Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cooking Papa--Santa Clara, CA

Having passed by North China restaurant on Homestead dozens of times with my dad, we finally wanted to give it a try for lunch yesterday. However, when we got there at 12:05 there were piles of people waiting outside. There was a new restaurant, Cooking Papa, that displaced North China and the reception was overwhelming. So, we tried again today, this time with my wife and the twins tagging along, to eat dinner. Thinking we'd beat the rush, we got there at 5:15 but it turned out we got the last parking spot and the last available table that could hold the five of us. Expectations ran very high.

The first dish to arrive was the Hainan Chicken. The rice, though probably cooked with broth, was bland. The chicken itself was tender and flavorful, especially when compared to the disaster at Hong Kong Bistro in Mountain View. Just to compare against last weekend's Nutrition House we tried the Fried Rice with Chicken and Salted Fish. The fish was much more tender than last week's, but it over-salted the dish. I needed to add some of the bland rice from the Hainan Chicken to knock down the salinity. It has been nearly four hours since dinner as I write and my wife and I are still thirsty despite drinking water since coming home.

The pea sprouts were average and not finished. The mayonnaise shrimp with walnuts turned out well, but when is this dish ever bad? The House Special Fried Noodles was tasty, greasy and loaded with a variety of goodies such as chicken, squid and shrimp. The Peking Duck, for $18.50, was a great value. The presentation was exquisite and came with a hot bamboo basket filled with small steamed buns. Cooking Papa nailed the skin--the most important part of Peking Duck--perfectly. It was shiny, crisp and with just the right amount of fat.

The highlight of the night, though, was what we had for dessert. First came the mango, grapefruit and sago in mango sauce. It had the flavor of mango pudding but the texture of the grapefruit made it interesting. The dish was served cold and I was delighted that both my boys couldn't finish their servings so I could have more. Perhaps even better, though, was what came next, with the understated name, "Hong Kong Style Egg Puff". It brought our table to life. The exterior was slightly crisp and sweet, but the interior was spongy soft. This is one item that must be consumed once served--don't bother bringing it home. Almost as pleasant a surprise was the price: four puffs for $3.

If the stars are aligned again (that is, if we can get there early enough), I'd certainly look forward to going to Cooking Papa again. One could make the argument that the value is good--our dinner came to $85 after tax but before tip--but I like it more for the quality of some of the dishes that aren't really matched by other restaurants nearby. The House Special Fried Noodles and the Peking Duck stood out. And, those desserts! My, oh my.

Cooking Papa
2830 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 247-3748

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sarku Japan--Santa Clara, CA

Needing to return some clothes to Nordstrom today, I swung by Sarku Japan in the food court of the Valley Fair Mall. I went with today's special, Teriyaki Shrimp and Chicken. For $6.49 plus tax I got a styrofoam container full of rice (one can choose between white and fried) and vegetables topped with chicken and shrimp. A big selling point is the meal is served hot and fresh. Four cooks cut and fry your meet of choice in front of the line of customers, then serve it up on the counter. Just as attractive as the freshness, though, is the quantity of meat one can get for ponying up another 99 cents if one orders the Chicken Teriyaki with extra chicken. That dish comes loaded--I mean loaded--with bird. It'll be what I get when I go there next (if my system can handle the sodium).

The quantity and freshness are what keep me coming back to Sarku. I wouldn't recommend going, though, if you're looking for authentic Japanese cuisine. Yes, there's some teriyaki sauce used, but that's the extent of the Japanese influence. Moreover, the cooks, as jolly as they were (and they were very jolly), bantered in Cantonese.

Sarku Japan
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95052
(408) 241-1147

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nutrition House--Milpitas, CA

About to leave the kids' Chinese school in Milpitas at dinnertime earlier tonight, we asked their teacher for a recommendation for something quick nearby. She recommended a restaurant whose name translates literally to 5 Pancakes 2 Fish. The English name they go by, though, is Nutrition House. Located in the corner of a 99 Ranch mall in Milpitas, the restaurant is casual and has a menu featuring easily more than one hundred items. The theme of the menu seems to be Northern style with a special emphasis on hot pot dishes. However, sticking with the familiar, we went with beef chow fun, salted fish fried rice and sizzling shrimp and tofu.

