Monday, August 30, 2010

Sonoma Chicken Coop--Campbell, CA

An Egyptian festival brought us to Campbell yesterday, but seeing the limited offerings there and the complicated ticket-for-food scheme, we high-tailed it for downtown Campbell instead for lunch. We were lured by the Kids Eat Free sign on the window, but once inside we found it applied to Mondays and Tuesdays only. Nevertheless, there were so many tempting offerings (Juicy burgers! Breakfast menu during lunch!) that we couldn't help but stay.

The idea of a fried egg on a burger long appealed to me and here was my chance: The Anytime Breakfast Burger (below). Made with Estancia grass-fed beef, the patty, was purportedly 5 1/2 ounces, but it seemed thicker and heftier than 1/3 pound burgers I'd had in the past. It spent a little too much time on the grill for my taste, but it was nevertheless juicy. The sandwich was delicious and I salivate just writing about it. But then, how can one go wrong with a burger when it has a fried egg and cheese? The sweet potato fries were crisp and sweet--a combination that worked well. One could opt instead for french fries or onion rings.
My wife had the California burger (below) but found the bacon to be too fatty and ended up taking out the strips. She too would have preferred the burger more rare. The twins offered off the Kids' menu and each finished his plate.

Despite both burgers being slightly overdone, we'll be back again for the family-friendly atmosphere. The restaurant is loud, one can choose any available table and flat screens glare from every direction. What better environment for a family with two squealing kids?

Sonoma Chicken Coop
200 E Campbell Ave.
Campbell, CA 95008
(408) 866-2699

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Aqui Cal-Mex--Cupertino, CA

Looking for a Mexican restaurant that we hadn't tried before, our internet search took us to Aqui Cal-Mex in Cupertino, which, as it turns out, is the site where Harvest was located. The avid reader may recall I reviewed Harvest favorably more than two years ago, but we never returned after a bad experience in 2009. Also similarly to Harvest, one orders at the counter at Aqui Cal-Mex, then takes a seat. Below is a photo of Tyler eying the specials of the day, one of which I had for dinner.

My dish, the pork loin with home-made flatbread and salad was a mediocre value at $10. My biggest complaint was the loin was overdone. Pork isn't easy to prepare properly, as it must be cooked throughout, yet toughens shortly after the meat reaches the required temperature. However unforgiving pork can be, though, one can still reliably get a tender loin with enough time and an oven bag. Not all was lost, as the pluots were sweet, delicious and offered just enough resistance to the bite.
My wife's dish was easily the best value of the four at our table at $8. The Thai Pork Rollup demonstrated that Aqui can cook pork after all. Even the rice inside the wrap was delicious. The rollup's unlikely dish-mate was a bowl of Southwest French Onion Soup. While of course not authentic French Onion (that's a slice of bread you see floating there, not cheese), it was nevertheless a joy to slurp. The broth had the flavor of the traditional French Onion but with some spices to give it some kick.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to make any quesadilla really stand out. My sons' chicken and cheese quesadillas were no exception. They went well with the condiments provided at the salsa bar, though.

With the overall dinner quality easily passable and dinner ready in ten minutes, this will be a place we can come back to, especially in a pinch.

Aqui Cal-Mex
10630 De Anza Blvd.
Cupertino, CA
(408) 996-1443

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orenchi--Santa Clara, CA

My gracious wife braved the heat today and drove down to have lunch with me in Santa Clara, where I work. She was in the mood for ramen and we met at Orenchi when it opened at 11:30. Taken by the hostess's sales pitch, I ordered the special, Ore-tsuke-men. Their menu said the restaurant is limited to serving to only the first twenty who order this new item. That the restaurant is truly restricted to a certain number of servings of the Ore-tsuke is questionable (more on that later). What's very easy to believe, however, is another claim the menu makes: that the broth takes 18 hours to make.

I was convinced of this after the first sip of my wife's soup, a part of the Orenchi Ramen. The broth was simply the most flavorful in memory. One is convinced that every bit of the savory flavor once in the chicken and pork diffused and condensed into the soup during that 3/4 day simmer. The boiled egg was notable for its soft, creamy yolk--they clearly have their soft-boil recipe down pat. The ramen was delightfully chewy and had my wife thinking about her lunch the rest of the afternoon. At nine dollars, the ramen was no steal, especially given the small size of the bowl. However, it will probably end up drawing us back.

The special I had was as awful a value as Jenny's ramen was extraordinary. I can't fathom why the scant quantity of cold ramen (as good as it was) and sauce could be twelve dollars or how the restaurant could be limited to twenty servings per day. On the latter, I can't help but believe it's a marketing trick targeted at naive first-timers (like yours truly). For the record, the sauce contained green onion, sesame seeds, bamboo and seaweed. It was also quite salty. In the photo below, topping the ramen is a sheet of seaweed and a small mound of fish powder. I left the restaurant hungry and needed a snack as soon as I got back to work.

