Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Davis: Fuji Sushi Boat Buffet

Located in Davis, Fuji Sushi Buffet is an hour some drive from Berkeley.  So back in undergrad, it was a special occasion kind of thing.  Or a huge craving kind of thing.  

Two weeks ago, my family suddenly had the crazy notion of driving up to Fuji for lunch on a Friday (from San Jose, the drive takes over 2 hours):

We picked up our piano teacher's daughter (who's a student at UC Davis) along the way and brought her with us.

I remember the first time I went to Fuji back in undergrad we had to leave Berkeley really early in the morning and arrived at Fuji around 9:30 am.  Even at that hour there were already people in line, waiting for Fuji to open at 11:00.  If you missed the first round, the wait could go up to 2 hours.  We really were pretty crazy then.

Thanks to another Japanese buffet opening up in the area, there isn't much of a line at Fuji nowadays.  Though things aren't as crazy as they used to be, there's still a bit of traffic:

Another change from my undergrad days is the price.  Prices have gone up 2 bucks to $13.99 for lunch and $18.99 dinner.

At the back of the restaurant, there's a sushi boat counter.  People seated at the table can walk up to the counter and order directly from the sushi chefs or pick from the sushi boats at the ends.

Giant rolls can be found at the top of the counter.  We brought a few plates back to our table, among other goodies:

We snagged nigiri and other rolls off the sushi boats:

There's a sign at the side of the sushi counter where you can order fried stuff.  Here we got agedashi (tofu) and soft shell crab:

There's also salmon collarbone on the sushi boats:

You can order sashimi straight from the sushi chefs.  We get 6 people worth at one time (we're baller like that):

Oh, and you can also order a variety of hand rolls (salmon skin here):

For $13.99, that's a lot of food.  Okay, so the sushi may not be the best quality (the rice wasn't as good as I remembered), but it's still a good deal.  Especially with all you can eat soft shell crab and sashimi.  So bring buffet-worthy friends with you when you go to Fuji.  Definitely not wimps who get orange slices after only one round (yea, I'm talking about you, Awkward B).  Gotta get your money's worth, you know.

Every time I leave Fuji, I feel like my stomach is coated in salmon - that's how much I eat.  It's not a pleasant sensation and one would think I would learn my lesson after experiencing it once.  Nope.  Every time.  I'm not sure if the accompanying sense of triumph is worth the discomfort, but I do know I always leave with a desire to avoid sushi for a long, long time.

Fuji Sushi Boat Buffet
213 G St
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 753-3888

South Bay: John's of Willow Glen

I accompanied my mom to her last sewing class and got dinner out in compensation.  Neither of us were really familiar with that particular part of San Jose, so we decided to stick close to the sewing store.  John's happened to be just a few doors down:

It seemed like quite the community hotspot:

John's serves up Greek and American cuisine.  I really wanted to try out the Greek menu, but the only thing remotely Greek we ended up getting was the Greek lemon soup:

We had 40 minutes before my mom's class began, so we figured sandwiches would make the quickest meal.  I ordered the grilled eggplant sandwich:

The grilled sourdough was perfectly crisp and the roasted red peppers added a sweetness to the eggplant and swiss cheese.

My mom wanted to try the mushroom burger:

Decent burger.  My mom certainly enjoyed it.  (She still talks about it.)

My mom had to eat and run in order to make it to her class on time, but I stayed behind and finished the meal at my own pace.  Apparently it was a week for bill mishaps because when I paid the bill and got my change, 20 bucks was missing.  Definitely not my fault this time.  The server was very nice and everything got sorted out with no fuss at all.

Sewing class ended up being rather interesting (I learned some new terminology and sewing machine tricks), but toward the end, I was itching to leave.  Thank goodness class let out early.  I don't think I would've lasted much longer.

John's of Willow Glen
1238 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95125
(408) 998-1440

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

South Bay: New Bambu

After Sen Dai, we hit up New Bambu for some Vietnamese dessert (che!):

As usual, I was overwhelmed by the menu:

Besides che, New Bambu also has a wide variety of other drinks as well.  Apparently, they also have Vietnamese sandwiches

T ended up ordering for us, so I have no idea what anything is.  Don't they look pretty though?:

After a while, everything starts to taste the same, since everything except for the second cup from the left is coconut based.  The only difference is the texture.  Che with mung bean or taro in them are thicker and creamier.

The second cup from the left is the only che that stood out to me.  We ordered it at the recommendation of the lady behind the counter.  I'm a sucker for avocado and the lady said that it was basically avocado with jellies in it.  I didn't realize until too late that when she said avocado she meant straight up avocado.  The dessert basically tasted like guacamole...which is good on a chip, but not from a straw.  I had to add some coconut milk from the other che to make it more palatable.

All the other che tasted great.  It was just the avocado one that threw me off.  I'm going to stick to nice, safe avocado smoothies from now on.

