarro, also in Oakland, is the best I've ever had.
Another good bet for tasty AND cheap (not to mention a fun tourist activity) is the Berkeley Farmers' Market. Forget Ferry Plaza! Go to the Tues or Sat market and get good Indian (Curry Leaf) or Thai (Andy & Cindy).
The Mexican food up here is nothing compared to LA.... but there are some tasty burrito places in the Mission in SF.
Berkeley Saturday Farmers' Market
Center St and Milvia St, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Tuesday Farmers' Market
Derby St, Berkeley, CA, USA
5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
Cam Huong Cafe
920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
ABC Bakery Cafe
388 9th St # 186, Oakland, CA
366 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA
re: Robert Lauriston
Really? I've been going there weekly for a year and a half, and if anything, I've seen it get better. Every now and then the chef might have an off-day (or a day off!), but it's been just great.
As far as going to Oakland - it seems totally conceivable that someone might take a trip up to the East Bay to go hang out in Berkeley for the afternoon, and not out of the question to hop off the freeway on the way. :)
What do you order at BMQ? My last two visits there were so disappointing that I haven't gone for a while. I always found the menu hit-and-miss:
A visit to the Berkeley-Oakland area's definitely worthwhile, but they have as good or better Vietnamese, Chinese, and Ethiopian food in San Jose.
re: Robert Lauriston
Agree with RL. While in San Jose, go to Pho Kim Long for seriously authentic Vietnamese eats. It's always crowded, cash only, and has a grimy decor to boot (ie sticky table tops).
While in San Jose, go to Kahoo for the shio ramen. ASJ for spicy beef noodle soup.
Those 3 are some of the best noodling experiences you'll get in the bay area.
Manresa for your splurge is brilliant. The decor is relaxed and less formal than most high end places. Go chef's tasting with wine pairing (premium if possible) for an amazing experience of unique tastes and textures (without being too molecular gastronomy).
I'll try to give South Bay correlates to eeblet's recs (note: I haven't been to some of these in years, so I'm hoping other people can jump in and give updates)
Ethiopian: Zeni was my favorite, but I've read raves on Cafe Rehoboth
Vietnamese:one of my great regrets is that I barely ate any Vietnamese food when I lived in the South Bay, but I'd look for Alice Patis' posts for more info
For ramen - Ramen Halu and Kahoo Ramen in San Jose seem to be the most highly regarded
For Taiwanese spicy beef noodle soup with handcut noodles, ASJ in San Jose
This thread links a couple of good San Jose threads:
If you're planning on driving down to Carmel at some point, look into taco trucks in Salinas: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/379614
The main thing, though, is that I would rethink staying in San Jose the entire time you're in the Bay Area - as Robert mentioned, you'll be spending a lot of time in the car. Look into staying in Emeryville in the East Bay for lower-cost options for at least part of your trip (days when you're focusing on SF and Napa) - look for posts by lexdevil on this thread for strategies:
ha ha....love the Frontera Grill comment. I've been there and have no idea why it's so popular.
You have made a great choice in going to Swan's try to go during the week so you don't have to wait in line too long. If you'll be in town for the evening skip the wharf for chowder and instead go to Bar Crudo for their seafood chowder (and everything else).
If you want to try some good Mexican food go to Maya. It's the most authentic I've found in the city. It's a little bit more of an upscale restaurant similar to Frontera Grill.
In Napa you can't go wrong with French food. Try either Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Will you do any wine tasting there? I taste there at least once a week if you need any suggestions.
Actually, any wine tasting suggestions would be Napa would be FANTASTIC! We're more into the smaller, family-run type of wineries. Somewhere along the way while consulting for a client, my boyfriend has become anti-multi-national wine conglomerates a la Vincor...excuse me for not knowing the exact term for these companies :p.
We're staying at Santana Row purely because we have a friend who owns a very nice place there (ie. no expensive hotel fees!) So ironically, we're actually staying there out of financial considerations.... While working in SJ, my better half actually bothered to drive to SF for dinner, and drive allll they way back to Santana Row to party with the "hipsters," so car time is not a big issue.
Lately most wineries require reservations so make sure you call in advance. If you'll be in the Yountville area (where the restaurants I recommeded are located) there are a few great places. Right next door to Bouchon is Hope & Grace, further down the street is Jessup Cellars both which have a small tasting room and not super touristy despite the location. About a 10 minute drive away is Robert Biale which focuses on very strong Zinfandales so make sure you eat before going there, also make sure to get the story about "Black Chicken". Last but not least is Elyse winery off of highway 29 does really great red wines particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Have a fabulous time.
yountville,ca, yountville, ca
yountville,ca, yountville, ca
Robert Biale Winery
4038 Big Ranch Rd, Napa, CA
I'd ask some San Jose locals about taquerias and Mexican food. There's lots of it in California everywhere. I just don't know San Jose and rarely see SJ taquerias/Mexican discussed here much...although I've eaten at a few places it was a while ago. Might also check out Vietnamese in SJ. Very large population there.
