Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Iceland: Bjargarsteinn Mathus

Because we spent more time at the Blue Lagoon than initially intended, instead of driving along the coast, we cut straight through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to get to our Airbnb cabin at the foot of Kirkjufell.  The early morning flight hit our group along the way and we pulled over next to some Icelandic horsies for a quick power nap:
















I think I saw more horses in Iceland than I did Icelanders.  Can someone explain to me how breeding horses is a profitable enterprise in Iceland?  They weren't on the menu...so what do Icelanders do with them?  Our Airbnb host told us the horses are essentially pets.  But that makes absolutely no sense to me.  Those be some damn expensive pets.

I could look it up, I suppose. But I much rather talk about food.

Knowing our cabin would be kind of in the middle of nowhere, we made one more pit stop in the town of Grundarfjordur for some groceries (basically snacks for the car) and dinner.  There weren't a whole lot of restaurant options in Grundarfjordur, but a Google search led us to Bjargarsteinn:
















From the outside, it looked rather dreary.  From the inside?  So freakin' cute and cozy:
















It felt like walking into someone's home, sitting at their table, and digging into their bread basket:
















Those bread rolls legitly tasted like pizza.  No joke.  All those pizza-y herbs and stuff.  They came warm and went heavenly with butter:
















I learned on this trip that CV is a butter eating MACHINE.  She can eat a pad of butter per bite of bread.  I couldn't but watch in awe as she demolished all of the butter singlehandedly.   

The first thing I noticed when I flipped open the cute hand drawn menu were the prices.  Holy smokes.  I knew Iceland would be expensive, but my heart wasn't prepared.  I WASN'T READY.  The one downside to traveling as a fifth wheel is that while the couples in your group can order multiple dishes to split, you're on your own.  You eat own your food...and you pay for it too. 

Sigh.

I've gotten better about spending money, but I'm still cheap Chinese deep inside.  Not to mention I'm nonprofit, yo.  It hurts when I see the dollar signs...or in this case, the krona signs.  I finally settled on the seafood soup (2850 ISK or around $28.50) as it was one of the cheaper things on the menu that wasn't an appetizer or a salad (I do have some standards):
















That was some hearty soup.  Just look at this pile of fish, shrimp, scallops,and mussels:
















The broth was sweet from all the seafood.  So much good stuff in one bowl. 

The couples each ordered a seafood soup of their own plus one of the daily specials, which turned out to be mussels (3850 ISK or around $38.50):
















The entrée came with a side of salad, smoked salmon, and byggotto (the Icelandic version of risotto made with barley):
















The food at Bjargarsteinn was simple, yet delicious.  The atmosphere quiet and homey.  Our server was incredibly sweet and chatted with us about how she left Reyjavik because it was getting too crowded.  (We had a chuckle at that as we wondered what she would think about living in the Bay.) 

Yes, prices were steep, but sometimes, you just gotta suck it up when you travel.

Suck it up, stop thinking about your student loans, and keep your tears locked up tight deep, deep in your weary little heart.

The best way to get your mind off of how much eating in Iceland is going to bankrupt you?  Go home to the most picturesque cabin you've ever seen:
















When I said our cabin was located at the foot of Kirkjufell, I wasn't kidding.  It doesn't get much closer than that.


Bjargarsteinn Mathus
Sólvellir 15, 350 Grundarfjörður, Iceland
+354 438 6770
http://bjargarsteinn.is/

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Iceland: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

At the end of March, I went on a 10-day Icelandic adventure with two of my friends and their partners.  And yes, before you ask, I was the fifth wheel.  It's much better than being the third wheel, let me tell you.

The decision to go to Iceland was made rather suddenly.  I received an email marked "URGENT" from T one morning and after some frantic texting on BART, tickets were finalized and booked before I'd even gotten to work and cleared my vacation days with my boss.

Tickets were so cheap that we thought we had a great deal on our hands.  Little did we know that was all part of Iceland's grand plan to suck us in and milk us of our paychecks.

Our flight landed in Iceland at 4:00am.  Four.  Freakin'.  AM.  The Blue Lagoon didn't open until 8:00, so we spent our first few hours in Iceland napping in our rental car.  In a dark parking lot.  That wasn't sketch at all.

Besides one traumatic moment where an elderly naked British woman walked in on me while I was showering (this is why doors should have locks!), the Blue Lagoon was awesome.  Our plan was to head directly from the Blue Lagoon to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  Because we spent much longer at the Blue Lagoon than originally predicted, we altered our plan to include a lunch stop in Reykjavik on our way north.

The only place I could think of on the fly was Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.  It was certainly easy to find.  We just looked for the crazy long line:
















All of this...for a hot dog stand:
















Because that's all Baejarins Beztu Pylsur sells.  Hot dogs.  Well, that and soda. 

