Wednesday, July 23, 2014

South Bay: SnoZen

Shaved snow ice seems to be a new trend in the Bay.  And by "new trend" what I really mean that it's been cropping up enough that I finally took notice.  (I tend to be pretty obtuse with trends and consequently always seem to be the last to find out about anything.)

I originally wanted to take my parents to Amor, but a quick Yelp search revealed that there was another option close by.  My sister and I decided to go to SnoZen instead to try some place new:























The interior was legitimately tiny with just two counters and a couple tables.  While I have no issue with the size of the place, the decor had an unfinished feel, as if things were only temporarily in place until more permanent decorations arrived.

We taste tested two limited edition snow ice flavors, jasmine milk tea and Vietnamese coffee.  Neither really wowed us.  The coffee was okay, but the jasmine tea was pretty much flavorless.

We ultimately decided on the summer sunset (we got it large, which cost $5.95) off the preset combo menu.  It was mango snow topped with condensed milk, mango, and strawberries:























The mango was much, much better than the jasmine tea and the Vietnamese coffee.  The mango flavor was definitely there and the texture was nice and smooth.  And of course condensed milk makes everything magical.

Overall, we weren't that impressed with SnoZen.  If I ever have a craving for snow ice, I would go to Amor instead, which is only a couple blocks away.


SnoZen
231 E Santa Clara St
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 320-1969
http://www.snozenshavedsnow.com/

Friday, July 18, 2014

South Bay: Tobang

To celebrate my sister landing her first job out of undergrad, we called up our Ahyi and met her at Tobang:
















Your party has to be complete before they allow you to be seated.  Luckily, Ahyi rolled in just a few minutes after we did.  The restaurant was kind of empty when we arrived, but it quickly filed up.

Definitely nothing fancy about Tobang.  Just some tables in a room.  But that's really all you need, right?

The banchan came first, as usual:
















My favorite was the shredded potatoes.

My father and I decided to order BBQ family special for a "small family" (serving size for 1.5) to split between the two of us.  We were given sauces for the wraps, which included some hot sauces, sesame oil with salt, and ssamjang:
















Our BBQ also came with lettuce and salad:





















Close up of the rice noodles for wrapping:
















And daikon slices:
















The 1.5 family special ($35.99) comes with 1.5 order of any two kinds of meat.  We decided on the beef brisket:
















And the intestine:
















I loved the brisket, but the intestine was very...intestine-y.  A little too intestine-y for me.  And that's saying a lot because I love intestine.  But apparently I draw the line at intestine with powder-like stuff inside.  It stinks to high heaven and reminds me of cooked liver.  Bleh.

The family special also came with a choice of bean paste stew (doenjang jjigae), kimchi stew, and tofu soup.  I wanted the bean paste stew:
















And a steamed egg:
















As well as a choice between steamed rice or kimchi fried rice.  Uh.  How's that for a no brainer?  Who in their right mind would pick boring steamed rice over kimchi fried rice?

The kimchi fried rice came pre-fried in a foil packet:
















Which you place on the grill at the end of the meal and mix everything together:
















But of course by the time you get to the kimchi fried rice, you're too full to do it justice.  Or at least that's how it went with my father and me.  We ended up packing it to go and I had it for lunch at work the next day.  Still good.

My ahyi, mom, and sister didn't want to partake in our BBQ party.  They each ordered a tofu stew ($10.99):
















As if all that food wasn't enough, we got a free seafood pancake for checking in on Yelp:
















Score!

It took a while, but we eventually reached the end of our meal.  Our bill came with complimentary yakult:
















If you're looking for a great deal, Tobang is it.  Now, it's not all you can eat.  Get that straight first.  But for the cost and the amount of food you get, it's worth it.  The 1.5 family special is enough for two or even three people.  (Unless your family eats like linebackers.)  If you like to drink while you BBQ, there are also special combos that include alcohol.

Though we watched servers go to other tables to help them grill their meats, nobody came by to help us.  Either we looked capable enough to handle it on our own or we didn't order enough meat to merit tableside service.

Oh well.  We did fine on our own.

Congrats again to my baby sister for landing her first big girl job!


Tobang
1052 Kiely Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 615-7540

Saturday, July 12, 2014

South Bay: Amor Cafe & Tea

When the pearl tea shop by my house closed for good, we scrambled to find a substitute go-to pearl tea joint.  It was very difficult.  None of the closer places were that good and frankly, we weren't willing to travel very far just to get our pearl tea fix.

Then one day, my sister came home with some pearl tea.  The tea was good (none of that sugary milk crap).  The pearls were Q.  The cup was fat.  I had to know where she got it from.

So she took T and me to Amor Cafe & Tea in downtown San Jose:
















The interior was pretty standard:
















Besides tea, Amor Cafe also offered snow ice.  Unlike regular shaved ice, which gets watery and dilutes the sweetness, snow ice is creamy and smooth and in my opinion, much more delicious.  Amor offered various flavors like strawberry. mango, green tea, white peach, honeydew, and taro.

