Tuesday, May 19, 2015

South Bay: Falafel Corner

My coworker, HA, told me about a falafel restaurant she and her husband had scoped out.  They deemed it good enough to bring my parents to, so my family met with hers there one night:


















The place was pretty empty, but it was a weekday and according to HA, Falafel Corner is hoppin' with the late night crowd:


















We placed our orders at the counter and then snagged a table to wait.

HA and her husband recommended the gyro, so my father got the club gyro ($8):


















It includes gyro, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avacado, and beef bacon (it's a Muslim establishment after all).

My mom wanted the falafel sandwich ($6):


















No explanation necessary.

I, on the other hand, went a completely different route and decided to splurge on a pizza.  Not just any pizza.

An Afghan pizza ($16 for a small):


















For our naturalization workshops in Fremont, HA always orders Afghan pizza for all our volunteers.  My sister once asked her what makes an Afghan pizza Afghan since the pizzas seemed to be normal pepperoni and combination pizzas.  HA answered that the pizzas are Afghan...because they are made by an Afghan.

(Insert cricket chirp.)

My sister was not impressed.  Neither was I for that matter.

Falafel Corner, however, has a better claim on having a legit Afghan pizza.  Instead of the usual pork products, the veggies are accompanied by gyros and beef pepperoni.  

The food at Falafel Corner is good, but the company we had that night was even better.  It's always a party when HA is around.

I definitely foresee more parties in our near future.  HA's husband blindsided us by sneakily putting down money for our meal before we'd even ordered.  Urgh.  I can't believe he out ninja'd us.

He better watch his back because we're gonna get him back.  Oh yea.  We're gonna get him back real good.


Falafel Corner
43450 S Grimmer Blvd
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 252-1577

Monday, May 18, 2015

San Francisco: Coqueta

The day before T's birthday, it took a giant kick via text for her to get her butt moving and actually make some decisions as to what she wanted to do to celebrate.

We started the day off at Mama's on Washington Square, where Mama's grandson got the entire restaurant to sing a rousing rendition of the happy birthday song to T...or more specifically, to "P" (inside joke).  T's face was so red it was almost purple.  To make up for the embarrassment, Mama's grandson also threw in a plate of french toast on the house.

After Mama's, we grabbed some Purple Kow then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Land's End.

We didn't have any dinner plans ironed out, but T had a craving for tapas, so a Yelp search eventually led us to Coqueta:


















The earliest reservation available was a bit too late for our tastes, but we were advised to try our luck at the bar.  Which we did and were lucky enough to almost immediately snag seats in Coqueta's patio area:


















Given that is was a birthday celebration, we couldn't not order a pitcher of sangria.  That just wouldn't be right.  So we ordered the white wine sangria with roasted apples and spices ($36):























Everyone knows I'm an alcohol wimp (I hate the taste), but even I will admit that the white sangria at Coqueta tastes refreshingly like fall.  All the same, I couldn't take more than a couple sips before I was passing my glass to CL to finish.

The croquetas de pollo ($9) came in threes, but because we were a party of four, the server gave us the option of adding one more:























This was a big hit with all of us.  The croquetas were chicharon crusted, made with chicken and english peas, and served with a side of cured cara cara orange.  Think deep fried shepard's pie with a tangy finish.  Yum.

We got the "bikini" brioche a la plancha ($10) without really knowing what it was:























We saw roasted eggplant and preserved grapefruit and were immediately sold.  What we should have done was taken the time to look up what cana de cabra was.  Then we would've known we were setting ourselves up for some goat cheese.

Blech.

I hate goat cheese.  But apparently not as much as CL does.  I finished my fourth, but she refused to even touch hers.

I have a feeling I would have enjoyed the brioche quite a lot if it weren't for the goat cheese.  All the other flavors were great, but the cheese was just that overpowering.

We ordered the albondigas a la feria ($14) and agan had to add an extra one to make four:























Made with duck and pork, the meatballs were cooked in a cherry-tempranillo salsa and topped with crispy shallots.  While they were certainly good to eat, the best part was having a legitimate excuse to say "albondigas" repeatedly.

T wanted paella and what birthday girl wanted, birthday girl got:


















The paella at Coqueta costs $45 and is supposed to serve two to three people.  It comes with serrano-shellfish broth, jamon, shrimp, clams, chorizo, and cauliflower.  It also comes with a side of lemon alioli, which I found strange at first, but it added a burst of freshness that quickly converted me into a believer.