It was raining/hailing while we were waiting in line.  Luckily, the line went fairly quickly.  I grumbled that the hot dog had better be worth getting pelted by hail or I was going to flip a table.  (I always picture myself flipping a table in rage, but I know I'll never have the guts to do it.  Sigh.)

It was with high expectations that I bit into my hot dog (450 ISK or ~$4.50):






















Two words: WORTH IT.

We asked for everything on our dogs without really knowing what that meant.  Apparently it means having your dog smothered in ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crispy fried onion, and raw onion:
















My mouth is watering just thinking about that creamy, tangy-sweet mix of sauces and that contrast between the soft bun and the crispy/crunchy onion.  That crispy fried onion was magic.  Pure magic.

The sausage itself is a mix of lamb, pork, and beef.  If you love lamb like I do, you'll love this hot dog.  After the first bite, I turned to T and excitedly exclaimed, "It tastes like lamb!"  She made an abrupt slashing motion with her hand and I suddenly remembered that CV hates lamb. 

I fumbled to recover.  "Um...I mean, it tastes like...cheese!"  T could only look at me incredulously. 

Thank goodness CV missed the entire exchange.

Halfway through her own hot dog, CV scrunched up her nose and said that she was picking up some lamb notes in the sausage.  Just as T and I were about to jump in to assure her that she was only imagining it, CL piped up from behind that she tasted it too.

CV refused to finish the rest of her hot dog after that.

Oh, well.  Her loss.

Opened in 1937, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur literally means something along the lines of "best hot dog in town".  Not that I've had all the hot dogs in Reykjavik, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's true.  That's a damn good dog.  A little expensive, but that's Iceland for ya.  Also a bit on the small side.  It'll take at least two to make a meal.

I'll be dreaming about that hot dog for the rest of my life.


Baejarins Beztu Pylsur 
Tryggvagata 1, Reykjavik 101, Iceland
+354 511 1566
http://www.bbp.is/

Thursday, April 13, 2017

South Bay: Bezawada

Last month, my elementary school friend AT and I met up after work for dinner to celebrate her finally giving two weeks notice at her job, something that was much overdue.  She gave me a list of restaurants to choose from.  My first choice turned out to be closed on Mondays, but that was a blessing in disguise since it meant we ended up at Bezawada instead:













Totally unassuming, I wouldn't have known there was a restaurant in that tiny row of businesses if I hadn't been looking for Bezwada specifically.  The small parking lot was deserted and the restaurant empty when I got there:













While waiting for AT, I amused myself by watching the (very confusing when muted) Bollywood movie showing on the giant screens.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what was going on.  He was courting her in a weird, stalkerish-yet-endearing way?  Then they got together?  But wait, she turns out to be evil?  What the heck?! 

By the time AT arrived, I was invested.  Beyond confused, but invested.  I actually kept one eye on the movie while we ate and chatted. 

What?  I can multitask.

Bezawada is known for its thali, which is essentially a bunch of dishes served on a platter.  AT ordered the vegetarian bhojanam ($13.99).  I, predictably enough, went with the non-vegetarian ($15.99):













Here's a close up of the good stuff:












There was a dry chili chicken, some kind of chicken curry, and two veggie dishes.  Both of the chicken dishes were SPICY.  Thank goodness I had two mounds of rice and a dish of yogurt to help dull the pain.  The omelet and papadum also helped.  (The hidden egg under the papadum was appreciated, but it didn't do much to help with the fire in my mouth.)

I may have killed most of the chapati in hopes of alleviating my pain:













(It came on a separate plate because it wasn't ready until a bit later.)

What did NOT help were the sambar and rasam that came with our meal:






















I have no idea which is which.  All I know is that they're some kind of soup...and they're FIRE.  Or by then the fire was in my mouth and everything tasted spicy.

Our meals came with a complimentary cup of either chai or buttermilk.  I went with the buttermilk because I'd never tried it before:






















It was...interesting.  Simultaneously refreshing and a bit...off.  I'm pretty sure I'm not a fan.  I think.  Maybe it's something that grows on you?  I don't know.  I'm still a bit bewildered by it.

A man I assumed to be the owner came by our table to check in on us.  When he saw that I was struggling with the heat, I offered me a cup of chai:













I can't say it did much for the spiciness, but it was definitely a good cup of chai.

I know nothing about Andhra cuisine, but most people on Yelp seem to say that Bezawada is the real deal.  I can attest to the spiciness though.  That's no joke.  It was delicious, don't get me wrong.  There was pain, but a delicious, delicious pain.

The bhojanam was actually unlimited (only at dinner and all day on weekends), however, there was so much food that I couldn't even think about getting a refill.  I wasn't mentally prepared for it.  I know better now.  Next time, I'll be ready.

