Eat Local: Asian Box 2.0

March 23, 2016 § 2 Comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve fed my craving for Asian Box, but finding myself in the heart of Palo Alto with a growly belly yesterday, I headed to Town & Country for a fix. Expecting less of a crowd than the out-the-door lunch-time insanity, I was surprised to find the place not only quiet, but closed when I rocked up mid-afternoon. What the what?!

When did this happen?! Asian Box 2.0 is almost ready for release.

When did this happen?! Asian Box 2.0 is almost ready for release.

Turns out that the closure was temporary, as the Asian Box folks were in the final stages of a refresh on their primary location, which is now five years old. Fortunately one of the Guys in Charge saw me standing in front of the door looking bewildered and informed me that the takeaway window around the corner was open for business. Phew!

I was a bit disappointed to find that I wouldn’t be able to order my usual (one of the great things about Asian Box is being able to customize your order). With the construction going on, the kitchen was indeed open, but limited the menu to four “special boxes of the day” that didn’t allow much customizing. Upside? The special boxes had a special price of $7 each for the same hearty quantity of food.  I went with the Garden Box: brown rice, extra tofu, fresh vegetable mix, coconut curry sauce (yum!) all toppers except jalapeno, and the Asian Street Dust.

So what can customers expect to see when grand re-opening/unveiling happens today? (That’s right — today! It’s business as usual, but with a fresh twist.) The interior and exterior are getting new look, there’s new signage that includes the “farm to box” tagline, and the menu will offer a few new items in addition to old favorites. I’m loving the coconut curry sauce from the special Garden Box, so I hope that’s an option on the new menu. (Ah, Asian Box, I see what you’re up to … )my-box

Kudos to Asian Box for their committment to keep things fresh across the board! I’m looking forward to checking out Palo Alto’s Asian Box 2.0. Did you happen to visit Asian Box during the remodel? What was your experience?

Details
What: Asian Box
Where: Town & Country Shopping Center, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-391-9305
Hours: 11am–9pm daily
Parking: Free lot

Eat Local: Redwood City Restaurant Week

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

I love a good food story, particularly when it comes to the hows and whys of food producers doing what they do. Whether we’re talking about small-business foodcrafters, farmers, chefs, or restauranteurs, the “why” often comes down to two things: a love of food and a desire to share what you make or grow with your community.

From farmers’ markets to salsa competitions to food-and-wine tastings, the 650 has no lack of community-based food events where food lovers can connect with local producers. Add to that list this year’s inaugural Redwood City Restaurant Week, April 23-29. That’s right, the mid-Peninsula locale formerly known as “Deadwood City” for its long-time lack of entertainment and dining options has experienced a major revitalization, including a now-vibrant dining scene. Redwood City has its own food story to tell: it’s a growing city with a diverse array of ethnic cuisines, not to mention Michelin Bib Gourmand picks and OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award Winners.

During the recent kickoff party for Redwood City Restaurant Week, I had a chance to chat with local restauranteurs and event participants, Manuel Martinez and Diane Cusimano, about the city’s changing dining scene and what this upcoming event means.

Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Yours truly chatting with Diane and Renato Cusimano (at the bar) during the Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Cusimano and her husband Renato, long-time Bay Area restauranteurs who lived in Atherton for 25 years, saw the potential in Redwood City almost a decade ago. It was Renato who viewed Redwood City as the Peninsula’s “next big thing” and opted for a spot on Main Street for their Deseo Tequila Lounge. Six years since opening the lounge and not quite a year since adding Palermo Italian Restaurant, they’re happy with their decision and have a loyal clientele.

Cusimano pointed out that the “diversity in cuisine” is one of downtown Redwood City’s strengths. Indeed, Restaurant Week participants run the gamut of global cuisine from American to Persian. Whether you’re an expat wanting to experience a taste of home or Bay Area local wanting to try something out of your comfort zone, there’s a restaurant for that. There’s also an opportunity for Redwood City’s restaurants, many of which are family-based businesses, to tell the story of their native cuisines and culinary passions. In the Cusimanos’ case, Deseo allows them to express Renato’s passion for tequila, while Palermo focuses on the cuisine of his native Sicily.

Chef/owner of La Viga and LV Mar, Manuel Martinez, spoke about using a variety of Latin ingredients — not just those of his native Mexico — as the inspiration for the menus he creates.

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

“The food and drink — everything we do here tells a story.” This philosophy extends to LV Mar’s new cocktail program, implemented just within the past two months. Ask Chef Manuel about the mezcals and tequilas on the bar’s wall, and there’s a story there about quality ingredients and traditional production methods. “We’re working hard to have a great food and drink menu that has character and means something.”

Both of Martinez’ spots have garnered a strong following from diners around the Bay Area during the past three years, not only for the story his food tells, but also for the warm service and friendly atmosphere. While Martinez’ restaurants have received recognition from Michelin Bib Gourmand and OpenTable, they aren’t the only award winners in Restaurant Week’s lineup. Angelica’s, Crouching Tiger, Donato Enoteca, Downtown, and Portobello Grill are also Michelin Bib Gourmand and/or OpenTable Diner’s Choice Winners.

Chatting with other attendees at the kickoff party, there was a sense of pride and camaraderie about what Redwood City has to offer food lovers, and Restaurant Week is about getting the word out. Diane Cusimano emphasized that “we have great restaurants here, and it’s time for people outside Redwood City to recognize that.” Martinez echoed the Cusimanos’ belief in Redwood City’s bright future for food: “Restaurant Week is all about the fact that things are changing and Redwood City is great.”

Here’s a quick preview of just a few of the entrees you can experience during Redwood City’s Restaurant Week:

  • Housemade fresh Dungeness crab ravioli (Palermo Italian Restaurant)
  • Grilled Pork Loin in Guajillo Adobo Sauce with White Bean Ragout and Pork au Jus (La Viga)
  • Vegetable Tower with layers of Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Spinach, Eggplant, served with flavorful rice and a saffron yogurt sauce (Arya Global Cuisine)

If you’ve never dined out at a restaurant week event, think of it as a get-to-know-you eating opportunity. Each of the 14 participating restaurants have created an affordable three-course prix fixe menu that highlight some of their favorite dishes. Set menu prices range from $20-45 per person, depending on the restaurant’s cuisine, for a selection of appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Fine print: tax, tip, and beverages not included.) For detailed menus and restaurant profiles, check out the Redwood City Restaurant Week website. Of course, restaurants will be offering their regular menus as well.

While I’ve certainly got my go-to spots in the city known for having a “Climate Best by Government Test,” Restaurant Week is motivating me to hit up those places I’ve been meaning to try. Have you dined in Redwood City lately? Which restaurants would you recommend?

Eat Local: Do You Viajando?

September 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

Last month I received a nice surprise via email: an invitation from Kye Michael, who handles marketing and social media for LV Mar in Redwood City, inviting me to dinner at the restaurant. Not just any dinner, mind you — but Viajando by LV Mar, Destination: Mexico, a celebration of Mexican food and culture that would include mariachis, folkloric dance, and a special prix fixe dinner menu with wine pairings. How fun would that be?! LV Mar is my one of  go-to restaurants in the 650, so of course, I was all in.*

Viajando by LV Mar started out as an invitation-only, thank-you party for the restaurant’s supporters earlier this year. (“Viajando,” if your Spanish is a little rusty, means “to go on a journey” or “travel.”) With the success of that first event, the restaurant’s owners decided to create an ongoing celebration of Latin destinations and to expand the invitation list, opening it up to the public. Destination: Brasil debuted in July, followed by Destination: Mexico (the event I attended) on September 3. Michael says that the events will continue, likely on a monthly basis, focusing a different Latin destination each time. Destination: Caribbean is up next, on October 1, to be followed by Destination: Peru later this year.

