Red Jade


(photos taken from Check Please, Bay Area site.)

One show we like to watch is Check Please, Bay Area.  There are a few Check Please shows around the country, and I think it started in Chicago.  It’s on PBS, and the idea is that three local viewers each recommend their favorite restaurant, all three go (separately) to all three restaurants, and they then come and talk about what they liked and didn’t like about all three restaurants.

Maya and I watched a new episode last night, and the one restaurant that all three participants liked was Red Jade, a Mandarin restaurant on Church street in San Francisco.  They talked about how amazing the green onion pancakes were, and how you could get dishes there that you cannot find in most Chinese restaurants, like lamb and ostrich.  Watching the show made the hamburgers I had planned for our meal start to look pretty boring, so we decided to drive into the City and give it a shot.

Unfortunately, everyone else watched that same episode of Check Please, and the staff was completely overwhelmed.  There was a line out the door, and a local commented that there was NEVER a line out the door for Red Jade.  We got to chatting with the people in line, and both the people in front and behind us were there because of the show.  On Check Please, all three reviewers commented on the quick, friendly service.  Our waiter threw our place settings on the table, brought us some tea, and then dissapeared for about 20 minutes.  By dissapeared, I don’t mean he was hiding in the back with a cigarrette, but that he was running around the restaurant trying to deal with the crowd.  They deliver to the neighborhood, and it looked like there were two or three people just taking and dealing with phone orders, and two or three working the actual restaurant.  They may need to bring in a few more people for a little while.

One dish we had to try was the green onion pancake, which the reviewers all loved, and the one Chinese reviewer declared “to die for”, and the “best in the Bay Area”.  We found it to be somewhat bland, and while it was crispy and crunchy on the outside, it was a tad undercooked inside.  I would pass next time, and maybe try an appetizer of Dim Sum.  After we finished our green onion pancake, we had to wait quite awhile for the overwhelmed kitchen to put out our entrees.  I watched as a diner at a neighboring table became visibly frustrated by the rushed and inattentive service.  We had to ask for refills on our water, that sort of thing.  We ordered three other dishes, the Happy Family, some General Tso’s Chicken, and Mango Ostrich.  The Happy Family was the stand out dish of the evening.  I’ve never had it before, but the Shrimp, the sauce, the walnuts, and the cantaloupe went together perfectly.  The General Tso’s Chicken was also delicious.  The chicken was crisp on the outside, and tender inside, and the sauce was just spicy enough to be tasty.  I’ll admit that I missed the way it was served in Philadelphia, with broccoli, but otherwise, it was wonderful.   The mango ostrich was so-so.  The meat was very tender, but the mango was chewy and under ripe, and the dish overall somewhat bland.

If I were in the neighborhood and craving Chinese, I would probably go back and hope that the fuss has passed. But I doubt I would drive into the City just to have some of that yummy Happy Family again.

Hola!

margarita

(photo of Cherry’s margarita, via Cherry’s camera.
Me, I take mine blended.  But boy, hers LOOKS good, doesn’t it?)

It’s been a long time since I did a restaurant review here.  Back when I started blogging, my plan was to write about local restaurants, thinking that maybe some people in and around the ‘Creek’ might enjoy reading them.  It didn’t take me long to lose interest in restaurant reviews, and I started writing about other things, whatever I happened to be thinking about kind of things. But once in awhile, a restaurant comes along that deserves mention.  Hola! Restaurant in Burlingame is one such restaurant.   (Looking at their website, I see that there are also locations in Belmont and Carmel…good to know!)

Saturday was a great day…Cherry, Dorothy, Tracy, and I got together to have some yummy Mexican food and Margaritas.  Tracy lives in Los Angeles, and we know her mostly via blog, though Cherry and I have had the good fortune to meet up with her before.  Tracy is moving to Texas very soon, after the close of her play in Los Angeles, but as she has family in Burlingame, she came up for a visit, and we all went to meet her for lunch.  He lovely cousin suggested that if we wanted to go somewhere for a good margarita, we might try Hola!, and thankfully, we did.

Usually when we go out for Mexican food, we end up at a Tex Mex place like Chevy’s, which I like, but I like it for the fajitas and so on.  So at a more authentic type place, I wanted something more authentic.  With three full pages of menu items, I was at a loss as to what to order, so I asked the waitress for help.  She suggested that if I wanted something authentic to the region of Mexico that the restaurant is known for, I should either order the carnitas or the rellenos.  I had been eyeballing both already, but I had two reasons toward leaning towards the rellenos.  First, Dorothy was ordering the carnitas.  There’s no reason for both of us to order the same thing, as we are girls, and with girls, sharing is always an option if someone orders poorly.  Secondly, I have a distinct memory of my Grandpa saying, on more than one occasion when we had stayed a bit too long on a Sunday afternoon when Grandma didn’t feel like cooking, “Let’s go get a relleno”.  I suspect what he meant was a deep fried cheese and chili combination, which doesn’t appeal to me in the least, but still, I was feeling nostalgic.   So, I ordered their version, Rellenos en Nogada, which was amazingly good.  Sadly, when our food was delivered, and Cherry was taking a picture of her beautiful Jumbo Shrimp on cilantro rice dish, I was afraid that I had ordered poorly, and didn’t think to have her take a picture of my rellenos.  Boy, was I wrong.  They were truly, truly yummy and divine and good.  If you’ve never had Rellenos en Nogada, I highly suggest it.  I suggest it so highly that the next time I get the chance, I will indeed order it.  The chili was neither overcooked and soggy, nor crunchy and hard.  The stuffing was of ground beef, garlic, onions, raisins, apricots, and I’m not sure what else.  The juxtaposition of the sweet from the fruit, and the savory from the meat and onion, was tantalizing and wonderful.  The sauce looked like it might be too rich and overpowering, but it was light and delightful.  It was terribly good.  The sauce was a milky walnut, with pomegranate seeds.  Really, really good.  How many times can I say good?  Mmmm.  The green from the peppers, the white from the sauce, and the red from the pomegranates are supposed to represent the Mexican flag.