Bezawada was great.  I would definitely go back again, despite the pain.  You get so much food for the cost and the service is really attentive. 

A+, Bezawada.  A+.


Bezawada
127 Dixon Rd
Milpitas, CA 95035 
(408) 833-6333
https://www.bezawada.us/

Monday, April 10, 2017

South Bay: Happy Lemon

March was the month of first (and some second) dates.  A weeklong marathon to be exact.  Because of course, when it rains, it pours.  Seeing as to how awkward first dates are already, I didn't feel comfortable adding to that awkwardness by whipping out my camera to take pictures of whatever we were eating.

Which meant March was also the month of missed blog opportunities.  Alas.

I did, however, arrive early for one date and managed to snap this photo of Happy Lemon:
















Since it was a workday, I was concerned about traffic between Fremont and Cupertino, where Happy Lemon is located.  When traffic turned out to be not nearly as bad as I feared, I had time to circle the block twice to figure out where the entrance to the parking structure was.  I also had time to browse through the menu and chat a bit with the friendly staff about the massive order Stanford University had just placed.

Then I sat down with my black tea with salted cheese ($3.75) to wait for my date:






















That's a clear cup in case you're wondering.  The salted cheese is the white layer right under the lid.

Salted cheese might sound disgusting, but it's basically crema, just thicker and slightly savory.  Instructions on how to properly drink your tea through the salted cheese is posted on the wall.  (Something about tilting the cup at a 45 degree angle.)  I tried to follow them, but I ended up just getting a mouthful of cheese.  I eventually got the hang of it after a bit of practice.  I'm proud to say I still had cheese left when I got to the bottom of my cup.

The salted cheese was interesting, but not something I would crave.  The black tea, however, was solid.  That's some good tea, yo. 

I definitely want to go back to Happy Lemon.  Gotta try one of their fresh lemon drinks.  If it weren't located so far from my house, I would make it my regular first date place. 

Heh.  How awkward would that be?


Happy Lemon
20488 Stevens Creek Blvd, Ste 2040
Cupertino, CA 95014  
(408) 216-0232

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Oakland: Tay Ho

Sorry for the lack of posts recently.  I just got back from an amazing nine days in Iceland!  But we'll get to that later.  I still have posts from earlier that I need to catch up on, which seems to be my usual state with this blog.  Sigh. 

Anyway, in late February, I connected with my friend CT had relocated from the East Coast to the East Bay in the fall.  Since we both work in Oakland, we met up at Tay Ho for dinner after work:
















Tay Ho has to be the most hipster Vietnamese restaurant I've ever been to.  Just check out that bar:
















And the mysterious hanging bicycle.

CT was feeling a bit under the weather, so she wanted something soupy.  She got the Vietnamese udon ($12):
















I had my heart set on ordering Tay Ho's steamed rice noodle rolls (banh cuon) after seeing so many people rave about it on Yelp.  What I didn't realize until after I opened the menu was that the rice noodle rolls are only offered at lunch. 

Crap.

After some deep contemplation, I finally decided on a banh xeo ($12):
















The crepe itself was made of turmeric and coconut rice flour.  Tucked lovingly inside were poached pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts:
















By itself, the banh xeo was a bit bland.  But made into a lettuce wrap?: 












Much better.  Then doused with fish sauce?:






















So.  Good.

While everything was delicious, I left Tay Hao slightly dissatisfied.  I really wanted those rice noodle rolls.

I plotted and I planned and ultimately, I made it happen.  A week later, I had a date after work.  It was just for pearl tea and with all the rush hour traffic, I knew I wouldn't have time for dinner.  I took a page out of my father's book and planned ahead (he loves to say "plan ahead!" at the most annoying moments) by ordering Tay Ho's house special combination rice noodle roll plate ($10.95) to go for lunch:
















The combination plate came with three types of rice noodle rolls: pork and mushroom, ground shrimp, and plain.  It also came with sweet potato fritters, an egg roll, shrimp fried bread, and cured beef.  Everything was lovely.  The only thing I could have gone without were the plain rice noodle rolls.  They just took up space in my stomach that could have fit more sweet potato fritters.

I will definitely be back to Tay Ho.  Prices are a bit higher than your typical Vietnamese restaurant, but the food is good and the location is very convenient.  The rest of downtown Oakland seems to agree.  It's super popular at lunchtime.  You pretty much have to get there right at noon to make sure you get a table. 

To all my friends who work in Oakland, anyone up for lunch sometime?


