Sunday, September 30, 2012

Baba Kabob at Moveable Feast

Saffron Rice Bowl

Time for more food trucks, this one being part of Moveable Feast's Sunday lunch at 350 Saratoga Avenue. There were only four trucks today, one of which was CurryUpNow, while another was serving Filipino food. There was a meatloaf truck that did a decent fried chicken sandwich, but I focused on the kabob shop.

This "saffron rice bowl" was effectively a single beef koobideh, which suited me quite well considering that I regretted not having grabbed any Persian food back when I was down south. Of course, being in a takeout box, there was only so much that they could provide, but the skewer included a grilled cherry tomato as well as onions, so that worked for me.

Unfortunately, I didn't care much for that sharbat drink that they touted on the side of their truck. I mean, I love cherry juice, but I wish that this weren't laced with flower petals. The fried rice balls were interesting and full of saffron flavor too, but I would have preferred to just melt some butter into my rice. I still gobbled it all down either way.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thien Long Restaurant in San Jose

Bún Chả cá Lã Vọng

After leaving the flea market empty handed (bellied?) today, we still needed some food. So we made our way over to this place on the back of a recent recommendation for their turmeric fish (3005 Silver Creek Road #138, 223-6188). Chả cá Lã Vọng in Hanoi was one of the best meals we'd had in a long time, and would definitely be interested in getting it again if these guys could do just as good of a job as they could.

It looked (and smelled) promising when we got seated. The table next to us had ordered it, as did several other tables. Those yellow-stained pieces of fish sat on burners with those signature peanuts and dill weed, along with of course all of those other fresh green herbs standing by on the side. But when our burner arrived at our table, we realized one critical thing was different: the fish was resting on top of the herbs without that bubbling oil.

That immediately made this dish different from what we had expected, as the bubbling oil was precisely the thing that made the original version in Hanoi so darned delicious. Granted, the fish here was tender and tasty, making it a good dish on its own right (thanks for the tip!). But having been spoiled by the Hanoi version, we couldn't help but yearn for a lot more. It's interesting: folks in Vietnam tell me that the phở in California is better than the phở in Vietnam. But it looks like the only way to get the real Chả cá Lã Vọng is by going to Hanoi.

The San Jose Flea Market

Cold Modelo for Sale

We finally made it to the correct flea market this time (1590 Berryessa Road, 453-1110). It was definitely much larger, and most importantly, had tons of food stalls, from which I was hoping to hunt down something interesting to eat. First off though, I needed a cold beverage, as it was blazingly hot. Thankfully beer carts were everywhere, with some of them selling Modelo too. Ahhh!

Unfortunately, there wasn't really that much else to speak of. We grabbed some sliced mango doused in chili powder and Mexican hot sauce. And I was tempted by other stalls selling corn, Chelada, and menudo. But other than that and maybe some habanero pistachios, I was a bit let down by not finding anything else. Oh well.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Steamed Rice at the Boiling Crab

Crawfish on Steamed Rice

Yes, we're back here again. We're not running out of places to eat at; it's just that this place was so uniquely good that we had to get another taste before heading back to Asia. And this time, we got some steamed white rice to go with the crawfish. The original idea was that some of that greasy Cajun spice in the bag would go great with the rice, which it did.

But the thing that made me say, "Damn, that is soooo good," was when I paired the rice with some of the crawfish brains. It looked pretty gross with the brown fat squeezed out of the head like a packet of ketchup. But what came out was a rich explosion of flavor, like eating uni over rice, but even more buttery rich and savory. Awesome!!!

These guys have tons of other shellfish like crab legs and shrimp available for the same treatment here, but we're not convinced that is going to be as good, if anything for the sheer fact that there won't be that crawfish head fat to suck out (the clams might be interesting though). Anyway, we've done enough damage to our bodies with this sodium-and-cholesterol snack. A detox session at Whole Foods is going to have to be next.

Breakfast at Taqueria Chavez


I know, it's Chavez yet again. But I noticed yesterday that they had chilaquiles on the menu, and figured that might come in handy for breakfast one of these days, especially since they are open at 7 AM. Anyway, this plate of chilaquiles was delicious with its stale textured chips and salsa roja, all washed down with Mexican hot chocolate. There will surely be more breakfasts at Chavez to come.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Huarache from Taqueria Chavez


Here was a huarache from Chavez, which I suppose really wasn't anything more than a larger, oval shaped sope that I got last time; I seem to remember enjoying Rick Bayless' version much more. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten some of the other stuff on the menu.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Senor Taco, San Jose, California

Buche and Asada Tacos

Clearly with no relation to Señor Taco in Singapore (surely there must be a million Señor Tacos in the world with no relation to each other), this was a totally random spot that I dropped by while I had about ten minutes to burn. Besides, the sign outside indicating $1 tacos was a bit hard to resist (1375 Blossom Hill Road Suite 11, 266-6342).

