Friday, December 30, 2011

Mexicali Grill--Santa Clara, CA

Our department at work went to Mexicali Grill in the Mercado Center in Santa Clara to celebrate the holidays. Being only a few minutes from my office, I've long enjoyed going to Mexicali, especially for their mole, which I get every time and I've yet to find its equal anywhere else.

For our party, we ate buffet style and the main dishes included chicken rancheros, cheese enchiladas and veggie fajitas. Though Mexicali prepared these dishes well, what really stood out was the chile verde, which was among the best pork I'd had at a Mexican restaurant. Pork is one of the most unforgiving meats--it must be fully cooked, yet it's easy to overcook. Yet, Mexicali nailed it. Overall the dishes were fairly spicy, which suited me. I was nevertheless surprised, though because for a party of about 100 or so, the safe bet is to go mild. What we got was a full notch or two above mild.

The failing of the event, however, was the long wait we endured. Even though we didn't arrive until past the lunch hour rush (our appointed time of 1:15), the restaurant looked woefully unprepared. People in our party wondered if the restaurant was expecting us (it was). Dishes arrived at the buffet table in dribs and drabs across 30 minutes with the good stuff not arriving till the end. Since it was a buffet lunch, until all the dishes arrived, all we could do was wait. We were finally able to line up at 2:00.

The service was attentive although a bit jumpy. Three times they tried to take my plate when I wasn't really done with it. They also persistently tried to take my drink ticket even though all I ordered was water. However, despite the wait and aggressive (but well meaning) servers, I'm glad we held the event there. The pork was memorable and the fruit spread was impressive. We had a large, roomy section reserved for only our party so we could talk freely and loudly. And, others in the restaurant didn't have to be burdened with hearing about our accomplishments in supply chain management.

Mexicali Grill
3149 Mission College Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(408) 588-9865

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lillie Mae's--Santa Clara, CA

The lack of bone-in chicken and catfish in Big Ant's inventory a few weeks ago left a void in our soul-food starved stomachs. So, last weekend we turned to Lillie Mae's and they didn't disappoint. I got the catfish with hush puppies. The fried fish was the juiciest, tenderest and hottest I'd had in memory. Making every bite of the catfish interesting was the crisp cornmeal batter. I could choose one side and got the "Boomin Baked Beans", which made a great sauce for the hush puppies. The hush puppies, recommended to me by the cashier, wasn't anything out of this world, but they kept my kids busy after they quickly polished off their mac and cheese.

Chosen from the kids menu, the mac and cheese came in a little cup along with a broken cob of corn along with a drink (we picked Kool-Aid). At $5 a pop, we the parents felt scammed. The seven-year-olds ate the baked mac and cheese, their corn, and were still hungry.

Jenny got the Southern fried chicken and, just as with the catfish, loved that it was crisp, non-greasy and light. She also noticed the chicken had its skin removed, which may have been a secret to its light yet crunchy texture.

A mere ten minutes away from work, this soul food haven will forever tempt me. Having gained a bit of weight over the past several months, my body doesn't need a dose of Lillie Mae's. Yet, I can't go long without that delightful catfish either.

Lillie Mae's
1290 Coleman Ave
Santa Clara, CA 95050
(408) 227-7685

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shalala--Mountain View, CA


With Jenny having ramen on her mind, we met at Shalala during the workweek. Never one to pass up a peppery bowl of hot soup, I had the spicy miso ramen. It met all the requirements of a good bowl of ramen. The broth was heavy with flavor, the noodles chewy and the appearance pleasing (aren't just about all Japanese dishes?). I asked for their spiciest bowl, which was not quite as hot as at Tai Kee two weekends earlier, but hot enough. The best part of the bowl was the egg, which was boiled until the white was fully cooked but the yolk soft and flowing.

The daikon salad was cold, crisp and was everything we could expect from a $6 salad. As an appetizer it was enough for both of us. Jenny liked that the daikon was shredded into fine strips, thin enough to be pleasing, yet substantial enough to provide a good crunch.

