Monday, March 28, 2016

San Francisco: Sunrise Deli

I had a meeting in SF Friday afternoon, which worked out perfectly since my parents planned on picking my sister up that evening to take her home for the weekend.  This meant I got to save myself a BART trip and get dinner with my fam in the city.

Sweeeet.

Now, my father isn't the most adventurous when it comes to trying different cuisines.  My sister and I decided to cut him a break and spare him from Eritrean, which was our first choice.  Instead, we took my parents to Sunrise Deli:


My father has enjoyed Middle Eastern food in the past, so we figured it was a nice compromise.

Half grocery store, half restaurant, Sunrise Deli is made up of a counter and a couple of tables:














We ordered and paid at the counter, then sat at a table to wait.

The food came pretty quickly.  We got the chicken kabob plate ($12) at the recommendation of the young woman at the counter:














It came with our choice of two sides.  We went with babaghanouj and cucumber yogurt salad.  The chicken was tender while the babaghanouj was nice and smoky.  The cucumber yogurt salad, however, was not my favorite.  The yogurt part was just a bit too sour for my tastes.

The chicken kabobs were great, but the kufta kabob plate ($12) was even better:














You could just taste how fresh the meat in the kufta was.  And that seasoning?  Perfection.  The kufta kabob plate also came with two sides.  To switch things up a bit, we got dolma and tabouli.  Both were lovely.  

Both plates came with pita bread, which we gobbled up in no time:














But the winner of the night had to be the falafel:














We started with a half dozen ($4), but then realized the error of our ways and ordered another half dozen halfway through the meal.  We should have just ordered a dozen ($6) to start.  We'll never make that mistake again.

I always thought nothing could top the falafel from Falafel's Drive In.  But I was wrong.  The falafel from Sunrise Deli is different than that from Falafel's Drive In, though just as amazing.  While Falafel's Drive In falafel is crispy and lovely (that red sauce tho!), Sunrise Deli falafel has a creaminess to them that I've never experienced before.  Paired with hummus or tahini sauce...yum.  And so cheap!

Don't make me pick between the two falafel powerhouses.  I can't.  I just can't.  I love them both for different reasons.  Is that a cop out answer?  Why, yes.  Yes it is.

To round out the meal, we got some pistachio baklava and Turkish delight:














I can't say Turkish delight without thinking about Edmund from Narnia.  Given how much he loved the stuff, I always expect to be blown away by it.  On the contrary, I'm usually taken aback by how freakin' sweet and flowery it is.  Ugh.

Keep your Turkish delight, Edmund, I'll stick with baklava.  Even though it's ridiculously sweet as well and made me wish we had ordered another half dozen falafel.

Loved Sunrise Deli.  Great food in big portions and at affordable prices.  If I lived where my sister does, I would be there all the time.

All the freakin' time.


Sunrise Deli
2115 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 664-8210
http://www.sunrisedeli.net/

Sunday, March 20, 2016

South Bay: T4

When T4 opened by my house a while ago, I didn't think too much of it.  With the recent influx of pearl tea joints in the area, what's one more?

But then one opened in Oakland Chinatown and I had to pay attention.  New potential pearl tea break locations around the office always require further investigation. I tried to stop by during the soft opening, but there were way too many kids inside.  So I bided my time and went back once it officially opened and things quieted down a bit.

Whenever I try a new pearl tea shop, the frist thing I order is the regular pearl milk tea.  Gotta get the basics right to be taken seriously, yo.  The pearl milk tea at T4 had a very nostalgic taste, like the pearl tea of my childhood before the gourmet fad kicked in.  That was enough to entice me back again and again.  I even brought my coworkers.  On one such trip, I tried the popcorn chicken.

Which was so good that I brought my mother (a popcorn chicken fiend) to the T4 by my house:














It was a rainy day, so it wasn't really suprising that the place was fairly empty:














What was surprising, however, was the lack of Asian staff manning the shop.  I'm so used to placing my orders in Chinese that I had to do a double take when I saw the two South Asian men behind the counter.

