Wednesday, September 22, 2010

South Bay: La Victoria

I swore to myself that I wouldn't leave California until I went to La Victoria:

As I'd expected, La Victoria (fondly known as La Vics) is a happenin' place. It's located right across the street from San Jose State University, so it draws in a large student crowd. The interior isn't very big, so seating can be hard to come by:

We bought our food to-go. Here's what La Vics is famous for:

ORANGE SAUCE. The taste is hard to describe. Smokey, with just a bit of a kick (okay, more than a bit), orange sauce makes everything taste better. After one taste, it's easy to see what all the fuss is about. I smothered each bite of my burrito with it:

I got the regular burrito with lengua. The burrito itself is good, but much more impressive when doused with orange sauce.

Apparently you can buy orange sauce by the bottle. I'll have to look into that. Just writing this post is making me crave La Vics again....

La Victoria
5015 Almaden Expy
San Jose, CA 95118
(408) 978-7666

Berkeley: Gregoire

One of my favorite places in Berkeley is Gregoire:

Even though it's a bit out of the way, I would trudge through rain to get some of these potato puffs:

The menu changes every month at Gregoire, but potato puffs remain a constant. $4.50 for 10 fried balls of mashed potato with aioli (which changes with the menu)...mmMMmm.

The rest of the menu can be a little on the pricey side, but everything is well-thought out, made with locally-grown ingredients, and delicious. Seating at Gregoire consists of some stools at the counter inside where you can watch everything that goes on the small kitchen and two wooden picnic tables outside were you also can watch everything that goes on in the kitchen through the giant open window. No fancy cutlery here. Everything is served to-go in recyclable cardboard containers.

Love, love, love Gregoire.

2109 Cedar St
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 883-1893

Berkeley: Thai Temple

I first heard about Thai Temple during my freshman year of undergrad, fervent whispers promising food in abundance, authentic and to die for. It took me a while to get on the Thai Temple Sunday Brunch train, but once I did, I've never turned back. I'm not ashamed to say that I planned an entire weekend in Berkeley/SF around Thai Temple:

Every Sunday from about 10am to 1pm, the back of Wat Mongkolratanaram is transformed into a bustling food bazaar. There are multiple "stations" that you can get in line for:

All the food is prepared by volunteers. Gotta love Thai food made by these Thai mamas and grandmas:

Because the Thai Temple can't technically sell anything, the entire operation functions by tokens. You exchange your money for tokens ($1 = 1 token). The money is taken as a "donation" to the temple. If you don't end up using all the tokens, you can always trade it back for cash:

The crowd at Thai Temple is always insane. But not to worry, my friends and I have Thai Temple DOWN. Our strategy is simple: divide and conquer. One person finds seats while the others get into different lines, get food, bring the food back to the table, and then get into another line.

The victorious feeling you get when you finally sit down to enjoy what you've gathered together is very much similar to a general's satisfaction in surveying his spoils of war. Not that I've ever been in battle, but I figure that's what it would feel like.

Anyway, onto the Best Thai tea ever for 1 token (you can also get Thai coffee or regular soda):

There are two lines for rice entrees, the veggie and the meat line. (Guess which one I got into?) Think make-your-own-bento style of service. You tell the server behind the mesh how many entrees you want and then proceed to point them out. One entree is 5 tokens, two is 6, and three is 7. We went for three entrees (no duh):

We got the yellow chicken curry, the basil pork, and pad thai. Word of caution: stuff can get pretty spicy at Thai Temple. Keep your Thai tea close.

My comrade-in-arms battled the papaya salad line:

Freshly made, no joke! You can tell them how spicy you want it.

The fried sweets station is open only every other week. We got lucky this time:

The white ones are khanom krog, which are made of coconut milk, green onion, sugar, and rice flour. Perfect for when your tongue feels like it's on fire. I'm not sure what the flatter ones are called, but they're my favorite. Deep fried taro and coconut batter...mmm. Not usually a taro fan, but this stuff is awesome.

There are other stations as well, such as the noodle station, the fried chicken station, the dessert station (mango with sticky rice, anyone?), and the fried banana/taro station. We really wanted fried bananas (the batter is peanut-y, which is sooooo good), but they only had taro at the time. Boo.

Thai Temple is a must for everyone at Berkeley, heck, for everyone that lives within drivable distance of Berkeley. If you haven't gone yet...go this Sunday.

