Saturday, February 18, 2017

South Bay: Oren's Hummus Shop

My parents were in Taiwan over the Lunar New Year, so my sister and I semi-celebrated by first going to my father's cousin's house for dumplings and then later having dinner with my Ahyi.  While throwing out ideas for where to go, Meet Fresh came up and I glomped onto that real fast.  (As you've probably already figured out, I'm a huge fan.)  Then it became a matter of where in that plaza we should get actual food before dessert. 

My sister got stuck on the fact that Oren's Hummus Shop has unlimited pita, so there we went:

I don't know why I was expecting something simple (it is Cupertino and the land of Apple after all), but I certainly wasn't expecting the almost glitzy décor at Oren's:

So many chandeliers!  That's some pretty fancy lighting going on there.  My Ahyi told us that the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows are open during warm days.  I can see how it would be a relaxing place to chill.

The meal started out with some complimentary pickled cabbage:

When the restaurant is a hummus shop, you definitely have to order hummus.  We went a little overboard and ordered two for the three of us.  We got the hummus with lamb ($12.50):

The lamb was braised with pomegranate and topped with fresh mint, which gave it this sweetness that my sister and I loved.  And the hummus!  So smooth, so creamy!

Since my ahyi isn't a big lamb eater, we also got the hummus with beef ($11.95):

The Moroccan spiced ground beef came with pine nuts and strangely reminded me of the dry Chinese beef jerky my father used to make at home.  I guess Moroccan spices are similar to Asian ones?

We probably should have stopped there, but we couldn't help also wanting to try some sides.  An order of three costs $11.95 and you can choose from a long list.  We're eggplant fiends, so we got (starting from the bottom of the photo) the babaganoush, the Romanian eggplant (fire roasted eggplant with red bell peppers, lemon, cilantro, and garlic), and the Oren's eggplant (a puree of fried eggplant, caramelized onion, hard boiled egg, and spices):

Our selection of three also came with Moroccan carrots, marinated beets, and some amazingly thick yogurt.  We LOVED all of the eggplant sides.  The babaganoush and the Romanian were both fire roasted, so they kind of tasted the same...smoky.  Oren's eggplant, on the other hand, was completely different.  It was savory and sweet and delicious and I would highly recommend trying it out.

I was originally most excited about the cauliflower fries ($4.95), which came with a pesto yogurt:

But in the end, it paled in comparison to the eggplants and the hummus.  Fried cauliflower is awesome while crunchy, but if you don't eat them quickly, sogginess settles in fast.

And finally, the pita.  The unlimited pita.  You can choose between wheat or regular or you can do what we did and get both:

They come piping hot and super fluffy.  The perfect vessel to scoop up all the hummus and eggplant your little heart can desire.  We had so much pita that I felt like one by the end of dinner. 

The portion sizes at Oren's might not look like a lot at first glance, but together with the all-you-can-eat pita?  It's a lot.  We had so much food leftover that I was able to make two separate meals out of it.  When our server asked if we would like a separate bag for our leftover pita, my sister jokingly asked if the bag came with extra pita.  It did.

Bless him.

Would I go back to Oren's Hummus Shop?  Yes.  1000% yes.  A couple things I would do differently though.  I would skip the hummus with beef and try another one of their hummus combinations.  The ground beef was just a bit too dry for my taste.  I would also not order both the babaganoush and the Romanian eggplant at the same time, since they taste virtually the same.

Oren's Hummus Shop.  Great service, great food, great prices.  Go.

Oren's Hummus Shop
19419 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014 
(408) 982-5237

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Oakland: Sticky Rice Cafe

VN, SY, and I met up in January to catch up at the start of the new year.  SY brought up the idea of hitting up Oakland Restaurant Week, but VN and I shot that down.  Honestly, I've never had great experiences with restaurant weeks.  I've just never found it worth the hype or the moolah.  I rather just go to a restaurant and order what I want, even if it's less of a "good deal."