I did another double take when I noticed that the prices were slightly different from those in the Oakland branch.  The differences are negligible, but if you care to know, the regular pearl milk tea is a tiny bit cheaper (by 25 cents) in Oakland while the popcorn chicken is an itty bit cheaper (by 55 cents) in San Jose.

 I got my regular pearl milk tea ($3.50) and my mother got her hot taro milk tea with pearls ($3.50):


And of course, the popcorn chicken ($4.05, including an extra $0.10 for the to-go box):














Unlike in Oakland, where you can add your own chili powder, the San Jose branch has you choose your spiciness level and they add the chili for you.  The chicken in both places comes super crispy, well-seasoned, and in large pieces.

Here's a little tip for you first-timers to T4: drinks run sweet.  Really sweet.  So adjust your sweetness level accordingly.

And here's another tip: the stamp card in San Jose is buy ten get one free while it's buy eight get one free in Oakland.

One last tip: happy hour starts at 8:00pm.  In San Jose, drinks are $2.75 and certain snacks are $3.50.  I'm not entirely sure what the happy hour deal in Oakland is (I've never paid attention since I usually head straight home after work).

T4 has now usurped iTea has my favorite pearl tea break place in Oakland.  The stamp card deal is better (except for when you buy five drinks at a time, in which case it is better to go to iTea as you can get a free drink when you order five at once), it actually has tables, and it serves snacks.

It also wins in my book for best regular pearl milk tea.  I can't speak to the flavored teas though as I haven't been able to bring myself to explore much beyond the regular milk tea.  I'm a creature of habit.  Once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it.

You go, T4.


T4
1671 N Capitol Ave
San Jose, CA 95132
(408) 926-7328
http://www.t4.com.tw/

Saturday, March 12, 2016

South Bay: Akira's Sushi

Lower than expected turnout at any event is not a good thing, but there is one silver lining: earlier than expected end time.  Which is how my family was able to get to Akira's Sushi right as they opened for dinner at 5:00pm:


















When CL told me about a new AYCE sushi restaurant in Santa Clara, I was all for it.  I love Kenzo, but going anywhere in South San Jose just feels so, well, far.

Not only is Akira's closer, but there's - gasp - no wait:


















Like Kenzo, Akira's allows you five rounds to order whatever you wish off the laminated menu:























We weren't looking to break any records, so we took things easy and didn't pressure ourselves to eat more than we could.

To warm up, I started with a bowl of miso soup:


















As part of our first round, we also got the sashimi salad:


















And the poke salad, which was surprisingly spicy:


















And the salmon skin salad:


















My theory is that eating greens first lays the groundwork for smoother...um...passage...later.

Without wasting any time, we jumped right into the nigiri:


















Having learned our lesson at Kenzo, we didn't go crazy with the nigiri.  Instead, we ordered exactly how many we thought we could handle:


















Can't forget unagi:


















Then came the rolls:























On the left is the spider woman, which is soft shell crab tempura, crab meat, and cucumber toppd with unagi, avocado, and unagi sauce.  On the right is the mac randy, which is made with unagi, salmon, cream cheese, garlic, and basil topped with unagi sauce and macadamia nuts.

Yes, basil.  And yes, it's life changing.

Besides baked mussels, we also got the baked scallop roll:


















The baked scallop roll at Akira's has bigger pieces of scallop than the one at Kenzo.  But the one at Kenzo has much more sauce, which in my opinion, is more important than scallop.  Sauce is life.

Feeling confident, we ordered as part of our first round another two rolls:























On the left is the rock star, which is unagi, avocado, and cucumber, topped with salmon, unagi sauce, wasabi mayo, and macadamia nuts.

For our second round, we ordered more nigiri (mostly repeat ones, so I didn't take a picture).  My mom wanted to try the agedashi:























The tofu wasn't as silky and soft as she expected it to be.  That was disappointing.

The baked mussels were good though:























The shrimp tempura wasn't as great:

















Of course we had to get more rolls.  One of the servers recommended the mango mania (on the left), so we ordered that along with the ocean side (on the left):


















The mango mania came with spicy crab and mango topped with salmon, unagi sauce, spicy mayo, and tempura flakes.  The ocean side came wrapped in soybean paper instead of nori and consisted of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, and crab meat, topped with more tuna and salmon.