Weather-wise, the evening of LV Mar’s Mexican celebration could not have been more perfect. The unseasonably warm weather with a touch of humidity had me thinking about vacations I’d spent in Mexico. My friend Amy joined me for the evening, and when we arrived for our 7pm seating, the restaurant was bustling, and the celebration was in full swing. Diners who had opted for the 6pm and 6:30pm seatings were enjoying their first and second courses, while mariachi musicians strolled the restaurant.

Just two of the mariachis at Viajando by LV Mar, Destination: Mexico

Just two of the mariachis at Viajando by LV Mar, Destination: Mexico

The restaurant’s large windows and sliding doors were completely open, bringing the outdoors in and creating a party atmosphere. Strands of clear lights had been strung from the restaurant to the trees lining Broadway, bringing the party into the street. Amy and I opted to sit outside to enjoy the weather and have a clear view of the street and the restaurant. The experience reminded me a bit of dining at a small, family-run restaurant in San Miguel de Allende a decade ago.

With the mariachis serenading us, we began our evening with cocktails from LV Mar’s beverage menu: the El Morado (blackberry juice, basil, petrov wine vodka, and sparkling wine) and the LV Sangria (red wine with fruit juices and house-made hibiscus syrup).

Gettin' our cocktail on with El Morado (blackberry-basil mix, petrov wine vodka, sparkling wine) and LV Sangria (fresh fruit juices, red wine, house jamaica syrup, diced fruit)

Gettin’ our cocktail on with El Morado (blackberry-basil mix, petrov wine vodka, sparkling wine) and LV Sangria (fresh fruit juices, red wine, house jamaica syrup, diced fruit)

While both cocktails were fruit-forward, neither was overly sweet. The sangria had a flowery, berry flavor that was unique and enjoyable — and a nice variation from the usual, citrusy versions I’ve had elsewhere. El Morado was well-balanced between the herbaceousness of the basil and the sweet-tart fruitiness of the blackberry. (It was the more unique of the two, but the sangria was no less delicious.) While we enjoyed the cocktails, our first course, a trio of snacks to share, arrived.

Botanitas: House red sauce, halibut traditional ceviche, and smoked trout guacamole, served with chips

Botanitas: House red sauce, halibut traditional ceviche, and smoked trout guacamole, served with chips

Ceviche is one of the things LV Mar does best, and the halibut ceviche was, as anticipated, delicious. Chef Manuel paired tender halibut with just the right amount of spice and acid. I’m allergic to avocados (yes, really), but did indulge in a piece of smoked trout or two. Amy said the combination of the guacamole with the trout was “very tasty” and not too spicy. The smoky, salty trout provided a nice complement to the creamy, bright guacamole.

Each of the remaining four courses — Tapas, Sea, Land, and Dessert — offered two options. Hmmm… two of us, two options per course: simple math. It was one of those rare occasions that food lovers dream about — being able to say “we’ll take everything” and mean it. (There was also an option to add a wine pairing, which we both declined. It was a school night, after all.)

Mexico is a country rich in regional cuisine; there is no single “Mexican” food. Sure there’s the well-known street food, such as tacos and tortas, but there’s so much more to Mexican cuisine, such as the moles of Oaxaca and the fresh seafood dishes of Veracruz. Chef Manuel’s menu offered a culinary tour of Mexico, pairing traditional, regional flavors and dishes from around the country with his unique, contemporary approach.

The Tapas course brought the Sopa Azteca and the Ensalada de Morisqueta. The soup — oh my, the soup!

Sopa Azteca: Masa dumplings, chicken, avocado, sour cream, cilantro

Sopa Azteca: Masa dumplings, chicken, avocado, sour cream, cilantro

Here I was thinking: eh, hot night, and soup? It looks like a simple soup, but once I tasted it, I didn’t want to stop eating it. I was surprised by the layers of flavor. The broth was rich, tomatey, spiced — but not too spicy — full of body and flavor. The chicken pieces were incredibly tender and flavorful. The sour cream and avocado added a creamy contrast to the broth.

The salad was a nice summer-to-fall dish, inspired by Moresquita, a traditional cooked rice dish from Michocan.

Ensalada de Morisqueta: mixed greens, wild rice, corn, beans, cactus, serrano chile, and tomato dressing

Ensalada de Morisqueta: mixed greens, wild rice, corn, beans, cactus, serrano chile, and tomato dressing

Chef Manuel incorporated ingredients of the traditional dish — rice, beans, tomatoes — into the salad, creating a refreshing, flavorful salad that provided a crisp contrast to the rich soup. (The two work well together as course and could make a satisfying fall lunch or light dinner.) As with the soup, texture and flavor are essential to the dish, and there’s a balance between the two.

I was really looking forward to the Sea course, as Chef Manuel excels with seafood (see the ceviche above). I wasn’t disappointed. And, in fact, after discussing it, Amy and I were hard-pressed to choose a favorite between the two seafood dishes.

The Spanish influence on Mexican cuisine is evident in Chef Manuel’s Pescado a la Veracruzana, an elegant plate of halibut, saffron rice, olives, and tomatoes.

Pescado a la Veracruzana

Pescado a la Veracruzana

While it might seem like a simple plate, each element was flavorful and well-suited to pairing with the others. The sweetness of the tomatoes balanced the saltiness of the olives, and the delicate saffron rice with the perfectly cooked, firm fish.

Camarones a la Talla was another standout in a meal of well-executed dishes. This… this is the kind of dish that makes me want to lick the plate (And that folks, is why we skip the wine pairing. No plate-licking in public.).

Camarones a la Talla: head-on prawns, crispy tortilla, butter lettuce, black bean purée, pico de gallo, chipotle aioli

Camarones a la Talla: head-on prawns, crispy tortilla, butter lettuce, black bean puree, pico de gallo, chipotle aioli

Yes, if you look closely you’ll notice that it’s a deconstructed take on a shrimp taco, but with Chef Manuel’s unique approach. First of all, the grilled, head-on prawns were as tender and sweet as you could hope for. The black bean purée is a flavor-bomb, where again Chef has worked his magic with both flavor and texture. There was so much goodness going on here that the tortilla got a bit lost among the other components on the plate, and the dish would have worked just as well without it.

When the Land course arrived, I had to rely on Amy’s palate for tasting notes. Not being much of a meat eater, I’ll say honestly that I was less engaged in the Land courses, although the plates looked beautiful. (I can be persuaded to try a bit of pork or poultry here and there, but generally, I stick to fish and plants.) More representative of the cuisine of central Mexico, both dishes struck me as upscale comfort food.

The Carne a la Tampiqueña was a hearty dish of rare hanger steak with red sauce, a small cheese enchilada, confit potatoes, and garlic spinach.

Carne a la Tampiquena: hanger steak, red sauce cheese enchilada, confit potatoes, garlic spinach

Carne a la Tampiqueña: hanger steak, red sauce cheese enchilada, confit potatoes, garlic spinach

I loved the sauce and the sides. Amy said the beef was tasty and well-cooked, and the potatoes were rich and delicious.

The Codorniz Con Mole exhibited the same elegance as the Pescado al a Veracruzana: simple ingredients cooked perfectly and paired well.

Codorniz con Mole: quail, vegetable rice, cabbage, mole

Codorniz con Mole: quail, vegetable rice, cabbage, mole

Sweet pairs with tart; simple (rice) pairs with rich (mole and quail). It’s a small plate, but there’s a lot going on flavor-wise. I made an attempt to try the quail, but, damn, those things are tiny, and I couldn’t figure out where the meat was hiding. Amy took the lead on that one. The mole sauce and rice, though? I’ll eat that all day.

