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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Peanuts and carrots on pizza? Yep, it works at Yard House in San Jose

The Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza at Yard House in San Jose.

The Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza at Yard House in San Jose.

Santana Row, which has been called the “Rodeo Drive” of Silicon Valley, has some high-end stores like Gucci, Kate Spade and Bonobos. So when an acquaintance of mine suggested we meet there for an early dinner, I figured the only thing I would be able to afford was a side salad and some water. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Yard House, which has a terrific happy hour menu and an impressive selection of appetizers, entrees and cocktails.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza, which was made with firecracker sauce, mozzarella, macadamia nuts, carrots, green onion and cilantro. I also ordered one of the Fresh & Skinny cocktails, ranging from 140 to 200 calories and made with the restaurant’s own house citrus agave blend. I picked the Pure Cosmo Martini, which was made with Skyy Infusions citrus vodka, cranberry juice and fresh lime. Since it was happy hour, I got discounts on the pizza and martini. With tax, my bill was about $17.

The Taste

I never thought I would eat a pizza with carrots and nuts on it, but I wanted to expand my culinary horizons. The pizza was delicious and enough to split with another person (I took half of it home). I didn’t know what firecracker sauce was, but I assumed it would be spicy. It was, but not “set your mouth on fire” spicy. The carrots and nuts brought a nice crunch to the dish, and the green onion and cilantro created a flavorful palate. No ingredient felt out of place.

I typically try to stay away from cocktails that have a lot of ingredients because it’s just extra calories I don’t need. I enjoyed the Pure Cosmo Martini because it was simple: vodka, cranberry juice, lime. That’s all I need.

The Ambiance

Yard House was super busy, even with it only being 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. However, we only had to wait about 15 minutes to get a table in the large bar area. The restaurant has a modern, upscale look, like many casual dining places in the area. It has dim lighting, contemporary, abstract paintings on the walls and several flat-screen televisions to enjoy locally- and nationally-televised sports. It seems like a fun place to meet up with friends before hitting the club or seeing a concert.

Other Details

Yard House in San Jose is located at 300 Santana Row. It has several locations throughout California and 19 other states. For more information on the San Jose location, call (408) 241-9273 or visit www.yardhouse.com.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in happy hour

 

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Korean beef tacos, Asian-inspired entrees a plenty at Cupertino’s Elephant Bar

The Quick-Fried Soy-Ginger Calamari at the Elephant Bar in Cupertino.

The Quick-Fried Soy-Ginger Calamari at the Elephant Bar in Cupertino.

My friend Jason is coming for a visit next month, and I have been looking for a nice-but-reasonably-priced contemporary restaurant to take him to on his first night here. I have heard good things about the Elephant Bar in Cupertino, which specializes in Asian-inspired fusion entrees and has an impressive happy hour menu.

Dish of Choice

The happy hour menu offers a number of discounted appetizers and drinks from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 p.m. to close everyday. I chose two appetizers: the quick-fried soy-ginger calamari, which was served on a bed of marinated vegetables, crisp rice noodles and toasted sesame seeds; and the Korean beef tacos, which was served with marinated beef sirloin on corn tortillas, topped with a blend of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado and sour cream. The three tacos also came with a side of slaw and spicy salsa.

I also ordered the Snap Dragon Martini, which was made with Dragon Fruit Skyy Vodka, passion fruit puree, cranberry juice and cayenne pepper. Since it was happy hour and Skinny Cocktail Tuesday, I received $3 off each appetizer and half off my martini. The bill was about $18.

The Korean Beef Tacos at the Elephant Bar in Cupertino.

The Korean Beef Tacos at the Elephant Bar in Cupertino.

The Taste

The calamari was thick, tender, and lightly breaded with just enough seasoning. I also enjoyed the crisp noodles and marinated vegetables, which were a nice complement to the dish. The beef on the tacos was also tender, and I also enjoyed the slaw and the blend of vegetables and herbs on the tacos. The spicy salsa on the side added a nice kick without setting my tongue on fire.

The drink was strong, but not over-the-top strong, so I could still enjoy the passion fruit and cranberry flavors. The puree tasted fresh and the cayenne pepper was subtle. I would order this cocktail again.

The Ambiance

Elephant Bar has an upscale, modern style without feeling stuffy. The restaurant was dimly lit, creating an intimate feel. Although they had a steady happy hour and dinner crowd, it wasn’t too loud, so you can hear and enjoy the conversation with the person across the table from you. It seems like a good place for a date night or a laid-back night out with friends.

Other Details

Elephant Bar is located at 19780 Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino and has 11 other locations throughout the Bay area and Northern California. Hours at the Cupertino location are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call (408) 865-0701 or visit www.elephantbar.com.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Asian fusion, seafood

 

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Great breakfast burrito without the grease at Denica’s Real Food Kitchen in Walnut Creek

The Original Burrito at Denica's Real Food Kitchen in Walnut Creek.

