Monthly Archives: July 2015

Fried chicken, collard greens satisfy at Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food

The Fried Chicken at Lillie Mae's House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

The Fried Chicken at Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

Last week was a week of firsts.

It was the first time I had seen a handful of my relatives from my dad’s side since I was six months old. It was their first time visiting California and enjoying its weather, coastline and festivities.

It was also the first time I indulged in the Southern home cooking of Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

Many times I’ve driven by this place, which looks like an old, large wooden shack that gives off aromas of smoked meat through the air. How I resisted this long is beyond me.

So my dad treated all of us to a meal of fried chicken, collard greens and other Southern-cooking delights.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the No. 7 dinner combination, which came with fried chicken and hot sausage links. The combo dinners are served with two sides and cornbread or hushpuppies. I chose collard greens, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. My portion of the meal cost $16.95 before tax.

The Macaroni and Cheese at Lillie Mae's House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

The Macaroni and Cheese at Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

The Taste

This was one satisfying and indulgent meal with enough food to take home – if you don’t want to overstuff yourself.

The chicken was juicy, had a great crunch to the skin and just the right amount of salt and seasoning. I loved the mac and cheese, which had crispy, baked pieces of cheese throughout the soft, creamy noodles. The cornbread was thick, moist and had a subtle sweetness and golden-brown top.

The collard greens were seasoned just right and tasted like they had been stewing all day. The hot links were covered in a smoky, spicy sauce that gradually built up in heat as I ate. It was the kind of heat you feel right before you start getting sweat on your forehead.

I would highly recommend ordering one of the combo dinners to get a variety of soul food favorites.

The Collard Greens at Lillie Mae's House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

The Collard Greens at Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara.

Other Details

My relatives loved Lillie Mae’s so much that they returned for one last meal before heading back to the East Coast. I was a little irritated that they went without me.

However, my dad brought me home two pieces of fried catfish, fried okra and a container of rich, thick and creamy banana pudding with crisp vanilla wafers on top. I wasn’t so irritated after that ;-).

Lillie Mae’s, located at 1290 Coleman Ave., is celebrating its fifth anniversary Saturday, Aug. 1 from 12 noon to 5 p.m. in the restaurant’s parking lot, according to its Facebook page. The celebration will feature a $5 menu of chicken and waffles, catfish, pork ribs and drinks, along with R&B music performed by J.C. Smith & Band.

For more information about Lillie Mae’s, call 408-227-7685 or visit


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Leftovers: Gumba’s Italian restaurant delivers big portions, but something is missing

The side of Rigatoni from Gumba's in Sunnyvale.

The side of Rigatoni from Gumba’s in Sunnyvale.

At some point in all of our dining-out journeys, we encounter a restaurant that delivers on quantity but struggles in quality.

I encountered this scenario at Gumba’s in Sunnyvale, which boasts popular menu items such as Spinach Ravioli, Chicken Parmigiana and Vegetarian Lasagna Dela Casa. I hate wasting food, so I took this as an opportunity to reuse some leftovers and turn them into a meal that I could enjoy.

Dish of Choice

I chose Gumba’s because it was one of the restaurants featured on the select menu for downtown Sunnyvale’s Jazz & Beyond, an event where people can enjoy outdoor dining while listening to local musicians along the Historic Murphy Avenue.

I was hoping one of my favorite restaurants – Tarragon – would be featured on the menu because I was craving its Salmon entree with garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and sauce made with olive oil, lemon and herbs. Tarragon wasn’t part of the menu, so I chose Gumba’s, which was featuring its Grilled Salmon with Roasted Vegetables for about $17, plus tax.

Making zucchini rigatoni out of my leftovers.

Making zucchini rigatoni out of my leftovers.

The Taste

To Gumba’s credit, the restaurant gave me a lot of food for what I paid. In addition to my entree, I also received a choice of soup or salad – I chose salad – two pieces of garlic bread and a side of rigatoni.

That being said, I did not enjoy my meal, therefore there is a lack of photos. The salmon was overcooked and lacked succulence and flavor; the salad was just romaine lettuce and a big slice of tomato, and the side of ranch was thin and runny; the garlic bread was hard and did not taste fresh; and the vegetables lacked that toasty look and flavor that comes with roasted vegetables.

Doctoring the leftovers

I took the remaining vegetables, salad, rigatoni and garlic bread home, determined to create something new the next day.

(Check out this video: Gumba’s Leftovers)

The rigatoni was tender, but there wasn’t much sauce. Luckily, I had some fresh zucchini on hand, so I chopped it up and sauteed it with a tablespoon of butter on low heat on a stove. I covered the skillet with a lid and occasionally stirred the zucchini for about 5 or so minutes (I didn’t want the zucchini to get too mushy).

My creation made from my leftovers from Gumba's in Sunnyvale.