As far as ramen goes, Jenny liked Orenchi in Santa Clara a little more. Everything was fine at Shalala, but the egg, as good as it was, didn't quite have the warm core we found at Orenchi. Also, our bowls were on the expensive side. But, if ramen is your craving, $9 is a fair price to get your fix here. We went in at about 1:10 finished eating at about 1:45. Yet, the small restaurant was very much alive throughout, with never more than a table empty.

698 W Dana St
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 965-8001

Friday, December 9, 2011

Big Ant's Fish and Chicken--East Palo Alto, CA

With Jenny craving some fried food last weekend, she discovered Big Ant's in East Palo Alto through an internet search. And, on the surface they seemed to have a lot of possibilities. When we got there, though, we discovered otherwise. We soon found out they didn't have catfish, prawns, dark-meat chicken (or an entire breast) and weren't able to satisfy a second order of macaroni and cheese.

The food we were left with, though, turned out to be a good value. For $11, we got the ten-piece chicken and snapper (five pieces each) which came with a side of macaroni and cheese, which we gave to the kids. The chicken, which was a bit dry, came in the form of strips. To Big Ant's credit, though, the chicken and fish were only lightly coated. We also got a side of greens, which included chunks of pork, and a super-hot basket of fries.

The boys devoured the macaroni and cheese and were disappointed they ran out. They both said the dish was pretty oily. The fries were about as good as they get. Just as with the other fried items, they were made to order. So, it took a short while to prepare them (about six or seven minutes), but they came out hot and crisp and we jumped all over them.

If I happened to be in the area and had a hankering for a good deep fry, I could see myself going back. The biggest drawback for me is the lack of predictability. For a restaurant to be missing such a huge chunk of its menu is a problem. If I'm thinking fried catfish at Big Ant's, it should really have the catfish in stock, otherwise I'd get pretty disappointed. It's a bait and switch of sorts.

Don't worry about fighting a crowd to eat here, by the way. There was plenty of room when we went at around 6:00 on a Sunday night.

Big Ant's Fish and Chicken
2150 University Ave
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 630-3683

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tai Kee Won Ton--San Jose, CA

If bean sprouts are your thing, have I got the place for you. Last weekend we went to Tai Kee Won Ton on Saratoga to try some hot Taiwanese wonton soup on a cold night. What we got, in addition to said wontons were bowls heaping with sprouts.

Though Jenny needed to do some fishing though the sprouts to get to the wontons and the noodles, she was delighted with her wonton soup. The kids shared a "House Special Dry Noodles", the "dry" to signify the bowl has no soup (though it did), featuring noodles, minced pork and, yes, plenty of sprouts. With the bowl loaded with cheap (but voluminous) vegetables, there wasn't much room for the good stuff. As such, the boys, who wouldn't eat the sprouts (yes, maybe Dad should have pressed them harder), they were still hungry even after eating everything else in the bowl. So, we ordered Sesame Dry Noodles. Though low on sprouts, this dish wasn't to the boys' taste and they opted to pass. For this I blame neither the boys nor the restaurant. The light brown sauce had a distinct sesame flavor that I enjoyed, but I believe the taste for this dish to be an acquired one. As a backup, and out of curiosity, we ordered the pork sandwich, which was sweet but the bun hardened very quickly. When eaten right away, the bun was soft and fluffy. Because the bun had a leathery consistency by the time the boys got around to it, the sandwich struck out with them also.

Myself? I had the Special Chili Sauce Dry Noodles. When I ordered this, the server had a very stern look on her face as she asked, "Can you take spicy?" I nodded yes, with the solemnity and seriousness that such a question deserved. And, indeed it was hot--a notch above what one might receive if he orders, say, the highest level of spiciness at a typical Korean restaurant. The sauce also had a hint also of peanuts, which I enjoyed.