Get here early--the word is obviously out on the chewy ramen and the to-die-for broth. Those getting in at 11:45 were relegated to the counter in the back and any who dared show up as late as noon had to wait outside.

3540 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA
(408) 246-2955

Friday, August 20, 2010

Turkey Mike's BBQ--San Jose, CA

With the San Jose Giants having a buy-one-get-one promotion Sunday, the four of us hit San Jose Municipal Stadium for a game against the Modesto Nuts. A 5:00 start time (and a ban on tailgating 45 minutes prior to the first pitch), pretty much cornered us into having dinner at the park. Shortly after sitting down I couldn't help but notice another fan carrying a monster turkey leg drumstick. For me, when it comes to food, more is more. So, at dinnertime I made my way down to Turkey Mike's BBQ, which is level with the playing field along the third base line, offering an intimate view of the diamond.

As much as I enjoyed the game, the leg was the highlight of the night. It was dinner for me, Jenny and (along with a hot dog each) the twins. Tyler and I especially worked at it and, despite the teamwork, it took us more than two innings to finish. Our dinner drew a bit of attention and the popcorn guy said it looked underdone. I could understand his opinion, but it wasn't. The drum was cooked throughout, tender and bathed in a delicious barbecue sauce. That tiny little coin in the photo below, by the way, is a quarter.
With hot dogs going for $3.75 a pop, the turkey leg was a steal at $7.50. Even though the Giants ended up losing, but who really cares? Jenny and I got to talk baseball with the boys and with that drumstick Turkey Mike's smacked a dinger.

Turkey Mike's BBQ
588 E Alma Ave.
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 297-1435

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shanghai Dim Sum--Cupertino, CA

Jenny and I noticed this restaurant on our way home on our anniversary. I could easily recall the location, as it's part of a mall whose name is very similar to mine. Situated in the Loree mall in Cupertino, I brought my dad here Saturday, as he's from Shanghai and has a gift for ordering Shanghainese food.

Their menu contained all of our favorites and then some. So, we stuck with the basics, such as shao lung bao, both with and without crab. The dish was passable, but it could have used more time in the steamer. The crown was a touch hard and dry and the soup was only lukewarm. The skin was otherwise fine.

More than the shao lung bao, I enjoyed the lotus wrapped seafood, which would have been a meal in itself for one, even coming complete with delicious rice steamed to perfection. Also well executed was the braised pork, which was fatty (as it should be) with meat that was extraordinarily tender. The sauce was likewise a smash, tasting a touch like barbecue sauce, yet maintaining a Shanghainese identity. The sauce alone would be great with rice.
We tried to find crystal shrimp, another Shanghainese standard, but have been unsuccessful after well over a dozen tries. Shanghai Dim Sum was no exception. However, we enjoyed the dish and the kids loved it. The bigger twin likewise couldn't get enough of the Shanghai noodles.
The pea sprouts were notable for the goji berries that came along for the ride. The berries not only made the plate come alive, but they were delicious, too.
The Chinese name of Shanghai Dim Sum is, "Xiao Nan Guo", or literally "Small South Country", and is the name of a well known restaurant in Shanghai. While this unassuming restaurant has a way to go before it acquires such fame, the potential is there. Their menu is vast, they have the inventory to back it up and they clearly know how to cook irresistible food. Not only am I going again, I also know what's on deck: chive pancakes, lion's head and, what the heck, why not give the shao lung bao another shot?

Shanghai Dim Sum
19066 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA 95014-2522
(408) 366-2318

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rick's Cafe--Los Altos, CA

My dad, the boys and I went to Rick's in downtown Los Altos for brunch this morning. Getting there by 10:15, there was plenty of seating, though by the time we left, at around 11:30, customers were waiting outside.

Perhaps still in the afterglow of the crab melt I had two days before, I had the Eggs Louis Cayenne, which featured two poached eggs, crab and spinach on English muffins. The crab was good (and, thankfully, real), but the raw spinach didn't go well with the warm eggs (which, by the way, were underdone) and muffins. Worse, the shredded potatoes seemed to be a stab at hash browns, but they fell short, being soft and mushy.

Dad's lox scramble fared much better. The cheese, scrambled egg and lox were delicious together. The boys had pancakes, which were great with butter and syrup. The only other comment here is that the older one wanted pancakes with strawberries, but they weren't available on the menu. So, the server said they could improvise. She asked if we wanted the strawberries inside the pancakes, to which we said yes. However, they were delivered to us on top of the pancakes instead; we were told they couldn't make the flapjacks with the strawberries inside. As a courtesy we should have been told this ahead of time.
Rick's is pleasant and is obviously an institution judging by the restaurant's popularity this morning. However, today's value being rather average, especially considering the cost ($47 before T and T for the two egg entrees, the two three-pancake stacks and an extra side of toast) with so many other restaurants to try for brunch in the area--and a very reliable one in A Good Morning--I think it will be a while before I drop by again.

