Monday, December 30, 2013

South Bay: Chocatoo

I finally got a chance to catch up with VT a few weeks back.  T and I met her at San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose.

The original plan was to get dinner, but none of us were really hungry, so we did the next best thing instead.  Dessert.  Hellooooo Chocatoo:

Someone recommended that we try the Mexican hot chocolate.  The cookies were all me:

I saw the array of fat cookies through the display window and I just couldn't resist.  The peanut butter chip and the chocolate chip were both calling to me.  The lady behind the counter popped them in the microwave and when they reemerged, they were warm and soft and decadent and heavenly.

The Mexican hot chocolate was...aight.  Just a bit overshadowed by the cookies.  And frankly, I was more in the mood for a glass of milk after one bite of the peanut butter chip one.

Walking through San Pedro Square reminded me just how little I know about downtown SJ.  My own backyard!  That's a mistake that I really need to get on fixing.

Maybe after my trip in January.  Heh.

100 N Almaden Ave, Suite 166
San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 564-6953

Saturday, December 28, 2013

South Bay: Chavez Supermarket & Taqueria

This month, my parents made an unexpected 10-day trip back to Taiwan leaving me home alone.  While they were gone, multiple people checked in on me at various times to see if I was still alive.

They all had the same two fears: 1) that I was going to freeze to death (we were going through an uncommonly cold winter for the Bay Area and I was too Chinese to turn on the heater) and if not that, then 2) that I was going to starve to death.  Never mind the fact that I have fended for myself just fine while I was living in Chicago for three years.

While I concede that freezing to death was a very close thing a couple nights, there was no way that I was going to starve to death.  I had a Costco box of yogurt in the fridge and two bags of clementines to sustain me those 10 days.

As if that weren't enough, my ahyi and T both made sure to invite me to eat out a few times during the week...and order enough for me to have leftovers to last a few days.

Oh, ye of little faith.  I'm more than capable of taking care of my own meals.

For example, when my organization was asked to give free legal consultations at two schools in Hayward, I dropped by Chavez Supermarket at the recommendation of a preschool teacher for lunch:

Besides being a Mexican grocery store, Chavez also includes a popular taqueria:

I was seriously tempted by just about everything on the menu, but because I had been having jaw issues ('s the worst!), I needed to pick something that wouldn't stress my jaw or force me to open my mouth wider than I needed to.  There went all the burritos and tortas.  Sigh.

In retrospect, my jaw pain was a blessing in disguise.  If not for my stupid jaw, I wouldn't have tried this masterpiece:

Morisqueta ($5.99).  Pork over rice doused in red sauce and topped with sour cream and cheese.  So.  Good.  The pork was super tender and the saucy was tangy.  This baby kept me fed for three days.

So as you can see, I can take care of myself.  Take that, all you nonbelievers!

Chavez Supermarket & Taqueria
1157 W Tennyson Rd
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 783-4052

Friday, December 27, 2013

South Bay: Gong Cha

T told me about a new pearl tea place in Fremont.  I'd definitely passed by it before, but I never bothered to check it out.  Judging by the line we found when we arrived, I'd been missing out:

There's not much space inside, which explains the line out the door:

There are a few tables and a counter, but with so many people packed inside waiting for their orders, it's smarter to take your drinks to go...or snag a table outside.

The drink selection at Gong Cha isn't as extensive as, say, Tapioca Express or Quickly.  Since it was my first time, I ordered straight off the most popular list.

For my parents, I got the lemon winter melon tea with basil seeds ($4 for a large) and the QQ passionfruit green tea ($4.25 for a large):

Since there was a special going on that day and tapioca pearls were free, I added them to every drink.  Well, I tried to add them to the QQ passionfruit green tea, only to be told that they're already included.  Well then.