NB ordered a banana mocha with pearls and asked us not to judge her too harshly:

We didn't.  Outwardly.  (Just kidding, NB!)

LoveLOVElove che.  One day I'm going to be able to walk into New Bambu and order myself.  I swear it!  I guess I better start by having T write down what she orders the next time we go...

New Bambu
1756 N Milpitas Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 942-1790

South Bay: Sen Dai Sushi

As if all the food we had in SoCal wasn't enough to last us a while, the day after we returned, T, my sister, and I met up with my high school friend, NB, for lunch at Sen Dai:

I'd been wanting to go for a while, so I shamelessly suggested it when T asked where we should go.  The last time I tried to go with my mom and ahyi, the parking lot was so full that we hightailed it out of there.  This time, parking was a lot more manageable and there was no wait to get seated.

My sister and I split a saba shioyaki bento and added tempura:

T and NB went with a chicken terriyaki bento:

And added sashimi:

The four of us split 3 rolls.  Here's the blondie bombshell roll and the matsu:

The blondie bombshell was was a unagi and avocado rolle topped with yellowtail, crushed macadamia nuts, and tobiko.  The matsu was a unagi and crab roll topped with halibut, tuna, salmon, avocado, and wasabi sauce.

Our third roll was the hopyard:

Hopyard was a baked unagi and avocado roll topped with salmon and some kind of cream sauce that was a bit too rich for me.  My favorite was probably the blondie bombshell.

At the end of the meal, there were a few pieces of sushi left, so we played a Chinese game of chance to determine who would have to eat which piece.  Or that's how it was supposed to work.  My poor sister lost the first round and dutifully ate the last piece of hopyard.  But when we were gearing up to play for the last blondie bombshell, NB wimped out.  In the end, T just took a piece and I took the one leftover.

The big drama of the day was when we had a mishap with the bill.  The manager got involved, I left my phone number...lots of drama.  It turned out to be my error, but Sen Dai was very courteous throughout the entire fiasco.  I got a call from Sen Dai later that same day and the manager was very cordial and apologetic even though it was all my own fault.

I wish things hadn't been blown up as big as it had, but I was very impressed with Sen Dai's service.  The food is also good and reasonably priced.  I'll definitely be back...if I can get into the parking lot again.

Sen Dai Sushi
224 N Abel St
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 263-1472

Los Angeles: Porto's Bakery & Cafe

Monday morning (two weeks ago...damn I'm so behind on my posts), we said our goodbyes to the Chang Gang, piled into our trusty red rental car, and set off for NorCal.  Along the way north, we stopped by Porto's for some sustenance, i.e., coffee and pastries:

There are 3 Porto's in SoCal.  We dropped by the Downey one.

Once you step inside, you have the option of heading toward the bakery section or the cafe section:

We went for the bakery section:

So much to gawk at and drool over!

T was very vocal about ordering the potato balls.  She also made it very clear that she wasn't going to share.  So we got 3:

Fried mashed potato balls?  Hello.  Come to mama.

Unlike Gregoire in Berkeley, Porto's potato ball is bigger and comes stuffed with meat and veggies:

Very distinctly Cuban in flavor.  Definitely get one...or a dozen if you're ever at Porto's.

We also split a Cuban sandwich:

It was good...but I've had better.

Now on to the sweets!!  First up was the tres leches cake:

Super cute, but not as good as Kristoffer's in Chicago.  Then again, Kristoffer's has probably ruined all other tres leches cakes for me.

The rest of the pastries we took to go and ate later during our road trip.  Here's the almond croissant:

Originally, that's all we bought.  But after sitting down to wait for our sandwich, the magnetic pull of the pastry counter was too strong to resist, so we got back in line for more.

My sister was curious about the strawberry and cheese strudel:

Whereas I wanted to try the chocolate croissant:

All the pastries were perfectly flaky and delicious, even after sitting in the car for 4 hours, but my favorite of the day had to be the potato balls.  Hands down.

The first time the cashier rang us up, the total came out to over 40 bucks, which freaked the hell out of us.  What did we order?!  After we checked the receipt, we discovered that we were charged for 3 meat pies instead of 3 potato balls.  Whew!  Thank goodness we got that cleared up.  Lesson of the day: check your receipts.

Porto's is the amusement park of bakeries.  No mom and pop bakery here.  It's just sensory overload the minute you step in.  Be prepared to wait in line too.  Despite the commercialized feel of the place, Porto's is definitely worth a trip.  Beware though, one trip won't be enough.  There's just too much to try!

With that, our five day SoCal trip came to an end.  When we got back to San Jose, my parents had a steak dinner waiting for us.  Now that's what I call a warm welcome home.

Porto's Bakery & Cafe
8233 Firestone Blvd
Downey, CA 90241
(562) 862-8888

Monday, August 29, 2011

Orange County: Thach Che Hien Khanh

4 spring rolls were quite a lot, but a short walk to the next plaza was enough to shift things around and create some space in our stomachs for dessert.