Amusingly though, when I went inside, there were big signs on the salsa bar that said that the $1 tacos were not eligible for salsa bar access. They didn't come with cilantro nor onions either; just a splash of either red or green salsa. That didn't matter though. The buche cheeks were super tender, if swine-y. I should have made that my second taco filling too rather than the unremarkable asada on the right.

Shalimar Restaurant in Sunnyvale, California

From Front: Murgh Tikka Lahori and Seekh Kabab Mughlai

This place has been mentioned in a couple of comments, but admittedly I was never very motivated to go there given how there is plenty of good Indian food back in Singapore. Still, I was not far from their Sunnyvale location this morning and needed a lunch venue nearby, so I suggested that we come here for lunch to see what all of the fuss was about (1146 W El Camino Real, 530-0300).

I ordered two of the recommended items: the Lahori chicken as well as the beef seekh kebabs. The first one in the foreground was the best of them all, but I seem to remember Usman back in Singapore being spicier. The seekh kebabs, on the other hand, used too many kinds of spices for me, completely overwhelming the taste of the meat. I didn't like that one as much. More interesting was the brain masala on the menu, which I could not resist ordering out of sheer curiosity. Yep, it was lamb brains, but it was cooked into a curry that I could hardly taste it. I didn't care for the poofy oversized naan either.

This was not worth a 22 food rating on Zagat in my opinion. I wonder if my disappointing experience here was because I've been spoiled by better food in Asia. Either that, or I did not go to the Fremont or SF locations like the comments suggested. Indeed, this location is hosted on a different website with a different logo, but the menus were basically identical. Could this be like the TK Noodle feud?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saigon's Bakery from Southern California

Bánh mì pâté thịt

Right next door to Phở Hà in San Jose was this little bakery from down south (953 McLaughlin Avenue, 271-9744). Naturally, we stopped in to pick up a couple of sandwiches on our way out. I liked it. The bread was light and crisp, while the pate and garnish was much punchy. Yum...I prefer this place to Lee's Sandwiches now.

Phở Hà Vietnamese Restaurant in San Jose

Phở Tai Nạm Sách

This place was a completely random selection (951 Mc Laughlin Avenue, 280-0381). We were originally chasing down a previous suggestion when we found that one under renovation...and only to realize later that it had moved not far from here, but only after we had eaten!

That didn't mean that we regretted coming here though, as the broth was good (and yes, better than that Super Eggroll place). The pork and shrimp in the bún were delicious too with that flame-grilled aroma. My only gripe? The jalapeno peppers were gigantic and crudely cut, and were more sweet than spicy.

But at the end of the day, this was one of the cleanest phở shops I'd ever seen in this neighborhood. I mean, the Formica and florescent decor was just as downscale as the rest of them, but the utensils and condiments at each table were spotless: no grimy buildup nor residue on the bottles here! Even the bean sprouts were properly drained rather than being sitting in a puddle of water on the plate.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Boiling Crab in San Jose, California

One Pound of Crawfish with Cajun Fries

Oh man, that was awesome (71 Curtner Ave Suite 20, 297-2322). No wonder why we had so much problem getting seated at this Southern California transplant yesterday...on a Sunday at 3 PM, of all times! I figured that maybe it would be easier on a weekday afternoon, which fortunately turned out to be true today. But surprisingly, it was still at least three quarters full (don't people have to work??).

Of course, when anything is cooked in a bag of butter, salt, and spices, it will taste good, but the thing that made these crawfish great was that fat inside those heads. It was rich like foie gras, all while being naturally sweet. (Tip: squeeze out the fat like an Otter Pop while you're sucking those heads, or you'll miss out on a good part of the fat.)

And yes, they really cranked up the heat on the Cajun spices, so much that my stomach is still burning right now. The purist in me normally prefers a more traditional means of preparation. But I guess I am coming around to this Vietnamese-American version with that pile of limes. I should try some of that sauce with a bowl of white rice next time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches in SJ

A Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

No, today isn't supposed to be Sandwich Day. And if anything, going to a chain restaurant from Dallas wouldn't have been my first choice of places to go to. Heck, it wasn't my second or third choice either! But after striking out at the flea market well as a couple of other places in the neighborhood, we basically stopped here out of desperation (91 Curtner Avenue Suite 20, 298-9424).

