Eat Local: Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City

May 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

The Redwood City restaurant boom continues with this week’s opening of Howie’s Artisan Pizza. Taking over the old Tarboosh spot on Jefferson Avenue, Howie’s brings chef/restaurateur Howard Bulka’s casual pizza concept to the mid-Peninsula. Bulka, former chef/owner of the (now closed) Marche Restaurant in Menlo Park, opened the first Howie’s Artisan Pizza in November 2009 in the Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center. The Palo Alto Howie’s has done well with steady business, particularly on weekends and throughout the summer when it packs out with local families.

Think of the Redwood City location as “Howie’s 2.0” — an expansion of the Palo Alto concept, according one staff member. The new space echoes the casual feel of the Palo Alto location, but has more outdoor seating, with the large side patio area that’s set up for year-round dining. About half of the patio area is covered, but tables in the open area have umbrellas to shade diners from the summer sun. For chilly days (or evenings), overhead heaters provide warmth. The interior of the restaurant is large and casual with front doors that open completely, bringing the outdoors in and giving the restaurant an airy feel. Seating is at individual tables or the long bar, which runs the length of the dining room.

What is new in the Howie’s concept is a full bar program that not only includes beer and wine, but also handcrafted cocktails. Howie’s Bar Manager, Ryan, is ramping up the cocktail program slowly, presenting an approachable menu of classic cocktails with contemporary twists. For the house Mai-Tai, Howie’s bartenders muddle fresh almonds with Demerara sugar to elicit an aromatic, fresh almond flavor that plays beautifully with the dark rum.

Can't get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie's Mai-Tai.

Can’t get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie’s Mai-Tai.

Ryan’s Pisco Punch is a take on the classic Pisco Sour (pisco, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white) that uses house-made pineapple gomme syrup. And then there’s The Heat of Passion, which had me at hello. Don Julio Reposado tequila, passion fruit and lime juices, along with a hint of Calabrian chili. ‘Nuff said.

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

And this is just the start. Plans are in the works to add seasonal cocktails, infusions, and housemade bitters and tinctures.

Cocktails not your thing? The beer menu includes about a dozen craft beers on tap, most from around California. Craving a Bud Lite or classic PBR? Yeah, they’ve got that, too. The wine list has something for just about everyone, from crisp whites that will be perfect sipping on warm summer days to fruity, rich reds to pair with red-sauce pizzas. (Although white wine drinkers might prefer to see a few more white wine choices, including a by-the-glass option for the lovely Flowers Chardonnay.) Of course, non-alcoholic options, including soft drinks, are available as well.

With drinks squared away, you’ll be ready to move on to the food menu, where comfort food is the theme. While pizza is the main draw, the food menu also offer small plates/appetizers, meal-sized salads, and sandwiches (listed as “Burgers and Such”). Not sure what to get? The servers are knowledgeable and happy to offer suggestions and tell you about items unique to the Redwood City menu, such as the small plates Eggplant Pillows and Burn Your Fingers Shrimp.

The Eggplant Pillows are long, thin slices of roasted eggplant rolled around a dollop of fresh, housemade ricotta cheese and topped with salsa verde. Tempting, but I opted for aptly named Burn Your Fingers Shrimp. Six large cajun-spiced peel-and-eat shrimp are served sizzling hot with melted, browned butter in small skillet, along with two pieces of toasted bread for mopping up the extra browned butter.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Moving on from Small Plates, you’re likely to skip right on over to the Pizza section of the menu. (I’m not saying you should, but Howie’s is a pizza joint, after all.) What makes a “good” pizza is a completely subjective thing. For some people, it’s all about the toppings. For others, it’s all about the crust. If you’re a crust fanatic, Howie’s falls somewhere between a Neapolitan and New York style pizza. Crispy on the bottom, this is no cracker-like crust; it’s got some depth and chewiness, thanks to a sourdough starter. The crust is sturdy enough to stand up to meat and vegetable toppings, and there’s an even balance between toppings and crust.

Toppings are fresh, and you can choose from the nine classic combos, or come up with your own. House favorites include the Margherita (red sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil), Sausage and Peppers, and Arugula and Prosciutto.

It's a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

It’s a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

If you don’t feel up to consuming a full-sized pizza on your own, Howie’s offers a smaller Petitz’a, which is their individual-size pizza, for about half the price of a full size. Any pizza on the menu is available as a Petitz’a.