My creation made from my leftovers from Gumba’s in Sunnyvale.

After the zucchini was at the right amount of tenderness, I tossed the rigatoni into the skillet with the zucchini. I added a couple dashes of garlic powder and minced onion, along with pinches of salt and pepper. I covered the skillet with the lid and cooked the dish for another 5 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.

I plated my zucchini rigatoni and sprinkled it with herb and garlic feta. I also tried to revitalize the garlic bread by re-toasting it in the skillet with butter. However, the bread was already hard before, so re-toasting it just made it tougher.

However, I enjoyed the rigatoni. The zucchini added some needed freshness and the garlic powder and minced onion woke up the pasta sauce. I love cheese on my pasta, so I think the strong flavor of feta went a long way.

Overall, I’d say it was a leftover success.

In what creative ways have you reused restaurant leftovers? Feel free to comment below, but keep it civil, please :-).


Posted by on July 22, 2015 in comfort food, food, Italian, leftovers


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“World-Famous” blueberry coffee cake a popular go-to at Hobee’s in Sunnyvale

The World-Famous Blueberry Coffeecake at Hobee's in Sunnyvale.

The World-Famous Blueberry Coffeecake at Hobee’s in Sunnyvale.

When a restaurant claims it has a “world famous” anything, I tend to be skeptical. I know it’s just a way of saying that the dish is very popular, but it better live up to the hype when you give it such a grand label.

However, after a few recommendations from trusted sources (aka my friend Lindsey and my parents), I decided to give the “World Famous Blueberry Coffeecake” at Hobee’s a try. The local restaurant chain is also known for its more health-conscious menu that boast several vegetarian entrees, such as the Hobee’s Tofu Scramble.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the Blissful Browns, hash browns topped with sauteed mushrooms, onion and Jack and cheddar cheese. I also ordered a side of the blueberry coffee cake. Along with a cup of coffee, my order came out to about $15, including tax.

The Taste

The coffee cake was moist, thick and big enough to split with another person. It honestly could have been a meal in itself. The cake was warm, and that pat of butter on top of the cinnamon streusel layer made the cake that much more moist, creating a melt-in-your-mouth texture. I can see why the coffee cake is so popular.

The potatoes in the Blissful Browns dish were thickly cut and soft on the inside with the right amount of toastiness on the edges. The sauteed onions and mushrooms reminded me of eating a juicy steak, so I didn’t miss the meat. I like the melted layer of cheese, but I wish there was more (I’m a cheese fiend, admittedly). Overall, it was an enjoyable meal.

A close-up of the Blissful Browns at Hobee's in Sunnyvale.

A close-up of the Blissful Browns at Hobee’s in Sunnyvale.

Other Details

With any popular brunch spot in the area, parking is going to be an issue. Since there was only a handful of parking spots in front of Hobee’s, it looked like most of the customers parked in the lot at the nearby Motel 6. However, I didn’t have success parking there either, so I ended up parking on San Aleso Avenue behind the motel.

My friend Lindsey put in a reservation for 10 ladies to be seated at 11 a.m. Unfortunately, we didn’t get seated until about 11:30 a.m. because it was so busy. However, our waitress was very courteous and let us pay separately for our meals (it’s a pain trying to split a check between 10 people and making sure everyone pays their fair share).

Hobee’s has six locations in the South Bay Area. The Sunnyvale restaurant is located at 800 W. Ahwanee Ave. near U.S. 101 and can be reached at (408) 524-3580. For more information, visit


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Bacon, carnitas and pork rinds atop pillowy tortillas stand out at Mountain View’s Cocina Central

The 3 Piggy's Tacos at Cocina Central in MountainView.

The 3 Piggy’s Tacos at Cocina Central in Mountain View.

When you’re craving authentic Mexican cuisine in the Bay Area, you don’t have to travel very far. Chances are there will be a taqueria within a mile from where you stand.

So I’m always looking for a Mexican restaurant that offers a unique twist to the cuisine.

I really enjoyed the tortillas used for the tacos at Cocina Central in Mountain View. The tortillas tasted like soft, thick pillows and filled me up fast despite their small size.

Dish of Choice

I chose the 3 Piggy’s Tacos, three tacos topped with carnitas (shredded pork), bacon and chicharon (pork rinds), along with avocado sauce, pico de gallo and cheese. The tacos came with a side of brown rice and beans served with cilantro lime and cojita, a cheese that reminded me of a taste and texture similar to parmesan.

I also ordered the Margarita Central, made with blanco tequila, lime, agave and sea salt. I split complimentary chips and salsa with my parents. My portion of the meal came out to about $23 before tax.

The 3 Piggy's Tacos at Cocina Central in Mountain View.

The 3 Piggy’s Tacos at Cocina Central in Mountain View.