Not far from SJ is Mountain View and there's a number of excellent and inexpensive taquerias (I like La Bamba but others have their favs) and an old school Cal-Mex sit down restaurant, La Fiesta. The family also owns a few sister restaurants, Palo Alto Sol and Fiesta Del Mar...none of it will be cutting edge but a good representation of Cal-Mex food and reasonably priced.
In SF there's plenty of taquerias but no outstanding sit down. I like Maya but Mexican food is a funny thing in SF right now I might hit a taco place for lunch but not as the main event so to speak.
Between SJ and Monterey is Salinas and there many taco trucks. Others can talk about that better...and there's the search function.
I think you'll like Manresa. Might be the best haute restaurant on the West Coast right now.
I think this is the most recent version of Melanie's ramen rankings -- quite a few of the top ranked places are in the South Bay: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/476696
Also, the south east side of San Jose is a huge Vietnamese enclave (did they ever resolve the issue of what to call it?). I always start at the intersection of Story Road and McLaughlin, but there's also a big cluster at the Lion Plaza at King and Tully.
Grand Century Shopping Mall
1001 Story Rd, San Jose, CA
Before you waste time going from Santana Row to Swan Oyster Depot, some of the raves about Swan are a bit misleading. Swan is a very small seafood market, with a counter seating maybe 12 people on incredibly uncomfortable stools. The only hot food is New England clam chowder, allegedly canned. Very good cold seafood (in season) but quite expensive. I am sure San Jose has places as good and as fresh.
I would agree with OldTimer. It's not crab season anymore anyway, so there's no reason to go to Swan Oyster Depot to get fresh dungeness. If you must see the wharf, and I suspect you do as a visitor, even just to say that you went and saw it -- then you can also get your seafood there (cracked crab, shrimp cocktail, etc) from one of the stands at the wharf and then walk down and see the sea lions at Pier 39. I do love a crab sandwich on sourdough from those stands every now and then. Just know that you're not really eating local seafood -- off-season, the crab comes from way up north. If it's pristine, excellent seafood you're looking for, then by all means go to Bar Crudo or another more upscale place mentioned by others. But if you want the wharf, the sea, views, etc., then go eat seafood and chowder at the wharf. Others will disagree with me, but I think the best chowder in SF is at Boudin bakery on the wharf. I always take my out-of-town friends there if they say they want the wharf, seafood, and chowder.
re: Robert Lauriston
Somebody needs to paint that in big letters on the side of the parking garage near Pier 39
If someone is absolutely insisting on chowder at the wharf (and yes, reasonable people do for some reason), the thing I've found that works is to get a take-out pint of it from that stand over on the west end of things, douse it liberally with tabasco sauce to help break up the globular clusters, and then eat it on the ferry to Sausalito or Alcatraz or somewhere.
Mexican (or thereabouts) is great in SF. If you want a more authentic burrito check out La Tacqueria or Tacqueria Cancun in the Mission. (I would avoid the Tacqueria Cancun on Market just because that is in a very sketchy area.) If you want a more upscale burrito (but no more pricey -- still about $5.50 or $6.00) check out Papalote, both in the Mission and right near USF.
For a nicer sit down dinner that is still within your budget I cannot stress enough how much I enjoy L'Osteri del Forno in North Beach. They don't take reservations, nor credit cards (cash only) but man is their food good. Honestly, I think (within the context of what it is -- everything is cooked in this one oven that they have and I assume is kept at one constant temperature) it is among the best Italian restaurants in SF.
Here's some San Jose area recommendations. And of these I would say Falafel Drive Inn, Sumika & El Tule are the places I'd make room for:
236 Central Plaza, between Second and Third streets, Los Altos
Draw: tasty yakitori joint
5440 Thornwood Dr., San Jose
Hours: Daily 10am–9pm
Draw: separate Oaxacan menu includes tlayudas, chapulines (i'm not a fan, but you may be), pozole and a very good black mole - way, way better than some lame "Mission burrito" yeehaw!!
2301 Stevens Creek Blvd
San Jose, CA 95128
Draw: Nijmeh family falafels & other Middle Eastern fare are excellent
Downtown Farmers' Market
San Pedro Square, from Santa Clara and St. John streets, San Jose
Every Fri 10am-2pm
Draw: includes lots of good lunch stalls
Flying Pig Pub
78 S. First St., San Jose
Lunch 11am-2am Tue-Fri, 4pm-2am Sat and Mon
Draw: Cincinnati Chili
Shalimar Indian Cuisine
167 W. San Fernando St., San Jose;
Mon-Sat 11am-2:30pm, 5-10pm; Sun 11:30am-3pm, 5-9pm
Draw: $8.95 lunch buffet
Sonoma Chicken Coop
31 North Market Street
San Jose, CA 95113
Phone: (408) 287-4098
Draw: wonderful roast chicken dinners
834 Blossom Hill Rd
San Jose, CA 95123
Draw: tasty, cheap Indian
2910 Stevens Creek Blvd. #110
San Jose, CA 95128
Draw: affordable sushi (but not exotic), very good Udon
385 S. Winchester Blvd., near Stevens Creek, San Jose.
Draw: experimental but promising Vietnamese
I completely agree that Chicago has way better Mexican food than San Francisco. Part of the reason has to do with immigration patterns with Chicago tending to get Mexicans and SF tending to get Central & South Americans. Plus Chicago has all those ex-Rick Bayless employees opening their own joints. While things have gotten much better in the last 5 years or so, much of the Mexican food in SF is boring Cal-Mex.