I was most curious about the lemon winter melon tea because that just seemed like the weirdest flavor combination to me.  Winter melon tea is quite distinctive.  If you've had it before you know what I mean.  I adore that stuff.  Adding lemon to it almost seemed blasphemous to me.  I stole a sip (before I handed it to my father, but he doesn't have to know that) and while it wasn't exactly nasty, I still prefer my winter melon tea unadulterated.

What Gong Cha is really known for, and what distinguishes it from all the other pearl tea joints in town, is its mustache series.  The "mustache" refers to the thick milk foam that sits at the top of each cup.  I got the large milk foam black tea ($3.75) while T got the milk foam oolong tea ($3.75):

T waited until after we'd already placed our order and our drinks were prepared to ask one of the guys behind the counter what milk foam is.  Taken slightly aback, the guy told us that milk foam is made of fresh milk and...Gong Cha's secret ingredient.

Gee, thanks.

He also told us that we should follow the instructions on top of our cups to get the ultimate mustache experience:

Totally game, T and I gave it a try.

First, we sipped our tea through the milk foam without a straw.  Or at least we tried to.  The milk foam was so thick that all we got was a mouthful of milk foam.  It tasted like softened butter.  Slightly salty and very, very rich.  If you love butter, this may be your thing.  It's not mine.

Slurping the tea and some milk foam through the straw was much better, though the butter feeling remained.

The third way was by far the best.  Once the milk foam is mixed into the tea, the resulting mixture is both sweet and salty and quite enjoyable.  Except for the little floating pieces of milk foam that don't dissolve all the way.

Don't get me wrong, I was actually quite impressed with Gong Cha.  It's different and I respect that.  It's not often that you come across a pearl tea shop that offers something new.  You also get to tweak your drink to your own tastes.  Like most pearl tea places in Taiwan, Gong Cha allows you to tailor how much sugar and ice you want.

Most importantly, their tea base is quite solid.  I went back later to get the black tea by itself and I enjoyed that immensely.  I judge all pearl tea joints by their black tea.  If the black tea is bad, no amount of milk or sugar will save it.

I'm too cheap to go to Gong Cha often (it's kind of on the expensive side), but I wouldn't mind going once in a while.  I think everyone should go at least once.  Just to try a mustache.  Heh.

Gong Cha
46827 Warm Springs Blvd #101
Fremont, CA 94539
(510) 445-1828

South Bay: Du Xiao Yue

My mom, ahyi, and I showed up at Bob Sang one Sunday morning hoping to get some Korean tofu only to find that the restaurant doesn't open for lunch on Sundays.  Yea...should have looked that up before we got in the car.

The only other restaurant (besides McDonald's) open in that plaza was Du Xiao Yue:

Not sure if any of these people were like us and tried Bob Sang first:

Du Xiao Yue serves Taiwanese cuisine.  Before I go any further, I have to give a disclaimer.  My mom and my ahyi were born and raised Taiwan.  I was born here, but I've grown up eating Taiwanese Taiwan.  Keep that in mind if I seem a bit harsh in my critique.

It's difficult to find stinky tofu here in the States because, well, it smells so much that neighbors complain and cities often force restaurants to cease and desist.  So when we saw it on the menu, we had to order it:

Du Xiao Yue's stinky tofu ($5.95) was actually pretty good.  Fried just right and stinky enough to still be pleasant (though it could be a bit stinkier).  For those of you who have never tried stinky tofu, don't be scared.  The smell has nothing to do with the taste.

My ahyi wanted a gua bao or steamed bun with pork ($4.25):

Actually, she only wanted the bun.  She gave the pork to me.  She's strange like that.  Not that I'm complaining.  The pork is the best part!  This one was rather meh and not as juicy as it could have been.

Taiwanese sausage ($6.25) is a beautiful thing:

Especially with raw garlic.  While I've definitely had better in Taiwan, this wasn't bad.

The bamboo ($5.95), however, was a whole other story:

It tasted like it came out of a can.  The texture was all off and it tasted watery.  Blech.  Even the mayo was weird in a fruity way.