With Oakland Restaurant Week out of the running, SY mentioned Sticky Rice Café.  VN and I wholeheartedly agreed:

Located virtually in the middle of nowhere, Sticky Rice Café was small and unassuming:

It had a tricky door that took a bit of work to shut and stay shut.  I know because it was super windy and rainy that night and I had to get up a couple times to make sure the door stayed closed when people went in and out.  No biggie though.  Just a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

And by grand scheme I mean the awesome food.

See exhibit A, the crispy rice ball ($8):

The description on the menu said "deep fried rice ball", but it's basically deep fried rice mixed with pork sausage and peanuts.  There's cilantro, mint, and lettuce on the side for wrapping.  Add a squirt of lime juice and there you have it, perfection. 

The chicken larb ($8) was a salad of sorts made with ground chicken with onion, cilantro, and mint:

It came with strips of raw cabbage for wrapping.  It was slightly pungent and sour and basically awesome.

The crispy salmon ($12) came covered in onion, bell pepper, and a sweet tamarind sauce:

While delicious, the sauce was a bit intense to eat without rice, but it certainly helped add some flavor to the blanched bed of veggies.

The drunken noodle ($8) or flat rice noodle with basil, bell peppers, onion, carrot, green bean, and tomatoes came with our choice of meat.  We went with chicken since SY doesn't eat red meat:

Even though we were stuffed, we were still in the mood for dessert at the end of the meal and unashamedly tacked on an order of fried bananas with coconut ice cream ($6):

Freshly fried, the bananas were freakin' delicious.

My favorite of the night was the deep fried rice ball.  I'm just a sucker for that kind of stuff.  I loved the dish at Champa Garden and I loved it at Sticky Rice Café.  Champa Garden might have a bit of an edge because of their crack sauce, but that edge is very, very slight. 

All in all, I loved Sticky Rice Café.  The food is bomb, the prices are beyond reasonable, and it's quiet.  No lines, no pressure.  Just a simple place to enjoy a long meal with friends.  If only it was a bit more accessible...or had a parking lot.

Sticky Rice Café
2810 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 536-4605

Sunday, February 5, 2017

San Francisco: Pakwan

For Christmas, CK gifted me with two tickets to see a special showing of Miyazaki's "Ocean Waves" at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.  Who else would I go with except my sister?

It was a Thursday night in January.  My sister and I met across the street from Roxie at Pakwan for dinner before the movie:

The restaurant was pretty empty at first, but then it gradually filled up as we ate:

You place your order at the counter and then pick it up there as well once your number is called.

Chai is $1 a cup.  I don't usually like to pay for tea, but my sister told me it's so good that it's worth it:

She was right.  The chai at Pakwan is thick and strong, just the way I like it.  None of that watered down crap.  You cam add sugar to your own taste.  (Mine being very sweet.)  The chai is refillable, which meant that my sister went back repeatedly for more to get her money's worth.

The two of us split two dishes.  We got the saag gosht ($10.99) or lamb with spinach:

And the bengan bhartha ($7.49), which is a smoky eggplant curry of sorts:

Both went extremely well with naan ($1.50 each):

Since we had a movie to catch afterward, we worked hard to avoid having any leftovers.  The portion sizes were so generous that we weren't entirely successful, but we followed the teachings of our father and ate all the "valuable" parts.  (Basically all the meat.)

I'm no expert of Pakistani and Indian food, but I have no complaints about Pakwan.  Everything we had was delicious, the chai was good, the food came quickly, and the prices were affordable.  I would definitely go back.

And as a side note, if you are a Miyazaki fan or if you love nostalgic movies that are poignant in their simplicity, "Ocean Waves" is for you.  I highly recommend you check it out. 

Thanks for the tickets, CK!