Team Alioli forever!

To round out the celebration of T's arrival to this world, we got her the flan espanola ($9):























I'm not a flan person, but I can admire a smooth and rich flan when I taste one.  The white chocolate plaque that said "happy birthday" in Spanish was a nice touch.

Coqueta was good, albeit a bit pricey.  I mean, come on, each coquette cost $3.  That's kind of ridiculous.  The service was excellent though.  And we had a bit of a bonding moment with about a dozen people as we all waited for the restroom.  (Apparently nobody is willing to walk to the next closest restroom a couple piers down.)

For an impromptu day in San Francisco, everything worked out just about perfectly, from the wait time at Mama's to finding parking all over the city.  Must be the magic of T.

Happy birthday, T.  Here's to another year of food, food, and more food!


Coqueta
Pier 5
Embarcadero Drive
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 704-8866
http://coquetasf.com/

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

South Bay: Nam Vang

T mentioned this really good Cambodian noodle place to me on numerous occasions, but never actually got around to taking me there.  In fact, she actually took my sister one day without me.

The nerve.

In the end, it was my sister who made it happen.  My parents were out for some reason or another, so my sister and I had a little sister date at Nam Vang:


















It looked more than a little sketch from the outside.  Which I took as a good sign.  In my experience, some of the best food comes from the crummiest looking of places.

 It was pretty empty inside, but we were there quite early for dinnertime:


















We both wanted Cambodian noodles, but since there were two of us, we decided to try one bowl of regular noodle:


















And one bowl of rice noodles:


















Even though all the toppings were the same in both bowls, I vastly preferred the rice noodle.  It's a texture thing.

But flavor-wise, both were delicious.  So much meat too!

Both bowls came with their own bone broth:


















I poured a little soup into my noodles to loosen them up.  And to add to the savory goodness.

As a side thing, we ordered a single meatball:


















A single, pretty big meatball.  Suprisingly, it was a bit sweet, which threw me off at first, but then I quickly warmed to it.  There were peas inside, however, which I ignored by pretending I didn't see them.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Nam Vang itself is beyond simple and bordering on slightly sparse when it comes to decor and service, but the noodles more than make up for it.

A tip for you though, make sure you order the small bowl.  We forgot to clarify and the server automatically put us down for the large bowl ($8.25).  The difference between the small and the large is just $0.75 and the size of the bowl itself.  I'm pretty sure we would have gotten the same amount of noodles in just a smaller bowl if we'd ordered the small.

Oh, and bring cash.  They don't take credit.

Anyway, thanks a lot, T, for putting Nam Vang on my radar (even if you didn't actually take me there)!  I'll definitely be going back for round two.  And three.


Nam Vang
2477 Alvin Ave
San Jose, CA 95121
(408) 270-8939

Sunday, April 19, 2015

South Bay: Kenzo Sushi

When my sister found out that she'd been accepted to UCSF Medical School, my parents and I took her out to celebrate.  I think we were more excited about her acceptance than she was.  (We're really pushing for her to stay in-state.)

We offered to take her out to a Brazilian steakhouse, but she wanted all you can eat sushi and asked to go to Kenzo instead:


















No reservations possible, but our 45 minute wait wasn't bad at all.  It certainly gave my mother enough time to cross the street and shop a bit at Michaels before our name was called.

The restaurant was crammed full of people:


















As we sat down, we noticed two young guys at a table next to us.  They looked utterly miserable with their heads in their hands as they stared at two completely untouched sushi rolls.  We had ourselves a good chuckle at their expense at the time.  Little did we know that we wouldn't be laughing for much longer.

Kenzo is set up so that you can write down your orders on a laminated two-sided menu:























You're allowed five rounds of ordering.  From what I read on Yelp reviews, most people call it quits after the second or third round.

We didn't even make it past the first.

Things started innocently enough.  The baby octopus kara-age came in four pieces, a bite for each of us:


















We totally had no idea what this was, much less remembered that we'd ordered it:























It took some sleuthing through the menu to figure out that it was monkey brain.  Sounds grotesque, but it was quite delicious.  Can't go wrong with deep fried avocado with spicy tuna and crab.