I tried Dorothy’s carnitas, and they were wonderful.  I didn’t try Cherry’s shrimp, nor Tracy’s vegetarian platter, but they both looked delicious.  The atmosphere was nice, though I can always do without the television over the bar.  The service was very good until we paid our bill.  We stayed for quite awhile afterwards, chatting and visiting, and couldn’t get anyone to come and bring us more water.  Nonetheless, I would readily go back, and happily scarf down some more Rellenos en Nogada.  If you ever find yourself in the area, I suggest you do the same.

Etouffee at the Elite Cafe

Back in the day, that day being our time spent in San Francisco, one of our favorite restaurants was The Elite Cafe. Loved the neighborhood atmosphere of it, loved the oyster bar, loved the cozy booths if you could get them. The blackened steak, awesome. Clam chowder, yummy. But above all, the shrimp etouffee. Tiny rock shrimp in a yummy, yummy sauce. Oh, so very good. Love love loved it. And really, there aren’t many cajun places around here, and if they have an etouffee, it’s usually crawfish, which I just don’t enjoy as much. So, maybe two years ago, I took my friend Neva to San Francisco for the day. We had a wonderful time at some of my very favorite places. It was fun to share ‘my’ city with her, to show her the neighborhoods where I used to live, the restaurants where I used to dine. We went to dinner at the Elite, and they had changed ownership, and nixed the etouffee. ACK! How could they DO that? (Little sidenote here to say that I looked on Citisearch at reviews, and they check pretty often, and reply to folks, and it looks like perhaps they’re planning on bringing back the etouffee at some point…but that comment was kinda old by my impatient standards.) Sorry to say, I’ll not be returning to The Elite Cafe until it’s on the menu. Everything we had there was wonderful, but there are so many wonderful restaurants in the City, and sadly, I want what I want when I go there.

So, what’s a girl to do? I’ll tell you…she makes her own darned etouffee, and hopes for the best. Anyone out there have a great etouffee recipe? I’m thinking I might make this one, which I found on Food Network. It’s a Paula Deen recipe…I’ve never tried any of hers before.

Shrimp Etouffee

1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra flour, optional
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more if desired
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup minced green onions, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
1 (8-ounce) can clam juice
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes (recommended: Ro’tel)
Salt (Cajun seasoning has salt already)
2 pounds small or medium shrimp peeled and deveined (recommended: 31/35 size count)
1/2 stick butter
Rice, optional
Diced green onions, for garnish

Note: To make roux, use oil instead of butter, because butter burns

Make the roux, mix oil and flour in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk flour into the oil to form a paste. Continue cooking over low heat and whisk continuously, until the mixture turns a caramel color and gives off a nutty aroma, about 15 to 20 minutes. To the roux, add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and cook over low heat about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are limp. Add the black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, green onions, parsley, and hot sauce to taste. Add 1 can clam juice and the tomatoes with their juice, stir to blend. Add the salt, starting with 1 teaspoon, then add more if needed. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add shrimp and stir. It will take about 3 minutes for shrimp to cook, don’t overcook. Remove from heat. Add the butter and stir; the heat from the dish will melt the butter. Transfer the etouffee to a tureen, serving bowl, or if you prefer, over rice. Garnish with the green onions.

The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards

Last week, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards catered lunch for the staff at Ted’s work. He came home talking about how delicious everything was, which pretty much made me want some of that for myself. I know, greedy, huh? Well, Ted tends to spoil me and my tendencies, so on Saturday, while Maya was enjoying herself at her BFF’s birthday party/sleepover, he took me there for dinner.

Since the birthday party started at 4:00, we had really early reservations, so we were the first folks there. I don’t think they were technically open yet, actually, because they had us wait in the bar area for a few minutes while they attended to whatever last minute details they needed to attend to. OK by me, we had a drink in the bar, and enjoyed ourselves there for a few. Then they called us into the restaurant. It’s a long room, with light colored walls, plenty of flowers, and of course, big bottles of wine used for decoration. What do you expect at a vineyard? The waitress was professional and friendly, and seemed to know the menu very well. Turns out they change the menu twice a day. Wow. I thought about that, and I decided (Like that? How I just decide how things are, and that’s how they are? Nice, huh?) that they probably have their standard menu items, like their steak, pork chop, and duck. Thinks that aren’t too difficult to get any time of year. Then, they probably find out what is available from local growers, and build the rest of the menu around those items.

Ted said that folks at his work were going ga-ga for the pork chop, so I decided to have that. I started with a salad of lettuces topped with an intriguing sounding cheese, Lamb Chopper. Well, it’s from Cypress Grove, so I had to try it, right? It was delicious and smooth, and the perfect match for the vinaigrette on the salad. Ted started with the Caesar salad, which he said was delicious. My pork chop was huge, it was double cut, and applewood smoked. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a smoked pork chop before. The result was delicious, somewhere between ham and bacon. It was served with roasted Asian pears, which were yummy, and I wish there had been more of them. Ted wanted a lamb dish, but sadly there weren’t any on the menu, so instead he opted for the mesquite grilled filet of beef, which was tender and flavorful. Soooo good. So we had a nice time, watching the restaurant start to fill up as it got closer to 6:00, enjoying our food and each other’s company. I thought I was full, but then they brought out the dessert menu.

I’m not usually a big dessert person. I enjoy them, but if I’m full, I don’t really need to have any. And often, I’ll just consider that second glass of wine as my dessert. But their menu intrigued me to the point that I had to try something. What, you may ask, was so tempting that I couldn’t say no? It was a caramelized pineapple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream. Oh.My.God. SOOO good. The puff pastry was so light and buttery and flaky, the pineapple was juicy and sweet and caramelized, the ice cream was really, really good vanilla ice cream. I ate every single bite. Ted went for the apple bread pudding, which had yummy apples in it, and was served with a heavy cream that had just a touch of orange zest in it, adding a delicious depth of flavor.