Jenny's dish and mine each included 10 wontons. The Taiwanese wontons here are noticeably different from those featured in Cantonese cuisine. These didn't have shrimp and they're longer and narrower. Also, the broth had a distinct onion flavor.

On a cold day, I'd be happy to drop by Tai Kee again. I'd have to order carefully, though. Their sauces--both for the Chili Sauce Dry Noodles (I love that hint of peanuts!) and the Sesame Dry Noodles are distinctive and not easily found elsewhere.

Tai Kee Won Ton
375 Saratoga Ave
Unit H & J
San Jose, CA 95129
(408) 244-8886

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fu Lam Mum (off the menu)--Mountain View, CA

A couple of weekends ago Jenny's parents took us out to Fu Lam Mum for dinner. Always busy for dim sum, Fu Lam Mum proved it can serve up full fledged dinner dishes as well.

We got started with the sizzling seafood soup. It was luke warm and without much sizzle. The flavor was good, though, and they certainly didn't cheat you on the squid. Things got much better from there. The pumpkin with beef was my favorite of the night, both because it was original and it was delicious. Who would have thought beef and pumpkin go together? The steak was tender and had a barbecue flavor. The pumpkin was in a lightly fried batter, making a delectable morsel that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

"Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside" would also describe the tofu medallions we were served along with scallops. Everyone at our table agreed the dish was super salty, but we tolerated it anyway and went for seconds because the texture of the tofu was undeniably out of this world. The minced chicken with celery cups was a dish I'd order again, but largely because of the quantity. The meat was slightly burnt, but I liked the resulting smokey flavor.The crab yi fu noodles were silky soft. Don't get this dish for the crab as there really wasn't much to speak of. Searching for the crab was almost like a treasure hunt. I truly enjoyed the dish, though, for the noodles. My boys liked this one, too.

Almost anywhere you order it, the shrimp with walnuts usually can't miss with me and it didn't this time, either. I was especially impressed by the jumboness of these jumbo shrimp. Holy wow. Also, the walnuts could have been a dessert in themselves.

For our official dessert we were given the choice of mango pudding or red bean soup, either with the compliments of the restaurant. I had the red bean soup and loved it--it's hard to go wrong with something so hot and sweet. Those who went the mango pudding, I'm told, were likewise satisfied with their choice.

I look forward to going back. Downtown Mountain View can by busy, especially on weekend nights. However, there's plenty of room at Fu Lam Mum for dinner. Don't let the sparse crowd fool you either. They'll serve up something you'll like and you'll walk away full.

Fu Lam Mum
153 Castro St
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 967-1689

Friday, November 18, 2011

Famous Dave's--Chandler, AZ

Off by myself in Chandler, Arizona last week on a lonely Tuesday night the Famous Dave's restaurant at the Chandler Fashion Center stood out like an oasis. Dave's and I both come from Minnesota, after all, and I almost always make it a stop when I go back to the Midwest. There's a Dave's in Gilroy, but I've had only carry out from there and it's just not the same.

Never one to mess around during that rare visit to Dave's, I got the Award-Winning Ribs. I really don't know what Dave's does to make such terrific ribs that just can't be found anywhere else. Just as I expected, the tender, fatty meat fell off the bone, almost by gravity alone. The flavor was impeccable and didn't need any additional sauce. In fact, when I go to Dave's I almost always go for the unadulterated experience. Tuesday, though, I couldn't help myself.

I couldn't help but notice there were no fewer than four different sauces at my table. Also, the waitress was thoughtful enough to bring a bowl of potato chips for me to try out each sauce. Why waste valuable baby back just to try out a sauce? I still maintain no sauce is needed, but if you must, here's a primer:

Sweet and Zesty: Just like it sounds. I like things tangy and spicy, so this was my least favorite.
Texas Pit: Very smoky (how do they bottle that?) and spicy
Devil's spit: Of the four, it tastes the most like a traditional barbecue sauce, except it's spicy. This one was my favorite, but perhaps I liked it also because of the name.
Rich and Sassy: Big on tang and even had a strong hint of citrus.