The other thing I'd recommend is doing some grocery shopping - SJ has some great ethnic markets and would allow you to take some treats home. My BIL lives in Vancouver and usually manages to take back a suitcase of Mexican food ingredients whenever he comes home to visit.
And my last advice is: when ordering at Manresa, think carefully before choosing the tasting menu. Since the whole table has to order it, I allowed myself to get talked into it and was really sad when I saw dishes I wanted more go to other tables.
Here's some of the links...
2301 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128
236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022
834 Blossom Hill Rd, San Jose, CA 95123
5440 Thornwood Dr Ste I, San Jose, CA 95123
Sonoma Chicken Coop
31 N Market St, San Jose, CA 95113
2910 Stevens Creek Blvd # 110, San Jose, CA
"Boring Cal-Mex" is not going to be AT ALL boring for any Canadian. Vancouver has the worst, most ersatz Mexican food in the country, and Toronto is not much better. SF is a complete and unrelenting revelation.
Chicago does not have more Mexicans than does SF and I'd say having grown up in Chicago with Mexican in-laws (lots of them), the Mexican in SF is absolutely better- in fact it's not a contest.
re: John Manzo
re: John Manzo
Vancouver's Mexican cannot be worst than Zurich, including the quesadilla made with raclette.....
If you're in San Francisco proper here are my two favorite modest mexican places.
3066 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
3486 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
re: John Manzo
"Chicago does not have more Mexicans than does SF"
That is not even close to factually correct - SF's Mexican population is a mere 6% while due to the huge influx of Mexican immigrants in the 1990s, Chicago's Mexican population is over double SF's.
My undergraduate degree is in Latin American Studies and although there are better sources, here's two readily available ones:
I have a PhD in Googling, and I'd say it's a push. If you compare the whole CSA's around Chicago and San Francisco, Chicagoland has the edge in Mexican population (1.44 million to 1.22 million) but the Bay Area has a higher percentage of Mexicans, 17% compared to 14%.
This is according to the 2006 American Community Survey:
re: John Manzo
"Chicago does not have more Mexicans than does SF" - not even close to true. SF's Mexican population is around 6% while Chicago's, thanks to a huge influx of new immigrants in the 1990s, is more than double SF.
My undergraduate degree is in Latin American Studies. While I have read better, more comprehensive studies and papers, here's two readily available sources:
Being Vietnamese and from San Jose (and a serious foodie), I suggest going to one of the following for pho: 1) Pho Tau Bay at 10th & Keyes, 2) Pho 54 on Alum Rock or 3) Pho Bang on King & Tully. According to my mom, the locals are flocking to the former two "hot spots."
As for cheap eats in the Bay, these would be my picks:
- Mijita in the Ferry Building. Traci des Jardin was on the Next Iron Chef. This is her very casual Mexican eatery. Basically everything here is good and as authentic as in the Mission.
-Out the Door in the Ferry Building. This is the more affordable take out place of Slanted Door. Stay away from the pho but the rest of the dishes are really good.
-Other places: Rose's Cafe, Luella, South Park Cafe
-La Note in Berkeley on Shattuck for brunch. Try the brioche with lavender honey.
-Cheeseboard Collective. Quintessential Berkeley.
You can also check out this site for more "good eats": www.jadedpalette.com
I like the sopa de albondigas at Mijita, but their tortillas are stiff and odd-tasting, and they have had problems serving things at the right temperature. Their prices are maybe twice what you'd pay in the Mission (though theoretically they're using better ingredients).
Out the Door is pretty good but twice the price of your average Vietnamese dive.
More generally, it makes no sense for someone staying in San Jose to eat either Mexican or Vietnamese on a day trip to SF.
re: Robert Lauriston
Sure it does b/c it's a trip to the Ferry Building which is probably the best foodie place in SF! I'm Vietnamese and grew up in San Jose and I'd rather eat at Out the Door than most Vietnamese places in SJ and I grew up eating at every dive along Alum Rock, Story and Tully Road. I still think Slanted Door/Out the door has some of the best Vietnamese food out there. Good quality ingredients cooked in a way that's authentic to the cuisine. The pho is off. Agreed. But everything else seems on point.
re: Robert Lauriston
Ok, please excuse my ignorance but these two bits of information would really help me out in locating these places:
What area is considered "the Mission"? And where is Fruitvale? In Google Maps, both these searches turned up places very very far from SJ...I'm getting a PhD in Biochemistry but I unfortunately don't have one in Googling like Xiao Yang ;).