Overall, it was a worthwhile and memorable meal. If you ever find yourself looking for a swanky place to go to dinner in Livermore (of all places), don’t hesitate to check out The Restaurant at the vineyards. The view is pretty nice, too. 😉

Outsourced & Zatar

Last Saturday, while I was all grumpy and crisis-of-faithy after picking up the newspaper at breakfast (note to self, funnies only from now on), we decided it would be fun to go to Berkeley to see a nice romantic comedy. You know what? It was! We went to see Outsourced, which isn’t playing yet out in the ‘burbs, hence the driving in to Berkeley.

Outsourced is the story of Todd (aka, Mr. Toad), a call-center manager in Seattle who learns that his call center is going to be closed down, and he must go to India to get the new call-center up and running, as well as to train his replacement. He’s not really keen on the idea, but he wants to keep his job long enough to have the opportunity to vest his stock options, so he does as he is told.

It’s a romantic comedy, so of course he meets a lovely woman, Asha, who opens his eyes to a bit more about Indian culture, as well as helping him to learn more about himself.

I liked the film..it wasn’t full of the same ‘fish out of water’ type gags that you expect when one goes from one culture to another, though there were a few. It didn’t make him look like a big asshole for being American, and it didn’t make the Indians look like simple idiots for not being American. Neither were they sage and wise. They were just people. It was a lovely antidote for what was ailing me. So, if you’re in the mood for a light movie this weekend, pick yourself up, and go see Outsourced. 🙂

Update:  I didn’t realize this about the film, but it is being distributed and sold without a distributor.  That means an extremely limited release in theaters, and the DVD won’t be available via Netflix or Amazon, solely through the film’s website, here.

After the movie, we decided to try a restaurant that we saw on a local PBS show, Check Please, Bay Area. (This link takes you to the reviews for the restaurant from the show.)  Check Please is a homey little show, where people nominate their favorite restaurants to be reviewed. If you are chosen, you go to three restaurants…the one you selected, and those selected by two other participants. You then go on the show, sit around with a glass of wine, and talk about what you liked and didn’t like about each restaurant. It’s pretty groovy. The restaurant we went to was Zatar (restaurant info from Check Please page), a Mediterranean restaurant a few blocks from the movie theater. The food here was SO GOOD, and I’m glad I’m not a vegetarian, because their lamb was to die for. We also had their Mezza sampler, which included Lebna Bil Kusa, Mohamara, and Hummus. Lebna Bil Kusa is a Spread of House-Made Yogurt with Roasted Summer Squash, Sesame & cumin; Mohamara is a Spread of Pomegranate, Roasted Red Peppers & Walnuts, and was our favorite of the spreads. We also had the Vegetarian Moussaka, which was very yummy, though I think perhaps I’m going to try to make a lamb Mousakka sometime soon, because I remember having it once, and it being really good. Everything was flavorful, well presented, and overall yummy.

The owners of the restaurant are the chef and his wife, who runs the front of the house. They maintain their own garden, from which they harvest most of the produce for the restaurant. They are big proponents of organic, sustainable farming, and what they don’t grow themselves, they purchase from local, organic farms. They also have chickens that they use for eggs, and they feed the chickens much of the scraps from the restaurant, which means that there isn’t much waste. The meat is all top of the line Nieman Ranch stuff. The result is that their food is perhaps more expensive than the huge factory-farmed stuff, but it tastes much better, and is better for you.

The two things I didn’t like about Zatar (restaurant website) were that they are cash only, which can be hard to plan for if you haven’t been before (hint, bring plenty, it ain’t cheap), and it’s a very small room. They fill up pretty quickly, and they don’t take reservations for small groups, which means lots of people standing around waiting in a small space, and a line outside. They open at 5:30, and we got there at 5:40, and the restaurant was already over half full. By 6:00, it was SRO. There are only two waitresses, so since everyone came in at once, it took them awhile to get to us with menus, water, and bread. We were almost ready to leave, in fact. Once they got to us, though, everything was friendly and fast and wonderful. So, bring your cash and a bit of patience, and you’ll have a great time.

Sunday in France

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8raqLzb3rQ
This last Sunday, Maya went to spend the day with her BFF, leaving Ted and me on our own. I love Maya so much, and so much of being a parent defines me, that I sometimes wonder what we will do when she has grown up and moved away…days like Sunday remind me…we were fine before we had her, we’ll be fine when she is in college, or married, whatever. Days when we can go and see a movie that we want to see, without worrying whether it’s appropriate for a child or not…dinners at restaurants where we don’t need to think about kid conversation…which no wonder how wonderful the kid, isn’t the same as adult conversation. So.

So, on Sunday, we started out with a film, Two Days in Paris, which was pretty much Julie Delpy’s film. She not only starred in the movie, she directed it, wrote it, edited it, produced it, composed music for it, sang some of the songs, and did some of the still photography. If this movie doesn’t work, I’d say, blame Julie. But it did work. It wasn’t my favorite film ever, but like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, it’s a slice of life where there are moments of hilarity, moments when you feel sorry that the characters in the film have to even deal with each other, and moments when you are slightly bored, though you feel a little bit guilty for being bored. Overall, I liked it, I’d give it 3 1/2 stars out of 5, and recommend it for any adults wanting a nice afternoon movie at the matinee price. The story, since you might want to know, is of Marion and Jack. Marion (Julie Delpy) was born in Paris, but has lived for quite awhile in New York. Jack (Adam Goldberg) is her American boyfriend. They have been together for 2 years, and have just finished two weeks in Italy, and decide to spend two days in Marion’s native Paris on their way home. Well. Marion is 35, and never married, and has been in quite a few relationships along the way. By the 3rd or 4th ex-boyfriend Jack bumps into, he’s starting to wonder if she’s a slut or not. It’s a good thing he doesn’t speak any French, or he’d be truly distressed. Delpy’s real life parents are hilarious as the parents you sure as hell hope you never turn out to be, but boy, they’re funny.