Slurping the different sauces and mixing them together was probably the funnest part of the dinner (yes, kind of sad, but as I said, I was alone).

The fries were hit and miss. Though all were crisp on the outside, some were mealy on the inside, while others were good and fluffy. The other side I ordered was the Wilbur Beans, which came with shreds of brisket, jalapeno, sausage and pork. What a great combination! It'll be hard to take beans any other way from now on.

For me, having discovered Dave's, going to Chandler, Arizona on business (been there twice over the past nine days) just got a lot more attractive. Get there early, though, as the lot filled up on a weeknight. For some solitude, especially during those cold fall and winter nights, try sitting outside. Just wear a jacket.

Famous Dave's
3250 W Frye Rd
Chandler, AZ 85226
(480) 782-1212

Friday, November 11, 2011

Macayo's--Mesa, AZ

I organized a conference held in Arizona earlier this week. We had dinner for our event at Macayo's in Mesa. There were about 100 attendees in our party and Macayo's handled the volume well. There were no fewer than eight servers dedicated to drinks, be it coctails, soda or water. As soon as I saw the buffet spread, I didn't think for healthy that dinner would be good for me. However, I knew from the get-go that I'd enjoy it.

The pork enchiladas came covered in a thick layer of melted cheese. You couldn't really pick up individual enchiladas so much as blindly scoop up enchilada parts with lots of cheese. Preparation of the chicken poblano with baja (jalapeno with cheese) sauce involved stuffing the pepper with chicken then frying it. It was delicious and I lost count how many helping I had.

I also had a chicken tamale, covered with cheese and worthy of seconds, and a beef taco. The taco shell was neither crisp, nor soft, but much like cardboard. The beef was overcooked. I quickly concluded there were too many good offerings at the buffet table for me to waste valuable stomach space on the tacos.

Macayo's proved itself to be more than able to support a big party and for that purpose I'd go back without hesitation. We told the restaurant ahead of time they'd need to prepare enough food for 125. Also, we ended up consuming 56 drinks. So, the total came to a hair less than $3300 including tip.

There are several Macayo's throughout the Phoenix area. The one we tried is in Mesa.

1920 South Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85202-5616
(480) 820-0237

Friday, November 4, 2011

Layang Layang--San Jose, CA

When my dad visits and we can't think of a place to go for lunch we often default to Layang Layang. Their long list of fine Malaysian offerings provides something appealing to everyone. When we went Sunday at 11:45 the restaurant was already packed and people were waiting at noon.

We began with the Roti Bdduist, an appetizer notable for its flour and egg skin. Though the peas and carrots filling wasn't very exciting, the dish nevertheless received a warm welcome at our table because it was the first dish and we were starving.

The next appetizer, the satay mix (chicken and beef) was flavorful and tender. The skewered meats can be eaten with a peanut-based sauce, which adds a little bit of sweetness. I went without the sauce, though, as I thought the satay had enough flavor on its own.

The 6-year-olds shared the Hokkien Mee, which featured thick noodles and chicken prepared with with a heavy dose of soy sauce. They loved it and fought over every noodle.

The Penang sizzling prawn came with a thick tasty sauce. The thick sauce with rice could have been a meal in itself--and a delicious one at that. It was spicy, though, even though the menu didn't say so. The Kari Lamb was spicy and without much lamb. It was loaded with vegetables, though, such as carrots and beans and the abundant sauce. The Hainan chicken, although we ate it all, was a bit of a disappointment. It didn't come with broth or rice, both of which are integral to the authentic dish. The chicken itself was bony but passable. However, the sweet and sour sauce was out of place.

With its breadth of menu items and hold on Malaysian Cuisine in and around West San Jose, Layang Layang is justifiably popular. However, it can be often hit or miss, making it a better choice when several dishes are going to be ordered, such as for large parties or me when I'm really hungry.

