Monday, April 28, 2014

Santa Cruz: Cafe Brasil

I must have been on a Brazilian binge because two weeks after Cafe di Casa, I found myself with my parents at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz for breakfast:

We got there early enough that even though there was a wait inside, there were still spaces open in the tiny parking lot behind the restaurant.  We didn't have to wait too too long before we were led inside.

The interior was just was cheery as the exterior:

Cafe Brasil is known for its breakfast items and for its juice bar.  Virtually every table sported an acai bowl.  We ordered the junior size ($5.75):

Acai berries are blended with strawberries, banana, apple juice, and guarana syrup to make a delicious, icy slush, which is then topped with granola, strawberries, and bananas.  Finally, something healthy that I can get behind.

To try a bit of everything, we ordered the mixed appetizers plate ($8.25):

It came with yucca fries, coxinha, and rissole with shrimp:

Before this, I'd only had coxinha from Cafe di Casa.  I thought that all coxinha came the size of small bombs.  So I was understandably surprised by the itsy bitsy teeny weeny coxinhas at Cafe Brasil .  Size may not matter, but taste definitely does.  I was greatly disappointed by how dry the chicken filling was.

The rissole wasn't bad.  But I tried the shrimp rissole from Cafe di Casa a month later and it was much better there.

Yucca fries have never won me over.  I find them dry and bland and easy to choke on.  Meh.

The beef a cavalo ($9.75), on the other hand, was much more appetizing:  

The steak was thin and well done, but you could taste the qualify, which, I'm sad to say, was better than what we had at Cafe di Casa.  The steak sat on grilled bread and was buried by two eggs over easy, tomato, and mozzarella cheese.  It also came with a side of potatoes.

The omelette Brasileiro ($10.25) sounded most intriguing to me from the omelette section:

It was filled with cream of chicken and mozzarella cheese.  The best part was the cream of corn sauce on top.  So good.

To add some sweet, we also got the banana pancakes.  Half order ($6.25) rather than full:

My mom complained that she wasn't getting any banana flavor.  I took one bite and BAM, banana.  I have no idea what she was talking about.  My mom is a strange woman.  I worry about her sometimes.

I would definitely recommend hitting up Cafe Brasil for breakfast if you're in the Santa Cruz area.  The Brazilian and Brazilian-Western fusion entrees are all solid.  Just hold off on the appetizers and save the money for a juice instead.  So many of the juice smoothies sound so delicious that even I would be willing to shell out the $6 for a glass.

And if you arrive by bike, you'll get a 10% discount!  At least according to what I read on the menu.  The chances of me ever getting that discount are essentially zero.

But as coxinhas are the closest you'll ever get to discovering the meaning of life, Cafe di Casa still wins.  Sorry, Cafe Brasil.

Cafe Brasil
1410 Mission St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 429-1855

Sunday, April 27, 2014

SF Peninsula: Cafe di Casa

Ever since a volunteer paralegal brought some Brazilian goodies to work and shared with us the secret of where to buy them, I'd been dying to go to Cafe di Casa.  Unfortunately, there just never seemed a good excuse to make the trek all the way to South San Francisco.

My opportunity finally came in March.  After dragging my parents to volunteer at one of our naturalization workshops in the city, I made them make a stop at Cafe di Casa on the way home.  Just as the Brazilian paralegal described it, Cafe di Casa was a tiny, but cheerful-looking shack right alongside the highway:

Luckily, we found some street parking a bit up a ways and didn't have to resort to any illegal parking maneuvers.

Why I say tiny, I really mean tiny.  Cafe di Casa is basically made up of stools lining counter space enough for maybe seven or eight people:

We were the only people there who didn't speak Portuguese.  I couldn't pronounce anything on the menu, but that didn't prevent me from going a bit crazy with the ordering.

I had to try the pao de queijo, a baked cheese bread ($2):

It was one of the last ones in the display case, which is probably why it was on the stale side:

I was a little disappointed because I was so prepared to love it.

The Brazilian paralegal was adamant that ordering the feijoada is a must.  Which is why I purposely made it a point to go to Cafe di Casa on a Saturday, the only day when feijoada is offered.

The feijoada came with rice, sliced collard greens, and what I later Googled to discover was farofa:

The farofa was the most interesting thing on that plate.  I'd never had anything like it.  Made with manioc (yuca) flour, the powdery mixture is toasted with butter, salt, and little chunks of smoked meat.  It was a little strange at first, but I quickly discovered how delicious it was mixed with rice.