After the movie, we decided we’d go out for a nice dinner. We thought of going to A&Noi, in Concord, since we love their tomato salad and I love their corn soup, but sadly, they’re closed on Sundays. No matter, we decided to continue our French theme, so we went to a local restaurant, Left Bank. Left Bank is kind of hit and miss for us…usually we have yummy food and good service, though every once in awhile they fall flat. I had read a few months ago that they had a new chef, so I was curious. It turns out that they’re currently doing a Tour of France menu…every month, they choose a different region of France, and they come up with an entree, a cheese course, and a wine that represents that region. This month, they are featuring the Cote d’Azur, so the food was somewhat Mediterranean, and very yummy. We had branzani (a fish I had never heard of before, but was kind of like bass) with fennel and bell pepper piperade, Pernod, beurre blanc, fennel confit, cherry tomatoes, and Nicoise olives. It was delicate, flavorful, and very delicious. The cheese course was a lovely, brie-like cheese, with toasted baguette, nectarines, strawberries, and pecans. SO perfect. We had a cheese course in a fancy French restaurant in Philly once, which was kind of overwhelming, whereas this was yummy and just the right amount of rich cheese to sweet fruit, crispy bread, and salty nuts. Delicious.

Overall, I’m going to recommend the movie to any adults out there looking for a quiet afternoon film, and if you can manage it, follow it up with a French meal. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just yummy.

Song to admire France by…LaLaLa, by Julie Delpy. Does anyone actually click these links and listen? Just wondering…

Miscellany

OK, first things first. Chrissy, Scarlett, and Curiosity Killer have all decided that I’m a Rockin’ Girl Blogger! Tres cool! I think that I am now supposed to pick 5 rockin’ girl bloggers, and nominate them myself. Or award them, to be more precise with my language skills. But here’s the rub…how do I decide, from my many female blogging friends, which ones are rockin’ girl bloggers? How do I say to some, ‘hey, you’re a rockin’ girl blogger’, and not others, who are equally rockin’ in my book? So I’m breaking the rules. No paying this one forward. I suck like that. But you know what? If you are reading this, and you WANT to be a rockin’ girl blogger? Consider yourself awarded the title. Heck, even if you’re a rockin’ boy blogger, and you want to proclaim it to the world, go for it.

Next…on Tuesday, we went to Rivoli for our anniversary dinner. Wow, was it yummy. I started with the Bellwether farm ricotta and pecorino gnocchi with grilled black mission figs, brown butter, toasted walnuts and balsamic syrup ~ YUMMY. I’ve never had figs before, believe it or not, but they were very yummy in this dish. The gnocci were big and fluffy, not at all like the small ones you put together with two forks or buy in the freezer section of your store. They were SO good. Ted started with the Heirloom tomato and toasted pita salad with romaine, feta, mint, scallions and lemon vinaigrette ~ which was not what he was expecting, but he enjoyed it. We sometimes go to a local place, A & Noi, that has a tomato & mozzarella salad that we both LOVE, and I think he was expecting something like that. What he got was a salad that happened to have heirloom tomatoes in it. From there, we moved on to our main course. I had the Grilled salmon with white corn pudding, braised peppers and onions, avocado and cucumber salad and basil vinaigrette ~ um…YUM! The tastes in this dish went SO well together, and the corn pudding was yummy yummy yummy, as was the salmon. Mmmm. Ted had the Grilled leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic with stuffed tomatoes Provençal, blue lake beans, olive relish and aïoli ~ Equally awesome. The combination of the aïoli and the lamb was wonderful. The beans were crisp tender, and very yummy. Overall, it was a two-thumbs up kind of meal, our only sadness that we were too full to order dessert. Sigh. It was a wonderful dinner, and no one tried to steal our reservation this time. BONUS!

By the way, guess who had the whole week off from work? YAY ME! With Tuesday being our anniversary, and Wednesday being the 4th and all, I decided it was stupid to go to work for Monday and then take two days off…so I asked for Monday and Tuesday off, and planned a lovely 5 day weekend for myself. Cool, huh? Then, on Sunday, I received an email from the CEO of our small company, saying that as everyone has been working very hard lately, and we’ve got more projects to gear up for, so we’ll be working hard again, we should all stop and breathe for a minute…so they shut down the company for Thursday and Friday! YAY! So, for the price of TWO vacation days, I got 9 days off of work. LOVE IT. Had time with the whole family, time with friends, time with just Ted, time with just Maya…nice nice nice. Strange to be off of work for 9 days and not go on a vacation somewhere, but kind of relaxing, too. And nice to not be traveling when the roads are crazy busy like a holiday weekend.

While off of work, sleeping in every day, enjoying myself, we have gotten caught up on our Netflix picks. We’ve had a few in the house for awhile now, and just pretty much ignoring them. So, we TRIED to watch Planet Earth, but the disc was damaged, so we had to send it back. (No worries, the replacement arrived yesterday). We watched the newest James Bond movie, which was OK. I’m not a huge Bond fan, but they can be fun. Ted tried to watch Borat, but after the first 1/2 hour and not one laugh, he gave up. We watched the first two episodes of Big Love, which I’ve been curious about, and I liked it, so I’m glad we’ll be getting more soon. Yay Netflix!

To add to the sitting on our butts letting others entertain us, we saw not one, but TWO movies in the theater this week. Maya was at her Ma’s house for a couple of days, so we took the opportunity to catch some PG-13 films. First, we saw Knocked Up, which was pretty funny, full of stupid gags and sweet moments and some actual drama as well. I recommend it. Second, we saw the new Die Hard flik, which was again pretty darned good. Lots of action, Bruce looking old but still badass, and plenty of quips to go around. I ate popcorn with Knocked Up (Yay, popcorn!), but two days in a row would have been too much for me, so none with Die Hard. Maya and her Ma went to see Ratatouille, which they both enjoyed, and I wasn’t really excited about seeing, so that was perfect.

On the 4th, we had family over for some frikkin AWESOME bbq, which we got from Kinder’s Meat in Pleasant Hill. Cherry and Eric had their wedding catered by Kinder’s Meat, and I was thinking about those ribs for days afterwards, so we needed to get some. They rubbed them with a tequila lime rub, and then we baked them in the oven and served them with their signature bbq sauce. Mmmm. We also had the yummy chicken, with the same rub. Very yummy. Oh, speaking of Cherry and Eric, they came over for dinner on Monday, and we had some really yummy pasta with lamb sauce, which maybe I’ll post the recipe for tomorrow or Monday. What was awesome about that was that I packed the cookbook the recipe was in, so I had to work from memory…and it still came out really yummy. 🙂 Yay!