Layang Layang
1480 South De Anza Boulevard
San Jose, CA 95129-4605
(408) 777-8897

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blue Rock BBQ--San Jose (Catered)

A couple of weeks ago my organization celebrated an achievement by throwing a party. We had Blue Rock BBQ cater the event. What a fine choice! I packed myself silly with delicious, fatty meats. The chicken was tender and the brisket was well marbled. Blue Rock also supplied us with paper-wrapped buns to fill with whatever you wished. Nice touch. The portobello mushrooms were wildly popular and it was the only dish to run out.

The star of the day, though, was not a product of the barbecue, but the oven. The mac and cheese could very well have been the best I'd ever had--certainly the best in memory. This baked dish featured thin layers of pasta sheets with melted cheese holding it all together. It settled in the mouth like a soft rich cream.

For a celebration such as ours, Blue Rock BBQ was an ideal choice. The devil-may-care atmosphere was perfect for a good old fashioned belly stuffing with delicious, heavy meats. The kind of free for all where you eat so much that lunch makes you undo your belt a little and skip dinner and maybe even breakfast the day after. I know I did.

Blue Rock BBQ
3001 Meridian Avenue
San Jose, California 95124
(408) 978-2583

Friday, October 21, 2011

Evvia--Palo Alto, CA

First off, I want to give photo credits to (octopus) and (steak fries) for the photos here. I didn't have my camera with me when I went to Evvia with Jenny yesterday to celebrate her birthday. The lamb chops, including the steak fries, appeared very similar to the photo. The image of the octopus is right on, just like the dish itself, in fact. Oh, that octopus (or, "octapodaki tou Yiourgou", as it appeared on the bill). If you get only one dish at Evvia, get the Octopus appetizer. It won't fill you (but you can load up on bread) and the chops taste better. However, eating the octopus at Evvia is an experience and, as far as I can tell, you can't get anything quite like it around here.
The octopus was served warm with lemon, olive oil and oregano, drowning out any intrinsic flavor the meat may have had. The real feature is the texture. One may associate octopus with a rubbery feel, but yesterday's was soft, even doughy and to a certain extent melted in the mouth. I kept grabbing one piece after another because I couldn't quite believe what I'd just tasted.

Jenny's aforementioned lamb chops ($27.50 for two chops) and my snapper followed after a long wait. I ordered a whole snapper (a steep $34), mesquite grilled. It came filleted and hot. One portion, near the belly, was well done but the rest was delicious. My wife's chops were as tender as red meat can come. I noticed she ate every cubic micron of meat on each bone--something she normally doesn't do.
The day's downside? The service was slow, slow, slow. The octopus came fast enough, but our main courses didn't arrive until more than half an hour after we ordered, or 50 minutes after we walked through the door. The food is certainly worth coming back for--even at these prices--but the length of time needed for a meal makes a visit impractical, especially in the middle of a workday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pho Vi Hoa--Los Altos, CA

With Tyler aching for pasta and the rest of us wanting something savory, we tried the nearby Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos. We talked the hungry twin into the kids' lay banh pho, a wonton noodle soup. He slurped every inch of noodle in the bowl and and really liked the wontons.

Dylan had the thit nuong (grilled pork), which was good and greasy. My, how it gleamed! His brother like it, too and ate about half of Dylan's dish.

The tai chin (pho) had some of the tenderest slices of beef I'd had in pho. The broth was good, but Jenny and I were both thirsty after dinner, probably because of the soup. I can't say if they used MSG; in fact I doubted they did, but the soup was a little salty.

The bo nuong, beef rolls with onion, looked and tasted good. We saw it at the table to my right and were inspired to get it. Then, after it arrived, for the first time in years, I was asked about a dish I'd ordered by another customer, this one on our left. Perhaps because it was oily, though, I wasn't able to finish it.

Pho Vi Hoa proved to be a pleasant surprise. During our previous visit, the service was slow and the food quality mediocre. We went again last weekend really out of convenience. As interesting as the beef rolls were, though, it was the melt-in-your-mouth beef in the pho that will bring us back.