The chow fun was average and should have been served hot instead of the lukewarm we received. The salted fish in the fried rice was hard, which I enjoyed. It provided a pleasant distinctiveness, giving the mouth something to chew on. My wife didn't like it, though, and ended up picking the little bits out of her rice. The sizzling shrimp came with two thin crepes, or pancakes. There was far more tofu and shrimp than could have been wrapped, but the crepes were a nice touch. Because it was served on a sizzling platter, the dish stayed hot throughout dinner.

Tonight our dishes came out quickly, the dishes met expectations overall and the dinner was inexpensive. The casual environment made it ideal for families. Our next trip, though, we'll be trying a hot pot or two. Coming with each hot pot is a "house special cake" which is a round, soft thick bread. It'll be the perfect sop. When I think about our return visit I can't help but drool over the many dipping possibilities!

Nutrition House
496 Barber Ln.
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 428-9285

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Little Michoacan--Sunnyvale, CA

Last Saturday the four of us went to Hands on the Arts in Sunnyvale. The restaurant Little Michoacan in Sunnyvale had a booth selling delicious tacos at a reasonable price. With every Tuesday featuring 99 cent small tacos at Little Michoacan for lunch, how could I resist going today?

The small soft tacos there came prepared in six different ways: steak, tongue, pollo, carnitas, al pastor (pork in this case) and chili verde (also pork). Not knowing what to exclude, I tried all six. It wasn't as intimidating as it sounds--the tortillas are only about three inches in diameter. I started with the steak, which was fatty but tender and pleasantly spicy. Juice constantly streamed down from the taco. The tongue came second and proved to be the highlight. Just as with the steak, it came diced but in ample quantity. The tongue was tender, flavorful and substantial. The chicken was quite plain, although I give the quantity of chicken high marks. The carnitas was overly sauced and the taco was soupy. But, an even greater abundance of fluid came with the chili verde, which unfortunately contained pork that was overdone. The al pastor was delightful, with its savory sauce and tender pork.

I appreciated that all of the tacos were served hot (I actually had to wait for some of them to cool just so they could be held) and the fillings were generous. At a buck a taco, I could try the entire small taco menu without blowing my lunch budget. Next time, in fact, I might get another six. But, it'll be one al pastor, one steak and four tongues.

Little Michoacan
305 N Fair Oaks Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 732-3854

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Louisiana Territory--based in San Jose, CA

I'm having lunch right now at my desk at work. I just went down the street to The Louisiana Territory, a food truck that visits my neck of the woods Thursdays 11-1. With Cajun their specialty, I went with the New Orleans Jambalaya and the Po Boy Catfish. The menu is set up for you to experiment, with the portions relatively small (the jambalaya measured about a cup), as well as the prices (I got both items together for $8).

The jambalaya came with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes as well as adequate amounts of andouille sausage and chicken. What made this distinctive was the dressing on top. I call it a dressing because it was very similar to thousand island, but spicy. Mixed in with the jambalaya, it provided some pleasant heat.

The po boy was a disappointment. The bread was good, although oiled perhaps too generously. However, the catfish, which I got due to the server's recommendation, brought images to mind of KFC's popcorn chicken. There was much, much more fried batter than fish. Even worse, the breading was slightly sweet, which conflicted badly with the spiciness of the rest of the sandwich. In roughly half the pieces I couldn't even find any fish--only batter.

It had been more than twenty years since I last ordered from a food truck. Times were simpler back then, when the meatball sub I had represented the height of food truck cuisine. Anyone who's at all in touch today knows that trendy food trucks today can often serve sophisticated, imaginative and delicious meals at prices lower than your cafeteria. However, today I felt badly tricked. I appreciated that they served us ginger ale while we waited, but that po boy was simply unforgivable, especially because it came recommended.

OK, back to work!

The Louisiana Territory
Go to: to find the truck's current location

Friday, May 7, 2010

Taqueria Los Charros--Mountain View, CA

I met my wife for lunch today at Castro St. in Mountain View. Castro offers perhaps the highest density of lunch spots within a ten-minute reach of my work in Santa Clara. Not knowing quite what we wanted for lunch, Castro was the place to go--but you have to get there before noon for parking. After wandering south on Castro, we settled on Taqueria Los Charros on Dana.

In the past, we enjoyed Los Charros for their sizeable portions and especially their killer shrimp burrito. It had been at least a year since we'd last eaten there and we were both disappointed that today our shrimp burritos came without sides of yesteryear and the burrito itself was considerably smaller. Although the burrito arrived hot in a foil, it lacked the heft of most Bay Area burritos, which approach the size of a Duraflame.

