Saturday, November 30, 2013

South Bay: Tatami Seafood Buffet

My mom didn't know where she wanted to go for her birthday.  We randomly picked Azuma and started driving in that direction.  Along the way, we passed by Vallco Shopping Mall and that's when my mom not so subtly hinted at wanting to eat at Tatami Seafood Buffet.

My mom has this problem of never saying directly what she wants.  She'll edge around it all day and though everyone knows what's she's trying to say, she just won't come out and say it.  Anyway, since it was her birthday, my dad and I didn't call her out on it and instead made a quick turn into the Vallco Mall parking lot.

Okay, so maybe I did call her out on it.  I'm a snotty kid like that.  Heh.

I'd never been inside Vallco Mall before and I quickly realized why.  Besides Macy's, it has NOTHING.  It's basically on its last leg.  You can see remnants of its former glory in the markings on the wall left behind by the signs of major name stores that have since moved on and out.

The mall seemed eerily absent of life until we found Tatami:

It wasn't exactly bustling, but there were a decent number of people there for a Monday night:

I wasn't expecting much, but I ended up being quite pleasantly surprised.  There were multiple bars and a lot to browse there.  There was a sushi bar, a salad bar, a seafood bar, a hot foods bar that included a grill section and a create your own udon station, as well as a dessert bar that boasted of a build your own crepe option and a chocolate fountain.

Here's what I got on my first go around through the hot foods bar:

There was a strange mix of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dishes.

Of course my dad, being the typical Asian father, went straight for the crab:

That's basically all he needs at buffets.  Seafood, seafood, and seafood.  He doesn't waste stomach space on anything else.

Whereas I like to dabble at the sushi bar:

Quite a selection of sushi at Tatami and every other roll was not some variation of the California roll.  Kudos for that.  Gotta love the nigiri and sashimi too.  Both of which were surprisingly fresh.

I'm pretty weaksauce when it comes to buffets, which is why it's not really worth the money to take me to one.  You can see why by looking at my second round:

Pathetic, I know.  I was pretty full off of all the sushi, but I made myself do a walk around the salad bar and take some beef carpaccio.  Now that's my kind of salad.

The desserts offered at Tatami are pretty standard for Japanese/Chinese buffets:

I'm pretty sure they all order their desserts from the same place.  Everything looks cute, but they never taste any good.  Blech.

Anyway, the best part about Tatami is that you get to eat free on your birthday as long as you go with at least two paying adults.  Something we didn't know about until we got inside.  Score!  Thanks to my mom, we saved $22.95 (the cost of dinner from Monday to Thursday).  Hopefully next year her birthday lands on a weekend so that we can save even more ($25.95).  Woot!

For those of you who are interested, Tatami also does weddings.  We spotted the adjacent room with the advertising posted on the window on our way out.  If you're dead set on a buffet wedding reception, I would recommend Tatami.  It's a better option than World Gourmet Buffet, just sayin'.

Happy birthday, mommy!

Tatami Seafood Buffet
10123 N Wolfe Rd #2001
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 996-3444

Friday, November 29, 2013

South Bay: Shanghai Dumpling

My parents took just about everyone to Shanghai Dumpling before they finally found time to take me.  Oh, they told me about it, of course.  They lovingly described the soup dumplings and once they even brought me some leftover shen jian bao (pan fried buns).

When I finally set my eyes on Shanghai Dumpling, I was excited:

I love buns.

We arrived just a little before the kitchen was supposed to close, but there were still quite a few people enjoying lunch inside:

Of course we had to order the steamed pork soup dumplings ($5.95):

This is what it looks like inside:

The soup dumplings were good, but not as amazing as I thought they would be.  Even my parents were somewhat disappointed.  Maybe they were just having an off day.

The glutinous rice with pork and bamboo ($10.95), however, was quite fab:

The pork was fatty without being overly so.  The bamboo was a nice addition and the sauce was sweet and savory and just yummy with the glutinous rice.  My only complaint is that there could have been more rice.  Way more.

My mom always likes to order minced shrimp lettuce wraps ($9.95):

 This was one of the better ones I've had in a while.  Here it is in its little lettuce shell:

The pine nuts in the filling made added a fun crunch and they were certainly not shy with the shrimp. 

My favorite, however, was the shen jian bao or pan fried buns ($7.95):

They come stuffed with pork:

So.  Good.  The bun and the meat are perfectly proportioned.  I hate it when there's too much bun.  The meat filling is well seasoned and juicy.  The bun is light and has a good crust from where it was sitting on the pan. 

Shanghai Dumpling definitely delivered.  While the soup dumplings weren't all that, I would go back for the pan fried buns alone. 