For my main dish, I got the pork intestine cooked in the three cups style ($9.95):

Three cups style refers to cooking with soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil along with garlic, ginger, and basil.  So good.  Especially with rice.

Both my mom and my ahyi wanted soup.  My mom went with the shredded pork noodle soup ($7.50):

While my ahyi went with a pottage:

Pottage?  If you're confused, don't worry.  You're not alone.  I wiki'd it just right now and it is defined as a thick soup or stew.  I doubt the owners of Du Xiao Yue looked it up before they decided on using the word "pottage" to describe what we call in Chinese, "ruo gen."  Think instead soup thickened by cornstarch and filled with veggies and boiled sticks made of ground meat.

In this particular case, my ahyi ordered one made of squid and including noodles ($6.50).  She added vinegar to it, which is key to deliciousness.  She wasn't all that impressed with Du Xiao Yue's ruo gen, but we had fun laughing over the word "pottage."

My mom was also rather blah about her noodle soup.

If we ever find ourselves standing outside a closed Bob Sang again, I'd probably suggest going to McDonald's instead of trying Du Xiao Yue again.  The food just isn't all that great.

There must be a better Taiwanese restaurant in the Bay Area...right?

Du Xiao Yue
4161 Cushing Pkwy
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 661-9316

Monday, December 23, 2013

South Bay: Mizuumi Buffet

If you're getting a feeling that I'm rushing through posts, you would be absolutely correct, you astute cookie, you.  I'm trying to catch up on all my posts because something big is happening in January.  And when I say big, I really mean BIG.

I have a trip planned.  An epic trip.  In January, my friend CK will be getting married in Hua Hin, Thailand.  Since I'm flying all the way to that part of the world, I figured I should make a vacation out of it...and drag my friends and sister with me.  So here's what's on the itinerary: Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.  Three countries, 18 days.  I can't wait.  I'm sure you can't either.  Heh.

Anyway, back to the present and my mission to be completely caught up before I leave for Southeast Asia.

Whenever my father goes out of the country, my mom and I go crazy and eat out every chance we get.  We're more willing to travel for food than my father, so we seize the opportunity to go to restaurants that my father would find it too great a hassle to get to.

Union City isn't exactly ridiculously far, but it's just far enough that we normally don't make the trek out there.  So while my father was out, my mom, ahyi, and I randomly decided to give Mizuumi Buffet a try:

I always feel really self-conscious about busting out my camera at a buffet.  Which it why it's really rare for me to post photos of the actual buffet counters.  The most I usually get is a general view of the space:

On the blurry side because I took it in a hella shady fashion with my dumb phone.

While I don't have photos of each buffet counter, hopefully these following shots can give you and idea of what's offered at Mizuumi Buffet.  There's sushi:

But no sashimi (only nigiri).  I'm docking points for that.

There's the typical hot food section:

And as is typical, the hot food section isn't all that great.

There's even a Mongolian stir fry counter:

Where you pick what you want and someone cooks it for you.

Of course there's also salad, but I'm not into that, so you're going to have to take my word for it.

And lastly, there's dessert:

I swear.  All Asian buffet restaurants order their desserts from the same place.  They all look the same and taste the same...bleh.

The final verdict?  We weren't all that impressed.  Any Asian buffet claiming to be a sushi and seafood buffet that doesn't serve sashimi is not worth the money ($12.95 for weekend lunch), in my very humble opinion.

Mizuumi Buffet
1604 Decoto Rd
Union City, CA 94587
(510) 324-3999

Friday, December 20, 2013

South Bay: Kahoo

The last time we tried to go to Kahoo for ramen, the place was closed for a private party (the one with the scary Elvis impersonator).  Somehow, we found the courage to try again.  Thankfully, this time it was open:

The structure of the restaurant makes you feel like you're in a lounge of sorts.  I wouldn't be surprised if that's what it was before Kahoo bought the building:

Kahoo has it's daily specials posted on white boards at the front door.  While my mom and my ahyi took their time looking over them, I went straight to the table and then giggled to myself as they walked around trying to find me.  Immature much?

