Sunday, May 31, 2015

South Bay: Massimo's

For Mother's Day, we took our mother to Massimo's:

We chose Massimo's because my sister got two $50 gift cards from a family friend for getting into medical school.  And because the fine print on the gift cards stated that they could not be used on specific holidays, Mother's Day included, we purposely went the night before.

That's right.  We're Asian that way.

The restaurant was pretty busy, but luckily we had the foresight to make reservations.  We definitely felt a bit underdressed compared to everyone else:

Confession time.  I was wearing flip flops.

Though in my defense, I've always felt that simple black flip flops are the dressiest of all flip flops.  No?  Just me?

Our meal started off with some complimentary focaccia bread:

The balsamic vinegar and olive oil that went with the bread came in this awkward bottle that basically only poured out olive oil regardless of how hard you shook it or how quickly you tipped it.  In the end it didn't really matter because we asked for so many bread refills that by the time we got to our last basket, most of the olive oil was gone and we were finally able to get to the balsamic vinegar.

We wanted to make sure we used up the gift cards, so we decided to go all out.  For my family, going all out means getting an appetizer, ordering one entree per person, and finishing with dessert.  Crazy, I know.

For our appetizer, we got the cajun rock shrimp ($10):

The battered shrimp were unexpectedly plump and were cooked in this delicious butter sauce that was supposed to be spicy, but really wasn't.

For my entree, I got the roasted rack of lamb ($39):

It came with some kind of sweet glaze, grilled asparagus, and potatoes.  Even more interesting was the really pot of what tasted like toothpaste jello.  I know it's supposed to be a palate cleanser, but it was just weird.

My sister ordered the rigatoni ala Massimo ($16):

The sauce was made with roasted veal, mushrooms, diced tomato, scallions, and sherry cream.  The portion size looked deceptively small because of the giant plate it came in, but there was actually a good amount of food there.

My mother actually requested a trade for my sister's dish, since she found her linguini vongole ($19) to be too fishy for her to handle:

No surprise there as it was loaded with clams.

My father, on the other hand, loves all things seafood, so he was perfectly happy with his pasta pescatore ($26), which was one of the specials that night:

Prawns, bay scallops, clams, mussels, fish...there was certainly no lack of seafood on that plate.

We ended our night with a mudd pie ($8):

The food at Massimo's was good, the service attentive, and the atmosphere intimate. But frankly we found it to be a bit expensive for our tastes.  The gift cards went a long way to covering this meal, but we still had to tack on another $50 to cover the difference and tip.  While there are some restaurants that I would gladly put down the money because the experience is worth the cost, Massimo's isn't one of them.

Sorry, Massimo's, but unless we get another gift card, I don't think we'll be back again.  All the same, thank you for a great day-before-Mother's-Day dinner.  My mother had a great time and at the end of the day, that's really all that matters.

5200 Mowry Ave
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 792-2000

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Oakland: i-Tea

I discovered my new favorite pearl tea place in Oakland while our office was undergoing hardcore renovations.  My colleagues and I arrived at work ready to do some heavy lifting...only to end up standing uselessly at the side while the professional movers quickly cleared our entire office of furniture.

All the same, we felt that we earned ourselves a pearl tea break.  As the only Asian in my office, it was up to me to lead everyone to tapioca nirvana.

I'd been wanting to try i-Tea, but had always been deterred by its long lines.  Given that there wasn't much left for us to do in the office, we decided to give it a shot:

The line was out the door.  But that wasn't surprising considering that the interior was about the size of a small closet.

We placed our orders inside and then came out to wait.  When our drinks were ready, someone actually came outside to call our number.

When I try a pearl tea joint for the first time, I always like to order the regular milk tea with pearls ($3.50):

Unlike the other drinks at i-Tea, the pearl milk tea comes in a fat cup.  The pearls were just mediocre, as was the tea.