Hopefully the next time I go they won't be playing Jay Chou music videos nonstop on their multiple TV screens.  I won't hold my breath though.  From what I read on Yelp, it seems to be an everyday thing.  Sigh.

Shanghai Dumpling
10895 S Blaney Ave
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 777-8786

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Redwood Highway: Poppa Joe's

We started off the second day of of our Labor Day redwood weekend getaway at Poppa Joe's:

The owners of the cottage we stayed at recommended it as THE place to be for breakfast in Ferndale.

Judging by the number of people inside, it definitely was:

CK, T, and I decided to split a couple things, as usual.  The big wldcat breakfast burrito came with eggs, a choice of bacon or sausage (we got sausage), cheese, onions, and potatoes:

We created our own omelette, which came with hash browns and an English muffin:

We could choose one meat and two veggie items and a type of cheese.  We went with linguica, onion, and mushrooms:

Just for some sweetness, we added a waffle:

 Unashamedly Portuguese (hard to miss with the giant Portuguese flag proudly hanging on the wall), Poppa Joe's is the epitome of a much loved small town joint.  Old timers relax at the counter alongside tourists nursing their coffee and friendly servers seem to know just about everyone by name.  Everything at Poppa Joe's was hearty and filling and just plain good.  My favorite had to be the linguica.  Very meaty with a bit of spice.  The prices were reasonable and Poppa Joe's covers the sales tax.  Nice.

After breakfast, we left Ferndale and spent the morning doing a scavenger hunt at Loletta Cheese Factory.  The rest of the day was spent getting lost while trying and finally getting to Shelter Cove.  The black sand beach there is more like a black rock beach, but it was still gorgeous.  We almost died getting there (damn unpaved mountain roads), but it was worth it.

On the drive home, we stopped by McDonald's for a late, late dinner because we couldn't find the In-N-Out our GPS kept insisting was just down the street.  No complaints here.  I love MCDs.  CL, on the other hand, wasn't very happy.  What a fast food snob.

All in all, it was nice to just get away for the weekend and hang out with friends.  Nature is definitely nice when no hiking is involved.  (I made sure of that when CL first brought up the idea for the trip.)  If I had my way, all nature excursions would be just like this one: long drives down scenic routes with random pullover stops to wander and take photos.  

The beauty of nature plus minimal exercise.  Ah, perfection.

Poppa Joe's
409 Main
Ferndale, CA 95536
(707) 786-4180

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Redwood Highway: Ferndale Pizza Co

After a day of frolicking down the Avenue of Giants (can one frolic through redwood forests?), we rolled into Ferndale and checked into the cutest little cottage for the night.

Ferndale is about as quaint and cute as a small town can get.  Just about everything can be found on this one main street, including most of the restaurants.  We walked up and down the street (didn't take that long) before we finally settled on Ferndale Pizza Co for dinner:

Our other two options included a fancy restaurant that was a bit too pricey for our tastes and a steakhouse that had a long wait.  Ferndale Pizza Co was perfect because we were tired and hungry and in no mood for waiting:

The six of us ended up splitting a pizza and an entree.  The entree came with bread and butter:

I think I was the only person who dug into the bread.  But that's probably because I hogged the bread basket.

For our large pizza, we wanted half hot cowgirl (Canadian bacon, salami, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and jalapenos) and half wildcat (pepperoni, sausage, meatball, and salami):

No herbivores in our party.

The pizza was cheesy and the crust bread-y.  Not exactly memorable, but it did the job that night.

I forgot who wanted the eggplant parmigiana, but the rest of us were all on board.  Especially when we heard that we could order the lasagna as a side (it was either that or spaghetti or ravioli:

Basically all you can taste is the marinara sauce, which was fine by me.  I could happily dip bread in marinara sauce all day.

By the time we walked back to our cottage, we were stuffed and exhausted.  But that didn't stop us from whipping out Taboo and playing a couple rounds. 

Gotta make every waking hour count when you're on vacation!

Ferndale Pizza Co
607 Main St
Ferndale, CA 95536
(707) 786-4345

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Redwood Highway: Loose Caboose Cafe

Over Labor Day weekend, CL had the brilliant idea of taking a trip up to see the redwoods.  The most brilliant part of it all was that CL and her friends took care of all the planning.  T and I just had to pack our bags and pile into the rented van.

On our way to the Avenue of the Giants, we made a stop in the city of Willits for lunch.  Loose Caboose Cafe came up in a Yelp search: 

It was really cozy inside and felt like a place where everyone knew everyone:

There were six of us in total and we snagged the largest table inside.