Feijoada is a black bean stew with smoked sausage, dried beef, and pork ribs:

So thick and intensely flavorful.  Don't be put off by the bones.  That's what makes the stew so damn good.

Our other two entrees came with rice, salad, corn, and of course, farofa:

We got the peixe a milanesa or breaded tilapia:

And the bife acebolado or steak with grilled onions:

The steak was very thin and also very well done.  For bloody carnivores like my father and I, it wasn't the way we liked our beef.  The fish, on the other hand, was brilliant.  Freshly fried, the fish itself was so moist and heavenly.

All three entrees cost $12 each and all came with a separate bowl of beans:

Too full to eat any more, I ordered the rest to go:

The whole reason why I wanted to go to Cafe di Casa was to get my hands - or more accurately, my teeth - around some coxinhas ($3 each).  Once I describe it to you, you'll understand my obsession.

Coxinhas are giant teardrops of fried magical goodness.  Think fried mashed potatoes filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese:

Kind of tangy and oh-so-soft, coxinhas are addicting.  Certain things are not meant for sharing.  Coxinhas are one of those.

I also ordered discos ($3 each):

Essentially a beef patty, but discos are not as simple as they sound.  The flavor is exquisite.  Definitely not your average beef patty.  I ordered a separate box of coxinhas and discos to drop off for T.  T reported back later that her mother enjoyed the discos the most.

My mom wanted to try the milho risole.  I ordered one and the lady behind the counter threw in two extra small things:

The risole was filled with cream corn and cheese and encased with the same mashed potato-like dough as the coxinha:

Which definitely made me a fan.

I was charmed when I discovered that the two tiny fried dollops were mini milho risoles:

So cute!

Those two mini bites of love were just the start of a bunch of free stuff we got from Cafe di Casa.  The lady who took our order must have seen how excited we were to try everything (or was extremely grateful by the amount of money we spent) because she gave us this entire box stuffed full of free pastries:

There was an esfirra de carne, a baked bread filled with ground beef, tomato, and olives:

Probably my favorite of the bunch.

And a presunto americano, which was a baked pastry with ham, mozzarella, and tomato:

And another baked pastry (I don't know what it's called) filled with shredded chicken, olives, and tomato:

And finally, an abracadinho, which was filled with ham, shredded chicken, olices, and cheese:

That's about $12 worth of free goodies.  Holy moly.

But that wasn't all.  She also threw in some Brazilian truffles for dessert.  Two kinds, one coconut (beijinho) and one chocolate fudge (brigadeiro):

Super decadent and super sweet.  Half a truffle is enough at a time.

I love, love, love Cafe di Casa.  The food is the bomb diggity and the atmosphere is homey and relaxed.  When I tried to pay right after placing my order at the cashier, the lady waved me off with a laugh and told me not to worry about it until after I'd eaten.

I've been there twice now (the second time being on T's birthday on our way up to Tomales Bay) and both times I've tried to cajole them into opening a branch in San Jose.  Both times, they just chuckled and gave me free stuff.

I'm not going to give up though.  I need easy access to coxinhas!

Cafe di Casa
1165 Airport Blvd
South San Francisco, CA 94080
(650) 763-1025

Saturday, April 26, 2014

South Bay: Taikee Wonton

My mom had her eye on Taikee Wonton for a long, long time.  Tucked deep inside a business area and surrounded by office buildings, I was surprised she noticed its grand opening in the first place.

Apparently she wasn't the only one.  When we finally made it to Taikee Wonton on a weekend, the parking lot was packed full and there was actually a line out the door:

What the hell?  Where did all these people come from?

We wait a while and finally got a table right by the front door.  This was our view into the restaurant:

My dad ordered the house special dry noodle ($6.99):

Basically just ground pork over noodles, it's a simple dish and shouldn't be easy to mess up.  But somehow Taikee Wonton did.  The must have been in a hurry when they scooped out the noodles because there was so much water at the bottom of the bowl that it completely diluted the flavor of the pork, leaving the entire dish just...bland.

My mom got the sesame sauce with dry noodle ($7.99):

Same problem with the noodles.  Sigh.

I got the minced pork with rice and small wonton soup combo ($7.99):

Minced pork over rice or "ru rou fan" in Chinese, is a very Taiwanese dish.  And one of my favorites.  I've never had one as dry and flavorless as this one.

The whole reason why my mom wanted to try Taikee Wonton was because they advertised that they offered a particular type of wonton from the Hualien area of Taiwan called "bian shi" in Taiwanese.