Pho Vi Hoa
4546 El Camino Real
Los Altos, CA 94022
(650) 947-1290

Friday, October 7, 2011

Martin Yan--Santa Clara, CA

Martin Yan visited my company's cafeteria earlier this week and put on a cooking show. With his charisma, sharp wit and sense of humor Martin Yan is hard not to like. So, none of us minded that he spent close to an hour selling us autographed cookbooks and cleavers bearing his name while giving what amounted to a live infomercial. It was quite a cleaver he wielded, though, as he dazzled us by cutting cucumber slices thin enough to read through. His cooking demonstration, which featured deboning a chicken in less than twenty seconds (the trick, apparently, is to massage the bird before attacking it with said cleaver) yielded stir fried chicken and beef dishes, each with ginger, garlic, green onions and peppers. Though tasty enough (food often tastes better after seeing it prepared--ever notice that?) both were a bit heavy with the salty sauces (like soy and Hoisin).
This style over substance continued with our featured cafeteria dish, kung pao, which was prepared from a Martin Yan recipe. The kung pao could be ordered with shrimp, chicken or tofu. It was so-so. The dish was served over fried wonton strips and yakisoba noodles, making the presentation rather Americanized (if not reminiscent of the 90s). Thought the shrimp was well prepared, the entree wasn't as spicy as one would expect from a kung pao dish.

We came for the show, though, as much as for the food. And in that respect Martin Yan didn't disappoint. He made us all smile and laugh smack in the middle of the workweek--something that food, no matter how delicious, doesn't do.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chinese2door--Cupertino, CA

Earlier this month we started using a food delivery service called "Chinese2door", which delivers Chinese food in the South Bay and the Peninsula. Jenny found them on craigslist, but they can now also be found on Facebook. For a mere $20 one can get two meat dishes and and a veggie dish. And, here's the best part: Included are taxes and delivery to your door!

The choices change every day, but generally there's a list of six dishes to choose from, four of them meat, two veg. For our first try we got seafood pot stew, sauteed pork slices with bean curd and sauteed bok choy with mushrooms. The dishes come with rice.

The dinner was more than enough for four of us. One of my boys really enjoyed the sauteed pork and I had to agree it was the best of the three dishes. The seafood stew had clams, shrimp and tofu. However, the crab was imitation and was a bit doughy. The mushrooms in the vegetable dish was a bit on the chewy side.

They said on the phone and in their craigslist ad that there was no MSG--I'm very happy to confirm that. They also told my wife on the phone that this was real Chinese food and "not Panda Express--there's no sweet and sour chicken". With the ad partly in Chinese text and with this being the Bay Area, I expected nothing less.

We tried the service twice more. A couple of additional comments: their egg plant dish looked unappealing, but it tasted and went down fine. Secondly, fish is their strength.

While I would have liked more meat in the meat dishes, for a home delivery of $20 that includes tax for what's obviously a home-cooked meal I can't complain. Have a back-up plan, though, as over the past week or so they've been fairly unresponsive.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Unbelievable Chicken"

A couple of weekends ago we had friends over and I barbecued some chicken using a recipe that received a lot of hype on the web. The name of the dish, "Unbelievable Chicken", is well-suited, as the result was unbelievably delicious. I of course had nothing to do with the development of the recipe--I was only following instructions. And yet, I couldn't help but feel proud of what was served to our guests. You will be, too. What really stands out is the flavor, a combination of citrus, sweet and sour.


1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons prepared coarse-ground mustard
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

In a large glass bowl, mix the cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, lime juice, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Place chicken in the mixture. Cover, and marinate 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.
Lightly oil the grill grate. Place chicken on the prepared grill, and cook 6 to 8 minutes per side, until juices run clear. Discard marinade.