As the evening was winding down, and we were approaching the final course, many of the tables had emptied. We’d enjoyed a nice, long, leisurely dinner, and were expecting our final two plates when our server brought some bad news: the kitchen had run out of one of the desserts — the classic tres leches cake. A little disappointed, at least we’d still be able to taste the much-talked-about “pumpkin cake.” Listed on the menu only as Pastel de Calabaza with Pumpkin Seed Brittle, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it had been the buzz of the restaurant all night.

My training in pastry and experience working in the industry has taught me that dessert has to be at least as good as the courses that have come before it. A thoughtful chef won’t treat dessert as an afterthought or throwaway course. As the final course, dessert is your last chance to wow the customers, to put an ending on the evening’s experience, to send them home talking about what they ate. Oof, no pressure little Pastel de Calabaza.

Pastel de Calabaza: pumpkin cheesecake, walnut crust, pomegranate sauce, citrus cream

Pastel de Calabaza: pumpkin cheesecake, walnut crust, pomegranate sauce, citrus cream, with pepita brittle

The Pastel de Calabaza wowed me. Icing on the, er, cheesecake? Chef Manuel himself came out and gave us the run-through of the dessert’s ingredients. Yes, it’s made with real pumpkins that Chef Manuel sources specifically for their flavor. The crust is made of toasted walnuts, which means the dessert is gluten-free. The cheesecake itself is light and flavorful, but not too sweet. The citrus cream, pomegranate sauce, and pepita brittle add complementary flavors and textures: fruity, nutty, sweet, tart, crunchy, crispy. A lovely transitional, summer-to-fall dessert, this dish is craveable, delicious, and worth breaking a diet for. (It’s small, you can share.)

All in all, a delicious tour of Mexico and a lovely evening — without leaving the 650! The evening’s standouts for me were the Sopa Azteca, the seafood dishes, and the Pastel de Calabaza. I’m hoping to see some of these dishes on the regular menu in the future — or at least that Pastel de Calabaza.

The next Viajando by LV Mar, Destination: Caribbean is coming up this week on Wednesday, October 1. Are you on the list?

*Full disclosure: My friend and I were guests of the restaurant for the evening of Viajando by LV Mar, Destination: Mexico. My opinions are my own and not provided in exchange for participation in the event, nor at the request of the restaurant or its employees.

Eat Local: LV Mar

July 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

The first time I went to LV Mar — Chef Manuel Martinez’ upscale, contemporary Latin restaurant in Redwood City — I walked in on a private party. I was headed to Vesta with a friend on a cool November night, the week before Thanksgiving, when we walked by LV Mar and saw that window signs announcing “Coming Soon” were gone, the lights were on, the door open, and the restaurant full of diners. I had been looking forward to trying Chef Manuel’s new concept, hints of which he’d been offering at La Viga, his other, more casual restaurant down the street.

I’ve written previously about being a fan of Vesta, and there’s always a lingering craving for their seasonal pizzas and grilled pears, but — sure, we could change plans and try something new! We marched right inside and up to the hostess, who promptly told us that the restaurant was closed. Pause. Insert confused Scooby Doo face, complete with head tilt and a verbalized “Rurh?” Um, you don’t look closed.

She explained that they were actually in the middle of a “Friends & Family” soft opening, but would be open to the public in a week, and would we please come back then. My friend and I agreed on the spot that we’d be back in a week, and went off to enjoy Vesta as planned. (Maybe it’s my enthusiasm for finding good food in the 650, but I seem to have a knack for rolling up to restaurants before they’re quite open.)

Flash forward a week, and we did indeed arrive back at LV Mar on their “official” opening night: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Since that first visit, I’ve dined at LV Mar once a month or so and, it’s become one of my 650 favorites. Not only is the menu creative and fresh, but the service is warm, welcoming, and accommodating every time. (Even during a recent visit when a perfect storm of snafus caused friends to run almost an hour late for a celebration dinner, the hostess was very understanding and held our table without complaint or question.)

My favorite way to experience LV Mar is to order a variety of small plates and taste everything. Seafood plays a starring role in LV Mar’s menu, but there are dishes to please eaters of all kinds, including vegans and vegetarians. Below are highlights of the dishes I’ve tasted since the restaurant’s opening. Just so you know: peppers play a role in most savory dishes, adding flavor, depth, sweetness, and some heat. A friend summed it up perfectly saying “everything was spicy — meaning it had flavor.”

Ceviche Mixto
LV Mar makes some of the best ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with peppers) in the 650. The house specialty is the Ceviche Mixto: chopped octopus, scallop, and halibut married with orange, red onion, and rocoto chile. The ceviche is topped with shredded jicama and finely sliced red onion and served with crispy plantain chips. Sweet, spicy, tender and fresh, this dish reminds me of afternoons under a palapa bar on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

LV Mar's Ceviche Mixto served with plaintain chips

LV Mar’s Ceviche Mixto served with plaintain chips

Deshebra de Pato
Friends ordered this small plate during our celebration dinner, and I just had to taste it. Oh my! Rich shredded duck leg confit is spiced with chipotle and onions, nestled onto a small, deep-fried masa pillow and topped with manchego cheese, avocado, and tomatillo salsa. They might be bite-sized, but these small delicacies are full of flavor!

Deshebra de Pato:  shredded duck leg confit, chipotle & onions, masa pelliscadas, manchego cheese, avocado, tomatillo salsa

Deshebra de Pato: shredded duck leg confit with chipotle and onions, manchego cheese, avocado, tomatillo salsa, on small masa pillow

Cayo Dorado
Another favorite small plate, the Cayo Dorado is served like a small soft taco (although I couldn’t eat it like a soft taco — this one is best with a knife and fork). A perfectly tender, lightly battered scallop sits atop a thinly sliced piece of jicama — the “tortilla”– and is dressed with cucumber, orange, and sweet habanero cream.

Cayo Dorado crispy scallop, cucumber, plantain, sweet habanero cream on jicama tortilla

Cayo Dorado: Crispy scallop on a jicama tortilla, finished with cucumber, orange, and sweet habanero cream

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate
The crab salad, one of several salads on the menu, stars our local favorite shellfish: Dungeness crab. Like most of LV Mar’s dishes, this one incorporates a variety of flavors and textures: soft and sweet (the crab salad), crisp and slightly bitter (the frisee and radishes), tart/citrusy (orange supremes and dressing). Note: Yes, the dish does include avocado (aguacate), but I’m not a fan, so the kitchen graciously accommodated my request to 86 the avocado. The photo below was taken November 2013, and the presentation might be different now.

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate: Crab salad with frisee, orange supremes

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate (Fall 2013): Crab salad with frisee, orange supremes

Pescado Con Pepitas
While I usually prefer to sample a variety of small plates, there is one entrée that I’ve tried and found craveable: pan-seared, pepita-crusted fish. This version is currently not on the menu, but I’m hoping it returns in the fall. It’s cool-weather, belly-filling comfort food all the way: pan-roasted pepita-crushed sea bass, served on a bed of corn truffle purée, surrounded by pieces of chayote squash and two pepper sauces.

Pescado Con Pepitas (Fall 2013): pan-roasted, pepita-crusted sea bass with corn truffle puree, chayote squash, and two pepper sauces

Pescado Con Pepitas (Fall 2013): pan-roasted, pepita-crusted sea bass with corn truffle puree, chayote squash, and two pepper sauces

The current seasonal version is Pescado Sarteneado: pan-roasted wild Alaskan halibut, asparagus, corn truffle and potato croquettes, guajillo chile emulsion.