We ordered the Thaiger snow, which was Thai milk tea snow ice ($5.99) with pearls and mochi.  We substituted out the chocolate drizzle for condensed milk:























Not exactly cheap, but I was very pleased with it.  The Thai tea flavor was strong and switching to condensed milk was genius on our part.

We ate the snow ice there and then bought some pearl tea to-go:
















We got the lychee black tea, peach black tea, white peach black tea, coconut milk tea, and regular milk tea.  We tried to ask what the difference was between the peach and the white peach, but the guy behind the counter (who sported some strange cat ears) couldn't really explain it.  According to him, the white peach is slightly sweeter than the normal peach.  Though when we tried the two, they tasted about the same to us.

My favorite is the regular milk tea.  The tea flavor is good and there's just enough sweetness.  At $3.49 a cup, it's not bad.

While I'm not really fond of going downtown (parking is a b*tch), I'll endure it just to get milk tea at Amor.  The next time I go, I want to try the Tiger (half Thai half milk tea).  Or maybe the red guava black tea.  Hmmm...so many to choose from...


Amor Cafe & Tea
110 E San Fernando St
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 286-2000

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

South Bay: Aqui Cal-Mex

When Nilala survived her Step 2 exam for medical school, we had to take her out to celebrate.  Her only request was margaritas and her wish was our command.

My sister had just been to Aqui Cal-Mex with her friends and recommended it as the best place for margaritas:
















The parking lot was in the back, so we entered through the back entrance.

At Aqui, you place your order at the counter, get a pager, and then find your own table.  When the pager buzzes, you go collect your order at the counter.

The restaurant was big and clean and definitely more Cal than Mex:
















My sister and Nilala both ordered a margarita swirl ($8 each):























The sangria swirl (on the left) was made with sangria and Aqui's "Industrial Strength Margarita" while the paradise Patron swirl (on the right) was made with Patron Citronge, passion and orange juice, and of course, the "Industrial Strength Margarita".

Now, I'm not a drinker, so I can't tell you whether the margarita really is industrial strength or not, but according to my sister, it really packs a punch in the sneakiest of ways.  Apparently they taste really good and before you now it, you've had two or three and you're tipsy bordering on downright drunk.  I'm just gonna take her word for it.

None of the food really appealed to us, but drinking without eating anything would be, well, irresponsible, so we ordered an Aqui sampler ($6.59), which came with avocado dip, hummus, and black bean dip:
















Um...how about we all just avoid the food at Aqui and stick with the drinks?  The black bean tasted like it came out of a can, the hummus was just weird, and the avocado...actually, the avocado dip was fine.  It's hard to mess up avocados.

Final verdict?  Get some Taco Bell before you hit up Aqui.  It's great for post-meal drinks, but don't count on it for the meal itself.

Congratulations again to my dear friend, Nilala, who not only survived Step 2, but also passed with flying colors!


Aqui
1145 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95125
(408) 995-0381
http://www.aquicalmex.com/

Monday, June 30, 2014

Orlando: Jeremiah's Italian Ice

A Sonic is located at the intersection leading to my cousin's house in Orlando.  There are no words to describe how excited my mom, my sister, and I were when we spotted it.

You must understand.  Growing up, I watched Sonic commercial after commercial, but never actually saw one in real life.  I didn't actually get to go to one until my senior year of undergrad when a friend took pity on me and took me to a Sonic in SoCal.  Given how rare Sonic sightings are, we get unnecessarily excited when we do find one.

My cousin didn't get it at all.  And how could he?  He walking distance from one basically all his life.  In fact, he worked there back when he was a teen.  So it wasn't any great surprise when he wasn't exactly eager to take us.

Instead of Sonic, my cousin offered us one better.  Jeremiah's Italian Ice:
















There are apparently multiple Jeremiah's.  This particular one was a drive through.

We elected to park the car and get out because my sister and I needed time to peruse the extensive menu:
















Luckily, there wasn't much a line when we got there, so my sister and I were able to taste test a few flavors.

You can have your Italian ice by itself, but you can also be a boss and order it as a gelati, meaning you get it layered with soft serve ice cream.

My sister got her root beer Italian ice gelati style:























The iciness of the Italian ice makes for an interesting texture contrast with the creaminess of the ice cream.

I was aiming for refreshing so I got my strawberry lemon straight:























For my father, we ordered him a coconut gelati:























And for my mother, a mango gelati:























The small cup may look small, but it's actually quite a lot.  Take your time or risk getting a brain freeze.

While I'm disappointed that we didn't get to go to Sonic, I know in my heart that Jeremiah's is the much better option.  My taste buds agree.

For a town where it's 90 degrees just about from the time you wake up, having Jeremiah's within driving distance is a blessing.


Jeremiah's Italian Ice
1000 Willa Springs Dr
Winter Springs, FL 32708
(407) 388-3788
http://jeremiahsice.com/

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Orlando: Prato

My parents wanted to treat my cousin and his girlfriend to a nice meal.  Since we weren't familiar with Orlando at all, we let my cousin take charge of picking the restaurant.