We let the chicken marinate for almost a full 24 hours. If there's anything I would add to the recipe, it's that when grilling chicken it's imperative that you give the chicken sufficient time for indirect heating on the grill. That is, use the direct heat to begin with until the skin and flesh are browned (no raw parts showing), then move the meat to a section of the grill not directly over the heat, which should be set to medium. As always, whether it be chicken, pork, veggies or beef, close the lid of the barbecue while grilling,especially when using indirect heat. Once over the indirect heat, flip after seven minutes or so, then check your thickest chunk of meat for doneness. Remember that breast cooks faster than dark meat. You're good to go once juices run clear.

The breast took the flavor better, I thought, than the dark meat. Jenny disagreed.

As for the dessert, everyone loved it. What got everyone talking were the chocolate wafers, which were Annie's Chocolate Mint Thins. As simple the sandwiches were to make--just place a small scoop of chocolate ice cream between the thins--they were a smash.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Best Bite--Mountain View, CA

I met a grad school buddy at Best Bite earlier this week for dinner. I thought it the perfect choice given its proximity to home and the to-die-for meal I had there earlier. This time around, though, wasn't the religious experience my first visit was. Second visits seldom are. The flavor, juiciness and tenderness were all there, but this time around the meat was undercooked close to the bone of the Cornish game hen, leaving pink sinewy strands of meat stuck stubbornly to the bone (last time, all the meat fell off on its own).

Perhaps the bigger issue was the cost. While my friend reported his dinner was good, the dish he ordered was $14 for five small pieces of chicken breast. My six-piece dish was $15. Considering these prices, and the twenty minute wait, I'd recommend chicken at Falafel and Kabob instead. The surroundings there aren't quite as elegant as at Best Bite, but their skewered chicken dish is nearly a third cheaper, you won't wait more than ten minutes and their chicken never--ever--disappoints.

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mama Chen--Santa Clara, CA

Looking to get filled up with soup and fun on the cheap, we ventured to Mama Chen in Santa Clara. Our measuring stick, beef noodle soup, wasn't anything extraordinary at Mama Chen. The beef was tender and the noodles were chewy. However, the portion was small. The beef fried fun, however, was served hot, greasy and beefy and carried us to full stomachs.

Overall, the dishes we got were unremarkable. That was partly our doing--we wanted to see what Mama Chen could do with a generic, plain vanilla order. So often the true test of a restaurant is to see if it can make turn something that's merely ordinary into something special. Despite our dishes being rather predictable, there were dishes at other tables that looked very interesting, especially the buns and rice dishes.

It's those enticing dishes that would make me want to return. However, the stinky tofu at this restaurant was duly pungent (can't fault them for that!) and was a turn off to some in our family. However, one can't dispute Mama Chen's value. We were filled up for $20 with taxes but before tips.

Mama Chen
5075 Stevens Creek Blvd
Ste 10
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 249-9888

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Donut Man--Glendora, CA

Our trip through SoCal wrapped up with a donut stop in Glendora. Knowing this institution would get crowded very quickly after opening, we got their early. Indeed, there was already a line at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. Known for their strawberry and peach donuts, we got some of the latter, which was out of this world. The peach itself was fresh, firm and tasted as though it was just cut. The "donut" was sweet and super soft. The Bavarian cream donut was good, but it was something that could be found elsewhere. The same could be said about the tiger's tail, which my mom-in-law actually enjoyed more than the peach donut because it "tasted more like a donut".

For me and Jenny, though, the peach donut was what made The Donut Man special. The firmness and the slightly tart flavor of the peach matched perfectly the soft sugary donut. What a delightful little sandwich!