They had some kind of a numbered-brown-bag-and-red-Sharpie ordering system that looked a bit gimmicky at first. After taking a couple of minutes to decipher it all, I put my order in and hoped for the best. To my surprise, it was pretty darned least, the way I configured this one, which meant passing on all of those mayo, sauce, mustard, mayo, and dressing options, and just loading up on the veggies instead.

And I guess that's why I liked this place much better than Quiznos; that place just uses waaaayyy too much sauce on their sandwiches. Yes, I liked it better than Subway, Wichcraft, and Specialty's too. But I'm not sure if it beats Erik's nor Potbelly, even if they similarly both depend a lot on sauces. I guess their sauces are more subtle than Quiznos.

The Capitol Flea Market in San Jose

Chilis for Sale

Chili peppers are always pretty when sold at outdoor stands. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else here aside from some Lucha Libre sessions. We originally came down here because I thought it would be a chance to get some proper Mexican food. Only after getting there and noticing all of the secondhand goods did I realize that I confused Capitol Flea Market with San Jose Flea Market (on Berryessa). Crap - this wasn't much more than a giant garage sale! Well, I'm sure that I'm not the first person to have made that mistake.

An ALT from Le Boulanger in California

Avocado, Lettuce, & Tomato

No, that's not short for the Alt key on your keyboard. It's an Avocado, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich from Le Boulanger, a local South Bay bakery chain. It was exactly the light thing that worked for breakfast this morning. I think I liked it more than The Vegetarian that I got last time.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Tamale Pie from Hobee's Palo Alto

Tamale Pie and Eggs

I have no idea what a tamale pie is. And that's precisely the reason why I ordered this from Hobee's. I figured that maybe it was a tamale baked into a pan, but a quick search online suggests that it is a cornbread casserole that only slightly resembles the original steamed Mexican version. Anyway, this tasted like it looked...and was surprisingly smaller in portion sizes than I would have expected.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Super Eggroll Restaurant, San Jose

Phở Chin Nam

Not to be confused with King Eggroll, this was a random shop that we went to out of sheer convenience tonight (445 Blossom Hill Road, 281-2847). Like King Eggroll, they had a number of things beyond their namesake dish available, particularly in the form of those cafeteria style troughs. But they also had things like Hawaiian plate lunches, if I saw it correctly.

Well, despite the name, the best thing here that I tasted was the phở, whose broth was smoother than others, and yet was still full of flavor. Check out those freakishly large basil leaves they gave us; it's as if all of the produce in California is on steroids or something.

And sure, the egg rolls were fine, but it's been so long since I've had King Eggroll that I can't really make a proper comparison. I will say though that those Mac N Rolls from Soulnese yesterday were still much more unique to me. Similarly, the bánh mì was edible, but my preference is still for Lee's.

Alicia's Mexican Cafe in San Jose


We came to this shop at Cambrian Park Plaza on the basis of a recommendation the other day (14408 Union Avenue, 559-0810). More than anything, we were curious to see how they might serve chicharrones - were they just going to pour pork cracklings out of a plastic bag or something?

Well, as you can see above, it was not that at all, but what I suppose was bits of pork rind and meat sauteed up with some surprisingly spicy green peppers. Yeah, I liked it, especially when thrown into one of those coarse corn tortillas. But admittedly this probably won't be a place that I'll come to frequently - I'm more curious to explore the huge variety of Mexican places in downtown and east San Jose instead.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Disappointing #2 Bowl at TK Noodle

Small Number Two

That was a bit of a letdown. Something in our usual favorite #2 from TK Noodle didn't seem right today. It wasn't very spicy, and yet it was saltier than usual. And more importantly, it was a couple of key ingredients missing: cucumber and basil. I'm not sure if it was just this Monterey Highway location, but at least there was a Lee's Sandwiches next door.

Burger Bar in San Jose, California

Hamburger and Root Beer

I must have driven by this beat-up outdoor stand a million times when I was still living here (1101 South 1st Street, 293-0900), and yet for some reason I never stopped by to check it out, despite how intrigued I was by its big sign advertising five burgers at a special bundled price of $5.99 (the price was surely lower in previous years). Today I needed a quick drink, so I stopped in and grabbed a burger while I was at it.

The good thing was that it was super fast - I probably got my burger in less than a minute. But the burger definitely wasn't anything special. Granted, I can't expect much when a single burger is only $1.25, but this was even worse than that MiniMo. They topped it with relish (a huge dislike of mine), and the meat was dry.

