May 14, 2020 § 2 Comments
I’ve been going back and forth about whether to post about my first—and what has turned out to be only—visit to Nam Vietnamese Brasserie in Redwood City. Initially, I had planned to write a short post about the restaurant’s February 25 opening-night dinner service—not the usual deep dive, just a quick look at the opening-night experience of this new and much-anticipated, fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant from Anne Le Ziblatt, former owner of Tamarine in Palo Alto and Bong Su in San Francisco.
Generally, I prefer to visit a restaurant a couple of times before writing about it. You never know when a server or the kitchen might have an off night, so I think it’s only fair to average the experiences. And opening night, while exciting, can be rife with kinks that need to be worked out. Nam’s opening night was frenetic but appeared successful: a line out the door, a packed house, and runners doing their best to drop dishes at the right tables. The noise level was crazy. Things got so busy that runners stopped delivering a special amuse-bouche an hour or so after service started.
The space, formerly occupied by The Striped Pig, is small—seating about 40 people—and at the center are two communal dining tables that seat 14 people each. A dining bar fronts the kitchen, separated by glass, so that diners can watch the action. Two-tops along the front window and adjacent wall round out the seating. I arrived 45 minutes into service, and diners ahead of me were hanging out, waiting for space to open up.
In its incarnation as The Striped Pig, this space on Main Street was dark and cozy, with a linger-awhile vibe. Nam’s decor is bright and modern, blending elements of clean-lined mid-century modern with Southeast Asian touches, such as the woven-basket light fixtures above the communal tables. Eye-catching murals fill wall space in the dining area and near the restrooms.
My friend Kye, who joined me for dinner that night, and I each ordered a dish from the three menu categories—Soup, Grill, Sides—so that we could try as many dishes as possible. At the time, the menu offered five soups in two sizes; most of the soups on the menu were gluten-free, and one was also vegetarian. The small size was a substantial bowl, especially if you’re ordering other dishes.
My soup choice was South (Nam Noodle), which had a pork and chicken bone broth with rice noodles, prawns, and slices of pork.
Kye opted for the Udon, which had the same broth, but with rock crab and nicely chewy tapioca noodles. Additional condiments customized the flavor of each soup, giving the Udon a spicier, richer flavor and the South a lighter, slightly saltier flavor. Both were memorable, and each would be a satisfying standalone meal.
The Grill section of the menu had four options (tofu, chicken, pork, beef) which could be paired with one of three bases: rice, vermicelli, or greens. The tofu and pork options were gluten-free. We ordered the crispy chili-lemongrass tofu over greens and the Hanoi pork with rice. Portion sizes were main-course sized and could be shared family-style.
We rounded out our tastings with the Spring Rolls and Imperial Rolls from the Sides section of the menu. Both contain pork and shrimp, but could be made vegetarian on request. Only the fresh spring roll is gluten-free.
At the end of the meal, I decided to hold the post until I could make a visit in March to take additional photos and try a couple of dishes again. I was curious about how the menu and clientele would settle out in the coming weeks. I think you know what happened next. We were starting to see the effects of COVID19 at the end of February, and during the next couple of weeks, things changed rapidly. I wasn’t able to get back to Nam before the Bay Area’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) order came down.
With the uncertainty that followed, it didn’t make sense to post about the dine-in experience at a restaurant that could be closed indefinitely. I backburned the post. Also, like a lot of people, I was just trying to find my groove with the SIP. There were adjustments to make to life as we knew it, and the first couple of weeks were a bit of a daze. Since then, like a number of other Bay Area restaurants, Nam moved to a delivery/pickup model. The online menu has evolved from the opening-night menu I saw back in February, and dining in isn’t an option (obviously).
As I was reviewing my notes and photos from that night in February, I was struck by what we’ll likely now refer to as “the old normal”—sitting elbow-to-elbow at a community dining table, standing in line without being six feet apart, sharing tastes with friends without hesitation. No masks or gloves. Employees and diners alike, leaning in close to hear each other talk above the din.