To the restaurant's credit, the wrap didn't drip and it came loaded with shrimp. I don't recall taking a bite without grabbing a shrimp or two. My wife's burrito, however, also came with a pebble. I don't want to imagine how the part of the ground could have made its way into my wife's burrito. Rock or not, though, for $5.75--today's lunch was $7--I'd much rather have the larger burrito (though it would be with chicken, pork or steak--not shrimp) with more flavorful filling at Las Islitas in Sunnyvale.

There was a time when one couldn't hope to get a table at Taqueria Los Charros at noon on a Friday. Throughout the lunch hour today, the restaurant never reached capacity. After having today's letdown, it was easy to see why.

Taqueria Los Charros
854 W Dana St.
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 969-1464

Monday, May 3, 2010

Piccadilly Catering--Foster City, CA

Our first visit here, about a year ago, was such a pleasure that we had been eager to return ever since. Piccadilly Catering features comfort food—much of it Southern—such as fried chicken, hot links and even macaroni and cheese. Along with the meal comes a bottomless lemonade, sweet tea or mimosa. One can even have a combination—I enjoyed my first ever Arnold Palmer there yesterday. The sweet tea, a Southern drink, is so saturated with sugar it won’t quench your thirst—drink it for the flavor.

For my first pass yesterday at this all-you-can-eat buffet I tried the basics such as the fried chicken, pork ribs, hot link and the gumbo. The fried chicken was delightful and, surprisingly, wasn’t heavy. The ribs were tender although I thought the sauce salty. The same could be said of the gumbo, which was much saltier than for our first visit.

There are two dishes that are brought to your table and I recommend both. The catfish can come either grilled or fried. My wife and I both tried the grilled catfish which arrived hot, juicy and tender. The other dish is a deep fried jumbo prawn on crab cake, which again was terrific. The deep fried prawn should be eaten quickly, while it’s still hot and crisp.

The highlight of the day for me, though, was the turkey neck. Served with gravy, the meat on the turkey neck fell off as the neck was rolled on the plate with a fork. This meat was more flavorful and tender than any other part of the turkey I’ve ever tried.

For those who don’t mind getting their fingers a little wet, the crab legs and crayfish were certainly worth the trouble, especially since the crab legs were served cracked. For the uninitiated, when eating the crayfish go for the meat in the tail. The brain usually packs a lot of flavor, too.

The desserts included bread pudding (a little too heavy for my taste), peach cobbler (excellent—especially the crust) and sweet potato pie. This last one we were allowed to bring home and it’s now sitting in our refrigerator. If tastes anything like it looks, though, it will make the perfect reason to suffer through even the most difficult of meals.

Perhaps because of the lack of novelty associated with a second visit or maybe because the gumbo was so salty, my wife and I agreed yesterday’s experience wasn’t as powerful as the first. Even so, I would still put the Sunday buffet at Piccadilly Catering above any other Sunday brunch in the Bay Area save the Ritz Carleton. And, at $25, the value at Piccadilly trumps even the Ritz.

Piccadilly Catering
1072 Shell Boulevard
Foster City, CA 94404-2902
(650) 573-0444

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Best Bite--Mountain View, CA

Tonight I had the tenderest, juiciest piece of chicken in memory--if not my life! On a whim, my wife and I decided to try a small, unassuming Persian restaurant down the street and around the corner. I never would have guessed this little stand-alone that could fit inside the kitchen of a Wienerschnitzel could pack so much punch into their Cornish game hen kabob. Even before my teeth met on that first bite my eyes reflexively closed and I involuntarily said, "Oh my goodness". I was in total disbelief that chicken could taste so good.

Not knowing how good the chicken would be, I played it safe and ordered the Koobideh Kabab, or ground tenderloin beef. The two skewers worth of meat was tender and greasy, as I knew it would be. However, mid-way through, after acknowledging the finer qualities of the dish (and after having had my wife’s chicken), I noticed that the beef lacked flavor. I addressed this by dousing it with hot sauce, my old standby solution. The beef also went well with the raw onion, butter and flatbread that came with our plates. There was enough flatbread, by the way, to be a meal in itself.

Although the Koobideh got boring after a little while, the Cornish game hen was too delicious to deny myself many repeat visits. Although the game hen was perhaps the best kabob I’d ever had, Best Bite won’t be our sole source for skewers, as seafood, for example, isn’t available.

Best Bite
1414 West El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040-2406
(650) 988-8895