Thursday and Friday, I woke up and went swimming, figuring that the pool would be too hot later in the day. Yay for morning swims! Yay for condos, with pools that are safely fenced in, and I do nothing to help manage! I wonder if I could keep that up all summer, or if blogging and work and walking the dog stuff would get in my way? (Mostly work, sadly…)

Happy Weekend! Now you’re all caught up. Who knows if I’ll have anything left to tell you next week.

What a Weekend!


Our weekend started on Friday, when we went into San Francisco to attend an Ivy League mixer at a club bordering North Beach. We found pretty good parking on a quiet street just three blocks away, and we set off looking for a place to have dinner. There was a fancy looking restaurant right on our street, Myth, and since I was hungry enough that the golden arches were starting to look pretty good, and Ted says no WAY he’s driving into San Francisco and eating THAT crap, we decided to see if we could get a table. Well, all of their tables were booked, but they had room at the bar, where they also serve the full menu. Oh.My.God. So glad we stopped there, rather than the golden arches. Ted ordered the braised octopus, and I ordered the seared marscapone and potato gnocchi with peas, panchetta, and a Parmesan butter sauce. Quite easily the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, and I love gnocchi. Ted’s octopus was mighty tasty, too. We then shared a New York Strip, which came with a huge pile of thin and crispy French fries. They were perfectly prepared and tres yummy. We finished the meal off with dessert of a brownie topped with a peanut butter mousse, served with homemade cracker jacks and a shot of milk. The perfect dessert for us to share, because Ted LOVED the brownie/mousse combo, while I enjoyed the cracker jacks and milk. Yum. The bartender was a wonderful server, too. Loved her. Maybe mostly because she brought us yummy food and drinks when we were SO hungry, but she was also very friendly and efficient, which is a good thing. (sidebar…if we ever win the lotto, I would love to have the celebratory dinner at this restaurant…they had the coolest little banquet rooms, separated from the main dining room by green raw silk curtains. SO elegant!) We then went to the mixer, which was VERY loud, and full of young business school graduates. Yawn. But who knows who you will meet at these things, so it’s worth it to try, right? After that, wandering back to our car, still fat and sassy from our lovely dinner, who should Ted spy next to the car in front of us but a screenwriter who taught a class he was in at San Francisco State way back in 1988. Wow. So we stopped to say hello, and the man was mighty pleased at being recognized on the street, and there was a camerman filming a documentary about said filmmaker, so we’re in the documentary footage…though we’ll probably end up on the cutting room floor. 😉

DSCF1787
Saturday, Ted and Maya took on the huge task of preparing our home to be painted. They moved furniture, primed Maya’s room (It was bubble gum pink, and is now white), purchased paint and supplies, and many other sundry details that had them busy from probably 11:00 until 8:00 that night. Meanwhile, Cherry and I went to a bridal shower, where we got to meet the gorgeous Tracy from the Starshine Report. (I clearly didn’t take enough pictures, as this is the only one I have of all three of us, and it’s blurry…sorry. Hello Melissa, you can kind of see my hair, which isn’t nearly as cool as yours…dang it.) Cherry and I agreed that Tracy has a warm, welcoming family, and we had a wonderful time. If you ever have the chance to get together with Tracy, I highly recommend it. She is exactly how she represents herself on her blog – she represents herself so honestly, that she is just how she seems – funny, warm, happy, and lovely. We had such a nice time meeting her, and her lovely family as well. Saturday evening, while Ted and Maya continued to work prepping the house, I fulfilled a prior commitment and attended a fund raiser auction for Maya’s school.

Sunday was painting day, and we had a ‘painting party’ at our place. Wow, what a lot of work THAT was! We were fortunate that so many friends and family came to help us, so that a job that would have easily taken s at least a week was completed in about 6 hours. HUGE thanks to Laluna, Big Sis, Chee, Chee’s friend Arielle, Cherry, Eric, Ted’s uncle, aunt, and cousin, plus our lovely neighbor, Tracy. Now our little condo looks so bright at fresh, and we are pretty much worn out. What we wouldn’t give for a three day weekend! Alas, here we are, it’s Monday. Hope it’s a good one for you.

Oh, by the way…for those of you who signed up for the interview meme...I haven’t forgotten you…I’ve just been swamped. Hopefully I’ll have the questions out to you today or tomorrow. 🙂

Restaurant Meme

Cafe Esin

Every once in awhile, I feel the need to get back to my Restaurant Reviewing roots…after all, that was my original idea when I started this blog…that I would write about restaurants, because, well, what ELSE would I write about? I don’t have any ideas, so that will do. HA!

Anyway, Friday afternoon, Maya had her friend Jackie over for a sleepover. We quickly discovered that there was no food in the house, so we decided we would go out for dinner (our solution all too often, but we really do enjoy it). Ted wanted to go to a restaurant in San Ramon named Cafe Esin. He had been there a few years ago with his mom, and she still frequents the restaurant, and they both said it is very good. OK. Ted called and made a reservation, and off we went.

One of the odd things about suburbia is how you can find little gems like this in the most unlikely places…Cafe Esin is located in a strip mall, just off of the freeway, close to McDonald’s and a Safeway. Not too impressive. But when we walked in the door, I was very happy to see white tablecloths, candles, and friendly staff. What a nice way to end a week!

There are three components to a good restaurant, in my book, and so many have one or two, but not all three. A good restaurant should have, of course, good food. It should be fresh and flavorful and delicious. Second, it should have some atmosphere. If the restaurant is a greasy spoon, I want it to look and feel like a greasy spoon. You know what you’re getting, then. And third, it should have good service. What that means can vary, depending on the type of restaurant you’re at, but it should always mean friendly people who know their stuff.