>> What area is considered "the Mission"? And where is Fruitvale?
The Mission district is in San Francisco. Where the actual bounds are depends on who you talk to, what the current real estate market is doing, etc. But in general, it's the area within a few blocks east and west of Mission St bounded on the north by 14th and the south by 30th. Roughly.
Fruitvale is a district in Oakland extending, again very roughly, about a half mile north, south, and east from the intersection of Fruitvale Ave and International Boulevard.
As a first time visitor, the Mission is probably a much better bet. Aside from whichever way the Mexican pissing contest works out, it's also the home, officially as of last night's James Beard Awards, of both the best bakery (Tartine) and chef (Delfina) in the country. And neither of these places is too terribly unaffordable. Especially if you're using those big, strong Canadian dollars.
Great places to get a drink in Oakland: Flora-best drinks inthe east bay
San Francisco: Bourbon and Branch- a true speakeasy call ahead for a password
Slanted door-food is good but the drinks ae great
Range-in the mission, again food is goo but drinks are a highlight
Rye- Had one of the best drinks I've ever had here. Not the greatest atmosphere but amazing libations.
So I'm back from the SF Bay Area, and I had a blast! There were some hiccups along the way so we couldn't get to all the eateries we planned on (the trip was centred around sightseeing and certain activities as opposed to just dining).
First day: After spending a while organizing this whole car rental thing, we were absolutely famished (it's a 5.5 hour flight from Toronto to SF!). E remembered a place beside the Ferry Market that served breakfast food along with a great view of the bay (I realized after the trip that I should have asked about brunch spots - my boyfriend is a huge fan of breakfast food - you will notice the recurring theme in my account). The place was however replaced by some tacqueria, but still craving breakfast food, so out of hungry desperation, we headed over to the Marketbar. Had seasonal fruit (strawberries and cherries in this case) with Saint Benoit yogourt (I like the tartness of the yogourt) and deviled eggs with Dungeness crab. Was expecting the eggs to be suffed with the dungeness crab, but alas it was just crab atop regular deviled eggs. The crab was good, but the portion was really small. We agreed more food was needed, but since we didn't get here until 2pm-ish, a lot of stalls have begun to pack up. Tried a few chocolates at Recchiuti (pink peppercorn and anise, grapefruit and tarragon, lavander and vanilla)...wanted to buy morels (there were so many of them! They exist but are hard to come by in Toronto), but it's not like I would have time to cook them. Then we stopped by Hog Island Oyster Bar, tried the oyster sampler and were very satisfied. Ordered a glass of French Muscadet - way too acidic for my taste. For dinner, as we had to head down to SJ to meet up with our hostess, we went to ASJ Noodle for the Taiwanese Spicy Beef noodles (now how did you guys guess that we love a good bowl of spicy beef noodles too!). The noodles were great, the broth had nice beefy depth to it. However, DO NOT order the XLBs there...
Second Day: Time to explore the coastal cities. So the good news: we didn't get chowder at SF's Fisherman's Wharf like you guys warned. However, E did want chowder at the Monterey wharf. We sampled a few down the strip. Fisherman's Grotto tasted too much of just cream, the one at the end just tasted like garlic powder...so we just went with Gilbert's. And you guys were right - I think I'll just have to try chowder in Boston...luckily I have a sister who will be moving there :p. Went down to Carmel, had horribly weak coffee at the Carmel Coffee Roasting Company, and on a whim we wanted to go to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. We were also trying to catch the last "Camelot" performance at the Forest Theatre, so in between all the running around, we only had time to pick up sandwiches at the Bruno's deli in order to grab a good seat. A side note: at this point, we were surprised California can be so cold!
My plate is done reading - the rest of the week is to come and don't worry, the eating gets better (Our 2nd day was a dining low).
Day 3: This was our Napa Valley day and if I could sum everything up, it'd be that one day is not enough to explore the region. It blows my mind to hear that Sonoma is even more beautiful!?!? Anyway, we began the day by grabbing a coffee and croissant at Cocola's across the street on Santana Row. The coffee's not bad, the croissants fair, and there are always scantily clad pretty young things hanging about...this would turn out be a regular routine due to the sheer convenience of the location.
at Bouchon. They were serving Turley by the glass but I didn't notice until after our meal! Oh well. I had the French gnocchi, which is actually pate choux pastry mixed with dijon and spring onion. Served with brown butter and the first squash of the season, it was absolutely delightful (if not a bit rich). E had the Boudin Noir. Our server warned that it should only be ordered by adventurous eaters as it's a blood sausage, but hey! We're Chinese so bring it on :p. Served with potato puree and carmelized apples, it too was tasty. Oh, the Epi Baguette was REALLY nicely done though. Crispy on the outside. We stopped by the Bouchon bakery afterwards where E had a cappucinno which he said was really nicely done. I had a pistachio macaroon. I've never had a macaroon before to tell the truth, so I gotta know if it's supposed be slightly chewy?