Yesterday, I was working on a Spanish assignment with a classmate on Zoom. We were practicing a new verb tense by asking each other questions and coming up with answers. Her question to me: what I would do right now if COVID19 didn’t exist? I didn’t really need to think about it. I told her I would go to a restaurant and have dinner with a friend. For her, it would be having a coffee with a friend—at a coffeeshop. Almost nine weeks into sheltering, the Bay Area is slowly moving into Phase 2 of reopening, but dining in restaurants is not yet an option. At this point, it’s hard to imagine getting back to that place. In the meantime, we might just have to rely on memories.
What: Nam Vietnamese Brasserie
Where: 917 Main Street, Redwood City, CA 94062
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 4:30–8:30 p.m.
November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is the final of a three-part series covering my food adventures during a roadtrip to California’s Central Coast this past summer. Need to catch up? Check out #TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO and #TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo.
Generally I don’t like to bring my personal stuff to the blog, but hey, this is a food blog and that means writing about food issues. So, true confession time: what I’ve been a bit cagey about in these trip reports is the fact that prior to hitting the road back in July, I was retooling my personal diet to deal with a slew of moderate food allergies and sensitivities.
By “moderate,” I mean that none of my food allergies are of the must-carry-Epi-Pen kind (although I do own one), but they’re enough to be uncomfortable, and in some cases, require a Benadryl stat. Dealing with this sort of thing as a culinary professional and someone who loves food has been, well, a pain in the ass. I’m fortunate, though, in that my reactions are manageable and not life-threatening (so far).
This past summer I decided to see what life was like when I 86-ed the biggest offenders: nuts, uncooked stone fruit, avocados, as well as wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Of course, how to manage those choices on the road became an interesting project, but I like a good food challenge. I’m always keeping an eye out for dietary options that extend beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes or fast-food approach.
San Luis Obispo had been a sweet surprise in terms of food options — from the meatiest of meat options for omnivores to the variety of alterna-diet-conscious restaurants for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks. I’d had a couple of big days out food-wise, already, and as I left SLO and headed to the coast, I was looking for more casual, walk-in fresh food options. Here’s what I found along the way. (Important to know for gluten-free diets: I didn’t ask these restaurants how they’re managing potential gluten cross-contamination, so if you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, be sure to contact them directly for more information.)
Mon Ami Creperie Cafe, Pismo Beach
Through some interwebs searching, I found this small cafe, which offers savory and dessert crepes, as well as paninis, smoothies, and coffee drinks. The space has a casual, coffee-shop hangout feel, and the staff is super friendly and accommodating. Crepes and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and there are gluten-free options!
I went with the gluten-free crepes filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese (a variation of the vegetarian panini filling).
The crepe was cooked perfectly, and while I was concerned that a gluten-free crepe might have a gummy texture, this was absolutely not the case. The crepe itself was thin and light. The filling had an equal balance of sauteed vegetables and melty mozzarella cheese. The dish was light, yet filling, so I had no room to try the dessert crepes (wom wom), but that’s just another reason to plan a future visit.
Duckie’s Chowder House, Cayucos
For a small town, Cayucos has a good variety of food choices, from upscale dining to gas-station tacos. I spent two nights in Cayucos, which wasn’t nearly enough to try all the places I discovered in town. Sticking to my plan for budget-oriented, casual meals, Duckie’s Chowder House was my first stop.
Duckies is a family-friendly seafood-focused spot where you line up to place your order and staff members deliver it to your table. Touristy? Yep, a bit, but it’s also a solid seafood-based restaurant located across from Cayucos Beach. If you’re looking for a beach-town experience, this is it. The restaurant packs out during warm summer evenings, so if you can’t find a spot to sit, or don’t want to wait for a table, you can always take your order to go.
The menu is broad, American-style and has options for most diets: salads, fried or grilled seafood options, as well as sandwiches. Vegetarian and vegan options include salads and the ubiquitous Gardenburger, as well most of the sides. If you’re a DIY type, you could easily assemble a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner by ordering sides of rice, black beans, steamed veggies, and corn tortillas.
