Monday, October 31, 2016

Oakland: Agave Uptown

August means SY's birthday, which means dinner in Oakland with my Chitown girls.  We met up at Agave Uptown:













We had reservations, but apparently they weren't necessary:












VN and SY both ordered fancy cocktails, while I sipped on my horchata ($3):






















That was one thick glass.  Heavy too. 

We started off with half a doze molotes ($7):






















These were fried masa rolls with chorizo and potato filling, topped with cabbage, queso fresco, and black bean paste:












The molcajete ($19) was a stew of sorts served in a...molcajete (the Mexican version of a mortar):






















The stew itself contained thinly sliced beef, grilled chicken, prawns, grilled onions, grilled peppers, and cactus.  It was served with tortillas and a plate of black beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo:






















We also split a mole negro ($19):












The mole was apparently made with 20 secret ingredients and we had a choice of either chicken or carnitas.  We went with chicken because SY doesn't eat red meat.

How would I sum up my experience at Agave Uptown?  Mmm...probably something along the lines of "small portions for not so small price tags."  Was the food good enough to be worth it?  Meh.  Plating was pretty though.  And service was great.

Gotta give credit where credit is due.


Agave Uptown
2135 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 288-3668
http://agaveuptown.com/

Friday, October 28, 2016

South Bay: Meet Fresh

I do not try to hide my obsession with Meet Fresh.  I do not try to hide it at all.  I have been a fan since I was introduced to it in Taiwan and I have continued to be faithful in my love even after Taiwan moved on to its next fad and Meet Fresh faded into semi-obscurity.  I screeched when I first drove by the Meet Fresh in Irvine and when I found out about a branch opening in Cupertino, I nearly wept tears of joy.

Even so, I waited a few weeks after the grand opening before going, hoping that all the initial interest would have died down a bit:
















I shouldn't have bothered.  This is what I found on a Saturday at 1:00pm:
















In case you're wondering, the Meet Fresh counter is located around the corner from Tea Chansil (the lime green structure with absolutely no line), which it shares a space with:
















That's right.  Your eyes do not deceive you.  The line wrapped all the way around the interior of the building.  We waited almost two hours to reach the counter and another half hour or so for our buzzer to go off, letting us know our Meet Fresh signatures ($6.80), cold of course, were ready:
















For those of you who don't know what the house signature is, it's grass jelly shaved ice with grass jelly, taro balls, sweet potato balls, and a drizzle of half and half.  It's my FAVORITE.  I don't order anything else.

Was the wait worth it?  I think so, but I'm biased.  I've gone back to Meet Fresh a couple times since then and while the fervor has abated a bit, you still need to wait at least 30 minutes in line even if you go at 10:00pm.

Yes, I did that.

It's a sickness in me.  I love Meet Fresh. 

I love Meet Fresh so much that I'm willing to hand over freakin' $6.80 for a bowl when you can get one in Taiwan for two bucks.  Me!  The biggest cheapskate around!


Meet Fresh
19449 Stevens Creek Blvd, Ste 120
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 863-0277 
http://meetfresh.net/

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

San Francisco: E Tea

Pearl tea is our go-to dessert after dinner.  After Volcano, my sister and I walked down the street to see what we could find.  Sharetea was an option, but as it has dropped in our pearl tea of the Bay Area rankings over the past year, we decided to give its neighbor, E Tea, a chance:
















The drinks at E Tea are definitely pricier than most pearl tea joints, but you get your drink in a cute reusable glass bottle.  E Tea was offering free upgrades to "super size" (32 oz) the night we went, so of course we took them up on it.  Unfortunately, the super size doesn't come in a glass bottle:
















I ordered the coconut paradise ($4.50), which was essentially a coconut slushie with pineapple and lychee jelly.  My sister got the taro king ($4.50), a thick, taro smoothie with taro chunks and tapioca. 

Between the two, I greatly preferred the taro king.  The coconut paradise was toothachingly sweet.  SO SWEET.  The taro king, on the other hand, was sweet, but didn't cause instant cavities.  I also enjoyed the real taro pieces.

E Tea is by no means cheap, but look at it this way.  For $4.50-$5.25, you get a free glass bottle (or a free upgrade in size) and two toppings in your drink (which usually go for $0.50 each at other places).  Still expensive, yes, but heck, everything is expensive these days.  While I wouldn't go every day...or even once a week on my paltry nonprofit income, I could definitely see myself splurging at E Tea once a month.

...Make that once every two months.

Whatever happened to 99 cent pearl tea?


E Tea
5344 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 668-5344
http://www.eteasf.com/

Sunday, October 23, 2016

San Francisco: Volcano

I had a work conference in downtown SF back in August, so to spare myself the commute, I spent the night before at my sister's place in the city.  We met at Volcano for dinner:
















There are no frills at Volcano:
















You just go up to the counter, place your order, get your own water, find your own table, and then wait for your food to arrive.

Volcano is all about Japanese style curry.  The basic curry comes with rice and veggies.  You can get whatever protein you like, such as chicken, beef, fish, or even burger steak.  Then you can add whatever toppings you desire (for an additional cost of course).