So why is i-Tea my favorite pearl tea spot in Oakland?  After going that first time, my colleagues became addicted.  It was on one of our subsequent trips back to i-Tea that I discovered lychee de coco fruit tea ($3.50).  I don't usually enjoy green tea, but in this case, the lychee flavors mask the flowery-ness of the green tea and the bits of lychee fruit add a nice touch.  Gotta love the lychee jelly too.

Some days you just want something refreshing and milk teas just won't cut it.  i-Tea has some great fruit teas for those days.  I see myself being a regular customer in the summer months.

Especially since there are two ways to get free dinks there.  You can either slowly collect nine stamps (one stamp per drink) and get the tenth drink free.  Or buy five drinks at one time and get the sixth free.  (If you don't want the sixth drink immediately, they'll just fill an entire stamp card so you can redeem the free drink later.)

Don't let the long line scare you away.  iTea is worth the wait.  It has quite an extensive menu, so there's definitely something for everyone.  Cash only though and drinks aren't exactly cheap.  Make sure to bring more than a couple bucks with you when you go.

388 9th Street #125A
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 882-2228

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

South Bay: Falafel Corner

My coworker, HA, told me about a falafel restaurant she and her husband had scoped out.  They deemed it good enough to bring my parents to, so my family met with hers there one night:

The place was pretty empty, but it was a weekday and according to HA, Falafel Corner is hoppin' with the late night crowd:

We placed our orders at the counter and then snagged a table to wait.

HA and her husband recommended the gyro, so my father got the club gyro ($8):

It includes gyro, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avacado, and beef bacon (it's a Muslim establishment after all).

My mom wanted the falafel sandwich ($6):

No explanation necessary.

I, on the other hand, went a completely different route and decided to splurge on a pizza.  Not just any pizza.

An Afghan pizza ($16 for a small):

For our naturalization workshops in Fremont, HA always orders Afghan pizza for all our volunteers.  My sister once asked her what makes an Afghan pizza Afghan since the pizzas seemed to be normal pepperoni and combination pizzas.  HA answered that the pizzas are Afghan...because they are made by an Afghan.

(Insert cricket chirp.)

My sister was not impressed.  Neither was I for that matter.

Falafel Corner, however, has a better claim on having a legit Afghan pizza.  Instead of the usual pork products, the veggies are accompanied by gyros and beef pepperoni.  

The food at Falafel Corner is good, but the company we had that night was even better.  It's always a party when HA is around.

I definitely foresee more parties in our near future.  HA's husband blindsided us by sneakily putting down money for our meal before we'd even ordered.  Urgh.  I can't believe he out ninja'd us.

He better watch his back because we're gonna get him back.  Oh yea.  We're gonna get him back real good.

Falafel Corner
43450 S Grimmer Blvd
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 252-1577

Monday, May 18, 2015

San Francisco: Coqueta

The day before T's birthday, it took a giant kick via text for her to get her butt moving and actually make some decisions as to what she wanted to do to celebrate.

We started the day off at Mama's on Washington Square, where Mama's grandson got the entire restaurant to sing a rousing rendition of the happy birthday song to T...or more specifically, to "P" (inside joke).  T's face was so red it was almost purple.  To make up for the embarrassment, Mama's grandson also threw in a plate of french toast on the house.

After Mama's, we grabbed some Purple Kow then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Land's End.

We didn't have any dinner plans ironed out, but T had a craving for tapas, so a Yelp search eventually led us to Coqueta:

The earliest reservation available was a bit too late for our tastes, but we were advised to try our luck at the bar.  Which we did and were lucky enough to almost immediately snag seats in Coqueta's patio area:

Given that is was a birthday celebration, we couldn't not order a pitcher of sangria.  That just wouldn't be right.  So we ordered the white wine sangria with roasted apples and spices ($36):

Everyone knows I'm an alcohol wimp (I hate the taste), but even I will admit that the white sangria at Coqueta tastes refreshingly like fall.  All the same, I couldn't take more than a couple sips before I was passing my glass to CL to finish.

The croquetas de pollo ($9) came in threes, but because we were a party of four, the server gave us the option of adding one more:

This was a big hit with all of us.  The croquetas were chicharon crusted, made with chicken and english peas, and served with a side of cured cara cara orange.  Think deep fried shepard's pie with a tangy finish.  Yum.