The Original Burrito at Denica’s Real Food Kitchen in Walnut Creek.

I can’t think of anyone I know who has ever said, “I don’t really like brunch.” Everybody likes brunch.

I was visiting a friend in Walnut Creek, and I wanted to find a place that had a great brunch menu. After a quick online search, I came across Denica’s Real Food Kitchen. Any place that offers unique items such as cookie dough waffles and Almond Joy pancakes is a place I have to try.

Dish of Choice

I ordered “The Original Burrito,” which came with scrambled eggs, potatoes, Tillamook cheddar cheese, Black Forest Ham and salsa. You can switch out the ham for Applewood bacon or sausage, or, for $1 extra, you can have linguisa (Portuguese sausage), chicken basil sausage, turkey or andouille sausage. I also ordered water and a cup of coffee. My bill was about $11.

The Taste

I don’t know what Tillamook cheddar cheese is, but I do know it’s delicious. I liked everything about this burrito. The ham was tender, the potatoes were nicely roasted and seasoned, the eggs were fluffy, and the salsa tasted fresh. I also like the fact that the burrito wasn’t greasy, like some breakfast burritos can be.

The Ambiance

Denica’s Real Food Kitchen was bustling and had a steady crowd of brunch eaters. However, the service was friendly and fast, and my friend and I only had to wait about 10 minutes for our meal. It was a nice, clean eatery where you order at the counter, and the staff brings the food to you.

Other Details

Denica’s Real Food Kitchen has an impressive menu that includes a good number of vegetarian and gluten-free entrees. The Walnut Creek location is at 2280 Oak Grove Road, inside Citrus Marketplace off Ygnacio Valley Road. Denica’s also is located at 6058 Dougherty Road in Dublin and 2259 Las Positas Road in Livermore. The Walnut Creek location is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, call (925) 945-6200 or visit denicascafe.com.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in breakfast, brunch

 

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Palo Alto’s La Baguette serves up rich, decadent chocolate mousse and great presentation

The Ham& Swiss Cheese Parisian sandwich at La Baguette in Palo Alto.

The Ham & Swiss Cheese Parisian sandwich at La Baguette in Palo Alto.

I had a frustrating afternoon, so I decided to eat my feelings (I do not recommend this as a regular stress-relief method). What better way to do this than with rich, decadent French food?

My mission led me to La Baguette, a French bakery in Palo Alto that has an extensive list of intriguing desserts, pastries and artisan sandwiches.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the Ham & Swiss Cheese Parisian sandwich, which came on a lightly toasted, buttered baguette. I also ordered a mocha and chocolate mousse for dessert. My meal cost about $18.

The Taste

The bread was toasted just right, like it came right out of the oven, and the sliced ham and cheese tasted fresh.

The chocolate mousse was as decadent as I expected it to be, without being overly rich or sweet. The fresh raspberry and candy leaf on top were also a nice touch. Great presentation.

The Chocolate Mousse at La Baguette in Palo Alto.

The Chocolate Mousse at La Baguette in Palo Alto.

The Ambiance

La Baguette has a small but quaint storefront. It is what I imagined a bakery in Paris would feel like, filled with delicious and visually pleasing treats.

The bakery is located in Stanford Shopping Center, and there is probably enough seating for 25-30 people in the pavilion. The area is partially enclosed, and it feels like a nice place to relax with a cup of coffee and pastry on a sunny day.

Other Details

La Baguette is located inside Stanford Shopping Center, near the corner of El Camino Real and Quarry Road, in the pavilion next to Macy’s. It also has a location at the Stonestown Galleria, 3521 20th Ave., Suite 172, in San Francisco.

Hours at the Palo Alto location are 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (650) 321-0535 or visit www.labaguettefrenchbakery.com.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in bakery, French

 

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Healthier but still tasty burritos at Campbell’s Aqui Cal-Mex

The Pork Carnitas Burrito at Aqui Cal-Mex in Campbell.

The Pork Carnitas Burrito at Aqui Cal-Mex in Campbell.

If it wasn’t for my ongoing weight-loss efforts, I would probably eat burritos every day. Anything that includes a tortilla, meat and cheese satisfies my belly. So I was happy when a new acquaintance invited me to a late lunch at Aqui Cal-Mex, which she says is a popular hangout in downtown Campbell.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the pork carnitas burrito, which was made with shredded pork, green rice, pinto beans, salsa and jack and cheddar cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla. The burrito came with a side of chips and slaw, and I ordered a fountain drink. My meal cost about $11.

The Taste

The pork, rice and beans were nice and tender. I usually don’t like whole-wheat tortillas because they tend to be dry and grainy, but this was not the case here. I do wish the burrito had more cheese, but that’s only because I am a big cheese fiend. I liked the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a brick in my gut after eating the burrito, like I often do at other places. I thought serving slaw with a burrito was a bit odd, but it worked at Aqui. The slaw wasn’t too creamy or sweet, so it worked well with the rest of the dish.