Of course, if you’re pescetarian, Duckie’s is a no-brainer. There are plenty of fried seafood options, but if you’re eating clean or gluten-free, choose the shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, or Duckie’s Bowl. Duckie’s Bowl includes your choice of protein — shrimp or blackened, sautéed or grilled fish — served over rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.
Sebastian’s Store, San Simeon
If you’re visiting Hearst Castle, you’re a captive market when it comes to dining choices, and my primary recommendation is to take your own food and picnic in the parking lot. However, if you’re feeling peckish after touring the castle and didn’t BYO, skip the high-priced options at the visitor center and head down to Sebastian’s Store on Highway 1.
The historic building sits in a quiet, pastoral spot on the ocean side of Highway 1, about a mile north of the Hearst Castle Road entrance. (Note that Sebastian’s cafe also shares space with the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting bar, so you can always opt for the liquid snack, if nothing on the food menu suits you.)
The blackboard cafe menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and is definitely meat-heavy, with a focus on burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Vegetarian options include the Greek salad, Black Bean Veggie Cheeseburger, and possibly a special request to make one of the sandwiches (turkey, perhaps) vegetarian style.
Pescetarian options are limited to the Swordfish Sandwich and Grilled Fish Tacos. I went with the fish tacos, which are served on corn tortillas with a slaw and creamy sauce. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh. The staff is friendly and service is brisk, and this cafe comes with a good serving of history, not to mention a lovely view.
Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
There’s no lack of fish tacos in Cayucos, but Ruddell’s Smokehouse serves some of the best on the Central Coast. This tiny, lunch-only place serves sandwiches, salads, and soft tacos. The kicker? They do their own in-house hot smoking of the meat and fish used in their dishes.
Meat and fish lovers will be happy with the variety of deliciousness, with the taco category providing the largest range of options: choose from shrimp, albacore, ahi, salmon, pork, or chicken (yes, all smoked in-house) for your tacos. Vegetarians get an option in each category, too: taco, sandwich, and salad. Pickin’s are slimmer for gluten-free folks and vegans, as you’re limited to a salad. However, if fish is part of your diet, you must try the house-smoked salmon in some form or another — it’s that good.
I went with the Smoked Salmon Tacos. They’re dressed with a creamy sauce and a “salad” of apple, carrot, celery, lettuce and tomatoes that provides crunch, sweetness, and a bit of acidity that offsets the complex, rich flavor of the smoked salmon. As I mentioned, Ruddell’s is tiny, with only a couple of tables out front for seating, so most people take their food to go. I found a nice spot across the street at Cayucos Beach where I could people watch and enjoy the warm sunny day along my new favorite fish tacos.
All in all, my roadtrip to the Central Coast and back was a great getaway: perfect weather, a good dose of California history and landmarks, and some memorable food. A couple of towns in particular have captured my heart, and I’m looking forward to future visits (and more fish tacos!).
Have you visited California’s Central Coast? Share your food experiences in the comments below.
May 27, 2015 § 5 Comments
Last year I posted a recipe for Spring Vegetable Broth, which in retrospect, should have been titled “Year-Round Vegetable Broth.” Although the vegetables called for hit that seasonal sweet spot between late winter and early spring, you’re likely to be able to find the ingredients (or flavorful substitutes) just about any time of year here in the 650.
I’ve been making this broth for years; it’s a staple in my kitchen. Healthful, low-fat, and fresh, it has been the basis for so many comforting soups, rice dishes, and pastas. Making broths and stocks are a great way to use up wilty and just-about-out-the-door vegetables and herbs, leftover peels, and a variety of vegetable bits and bobs. Spring Vegetable Broth is the kind of recipe that not only offers a simple and useful way to reduce food waste in the kitchen, but also encourages creative, to-your-taste cooking.