Sharing with someone else and can’t decide between two favorites? You can get a full-sized half-and-half pizza for a small upcharge ($1). (Half-and-half is not available in the smaller, Petitz’a size.)

Can't decide on just one? How about a half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

Can’t decide on just one? Try this half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

If you’re eating light and opt for a salad, know that Howie’s salad plates are substantial — plenty for a meal or to share if you’re also splitting an appetizer or a pizza. Among the five salad choices are classics, such as Mixed Greens and Caesar. You can add grilled chicken to any salad for an upcharge.

If you’re pizza-ed out or just looking for something different, check out the Burgers and Such section of the menu. Options include a variety of sandwiches from the Howie’s Burger (pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, pickle, and of course, a secret sauce) to a classic grilled cheese with marina sauce for dipping (perfect for the kids). Non-meat and vegetarian options are available, including a Caponato Melt with eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini, olives, mozzarella, fresh basil, and parmesan.

Phew! If you’ve still got room for dessert (you go!), Howie’s does offer a few home-style, comfort-food choices: Banana Cream Pie, Seasonal Fruit Crisp for Two, and a Cookie Plate. Servers tell me the Banana Cream Pie is a good bet, but I’ll have to report back on that at a later date.

This is the closest I've gotten to dessert at Howie's Artisan Pizza

This is the closest I’ve gotten to dessert at Howie’s Artisan Pizza

Although Howie’s “opened quietly this week,” as Bulka put it, it’s not likely to stay quiet for long. Bulka and staff are chatting with customers, taking suggestions, and tweaking things to, as Bulka put it, “get it right.” They’re definitely on their way. With a casual vibe, comfort-food menu, plenty of seating, and central Redwood City location, this could be your new mid-Peninsula spot.

Have you visited the new Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City yet? Share your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Details
What: Howie’s Artisan Pizza
Where: 837 Jefferson Avenue, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: 650-391-9305
Hours: 11:30am-2pm and 5–9:30pm daily
Parking: Street, garage, and public lots (pay)

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?

Drink Local: Finding Your Bliss

February 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s 3pm, and you’re looking at a jam-packed few hours between now and dinner time. Maybe you’ve got back-to-back meetings or are shuttling the kids to and fro — or a combo of the two. How about a caffeine fix to get you through the rest of the day? If you work or live near downtown Redwood City, take a break from the chain coffee shops and check out the new kid in town: Bliss Coffee on Broadway.

Find your bliss on Broadway in Redwood City

Find your bliss on Broadway in Redwood City

Owners Jimmy Huang and Kevin Lei are local guys who have made good on their goal to create a San Francisco-style coffee shop on the Peninsula. The shop, which has been open since September 2014, is a light-filled space with a modern aesthetic. While the shop’s modern look, ample seating, and free wi-fi might appeal to San Francisco-based commuters, it’s the coffee that’s bringing local customers back. During a recent visit, I had a chance to chat with Huang, who says that business is growing, and that they’ve had “a positive response from the community.”

Bliss is all about making and serving great coffee, and that starts with the beans. Huang and Lei have partnered with local and regional roasters who work directly with coffee growers to forge relationships that emphasize sustainability, as well as fair labor and wage practices. Currently Bliss serves coffee from Verve (Santa Cruz), Chromatic (San Jose), Four Barrel (San Francisco), and Temple (Sacramento). Good inventory management is essential for creating flavorful, fresh coffee, so Bliss orders only what they need and keeps their beans no longer than 10 days.

The guys trained with the Four Barrel folks to hone their barista skills and can turn out your favorite drink with an artistic touch. Customer favorites and most-ordered drinks include espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos. Lately they’ve been getting more requests for the newly popular Flat White, too. Customize your drink with the usual dairy milk options, or go non-dairy with almond or soy milk. Want to really treat yourself? How about an affogato (espresso shot with vanilla ice cream from Palo Alto’s Tin Pot Creamery) or a Nutella Latte.

Yes, you read that right: Nutella Latte, a latte with a scoop of Nutella. Coffee + chocolate + hazelnut + steamed milk = (dare I say it?) Bliss. Oh, and if you need any more incentive to try this liquid treat, today is World Nutella Day…  just sayin’.

Nutella Latte: Coffee, steamed milk and a SCOOP of Nutella

Nutella Latte: Coffee, steamed milk, and a SCOOP of Nutella

If you’re not a coffee drinker, don’t let that keep you from visiting Bliss Coffee! Housemade non-coffee drinks include an assortment of freshly made Republic of Tea teas, iced barley tea, their own VB Pop (vanilla bean-infused syrup and sparkling water), and a TCHO hot chocolate worth trying.