Next was the wine touring. We didn't go through the whole tour and simply did tastings. Or should I say I did the tasting - E doesn't do much alcohol and had to be the DD anyhow.
- First stop was Domaine Chandon. Beautiful winery, good champagnes I had the Prestige Cuvee Tasting and bought the Reserve Pinot Noir Brut. The staff though was not attentive at all.
- Second stop was Robert Sinskey. Our tatooed wine pourer (what is the proper name for these guys anyway?) was waaaayyy more friendly this time. All I had to do was ask and they poured from their Late Zinskey (a late harvest Zinfandel - never seen one before!) - a $55 bottle of wine free of charge. It was almost like a port. Coming from Ontario, we do enjoy our sweet wines so that of course was a purchase. I also got the Abraxas which didn't have the sweetness of the constituent grapes that I was expecting, but had a crisp finish. Lovely.
- Third stop was Elyse. Eight tastings for $10! A bargain (again, the Chinese part of me comes out)! I immediately fell in love with the first wine L'Ingenue, which is a white wine blended from an assortment of Rhone varietals. I can't pinpoint what it is, but it had a distinctive taste. That was the first purchase. Le Corbeau had an intoxicating bouquet - roses with a hint of lavander. There was also a Petit Syrah on the list, a Cabernet Sauvignon but my sweet tooth prompted me to get the La Peche at the end of the tasting - it smells and tastes just like its name.
- Fourth stop was Hagafen as the guy at Robert Sinskey recommended them for sweet wine lovers. I tripped and broke the shoe upon entering the winery, and that earned sympathy points from the staff as I think they were just about to close...yay! Their three gold medalling Sauvignon Blanc was pretty good, I gotta say. Their Chardonnay was definitely something different - very fruit-forward and not like the buttery or mineral-y stuff that dominates these days, so that was refreshing. Actually, most of their wines were very fruit-forward. I ended up getting a Riesling that would go well with spicy Asian-inspired dishes.
Dinner was at Bistro Jeanty. We got the moules vin rouge and foie gras with cured bacon lentil stew thing (excuse my memory) to start. The main was beef carpaccio (beef carpaccio as a main!) and a cassoulet - admitted this might have been too rich for a summer meal. The carpaccio was a great interplay of flavours - the acidity of the capers played well with the sweetness that was also mixed into the beef. We for some reason were incredibly stuffed though - we could barely touch the cassoulet. However, we thought that the entire meal (with possibly the exception of the carpaccio) was heavily oversalted. I hope it was just an off night or something...
Day 4: Today was another trip to Big Sur (what can I say, that mountain range is absolutely beautiful and our hostess really seemed interested in our hiking plans). Since we woke up really really hungry, we just grabbed breakfast at a nearby Flames. GIGANTIC portions. I had the Monterey omelette with dungeness, artichokes and olives. I'm not sure if the hollandaise sauce was necessary for this omelette... On our way to the Ewoldsen trail, we picked up sandwiches to picnic with at Big Sur Bakery. The bread was good, and the turkey sandwich had a nice really sharp cheese. But be weary of this review - I suspect most things would taste good after hiking up a mountain... By the time we drove back to SJ to wash off the dirt off etc., it was already almost 9, so that would render most dining options unavailable to us in the next 10 minutes. The Row is always open late (why are there so many people dining at 10:30pm on a Tuesday!). The Michelin Guide (yes, we bought one, and yes, it actually proved to be quite helpful in navigating without a GPS! Ah, the good ol' non-technologically-advanced days...) mentioned Consuelo's so we figured it can't be half bad. The sopas surtidos were actually very flavourful - I would say it was my favourite dish. Our hostess says that she's had better carnitas than the one we ordered. Our pipian dish, which was chicken with green mole, had a tasty mole but a very dry chicken. And the chile relleno was mediocre at best. (At this point in my trip, I started to agree with the "Chicago has better Mexican food" camp).
Day 5: Time for the Gilroy Outlet mall! First though was breakfast in Palo Alto so we could see the Stanford campus and it's apparently quite beautiful outdoor mall. I found Il Fornaio via another thread under "Breakfast Palo Alto" search. E had the standard breakfast fare except the sausage was coiled. The applewood smoked bacon was nicely cooked. I ordered strawberry-stuffed crespelle but wanted higher fat content yogourt. Apparently nonfat was all they had. Now, this was when the whole West Coast health-conscious thing was getting to me - and I'm from Vancouver! Although as someone researching in the diabetes/cardiovascular disease area, I'm gonna make my plug for fatty dairy products now. The trans fat in dairy products is not the same demon that's being cut out of Oreos. The one that cows make is called CLA and there is a lot of evidence suggesting it has anti-oncogenic and even some favourable metabolic effects. Plus, fat maintains that feeling of satiety longer. Anyway, I digress.
E yearned for the In N Out burgers he had back in days when he was working in SJ, so we each had a burger "Animal Style" (I still find this secret menu business very odd - even if it is a gimmick). Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. I'd rather have the BK Whopper, or heck, even White Castle if I wanted something truly greasy...