The sashimi salad was nice and refreshing:


















The daily special was uni that day.  There's a limit of one per customer, so of course we maximized the opportunity and ordered four:























Things were going great even after the first of our rolls arrived.  We skipped the fried roll section and went straight for the baked.  We got the bay island roll (shrimp tempura, crab, and avocado topped with baked scallop) and the lobster roll (crab and avocado topped with baked lobster, green onion, tobiko, and bonito flakes):























Then came our fatal mistake.  Kenzo doesn't ofer straight sashimi.  Instead, if you want your raw fish fix, you need to order nigiri.  Which was fine with us...except for one major miscalculation.  My sister went through the nigiri section and wrote "4" on over half of the nigiri options.  Four orders for four people.  Makes sense, right?

Wrong.

It wasn't until the waitress walked away with our menu that we realized we'd made a serious tactical error.  Each nigiri order came with two pieces.  Add to that the fact that my mother doesn't like raw fish and that meant eight pieces per nigiri type for three people.  When this monstrous platter came to our table, we felt the first stirrings of misgiving:


















Then came the rest of our rolls.  We got a philly roll (I love cream cheese in sushi), a white tuna love roll (white tuna and avocado topped with more white tuna and green onion), a spiderman III roll (soft shell crab and avocado topped with unagi, avocado, and macadamia nuts), and a mango crunch roll (spicy crab and mango topped with salmon, avocado, and tempura bits):


















Oh, dear.

And our nigiri nightmare wasn't even over yet:


















The two hand rolls were for my mother.

As if that wasn't enough:


















Unlike other AYCE sushi restaurants, Kenzo doesn't try to stuff you with rice.  Which is quite nice of them.  All the same, by the end of the meal, we were all playing hide-the-rice-to-avoid-being-charged-for-leftovers.  I couldn't even lift a piece of the white tuna lover roll without feeling nauseous.  

The best part was when my father turned to me and whimpered, "I just want to go home..."

You can opt to order off the menu instead of doing the all you can eat route, but why?  For $24.95 per person, Kenzo is a fantastic deal.

Even though we walked out all swearing that we didn't even want to look at sushi again for two years, my sister and I were already strategizing how we would do Kenzo differently the next time just a couple days later.


Kenzo Sushi
5465 Snell Ave
San Jose, CA 95123
(408) 226-2114
http://kenzosushi.net/

Friday, April 10, 2015

South Bay: Stuft Pizza

My sister and I had our own little date night a while back.  She works in Milpitas and I get off the bus in Milpitas, so we decided to meet at Stuft Pizza...in Milpitas:


















It was our first time, but we quickly deduced that Stuft is a sports lover paradise:


















Flat screens all over the place.  And pizza!  What goes better with sports than pizza?  (Besides chicken wings, which is also on Stuft's menu.)

When you walk in, you come face to face with a giant menu posted behind the cashier counter.  My sister and I were a bit overwhelmed and as usual, incredibly indecisive, so we stepped to the side until we could figure our shit out.

We discussed whether to get a small or a medium pizza for a long time and ultimately went with the medium because we're pigs like that.  Because we couldn't decide on just one, we split our pizza into half Popeye's special and half garlic lemon chicken:


















We overestimated our own abilities.  We were both full after two slices.  Probably should have gotten a small.

The garlic lemon chicken came with garlic lemon sauce, garlic, chicken, lemon pepper, zucchini, red onion, and cold tomatoes:























The Popeye's special came with sausage, fresh spinach, red onions, and mushrooms:


















We liked both pizzas (crust to topping ratio was pretty ideal), through for different reasons.  The garlic lemon chicken was light and refreshing, with its red onions and cold tomatoes.  We couldn't taste any lemon, but that was okay.  The Popeye's special was just meaty and everything that a pizza should be.

I decided we should splurge that night, so we ordered a fountain soda to split.

Yea, I know.  But when you grow up with Chinese parents who only let you get water at restaurants, paying for a drink is a big deal.

Anyway, the soda machine had quite a lot of options.  There was a mango iced tea, so I got a little to try.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to do a taste test first.  That stuff was FOUL, like really gross cough medicine.  So foul that I made my sister drink some too and cackled the entire time she dealt with the aftertaste.

There are a lot of pizzas to choose from at Stuft, so it's definitely worth multiple trips.  And if you go, don't forget to try the mango iced tea.

They should make it a rite of passage there.


