Friday, October 29, 2010

China Stix--Santa Clara, CA

If you were to add it all up, the restaurant we've taken out from most often is China Stix. The consistency, variety and proximity to my work in Santa Clara keep bringing us back. Two Fridays ago we picked up dinner for the four of us plus my dad.

The dish we order at China Stix more than all others is the year cake ("nian gao", above), which we love for the soft, chewy noodles. However,this time the noodles in the year cake were soft, clumped together and gooey. With the year cake being so successful over the years, however, we'll give it another chance.
Both items in the shrimp and broccoli (above) were crisp and we appreciated the quantity of the former. The noodles in the beef chow fun had just the right consistency and grease. We ordered this one to assure we'd be full and it served its function. The minced fish in lettuce cups (below), another standby of ours, was good but should be consumed quickly and not saved for later. Not only will the lettuce become limp, but the chopped rice stick will lose its crunch.

If one orders enough food for take out, China Stix will throw in a box of fried rice. The dollar threshold for this freebie changes from time to time, but in general ordering three dishes will do it Be sure to mention this promotion to the one taking your order when you call in. As always, the fried rice was the highlight for the boys.

By the way, dumplings are a specialty at China Stix and are best enjoyed fresh at the restaurant. In the Bay Area, it's difficult to find an equal to the dumpling quality and variety found here.

China Stix
2110 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95050-4055
(408) 244-1684

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Baume--Palo Alto, CA

Yesterday I met Jenny for lunch in Palo Alto. As recognition at work for a job well done, we were told to go out to any place we liked. We chose Baume.

Our appetizer (above) was a leek and truffle filled steamed bun topped with gold foil. It was ordinary and could even be considered dull without the aioli. With the bun served in a bamboo steamer, comparisons to authentic Chinese steamed buns would be made by any diner. And, such a comparison would reveal this bun lacked the distinctive flavor, scrumptious filling and overall substance of what could be found at any above average dim sum or Shanghainese restaurant. To Baume's credit, the little bun was served hot and soft.

Next, came a terrine (below) as notable for its novelty--a forcemeat composed of slices of root vegetables such as beets and radishes--as its delicious sauce, a sage aioli. Our server topped our plates with the seed-like juice sacs of orange frozen in liquid nitrogen, which was intriguing but perhaps more of a gimmick. The bits of orange quickly lost their hardness.

The liquid nitrogen was used also in freezing a "lime explosion" ice cream, a small scoop of which rested on miso-infused rice puffs in the middle of a soup bowl. Our server then poured hot kabocha soup at our table. The green ice cream and the orange soup complemented each other well aesthetically, but the combination also served to produce a soup that was neither hot nor cold. The rice puffs with their crunch and maple flavor were the most enjoyable part of this concoction in my mind.

The filet mignon (above), excised from a grass-fed cow, was the most tender I'd had in a while. My wife even thought it too tender. What made the dish so distinctive, though, was the celery sponge, made by combining celery powder and egg protein. The porous little cube packed a tangy flavor and quickly melted in the mouth with a slight fizz.

Compared to the novelty of the dishes we'd had so far, dessert (below) was ho-hum. Served to us was a pumpkin cake topped with cranberry gelee along with pumpkin seeds and ginger-apple sorbet on the side.

I have two complaints about Baume. First, despite dropping $166 for lunch, we both left Baume still needing more to eat. For me, three apples and an energy bar in the afternoon still weren't enough to keep hunger at bay. Second, the one table that left before us was given a package of marshmallows as a send-off. This is a common practice for restaurants at this price point. Over the past year, for example, we left French Laundry and Manresa with similar good-bye presents. However, for our farewell we got nothing but the bill. Granted, it may have been because the other table had the more expensive menu and, besides, I really didn't care about the marshmallows themselves (other than that I was hungry even after dessert). But, still: to offer a take-home within earshot of other guests who aren't destined for a similar courtesy is bad form, plain and simple.

201 South California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306-1912
(650) 328-8899

Thursday, October 21, 2010

En Japanese Tapas--Santa Clara, CA

I ate lunch yesterday with Jenny at En Japanese Tapas in Santa Clara. Ravenous and looking to fill up with fat, I went with the braised pork belly with udon and two Japanese tapas dishes--both of them featuring skewers: bacon wrapped quail egg and grilled tongue.

The braised pork belly (above) was delicious and will make me come back again. In the soup were three big fatty chunks of belly. The broth was rich, hot and served in an enormous bowl. Along with the soup came a rice ball with pickled plum and ginger. Instead of the plum, I could have ordered salmon roe, as I will next time.

The bacon wrapped quail egg (below) was crisp and soft in one bite and I can't think of a more delectable little breakfast ball.

The grilled tongue was a slight disappointment. The flame-broiled flavor stood out, but the meat was overdone and chewy. The tongue cooled quickly, so one should get to the skewers right away.

Jenny had the mini udon with yellow tail (below). There were no complaints from her (except for the chewiness of the tongue), but since she'd have to come down from Mountain View to get here, I have a feeling my next trip back will be alone.

