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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Dining in Silicon Valley: My top five Bay Area restaurants (so far!)

The Cioppino at Tarragon in Sunnyvale.

The Cioppino at Tarragon in Sunnyvale.

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I took that cross-country trek from Michigan to my new home of California.

Over the year, I have discovered some delicious entrees from many restaurants in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area – from Indian-style tacos to apple pie crepes to prime rib Shepherd’s Pie. My focus has been mostly on the San Jose area, and I plan to expand more northbound (San Francisco and beyond) this upcoming year.

Here are my top favorite restaurants that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in Silicon Valley in my first year. These eateries are in no particular order because they are all great in their own way:

Tarragon, 140 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale

I have never been disappointed in the food and service at Tarragon. The cioppino is to die for – jam-packed with fresh mussels, clams and shrimp in a rich tomato sauce, perfect for dipping with the garlic bread.

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.

Seafood-lovers – or just lovers of top-quality food at a reasonable price – should visit Tarragon on downtown Sunnyvale’s Historic Murphy Avenue.

Check out: Delicious seafood stew can be found at Sunnyvale’s Tarragon, which touts “farm-to-table” cuisine

Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food, 1290 Coleman Ave., Santa Clara

I had some of the best Southern cooking that I’ve ever tried at Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food, about two miles away from the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

You can smell the smoked meats and other soul food favorites piping from the restaurant as you drive down Coleman Ave. The fried chicken is tender with perfectly crispy skin, moist and thick cornbread, and collard greens that you can tell have been stewing for hours.

The building is not fancy, resembling an large wooden shack, but it delivers on succulent Southern cooking.

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

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

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

Hobee’s, 800 W. Ahwanee Ave., Sunnyvale

Hobee’s in Sunnyvale is clearly a popular weekend-brunch spot: Most customers have to park at the nearby Motel 6 or on the street, and that place fills up fast, so expect a wait.

However, the wait is worth it just to try the restaurant’s World-Famous Blueberry Coffeecake. This cake is moist, thick and big enough for two people, in my opinion. And that pat of butter on top makes the coffee cake that much more scrumptious.

For those who are watching what they eat, the local restaurant chain is also known for its more health-conscious menu that includes vegetarian options such as the Hobee’s Tofu Scramble.

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

B Street & Vine, 320 S. B Street, San Mateo

Bruschetta is more than just toasted bread with tomatoes on top. I expanded my bruschetta horizons at San Mateo’s B Street & Vine, a popular wine cafe in the Bay Area.

On a recent visit, my friends and I enjoyed many delicious combinations of ingredients, including the salami with feta and pesto, and the mango, tomato, cilantro and avocado. Bruschetta lovers need to make a trip here.

The bruschetta appetizer at B Street and Vine in San Mateo.

The bruschetta appetizer at B Street and Vine in San Mateo.

B Street & Vine also has good half-off wine specials during the week, patio dining and live music.

Check out: Vibrant combinations of bruschetta please the eyes and palate at San Mateo wine cafe

Jonathan’s Fish & Chips, 840 Willow Road, Menlo Park

When my dad says he is picking up Jonathan’s Fish & Chips on the way home from work, I can’t help but develop a big smile.

Not counting my dad’s recipe, the best fried catfish in the Silicon Valley area can be found at this Menlo Park restaurant.

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.

This modest, mom-and-pop restaurant delivers on Cajun-style, cornmeal-battered fish that comes fresh and hot out of the fryer. The fish is always flaky and lightly seasoned, and the fried okra is cooked in the same delicious way.

I also like the owner, who is always friendly and takes the time to talk to all of her guests. It’s a very welcoming place to eat.

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

I’m also looking for some food barbecue, Thai and Korean restaurants in the Bay Area, so please leave your suggestions below 🙂

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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in brunch, food, seafood, soul food, wine bar

 

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Curiosity turns into unease at Korean restaurant in downtown Mountain View

The Dohl-Soht Bi-Bim-Bap with Beef at Mountain View's Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

The Dohl-Soht Bi-Bim-Bap with Beef at Mountain View’s Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

Seeing a platter of assorted raw meats that I have to cook myself and a dish referred to as a seafood pancake did not initially pique my appetite.

Despite my cautious attitude, I wanted to give the menu at Mountain View’s Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu a fair chance. I admittedly know nothing about Korean cuisine and what is considered authentic or Americanized.

Unfortunately, I became uneasy when my friend and I walked into the empty restaurant on the city’s main downtown drag at 6:15 in the evening. I couldn’t wait for the other four ladies in our party to get there to help fill up the place.