Desserts and Drinks
If you like to start or end your meal with an adult beverage, you can choose from an assortment of beers, wines, and wine-based cocktails. (Note that the restaurant doesn’t have a full liquor license, though, so don’t expect shelves of tequilas or an array of fancy margaritas.) Chosen to pair with the food menu, wines are on the lighter side and hail from Spain and South America.

The wine-based cocktail menu tends toward the fruity side, and includes a classic sangria, along with cocktails built around wine “spirits,” such as agave wine, wine vodka, and sake. On my list to try: the El Morado (blackberry-basil mix, petrov wine vodka, sparkling wine) and the Gingerito (mint simple syrup, ginger mix, sake, ginger beer & fresh lime juice). Beer choices include an assortment of bottled beers and beer on tap. Non-alcoholic drinks include fresh lemonade and a horchata, a rice drink with spices, shaken over ice with coconut milk. This one should be on the dessert menu — it’s so rich and decadent!

Horchata with coconut milk

Horchata with coconut milk: rich, sweet, and delicious!

The dessert list is small, but hits the usual notes: chocolate, fruit, cake, ice cream. If your idea of dessert involves chocolate and little else, try the flourless chocolate cake. It’s a small but rich dessert, and I’m fairly certain the only ingredients are chocolate and butter (and that’s not a bad thing)! Want something more summery? The Torta de Fresas takes a Latin twist to a classic American shortcake:  thin slices of sweet cornbread, layered with mixed berry compote, topped with horchata ice cream and finished with a light mint syrup.

Torta de Fresas layered cornbread, mixed berry compote, horchata ice cream, mint syrup

Torta de Fresas: layered cornbread, mixed berry compote, horchata ice cream, mint syrup

There you have it — my highlights of dining at LV Mar since it opened to the public. Have you tried LV Mar yet? What did you eat?

Details
What: LV Mar
Where: 2042 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: 650-241-3111
Hours: Mon–Thu 11:30am–9:30pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am-10:30pm
Price: $$
Bar: Beer, wine, and wine-based cocktails. No spirits.
Parking: Street and nearby lots.

 

Field Trip: Celebrating Summer with CUESA

July 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

It’s summer! Just writing those words brings a smile to my face. (Could you tell that it’s my favorite time of year?) rusty-blade-flowers

How did you mark the official arrival of summer? Did you barbecue at home with the family and neighbors? Take your kids to the park for a picnic? Pass a leisurely afternoon day drinking with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant? Whatever you did, I’ll bet it included friends or family and food!

I get a little giddy when I think of all the wonderful, fresh food that’s available from our gardens and local farms this time of year — which you could probably figure out from my recent posts about local stone fruit and coastal strawberries. We’re so fortunate to have fine weather and a long growing season here, but also a culture that values growing, making, and  sharing good food.

So how did I mark the official start of summer? With some delicious food and fine cocktails, of course! CUESA’s Summer Celebration at the Ferry Building on June 22 was the perfect summer kickoff party. The event, which benefits CUESA’s educational program, celebrated the bounty of summer produce with small plates and handcrafted cocktails created by some of the city’s best chefs and bartenders. (There were also fresh nonalcoholic libations: juice blends and shrubs.) Each plate or beverage was inspired by one of six categories of summer produce  — or “culinary families,” as CUESA calls them:

  • Alliums
  • Berries
  • Cucurbits
  • Grains and legumes
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Stone fruit

Most of these food families are probably familiar to you — especially berries and stone fruit. Alliums and cucurbits might be less-familiar names, but you’ll recognize their family members. Allium, the latin name for garlic, includes all varieties of garlic and onions, including shallots, leeks, and scallions. But what the heck are cucurbits? (Ok, am I the only person who hears Bill Cosby’s voice saying “Riiiiight. What’s a cucurbit?”). The cucurbit family includes vine-growing produce, which are botanically classified as fruits: squashes, melons, and cucumbers.

More than just a tasting event, CUESA’s Summer Celebration brought together farmers, chefs, beverage crafters, and food lovers of all kinds from around the Bay Area to taste, savor, and learn. While you might know CUESA as the people who put on the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, much of what CUESA does involves educating consumers about sustainable agriculture and local food systems. (Want to know more about their mission? Check out their site.) The Summer Celebration included a variety of fun and creative educational games to teach attendees more about each culinary family. (An added bonus for food geeks!)

Santa Cruz’s Dirty Girl Produce had a gorgeous display of alliums and challenged attendees to an allium “sniff test.” Could you tell the difference between onions, leeks, shallots, and scallions with just your sense of smell? Not as easy as you might think! I had a chance to test my berry knowledge by spinning the Wheel of Berries to answer a berry trivia question. My prize? Yum — a tasting of fresh berries! However, one of my favorite games of the evening was “What’s Your Stone Fruit Name?” (I won’t tell you how it works, but there’s not much skill involved).  For the rest of the evening I was “Flavor King,” and my date? “Golden Blaze.” We wrapped up our game-playing at Grains & Legumes Jeopardy, rocking the Grains category, but stumbling on the Legumes. Looks like I need to brush up on my legume facts, but it was fun all the same.

The event was also an opportunity to connect one-on-one with food growers, such as Frog Hollow Farm, Sierra Cascade Organic Blueberry Farm, Star Route Farms, and Dirty Girl Produce. I learned some “Fruity Facts” and talked food waste solutions with the Frog Hollow folks, who grow some of sweetest, most flavorful peaches and apricots in the area. I got the lowdown on how Sierra Cascade’s farmer, John Carlon, created a sustainable farm by understanding and working with the synergy between the blueberries, bumblebees, and gophers. And I experienced edible blossoms and leaves (oh my — Meyer lemon blossoms! Floral, perfumey, sweet, and citrusy, with a bit of crunch.) at Star Route Farms’ beautiful display.

There were so many delicious creations to try, but here’s the short list of favorite tastes from the event.

Alliums
The Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham flatbread from Il Cane Rosso doesn’t look fancy, but it’s so flavorful and craveable. To me it was like a next-level nacho plate. The flavors paired well, as did the contrast between the crispy flatbread and the tasso ham. Even thinking about it now is making me hungry.

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Berries
Most of the handcrafted cocktails showcased locally produced spirits — and gin seemed to the spirit of choice. I’m not a gin fan, but this cocktail of raspberry, lemon, bitters, and No. 29 gin was a favorite. Plus, it had a super-cool (pardon the pun), large ice cube.

Logan's Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Logan’s Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Everyone I talked with listed “the pork belly” as one of their top tastes of the evening. 1760’s tasting spoon paired rich pork belly with a sweet berry compote. A bit of bad planning on my part, as I tasted this one later in the evening, not leaving enough time to round back for seconds… or thirds…

Pork Belly with Berry Composte, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Pork Belly with Berry Compote, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Cucurbits
And this is why I love tasting events: being surprised by something unexpected! I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stuffed squash,” when I saw this plate, but this stuffed squash from Bluestem Brasserie was delicious!

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

I was holding off tasting most of the desserts until later in the evening, which meant that I missed out on a few — and maybe that worked out for the best. Yigit Pura’s Panna Cotta was worth it, and he has restored my faith that there is well-made, creamy panna cotta in the world. Perfect summer dessert: light, balanced, fruity. Trust me, if I weren’t so full, I would have eaten two more.