Truth be told, I never make this broth exactly the same way twice. I’ve substituted yellow carrots for orange, sweet potatoes for butternut squash, dried thyme for fresh… you get the idea. And yet, every time, I end up with a flavorful broth that is good its own or as the basis of a homemade soup.
The by-product of this tasty broth is what I’ve referred to as the vegetable “smoosh.” After boiling the vegetables, herbs, and spices in filtered water for an hour or so, you press everything through a strainer to extract all of that brothy goodness. What you’re left with is a small pile of smashed vegetables that look something like rough baby food. And what do you do with this smoosh? Well, for lack of a better idea, it’s likely to end up in the green bin or compost pile. But what if you could use it for another recipe? A two-for-one deal, if you will. That would be a big win in the weekly war on food waste at home!
That’s the question I’ve been considering for the past year or so: what if you could make something out of the leftovers of making broth? For starters, it’s not much to look at — boiled down, smashed vegetables. Then there’s the fact that some of the flavor has been extracted for the broth. And yet, it just seems like such a waste to toss out what amounts to about a pound of rough vegetable mash. It is, after all, still food. Making something out of it would not only reduce food waste, but let you benefit twice from the money spent on those vegetables in the first place.
With a little doctoring, it turns out that vegetable smoosh is a good base for homemade veggie burgers! The first step? Make sure you’ve strained as much liquid as possible out of the vegetable mash. Once you’ve got a fairly dry and chunky mixture of vegetable smoosh, adding brown rice and bread crumbs give some substance to the mix and absorb any remaining liquid. Adding an egg helps bind everything together and adds a little fat (not a bad thing). The vegetable flavors are muted, so you’ll need to add herbs and spices that accent the vegetables without overwhelming them. Finally, a two-step stove-top cooking method lets you get a crisp exterior on the burgers, while cooking them thoroughly.
Recipe: Veggie Smoosh Burgers
Yield: 4 small burgers (approximately 3″ patties)
You’ll need to make sure that you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible from the vegetable smoosh before making the burgers, which means putting some muscle into the straining part of making the broth. (Note that this recipe calls for 8 ounces of vegetable smoosh, although a full batch of Spring Vegetable Broth should produce about 1 pound of smoosh, enough for a double-batch of burgers.)
Serve these burgers on a bun with your favorite toppings, or bunless alongside a seasonal, fresh green salad. Mild tomato-based sauces, such as pico de gallo and homemade ketchup complement the delicate vegetable flavor of these burgers, as do carrot-top pesto or hummus.
What you need:
Plate for breading the patties
12-14″ frying pan (or use a 10″ frying pan and cook the patties in two batches)
8 ounces organic vegetable smoosh, leftover from making Spring Vegetable Broth, with as much liquid as possible pressed out
3 ounces cooked organic brown rice
1 ounce dry breadcrumbs, plus 1/2 cup for coating the patties (I used homemade breadcrumbs from spelt bread)
1 tablespoon chopped or snipped fresh chives (1/4″ pieces)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying the patties
- Using a rubber spatula, combine the vegetable smoosh, rice, and breadcrumbs in a medium-size bowl.
- Add the egg, worcestershire sauce, spices, and chives and mix until thoroughly combined.
The mixture should be sticky, but not stiff. You should be able to easily scoop the mixture and form it into a cohesive ball.
- Divide the mixture into four equal-sized portions (approximately 3.5 ounces each). Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it into a patty.
The patties should be about ½” thick and about 3″ in diameter.
- Pour the additional ½ cup of breadcrumbs onto a plate for coating the patties.
- Press both sides and the edges of each patty into the breadcrumbs, coating completely.
When all patties are coated in breadcrumbs, set aside while you heat the pan for frying.
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan and heat on high until the oil glistens but doesn’t smoke.
Swirl the oil around the pan to coat the bottom completely.
- Place the patties in the pan and cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
- Turn the heat back up to high, flip the patties, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Again, cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Where: 321 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 11:30am-10pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Bar: No bar per se, but beer on tap