Dish of Choice

I didn’t have a big enough appetite to do the “All You Can Eat BBQ,” so I chose the Dohl-Soht Bi-Bim-Bap. It was a sizzling hot clay pot filled with rice, topped with sauteed vegetables, a fried egg and your choice of meat or tofu. I chose beef.

My friend and I also split a plate of Gun Man Du, deep-fried pork and vegetable dumplings. I also ordered a glass of house white wine. My portion of the bill came out to about $18.

Kimchi, tofu and other assorted side dishes at Mountain View's Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

Kimchi, tofu and other assorted side dishes at Mountain View’s Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

The Taste

I will say this: I might have a slight allergy to eggs. For some reason, I can only have a small portion of egg or I become nauseated. If I do eat eggs, they have to be scrambled, and I usually have a half-cup portion at most.

In hindsight, I should have ordered the Bi-Bim-Bap without the egg, so that was my fault. However, I wanted to keep the dish authentic and not swap anything out. Part of the egg was runny, and spreading the yolk throughout the dish added an unpleasant texture and taste.

That being said, the vegetables were cooked at a well-balanced point between soft and crunchy, and the meat was tender and thinly cut. The dish itself had a weird sweetness to it, and it lacked much-needed spice. I was not wowed by the main course.

I did enjoy the dumplings. They were a bit greasy but had a nice crispiness on the outside. The filling was savory and tender. It made for a good appetizer.

The Gun Man Du at Mountain View's Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

The Gun Man Du at Mountain View’s Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu.

The chardonnay tasted like the bottle had been open for a few days, having a slightly flat, vinegary aftertaste. To the waiter’s credit, he gave us the wine for free because it was the last of the supply.

Other Details

Along with not having many people during prime dinnertime, there were a lot of fruit flies lingering around our table. It was very distracting to have to wave insects away from your food every 10 seconds.

Our waiter was quiet but nice and let us split our checks six ways. Most restaurants in the area won’t let you pay separately in a group of that size. More customers started coming in around 7:30 p.m., giving me the impression that Ginseng is more of a late-dinner spot.

Ginseng Korean BBQ & Tofu is located at 475 Castro St. For more information,visit www.ginsengkoreanbbqtofu.com.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in food, Korean

 

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Day trip to Livermore Valley leads to affordable Wine County experience

The view of Livermore Valley from 3 Steves Winery, 5700 Greenville Road in Livermore.

The view of Livermore Valley from 3 Steves Winery, 5700 Greenville Road in Livermore.

Napa Valley is undoubtedly a wine lover’s paradise, with its rich, beautiful landscape and hundreds of wineries, each with their own unique style and ambiance.

But there is one town east of the Bay that wine enthusiasts should not overlook: Livermore.

About 35 miles northeast of San Jose, Livermore is home to about 50 wineries, and I had the pleasure of visiting some of them with a couple friends on a recent 90-degree-plus weekend.

Wente Estate Winery & Tasting Room, 5565 Tesla Road

Wente Vineyards was founded about 130 years ago, touting itself as the “oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery” in the U.S, according to its website. The winery reports drawing from about 3,000 acres of sustainably farmed estate vineyards for its wines.

Wente made a good impression on me. At the entrance, we were greeted by a friendly staff member, who treated us to a complimentary tasting of white wine. It was a great way to welcome the guests and create a relaxing, fun atmosphere.

Part of the courtyard at Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Road.

Part of the courtyard at Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Road in Livermore.

Wente’s courtyard was decorated with small fountains and flowered shrubbery, green lawn space for a picnic and plenty of shade-covered, bistro-style tables and seats to enjoy our complimentary tasting.

When we entered the tasting room, I was surprised at the affordability of the tastings. I chose the Legacy Flight, which feature two whites and three reds for $10. The other offering was the Winemaker’s Flight, which featured five red wines, for $15.

The most enjoyable wine was the 2012 Sonata, the Wine Club Exclusive.The wine is made from a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and stands out for its aromas and flavors that include dark berry and chocolate. The wine was not super heavy on the tongue, and I really enjoyed the bold flavors.

The Estate Tasting Room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (925) 456-2305 or visit www.wentevineyards.com.

Wente's The Winemakers Studio, 5565 Tesla Road.

Wente’s The Winemakers Studio, 5565 Tesla Road in Livermore.

The Winemakers Studio, 5565 Tesla Road

Across from Wente’s Tasting Room was the winery’s The Winemakers Studio, which invites guests to participate in a hands-on, educational wine-making experience.

The Winemakers Studio offers classes that include teaching guests how to blend wine, pair wine and cheeses and identify a wine by taste and aroma alone.

For wine tasting, I chose the Winemakers Artisan Selection Keg Flight, which included a sampling of six wines for $15.

My favorite was the Artisan White, which was light, smooth on the tongue and had a sweet finish. It was a perfect wine for a hot day.