Still, I'm sure that I'm going to come back one of these days, as I'm sure that this place would be great late at night. They had a number of other things on the menu too, including chili, tacos, and jalapenos. If that doesn't sound like a post-drinking snack, then I don't know what does.

The Soulnese Truck in San Jose

Soul Stix and Mac N Roll

Time for more food trucks. And yes, these guys are doing a bit of that Asian fusion thing, but the good thing is that it's not necessarily that clichéd put-it-into-a-taco approach. These guys, as the name suggests, combine Chinese and soul food, which results in some interesting stuff.

Take, for instance, those Mac N Rolls in the white takeout box in the upper left corner. They were basically egg rolls stuffed with macaroni and cheese. These guys did it just right, with a thin crispy skin on the outside but warm rich mac and cheese oozing out from the inside. Awesome! It's a wonder that no one had thought of that before!

Unfortunately, I couldn't ladle the same amount of praise on the Soul Stix, or skewers of shrimp wrapped around a hot link. I was hoping for a spicier, perky dog, but these anemic-looking things just tasted like any other sausage. At least the shrimp was fresh, while the fried rice went down easily.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back to Mr & Mrs T on Southwest

Mr & Mrs T Bloody Mary Mix on Southwest

I know. All of the sodium in that Bloody Mary Mix isn't exactly a good thing. But I was in such a rush to catch a standby flight tonight that I didn't get a chance to eat dinner before getting on the plane. So I wolfed down those peanuts and pretzels, and washed it down with that spicy tomato juice. It's not like I drink this stuff very often.

BCD Tofu House, Los Angeles

Soondubu Jjigae

After a few drinks tonight, I needed some food to sit in my belly. I went through a number of the usual LA options in my head (Mexican, Pink's, Roscoe's, etc.) but the thing that sounded perfect was a hot and spicy soup, especially since a client from Korea incidentally mentioned tonight that soondubu jjigae is usually better here in LA than in Seoul. So we went down to an outlet of BCD Tofu House in Koreatown.

They provided varying levels of spiciness. I got the "spicy" one, which was one level down from the hottest, and it was already plenty spicy. They also took pride in the fact that they used organic tofu; I really couldn't taste the difference but at least it didn't look like those factory-prepared cubes from a plastic tin.

They had other things on the menu here, including some combos with bulgogi and kalbi, as well as a spicy raw crab that was surprisingly refreshing thanks to the loads of fresh ginger in it. It was also interesting to see that they provided an entire fried fish to each person as part of the banchan. Anyway, I'm sure that I'll be at this 24 hour chain again when the next opportunity arises. Oh, and in case you're wondering, BCD apparently stands for the Bukchangdong area of Seoul.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica


I wasn't expecting much from this place (2454 Wilshire Boulevard, 586-1707). It seemed like just a typical Westside restaurant serving Californian fare on an open patio. And that's pretty much what I felt I was getting at first with this hamachi starter, which was light and refreshing, but whose crudely cut garnish wasn't that impressive.

But the good thing was that the jidori chicken that followed was amazingly tender and perfectly seasoned - I could have nearly eaten another one. I really doubt I'll make any effort to come back, but it was certainly healthy, and the service was attentive too.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Bazaar by José Andrés in LA

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Yes, we came here specifically because of José Andrés. I wasn't quite sure of what to expect, as the various descriptions that I read suggested that there were multiple chambers at this posh venue, each specializing in one thing or another (465 La Cienega Boulevard, 310-246-5555). It turned out that it was basically one huge room but with different sections: the humble lounge-like restaurant, the gaudy bar (easily befitting the locale), and the funky patisserie that one walked over to after dinner.

To add to this, the restaurant's menu was split in half, the left side being the traditional side and the right side being the modern one. We ordered primarily from the traditional side except for a set of "California cones," or basically a California roll made into a pinky-sized ice cream cone, which was surprisingly good. The traditional items were still relatively chic: witness the plating of the piquillo pepper above. The gambas al ajillo likewise came out on white porcelain with some kind of garlic puree rather than the traditional brown ceramic dish.

Well, the things that were particularly memorable for me included the deep taste of the jamón ibérico de bellota. They also served a few things in a can; they were freshly prepared, but just served in a can as if to mimic that Spanish canned seafood thing. And when we finally made it to our cozy alcove in the patisserie for dessert, I went nuts for the grapefruit and olive oil ice cream. Those ingredients sound strange together, but the fragrance of the olive oil totally worked.