Our server was this really friendly young woman who cheerfully explained to us that something funny was going on with the water in Willits.  Ooookay...  She suggested that we order bottled water, which we did, and was nice enough to subtract the bottles we didn't open from our final bill.

While everyone else figured out what they wanted to order, CL, T, and I decided to split two sandwiches and one salad.

Our first sandwich was the Santa Fe chicken ($7.95):

It included spicy ranch, mild green chili, bacon, baked chicken breast, cheddar cheese, lettuce, avocado, and tomato.

Our second was the french dip connection ($7.95):

Which consisted of basil vinaigrette, roast beef, and swiss cheese, with a dish of au jus.

In retrospect, sharing sandwiches that have been pre-cut into halves between three people isn't the easiest thing to do.  We probably should've requested that they be left whole...or cut into threes.  That would've been smart, wouldn't it?

Yea.  Obviously higher education doesn't necessary equal sandwich smartness.

The locomotive chef salad ($8.95) was much easier to share:

It was loaded with stuff.  Turkey, ham, red bell peppers, black olives, carrots, tomatoes, red onions, and two types of cheese...holy moly.  What Loose Caboose Cafe didn't have in quality, it definitely made up in quantity.

I doubt I'll ever find myself in Willits again, unless I'm taking another trip to see the redwoods.  However, if I do find myself in Willits, I wouldn't mind hitting up Loose Caboose Cafe again.  The service is friendly and the decor is cute and homey.  And while I thought they were a bit on pricey side, the sandwiches were good.

I would skip the salad though.  I think it should be a rule to always try to order things that you can't make at home (or at least can't make conveniently).  The locomotive chef salad did not fall into that category.  I'm no whiz in the kitchen, but even I can shred turkey and slice cheese.

Last thought: hopefully, Willits got its water fixed after we left.       

Loose Caboose Cafe
10 Wood St
Willits, CA 95490
(707) 459-1434

South Bay: Butter & Zeus

Now that I've started working, I completely understand why people find it so difficult to meet up on the weekdays.  It really takes planning...and sacrifice.  By the time I get home from work, I just want to go to bed.  Screw dinner.

The last thing I want is to have to drag my butt back out to meet a friend.  Even on a Friday night.  But for T, I would do it.  Especially if we had something to celebrate.

Back in August, T found out that she landed her first job out of pharmacy school.  A celebratory dinner was in order.

Luckily, T already had a restaurant picked out so I didn't have to activate my brain cells:

When T told me that Butter & Zeus specializes in waffles, I was intrigued.

It was quiet inside for a Friday night:

We placed our order at the counter and then took a number back to our table to wait for our food.  T checked in on Facebook and got us a free fountain drink.  It's times like this that tempt me to get a smart phone.

We ordered the chicken 'n waffle ($6.99): 

The waffle came topped with buttermilk fried chicken and a touch of honey.  It also came with a side of slaw.  Forget the slaw (it wasn't all that great) and focus on the fried chicken.  Perfectly fried and juicy, it was sublime with maple syrup and a bite of the waffle.

We also ordered the brie 'n prosciutto waffle ($7.49):

The blueberry preserves served as a sweet compliment to the savory prosciutto.  Not as spectacular as the chicken 'n waffle, but pretty damn good.

We couldn't help adding on the barbacoa pork fries ($6.99):

The fries (waffle, of course) were smothered in cola pulled pork, sour cream, cilantro-lime dressing, and green onion.  Kind of sweet, definitely salty, and very yummy.

Since we were celebrating, we couldn't leave without dessert.  We could have ordered one of the dessert waffles, but we were kind of all waffled out.  Instead, we went with the banana pudding ($4.99):

Very rich and creamy.  Not quite as decadent as the one from Magnolia Bakery, but a good substitute when you don't have a Magnolia handy.

Great find in the South Bay.  I wouldn't mind another visit to Butter & Zeus.  There are plenty more waffle sandwiches just waiting for me to try.

Congratulations again, T.  I know how frustrated you are still waiting for the California boards results, but I know you kicked ass on it and I guarantee you'll be getting the good news soon.  Woot!

Butter & Zeus
2213 Tasman Dr
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(408) 727-1800

Friday, November 15, 2013

South Bay: Snowice

I wanted to share my favorite Japanese restaurant, Tanto, with both CK and T, so I suggested it when we were talking about what to get for dinner.  As I expected, both of them loved Tanto.  We ordered so much food that I was literally in pain by the end of the meal.

That didn't stop us from stopping by Snowice for dessert though:

While I wanted to curl up and sink into a food-induced coma, T and CK merrily debated the patbingsoo (Korean shaved ice) menu.