Happily, Cafe Esin has all of the above. The food was wonderful. I started with a roasted beet salad, and then had the butternut squash risotto for dinner. I was a bit worried about the risotto, as I generally don’t care for risotto (often it’s gloppy), and with roasted butternut squash, there’s a good chance that it might be overly sweet, or rich, or both. Instead of getting a gloppy too-rich dish served to me, however, I got just what I wanted…creamy risotto, with just the right amount of squash to flavor it and give it texture. Mmmm. Ted started with a Caesar salad, and then had a filo wrapped chicken breast, stuffed with three cheeses and spinach. It was served with couscous and a tomato coulis. He really enjoyed it. Very yummy. Maya had the Meze Platter, which was humus, eggplant, dolmas, tabbouleh, olives, and pita. She filled up a bit on Sprite (they just kept coming…) and didn’t have a LOT of room for dinner, but she did enjoy the hummus and some eggplant. Jackie had a cheese pizza from the kids menu, which she liked, though she feels that she is cursed, because when she eats pizza, often the cheese falls off. She also filled up on Sprite and bread, so not much pizza was consumed.

Being too full for your dinner, however, is completely different from being too full for dessert. I mean, I only ate half of my risotto, and I clearly had a bit of room left. Ted and Jackie ordered Creme Brulee’, which I think was the only disappointment of the evening, as the brulee’ part was maybe too burned or something, and tasted a bit off. The creme, however, was very yummy. I had an apple crisp, which was pretty darned good, but I wish they would have just brought me out a spoonful, rather than the whole thing. Maya won the dessert contest, however, by ordering the Meyer Lemon cheesecake, which was just lemony enough, not overpowering, and creamy and perfect. Sigh.

So, that’s the food. The atmosphere was friendly, yet subdued and pretty. Very nice.

The service, though, was part of what made it such a nice evening, for me. I have a few pet peeves when it comes to dining, especially when we have Maya with us. I do not like it when waiters ignore her, and ask us what she wants. I do not like it when the child’s food is an afterthought, and isn’t brought out until we are both halfway finished with our food. I do not like it when our drinks are refilled quickly, and she is ignored. Happily, none of this happened at Cafe Esin. Though it is not a kid’s restaurant by any means, and I wouldn’t expect them to have a highchair available, they did have a children’s menu, and were clearly prepared to accommodate children. The waiter talked to them with respect, and asked if we wanted their food with our main course, or with our salads. That is much appreciated, as a child who is eating and happy is much more fun to dine with than a child who is hungry and bored. Even when your child is almost 11, and has pretty decent table manners, this is still true. The waiter also refilled their Sprites without having to be asked, another bonus. He knew the menu, knew the restaurant, and seemed to enjoy working there, and he may even like people. What a concept.

Perfect Start to a Weekend…

…lunch with a Republican. Gosh, I never thought I would say those words! HA! But honestly, some of my best friends are Republicans. One such friend is Janet, who lives in NYC. Janet and I met at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA, and became good friends. She is a truly loyal and wonderful friend, though not without her faults, including:

  1. Spoiling my daughter. It was she that started Maya’s American Girl obsession. Maya now has 4 of the things. Janet only bought her one, so it’s not ALL her fault.
  2. Waiting until the last minute to call me and let me know she’s in town. I received a phone call from Janet on Thursday morning. “Hi J, guess where I am?” “I don’t know.” “Stockton.” I screamed in mock horror, because hey, I LIVED in Stockton for 11 years of my life, and that’s almost enough to kill a person. You don’t believe me? Read a bit about my opinions of Stockton, here.

But I digress….so, Janet is in CA for a brief stay, visiting her dad, who still lives in Stockton, and going to San Francisco to hook up with the girls (dang it all, we already had plans, so I had to poop out of that one! Stupid short-notice-giving-Janet!) , and coming here to visit me for lunch. Yay!

We dined at a place that is better for me than for Ted. It’s Va de Vi, downtown Walnut Creek. Ted likes it OK, but the portions are a bit small for him. Being a dainty girl (HA!), I can’t eat as much as a manly-man, so it’s fine for me. Since he wasn’t with us, we decided to go there for a lovely lunch. Yummy.

Va de Vi serves small plates, kind of like Spanish tapas, but it’s more of a fusion restaurant, with a bit of an Asian flair. We ordered several dishes and shared. We started with a lovely Ahi Tuna Tartare, which was served with crispy sesame type wafers, and pickled cucumbers. Mmm. Then we moved on to Seared Day Boat Scallops with a yummy sauce that tasted like it had a thai curry undertone. Scallops can be very tough if they are overcooked, but these were plump and delicious. After that, we had a shrimp risotto that was delicious, though it would have been nice if it came with two prawns on top, so we didn’t have to cut the one that was there in half. We’re good that way, though, and we shared. We moved on from there to lamb sirloin which was skewered on rosemary and served in a very nice sauce. It was perfectly cooked to medium rare, and very tasty. Then we decided we were still a bit hungry (not such dainty girls after all, huh?) so we ordered another Ahi Tuna Tartare. Yummy.

Va de Vi boasts quite a wine list. After all, Va de Vi translates to “It’s about wine” in Catalan. You can order wine by the glass, by the bottle, or in a tasting, or flight. We decided to go for the classic California Chardonnay tasting, which is three half glasses of wine, starting with a light house wine, then a medium intensity Flora Springs, and ending with a very buttery Rombauer. Mmmm.

Overall, it was a perfect afternoon. Janet even behaved herself, and didn’t buy anything she was drooling over at the Coach store. With all of that wine in her, I have to admit, I’m a bit shocked.

I happen to think this was the perfect way to start off a weekend. I may need her to come visit more often. Happy Saturday, everyone!

Weekend…

DSCF1467I wish all weekends could be three day weekends. More specifically, I wish this had been a three day weekend. No worries, though, because we had a lovely time, and got in some touristy stuff, some shopping, and some loafing. 🙂 We started out with Friday night…Ted and LaLuna made a lovely hamburger dinner, which we enjoyed at S’s house, while we watched Battlestar Galactica. Lovely. We had a nice time, and S opened a wonderful bottle of red wine for us to enjoy. After we got home, Maya went to bed, and Ted and I watched Lost, which we had taped on Wednesday.