Southern California's Umami Burger

Earth Burger

Wow - that was probably one of the best meals of this trip thus far. Umami Burger has spread to multiple locations across Southern California, and we made sure to stop by one for lunch today. On the advice of a foursquare tip, I didn't even get the namesake burger here, but rather the veggie burger above, whose patty was made from mushrooms and edamame.

It may not sound very appetizing, but it was delicious. The meat versions of the burgers were nice and moist too. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the range of sauces, including the ketchup, which seemed to have mushrooms or something blended into it to give it that umami taste. I normally don't dip my fries into ketchup, but here I just couldn't stop.

Keep in mind though that this was sit-down table service, complete with a great list of craft beers on tap. If I had wanted fast food, then In-N-Out would suit me just fine. And for a more classic taste, I'll still go to Jeffrey's or Burger Joint. But this place is in a league of its own.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bäco Mercat, Los Angeles, California

Salty Jowl Coca with Chilled Seafood Bäzole and Broccolini & Cheese

Given all of the rave reviews that I had read about this place, I was looking forward to coming to this tiny little shop in downtown tonight (408 South Main Street, 213-687-8808). The menu was eclectic. While the shop was named after a sandwich, these guys ultimately specialize in small plates, complete with a large craft beer selection on tap. Sounded exactly like my kind of place.

Now, that thing above may look like a pizza, but it was some kind of coca flatbread instead. (Had I known that it would ultimately look like a pizza, I probably would have gotten the sandwiches!) Nonetheless, all of it tasted fine, be it the cold uni and dungeness crab noodles or the tuna and quinoa salad, even if the soup was puzzlingly reminiscent of a Taiwanese beef noodles.

So yes, the food was good. And I'd be willing to go back as long as I didn't have to brave through traffic on the 10 Freeway to get there, only to have to wait another 30-40 minutes to get seated (despite the hostess telling me on the phone that it was easy enough to do a walk-in on a Saturday night). I'm glad that I tried this place either way.

Pink's Hot Dogs in Los Angeles

Spicy Polish Dog with Grilled Onions

We needed a snack this afternoon and were in the vicinity, so we made a quick run down to Pink's (709 North La Brea Avenue, 323-931-7594), especially since we hadn't been here in ages. Interestingly, Gloria Pink herself was there today, taking photos in that pink colored jacket that she wore on that Bourdain episode.

I got my usual spicy Polish dog, although I asked them to grill the onions this time, which surprisingly they wanted an extra charge for. Either way, this is still my favorite hot dog place in the world. The solid meat tube hit the spot, especially with those sport peppers (and despite that chili's slightly disturbing texture - it's as if they blended in bread crumbs to make it creamier or something).

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

The line at the Original Pantry Cafe was ridiculously long this morning, so we fell back on Roscoe's, which fortunately was only partially full when we got there. The last time I was here was probably 15 years ago, and that was late at night with alcohol in my belly. So it was a bit weird coming here bright and early in the morning...and sober, at that!

Fortunately though, this post-drinking food was actually good with a clear head. Or at least, the chicken was. The chicken batter was crispy yet light, all while keeping the meat tender. The waffles and biscuits, on the other hand, weren't anything that special. But again, this isn't exactly something that one exactly eats for its quality.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Louise's Trattoria in Southern California

Spaghetti with Meatballs

Yes, it's another Italian-American chain restaurant. It wasn't our originally intended destination, but it was one of the few places nearby that could take a walk-in on a Friday night (and at least it was local to Southern California).

I figured that since we were eating Italian-American food, then I might as well get spaghetti with meatballs, the latter of which turned out to be much better in taste and texture that I thought it would be. My expectations going in were pretty low though.

Chego in Los Angeles, California

Buttered Kimchi Chow

On the suggestion of a comment posted recently, we stopped by here for lunch on the way from the airport to the hotel (3300 Overland Avenue, 287-0337). The interesting thing was that we saw a Kogi truck outside, and it was only then did I put the two together to realize that this shop was actually run by the Kogi people. I see.

And in many ways, it tasted similar, with a salty kimchi flavor pervading the dishes, in a good way. We wolfed down this tofu rice bowl with ease, and enjoyed the grilled romaine heart starter and Sriracha chocolate bar too (yep, a rice-based chocolate bar with a hint of Sriracha sauce, but without being spicy). Thanks for the tip!