Thanks to the process of elimination, we ultimately decided on the rich lychee:

The shaved ice itself was lychee flavored and it was topped with milk, mochi, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple/mango (there was a bit of confusion there that led to a heated discussion).

The fruit weren't exactly ripe and the lychee flavor in the shaved ice could have been a bit more pronounced.  The best part, in my opinion, was the mochi.  Even though I was still hurting from the massive dinner we had, I made myself spoon in as much of the patbingsoo as I could.

It's the Chinese in me.  When you pay for something, you finish it even if it kills you.

Not sure if I will be back again.  Eight bucks for a shaved ice just doesn't really sit well with me.  Maybe I'm just too spoiled by shaved ice in Taiwan.  Sorry, Snowice.

3561 El Camino Real, Ste 99
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 251-1002

South Bay: Com Tam Thanh

T wanted to take me to get broken rice for what seemed like forever.  She kept telling me how broken rice is just different from regular rice, how much better it is.

Since both my sister and CK were in town over the summer (CK's fiancé had to leave early to get back to work), we used them as an excuse to finally make it to Com Tam Thanh:

We got there pretty early, but the restaurant quickly filled up by the time our food arrived:

We figured we'd start with some spring rolls to whet our appetite:

Then came the broken rice.  Finally:

We got the pork chop, which also came with picked carrots and daikon, a shredded pork skin salad (say what?) called bi, and fried bean curd.  When you mix the pork skin with the rice, it's heavenly.  Add some fish sauce and you're golden.

Even though broken rice was really all that we wanted, we added a bowl of vermicelli with duck and bamboo shoots to appease the waiter:

The duck and assorted veggies came on the side:

While the vermicelli noodle soup was good, I've always been a rice kind of gal.  Broken rice certainly has a different texture than regular rice, but I'm not sure if I totally grasp why people love it so much.  Yet.  I think I need to try it a couple more times before I can give a well-reasoned opinion. 

T, when we getting broken rice again?

Com Tam Thanh
905 S Bascom Ave
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 279-8588

Yosemite: Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort

When CK promised (threatened?) to visit at least once every six months, she really wasn't kidding.  She and her fiancé came out to California back in August.  Since my family was already planning a trip to Yosemite, we invited them along. 

We spent our first day in Yosemite hiking (less than) halfway up the Four-Mile Trail, ditching CK's fiancé to hike the rest of the way by himself, and then driving the long scenic route to meet him at the top.  We ended our day at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort where we patiently waited to catch the Perseid meteor shower. 

Somehow I always ended up looking at the wrong patch of sky.  I only saw one meteor (though it was a doozy of a meteor) while everyone else walked away with at least five or six under their belts. 

When I think of meteor showers, I picture a bazillion meteors streaking across the sky like pouring rain.  Not the random trickle we saw. 

Freakin Perseid meteor shower. 

Anyway, we started our second day in Yosemite with breakfast at the Yosemite Bug Cafe:

Definitely very rustic:

Breakfast is served from 7:00 to 10:30.  My family got there before CK and her fiancé.  Because we were cutting it kind of close to the kitchen closing time, we ordered first.

I don't remember if it was my mom or my sister that ordered this, but someone got the ham and cheese omelette ($9):

It came with a choice of toast or hash browns.  You can see what we went with.

Whoever did not order the omelette ended up with the breakfast burrito ($8):

It came stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese, black beans, chipotle sour cream, salsa, and avocado:

My dad wasn't super hungry, so he wanted the continental ($6):

It included two eggs, toast, and a drink.  He wanted coffee.

I also wasn't very hungry, so I got the continental too.  But I made the mistake of asking for the eggs to be scrambled:

Is that not the saddest scrambled eggs you've ever seen?  Not even ketchup could save it.

Not the most glamorous of breakfasts, but what else can you expect from a resort made of tent cabins?  Okay, that's not entirely true.  There were also dorm cabins and private rooms.

Yosemite Bug is great place to stay if you're visiting Yosemite National Park on a budget.  The staff are super friendly and while walking up steep stairs to get to your tent cabin can get quite tiring (especially while carrying luggage), it's quiet and very peaceful.  There's a kitchen for those of you who pack your own grub (as we did for dinner) and for those of you who want to avoid the hassle, the cafe isn't too bad.  Check it out!

We spent the rest of the day gawking at giant sequoias and romping through meadows before finally heading home.  It was a long way to drive, but it was nice to get out of the bustle of the Bay for a while and just relax and soak in nature.  Though I still detest hiking from the deepest part of my itty bitty heart, even a bitter old cynic like me can't deny the majesty of Yosemite.

Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort
6979 California 140
Midpines, CA 95345
(209) 966-6666
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