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Tout Sweet)

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Yugit Pura: Tout Sweet)

Grains & Legumes
Andrew Court’s Ancient Grains & Seaweed Salad was another surprise of the evening, which is why there’s no photo of the plated dish. (Sorry, you’ll have to make do with this fancy copper baby bathtub full of the grains and legumes used in the salad.) I pretty much inhaled it once I tasted it. The grains were perfectly cooked, the seaweed added a bit of umami flavor and crunch, and the dressing brought it all together. Deliciously healthy, and yet indulgent at the same time.

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Leaves & Flowers
Here we have the first gin cocktail of the evening, and it might have changed my opinion about gin! This one, made with the 650’s own Rusty Blades Gin, was probably my all-around favorite. Again, not a gin fan, but Rusty Blades reminded me more of an aged whiskey and was really tasty with a bit of sweetness. The cocktail was summery, citrusy, and floral, and garnished with a pretty flower. Loved it!

Rusty Blade Gin's summer celebration cocktail

Rusty Blade Gin’s summer celebration cocktail

Smoked salmon? Yes, please! I thought Gaspar’s English pea and chive blini would be nothing more than a delivery device for the salmon, but I was so wrong! This bite pulled together the sweet flavor and soft, creamy texture of the blini with the smokiness of the fish and the herbal accent of the chives. So good!

Gaspar's English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Gaspar’s English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Stone Fruit
If you’ve read past posts, you know that Campo de Ecanto Pisco is regular in my home-bar lineup. Pair that with Frog Hollow Farms apricots for Rye on the Road’s Pisco Apricot Tropical, and wow! Yes, I’ll be doing some major “research” to reverse engineer this one at home.

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Last, but in no way least, was A16’s Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad. The beets and fruit played perfectly together, while the yogurt and nuts added texture and flavor. The kind of salad you could eat all summer long!

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep's Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Did you attend CUESA’s Summer Celebration? What was your favorite drink or small plate?

Eat Local: Get Yer Sexy On

May 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

It all started with the Sexy Fries: waffle-cut sweet potato fries smothered in melted cheese, grilled onions, a spicy sauce and cubes of Indian cheese called paneer. That was my introduction to CurryUpNow’s “Indian street food” at Off the Grid a couple of years ago. The weather was typical for an August evening at Fort Mason: cool, headed toward freezing. My sister was visiting from Alabama, and we were in the midst of a weekend-long food-palooza. I barely remember what else we ate during our extensive sampling of other food trucks at OTG. But the Sexy Fries? Yeah, baby. Those were memorable. I have been in lust with CurryUpNow ever since. (Not to mention the fact that the biz name is cute enough to make me smile every time I hear it.)

Open since 2009, CurryUpNow is a Bay Area success story. In addition to four food trucks, they now have three — count ’em three — brick-and-mortar locations: one in San Francisco and two in the 650 (San Mateo and Palo Alto). I recently had dinner at the Palo Alto restaurant to see how the brick-and-mortar vs. food truck experience compared. Would it be CurryUpNow as I remembered it — food-truck food, but without the truck — or something completely different?

Turns out the restaurant has the same casual-dining approach and fast service as the food truck, without the truck’s long lines and lack of seating. My dining companion and I scored one of the outdoor tables — in front of the restaurant — perfect for enjoying an extra-warm Palo Alto evening. There’s also plenty of indoor seating, too. Ordering is a bit more posh at the restaurant: you place your order at the counter, take your number, and restaurant staff delivers your order to your table.

CurryUpNow’s menu is a fusion of classic indian dishes and Asian/Mexican street-food presentation. What the heck does that mean? Well, imagine that tikka masalas, saags, rice, and indian-style flatbreads become burritos, quesadillas, and rice bowls. Trust me, it works. Oh, you were expecting a “traditional” Indian food presentation? Not to worry, CUN has you covered. Order the 8-item Thali Platter option, which comes with your choice of two entrees (choose from 13 options), white or brown rice, garbanzo beans, pickles, salad, and flat bread.

One thing that I really appreciate about CurryUpNow is that the menu accommodates almost any diet. Meat-eater? Vegan? Gluten-free? No problem! CUN has something for all of you. Aside from the main menu, which lists all options, vegans and gluten-free folks can peruse menus specifically made for them. There’s also a special Kids’ Menu that lets you customize options for your small humans. The menu consists of eight different “bases” (burrito, quesadilla, rice bowl, and so on) — including vegan and gluten-free choices — and three protein choices. All items on the Kids’ Menu are $6.

With so many options, the big question during my recent visit was: what to order? Sexy fries? Natch. But it’s also good to try new things. I was up for a little sumpin’-sumpin’ from as many categories as possible: vegan, gluten-free, and traditional thali platter. So what did we eat?

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries
Honestly, Hella Vegan wasn’t my first choice for the Sexy Fries, but I’m glad we tried them! The sauces were flavorful, the fries are delish (disclaimer: I haven’t met a sweet potato fry I didn’t like), and the tofu and vegan cheese added more flavor and texture to an already flavorful dish. The full order is enough to share as an appetizer or for one person as a meal.

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries: Criss cut sweet potato fries with vegan cheese and tofu

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries: Criss cut sweet potato fries with vegan cheese and tofu

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll with Aloo Gobi
If I could have ordered every dish with Aloo Gobi, I would have — it’s one of my favorite Indian dishes (saag paneer is my other favorite). Wrap it, stuff it in something, put it over a bowl over rice…whatever. A flavorful “dry” dish, it’s made with potatoes, cauliflower, onions, and spices. The Kathi Roll’s gluten-free flatbread reminded me a bit of a cross between a tortilla and African flatbread called injera. The roll idea was interesting, but as far as I’m concerned, it was an aloo gobi delivery device.

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll: Egg washed pan-fried gluten-free flat bread, pickled onions & chutneys rolled up with aloo gobi

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll: Egg washed pan-fried gluten-free flat bread, pickled onions & chutneys rolled up with aloo gobi

8 Item Thali Platter
Here’s your traditional Indian “buffet plate,” served in the traditional, lunch-tray presentation. We chose Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer (cooked, pureed spinach with cubes of paneer cheese) for our entrees. They were served with the standard thali accompaniments: garbanzo bean stew, papadum, paratha (flatbread), pickles, and raita. The gluten-free thali comes with gluten-free flatbread, and doesn’t include the papadum.

8 Item Thali Platter: Brown rice, flat bread (paratha), lentil wafter (papadum), garbanzo beans, pickles, salad, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer

8 Item Thali Platter (from upper left): Chicken tikka masala, garbanzo bean stew, saag paneer, papadum on paratha on brown rice, pickles and raita. To the right: mango lassi

The CurryUpNow menu also includes an assortment of Indian beverages, including three variations of lassi, the traditional yogurt-fruit drink (mango, rose mango, and mint mango) and chai tea. I had the mango lassi, which was deliciously fresh, sweet, tart, fruity, and yogurty. It’s also filling, so there was no room for dessert, which was bad planning on my part. CUN’s dessert menu offers an assortment of traditional dessert items, such as gulab jamun (deep-fried dumplings made of reduced milk, soaked in rose syrup), kulfi ice cream, and (yes!) Hot Balls on Ice — gulab jamun on kulfi.

Now that’s definitely going on my list for the next trip to CurryUpNow: Sexy Fries, followed by Hot Balls on Ice. What more could a girl want?

Have you tried Curry Up Now? Food truck or restaurant? Which dishes were your favorites?