Canned Water on Southwest Airlines

Deja Blue Canned Water on Southwest

This was an interesting one. When you ask for a water on Southwest, they give it to you in this co-branded Deja Blue can. Sure, Perrier is available in a can too (cue: Spaceballs), but this was flat water. I'm not sure why they give it in a can; at first I thought that it was just more convenient for the flight attendants, but it looked like most of the soft drinks were poured into cups. Hmm...

Local Burgers and Pizza at SJC


We needed a quick bite before getting on the plane in Terminal B today, so I stopped by Mojo Burger to see what the deal was with this local burger shop. Contrary to what Jules Winfield once said about breakfast, I wasn't in the mood for a full sized burger at 10:30 AM, so I figured that I'd get a taster in the form of that MiniMo kids burger above.

Unfortunately, it was only marginally better than a McDonald's hamburger, despite the hopes that maybe it would be like the Billy Goat Tavern. Granted, when I finally got to a piece of meat that wasn't overpowered by the mustard and pickles, I detected a decent smoky aroma that suggested that the full burger may be worth coming back for next time. But this MiniMo was unnecessary.

Cheese Pizza

As we moved on toward our gate, we saw Pizza My Heart, which was another local shop that I'd been meaning to try for some time. They did New York-style pizza by the slice, but the crust was so surprisingly crispy and airy that I immediately went back for seconds. Their so-called Shark Repellent habanero and cayenne pepper hot sauces made this even more fun to eat. This one I'll come back for.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hapa SF at Off the Grid SF

Sisig Tacos

This was totally unexpected. I was actually en route to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market when I saw a bunch of food trucks in front of me as part of the Off the Grid collection. Cool - there was no way that I was going to pass this one by!

Filipino food was the last thing that I thought that I would be getting too. But there was something on the menu here that looked particularly interesting: sisig tacos. I love sisig, and I love tacos, so surely must like sisig tacos, right? Little bits of minced pork shoved into tortillas and topped with salsa sounded like a very natural fit, after all.

And the good thing is that it did indeed work, eating these two single-ply tacos with ease. I admittedly won't be getting it again though; the meat was dry and rather crudely cut, and just didn't really taste like the sisig I know. If I had closed my eyes, I might have thought it to be just any other pork taco.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Salad from 'wichcraft in SF

Chickpeas on Greens

I didn't intend to come here again. But I needed some fresh greens, and I remembered that these guys had salads that I could get on the way back. So I grabbed this chickpea salad, which, to my surprise, had thin slices of lemon inclusive of the rind on it. It definitely provided some bite, but really just too much bite. Hmm...that's the second item in a row where some unexpected ingredient just threw off the dish, even if everything otherwise was of good quality. At this rate, I don't know if I'll make it back here a third time.

Papalote Mexican Grill, San Francisco

Grilled Tofu con Achiote Tacos

This place (3409 24th Street, 970-8815) has a claim to fame of having an amazing much that even Bobby Flay went nuts for it. I managed to stop by the Mission District just before the busy lunch hour today, and grabbed these tofu tacos.

Yup, you read that correctly. Tofu tacos...this was San Francisco, after all. The tofu was marinated in achiote, and are buried underneath all of those veggies in the photo. I could hardly taste the tofu as a result, actually.

But I could indeed see what the fuss was about the sauce. It was rich, and in many ways a bit like La Victoria's in San Jose, but more refined. Next time I'll come back and try one of those burritos that I saw everyone getting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'wichcraft in San Francisco, California

Goat Cheese Sandwich

Tom Colicchio runs this chain of sandwich shops in Manhattan, and interestingly, there is a single outlet in San Francisco (868 Mission Street, 593-3895). Somehow I ended up with this goat cheese sandwich, which I didn't like that much due to the walnut spread that they put on it (I should have read the menu more carefully!). But the ingredients were of high enough quality that I might come back again tomorrow to try out some of the other stuff on the menu.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Las Americas Restaurant, San Mateo

This was an unplanned visit. I was actually walking over to CurryUpNow when I noticed this Peruvian restaurant (252 South B Street, 340-1327). Outside of Matsuhisa, I don't think I'd ever had Peruvian food before, so I figured that it'd be worth a try, especially since it was attached to a market too (is it a Latin American thing?).

I had no idea what to order, so I asked the guy what he's best known for, and he recommended the lomo saltado above. At first glance, it looked like some crudely cut thing that one might get from Panda Express, but it tasted nothing of the sort. It was savory and a tad tangy, especially when I dabbled some of that hot green salsa onto it.