Anyway, since they both ordered the ramen special, my mom and ahyi each got an avocado roll:

The texture of the rice reminded me of the sushi platters you can buy at Costco.  Like it's a block of rice rather than individual grains.

As part of the ramen special, my mom and ahyi also got gyoza:

Also tasted Costco bought.

As an appetizer, we each got a yakionigiri or grilled rice ball:

Kahoo's yakionigiri is almost, almost as good as Tanto's.  I like Tanto's the most because theirs come with ikura or large salmon roe and the filling in their onigiri is more flavorful.  But still, the margin is very, very small and it might be just my personal bias since in my eyes, Tanto can do no wrong.

I saw corn cheese on the menu and I just had to try it:

When Kahoo says corn cheese, they really mean corn cheese.  As in corn...with lots of cheese.  Not bad, but I prefer the corn cheese from Bob Sang where there's creamy slaw in the mix.

I wasn't really in the mood for ramen, so I got the karaage over rice:

Fried stuff and mayo.  One of my favorite combos.  The rice was kinda unnecessary though.

The ramen special of the day was the spicy kotten miso:

As I didn't get a taste, I can't tell you if it's any good.  My mom and ahyi looked happy though.

I'm willing to forgive Kahoo the scary Elvis impersonator moment, because their food is decent, their service is friendly, and the place is clean with lots of natural light.  Gotta love them windows.

Given my mother's love of ramen, we'll definitely be back.

3590 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 247-4405

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

South Bay: Venus Cafe

The other new addition to our neighborhood is Venus Cafe:

While my dad was out of the country, my mom, my ahyi, and I checked it out.

The place was packed:

Venus Cafe is a Hong Kong style cafe, which means western dishes...or at least Chinese interpretations of them.  Looking at the menu totally brought me back to my college days.  There was a Hong Kong style cafe that my friends and I often visited.

Our meal started off with a complimentary tomato soup:

It was very sweet, like ketchup mixed with water.  So gourmet.

My ahyi's noodles came with garlic bread:

When I saw baked rice on the menu, I might have squealed.  It's ridiculous and kind of strange and not at all healthy and I love it.  Just look at this beast:

I got the fish and mushroom baked rice.  The rice is smothered by a mysterious cream sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and then baked.  This baby fed me for days.

My mom wanted to try the Singaporean fried rice:

It's basically curry fried rice.  My mom spent the entire meal picking out the peas.  (My dislike of peas is obviously hereditary.)  Even the owner of the cafe (or who we assumed was the owner) noticed and commented on it.  She told us that the next time we order fried rice, we can ask to leave out the peas.  Good to know.

My ahyi ordered the black pepper spaghetti:

The spaghetti noodles were just a shade too al dente and bordered on being undercooked.

For dessert, we decided to try the honey toast:

The honey toast takes a while to prepare, so if you want one, make sure you put in your order along with the rest of your food and don't wait until after your meal.

Here's what it looks like under all that ice cream:

The jello kind of threw me off.  As did the bread cube croutons.  The cubes were so crunchy that they weren't enjoyable at all.  We ended up just finishing off the ice cream, fruit, and red beans.

Overall, not too shabby.  I will probably end up back at Venus Cafe the next time I feel nostalgic for my college days.  I already know what I'll order...and what I won't.  Yea to baked rice and nay to honey toast.

Venus Cafe
1698 Hostetter Rd, Ste K, Building A
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 573-1128

Saturday, December 14, 2013

South Bay: Izzo

Ever since we found out that Liang's Kitchen had closed while we weren't paying attention, my mom and I kept a close eye on the space to see what would open in its place.  One night, we saw people inside, but there was still no sign put up.  We also saw multiple TV screens mounted on the wall blasting various sports games.