The Winemakers Studio is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. For more information, call (925) 456-2385 or visit www.wentewinemakers.com.

The Brut Sparkling Wine at 3 Steves Winery, 5700 Greenville Road in Livermore.

The Brut Sparkling Wine at 3 Steves Winery, 5700 Greenville Road in Livermore.

3 Steves Winery, 5700 Greenville Road

The last leg of our wine-tasting excursion brought us to 3 Steves Winery, owned by friends Steve Burman, Steve Melander and Steve Ziganti.

According to the winery’s website, the friends have made wine together for years and opened 3 Steves Winery in July 2013 at its Greenville Road location. The business touts several awards, including its Best in Class award win for its 2012 Merlot in this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Customers can enjoy wine in the winery’s casual, laid-back tasting room, or they can relax on the patio and look out onto the landscape of the valley. The view of the hills was quite beautiful, in my opinion.

3 Steves offers a wine-tasting menu of six wines for $10 per person, and the fee is waived if you purchase a bottle of wine. I bought the Brut Sparkling Wine, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. It was effervescent, smooth in feel and fruity. If you’re a champagne lover, I recommend this wine, which cost $24 per bottle.

3 Steves Winery’s tasting room is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more information, call (925) 997-7736 or visit 3steveswinery.com.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in wine, wine country

 

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Sausage-beef burger, meaty crab cake highlight fun happy-hour at Niles’ The Vine

Close-up of the Vine Burger at The Vine in Fremont's Niles Historic District.

Close-up of the Vine Burger at The Vine in Fremont’s Niles Historic District.

If you’re in the Fremont area one afternoon and looking for a laid-back happy-hour spot after work, give The Vine a try.

The contemporary American eatery and bar in Fremont’s Niles Historic District has a great patio area that features a long, wooden bar, plenty of umbrella-covered tables and a fire pit to sit around and enjoy a drink with friends.With Motown and funk classics playing in the background, I felt like I was at a friend’s outdoor party on a recent night – very relaxing and inviting (check out The Vine’s patio area here).

The Vine prides itself on offering “fine food – not fine dining” and using local produce and sustainable meats. I was impressed by the reasonably-priced small plates (several under $10), like the Tempura Fried Green Beans and Clam Frites, and its extensive cocktail menu that incorporates a sweet potato spirit called soju.

Dish of Choice

Since I only had a bag of Fritos for lunch, I had a big appetite this past Wednesday night. So I ordered the Vine Burger, a patty made with Niman Ranch sausage and beef, dressed with aioli, arugula, grilled tomato and pepper jack on top of a ciabatta bun with a side salad. I added a side of garlic fries.

The Guava Momma at The Vine in Fremont's Niles Historic District.

The Guava Momma at The Vine in Fremont’s Niles Historic District.

I also chose the Crab Cake, which came with a spread of roasted almond and red pepper aioli. For refreshments, I ordered the Mo-Beer-Jito, which was made with pilsner beer, soju, lemon and lime juice, crushed mint and agave nectar. The Guava Momma was mixed with sparkling wine, pomegranate molasses and an orange wedge on the rocks.
Altogether with tax, my bill came out to about $38.

The Taste

The Vine Burger tasted like a burger you would get at a cookout. It had a good charring on the patty and bun; the patty was tender and had a smoky flavor, and the ciabatta bun was grilled on the bottom but still soft on top and in the middle.

The fries were at a nice halfway point between soft and crispy and lightly seasoned with garlic, and the salad had a light, zesty vinaigrette that didn’t weigh it down.

The crab cake was packed with fresh meat, and I liked the small slices of onions and peppers throughout the cake. I also enjoyed the thin, crisp breading (I hate when a crab cake is mostly breading with a smidge of crab).

The Crab Cake at The Vine in Fremont's Niles Historic District.

The Crab Cake at The Vine in Fremont’s Niles Historic District.

The Mo-Beer-Jito was tart, citrusy and had a great helping of mint to make it that much more refreshing. The Guava Momma was effervescent and had a nice sprinkling of citrus fruit and strawberry slices. It was a refreshing girly drink without overdoing it on the sweetness.

Other Details

Happy Hour at The Vine is from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, according to the restaurant’s website. Along with lunch and dinner, The Vine also offers Sunday brunch from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I love brunch, and I am intrigued by the Smoked Salmon Bruschetta, made with salmon, scrambled eggs, creme fraiche, caper and red onion salsa and grilled garlic bread. I’ll make my way over one Sunday morning.

The Vine is located at 37533 Niles Boulevard in Fremont. For more information, call (510) 792-0112 or visit www.thevineinniles.com.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2015 in burgers, cocktail, food, happy hour, seafood

 

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