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