Wat Mongkolratanaram (aka Thai Temple)
1911 Russell St
Berkeley, CA 94703
(510) 849-3419

San Francisco: Bi-Rite Creamery

The real reason why we trekked out to the Mission was for this:

Bi-Rite Creamery, where the lines are long at all hours of day. And where interesting flavors are abundant and mouthwatering:

I taste tested two flavors before I made my order. I can never bring myself to ask for more than two. I tried the toasted coconut and the ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles), but for my single size with 2 flavors, I ordered the salted caramel and the brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl:

The coconut was very...coconut-y. The ricanelas not quite what I imagined. (For some reason, I'd hoped that it would taste like a creamy, frozen horchata.) The salted caramel had a bit of a bitter toasted taste to it, which was interesting but not off-putting. The brown sugar was delicious, though I didn't really taste the ginger. I also got to try a bit of my friend's honey lavender, which was bright and fantastic.

A bit on the expensive side for the serving size, but don't let that (or the line) deter you. Definitely worth the trip!

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 626-5600

San Francisco: Frjtz

After brunch, walking around the Moon Festival in Chinatown, and shopping at Powell, we still weren't all that hungry. I know, weaksauce. We weren't looking for a full on dinner, but we knew that we wanted to check out the Mission. That's how we ended up at Frjtz, thinking that we would just share some fries:

From it's exterior, I was expecting the inside to look something along the lines of Chipotle. Instead, I walked into this white, modern oasis with patterned pillows, skateboard wall art, and chandeliers:

I really enjoyed this wall:

Frjtz is known for its Belgian fries and its various dipping sauces. If you order the small for $3.25, you get to choose one sauce. If you order the large for $4.75, you get to choose two. The three of us split the large fries with pesto mayo and wasabi mayo:

The fries were hot and fresh from the fryer. The pesto mayo was amazing, but the wasabi one was disappointing (very faint in wasabi flavor).

Because we always say that we're not hungry but end up eating more, we ordered the Arles mussels:

Only $12 for a huge bowl of seemingly endless mussels cooked in shallots, butter, parsley, garlic, and white wine. The mussels were fantastic, though on the small side and a bit too salty, even for me. Still good though.

Besides the fries and mussels, Frjtz offers a wide selection of burgers and crepes. I definitely wouldn't mind going back to check out the menu some more. As for the fries, Pomme Frites in New York has a much better sauce selection, but I guess Frjtz will have to do until I can visit the Big Apple again.

590 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-8272

San Francisco: Farmerbrown's Little Skillet

We wanted to start our San Francisco day trip with some brunch that would be light and delicious, but cheap. My friend suddenly mentioned that she had a craving for soul food. I'd heard a lot about Farmerbrown, but a peek at the menu showed that it would be a bit on the heavy side and also a bit more than we wanted to pay. Luckily for us, we discovered through a little research that Farmerbrown had a cheaper offshoot called Little Skillet:

Don't expect seating or service here. Little Skillet is just a window, plain and simple:

There's also a rack with all sorts of condiments (including sriracha!), water, and padding for your butt if you want to sit at the loading dock across the street:

I ordered the 2 piece chicken plus waffle for $8:

I'd read that if you want dark meat, order the 2 piece combo. Like me, my friend wanted to avoid breast meat, so she ordered the 2 piece combo as well. But unlike me, she ended up with a piece of chicken breast. She was a little disappointed, but in the end, said that it was not as dry as she feared it would be. Indeed, the fried chicken was quite awesome. The batter was very light and crunchy, the meat super juicy. The waffle was rather ordinary, however the syrup was like no other syrup I'd ever had before.

When we went, there wasn't much of a line, but I've heard that the wait can get pretty ridiculous. So arrive early (it closes at 2:30pm) and bring cash!

Farmerbrown's Little Skillet
360 Ritch St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 777-2777

Berkeley: Thai Noodle II

I met up with some old friends at Berkeley and of course we had to meet at our usual place, just for old times sake. Our usual place is Thai Noodle (either I or II, doesn't matter):

My friends go so often that they have "regulars" that the servers remember. Me? Well, I never went enough or ordered the same thing enough. This time, I went with the basil eggplant with beef:

Don't expect gourmet Thai here. Thai Noodle is cheap, fast, and decent. The meat can be dry, but oh well. For me, it's the memories that matter.