We got the "bikini" brioche a la plancha ($10) without really knowing what it was:

We saw roasted eggplant and preserved grapefruit and were immediately sold.  What we should have done was taken the time to look up what cana de cabra was.  Then we would've known we were setting ourselves up for some goat cheese.


I hate goat cheese.  But apparently not as much as CL does.  I finished my fourth, but she refused to even touch hers.

I have a feeling I would have enjoyed the brioche quite a lot if it weren't for the goat cheese.  All the other flavors were great, but the cheese was just that overpowering.

We ordered the albondigas a la feria ($14) and agan had to add an extra one to make four:

Made with duck and pork, the meatballs were cooked in a cherry-tempranillo salsa and topped with crispy shallots.  While they were certainly good to eat, the best part was having a legitimate excuse to say "albondigas" repeatedly.

T wanted paella and what birthday girl wanted, birthday girl got:

The paella at Coqueta costs $45 and is supposed to serve two to three people.  It comes with serrano-shellfish broth, jamon, shrimp, clams, chorizo, and cauliflower.  It also comes with a side of lemon alioli, which I found strange at first, but it added a burst of freshness that quickly converted me into a believer.

Team Alioli forever!

To round out the celebration of T's arrival to this world, we got her the flan espanola ($9):

I'm not a flan person, but I can admire a smooth and rich flan when I taste one.  The white chocolate plaque that said "happy birthday" in Spanish was a nice touch.

Coqueta was good, albeit a bit pricey.  I mean, come on, each coquette cost $3.  That's kind of ridiculous.  The service was excellent though.  And we had a bit of a bonding moment with about a dozen people as we all waited for the restroom.  (Apparently nobody is willing to walk to the next closest restroom a couple piers down.)

For an impromptu day in San Francisco, everything worked out just about perfectly, from the wait time at Mama's to finding parking all over the city.  Must be the magic of T.

Happy birthday, T.  Here's to another year of food, food, and more food!

Pier 5
Embarcadero Drive
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 704-8866

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

South Bay: Nam Vang

T mentioned this really good Cambodian noodle place to me on numerous occasions, but never actually got around to taking me there.  In fact, she actually took my sister one day without me.

The nerve.

In the end, it was my sister who made it happen.  My parents were out for some reason or another, so my sister and I had a little sister date at Nam Vang:

It looked more than a little sketch from the outside.  Which I took as a good sign.  In my experience, some of the best food comes from the crummiest looking of places.

 It was pretty empty inside, but we were there quite early for dinnertime:

We both wanted Cambodian noodles, but since there were two of us, we decided to try one bowl of regular noodle:

And one bowl of rice noodles:

Even though all the toppings were the same in both bowls, I vastly preferred the rice noodle.  It's a texture thing.

But flavor-wise, both were delicious.  So much meat too!

Both bowls came with their own bone broth:

I poured a little soup into my noodles to loosen them up.  And to add to the savory goodness.

As a side thing, we ordered a single meatball:

A single, pretty big meatball.  Suprisingly, it was a bit sweet, which threw me off at first, but then I quickly warmed to it.  There were peas inside, however, which I ignored by pretending I didn't see them.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Nam Vang itself is beyond simple and bordering on slightly sparse when it comes to decor and service, but the noodles more than make up for it.

A tip for you though, make sure you order the small bowl.  We forgot to clarify and the server automatically put us down for the large bowl ($8.25).  The difference between the small and the large is just $0.75 and the size of the bowl itself.  I'm pretty sure we would have gotten the same amount of noodles in just a smaller bowl if we'd ordered the small.

Oh, and bring cash.  They don't take credit.

Anyway, thanks a lot, T, for putting Nam Vang on my radar (even if you didn't actually take me there)!  I'll definitely be going back for round two.  And three.

Nam Vang
2477 Alvin Ave
San Jose, CA 95121
(408) 270-8939
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