He went with Prato because it's one of his favorite restaurants in the area and he wanted us to try it:























There was a bit of a wait, so we went to check out the koi pond down the street.  We ogled at the giant koi fish for half an hour before heading back to the restaurant.  By the time we got back, our table was ready:
















Except for the gnocchi and tortelli, which only came in half portions, all the pasta options at Prato came in both half portions ($9) and full portions ($16).  Our server helpfully told us that a half portion was essentially the size of one fist while the full portion would equal two fists.  So if you're looking to get full, the half portion probably isn't gonna cut it.  But if you're in a group and want to try multiple pastas, the half portion is your best friend.

We originally ordered everything in half portions.  But after our server walked away, I had a reality check.  Just imagining our group of eight people each getting a single noodle from a fist-sized portion made me break out in a cold sweat.  I called back the server and luckily did so in time to change our orders to full sized.

We got the LB shrimp ravioli:


'













The ravioli came in scampi sauce with broccolini and breadcrumbs.

I was really excited about the egg bucatini because it included Long Island duck ragu and foie gras:
















I don't remember tasting the foie, but the duck ragu was delicious.

Even though it only came in half portions, we got the truffled potato gnocchi anyway:
















It was made with fava bean pesto and fennel sausage.  So soft and chewy.  So good.

The mustard spaghettini "cacio e pepe" was also quite yummy:
















It consisted of radicchio, LQ speck (a type of ham), and balsamic vinegar.

From the appetizer menu, we ordered the meatballs:























They normally come in three ($12).  Our server asked if we wanted to add one more to make it easier to share among eight people.  Uh, yes, please.

My sister's favorite was probably the PEI mussels ($14):
















The mussels were perfectly cooked, but it really was all about the smoked potato broth with wild ramp greens.  The toasted bread was slathered with goat feta.  My sister had a field day soaking up the broth with the bread.  When there was no bread left, she simply picked up her spoon and started drinking the broth straight.

To make sure we all had enough to eat, we also ordered two pizzas (both $15).

The first was the arrostito:
















It was topped with chicken sausage, zucchini pesto, Meyer lemon conserva, and feta.  I'm a sucker for Meyer lemon.  Then again, who isn't?

Besides having an intimidating name, the widowmaker came with caciocavallo (a type of cheese), romesco (a nut and red pepper-based sauce), fennel sausage, and a single farm egg:
















I wish there was more than one egg on the pizza.  I mean, really?  One tiny egg for that entire pie?

The food didn't look like much, but we actually ended up with leftovers on the table at the end of the meal.  To take care of those leftovers, we played a finger-counting game to see who had to eat what.  I managed to escape unscathed, but my sister and my father each lost a round and had to finish off a dish, as did my cousin's girlfriend.

Suckers.  Heh.

Prato is great.  The food the awesome, the service personable.  I would definitely recommend Prato to anyone who is looking for a good meal for maybe a slightly more special occasion.  Date night, anyone?


Prato
124 N Park Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 262-0050
http://www.prato-wp.com/

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Orlando: Squid Lips

We arrived at my cousin's house Saturday evening to find a home-cooked meal already laid out on the table for us, courtesy of my aunt.  We gorged ourselves that night.  My aunt is a great cook.

The next morning, we made a family excursion to Sebastian Inlet.  As it was Memorial Day weekend, the beach was crammed full of people.  We stayed for a bit before heading to lunch.

My cousin found Squid Lips on Yelp.  We pulled into its parking lot only to find the remains of a charred building at the back of the lot.  For a good two minutes, we were convinced that Squid Lips had burned down with Yelp none the wiser.

Then we looked across the street and there it was:
















Whew.  Lunch crisis averted.

The restaurant looked small from the outside, but was quite spacious inside.  We managed to score a table overlooking the water:
















The complimentary bread was coconut-y and subtly sweet:
















Checking in on Yelp got us free crunchy fish fingers:
















The fish was rolled in corn flakes before frying, which added a nice sweet crunch.

I ordered the Abaco fish sandwich ($9.99):
















The coconut fried fish filet came topped with mango chutney and smothered with melted swiss cheese.  Fries cost an extra $0.99, so I elected to go with the chips.  I loved my sandwich.  I'm not usually much for sweet things, but this one was perfectly balanced with the savoriness of the cheese and the fish.

My sister went with the fried clam basket ($9.99):























Whereas my mother decided on the crunchy fish BLT wrap ($9.99):























Also good, especially with the cajun mayo.

My father sat at the other end of the table, so I didn't get to take a picture of his entree.  I also refrained from hijacking my uncle's, aunt's, and cousin's meals.  Self control.  I may not have much of it, but it kicks in once in a while.

Besides having a swanky name, Squid Lips serves some pretty solid food.  The prices are reasonable and the service is friendly.

Our experience was a bit soured at the end, but at no fault of Squid Lips.  I thought I was being all ninja when I went to slip the hostess my credit card on a "bathroom run," only to discover that my cousin had already beat me to it.  In fact, he'd already settled the bill before we even WALKED INTO THE RESTAURANT.

Ugh.  I failed my ancestors.

The fact that my cousin and I share the same ancestors is irrelevant.


Squid Lips
1660 Indian River Dr
Sebastian, FL 32958
(772) 589-3828
https://www.squidlipsgrill.com/
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