And now for the Manresa report. We got lost on our way (so Los Gatos is a small town, but not small enough to find a hidden lane without a map or Mapquest), but someone at the restaurant was kind enough to give us detailed instructions over the phone. As we're both Asian, we couldn't both handle the accompanying wines to the tasting menu (and alright, I'll admit, the extra $85 seemed a bit daunting).
The first amuse bouche was black olive madelines (nice savoury aspect to a still sweet pastry) and a red pepper gelee of sorts (excuse me for not remembering the exact French term, even if it is our country's other national language). Next amuse bouche was a raw oyster served with an uni. Omigosh, that was absolutely SUBLIME. Our favourite amuse bouche by far. The uni added this delicate sweetness to the oyster. The final amuse bouche was a soft-cooked egg with maple syrup and sherry vinegar and some black sea salt on the bottom.
The main courses may not necessarily be described in order (heck, there were a lot of dishes!). There was octopus with golden raspberries (didn't know there was such a thing!). Aji with green seaweed ice (one of the molecular gastronomy touches) and Meyer lemon. This was my favourite dish as the Meyer lemon was a wonderful citrusy surprise that cut through the fish. "Into the Vegetable Garden" was a myriad fresh greens accompanied by a foam (another piece of molecular gastronomy) of vegetable juice and "dirt" made of roasted turnip bits. The Monterey abalone with porcini mushrooms was E's favourite dish. The abalone was soft and not hard and over-chewy. There was the spring lamb which we saw one of the servers present in its entirety to a nearby table - we were certainly glad we got a piece of it with the tasting menu! It had a very mild lamb taste and I'm afraid I can't remember the accompanying sauce but I assure you it was a great match. Then we had a sauced cod jowl (it had a Spanish name, but I wouldn't know how to spell it - kind of sounds like "cajoleja") and that had such an amazingly soft texture! (with enough chew). E thought it was very fishy though. I asked the server what happened to the rest of the cod, and he assured us that the entire fish was used. Our last savoury dish (at least that I remember) was French Guinea fowl with a baby leek or something. The bird was very moist.
We had a series of three desserts. The first was black cherries served with a cream that's had cherry bits sitting in it for several months. I don't know why the cream didn't go bad but it sure was tasty!!! Never had anything like it before and I'm kicking myself for not remembering the name of that cream. The second was a strawberry sorbet dish with a sweet corn sauce - the combination worked! Our last dessert was my favourite - chocolate mousse (you can never go wrong with that) served with cucumber and a shiso sorbet. I would have never thought of such a dish but the flavours married beautifully together.
We ended our four-hour dinner (yes, it took four hours!) with an amuse bouche reminiscent of how we started - chocolate madelines with strawberry gelee. For $145/pp (before wine, tip, tax), I would say I got a way better deal than with the famous Susur in Toronto (soon to be NYC). However, though the service was nice, I gotta say I wasn't impressed with how some of the servers didn't bother to fully describe my dish to me. I know some people don't need to hear everything - but I thought there were very important bits of information that got left out. All I gotta say is that if the Michelin guide gave this only 2 stars, I really gotta wonder what TFL has in store...
More to come...
Consuelo's original chef moved on to open his own place. Too bad they didn't keep up to his standards.
Il Fornaio is sort of a chain, though they do the chain thing better than most.
In-n-out is one of those things you try to tell people is not up to the hype, but it doesn't hurt to try if you don't expect more than fast food. However, the quality behind the food is betther than most fast food ... as in fries from scratch.
Oooh ... green seaweed ice ... that really sounds ... cool. That strawberry/corn combo sounds interesting ... something I need to contemplate. Chocolate mousse served with cucumber and a shiso sorbet also sounds interesting.
Thanks so much for report. This is one of the most interesting reposts I've ever read on the boards on so many levels ... one of the primary ones is restaurants that don't usually get mentioned.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
6320 Silverado Trl, Napa, CA
520 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
4160 Silverado Trl, Napa, CA
333 Santana Row # 1045, San Jose, CA
Domaine Chandon - Etoile Restaurant
1 California Dr, Yountville, CA 94599
2100 Hoffman Ln, Napa, CA
Consuelo Mexican Bistro
337 Santana Row, San Jose, CA
The last stretch...(hopefully)
Day 6: One of our San Francisco days. We got to Swans by 11:15am, just right after it opened so we got seated right away. However, within the next 15 minutes, a lineup started out the door. The combination seafood salad and bluepoint oysters were both MASSIVE, but very fresh. I left the place very satisfied, but OldTimer was right - it was surprisingly expensive. E too was a bit shocked. He gueestimated the price went up about $3/item since he was there 3 years ago.
For an early dinner was a L'Osteria Del Forno. There was about a 15 minute wait until we got a table. We each got a couple of slices of pizza (just a simple Romana and Salame) and the roast of day, which was pork baked in milk and herbs. The pork was incredibly tender and broke apart when i pierced it with a fork - very lovely. The food was nicely flavoured, simply done. Mind you, E and I got into a fight right before being seated, and despite the obvious tension, the servers were very kind, which I appreciated. And we thought the food was good! even though it would have been very easy for our personal conflicts to colour our opinion...if this says anything about the place.