Unsure whether it was actually open or not, we patiently waited until my dad was out of the country (he's not that into trying new restaurants) to check it out.  It was open!:

We dragged Ahyi with us and by using our detective skills, we found out that the new restaurant is called Izzo and it serves Taiwanese cuisine.  Well, what do you know?  We're Taiwanese.  Izzo is Taiwanese.  Of course we had to go inside.

The first thing we noticed was that the place was packed.  The second thing we realized was that the servers were young and didn't speak Chinese.  At least our server didn't.

What the heck?  That threw us off a bit.

We started off with spicy pork ear ($5.95):

Right off the bat...who slices pork ear like that? 

Then we got the sweet rice sausage ($5.95):

I always get sweet rice sausage when I visit Taiwan, so I was excited when I saw it on the menu.  It's basically glutinous rice in sausage form fried.  Who wouldn't love that?  When it actually arrived at our table...disappointment.  Some things just taste better straight off a food cart than dressed up and plated.  There's also something in me that just balks at paying six bucks for something that you can get for one in a night market. 

The most interesting thing we ordered had to be the pork belly quesadilla ($8.95):

Definitely won't find this baby in Taiwan.  The quesadilla was made with a green onion pancake folded over pork belly, cheese, and jalapeno.  Not bad.  Green onion pancake and cheese makes for an...interesting combination.

A restaurant can't claim to be Taiwanese without offering beef noodle soup ($8.95):

Whether or not it's any good is a whole other story.  The beef noodle soup at Izzo?  Not very good.  The soup was almost undrinkable.

My mom loves black bean sauce noodle, so we ordered that too ($8.95):

It was alright.  Not too memorable.

All in all, not that impressed with Izzo.  It's trying to be young and hip and while it may succeed on that front, the food just isn't good enough for me to want to go back a second time.  Then again, maybe my expectations were just too high.

1701 Lundy Ave, Suite 100
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 392-8293

Thursday, December 12, 2013

South Bay: Mi La Cay

I've known T for years now, but it wasn't until recently that she started to introduce me to legit Vietnamese restaurants in our area.  T offered to take me to Mi La Cay and I totally jumped on it, especially after I heard that it is owned by the family of one of our middle school friends:

It was pretty late for lunch and the place was kinda quiet:

T told me she only ever ordered one thing at Mi La Cay, so of course I ordered the same thing.  When I asked our server for the house noodle soup ($7), I was taken by surprise when he asked me if I wanted it dry or wet.  I looked to T for guidance, but she just shrugged and asked me what I liked.  With nothing to base my decision on, I randomly went with wet:

He also asked me what kind of noodles I wanted. 

Wut?  I don't remember what I said, but I somehow ended up with pho noodles.

Meanwhile, T matter-of-factly chose to have the soup on the side and asked for egg noodles as if duh, that's what everyone is supposed to order:

Thanks a lot for the heads up, T  I bet you just enjoyed watching me struggle.  Humph.

I tried both my noodles and T's and surprise surprise, T's tasted better.  Dammit.  Not that mine was in any way bad, but the dry egg noodles were just more flavorful and...different.  The shrimp cake was a bit stale, but the chicken was lightly fried and crispy.  There was also pork and shrimp in there.  A little bit of everything to satisfy all your cravings.

Don't make the same mistake I did.  Unlike T, I'm all about helping out my fellow eaters.  Get the M1, but get it dry with egg noodles.  You'll thank me later.

I didn't really believe that Mi La Cay is owned by my middle school friend's family until I went up to the counter to pay and saw her and her sister's photos proudly displayed there.  Haven't seen her since middle school, so I don't really know what she's up to now. 

What I do know is that her family makes some awesome noodles.  Some awesome DRY noodles.

Mi La Cay
1609 McKee Rd
San Jose, CA 95116
(408) 937-5688
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