According to T's friend, Hien Khanh is supposed to have some of the best che (Vietnamese for "dessert" and the only word my sister and I really learned from T after some 13 years of friendship):

Walking into this kind of place always makes me feel like a kid in a candy store:

So much to choose from:

Most of which I cannot identify:

I can recognize the coconut milk, but what's sitting in it is beyond me.

Luckily, T was there.  Not only is she Vietnamese, her tastes are similar to mine.  Having her with us also made ordering a lot easier.  We just stepped aside and let her do her thang.

Something new she introduced us to was this sweet potato like dessert covered in shredded coconut:

It's starchier than a sweet potato, with a subtler sweetness.

Then there was this more familiar glutinous rice with black-eyed peas and coconut milk:

Some kind of fruity coconut concoction:

And at my sister's request, a three-color dessert drink:

The mung bean added a creaminess while the water chestnuts added a fun crunch and the jelly something Q.

Love love love che.

We took a bite of each and then saved the rest for the family we stayed with (fondly known as the Chang Gang).  T, my sister, and I said our goodbyes to Goddess C and then made it back to Irvine in time for church.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out with the Chang Gang.  We were treated out to a great Chinese dinner, which really should have been T's and my treat since I successfully stole the bill.  Unfortunately, the Chang Gang cheated by taking us to a restaurant where they knew the owner.  I stole the bill but nobody would take my credit card.

Dinner, fail.  But breakfast?  Super win!

Thach Che Hien Khanh
9784 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-5105

Orange County: Brodard Restaurant

Meeting up with my Chicago Law friend who lives in SoCal (let's call her Goddess C) proved to be rather tricky, but we finally got it done early - as in 8:30 in the morning early - on our last full day in SoCal. We decided to meet at Brodard, which was a nice in-between point for us coming from Irvine and her coming from Pomona:

The restaurant was pretty hard to find.  Reviews online mentioned a 99 cent discount store, which we located just fine.  But there was no sign of Brodard.  We finally decided to walk into the Mall of Fortune.  Lo and behold, there it was.  Turns out while the Brodard cafe is facing the doors of the Mall of Fortune, the entrance to the restaurant is on the backside of the building complex.

Apparently, Goddess C is smarter than a law student, a pharmacy student, and a JHU undergrad combined because she found the restaurant with no problem.

I had Brodard during an undergrad SoCal trip when CL's mom bought some spring rolls back home.  The taste of those springs rolls and that CRAZY sauce stuck with me for 3 years.  Making it inside the actual restaurant was kind of a dream come true for me:

8:30 am may be early, but we weren't the only people with the same idea.  Within half an hour, most of these tables were populated with people.

Goddess C and my sister both ordered a cup of Vietnamese coffee:

It came with a glass of hot water.  It was that intense.

T went the iced coffee route:

I was more interested in the spring rolls, which are what Brodard is really known for.  We ordered 4 kinds.

They came with three different kind of sauces:

The one at the top was for the cured beef paste rolls.  The one on the lower right was for the vegetarian roll.  The one on the lower left is my favorite.  I call it CRACK SAUCE.  It's so good that I could drink it.  It's warm, delicious, and I have absolutely no idea what's in it.  I would kill to find out though...

The crack sauce goes with the chao tom cuon (shrimp spring rolls):

Instead of individual shrimp, this roll is made with grilled shrimp paste:

There's also lettuce, cucumber, carrot, daikon, mint...and a green onion tail.  What is so awesome about Brodard is that instead of vermicelli noodles, the spring rolls are made with crunchy fried bits.  Completely unexpected and completely delicious.

The crack sauce also goes with the nem nuong cuon (pork spring rolls):

Same as the shrimp spring roll except made with grilled pork paste:

The bi chay cuon (vegetarian spring roll) was my least favorite of the 4:

In addition to veggies found in the other rolls, the vegetarian spring roll also included shredded tofu, mushroom, vermicelli, and sweet potato string:

Now, while I admit to being an avid meat eater, I've been known to enjoy vegetables every once in a while.  I didn't enjoy this particular spring roll not because it was vegetarian, but because the filling tasted a bit stale to me.

We probably should have stopped with 3 orders of rolls, but we stubbornly pushed forward with the 4th, the nem chua cuon (cured beef paste spring rolls):

It looked like there were little pieces of chili pepper in the cured beef paste, but I didn't taste them:

4 spring rolls don't sound like a lot, but trust me, we all left feeling more than a bit full.

On our way out, we stopped by the counter to order some spring rolls to go (for the family we were staying with, not for ourselves, geez).  That's when we noticed this impressive spring roll assembly line:

A whole line of people making spring rolls.  How awesome is that?

Brodard really needs to expand to the Bay.  Pronto.  I'll be dreaming about these spring rolls and that crack sauce for a while to come.

Brodard Restaurant
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 530-1744
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