When we got back to San Jose at around 10pm, we were already getting a bit hungry again so we stopped by Kahoo Ramen for some late night noshing. The texture of my miso ramen noodles weren't bad - it had that resistance when you bit on it rather than just being soft (which is where a lot of ramen places go bad). However, E's shio ramen noodles weren't different...never had that before. The broth wasn't bad, but I was disappointed it didn't have the flavour intensity of the pork bone broth I had in Vancouver at Kintaro (but mind you, they apparently boil that stuff for days). So in the end, we decided to stick to NYC and Vancouver trips for ramen fulfillment, but we unfortunately didn't find time to go Halu to solidify such a conclusion.
Day 7: Another SF day. I had an obligatory dim sum engagement with relatives. We had dim sum at New Asia in Chinatown since all parties involved were around the area, although almost as an effort to redeem SF Chinese food, my relatives insisted that really good dim sum existed in the outskirts of the city. The chiu chow fun guo (excuse my poor Cantonese Romanization) dumplings were pretty good, but overall, I would say that the dim was [for lack of a better word]...crude. It lacked the delicate nature and finesse of the dim sum in Vancouver and some places in uptown Toronto. However, it was VERY worth the price (DEFINITELY a cheap eat) and I gotta wonder how these Chinatown restaurant owners manage to turn a profit!
After Haight-Ashbury, we were driving through Hayes Valley and I noticed a bakery called "Tartine." Since my red book had the location of "Bar Tartine" but not its bakery counterpart, I at first mistook it for the famous bakery. (I know, Silly Canadian!) However, the croissant didn't dissapoint! Had a nice pull on the inside, retained some outer crispiness, and this was in a non-air-conditioned bakery at the end of the very very hot day. Makes me think that the freshy baked stuff in the morning must be pretty stellar. It turns out the owner is actually from France though. The croissants (chocolate and almond) were both very buttery so that actually sustained us until 10pm.
A late dinner! Must take advantage of this to try and grab a spot at a popular restaurant. Our hostess was raving about The Slanted Door, so we figured that we can slip in at this hour. Wrong. The place was still packed! A beautiful space, though there was no slanted door to be seen. Luckily, a couple at the bar was about to leave so we snagged a spot. I forgot the comment about the great cocktails at this place, so I ordered a glass of a sparkling Muscat, which was beautifully floral. Our bartender by the way was very accomodating. We started chatting to a person who was a regular at The Slanted Door and he recommended the daikon cakes, grapefruit and jicama salad, shaking beef and chicken claypot, so we took his suggestions. The daikon cake was like the turnip cake we could get at dim sum spots - although we thought it could benefit from more daikon and less rice flour. The salad had a really nice dressing, although I thought it was a bit radicchio-heavy (not enough jicama!). The chicken claypot had a nice balance of flavours between the chilis and the caramel, but the chicken was slightly dry. By this time though, our shaking beef hasn't arrived yet but we were STUFFED (those were pretty big daikon cakes) so we cancelled that order, although the word is that it would have been the best dish. In conclusion, the food was good, the service was good, but we just don't see what all the comotion is about! E and I could list off a Toronto place for each dish that would have done it just as well, if not better, but for a lower price (with the except of the jicama salad - we just don't see that up in Toronto). Please enlighten me on the appeal of this establishment? Otherwise, I don't see why it's full every night of the week.
Day 8: We went to Los Gatos for brunch (it's a beautiful little town, what can we say!), and E remembered having nice brunches at California Cafe (is this a chain?). Actually, the place was busy from the very moment it opened at 11:30am - it seems to be very popular with the locals or something. Gorgeous trees right outside the window of the main dining room. The pastry basket had an assortment of mini muffins and cinnamon sugared pastries, which was something I never had greet me at a brunch spot. E had an omelette (I know it's not in season but the thing is, in Toronto they call it "Vancouver crab." That's how starved for dungeness we are out there), which was quite nice and fluffy, and I got the eggs benedict, which was served on a red onion scone instead of English muffins (how interesting!). Can't say I cared too much for the Hollandaise sauce here but everything else was nicely done. The seasonal fruit platter was chalk full of fruit (unlike at MarketBar), and had tasty strawberry syrup drizzed over it. Our server was talkative too.
Dinner was at El Tule. The place was surprisingly empty. I guess not many people know about it? We decided to be adventurous and get an order of the chapulines. I know we said we're Chinese and will eat anything, but it took us a while to work up the courage to eat grasshoppers. They're not especially crunchy, almost had a medicinal herbal flavour to them. I admit it was a bit weird at first, but the taste grows on ya! I was happily sprinkling them on my tlayuda afterwards. By the way, what is the paste/sauce on the base of the tlayuda? It's certainly very interesting (in a good way). The enchillada had some real heat to it. Unlike at Consuelo, the chicken in the Mole Oaxaquena was incredibly moist and flavourful. There was a strong presence of chocolate in the sweet mole, which I've encountered before at Frontera Grill, but weirded out E. There was also a bitter bite to it...not to say that's a bad thing. The carnitas in our taco was also better than at Consuelo. It was certainly one of the most interesting meals we've had. The lady was very nice about explaining how to eat the chapulines, if not very bemused.