Saturday, I woke up with a splitting headache…when the weather changes, my sinuses really get me. Red wine makes that even worse. Maybe an allergy to the tannins. After breakfast and some cold & sinus Advil, we took Maya and her best friend into San Francisco (that’s the touristy part), and we went to the Metreon to see the Titanic exhibit. I was really impressed by it, and the overwhelming feeling that I gained was sadness…sad that so many people died. I wondered if perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided if the men on lookout had had binoculars, which were missing due to the rush of trying to get the ship going. Or if the captain hadn’t ignored the warnings of ice. I also felt disgust that the exhibit came out into a gift shop, with overpriced reproductions of dishes and stemware, as well as little beanie baby type bears with ‘Titanic’ shirts on. That seemed like the height of bad taste, to me. After we left there, we went to see the new Bloomingdale’s and the mall attached. I’ll admit that it was a bit too crowded, so we didn’t stick around at Bloomies. Instead, we went to Nordstrom, which suddenly seems like quite the bargain. Ted got a new pair of slacks and some spiffy new shoes, and I got two pairs of pants. Lovely. We came home, the girls had pizza, Ted cooked us a lovely Halibut (good enough for Jehovah), and after the girls went to bed, we watched “Wedding Crashers“. It was cute enough, but I’m glad we didn’t pay to see it in the theater.

DSCF1459Sunday, we slept in, and went to breakfast at Lisa B’s in Danville. We’ve been to this place several times, and I would say it’s hit and miss. This time was a hit. 😉 I had a plate of machaca con huevos, which was VERY good…shredded beef, black beans, tortillas, cheese, sour cream, scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, and avocado. Mmmm. Even better than huevos rancheros. Ted had a french toast casserole, which was french toast with a streudel topping and blueberries baked on. Maya had Belgium waffles, and Jackie had pancakes. Yummy. Then we went grocery shopping, came home, relaxed for a bit, made some mulled apple cider, then went to get some earrings at Claires and Macys.

The evening was spent relaxing, playing Buffy on the XBox, eating dinner, talking on the phone…and that’s it. A lovely weekend. Oh, Maya’s butterfly emerged on Saturday, so we released it on Sunday. So beautiful. I wish she (her name is October) had had a warmer day for her release…but it’s not supposed to be any warmer tomorrow, and you can’t keep them in a little plastic container forever. According to a Native American tradition, we all made wishes before we released her. I hope she does well.

Zachary’s Pizza

If you’re from the Chicago area, you probably can get Chicago style pizza any time you want. I’ve never been closer to Chicago than I-80, driving from San Francisco to Philadelphia, so I don’t know for sure. But if you live in the Bay Area, the best place to get Chicago style pizza is indisputably at Zachary’s. The problem is that Zachary’s is always CROWDED. There is one location in Oakland, another in Berkeley, and the wait is often over an hour. So the ‘in the know’ solution is to get your pizza ‘half baked’, and take it home, finish cooking it there, and enjoy.

Well, good news to those of us on the “wrong side of the tunnel” as I like to say. There’s a brand new Zachary’s restaurant, located in San Ramon, and boy, it’s tasty pizza. If you don’t know Chicago Style pizza (at least what Zachary’s calls Chicago style pizza…like I said, I’ve never been to Chicago), it’s deep dish, which at Zachary’s, means stuffed pizza. From their web site:

  • Different from a traditional “deep dish” pizza or calzone, stuffed pizza is unique.
  • We begin this luscious creation with a bottom layer of dough inside a two inch deep pan.
  • A hearty helping of cheese topped with ingredients of your choice are added next.
  • Then another thin layer of dough covers the ingredients, and our zesty tomato sauce tops the pie!
  • As the pizza cooks, the top layer of dough will melt into the cheese, and the result is a delicious pie that you will enjoy! 
  • Looking at their webpage, I’m thinking Z’s takes a bit of liberty, and it’s different than other Chicago style pizzas.

    No matter. What matters here is that it’s seriously yummy pizza, and that the best time to go is probably at the most inconvenient time, because if it’s inconvenient for you, it’s probably inconvenient for others as well. We went at 4:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday, their 4th day of business. They were full, asked for our name, but as we were giving it to them, a table came available. By the time we left, there was quite a long wait outside. Consider yourself warned.

    They are famous for their Spinach and Mushroom pizza. It’s their signature dish, really. Unfortunately, spinach isn’t such a lovely thing to eat right now, so they weren’t serving it. No matter. Avoiding meat for our newly vegetarian daughter, we opted for the Mediterranean Pizza, which was filled with a mixture of red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, and green olives with feta and jack cheeses. The menu didn’t say so, but the red bell peppers tasted roasted to me, if that matters.

    So, if you live in the Bay Area, and you’re at all interested in Pizza, please note that there are now THREE Zachary’s you can visit, and they are all yummy, and, fortunately for them, they are ALL very busy.

    A side note…seems that the owners, Barbara and Zachary, are retiring, and instead of selling the restaurants, they have decided to make it an employee owned business. Pretty cool, huh?

    5 Things to Eat Before You Die

    I saw this meme on Lotus Reads, and she did such a beautiful job with it, I thought that I would try it out, even though she didn’t tag me. I loved the thought she put into her answers, and the pictures.

    I’ve done several memes where one of the questions is “5 favorite foods” or something like that. For a question like that, my answer is generally something along the lines of ‘Rib Eye, Heirloom tomatoes, cheetos…”, that kind of thing. Things I love and eat often.

    This meme, however, is titled “5 things you should eat before you die”, which implies that these should be special things, things that you would recommend to people wholeheartedly. So, here I am, wholeheartedly recommending my list of 5 things you should eat, at least once, before you die.


    (this picture is from Napa Style.com, since the picture I found long ago of an actual Thanh Long crab is no longer online)

    1. Thanh Long Roasted Crab.

    Thanh Long is a restaurant way out in the Sunset District, in San Francisco. Ted’s Aunt has been going there for years, since the crab was $7. Nowadays, it’s probably closer to $35. It’s worth it. They roast a whole dungeness crab in butter, garlic, oil, pepper, and secret things. It’s incredibly yummy. They also have other crabs on the menu. Drunken Crab, cooked in white wine, good for those watching their cholesterol; and Sweet and Sour Crab. My advice? Get your veggies in at lunchtime, go to Thanh Long and order the roast crab and a plate of garlic noodles, and follow it up with fried bananas and ice cream. Yum. A warning: it’s REALLY messy. Ted’s cousin, Michelle, can eat it and only get two fingers on each hand messy. She’s the only person on earth with this skill. So don’t dress too fancy. A suggestion: they have crab all year, but it’s best in mid to late fall. Mmmm.