Better get there early! It's slim pickin's after 2:30

These tasty treats go quickly; get in early if you want your favorite

While drinks are the draw, you won’t go hungry at Bliss. The pastry case is stocked with daily deliveries of sweet and savory pastries from the East Bay’s Starter Bakery, including quiches, tarts, and cookies. During a recent visit I treated myself to a seasonal pear tart that was just delish: red-wine poached pears, frangipane, and toasted almonds in a crisp tart shell.

Seasonal fruit tart from Bliss' pastry case

Seasonal fruit tart from Bliss’ pastry case

Huang says that, going forward they’d like to include pastries from a Peninsula-based bakery, and possibly gluten-free options, but so far the challenge has been finding a local business that can keep up with demand and deliver fresh pastries every day. (Any 650 bakeries up to the task? Raise your hands!)

Drinks and eats are all available to go, so you can get your Bliss on the run. Of course, if you’ve got a little time on your hands, order your favorite drink, find a sunny spot, and indulge in a few moments of quietly catching up on email or just watching the world go by.last-shot

Details
What: Bliss Coffee
Where: 2400 Broadway Street, #110, Redwood City, California
Phone: 650-260-4356
Hours: Mon–Thu 7am–6pm; Fri–Sat 7am–5pm; Sun 8am–4pm
Parking: Street (meter)

Have you discovered Bliss Coffee? What’s your favorite drink? Share in the comments below.

Eat Local: La Biscotteria in Redwood City

December 31, 2014 § 2 Comments

Had enough of year-end wrap-ups, lists, and “best of’s”? Me too. Sure, it’s nice to see a year’s worth of progress and celebrate the successes (especially if you’ve got a glass of bubbly in hand), but let’s look forward, not back. Rather than review all the delicious food finds, seasonal cocktails, and food travel experiences of the past year (and there were lots!) I thought I’d share a new experience and end the year on a sweet note.

After my day of food in Boston, I was craving (yes, craving) cannoli. Cannoli! I’d forgotten how much I lurve it, and why the hell didn’t I indulge more often? Oh, wait, that’s right… a 40-minute drive to North Beach. And then the hunt for parking. In that neighborhood. Um. Nope. (Geez, have I become that suburban? You betcha.)

And then, as I was sitting on the flight home from Boston, it hit me in a total-face-palm kinda way: I could get cannoli right here in the 650. Not frozen grocery-store cannoli or wanna-be cannoli, but fresh, local, handmade cannoli! If you live on the peninsula, maybe you know where I’m headed with this… a place on El Camino Real that I’ve driven right past every day for years: La Biscotteria.

A warm welcome as you enter La Biscotteria

The entrance is part of the charm

If you’re not familiar with this place, let me bring you up to speed! Run by husband-and-wife team Augustine and Angela Buonocore, it’s a little jewel-box of a shop with a powerhouse of a kitchen that turns out wholesale and retail Italian pastries of both the sweet and savory kind. Not only does La Biscotteria make the shop’s namesake item (biscotti) in about a dozen flavors, but they also make a delectable assortment of sweet pastries, savory focacce, and pastas and sauces. Their tagline — “From our garden to your home”– echoes their committment to using fresh, local, and organic ingredients, some of which come right out of their own garden.

In the case: classic panettone, sfogliatelle, and cannoli

In the case: classic panettone, sfogliatelle, and cannoli

La Biscotteria is a family-run business with local roots and a true neighborhood vibe. Augustine, a master baker and pastry chef, is a Redwood City native who comes from a food-business family (his grandfather was a co-owner of the California Macaroni Company in San Francisco). The sweet and savory pastries are influenced by his Italian-American heritage and family recipes. Angela, who runs the front of the house, has such a warm and friendly manner that you feel like you’ve known her for ages. Have a question about ingredients? Want to know which items are gluten-free? (Gluten-free treats? Oh yes, indeed!) Need a special order or a gift basket? Angela will hook you up!