Details
What: CurryUpNow
Where: 321 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-278-4888
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 11:30am-10pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Price: $
Bar: No bar per se, but beer on tap

Eat Local: Johnston’s Saltbox in San Carlos

May 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

Nothing brings out San Carlos residents like a new restaurant on Laurel Street! Johnston’s Saltbox, at the southern end of Laurel (cross-street: St. Francis), has been quite the draw since opening in early April. The team of Sean Johnston and Jennifer McAteer Johnston — he handles the front of the house, while she handles the kitchen — have created a casual neighborhood spot that focuses on fresh, seasonal dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

The restaurant’s design is contemporary and warm — natural wood, dark countertops, lots of glass — with almost equal amounts of indoor and outdoor (patio) seating. During warmer weather, folding glass doors open up to bring the outside in, giving the restaurant an open, airy feel. If you live in San Carlos, this could be your new “local” —  it has that kind of homey, neighborhood hang-out vibe. Coolest thing about Johnston’s Saltbox? It has a rooftop kitchen garden! How’s that for locally sourced, garden-to-table ingredients?!

The menu is small and approachable: no fancy, unpronounceable ingredients or long-winded explanations, just good comfort food with a modern California twist. In terms of value-for-money, Johnston’s Saltbox is spot-on: portion sizes are healthy, and the dishes are well executed. The lunch menu focuses on salads and sandwiches, including a tartine (French-style open-faced sandwich) that changes daily. The dinner menu offers a couple of simple appetizers, daily soup, salad with rooftop garden ingredients, and about a half-dozen entrée options. Brunch, which I have yet to try, offers a mix of breakfast dishes and sandwiches.

Here’s the roundup of my recent dinner at Johnston’s Saltbox. As usual, I’ll hit the highlights of what I loved about this restaurant, starting with their you-can’t-eat-just-one, housemade potato chips.

Housemade Potato Chips and Dip
When there’s housemade potato chips and dip on the menu, you just say “yes.” These chips were fresh, thick-cut, yet crispy — and totally addictive. The onion dip was a nice touch that reminded me of the Lipton’s dip that I ate tons of when I was a kid — only better!

Thick-cut housemade potato chips with onion dip

Thick-cut housemade potato chips with onion dip

Asparagus Tempura
Next up was the asparagus tempura. This asparagus tempura beats the crap out of any tempura I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant. The coating was light and crispy, and the asparagus spears where fried just enough to be al dente, but not greasy.

Asparagus tempura with dipping sauce and arugula salad

Asparagus tempura with dipping sauce and arugula salad

Pan-Seared Halibut
Halibut season was just getting its groove on, so it was nice to see a seasonal, west coast fish on the menu. The fish was moist with a crispy exterior, and the nice assortment of vegetables made up for all the potato chips I ate (at least that’s what I’m telling myself)!

Pan-seared halibut with greens, potatoes, seasonal flowers

Pan-seared halibut with arugula, shaved fennel, potatoes, seasonal flowers

Pork Chop
The pork chop was substantial and beautifully cooked. I loved the classic take on the sides: greens, mashies, and a delicious compote that stood in for the classic apple sauce.

Man-sized pork chop with greens, mashed potatoes, and apple compote

Man-sized pork chop with greens, mashed potatoes, and apple-cherry compote

Lemon Tart and Strawberry Compote
The restaurant had two dessert options, and while it was a tough choice, this seasonal lemon tart and strawberry compote just seemed like an appropriate ending to the meal. The high notes for me were the combination of flavors and textures: creamy, tart, with a crispy crust, and very spring-like!

Lemon tart with strawberry compote

Lemon tart with strawberry compote

Service from beginning to end was outstanding. Despite a packed house, our server was on top of things, making sure our drinks were replenished and managing the timing of our courses. Everyone from hostess to server to busser was friendly and accommodating. The seating inside is a bit tight, but my dining companion and I ended up having some nice conversations with the folks on either side of our table, which just added to the casual, neighborhood feel. Overall, it was a nice mid-week night out! I’m looking forward to spending more time at Johnston’s Saltbox — maybe next time it will be warm enough enjoy a glass of wine (and those potato chips!) on the patio.

Have you been to Johnston’s Saltbox yet? What did you eat?

Details
What: Johnston’s Saltbox
Where: 1696 Laurel Street, San Carlos, CA 94070
Phone: 650-592-7258
Hours: Tue-Fri 11:30am-2pm (lunch); Tue-Sat: 5:30-9pm (dinner); Sat-Sun: 10am-2:30pm (brunch)
Price: $$
Bar: Wine, beer
Tip: Johnston’s Saltbox doesn’t take reservations, so you’ll have to put your name on the list and wait for a table. Fortunately, you can grab a glass of wine or beer at the bar or on the patio while you wait. Also, given the table sizes, they can’t accommodate parties larger than 6.

Field Trip: Taylor’s — er, Gott’s Roadside

April 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

The first time I walked into Taylor’s, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto’s Town & Country shopping center last fall, I was super excited to order my all-time-favorite Ahi burger. Maybe I’d even splurge and order a side of sweet potato fries!

Gott's Roadside in Palo Alto, CA

Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto, CA

From the time construction started and the “Coming Summer 2013” sign appeared in the window, I was counting the weeks. Even after the opening date slipped into fall — and seemed like it might slip into winter — I kept the faith. So on that cloudy, grey fall day when I saw the front door wide open, my stomach did the happy dance. Yes, finally!

I walked right in and up to the counter, ignoring the wall-sized menu and legal-sheet-sized paper versions in a galvanized metal pail. Nope. I knew exactly what I wanted. How disappointed was I to find out that the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet — and that I’d actually walked in on a staff training session! Oops. Opening Day was still about three weeks away. The thought of jumping in the car and fighting afternoon traffic and city parking to get my fix at the Ferry Building started an internal tug-of-war that lasted the rest of the day. I decided to bide my time and wait for the Town & Country location to open. It was a loooong three weeks.

THE Ahi burger

THE Ahi burger: seared Ahi with ginger-wasabi mayo and Asian slaw on an egg bun

I’ll be honest: I just can’t get used to calling it Gott’s. To me, it will always be Taylor’s Refresher. The Palo Alto location, now open about six months, is the fourth in the growing Gott’s empire. The original location is in St. Helena, on Main Street, right before you cross the bridge into downtown. (Other locations are at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and Oxbow Market in Napa.)

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher was opened by Gott brothers Joel and Duncan in St. Helena in 1999. The concept was a classic 50’s style drive-in with upscale Napa Valley burgers, thick milkshakes made with Double Rainbow ice cream, and a decent wine-by-the-glass selection. (Not to mention a pricey corkage fee that brought criticism from the locals.) On a hot summer weekend afternoon, the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot was long and slow. The wait was always worth it — especially if you could score a picnic table in the back, away from the road. For me it became a must-stop location during any trip to the Wine Country.

When I moved up to St. Helena to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone a few years later, Taylor’s would turn out to be a saving grace. Despite a hefty tuition at one of the nation’s finer culinary schools, student meals left something to be desired. Let’s just say the student-meal program had some major kinks that needed to be beaten worked out. On the days we couldn’t take the third re-run of walk-in leftovers that had seen better days, someone would stand up and announce a Taylor’s run. Lifesaver!

The weekends that I stayed in town, I’d treat myself to an Ahi burger and — if they hadn’t run out yet — the sweet potato fries. That was the thing then: the sweet potato fries weren’t on the regular menu. They were only available on weekends, and when they ran out, well, you were S.O.L. As a “local,” I learned to call ahead for my order and skip the line, gliding over to the pickup window, while hot, hangry tourists waited in the ordering line for up to 30 minutes. (Trust me: been there, done that.)