The Ambiance

Aqui Cal-Tex has a contemporary and casual feel. You order and pick up your meal from the counter, and there is plenty of seating in the large dining area. There is also a separate bar room for those who want to enjoy a cocktail or two.

Other Details

Aqui Cal-Tex is located at 201 E. Campbell Ave. in Campbell and has three other locations in the Bay area: 10630 S. De Anza Boulevard in Cupertino; 5679 Snell Ave. in San Jose; and 1145 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Willow Glen. The restaurant has daily entree and roll-up specials as well as Sunday brunch. For more information, visit www.aquicalmex.com.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Cal-Mex, Mexican

 

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Cajun-style fish and chips, and best fried okra around, at Jonathan’s in Menlo Park

The Large Fish & Chips entree at Jonathan's Fish & Chips in Menlo Park.

The Large Fish & Chips entree at Jonathan’s Fish & Chips in Menlo Park.

My stepmom was craving fried catfish so badly that she had a dream about it the night before. Her craving led us to Jonathan’s Fish & Chips, which my parents claim has the best catfish in the Silicon Valley area (besides my dad’s homemade recipe).

Dish of Choice

I ordered the large fried catfish and chips entree, which came in a basket with eight generous pieces of fish, fries, and coleslaw. The Cajun-style, cornmeal-battered fish and chips entree is also available in red snapper, sole, whiting, and buffalo catfish. I also ordered a fountain drink and shared a basket of fried okra with my parents. Altogether, my order came out to about $12.

The Taste

We had to wait about 25 minutes for our order, but it was well worth the wait. Jonathan’s does not cook any food until you order it (no food sitting under heating lamps), so our fish was fresh and hot out of the fryer. The fish was deliciously flaky and lightly seasoned and battered, and the fries were crispy and hot.

The Large Basket of Fried Okra at Jonathan's Fish & Chips in Menlo Park.

The Large Basket of Fried Okra at Jonathan’s Fish & Chips in Menlo Park.

I would also recommend the okra, which had the same breading as the fish. The large fish and chips entree is more than enough food for one person, and I took half of my meal home.

The Ambiance

Jonathan’s Fish & Chips is a no-frills kind of place. The restaurant probably seats about 20-25 people, but many people order carryout. The owner is a very nice woman who greets and chats with her customers. It is a very welcoming, down-home atmosphere.

Other Details

Jonathan’s Fish & Chips is located at 840 Willow Road in Menlo Park. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, according to the restaurant’s website. For more information, call (650) 323-1092 or visit www.jonathansfishandchips.com.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2014 in seafood

 

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San Jose’s Vyne Bistro offers great $5 happy hour specials

The Flatbread with Shrimp at Vyne Bistro in San Jose.

The Flatbread with Shrimp at Vyne Bistro in San Jose.

I introduced myself to a group of women through Meetup.com as a way to get acquainted with fellow 30- and 40-somethings in the area, and we decided to meet at Vyne Bistro in downtown San Jose. Before I arrived, I checked out the wine bar’s menu online. Vyne Bistro has a variety of small plates, salads and house specialities, made with several organic ingredients. No prices were listed, so I was going in blind on how much I would be spending. However, I don’t mind paying a little more if the quality of the food meets or exceeds the price.

Dish of Choice

Vyne Bistro has a great happy hour menu that includes $5 glasses of wine and small plates from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday (drinks only). I chose two small plates: the flatbread with shrimp, which included green and black olives, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese; and Suya beef, which was cut into strips, seasoned with lightly roasted African spices and ground peanut and placed on bed of arugula, red onions and cherry tomatoes. I also ordered a glass of the house red blend. My bill came out to about $16.

The Suya Beef at Vyne Bistro in San Jose.

The Suya Beef at Vyne Bistro in San Jose.

The Taste

The flatbread had plenty of ingredients and flavor, and any dish that has cheese and shrimp makes me happy. The Suya beef had a nice spicy bite to it, but I never would have guessed that ground peanut was used in the recipe. I think the arugula and red onion greatly complemented the dish. The price of the small plates was a great value for what I got.

The Ambiance

Vyne Bistro has a modern, yet relaxed feel to it. The wine bar has modular seating and is dimly lit to create an intimate atmosphere. It also has an electric fireplace near the lounge and a small bar area. It is a great place to get together for a low-key night with friends. Vyne Bistro also has an extensive drink list, which includes red, white, rose, sparkling and dessert wine, as well as cider, sake, wine cocktails and bottled beers.

Other Details

Vyne Bistro is located at 110 Paseo de San Antonio, between 3rd and 4th streets, in downtown San Jose. Hours are 3 to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. The wine bar validates parking at the 2nd & San Carlos Street parking garage, according to its website. For more information, call (408) 375-2618 or visit vynebistrosj.com.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in wine bar

 

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