Sure, the beef was a bit tough, but I still gobbled it up quickly, washing it down with a chicha morada, which is apparently made from boiling purple corn with cinnamon and fruit. I'll definitely come back here to try out some of the other stuff on the menu.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Buca di Beppo: Chain or Manly?

Fried Calamari

I can't remember if I've ever been to an outlet of Buca di Beppo, but if I had been there, it was probably close to fifteen years ago. So tonight's visit was effectively the first time for me. And the main selling point of this Italian-American chain is the family-style servings from a gigantic bowl.

I went in with low expectations, and in that sense, those expectations were met. The portions were large, salty, and pretty much what I figured would come out of a commercialized chain restaurant in the US. And yet, somehow I still ate a decent part of it, including that crispy fried calamari above. Admittedly I am curious enough to come back here to try their "famous" spaghetti with meatballs or baked rigatoni that I saw on the menu.

Then again, if I really wanted this kind of stuff again, I'd rather go somewhere like Original Joe's, which incidentally I just discovered was listed by Men's Health magazine as one of the "manliest" restaurants in America. And if I had to go to a chain, I suppose that one could do much worse (think: Olive Garden). One of these days, I'm sure that somehow I'll end up at an outlet of Romano's or Maggiano's too.

Chili Peppers from In-N-Out Burger

Double Double and Cheeseburger with Chili Peppers and Well Fries

We made a quick pitstop at In-N-Out today for lunch, and this time I remembered the chili pepper option available there. Unfortunately, it was only for one of our burgers, so I asked them for some chili peppers on the side, which interestingly came out in these little sealed plastic baggies, complete with an expiration date, of all things. I also got my fries done "well" this time, which made them crispier, but only ever so slightly.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

El Camino Mongolian BBQ, Santa Clara

Mongolian BBQ

The last time I was here (3380 El Camino Real, 241-2413) was more than ten years ago, and the thing that made this place distinct from other Mongolian BBQs was that one got kimchi with his meal, as it was surrounded by a bunch of Korean shops. They have since changed owners, and unfortunately the kimchi was gone. But that didn't stop us from loading up on a couple of bowls of this stuff, which is much better here than those in Taiwan.

The new owner has remodeled and likes to keep the place clean, which is a refreshing change from grimey Su's down the street. And the owner is quite the happy camper too, greeting everyone with a smile and even walking first-timers through the sauce combinations. In that sense, I wouldn't mind coming back again, although it is just Mongolian BBQ at the end of the day, and I suppose that a mall's food court does the job just as well.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Taqueria at Chavez Supermarket

Clockwise from front: Barbacoa Sope, Lengua Taco, and Shrimp Ceviche Tostada

Chavez is a chain of Mexican supermarkets across the Bay Area, complete with taquerias attached. So we stopped by to load up on a few items, including not just that sope in the foreground, but a taco and tostada as well.

The sope was the best one in my opinion. The frijoles smeared on top of the thick masa base was nice and rich, making everything all of that stuff on top go down easily. The lengua here was nice and tender for that taco too. But I was let down by the tostada, whose ceviche topping just wasn't very exciting.

Oh well. I'm definitely coming back though, especially given the selection of soups available on the menu...and they are open for breakfast!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

San Jose's La Victoria in the Daytime

Chile Relleno and Lengua Taco

I don't think I've ever eaten at La Vic's while sober...or at least, not when the sun was still up. I kinda figured that it wouldn't be very good as a normal meal, but now I know for sure: it was pretty nasty. Sure, the famous orange sauce was still just as rich as I remember it to be, but the food itself was pretty gross, with excessively salty rice and those two strips of cheese on top of the chile relleno visually off-putting. It's amazing how alcohol makes places like this taste like the best thing in the world. Don't people say the same thing about White Castle?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Korean and Indian Meals on SQ 16...Sorta

Korean Spicy Prawns and Japchae

Time for another run on SQ 16. As with before, this Air India codeshare ran through Incheon, thus offering both Indian and Korean meals. Or so I thought. By the time they got to us waaay in the back of the plane today, neither the Korean nor Indian selections were available. Fortunately, our flight attendant was cool; as consolation, she offered some "spicy prawns" that were actually a business class selection, but served in the original heating tray rather than the fancy porcelain from the front of the cabin. It was surprisingly spicy and even came with japchae.


There wasn't very much time in transit at Incheon, but we nonetheless stopped by the food court to wolf something down quickly. We ended up with this seolleongtang, which was deliciously thin yet full of bone marrow-like depth. It was exactly what I needed before getting on the long haul to the US, and perhaps more amusingly, none other than PSY was playing on the overhead sound system here. Note to self: there's a Paldo stall here selling Teumsae Ramyeon.