3180-82 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103 
(415) 255-2440

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

South Bay: Ding Tea

When your friends are willing to get pearl tea after a Korean barbecue buffet, you know you've found some good peeps.  After rolling ourselves out of Q-Pot, T and CV introduced me to Ding Tea:

There were only about three tables in the main area, but there's actually a smaller side room with more (not shown here):

T has been obsessed with white pearls (made of agar) recently.  Apparently Ding Tea is the reason why.  She ordered a milk oolong tea ($3.75) with white pearls (+$0.50) while CV got herself the kumquat lemon iced tea ($3.75):

Personally, while I like the white pearls, I prefer them in fruity drinks and not in milky ones.  The pearls themselves have an almost fruity flavor that just seems a bit weird with milk teas.  And though I love myself some lemon iced tea, the one at Ding Tea has salted plums in it, which is a no bueno for me.

I was about to order my usual test for new pearl tea joints, the plain old pearl milk tea, when I saw a cup of bright red liquid sitting on the counter waiting for its owner to pick it up.  Curious, I asked the guy taking our order what it was.  He said it was a strawberry yakult.  Before I could say anything else (such as, "Cool, can I get a pearl milk tea?"), T jumped in and asked if we could get a sample.  Apparently when you ask for a sample at Ding Tea, they make an entire whole cup of the stuff to pour out tiny little taste tests. 

After seeing all the effort that went into getting us a sample, I felt obligated to order the dang thing, even though it tasted like a cavity in a cup.  It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong.  Just super sweet.  (And obviously artificial.)  So I bit the bullet and ordered one...but at 75% sweetness.  I should have gone with 25%.

I figured I would at least get a great bright red photo out of it, but alas, my strawberry yakult ($4) came in a solid paper cup:

Sweetness can be modified, so I haven't been scared off Ding Tea for life.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Though the prices are a bit on the high side, the drinks are pretty solid.  It's also a nice place to just hang out with your friends and play Sushi Go! (also something new T introduced me to that day).

I would go back.

If I was in the area.

Ding Tea
3151 Senter Rd
San Jose, CA 95111 
(408) 300-1232

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

South Bay: Q-Pot

My diet plan continued to deteriorate over MLK weekend.  Actually, I think I can say that it was completely obliterated by T's text to me on Sunday, asking if I wanted to try out Q-Pot:

Somehow, a giant Korean BBQ and hot pot buffet restaurant managed to open for months in my city without my knowing it.  How did I let this happen?!

Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, Q-Pot was probably only slightly over half full.  There would have been no wait, except I arrived first and had to wait until my party was complete before we could be seated.  Once T and CV showed up, we were immediately led to a table.

I know the name of my blog is "No Shame", but I actually get embarrassed pretty easily.  While I have no issue when it comes to snapping photos of my food, I find it difficult to take pictures of the interior of a restaurant without becoming very self-conscious.  Which is how I often end up with photos that don't really capture the entirety of the space:

Yea.  Sorry about that.  But trust me when I say that Q-Pot is huge and very modern.

Each table has a grill and individual hot pot burners:

Each table also comes with a mounted Microsoft Surface tablet with which you can place all your orders:

All you can eat BBQ or hot pot alone is $24.99 per person, but you can do both for $27.99.  Whatever you choose, the entire party has to do the same.  It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of hot pot, but when I saw T and CV considering giving up hot pot for me, I told them YOLO and to get both.

The tablet ordering system is really cool, however it also requires a bit of strategy.  You can only order up to four seafood and meat items every three minutes.  You can order up to eight items of everything else every one minute.

Once you put in your first round of orders, you can check out the sauce bar:

Again, I'm not really a hot pot person, so my sauce selection was made with the BBQ in mind.  I got matcha salt, ssamjang, and sesame sauce, which were only three out of plenty, plenty other offerings:

There are quite a few soup bases to choose from.  There's miso, pickled napa and pork, healthy herb, kimchi, milk, tom yum, Taiwanese spicy, and spicy tofu.  I went with pickled napa pork:

Honestly, I turned off my hot pot burner less than a quarter way through our meal.  Having boiled meat just pales in comparison when you can have this on the grill:

There were quite a few meat options to choose from.  Pictured above are the premium steak and the marinated finger short ribs.  There was also chadol (brisket) and beef tongue:

Both were sliced way too thinly in my opinion.  The pieces were so small that they almost melted away upon hitting the hot grill.