Stuft Pizza
1426 Dempsey Rd
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 262-4343
http://www.stuftpizzamilpitas.com/

Saturday, April 4, 2015

South Bay: Chi

My parents seem to have some kind of radar for new Taiwanese restaurants in our area.  They somehow heard about Chi through the grapevine and away we went with Ahyi in tow:


















This particular location has gone through its share of restaurants.  None of them ever seemed to last long.  (My favorite was the hot pot place that actually gave us straight up water as the soup base.)

The place was pretty crowded the night we went, which we took as a good sign.  Either that or everyone was just as curious as we were.

We started with a large clam ginger soup ($8.95):


















It was the first dish to arrive and it arrived flat out cold.  We were stunned.  And confused.  We honestly discussed whether the soup might have been meant to be served cold.  When we checked with a waitress, she told us that definitely was not the case and whisked the bowl away.  It came back a bit later...lukewarm.

A quintessential Taiwanese dish is anything three cup style.  Chi offered a couple different three cup options.  We gravitated toward the three cup intestine in a clay pot ($9.95):


















This photo is a bit misleading.  The pot looks big, but in reality, it was tiny as hell.  And shallow.  Tiny pot aside, the intestine itself wasn't bad, though a bit salty.  I enjoyed picking out the whole pieces of garlic.

For Ahyi, who loves veggies, we got the stir fried A choy ($7.95):


















Yelp reviews indicated that moon shape shrimp cake ($9.95) was really good:


















Which is was.  Fluffy and savory.

The fried stinky tofu ($4.95) also was also pretty good:


















Our biggest complaint was the portion size.  Each plate was so small that we felt gypped.  We couldn't understand how they could in good conscience charge what they do for the amount of food they give.  Especially since there are plenty of cheaper and better tasting Chinese restaurants around.

As we left, we joked about hitting up the McDonald's across the parking lot.  We laughed because we all knew we were half-serious.

I give Chi six months before it goes the way of its predecessors.  I'm starting to think that location must really be cursed.


Chi
42 Dixon Rd
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 956-9051

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monterey: Phil's Fish Market

I'd heard about Phil's Fish Market and its cioppino many, many times.  But there was never any excuse to head down to the Monterey area.  Until last month, when we took advantage of a long weekend to do a little family trip, first to Pinnacles National Park and then to Phil's:


















We'd been warned about the long lines, so we weren't surprised when we arrived.  We were, however, extremely surprised to be able to snag a spot in Phil's tiny parking lot.

We were definitely all cackling as we got out of our car.

The line continues inside, past the bar, and past where you can buy cioppino to go by the bucket:


















Plenty of time to look through the menu and decide what you want.

After you place your order at the counter, find a table (either inside or outside), then wait for your food to be brought to you.  While you're waiting, grab some free bread and butter:


















Entrees come with a salad:


















And garlic bread:























As an appetizer, we decided to try one of Phil's many artichoke dishes.  We asked the lady who took our order what her favorite was.  She said boiled.

Well.

That awkward moment when you ask for someone's recommendation and they say the one thing that doesn't appeal to you at all and then you have you pretend to consider it before picking something else.

We ultimately went with fire roasted, which came with an aioli sauce ($8.95):


















As I've mentioned multiple times before, my mother is a bit of a noodle/pasta fanatic.  In deference to her, we ordered linguine and clams ($19.95):


















I think my sister basically drank the white wine sauce like soup.  Lots and lots of clam inside.

And of course, we couldn't leave without getting the cioppino.  Here it is for two ($48.95):


















Definitely not cheap, but it came heaping with all sorts of seafood from mussels to fish to scallops to crab.  Enough to go around the entire table and still have some leftover to take home.

We figured we should go all out since who knew when we would be back again, so we also ordered the three item fryer ($17.95).  We chose shrimp, squid, and halibut (which was an additional $2):


















The squid was not quite what we expected, but we rolled with it, though the breading kind of overpowered the squid itself.  The shrimp were huge, which we appreciated.  And the halibut was nice and juicy.  Gotta love the fries too.

All in all, Phil's a great place to stop when you're in the Monterey area.  I probably won't make the trip down just to eat at Phil's, but it's nice to have a go-to seafood joint when you're there.  The seafood is solid and the portions are big, but the price tag is a bit hefty (as expected of a seafood restaurant), so prepare yourself for that.

Now I can check Phil's Fish Market off of my list.  Woot woot!


Phil's Fish Market
7600 Sandholdt Rd
Moss Landing, CA 95039
(831) 633-2152
http://philsfishmarket.com/
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