Sweet potato fries

Sweet potato fries

So how did Taylor’s get to be Gott’s? The Taylor family owned the original burger spot, which opened in 1954 with the name Taylor’s Refresher. When the Gotts leased the place from the Taylor family so many years later to open their version, they did so with the agreement that the Taylor name would stay in place. Which it did — until 2010 when, after a disagreement between the Gotts and Taylors over trademarking resulted in legal action on both sides. So, in 2010, Taylor’s was renamed Gott’s. (Want to know more about the dispute? Check out this article from the Napa Valley Register.)

What else has changed in 15 years? Burgers are still the heart of the menu, but there are some additions — salads and fish tacos — that provide more options for the non-meat eaters. Sweet potato fries are available all the time now, and there are seasonal menu specials as well. What hasn’t changed? You still get a pager to let you know when your order is ready. Orders are still delivered on stainless steel quarter sheet pans and “napkins” are actually paper towels. The quality of the food is still excellent. You can still find parking near the restaurant (although you might have to wait a bit to get a good spot). The Ahi burger is still my favorite. And without fail every guy I know loves the Western Bacon Blue Ring burger. (No idea why. I’ve just learned to accept it as a fact of life.)

Western Bacon Blue Ring: Niman Ranch beef patty, onion ring, Pt. Reyes, blue cheese, bacon, pickles, red onion, BBQ sauce, all on an egg bun

Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger: Niman Ranch beef patty, onion ring,
Pt. Reyes blue cheese, bacon, pickles, red onion, BBQ sauce — all on an egg bun

What will you love about Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto? Lots! The restaurant sources high-quality, local-ish ingredients — Niman Ranch beef and Mary’s Free-Range Chicken, for example — and the results are simple, yet delicious, fresh, and craveable. With a family-friendly environment and something for every taste (yes, vegetarians, too!), you can keep the kids and the grownups happy. Let the kids choose what they want from the Kid’s Menu and enjoy a milkshake on the side. Grownups can indulge in burgers (beef, turkey, or veggie), chicken sandwiches, and salads (if you must).

True to its Napa Valley roots, Gott’s is not just a basic beer-and-burger place. Wine lovers will find a thoughtful, reasonably priced assortment of wines by the glass, half bottle, and full bottle. Some of my favorites: St. Supery Sauvignon ($8/glass) and Merryvale Starmont Chardonnay ($12/half bottle).

Ahi Burger, Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, Starmont Chardonnay

Ahi Burger, Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, Starmont Chardonnay

Wanna get fancy? There’s also Rombauer Chardonnay ($24/half bottle) and Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon ($50/half bottle). For you beer drinkers, Gott’s offers a good selection of draft, bottled, and canned beers. Craving that PBR or a Lagunitas IPA with your Double Cheeseburger? Either way, Gott’s has you covered.

Got room for something sweet after the burgers and fries? Head back to the counter and order a classic Black-and-White (chocolate and vanilla, so good!) or seasonal milkshake, ice cream in a cup, root beer float, or fountain soda.

I have to admit that the original Taylor’s Automatic Refresher will always hold a place in my heart. And yet, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto brings a bit of the Wine Country to the 650. Whatever you want to call it, it’s still the home of one of my favorite dining experiences. Good food and good times. So, if I ask you to meet me at Taylor’s, you’ll know what I mean.

Have you been to the newest Gott’s Roadside location? What did you eat?

Details
What: Gott’s Roadside
Where:  Town & Country, 855 El Camino Real #65, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Parking: Lot
Phone: 650-326-1000
Hours: Sun-Sat: Breakfast 7am-11am; Main Menu 10:30am-9pm
Price: $$
Bar: Wine, beer

March Went Out Like a Lion

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

This line from the musical “Carousel” has been running through my head all day. As I was trying to decide between several topics for today’s post, it occurred to me that March has been a packed month, food-wise! From the arrival of spring fruits and vegetables in the markets, to local (and not-so-local) field trips, to educational and inspiring panel discussions on food issues, it’s been quite a whirlwind. So I thought I’d pull out a few highlights from this month before we give March a big, wet kiss goodbye and head into April.

Spring Did Its Thing
Spring arrived as expected in the Bay Area, and with it the splendor of spring produce. December through February are some of what I’d call “unfun” months for fresh produce — especially fruits and lettuces. I was running out of inspiration for using cold-storage apples and a seemingly endless supply of oranges in all sizes. You can only eat so many kale salads. Even my standby broccoli started to look a little sad. And then came spring!

Colorful assortment of spring vegetables

Spring produce at the San Mateo Farmer’s Market

Berries are back in my cereal bowl (yay!). Little Gems and spring-mix lettuces are the foundation for my daily salads: snip in a few fresh herbs, toss in some pepitas or sunflower seeds for crunch, top with a little protein (tuna, soft-boiled eggs — if there’s time to make ’em), drizzle some good olive oil over everything, finish with a squeeze of fresh Eureka lemon juice, et voilà — a quick, healthy lunch. Dinner might be grilled fish with roasted Nantes carrots and fresh herbs or sautéed beet greens with caramelized onions. Inspiration and creativity is coming from whatever looks good and tastes fresh.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Mid-March, just as gorgeous 80-degree weather arrived here in the 650, I packed up my wool sweaters, pulled out what I hoped would pass for a winter coat, and took myself off to Chicago for the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). That’s right, I voluntarily went to the city of “worst winter ever” as spring was busting out here — and it was totally worth it.

If you’re in the food industry (a cook, writer, photographer, nutritionist, food scientist, recipe developer) this conference is for you. Sessions focus on practical aspects of business for industry professionals and career changers: such as managing your life as a freelance writer or what to expect as a cooking school instructor. But food issues, such as building local food systems and managing food waste get equal coverage.

I had an opportunity to hear Ferran Adrià, head chef of El Bulli, speak about creativity in a way that challenged everyone present to reconsider how they think about food and cooking. Douglas Gayeton, Bay Area artist/writer/activist (from Petaluma!) talked about his efforts to raise awareness about food issues and climate change through a “Lexicon of Sustainability.” Worth checking out are the Know Your Food short films via PBS. They’re 2 – 4 minute films on food and food issues.

I also met John Reynolds, Sonoma chef/writer, and Leslie Lindell, Marin-based photographer, who won IACP’s Cookbook of the Year award for The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook. It’s a beautiful piece of work that is part cookbook and part love story about land and food.

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

The business of food is broad and the interests and issues diverse, but the passion for good food and community is universal. I was lucky to be able to participate in an engaging curriculum with an interesting, fun group of people. I came home inspired — and well fed.

Eat Local: Chicago
Chicago is a food town, and I was looking forward to sampling whatever bites I could in between conference sessions. Unfortunately I missed the food tours that were offered as pre-conference events, but I think I made up for it with a few field trips of my own.

Lunch at the Purple Pig
Arrived to a loud, packed restaurant for a late lunch, after getting up at the crack-of-oh-my-god for my flight. Small plates (great for sharing), craft cocktails, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Tramonto cocktail: Tequila Blanco, Aperol, Limoncello, Sambuca Rinse

Tramonto cocktail: tequila blanco, Aperol, limoncello, sambuca rinse

Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds, Crispy Sage Leaves, Ricotta Salata

Roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, crispy sage leaves, ricotta salata

Oil-Poached Tuna, Green Beens, Roasted Red Pepper, Egg, Vinagrette

Oil-Poached tuna, green beans, roasted red pepper, potatoes, egg, vinaigrette

Dinner at mk
Stellar dinner with long-time friends Brian and Marie at mk. Indulgent? Yes, but oh-so-worth-it, both for the food and the lovely company.

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (upper left)

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (gotta love getting Bay Area oysters in Chicago!)

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Fluke with lobster

Fluke with lobster, roasted cauliflower (upper left)

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Lunch at Beatrix
I was looking for a farm-to-table-style restaurant near my hotel for lunch on the last day of the conference, and Beatrix was the perfect choice. Quick lunch at the bar with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. The beet salad is something I might try at home.