With so many tasty options, where’s a girl to start? Focus was key for my first visit to La Biscotteria. Yes, it’s easy to get distracted by all the deliciousness available. I had to keep reminding myself that I was there for the cannoli, but in the end, I couldn’t resist sampling an assortment of La Biscotteria’s specialty pastries. (I could claim professional interest — but let’s face it: pastry is my thing. I love well-made, sweet things of all kinds.) So here’s my pastry roundup of treats to try from La Biscotteria. (Look for reports on some of La Biscotteria’s other goodies during the new year.)

Cannoli
The base for La Biscotteria’s cannoli is a perfectly cooked, crispy shell that is filled to order with your choice of traditional filling (lightly sweetened ricotta with mini chocolate chips, garnished with the best candied cherries I’ve ever tasted) or chocolate-kahlua filling. While the traditional and chocolate-kahlua versions are available year-round, one seasonal flavor — pumpkin (yes, it’s delish) is available in limited supply during the holiday season.

classic-cannoli-sideview

Traditional cannoli

The cannoli fillings are rich and flavorful, and like traditional Italian pastries, not overly sweet. Of the three options, the chocolate-kahlua is the sweetest — although still not sweet by American standards — with a flavor that is more chocolate than coffee (so if you’re a chocolate fan, this one’s for you!). I had a hard time choosing a favorite between the chocolate-kahlua and traditional, until I realized that I didn’t have to choose. I could have both.

Almond Torte
Confession #1: the almond torte was a total impulse buy during my second visit to La Biscotteria. I’d already placed an online order of other items and was just stopping in for a quick pickup, but the torte caught my eye. Then I overheard Angela talking about how good the torte tasted, and I was hooked. Yes, please.

almond-torte

Almond torte

The almond torte comes in two sizes: small (4″) and large (9″). It’s rich, so don’t be put off by the size. A small torte could easily provide a nice, small dessert for 2-4 people. A thin, cookie-like pastry shell holds a layer of berry marmalade topped with an almond filling that is a cross between cakey and marzipan-y. If you love marzipan and jam, this is your, er, jam. Confession #2: totally addictive. Confession #3: This + a fresh pot of coffee or tea? Best. Breakfast. Ever.

Snowballs
These seasonal treats — available around Christmas time — are the size of baseballs, deceptively simple in appearance (but not taste!), and light as a feather. Well, ok, maybe not quite that light, but as desserts go, these beauties manage to combine a light texture with rich flavor.

snowballs

Snowballs!

Two layers of yellow sponge cake are filled with a layer of Italian pastry cream AND a layer of raspberry marmalade (oh my…), then covered in a light buttercream and rolled in shredded coconut. As I said: this baby is light and soft in texture, but rich in taste. It’s the kind of indulgence that you might share with a special someone, but only if he or she has been very (and I do mean very) good.

Cuccidati
Cuccidati are another holiday pastry that are available only around Christmas time. Again, deceptively simple in appearance, cuccidati delivers big on flavor.

cuccidati

Cuccidati (holiday special)

Cuccidati are available in two sizes: large are sold singly, while minis are sold in a gift box of about a dozen. The large (which I “sampled”) is about the size of hand pie: approximately 3″ x 5″. The pastry is much like a once-baked biscotti dough (remember: biscotti means “twice-baked”), with the same flavor, but more like a firm cookie pastry. The pastry crumbles nicely, rather than shattering. The filling, which consists of dried fruits, citrus peels, nuts, spices, cocoa, and liqueurs brought back all the memories of my Auntie Pam’s mince pies and just said “Christmas” to me. For a truly indulgent experience, enjoy cuccidati with an aged madeira or Amaro Nonino.

Chocolate-Covered Amaretti
I will tell you straight up that I am crushing hard on this particular pastry. It’s another impulse buy that totally surprised me. And for those of you who are gluten-restricted, rejoice. This treat is gluten-free!

Amaretti are an almond-based cookie, much like the French macarons that are now all the rage. The Italian version typically consists of ground almonds (almond meal), sugar, and egg whites. It’s less colorful than the French version, with a more pronounced almond flavor.

While the ingredient list sounds simple, it takes practice and skill (and the right oven) to produce the perfect texture and flavor. La Biscotteria’s version has soft, marzipan-like texture, which is topped with a layer of dark-chocolate ganache, then finished with a thin, crisp layer of tempered dark chocolate. If you like marzipan and dark chocolate — or know someone who does — get this. Foodgasms. Seriously.

chocolate-amaretti

Chocolate-covered amaretti

So how can you get your hands on La Biscotteria’s goodies? If you’re in the Bay Area, and can plan ahead, place your order on their website for pickup Tuesday – Saturday (place your order 2 days in advance). If you like to live dangerously, La Biscotteria is open for walk-in business on Saturdays, when you can buy foccaccia, individual cannolo, individual sfogliatelle, and some seasonal items. You can also order some items for shipping. (Unfortunately, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and focacce are too delicate to ship and are only available at the bakery.)