Then we drove up to SF for Spencer Day's performance at the Rrazz Lounge in Hotel Nikko. We had to buy tickets AND there was a two drink minimum per person, which was odd. Our friends didn't have dinner at (even though it was past 10) so they ordered steam dumplings and an artisan cheese plate. The dough of the dumplings was too dough-y, and the artisan cheese plate was very....minimal to say the least. I got a French Sidecar martini, which was Hennessy VSOP with Cointreau and orange juice...that was pretty good. Actually, I was the only one in my company who actually drinks (hence why I didn't bother going out for drinks for most of this trip). I also got a lemon pudding tart and that was nothing mentionable.
Our last day: On our way up to SFO, we stopped by Palo Alto (as I said, we really like this town! Plus I realized there was the Rodin garden I wanted to see) for brunch. We went to Saint Michael's Alley (also in the Michelin guide), which was also very busy! The portions here were also gigantic. I had some very fluffy blue monkey (blueberries + bananas) pancakes with a side of apple chicken sausages. Both didn't disappoint. I don't know how many eggs were in E's dungeness crab omelette served with an avocado sauce, because that thing was simply enormous. But good - the dungeness really stood out.
So some pointers for Torontonians coming up to eat:
- The same ordering habits cannot apply down here. We quickly noticed that we consistently had trouble finishing our orders and by virture of the larger portion sizes, we were able to satisfy ourselves within budget at even nicer more expensive restaurants (even including wine!).
- Always have change available! We wanted to stop by La Note on the way up to Napa Valley but to our chagrin, didn't have the change to park!!! Arg. In Toronto, we've gotten used to our parking meters being credit-card friendly.
- The servers were on the whole very friendly down here! It must be the perpetual sunshine or something :).
Thanks for your suggetions, CHers! It made for a great trip! :)
Standing ovation for such a great report.
Thanks for the report on Tartine Cafe Francais. I asked a while back and got an indifferent response. I think though that you might have lucked out. It gets mixed reports on the web.
Watch out for those grasshoppers. Often they get smuggled in from Mexico and are full of lead.
As far as a tlayuda, it can vary, usually a black bean paste. Could that be it. Here's a wiki about it and a recipe
Slanted Door is popular for a number a reasons and some people have the same response as you. It is a California take on Vietnamese cuisine and people who wouldn't be caught dead in a real Vietnamese restaurant feel more comfortable here.
For me Slanted Door was my introduction to Vietnamese Cuisine and gave me the incentive to venture out to other restaurants. However, since they finally got things more or less down after moving to the bigger location, there are still a number of reasons why I like it very much.
First of all they are using top-quality ingrediants. A lot of the items are from the Ferry Plaza farmers. You won't get that in your typical Vietnamese restaurant. I see they even have Massa Organic brown rice.
Once I went through the typical Vietnamese menu (I've been through the whole menu) I like the more California dishes. Looking at the menu today some interesting stuff would be
- seared dayboat scallops with spicy red curry and celery root and asian pear slaw
- sweet white corn and dungeness crab soup
- five-spiced duck confit with organic baby frisée, kumquats and sherry-shallot vinaigrette
- stuffed Monterey squid with pork, glass noodles and shiitakes, spicy tomato sauce with pickled mustard greens
In other words the best at Slanted Door is local, seasonal and Vietnamese-influenced California food. Of the Vietnamese dishes I didn't think much of the shaking beef ... top quality beef, but not much without the dipping sauces.
If you are ever out this way again, in SF Town's End has an excellent mini muffin and roll brunch basket.
California Cafe is a small chain with three locations in California and three out of state
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111
L'Osteria del Forno
519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
St Michael's Alley
806 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose, CA 95129
772 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
5440 Thornwood Dr Ste I, San Jose, CA 95123
Tartine Cafe Francais
244 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102
California Cafe Bar & Grill
50 University Avenue, Los Gatos, CA 95030
The Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko
222 Mason St, San Francisco, CA
Yep, black bean paste at El Tule on the tlayuda sounds about right.
Frankly, if I had an astoundingly bad brunch experience in the Bay Area, that would be worrisome. It's pretty hard to mess up brunch IMHO. E and I have quite a few quirky little tests to determine if a type of restaurant is good, but a surefire test of a really bad restaurant is a poorly executed brunch.
Thanks for the great report! Tell your relatives that you can do better than New Asia, even in Chinatown. I understand that New Asia was THE place for dim sum in Chinatown in its day, but that day is long past. For dim sum in Chinatown now, for a "nice" dim sum experience I'd pick Great Eastern.