Thai Noodle II
2426 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 644-9292

Oakland: Bakesale Betty

Ever since I found out about Bakesale Betty after I left Berkeley, I've been dying to go. I remember passing by this nondescript place with no signs during my undergrad years and wondering at the long line:

Well, my chance finally came and I was particularly charmed by the handwritten menu posted on the window and the ironing boards that functioned as tables:

To start off, my friend and I got the lemonade ices:

Very tart, just the way I like my lemonade.

We didn't originally plan on getting dessert, but after seeing the strawberry shortcake, we couldn't help ourselves:

I know this may be a little out of order, but I just had to open it up and admire all the strawberries. Somewhere underneath all that is a wonderful shortcake...and there's also a mound of whipped cream on the other side of the strawberry mountain.

This, of course, was what led to me Bakesale Betty in the first place:

The fried chicken sandwich is AMAZING:

Two (not one) pieces of fried chicken on a bed of cole slaw. Makes a mess, but a delicious mess.

Will definitely be back to try all the other baked goodies. If you want to try Bakesale Betty, get there early. It closes at 2:30pm.

Bakesale Betty
5098 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 985-1213

Berkeley: Ippuku

Thursday night, my old college roomie whisked me away to Berkeley for a food-filled weekend. Despite having pho together for dinner back in San Jose, we grabbed my other old college roomie and headed to the newly opened Ippuku for a late night "snack":

Love the design of Ippuku:

It's very intimate and perfect for some late night bonding with friends over some Japanese beer (which is on tap...and according to our server, is quite rare to find on tap in the States) or some yakitori or both.

We started with the jidori gyoza:

The chicken filling was very fine and the skin was quite delicate.

We also got the grilled squid:

The combination of squid, mayo, and ginger was just amazing.

Then came the grilled chicken gizzard:

Great texture, great flavor...yum yum yum.

One of my friends ordered the grapefruit chu-hai cocktail:

I think I had more fun watching her squeeze the grapefruit than she had squeezing it.

My other friend ordered the umeboshi plum chu-hai cocktail:

I took a sip and I actually was okay with it. Couldn't taste the alcohol in it. Nice.

We were informed that the kitchen was closing, so we sent in a last-minute order for a matcha sundae:

There were little bits of crunchy green stuff that we tried to figure out and failed. These was also a very faint alcohol flavor that we were trying to trace. (I think it was in the syrup.) The anko was great, but I wasn't a fan of the jelly cubes.

I would definitely come back to Ippuku because there's so much on the menu that I want to try. Beware though, portions are small but prices don't reflect that.

2130 Center St
Berkeley, CA 94074
(510) 665-1969

South Bay: Pho Tau Bay

It took two attempts to get pho before I finally succeeded the third time. According to some Vietnamese friends, Pho Tau Bay has the best pho in the area:

Can't have pho without fresh bean sprouts, basil, and lime:

I got the steak and tendon pho:

I remember them serving the steak separately in the past, but I could be wrong. Regardless, the amount (and size) of tendon in the bowl almost brought tears to my eyes:

Have I mentioned how much I love tendon?

Anyway, the pho at Pho Tau Bay is indeed quite delicious, but I'm still torn between it and Kim Long. Kim Long is cheaper with bigger portions...and an extensive non-pho menu. Pho Tau Bay is only a tiny bit more expensive and doesn't have much beyond pho...but the pho is good. Guess it just depends on what you're in the mood for.

Pho Tau Bay
1628 D Hostetter Rd
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 441-7261

South Bay: Hot Pot Palace

When I found out that the dim sum place by my house had been replaced by a hot pot buffet, I was devastated. I love dim sum. I dislike hot pot. During my visit back home, my parents informed me that they avoided Hot Pot Palace because one of my relatives told them that the food was gross. Fine by me.

So imagine my distaste when a family friend suggested that we eat at Hot Pot Palace instead of getting pho for lunch as we'd originally planned. I couldn't say in we went:

First you're asked what kind of soup base you want:

I went for the original meat stock:

There were two separate counters, one for hot pot ingredients and the other for dim sum:

I think I would've appreciated the entire experience more if I actually liked hot pot. The dim sum was passable but not incredible. The most fun I had was mixing my own sauce from the wide array of condiments available.

$11.99 per person for lunch and $14.99 for dinner. Not too bad. You can definitely eat enough to make it worth it.

Hot Pot Palace Buffet
1628 Hostetter Rd
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 392-0566
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