I ordered the chicken katsu curry ($8.95) with no extra toppings:
















My sister got the pork katsu ($8.95), also with no toppings:
















Honestly, when I have Japanese curry, all I need is the curry sauce and rice.  Everything else is just bonus.  Volcano's curry sauce is quite good and you can ask for it as spicy as you can handle.  For me, that means not spicy at all.  I could have done without the veggies as they were just bland boiled carrots and potatoes.  The katsu, however, was well seasoned and nicely fried. 

So much rice though.  So much rice...that I may or may not have finished.

Ugh.  Why do I always do that to myself?


Volcano
5454 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 752-7671
http://volcanocurry.blogspot.com/

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Alameda: Homeskillet

While I was housesitting for the second time back in July, my sister again came over to stay with me for a weekend.  We decided to venture across the bridge to Alameda for brunch Sunday morning.  After some Yelping, we made our way to Homeskillet:
















The place was packed, so we put our name down on the signboard and then settled in to wait:
















We were naturally drawn to the donut display:
















Probably because we were a table for two, we didn't have to wait all that long to be seated. 

We knew that we wanted a donut, but even after our careful perusal, we had no clue what to get.  We turned to our server, who recommended the blueberry fritter ($2.25):
















The texture was amazing.  Crunchy on the outside and super soft within:
















The first couple bites were heavenly, but then the sugar and the oily fried flavor got a bit too much for me.

Our server also recommended the blueberry cake donut ($1.05):
















Someone really likes her blueberries.  Can't blame her though.  That cake donut tasted almost...refreshing.  And that's not really something you feel often after having a donut.

To balance out all the sweetness, my sister and I shared the "hashtag" ($10.50):






















The hashbrowns came scrambled with grilled onions and jack and cheddar cheese with avocado and sour cream on the side.  It also came with two eggs and toast.  Simple, but well executed. 

While Homeskillet's brunch menu is pretty solid, its most creative offerings are its donuts.  Flavors change from time to time, but it seems like there's always something interesting, from pokeball donuts to green tea glazed ones.  Service is friendly, atmosphere is casual, and prices are reasonable.  I can definitely see why it's so popular.

After breakfast, my sister and I strolled through the Art & Wine Faire, which we stumbled upon entirely by accident.  We didn't see anything we wanted to buy until we spotted a sign at iTea advertising its grand opening weekend discounts.  Since we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, we parked ourselves outside of iTea for 45 minutes until it opened.

Slightly crazy, yea.  But pearl tea is life.


Homeskillet
1363 Park St
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 769-4616
http://eathomeskillet.com/

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

San Francisco: Tofu Village

My sister coming home for the weekend usually means trying out a new restaurant in SF when we take her back Sunday evening.  We decided to give Tofu Village a try on one such trip:






















The restaurant name turned out to be very misleading.  A Szechuan restaurant, Tofu Village doesn't specialize in tofu at all.  Apparently, when they bought the restaurant from the previous owner, the new management changed everything from the d├ęcor to the menu, but was unable to change the name itself.  A pretty common tale when it comes to Chinese restaurants. 

What isn't common is hot tea served in glasses:






















A definite red flag in my book.

While tofu isn't the focus of Tofu Village, it still offers tofu options.  We got the stone pot crab tofu ($10.50):
















The peas were an unwelcome component, but easily avoided.

Instead of tofu, what Tofu Village is actually "known for" is its iron pots.  You're supposed to get them spicy, but out of consideration for my father and me (we're wimps), we got the fish fillet iron pot ($13.95) non-spicy:
















My family can never turn down eggplant, so we couldn't help but add in Hakka-style stewed eggplant in a clay pot ($10.95):






















We probably could have stopped there, but my mother wanted the house special cold noodle ($6.95):
















The cold noodles came in a Szechuan spicy oil sauce that was tongue-numbing as expected.  A little too tongue-numbing for moi.

The red chili oil wontons ($6.95) were doused in the same sauce:
















Tofu Village has quite an extensive menu.  When we asked for suggestions, our server pointed out some of the "chef specials" that turned out to be the pricier items.  After he walked away to let us discuss further, my parents expressed their skepticism regarding the Szechuan-style tea duck, one of our server's recommendations.

According to my parents, tea duck takes a long time to prepare and because it is rarely ordered, you never know how long the duck has been sitting around waiting to be claimed.  Right as my parents said this, our server suddenly appeared next to our table to assure us that Tofu Village's tea duck is as fresh as can be.

Um.  Okay.

The general consensus after our meal was that Tofu Village has alright food, but the portion sizes are on the small side for their price point.  Would we go back?  Probably not.

Sorry, tea duck.  Looks like you'll be sitting around for a bit longer.


Tofu Village
1920 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 661-8322
http://www.tofuvillagecr.com/

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oakland: Lake Chalet

My office is probably the least competitive out of all the offices in our organization.  We don't particularly like playing games and would much rather chat by the food table than expend energy trying to win staff bonding exercises.