The Taste

Despite being traditionally salty meats, the bacon and pork rinds did not overdo it on the sodium front. The bacon was cooked at that well-balanced point between crispy and tender, the pork rinds added a unique texture and crunch, and they both complemented the shredded pork. The cheese melted perfectly on the tortilla, creating a thick layer that stretched out to the edges.

The look of the chips threw me off because they looked like Doritos. They tasted nothing like Doritos, however. They tasted fresh and crisp, coated in a smoky, peppery seasoning. The restaurant gave us a small bowl of chips at a time, but they gave us a refill when we asked. The salsa had a good helping of cilantro and a subtle heat that gradually grew as I ate.

I could definitely taste the tequila in the margarita, which was a good thing. I hate it when you get a drink and all you taste is the syrup and mix. It wasn’t a heavy drink and was quite refreshing for a hot, summer day.

Other Details

I was satisfied with the meal, but the service at Cocina Central was lacking that night. They brought us to a dirty table, so we had to wait awkwardly in the aisle while someone cleaned it off. We had to ask for silverware and water a few times, and a gentleman (who I assumed was the manager) brought the check before we finished our meal. What if we wanted dessert? The service was a bit slow, despite not being a full house.

However, what the staff lacked in service, they made up for in friendliness. They were not rude at all. They just seemed a bit overwhelmed. I’m thinking they must have had a rush of customers before we got there. I think once they work out the kinks in the service, Cocina Central could be a great restaurant on all fronts.

Cocina Central is located at 2590 W. El Camino Real, Suite 13 in Mountain View. For more information, call (650) 397-5996 or visit

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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Cal-Mex, food, Mexican, tacos


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Pesto and feta chicken crepe worth the wait at Mountain View’s Crepevine

Close-up of the Tuscany crepe at Mountain View's Crepevine.

Close-up of the Tuscany crepe at Mountain View’s Crepevine.

Whenever I venture out for brunch on a Sunday morning in the Bay Area, I always have to remind myself to have a snack before I go.

This helps prepare for the long wait that is bound to happen, and I tend to become increasingly hangry (that feeling of anger due to hunger) after the first 20 minutes of waiting for a table.

This past Fourth of July weekend, the line was out the door at Mountain View’s Crepevine, known for using fresh, organic and locally-grown ingredients. We had 10 ladies in our party, and I didn’t grab my snack (ugh).

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the waitstaff. It took about 25 minutes before I got to the counter to order my food, but the staff was already setting up our table while we waited in line. Although the place was crowded, the staff had a great handle on traffic control and getting diners to their seats in a timely fashion.

The Tuscany crepe at Mountain View's Crepevine.

The Tuscany crepe at Mountain View’s Crepevine.

Dish of Choice

I ordered the Tuscany, a crepe filled with chicken breast, mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted almonds, provolone, feta and pesto. The dish is served with potatoes or fries (I chose fries) and organic mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette. A gluten-free option is available for $1 more.

Along with a glass of sangria, my order cost about $22.

The Taste

Crepevine did not skimp on the ingredients. My crepe was jam-packed with tender chicken, which was moist and savory from the rich-flavored pesto. The pesto was a bit on the thin side, but it made for a great marinade for the chicken.

The crepe itself was light and crisp on the edges, and there was a generous amount of strong, hearty feta. The almonds added a toasty flavor and interesting texture to the dish. The fries were thickly cut, crispy on the outside and not greasy.

The Sangria at Mountain View's Crepevine.

The Sangria at Mountain View’s Crepevine.

The mixed salad was a welcomed fresh and light contrast to the rich, thick crepe, which was big enough to split with another person, in my opinion. There was a lot of food for a good price, and I took half of the entree home for later.

The sangria was strong, but not knock-you-on-your-butt strong, and there were plenty of fruit slices to add a great tropical flavor. I was hoping the restaurant had a white wine sangria because the red wine version tends to be a bit heavy for warm, summer weather. It was still a good cocktail worth trying.

Other Details

Crepevine has 10 locations throughout the San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area. The Mountain View restaurant is located at 300 Castro St. For more information, call the Mountain View location at (650) 969-6878 or visit


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Day trip to Napa’s Wine Country offers peek into rich Northern California treasure

Me, standing in front of the famous Napa Valley sign.

Me, standing in front of the famous Napa Valley sign.

One dream of mine is to return to Italy and enjoy the rich landscape and culture of Tuscany.

I had the opportunity to travel there in the summer of 2001 with my high school choir to participate in an international choral festival. During our five-day trip, we toured the beautiful architecture and artwork of Pisa and Florence, tasted the bold flavors of authentic Italian cuisine and met some courteous, kind people along the way.

I cried on our last day because I didn’t want to leave. The only thing we didn’t get to do was sample the wine (our strict choir director was not having any of that!).