Tay Ho
344 12th St Ste B
Oakland, CA 94607 
(510) 836-6388
http://www.tayho-oakland.com/

Friday, March 24, 2017

Oakland: High Peaks Kitchen

Back in February, I helped housesit again for my friend in Oakland.  Of course this meant taking advantage of my vastly shorter commute and hanging out with my Chitown girls after work.  After much deliberation, we decided on dinner at High Peaks Kitchen:






















We arrived while it was still bright outside and empty inside:















The space had a banquet hall feel to it.

Chai was free, so we made sure to refill our cups repeatedly:
















We started off with the fish pakora ($6.99):
















I could see these as a potential substitute for fries.  Who needs potatoes when you can get tiny fried fish?

The regular naan was $2.99 each:
















Which is a bit more expensive than I'm used to, but what can you do?

For our curries, we got the chicken vindaloo ($11.49):
















And the chicken coconut ($11.99):
















Being the wimp that I am, the curries were spicy to me and only me.  Thank goodness for naan. 

The portion sizes looked tiny at first, but it ended up being just enough for the three of us.  Meaning we could have eaten more, but it's probably good that we didn't.

Except we totally did by going to get dessert at Shooting Star Café in Chinatown directly afterwards.  Heh.

All in all, the food at High Peaks is good, just a bit more pricey for the serving size.  I wouldn't say no to going back again, but I most likely wouldn't be the one to suggest it either.


High Peaks Kitchen
5299 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618 
(510) 450-0644
http://hipeaks.com/

Sunday, March 19, 2017

South Bay: Hi Pot

When a good high school friend came to visit from DC, a bunch of us got together to catch up.  One of the group was an old elementary school friend who I hadn't seen in about a decade.  We were the best of friends as children, but I knew virtually nothing about who was now.  However, just from that short get together, I could tell that she was good people.  So I made it a point to reconnect with her.

We quickly realized that we both love food.  Since we both had President's Day off, we met up for lunch at Hi Pot:
















Guess everyone else still had to work.  The place was nearly empty when we arrived:
















Though by the time we finished, there was a line out the door.

The lunch special came with rice and an ice tea (you get a choice of black or green):






















Hi Pot is known for its spice dry pot.  There are plenty of pre-set combinations on the menu or you can design your own.  Too lazy to do that, I just went with the pork combination spice pot ($11.95 for a small):
















It came with pork stomach, pork intestine, pork belly, cauliflower, potato, celery, and bean curd skin.  Because I'm weaksauce, I got my pot not spicy.  I know, I know.  Judge away.  But the pot was delicious all the same.  A little oily, but nothing a little potato and rice won't soak up.  I was beyond tickled that the potato actually came in the form of French fries. 

Every time I've passed by Hi Pot since then, I've seen a giant crowd of people waiting at the door.  I get it though.  The prices are decent, the portions are generous, and the food is good.  What's not to love? 


Hi Pot
19066 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014 
(408) 366-2318
http://www.hipotusa.com/

Thursday, March 16, 2017

San Francisco: Lam Hoa Thuan

My family has a new favorite place to get dinner when we take my sister back to the city.  It is now my goal for us to become regulars there.

My parents and my sister discovered Lam Hoa Thuan without me.  My father can't resist roast duck, so I can see what first drew his eye:












You know you're in a legit Asian place when there are menu items written on 8x11 paper posted on the wall and when most of the tables are filled by middle age/elderly Asians:












We've been to Lam Hoa Thuan a few times now and my sister, my mother, and I always get a glass of hot soy milk ($0.99) each:






















I don't know how the servers carry the glasses over with their bare hands.  Those things are HOT.  I love how thick the soy milk is and how there's just enough sweetness to make it delicious.

My sister and I are obsessed with gravy egg and beef over rice ($7.75):












My mother likes to try different things each time we go.  Such as the combination over rice with gravy ($7.75):












My father, on the other hand, is a creature of habit.  He always gets the roast duck with rice ($8.00):












Most of the time, he also adds soy sauce chicken.  The first thing he does is pour all of the soy sauce over the rice like a giant kid.  I can't judge though.  I would do the same thing.

The first time I was there, I tried a combination plate with BBQ pork and roast pork ($8.25 + $3):












That was some beautiful roast pork.  That skin.  Oh, that gorgeous, crackly skin.  So yum.

The second time I went, I tried the tomato beef over rice ($7.75)












I would skip this.  A little too ketchup-y for me.

Lam Hoa Thuan is everything you can expect from a good hole-in-the-wall Chinese joint.  Bomb barbeque items, goopy rice, minimal service, dirt cheap, and cash only.  It actually offers both Chinese and Vietnamese food.  I have yet to venture over to the Vietnamese side of the menu, something I plan to fix the next time I go.  There's a bun bo hue with my name on it.

I'll certainly be back, Lam Hoa Thuan.  Soon.  We're going to be regulars if it's the last thing I do!


Lam Hoa Thuan
2337 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 661-1688
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