We also got the kalbi:

And the pork belly:

And though we scoffed at the chicken tab on the menu, when we peeked at it out of curiosity, we got excited about the spicy gizzards:

We ordered a lot of other meat, but by that point, I was done taking pictures and more focused on stuffing my face.  There was beef belly (also sliced unsatisfyingly thin), pork cheek, and marinated steak.  Not to mention all the things we didn't get around to ordering, like marinated pork belly, beef intestine, and bulgogi.

T and CV got a bunch of veggies to go into their hot pots:

But what they kept going back to was the seafood.  They ordered oysters and mussels and clams:

So many clams.  They just couldn't stop, wouldn't stop with the clams.  Clams in their hot pot, clams on the grill.  They also ordered shrimp, but stayed away from the calamari and fish.

It wasn't until toward the end of our meal that we though to ask for lettuce and pickled daikon for wrapping:

Apparently rice noodle sheets are available to upon request:

The most interesting part about dining at Q-Pot has to be the touchscreen ordering method.  There's a two hour limit and a countdown clock starts on the tablet once you place your first order. 

Super cool tablet aside, if I had to choose between Q-Pot and Gen, I would probably go with Gen.  Q-Pot might have hot pot on top of Korean BBQ, but since I barely tolerate hot pot, that doesn't add anything for me.  In terms of BBQ selection, Gen has more options than Q-Pot for meat, but less for seafood.  I go for the meat, so the lack of seafood doesn't bother me.  While the steak is equally good at both Q-Pot and Gen, the sliced meats are more substantial at Gen.  None of that nearly dissolving crap.  And while Q-Pot might have Gen beat in the sauce department, I don't need all that fancy stuff.  Just some salt with my steak and I'm good.  The one thing I wish Gen would add is lettuce for wrapping.  Salad just doesn't cut it.

Would I go back to Q-Pot though?  Oh, sure.  Why not?  It's huge, there's no wait, the price is reasonable, and I can always just gorge myself on premium steak. 

I'm pretty low maintenance.  Heh.

1610 E Capitol Expy
San Jose, CA 95121(669) 234-3095

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

South Bay: Dong Que Restaurant

I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions, but even I knew that I might have overdone it with the eating over the holidays.  To make sure I will be photo-ready by the time of my Iceland trip in late March, I told myself that I would be more careful of how much I ate starting January.

Yea...that didn't last very long.

Over MLK weekend, I went hiking with T and CV to break in the hiking boots we bought for Iceland.  Post-hike chow is a must, so we started talking about what we were going to have for lunch before even arriving at the trailhead parking lot.  CV told us that Dong Que has razor clams and we were immediately sold.  (We may or may not have chanted "razor clam, razor clam" at multiple points during our hike as motivation.)

After the hike, we made our way to Dong Que:

The parking lot was a strange shape, but we certainly weren't going to complain about not having to find street parking.

The interior was much larger than it looked from the outside:

The restaurant had a swanky lounge feel despite all the tables.  Probably because of the red and black color scheme.  And the faux leather chairs.  The walls were outfitted with multiple flat screen TVs playing the Falcons v. Seahawks game.  While other parties cheered for their football team, CV, T, and I focused on our food.

To go with our clams and banh beo, we were given fish sauce and salt with chilies (and limes):

Our seafood feast started with grilled bloody clams with onion ($12.95):

T rhapsodized about the earthiness of the clams, but I couldn't get over the savory oil/clam juice with green onion and peanuts.  So freakin' good.  No additional sauces necessary.

The escargot and water spinach salad ($14.95) was also fantastic:

I was rather apathetic about the chewy texture of the sliced escargot, but the tangy seasoning of the rest of the salad was to die for.

The grilled razor clams with onion ($14.95) were surprisingly my least favorite of the meal:

The texture was great, but they were a bit bland.  Sauce definitely needed.