Medu wada with sambhar, vegetable savory upma, and coconut chutney

Back on the plane again, I figured that I'd get another chance to try to get an Indian meal. Fortunately, I got the wada above as a snack just before landing. But for dinner, the flight attendant strangely told me that Indian meals were only available as a special booking, even though the menu clearly listed an Indian selection as a possibility tonight. So I ended up with a rather unappealing Korean dak jjim stewed chicken that I stopped eating after just a few bites. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Ola Cocina del Mar, Singapore


When I had heard that a couple of former chefs from Santi had opened up a place at Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3 (12 Marina Boulevard #01-06, 6604-7050), I knew that it was only a matter of time before I came down here, especially since a story that I read said that it was not that expensive. Today, I finally had the chance to sneak in a late lunch at the counter.

Yes, the food definitely tasted good, including the pulpo above, whose smoky aroma was completely different from that canned stuff from the other day. The gambas were also done with just the right amount of olive oil and dried chili flakes. But as you can see with the porcelain above, this place was definitely more upscale than a traditional wooden plate and ceramic dish.

I suppose that it is true that this place isn't as expensive as Santi was. But that didn't mean that this place was cheap either. Those two little tapas plates ran for S$16 (US$13) a pop, and I didn't go any further into the menu than that. I guess I can't blame them for being opportunistic about it given the shiny new venue they are in. But that's just a bit too expensive for me for me to eat regularly.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Korea's BOSS BarBQ in Singapore

Grilled Chicken

Yes, I couldn't stop thinking of Andy Samberg when I heard the name of this place. Maybe that is the reason why I came down here to give it a try (3C River Valley Road #01-04, 6336-3393). Well, that, and the fact that it was supposed to be a chain from Korea.

Despite the name, it wasn't your standard Korean BBQ place with a grill in the middle, even if they had some bulgogi and kalbi available on the menu. This place was apparently known for its chicken, and thankfully enough, not of the fried variety either (even though that was technically available too). The first item on this list was this grilled version above, which turned out to be much less sweet than many of those other ones, with a spiciness that was a bit earthy and just to the right degree of heat. All of that chicken sat on a bed of raw onions that caramelized nicely with the sauce, and they even threw in some ddeokbokki to boot.

I definitely liked this much better than that fried stuff, and it washed down surprisingly well with a Malaysian beer on tap called Stärker. Interestingly, I was told that the dining tables here clear out at 11 PM for a dance floor playing Korean music. Surely everyone must go nuts pretending to ride a horse whenever Psy comes on.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Dashi Master Marusaya Udon, Singapore

Niku Sukiyaki Udon

It didn't really occur to me until after I had eaten here yesterday that the Udon Factory at Lau Pa Sat had changed owners (18 Raffles Quay #01-31). Now it's apparently run by the Japanese dashi stock supplier itself, boasting about how their stock uses no MSG. I admittedly didn't care for the bowl that I had yesterday, but I wanted to come back tonight to try some others to really give the stock a chance to shine.

And I'm glad that I did. The stock, when served hot, really was very savory yet light - so much that I drank this down to the last drop, and even went back for another bowl. The second one was a kamatama udon whose yolk was buried inside, and yet nonetheless was one that I wolfed down quickly. The noodles were nowhere close to those thick chewy ones from Rakugama, but nonetheless, I enjoyed it enough that I would have nearly considered it a worthy competitor to Tsuru-Koshi, if it weren't for that bukkake from yesterday as well as the horrendous tempura here.

Indeed, the tempura, despite the ownership change, was still shockingly inexcusable: cold, limp, and thick. Something inside me still hopes that it is much better during the weekday lunch hour when they have high turnover. But the drawback of eating this stuff during the week is the heavy helping of spring onions that they throw on top for instant dragon breath (incidentally, I saw a sign that said that they will give you even more spring onions for free upon request!).

Fremantle Seafood Market, Singapore

Seafood Bucket

This Clarke Quay shop wasn't where we had intended to eat today. But the places that we wanted to go to weren't open for lunch on a Saturday, so somehow we ended up at this Australian seafood shop that has taken over the grounds of the former Via Veneto (Block 3E River Valley Road #01-05, 6337-1838).

The good thing was that this was fresher than I thought it would be. But had I really wanted fish and chips, I probably would have just walked further down the river to the Boat Quay outlet of Smith's instead. The prices here were clearly geared toward tourists (S$17 or US$14 for a pint of Erdinger!).