And yet, my office wins a lot.  Especially the cash prizes.  We knew we wanted to spend the money on a celebration for HA's BIA accreditation, but we couldn't cement a date or a location for months.  By the time we finally decided on Lake Chalet, we had accumulated up to $200 in prize money.

It was a beautiful summer day when our entire office including our interns trooped over to Lake Chalet and claimed a corner of the dock:
















While everyone else perused the happy hour drink menu, I focused on the food.  We got the wings, which came in a spicy buffalo sauce and had smoked bleu cheese on the side ($8):
















We also ordered the fried calamari with salt and vinegar aioli ($8):
















And the sweet potato fries ($4):






















I can't say how good the drinks are as I only had water, but I can say that the food was alright.  Not crazy good, but I doubt anyone really goes to happy hour at Lake Chalet and sits on the dock for the food.  It's all about the semi-swanky atmosphere, the view of Lake Merritt, and the company.

If you're looking for a happy hour venue that allows you to chill for a long period of time and sit virtually right on the lake, Lake Chalet is the place for you.  Its happy hour is every weekday from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and from 9:00 pm to closing.

Here's a warning for those of you who plan on going in a large group: those umbrellas on the dock are HEAVY.  Be careful when you move them and the tables.  Also, don't expect service on the dock.  You're going to have to walk inside to place your order at the bar and you may have to bring your own drinks back outside too.

It might not be the most delicious or the cheapest happy hour in Oakland, but there's no other place with that kind of view.  If you're lucky, you'll even get to see a gondolier take his customers out onto the lake in a gondola.

We strained our ears, but we couldn't hear any singing.  Sigh.


Lake Chalet
1520 Lakeside Dr
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 208-5253
http://www.thelakechalet.com/

Saturday, October 15, 2016

San Francisco: Taiwan Restaurant

A while back, my sister went to a Chinese restaurant with her friend in the city.  She was really skeptical at first, but after eating there, she deemed it decent enough to tell my family about it.  Curious, we gave it a try back in July:
















The first thing we noticed was how...pink the restaurant is.  Pink on the outside.  Pink on the inside:
















Bizarre, though not exactly surprising with Chinese establishments.  And there were enough older Chinese folks dining within to make us feel slightly more at ease.

As typical of my mother, she zeroed in on the green beans ($6.50), a favorite dish of hers:






















Super salty, but also super addicting.

We also ordered the sesame paste and meat sauce noodles ($6.75):
















As well as the "Taiwan country favorite spareribs" ($9.95):
















On the sweet side with a hint of basil, these were spareribs I've never heard of in Taiwan, much less that it's a favorite of the island.  It was delicious though, so who cares about semantics?

We saw some potstickers on another table that looked appealing, so we ordered a plate for ourselves ($5.25):
















If you like thick-skinned potstickers, you'll definitely like these.

The one thing my sister wanted us to try was Taiwan Restaurant's steamed red bean bun.  But when we tried to order them, we were told that they were out.  We settled instead for the red bean cakes ($3.95):
















It certainly wasn't lacking in red bean filling, but the outside was a bit too dense and not flaky enough for our liking:
















We couldn't forget about our foiled steamed red bean bun attempt.  Less than a week later, we were back again.  This time for breakfast and with my sister's friend KY in tow. 

We hadn't actually planned to be back so soon, but my sister had her phone stolen the night before, so up to the city we went to pick her up and bring her back home to get a replacement.

During our second trip to Taiwan Restaurant, we had ourselves a Taiwanese breakfast.  My mother and my sister got the hot sweet soy milk ($1.45), but my father and I got the salty soy milk ($1.95):
















To make soy milk savory, just add some pickled veggies and a couple slices of youtiao (Chinese donut).  The key is to add a bit of soy sauce and a couple drops of vinegar to slightly curdle the soy milk.  It sounds weird, but it tastes good.  Trust me.  When have I ever led you astray?

Taiwanese breakfast isn't complete without youtiao ($1.50 each):
















The best way to eat it is to rip off a chunk and wrap it in a sesame bun.  Or as Taiwan Restaurant calls it, "petal bun" ($1.95 each):
















I have no clue where the "petal" came from as it's nowhere in the original Chinese name.  Mysterious...

Probably overkill, but we couldn't help adding a bowl of chili oil dumplings ($5.25):
















Aaaaaand shredded white turnip cakes ($3.95):
















It's all about that savory shredded turnip filling:
















And finally, we got our steamed red bean buns ($3.95):
















So much red bean!:
















Like most Chinese restaurants in the States, Taiwan Restaurant has a bit of an identity crisis.  While it does offer some Taiwanese dishes on its menu, it also offers a whole bunch of stuff that, well, isn't Taiwanese at all.

No complaints here though.  Everything that we had at Taiwan Restaurant was solid.  Maybe not amazing, but definitely solid.  And so cheap! 

Taiwanese or not, if I lived in San Francisco, I could see myself going back to Taiwan Restaurant again.  And again.


Taiwan Restaurant
445 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 387-1789
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