    They have a few sister restaurants. Crustacean in San Francisco (At the corner of Polk and California streets, at the cable car turnaround), another Crustacean in Beverly Hills, and it looks from their website like they’re opening another restaurant on Sutter Street, in San Francisco, on Nob Hill. I assume that from the name of the restaurant, 536 Sutter. It could be a Sutter Street somewhere else.

    2. Dinner at Laperouse in Paris.

    We went there on our honeymoon in 1993. I wrote about it once before, but it bears reminding you, because every single bite was AMAZING. We’ve eaten at some pretty amazing restaurants, most notably in San Francisco and Philly, but nothing compares to Laperouse. Nothing even comes close. So yeah, go to Paris. Eat there. Thank me later.

    3. Raspberries that never make it into the pail.

    You’re out in the woods, it’s a warm summer day, dragonflies are buzzing around, and that sweet/tart taste is perfect. If you can manage to get a few home, eat them over good vanilla ice cream. (If you’re not a big fan of the raspberry, substitute blueberries, blackberries, marionberries, whichever you like best. For me, it’s raspberries.)

    4. Salmon that you caught that day, brought home and grilled, along with fresh broccoli from your own garden.

    It doesn’t hurt if you’re in Alaska, by the way. Good stuff. Amazingly good. When I caught my salmon, there were ‘chum salmon’ running, which means they were traveling from the ocean to their home rivers to spawn. The spot at the mouth of the river looked like it was boiling with fish. There were bald eagles circling around, and ravens looking for a meal. It was the only time I’ve ever killed my own food, and I’m thinking I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

    5. A really good glass of wine or champagne.

    Veuve Cliquot will do nicely. Especially if you pair it with the right meal, it can be sublime. The right cabernet with steak or duck, the right chardonnay with your pasta, can be a revelation. But really, I’ve had Veuve Cliquot with Taco Bell. (Only once, at a bridal shower, because that’s the kind of girl she was!) And you know what? Best Taco Bell I had ever eaten. VC goes with almost anything.

    So there’s my list. I’ll tag a few folks as well, and see what comes up. 🙂
    1. La Luna
    2. Cherry
    3. ML
    4. Emily
    5. Jay

    If anyone else wants to do this one, let me know. I’d love to read it!

    This meme was started by Melissa at Travelers Lunchbox. Let her know if you participate. If you want to see other people’s suggestions, check out her original post. There are hundreds. 🙂

    Getting Crotchety in My Old Age

    I think I’m turning into a curmudgeon. I find that I often don’t trust the service offered by young people anymore. I’m almost ready to call them ‘whippersnappers’. Case in point, there’s a breakfast place we enjoy in San Ramon called Katy’s Korner. A few months ago, I discovered that they make really yummy Huevos Rancheros, which is three eggs, simmered in salsa, and served on a big plate with black beans, tortillas, sour cream, and maybe some avocado. Mmmmm. Yummy. The waitresses at Katy’s Korner all seem like they’ve been there awhile, they know what they’re doing, they know what they’re talking about. They’re not old, by any stretch, but maybe mid 30s to young 50s.

    Enter Katy’s Kreek into the equation. This is Katy’s Korner’s new little sister, located in downtown Walnut Creek. I wrote about it back in June. We have been there a few times so far, and I was happy to see one of the waitresses from Katy’s Korner on the staff, showing the new employees the ropes.

    Well, last week we went to Katy’s Kreek for breakfast, and the Korner waitress was nowhere in sight. Just all new folks. OK, that’s fine. Except it didn’t really occur to anyone that Ted might like some more coffee. We had to look all around, and never really could catch anyone’s eye. You know how, when you go to a restaurant with talented staff (any type of restaurant, any age of staff), they know to look at the customers…you can catch someone’s eye as they walk by, even if you’re not in their station? Yeah? Well, not so much these days, I’m finding.

    So, I ordered my Huevos Rancheros, and instead of coming in one big melty-looking mess of goodness, the eggs were on one side of the plate, and there were what tasted like lukewarm canned refried beans on the other side of the plate, and a couple of tough tortillas on the side. Sigh. I couldn’t really catch anyone’s eye, so I ate it. And the eggs still tasted good. But the experience put me off. I asked the waiter, when he finally came with more coffee for Ted, when they had changed the Huevos. He said, “I don’t know, I’ve only been here for 3 days.” And then he went away. I looked around the restaurant, and the whole staff looked to be under the age of 25, not really interested in being there, not really looking to see if anyone needed anything, and I kind of gave up. I pretty much decided I wasn’t going to find anyone there, besides myself and perhaps my lovely dining companions, who gave a crap about the fact that I didn’t like the new way they’re preparing the Huevos. Is that high maintenance, to want to tell someone when you like or don’t like something? Seems like the owner might be interested in that kind of information.

    Just an aside, here, to let you know that I haven’t ALWAYS been a curmudgeon. There are times when I’ve gone places with a young staff, and that young staff is knowledgeable, interested in providing good service, and dedicated to doing their job well. It just seems like it’s becoming more and more rare, and more and more often in my service industry transactions, I feel like I’m at the Home Depot, TRYING to find someone who either knows something, is willing to find out something for me, or at least is willing to PRETEND to give a shit.

    The upside of all of this? I’ve learned to make my own Huevos Rancheros. I buy some good salsa from the refrigerated section at the store. I heat a bit in a frying pan. I crack my egg into it. I let it simmer. I pour a little bit of salsa over the top of the egg (I don’t like sunny side up eggs laying there, just looking at me…I’m like Frances that way). I top it with a bit of Mexican cheese, let it get melty, and eat it with some tortilla chips, kind of like egg nachos. Mmmmm. When I told Cherry my tale, she said, “And at least if you change the way you make them, you’ll know why.” 🙂 Exactly.