Until I can bring that Tuscan dream to fruition, the closest I can get is Napa Valley, about 100 miles northeast of the San Jose area.

Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.

Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.

This is not a knock on Napa Valley, which is beautiful in its own right. Despite the drought, the rows of vines were plush with green leaves and plump grapes when my friends and I visited the area this past Fourth of July weekend. After my trip, I discovered that I have so much more to learn about the area and wine in general.

Since there are hundreds of wineries in the Napa Valley area, we got a small taste of what the area has to offer. Below are highlights from some of the wineries we visited.

Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga

It’s hard to not be in awe of the large, brick castle surrounded by floral and grassy landscaping at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. The structure was built to look like an authentic,13th-century medieval Tuscan-style castle, according to the winery’s literature. Inside this castle are 107 rooms with 95 of them dedicated to winemaking, eight levels (four of them underground), and all ironwork, doors and windows made by Italian artisans.

The grounds also include a drawbridge and moat, three courtyards, prison and torture chamber and five towers. Visitors can be guided on a tour by an expert or guide themselves through the grounds.

Just as stunning are Castello di Amorosa’s wine offerings. The winery prides itself on producing wines in the Italian style, such as Pinot Bianco and Sangiovese, and growing red grapes in mostly hillside vineyards in the Napa Valley and around the castle.

I enjoy my wines on the sweeter side, so my favorites during the tasting were the Dolcino Gewurztraminer ($25 per bottle) and the Simpatica ($29 per bottle), a blend of Riesling and Moscato.

Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.

Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.

The Dolcino was fruity, crisp, light on the tongue and had floral notes (again, I’m a rookie at describing wine and excited to learn). The winery describes it as a “spicy, delicate white wine” that is on the slightly sweet side.

The Simpatica had a fruity aroma and was sweet and light, a nice summer wine to drink while relaxing on your patio or by the pool. This dessert wine has a citrus essense as well as aromas of gardenia, honeysuckle and hibiscus, according to the winery.

If you have to choose one winery to go to while in Napa Valley, I would highly recommend Castello di Amorosa for its beautiful architecture as well as its great variety of delicious wines.

Castello di Amorosa is located at 4045 N. St. Helena Highway. For more information, call (707) 967-6272 or visit

V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena

I heard that V. Sattui in St. Helena is very popular not only for its wine but for its extensive food menu as well. The winery was jam-packed with cars and visitors, and the lines for the barbecue and the deli store were long.

Close-up of the Salmon Filet Sandwich at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena.

Close-up of the Salmon Filet Sandwich at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena.

What appealed to me about V. Sattui was its large lawn area filled with picnic tables and large, shady trees for people to enjoy some al fresco dining to pair with their wine.

In the barbecue area, the staff were grilling slabs of beef, pork, chicken and seafood, as well as offering an intriguing mozzarella bar and wood-fired pizzas. I decided to go with the salmon filet sandwich, grilled and served on ciabatta bread with cucumber, tomato and mixed greens. I also ordered a mixed greens salad with blue cheese, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. My bill came out to about $20.

The salmon was fresh and flaky, with a good amount of smokiness from the grill. The only thing that was missing was that crispy skin that gives the fish extra brininess. The bread was nicely grilled and soft on the inside. However, it was dusted with a bit more flour than I would have liked, and I proceeded to get it all over my mouth and hands (I am kind of a messy eater, though).

The greens in the salad were crisp and fresh, but the vinaigrette had a little too much vinegar in it for my taste. I wish the walnuts were candied to offset the strong, bold taste of the blue cheese. Overall, there was a generous amount of food for what I paid for.

V. Sattui is located at 1111 White Lane in St. Helena. For more information about V. Sattui Winery, call (707) 963-7774 or visit

Peju Province Winery in Rutherford.

Part of Peju Province Winery in Rutherford.

Peju Province Winery, Rutherford

What I liked most about Peju Province Winery was that it offered a great deal on wine tastings: if you buy two bottles of wine, your $25 tasting fee is waived. I had no problem choosing two wines to bring home with me.

Of the four wines we tasted that day, the Sauvignon Blanc ($22 per bottle) and Provence ($23 per bottle) were my favorites.

The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, tart and light on the tongue. It was described by Peju as a bright, lively and fresh wine. This is another great wine for the summer. It was more on the drier side to me, but it was very enjoyable.

The Provence had a fruity aroma, oakiness, a medium heaviness in the mouth, and was a nice mix of red and white. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and French Colombard. It was also aged in 100-percent neutral French oak barrels for six months, according to the winery.

Peju Provence Winery is a family-owned estate that was purchased by the owners more than 30 years ago.

Peju is located at 8466 St. Helena Highway in Rutherford. For more information, call (800) 446-7358 or visit

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Napa Valley, seafood, travel, wine


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