I'd never had it before, so I had nothing to compare Taikee Wonton to, but what I had at Taikee was waaaaay porky:

Have you ever bitten into something and was just blasted with the taste of pork?  Well, that's what it felt like.  Now, I don't mind that at all, but my mom was very disappointed.

To round out our meal, we also ordered a plate of fried squid ($7.99):

As well as a plate of fried popcorn chicken ($5.99):

They were okay.  Not great, but not bad either.

If you couldn't tell, we weren't all that impressed by Taikee Wonton.  Maybe our standards are really high when it comes to Taiwanese food, but hey, I'm just calling em' as I see em'.  I also found the noodles a bit overpriced for the quantity and quality we got.

Sorry, Taikee Wonton.  We won't be back.

Taikee Wonton
2092 Concourse Dr, Ste 1
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 432-8889

Thursday, April 24, 2014

South Bay: Dia de Pesca

Our Bitter Night revelry went deep into the night.  T went home, but AF and CL stayed over.  The next morning, we went to the mall and then found ourselves at Dia de Pesca for lunch:

It'd been on my list for some time, but I just never made it happen.  Thank you, CL, for suggesting it!

The first thing you'll see when you enter Dia de Pesca is the counter where you place your order:

Once that's done, find a table either inside or outside (if the weather is nice) and wait for your food to be brought to you.

Dia de Pesca is known for its seafood options.  There were so many things on the menu that we wanted to try, but we had to fight to curb our natural tendency to over-order.  Instead, we decided on three things.

First, was the caldo de mares ($14.25):

The seafood broth was chock full of clams, mussels, octopus, shrimp, fish, crab, potatoes, carrots, and celery.  So good.  It would have been even better if the lime had been more cooperative.  (The one we got basically had no juice in it.)

The daily special was too tempting to pass up:

The enchilada with grilled sea bass was topped with mango sauce and came with a breaded halibut taco along with rice and salad.  All for just $9.50.

That mango sauce.  I just can't.

To complete the meal, we got the regular seafood burrito ($7.65):

We got to choose what seafood we wanted inside and we went with scallops:

Oh, baby.  So soft and buttery.  All burritos should be made with scallops.

I love the laid back feel of Dia de Pesca.  I especially love the food.  I just wish they accepted credit cards because the amount of cash I would need to carry to pay for everything I am curious to try would make me a walking target on the streets.

Dia de Pesca
55 N Bascom Ave
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 287-3722

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

South Bay: My Dumpling

For Bitter Night this year (our version of Valentine's Day for those of you who don't know), the girls and I were feeling nostalgic about Indonesia and came up with the brilliant idea of recreating lemper for ourselves.

If you've never heard of lemper before, you need to rectify that now.  I'm serious.  Click here and scroll down.

Anyway, our decision to make lemper from scratch led to a multi-grocery store quest to find all the ingredients.  We made a pit stop at My Dumpling for dinner:

It was pretty quiet inside:

The four of us ordered up a storm.  Nothing unusual there.  We were given a laminated menu and a white board marker and off we went:

We got the green onion pancake ($2.95):

Personally, I like my green onion pancake on the thicker side.  I've been spoiled by my father's homemade ones.  My Dumpling did have a thick green onion pancake option.  Should have ordered that instead.

Of course we hard to order dumplings at a place called My Dumpling:

We ordered the pork one ($6.95 for eight):

It wasn't bad.  It also wasn't great either.  Just rather unmemorable all around.

Same with the pot stickers ($6.95):

Some things just taste better made at home.

I always want to order won ton with hot chili oil when I see it on the menu ($4.95):

Again, good, but not exactly mind-blowing.

We should have stopped there, but of course we didn't.  The Shanghai fried fat noodles were overkill ($6.95):

We were all too full by then to really enjoy the noodles.  I only remember it being rather salty.

My Dumpling is the place to go for a quick bite to eat before or after grocery shopping at Ranch 99.  The food is good, the prices reasonable.  (Just make sure to bring cash.)  However, I wouldn't go out of my way to eat there.

In the end, we managed to gather all the essential ingredients.  To accomplish that, we had to make a late night trip to T's friend's house to raid her tree.  Sending T down to get the kaffir lime leaves while three of us stayed in an idling van wasn't shady at all.

We combined two recipes (picking and choosing what ingredients/steps we felt seemed right) and miracle of miracles, our lemper actually came out pretty decent.  Of course, they were nowhere as good as what we had in Indonesia, but hey, not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves.

My Dumpling
300 Barber Ct
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 955-9988
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