The banh beo ($4.50) took a while to come:

The best banh beo I've ever had are from Quan Hy.  Don't get me wrong.  Dong Que's banh beo aren't bad...they're just different.  I can't really pinpoint what the difference is, but there is one.  It's been too long since I was last at Quan Hy.  This means a SoCal trip is in order.  For the sake of science of course! 

As if that weren't enough food, we added on the Thai style steamed clams with lemon leaves ($12.95)

That broth tho.  The lemongrass, the kaffir lime...perfection.  I ate a few clams and then just forgot all about them in favor of the broth.  The fun part is drinking the broth with a clam shell.  It satisfies the child in me that used to imagine surviving on a deserted island.

Apparently most of my imagination when I was a kid revolved around food.  That hasn't changed.

Anyway, everything at Dong Que was delicious.  I would go back for the steamed clam broth alone.  So many clams, so little time.

The plan after lunch was to get pearl tea, because, well, that's what you do, right?  Except T cut across a couple lanes of traffic and made an abrupt U-turn when she realized that Peter's Bakery was just down the street and she wanted to see whether it had the same cookies as Dick's Bakery, which was damaged in a fire back in May 2016.  Before I knew what was happening, I had a box with a slice of burnt almond cake in my hand.  CV had a donut.  And T had no cookies.  Poor thing.

On the way back to our car, we ducked into this little dessert shop so that CV could buy a mangonada.

Then it was off to pearl tea.

We don't mess around.

Dong Que
2852 Alum Rock Ave
San Jose, CA 95127
(408) 254-2927

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

South Bay: Slice Poké Bar

Happy New Year, everyone!  I thought I was all caught up at the end of 2016, but I should have known that was too good to be true.  I actually left out a place that I went to back in November.  I was reminded of it when my sister made it a point during her post-surgery drugged up phase to sign up for a Yelp elite event there right when the registration period opened.  (She doesn't remember signing up, but she's quite proud of herself for doing it.)

The Yelp event was hosted at Slice Poké Bar, the second poké joint to open up in my area after Poké House.

Compared to Poké House, which is tiny and has very limited seating, Slice is incredibly spacious:

Similar to Poké House, Slice has its own signature pre-designed bowls, but the fun comes in building your own.  You can decide if you want your poke in a bowl, on a salad, or on chips.  A regular with three scoops of protein is $10, while a large with four scoops is $12.  If you have an aversion to bowls, you can order a wrap ($10) instead.

If you decide on a bowl, you get to pick what you want for your base.  You can go with kale, mixed greens, brown rice (which apparently comes cooked with bacon), or white rice...or a mix of the above.  I usually get mixed greens and white rice.  I tried the brown rice once because of the bacon, but it wasn't all that.  There wasn't nearly enough bacon in it to justify the nutty texture of the brown rice.  Meh.  I'll stick to which rice.

After the base comes the protein:

There's salmon, hamachi, tuna, spicy tuna, tuna mix, scallops, tako, shrimp, and tofu.  Once you have your proteins selected, you get to choose a sauce.  There's traditional, spicy traditional, sweet soy, and citrus soy.  (You're not encouraged to mix them.)

Then comes the veggies:

One thing to note is that the seaweed salad doesn't cost extra like it does at Poké House. 

One final round of toppings (hot Cheetos is an option...what the heck?) and sauces (Slice sauce, sesame aioli, spicy mayo, and wasabi aioli) later and voila!  You have your final bowl:

My mother prefers Slice over Poké House because Slice offers more cooked protein options (she doesn't do sashimi).  My sister prefers Slice because there's more seating. 

Personally, I think they're about the same.  I think Poké House has better sauce options and might be more generous with its protein portions, but I've also heard that they don't give as much as they used to.  The woman who appears to be the owner of Slice has a bit of an attitude, but since interaction with staff is basically limited to pointing out what you want, it doesn't really bother me all that much.

In summary, if I'm looking for convenience, I would go with Poké House since it's walking distance from my house.  But if I'm looking for a place to hang out, I would go with Slice.

There.  That's my two cents.

Slice Poké Bar
1150 Murphy Ave, Ste C
San Jose, CA 95131 
(408) 326-2480
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