Worthy of note: the place didn't fill up during the lunch hour, so you can come in whenever you like. Also, they take American Express.

En Japanese Tapas
3450 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051-2808
(408) 246-0011

Friday, October 15, 2010

Huong Lan--San Jose

On our way to Happy Hollow in San Jose, we stopped at Huong Lan on Tully Road to pick up lunch to go. Jenny and I have long been fans of Vietnamese baguette sandwiches, or banh mi.
We got two different flavors for our three sandwiches (I ate one of each): grilled pork and barbecued pork. The pickled jicama and carrot with the mayonaise added a tanginess that went well with the sweetness of the barbecued--and grilled--pork. The bread was crisp on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside. And, to be fair, the cracks in the bread you see in the barbecued sandwich above came from it bouncing around in our bag during our trip through the park.

The shrimp spring rolls were cold and refreshing, with the shrimp suitably crunchy. The lettuce was crisp and the mint added pizazz to every bite.

Though I was well rested, the second sandwich nevertheless hit me like a hammer, sending me into a daze that afternoon. Keeping me awake, though, was my thirst. Jenny was likewise craving water, suggesting the meats were spiked with sodium.

By the way, one can get an entire roast pig for $175. And, judging by the two that flew out the door during the five minutes we were there, it's a popular item.

Huong Lan
1655 Tully Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
(408) 258-8868

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cafe Falafel--Santa Clara, CA

I met an equipment supplier representative at Cafe Falafel in Santa Clara near my work last week. Not having anything specific in mind going in, I went for variety and ordered the Lamb and Beef Gyros.

The food came quickly--in about five minutes. The lamb was piled on top of the beef on the bottom and the difference between them was very subtle due to similar marinades. Whether lamb or beef, though, the meat was warm, tender and went well with the sides when shoved into pita bread.

Ah, the sides. The gyros came with a lot on the plate, in terms of both variety and quantity. They were all good but I especially appreciated the giant scoop of rice pilaf and the creamy hummus, which teamed together to fill me up--not easy to do for $9 unless I'm at a buffet. Also coming with the lunch were pickled lettuce and salad.

After I move to my new office next month, Cafe Falafel will be a mere five minutes away and it will be tough to resist going there for lunch. With the parking lot overcrowded during the lunch hour I'll need to get there before noon or after 1:10.

4300 Great America Parkway
Suite 172
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(408) 970-0913

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Cheesesteak Shop--Sunnyvale, CA

Taken on its own, with disregard to authenticity, the "Classic" Philly cheese steak sandwich I had Monday at The Cheesesteak Shop in Sunnyvale was good. The bread was soft in all the right places, the cheese was hot and gooey and the steak itself was tender. I got mine with everything, which included jalapenos that provided a pleasant heat.

However, as I left I couldn't help but wonder if what I ate was the genuine article a diner at, say, Pat's or Geno's in Philadelphia would enjoy. The cheese was white, almost certainly provolone. Although provolone is accepted by many for this sandwich, the default should be Cheese Whiz. Indeed, there was a sign proclaiming the restaurant uses Cheese Whiz, but it wasn't in my sandwich. Also, the cheese should have covered the steak, instead of hiding underneath. Finally, there's the question of heft. Any search on a Philly cheesesteak would reveal that what I had (photo above) didn't carry the weight of what one would find at, say, Pat's (below photo from

All that said, I'd be happy to go back. The fact is, I enjoyed the sandwich and The Cheesecake Shop is located midway between my work and Jenny's. Moreover, Jenny went with the 7" mushroom and she liked her sandwich, too. And, with a 10" classic at $6.29 I'd be hard pressed to find a sandwich more filling.

The Cheesesteak Shop
832 W El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 530-8159

Friday, October 1, 2010

World Wrapps--Santa Clara, CA

Jenny and I met at World Wrapps at the Mercado Center in Santa Clara today. I tried Jenny's usual, the Samurai Salmon Bowl (below) while she got the Thai Chicken Bowl.

The salmon was a touch overdone, but the bowl was otherwise a joy to eat. World Wrapps mixed in the right amount of wasabi--enough to make the meal punchy and interesting but not enough to hurt. Also, the sauce had a delicious creaminess about it that went exceedingly well with rice. The seaweed, or nori, provided crunch as well as flavor. The avocado was a nice touch but not critical. The bowl was served lukewarm and would have been even better served hot. As with all World Wrapps bowls, this dish can be ordered as a burrito. Although the bowl costs 30 cents more than the burrito, I'd still recommend getting the bowl, as it provides substantially more to eat than the burrito filling. At World Wrapps, a bowl is advertised as a burrito minus the tortilla plus additional rice.

Jenny's bowl (below) was also good, but she didn't enjoy it as much as the Samurai Salmon. The peanut-based sauce was flavorful and was as crucial to her dish as the wasabi sauce was to mine.

If you're interested in lunch at World Wrapps on a weekday, especially a Friday, get here before noon. If you don't, the restaurant will still be able to accommodate you, but parking will be difficult.

World Wrapps
3125 Mission College Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(408) 486-9727