The Donut Man
915 E Rt 66
Glendora, CA 91740
(626) 335-9111

Friday, August 26, 2011

Family Vacation Center--Santa Barbara, CA

A couple of weeks ago the four of us stayed at the Family Vacation Center at UC Santa Barbara. There, we were treated to three meals a day at the Carrillo Dining Commons not far from our room. There were so many things I liked about our dining experience that I compiled a list. However, since I'm writing a blog entry and not a book, I'm limiting myself to a Top Ten. I asked a UCSB student if the food is this good during the year. He said, it's still very good, but they kick it up a notch during the summer. Even one notch below what we had would be still very, very good. So, here goes:

Top ten reasons we enjoyed eating at the
Carrillo Dining Commons at UCSB:

10. The food is all you can eat. If there's anything you like, just keep going back! Just about everything was served fresh and there was a minimum of three different hot entrees every dinner.

9. At breakfast they made omelets to order. There were even three types of pork: ham, sausage and bacon. However, it was often hit or miss, with the eggs often runny. Go up as many times as you want! I went twice each morning.

8. The pizzas from their brick oven were always coming hot and fresh during lunch. There was a lot of demand, but they were never in short supply.

7, The pasta was homemade! The wheat pasta we enjoyed was soft and chewy--downright delicious.

6. Running late? No problem! We stayed as late as 20 minutes past our designated dinner hour with nary a soul pushing us out. In fact, the food just kept coming.

5. No trays! What a great concept! UCSB figured out that providing trays in an all-you-can-eat environment led to taking more than one could chew (and a lot of dirty trays). So, they made everyone carry their plates, cups and silverware to the table. As for me, forcing me to make multiple trips made me feel like I was getting more exercise--and less guilty.

4. Stash Tea. The Dining Commons introduced me to the wonderful world of Stash Tea. Their delightful novel flavors, such as Lemon Ginger, soothed my sore throat (macho me thought I could make it through a week of Santa Barbara without a jacket) like nothing else could.

3, Quality fresh fruit--and lots of it! Everything in the fruit baskets was great. The apples were crisp, the bananas ripened just short of getting those brown dots and the peaches were juicy (but not mealy!).

2. Desserts. They mixed up the cakes and pies just about every day. The big boy in our family kept going back for cheesecake. They have unlimited soft serve ice cream, too! I mean unlimited. The line would sometimes be up to thirty people, but we were never able to drain it.

1. Kids love it! The cafeteria was part gourmet restaurant but also part playground. There were always six different cereals available (including the tough to find, but highly sought after Lucky Charms), a make-your-own-waffle station, chocolate milk (and nonfat, and 2% and whole!) and, at lunch, unlimited cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. Just how can a kid with a finite tummy size navigate through all of that? When our week was just about over, I overheard a high school student say, "What I'm going to miss most about this week is the food." I hear you!

Carrillo Dining Commons
University of California, Santa Barbara

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pacific Fish Grill--West Covina, CA

As we made our way back up from Santa Barbara we stopped by to visit Jenny's parents in West Covina last weekend. Our experience at Brophy Brothers (see below) still kept us wanting for an honest to goodness hearty seafood dinner. To that end, we went to Pacific Fish grill, a new restaurant in West Covina that was highly recommended by Jenny's parents--for good reason, it turned out.

My dish, the tilapia plate, was outstanding. Though there wasn't a pocket, the "pita bread" was super soft and the rice was hot and fluffy. The tilapia was cooked to perfection. I went with the Cajun topping, though I could have had garlic butter or lemon-oregano. The dish was especially notable given that it was a mere $9.79.

Jenny's mahi and salmon tacos came with tomatillo sauce that was too spicy and didn't complement the fish well. Also, for both tacos the fish came buried under a heap of grilled onions, which overwhelmed each taco. The grilled shrimp taco, however, was a very different story. It came loaded with hot shrimp and with a well-chosen, creamy pico de gallo sauce.

There was no clam chowder when we came in at 6:40. For a seafood restaurant, that was a big disappointment. But, with the tilapia dish they're forgiven.

Overall, the value was terrific. We got full on good seafood for just a hair over $20, including tax. We'd be regulars if they'd open near us! I'd just avoid the salmon and mahi tacos.

2851 Eastland Center Dr
Ste 5
West Covina, CA 91791
(626) 332-9014