I loved the basil in the mac randy so much that I demanded another maki with basil in it.  We went with the tropi, which was unagi, avocado, basil, and macadamia nuts:























Mom wanted a deep fried roll, so we got the bad friends roll for her:























With tuna, hamachi, salmon, and salmon on the inside, the roll is fried and then drizzled with unagi sauce, spicy mayo, and tobiko.

We were about done at that point, but out of stubborness, we pushed ourselves into a third round.  I got another sashimi salad (to help with that smooth passage I mentioned earlier) and we ended our meal with some edamame:


















Akira's AYCE is $21.95 for lunch and $25.95 for dinner.  Dinner is slightly cheaper at Kenzo ($24.95) and even though Akira's has a slightly leaner selection (and the nigiri comes with more rice), I rather pay the extra dollar to NOT have to wait an hour for a table.  Since it's less busy, the service at Akira's is friendlier and much more proactive.  You never need to ask for tea because someone is always checking to see whether you want more.

Next time, I would avoid the fried stuff and focus on the nigiri and the rolls.  Definitely the ones with basil.  Basil in sushi was a completely new experience for me, one that I want to repeat over and over.  Maybe I'm just basil crazy, but it adds this refreshing element that's just oh-so-genius.

Guess I've found my new go-to sushi buffet place.


Akira's Sushi
3430 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 244-5020
http://akirasushi.tosecretgarden.com/

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Oakland: Salsipuedes

When VN returned from her Southeast Asia wedding (her sister's, not hers) extravaganza trip, there was no way we weren't going to meet up to get all the deets.

It just so happened to be Oakland Restaurant Week.  After much deliberation, we decided on Salsipuedes:


















SY was kind enough to pick me up from the MacArthur BART station after work.  It took me a while to locate her car in the dark ("I'm next to a giant hole."  "A giant what?!"), so VN was already waiting by the time we arrived.  A bit later, we were seated at the back of the restaurant, sharing a communal table with another party.

Salsipuedes takes the open kitchen concept to a whole other level:


















In true "American cuisine" fashion, Salsipuedes blends influences from all across the map.  Unfortunately, some things sound better on paper than in execution.

The Restaurant Week deal was $30 for three courses.  Thinking to save some money, we opted to order from the regular menu instead.

We started off with the butter clams ($9):


















The clams looked quite appealing topped with trout roe, chicken cracklins, and tiger's milk and resting on a bed of pebbles.  For some reason, we all expected the rocks to be warm.  We were a bit taken by surprise when we found not only the rocks to be cold, but the clams to be as well.  No big deal...expect the clam I had was so salty as to be completely unpalatable.

The octopus melt bao ($15) seemed promising, especially given how they included shrimp and chicharrones:























But I seemed to be getting all the duds that night.  My section of a bao came with seriously charred pieces of octopus.  I had to drown it with its accompanying salsa verde to choke it down:


















The best thing we had was the drowned fried chicken torta ($13):


















The chicken was perfectly fried and went beautifully with the kimchi.

The Peking quail ($26), on the other hand, was just okay:


















Quail has never been my favorite.  So much work for so little meat.  The fennel and scallion pancake the quail was served on could have been delicious, but instead tasted just slightly undercooked.

Not quite ready to give up on Salsipuedes, we ordered the churros with roasted almond ice cream for dessert:























We should have just gotten out while we were ahead.  They were COLD.  What the hell?  Not only were they cold, they were STALE.

The disappointment was crushing.  Especially for poor VN who was really excited at the idea of churros.

On our way out, we ran into friends of VN and SY who were waiting for a table.  When they asked how the food was, we had to give them the truth.  We might have been a bit too blunt though, because not only did they immediately decide to dine elsewhere, we noticed a guy listening in on our conversation and then calling to inquire about reservations at another restaurant.

Oops.


Salsipuedes
4201 Market St
Oakland, CA 94608
(510) 350-7489
http://www.salsipuedes.us/
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