Rick's Cafe
205 State Street
Los Altos, CA 94022
(650) 559-1941

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nick's on Main--Los Gatos, CA

In celebration of our 10th anniversary today, Jenny and I took the day off and dropped by Nick's on Main in Los Gatos for lunch. Our first choice for appetizer, the panko crusted abalone, was unavailable, so we ordered rice croquettes with mushrooms topped with arugula. The appetizer got lunch off to a strong start. The chopped mushrooms came submerged in a deep well of olive oil, which made a tasty dip for the focaccia bread. The croquettes themselves were good, although I would have liked the deep-fried shell to be a touch thinner.

Jenny's lobster BLT was scrumptious and the cold, creamy avocado was the perfect complement for the lobster.
The bread was toasted to such a perfection that I couldn't help but dive for the bread crust left behind by my beautiful wife of ten years. As I chomped away at what little that remained of her dish, she was asked her if her plate could be taken away, to which I grunted a desperate, "Still working!" With all that went right with Jenny's sandwich, I think it could have been even better with a touch more lobster.

Quantity was not a problem for my Dungeness crab melt. What a wonderful surprise! This open face sandwich was a heaping load of delicious crab dropped on a slice of toast, topped with a strip of melted brie (drizzled upon with balsamic vinegar for good measure). As I munched my way through I was both elated and regretful, as I didn't know if I'd ever have such a delightful crab sandwich again. It was the best sandwich I've had this year, and it wins the honor with just one slice of bread.

A word must be said also of the fries. We were both given fries in abundance, but by the end of lunch I couldn't help but relieve both plates of any trace of fried potato. What made these fries special wasn't the seasoning, although they were flavorful, but the fact they stayed as crisp as a new dollar bill throughout the lunch, even after they turned cold. How did they do that?

Even with the crab melt aside, I'd still rate this meal up there with the best lunches I've had this year. And, considering the melt? It belted Nick's into a different class.

Nick's on Main
35 E Main St.
Los Gatos, CA 95032
(408) 399-6457

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pho Little Saigon--Sunnyvale, CA

Looking for a good place for pho and bun but not having much faith in Vietnamese restaurants nearby, Jenny found Pho Little Saigon in Sunnyvale. I recognized the place as soon as I saw it, having been there for dim sum many years ago. The restaurant is large (easily seats more than 70) and well lighted.

With the younger twin not interested in meat, we ordered for him a noodle soup which offered noodles, chicken stock and nothing else. The other boy had the barbecue chicken, which he loved. Neither Jenny nor I had seen him eat so much meat. The five-year old downed all three pieces save a bite.

Jenny had the pork bun, which she found satisfactory, but she reported it lacked a certain zip. I tried the egg roll that came with the bun and it was tasty, but it had too much skin and not enough filling.

I had a large pho with rare steak, flank and tendon. I couldn't believe how massive the bowl was. For the first time in memory, I couldn't finish a bowl of pho--and I came in hungry. The pho came with a lot of meat, but the rare steak wasn't rare. The tendon was fresh and I no longer take that for granted. The stock was adequate, but didn't have the strong beefy flavor I'd had other pho restaurants. Also, less than an hour later my mouth was dry, my fingers were swollen and I was dead thirsty--all symptoms of an excessive MSG intake.

Even though my experience tonight was mixed, I'd still come back. Although Pho Little Saigon didn't deliver the religious experience some pho restaurants in San Jose and Santa Clara were able to, I'd return for the location, which is an acceptable 15 minutes or so from home. I've given up, for now, finding good pho at a reasonable price here in the 650.

Pho Little Saigon
855 E Homestead Rd
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 245-5570

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gombei--Sunnyvale, CA

Today for lunch I met Jenny roughly midway between our workplaces at Gombei in Sunnyvale. With our arrival at 12:15 on a Friday, the restaurant was predictably crowded. (I would have been worried if it wasn't.) Having fond memories of the mackerel at Sushi Tomi in Mountain View, I went with the broiled mackerel (#17 on the menu) and Jenny had the ramen.

The mackerel was hot, succulent and slightly crispy. It was every bit the equal of Tomi's in terms of quality and the quantity of fish made it the hands down winner in value. The fish was so juicy I couldn't help but say "Wow!" with my first bite. Although bony, the fish was so delicious I couldn't help but inhale big chunks of it, bones and all.

Jenny's ramen was good also. The stock was flavorful without being salty. It was also substantial, especially for $6. In general, Gombei is a great value (perhaps in part explaining the large crowd); a bowl of udon could be had for a mere $4.

Gombei did everything well today. The food was well prepared, the tables were quickly cleaned for the next guest and the service was fast. When I think of Gombei, I can't help but consider what I'll have when I return--I must try Japanese dish I have more than any other: the unagi don. At $7.50, how can I not?

Gombei (various locations, including the one we went to in Sunnyvale)
155 East Maude Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94085-4308
(408) 735-7777