Have you visited La Biscotteria and tried their pastries? Share your favorites in the comments section below.

Details
What: La Biscotteria
Where:2747 El Camino Real, Redwood City, CA 94061
Parking: Street parking or lot (shared with Ayar’s Produce Market)
Phone: 650-366-4888
Email: bakery@labiscotteria.com
Hours: Tues – Fri: 6 am – 4 pm, Sat: 6 am – 4 pm
(Focacce Pick Up after 10am)
CLOSED December 28 – January 7, 2015

Feed Local: Putting the “Giving” in Thanksgiving

November 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

What are you doing for Thanksgiving? It’s the question of the week, right?! We’re all asking each other whose house are you going to? and whatcha making? and who’s cooking? We’re digging up those old family recipes or searching the interwebs for last-minute genius side dishes and turkey hacks. We’re pulling out the stretchy pants and planning on lively, filling dinners followed by food coma and football. And leftovers — ohmergawd, leftovers! Not only are we planning how we’ll fill ourselves to capacity and beyond on Thursday, but how we’ll indulge in it all over again on Friday (pumpkin pie for breakfast, of course!). Hey, I’m right there with you.

Fixin's for Thanksgiving dinner!

Fixin’s for Thanksgiving dinner!

And yet, as I’m making my own Thanksgiving menu and dreading that last-minute trip to the grocery store, I’m also thinking about the fact that not everyone in the 650 will be celebrating with big meals. And some families will struggle to celebrate at all.

In San Mateo county, the heart of the 650, almost 12% of the population is food insecure. (Want more info? Check out Feeding America’s website.) I don’t want to be a big downer after I got you all excited about a food fest that is less than 48 hours away; I really don’t. And yet, the fact remains that food insecurity exists right here in our community, and no one should have to miss out on a healthy, home-cooked meal for the holidays. Good news: there’s something you can do to provide food to those who need help this holiday season. (And that would be the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.)

Feed Local: Whole Foods Market “Food Four More” Program
Did you know that $10 can provide a meal for a family of four? From now until December 24, Peninsula-region Whole Foods Markets are running a donation program called “Food Four More,” which benefits Second Harvest Food Bank. It’s simple and brilliant.

Stop in at a Whole Foods Market in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, or San Mateo to support "Food Four More" with a donation

Stop in at a Whole Foods Market in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, or San Mateo to support “Food Four More” with a donation

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Visit a Peninsula Whole Foods Market store: Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, or San Mateo.
  2. Make a donation to Food Four More at any checkout stand.

The money goes to Second Harvest, which uses it to feed the 1 in 10 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties who rely on their services. While any amount is helpful, needed, and welcomed, I like knowing how my dollars translate in terms of a meal: $10 = food for four people. Simple. Think about it — for what you might spend on two pumpkin spice lattes, you can give a local family a lunch or dinner. How cool is that?!

If you shop at Whole Foods, simply add the donation to your grocery bill when you check out (your cashier should ask you, but feel free to volunteer). Even if you’re not a Whole Foods shopper, you can stop into any Peninsula WF location and make a donation at a register — no purchase required!

Feed Regional: Farm Fresh to You “Donate-a-Box, Help Heal Hunger”
Want to extend your gift of food beyond the 650? Farm Fresh to You, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program of Capay Farms, is now offering the opportunity to donate a box of fresh, organic produce to a regional food bank within California. If you’re a Farm Fresh to You customer, log into your Farmstand to learn the different ways in which you can donate. Donations can be made at any time or as part of your weekly box customization.

Fresh, organic produce like this could be donated to a California food bank of your choice

Fresh, organic produce like this could be donated to a California food bank of your choice

If you’re not a Farm Fresh to You customer, you can still particpate in this donation program without subscribing to the service or making any other purchases (<– clicky here to find out more). You can choose the box size for donation and the food bank partner that will receive it. If you’d like to make a recurring donation, you can create an account the website.

See how easy it can be to share the holiday spirit and help feed your community? Are there other food-related programs in the 650 or beyond that you support (or would like to)? Share your suggestions in the Comments section below.

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.

 

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