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple matchsticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinagrette

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple match sticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish matchsticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish match sticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Food Waste at Home and Away
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’m working on creative ways to reduce food waste in my own kitchen. I’m cooking more and pushing myself to use as much as possible of the food I buy. Food waste was also covered in several of the talks I attended at the IACP conference in Chicago. Chefs and farmers talked about the idea of cooking “root to stalk” — the veggie version of “nose to tail.”

A week after the Chicago trip, I attended a panel discussion in San Francisco co-hosted by CUESA, the organization that puts on the Ferry Building Farmers’ market, titled “Beyond the Green Bin.” While the Bay Area has been a leader in composting and recycling, there’s more we can be doing on the front end to reduce food waste. I’ll be posting a summary of the talk later this week — including the panel’s summary of suggestions for making changes at home and in our communities.

So that’s March all wrapped up nicely. April should bring the first round of stone fruit (cherries and apricots, if we’re lucky), not to mention Easter, Passover, and a plethora of national food “holidays.” What are you looking forward to cooking or eating in April?

Eat Local: Lure+Till in Palo Alto

March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Lure+Till brings farm-to-table dining with a hip Mission vibe to downtown Palo Alto. Open just a week, the place has already been packed every night — and with good reason.

Cocktails round 1

Crafted cocktails: Olga’s Cooler (left) and P.D.

Centrally located on the corner of Hamilton and Emerson (across from Peninsula Creamery), the restaurant/bar space is warm but not overdone: dark wood tables, comfy upholstered mid-century-style dining chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows on the street side, and an outdoor seating area that will likely be Palo Alto’s table-to-get as the weather warms up. The food, which has a seasonal focus, is delicious and beautifully executed. The hand-crafted cocktail list is contemporary and interesting.

I’m not usually an early adopter of new restaurants. Having worked in the back of the house in a past life, I know what it takes to orchestrate a good lunch or dinner service, let alone all of the customer-facing efforts that go on in the front of the house. Which is to say that any new restaurant has some kinks to iron out during its first few weeks. Yet, early press on this place has been positive, and it seemed like a fun addition to my extended birthday celebration.

Here’s a first look at the dishes my friend Amy and I enjoyed during our dinner at Lure+Till. I’m not a restaurant critic, so you won’t find much in the way of critique here (hint: I don’t write about food I don’t enjoy), but I’ve tried to hit the highlights of each dish. Consider this post an introduction and recommendation to visit. I know I’ll be going back for another round!

The menu has seven categories with four to five dishes in each: Raw, Appetizer + Salads, Nosh, Pastas, Entree, Sides, and Dessert. Wanting to try as many dishes as possible, Amy and I tried to choose at least one from each category.

Raw

Hamachi crudo appetizer. Hands-down our favorite among the small dishes. The hamachi was (dare I say it) supple and oh-so-fresh. The dish had a nice combo of salty, spicy, acidic, and sweet. When a food runner mistakely tried to drop a someone else’s order at our table right after we finished our crudo, there was a split second of moral dilemma.

Hamachi crudo appetizer

Hamachi, Smoked Olive Oil, Citrus, Sliced Chili

Alaskan Halibut. Actually we tried the halibut two ways: with and without the beets, radish, and puffed rice. Due to what I’ll call a first-week snafu, our halibut showed up naked at first, leaving us wondering if there was a disconnect on the menu or in the kitchen. Fortunately, a quick question to the manager cleared things up, as he quickly and graciously remedied the situation by offered a second chance at the dish. So glad we took him up on it! While the halibut on its own was absolutely lovely, the intended additions elevated the dish by adding flavor and texture. Worth the do-over! (And thanks again to Lure+Till’s manager who was so accommodating.)

Alaskan Halibut, Chopped Yellow Beets, Radish, Chive Blossoms, Puffed Rice

Alaskan Halibut, Chopped Yellow Beets, Radish, Chive Blossoms, Puffed Rice

Nosh

Deviled Eggs. I love that deviled eggs are retro/hipster/whatever enough to turn up on menus again.

Deviled Eggs, Chive, Shallot, Mustard, Aioli

Deviled Eggs, Chive, Shallot, Mustard, Aioli

Entree

Scallops. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but it all plays nicely together! The scallops were cooked to that perfect point of being just tender but not underdone. The Cotechino sausage… all I can say is “little cubes of deliciousness.” As with the rest of the dishes we tried, texture and flavor are key here, both in individual components, and in the way that the dish comes together. Sweet, savory, spicy, creamy, crunchy, fresh — it’s all in there.

Scallop entree at Lure + Till in Palo Alto, CA

Seared Diver Scallops and Cotechino Sausage, Sweet Potato and Orange Puree, Chorizo Oil, Pistachio, Cara Cara Orange

Sides

Kale. Our token “greens” plate. The Meyer lemon added brightness, but we were missing the Marcona almonds. The salt and crunch of the almonds would have really rounded out the dish. (It turns out that the dish was mistakenly marked for “allergy” on our ticket. Good news is that the front and back of the house are sensitive and responsive to food allergies. Make sure you tell your server at the beginning of the meal.)

    Sauteed Kale, Marcona Almonds, Meyer Lemon

Sauteed Kale, Marcona Almonds, Meyer Lemon

Grits. Oh my — this! This is the dish I’m still craving. I was thinking, as I was eating it, that I really wanted it again for breakfast the next day. So simple, and yet, so indulgent and satisfying. The grits were cooked to a perfectly smooth consistency (not too porridge-y nor crunchy), the house-made sriracha is spicy but not overwhelming, but let’s face it, they had me at “slow-cooked egg.”

Baked Heirloom Grits, Slow Cooked Egg, House Made Sriracha

Baked Heirloom Grits, Slow Cooked Egg, House Made Sriracha

Dessert

Just FYI, the dessert selections are on the back of the menu (along with wines by the glass, craft beers, and non-alcoholic beverages). If you subscribe to the “Eat Dessert First” philosophy, start here and plan your meal accordingly.

Bananas and caramel. A beautiful plate, and the parfait, caramel, and banana were lovely. Unfortunately, the canelés (a classic French pastry with a crispy exterior and custardy interior) were overbaked, which was a shame. I really hope this was just an off night for the the canelés because I’d love to try this dish again. Note to the gluten-free types: canelés are made with flour.

Caramelized Banana and Giandjua Parfait, Caramel, Rum Caneles, Roasted Bananas

Caramelized Banana and Giandjua Parfait, Caramel, Rum Caneles, Roasted Bananas

“Whoppers!” I enjoyed all of the elements of this pretty, candy-inspired dessert. I just felt that it needed something more than the meringue/honeycomb crumbles to bridge the gap between the mousse and the ice cream. As both are rich, frozen, creamy components, I wanted a dense cake disk or crisp chocolate component to complete the dish.

Malt Ice Cream, Huckleberries, Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse

Malt Ice Cream, Huckleberries, Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse

 

So, have you been to Lure+Till yet? If not, are you planning to go? Share your thoughts.

Details
What: Lure+Till
Where: 180 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301 (inside The Epiphany Hotel)
Parking: Valet stand on Emerson. Street parking. Lots nearby.
Phone: 650-666-3320, x3320
Hours: Mon – Thu: 8 am – 11 pm, Fri – Sun: 11 am – 11 pm
Price: $$
Bar: Crafted cocktails, wine, beer
*Tip: As of this writing, I’m still craving these must-try dishes: Hamachi crudo, scallops, grits

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Restaurant category at 650Food.