Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Star Noodle--Maui, HI

For all the praise it received on the internet and the waiting crowds extending from the front door into the parking lot, Star Noodle didn't live up to the hype when we ate there for lunch last month. 

The garlic noodles we got for the kids were greasy, soft and unspectacular. 

Jenny's udon noodle dish and the teriyaki chicken appetizer were run-of-the-mill. 

Our experience did have its positives, though. The Vietnamese crepe was both intriguing and scrumptious. Though presented in a fried shell, the real "shells" were the lettuce leaves, which were used as wraps. The hard shell would be broken up and thrown into the wraps for crunchiness. The pork and shrimp filling was simply delicious. Tyler couldn't get enough of the shrimp and Dylan couldn't keep his hands off the fried shell. 

Also very welcome was the Bikini Blonde beer, which was super-light and refreshing. Although neither of is hardly a beer connoisseur, Jenny and I both enjoyed it.

If you're about to eat during the teeth of the dinner rush hour, I'd advise against Star Noodle. It won't be worth the wait. (And, despite going over $50 for the four of us, I was still hungry afterwards.) The previous night, a Tuesday night, we arrived at 7:00 and were told it would be 40 minutes. If you do find yourself at the table at Star Noodle browsing through the menu, avoid the common stuff like udon. The best restaurants can turn an ordinary dish into something spectacular. Star Noodle isn't one of those. Instead, order items you don't find that often elsewhere.

Star Noodle
286 Kupuohi Street  Maui, HI 96761
(808) 667-5400

Friday, September 14, 2012

Station 1--Woodside, CA

Last month my wife and I went to Station 1 Restaurant in Woodside to celebrate our 12th anniversary. Although the fixed-price menu came out to $60 per, the staff was down-to-earth and dinner was a good value. We started with complimentary soup featuring a summer melon puree, maple syrup and rye. The components, served segregated, tasted much better together than individually--especially the rye. :)

To start, I got the Farm Egg mostly to see what they could do with something so mundane. The egg, served very soft and runny, came with pickled garlic, beluga lentils, mache lettuce, sumac and prosciutto, which had the consistency and flavor of bacon. 

The pickled garlic dominated the flavor of this dish and one should know what he's getting into when ordering it. Jenny got the Pappardelle. While she liked it, it wasn't something she'd get again. The radish even came with the green leaves attached and it added some much-needed color. Trying a sample, I picked up the poppy seed the most.

Jenny had the black cod as her entree. The fish flaked off easily and was as flavorful a sliver of cod I'd ever had (kind of like saying the most colorful shade of gray, but still...). Sea urchin was the most intriguing ingredient in the sauce. 

I had the Hanger Steak and loved my choice. The steak, medium rare, was the tenderest cut of beef I'd had in years. Those big red swirls you see in the photo are the corn and red beet pudding. The beet gave the pudding its color, and the corn its flavor.

Cleaning the palate was a spoonful of fig with riccota cheese.

For dessert, Jenny's chocolate semifreddo was on the heavier side, but when is chocolate not a pleasure? 

My buttermilk panna cotta was superbly refreshing. The slab of panna cotta sat in a honeydew with small cantelope balls. The plum sorbet, cold and tart, complemented well this fresh fruity plate, but was otherwise unexceptional.

Station 1 executed wonderfully and I can't think of a more pleasurable dining experience with which to celebrate my anniversary. The homey ambiance at Station 1 made me want to stay there for hours. The kids were waiting at home, however, and I'm very grateful to Jenny's parents for giving us the opportunity to have such a great dinner.
2991 Woodside Road  
Woodside, CA 94062
(650) 851-4988

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shanghai Flavor Shop--Sunnyvale, CA

Two Fridays ago we ate at Shanghai Flavor Shop. Though the name of the restaurant implies it's a Shanghainese restaurant, it's limited menu didn't have a lot of the staples particular to Shanghai, such as xiao lung bao, lion's head and fresh ham. The restaurant was only about half full at 7:00 on a Saturday night. It was no wonder, though, as the pickings were pretty thin. Also, the food we did get was by and large mediocre.

Yes, the reviews out there on the internet have it correct that they prepare the shen jian bao (fried buns) well. It was hot, crisp and the best dish of the night. A close second was the sticky rice with pork. The restaurant didn't skimp on the meat and that little wrap was big on flavor. However, after those two dishes, there was a steep drop-off in quality.

The mushrooms with bok choy featured undercooked bok choy.

While satisfying to our pasta-loving twins, the noodles with pickled vegetables was salty.

Dylan and Tyler also loved the wonton noodle soup, although the wontons had very little meat.

Drowning in a thick sauce were the crystal shrimp. The abundance of peas was unnecessary, as this dish should really feature only shrimp.

The year cake wasn't bad, but China Stix can do better. Finally, the bok choy dish was much undercooked.

Even though the service was pretty attentive, dinner was a disappointment. Shanghai Flavor Shop was clearly the one-trick pony of Shanghainese restaurants. Almost all the dishes you'd associate with Shanghainese cuisine are missing from the menu, and what few dishes they did serve, excepting the shen jian bao and the sticky rice, almost made you wish those weren't on the menu either.

They have a coveted address, though:

Shanghai Flavor Shop
888 Old San Francisco Rd.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 738-3003

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scott's Seafood Restaurant--Oakland, CA

To celebrate my birthday my dad took my family to Scott's Seafood in Oakland. I was initially concerned that because Scott's is a chain, their buffet would be trite and formulaic--something to appeal to the masses. I gave it a chance, though, because I wanted to go to the Oakland Museum of California just a mile away after brunch. As it turned out, the buffet was the best I've had in years and is perhaps the best value out there, even at $40/adult.
The waiter got us started by serving pancakes at our table complete with jam, butter and syrup. What a nice touch!
As appetizing as those soft pancakes were, the best dish of all was their gumbo, which was loaded with seafood like mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp and fish. The broth would have been terrific even on its own, the flavor being a delicious combination of all the seafood ingredients.
Just like the gumbo, the jambalaya was given to us by a server behind chafing dishes. It was pleasantly spicy, but the gumbo was simply too great an act to follow.
Reminding me of Wicked Spoon a little, a number of items were served in individual cups. These included bay shrimp in a heavy sauce topped by a pastry, salmon Florentine with mashed potato (one of my sons loved it) and quiche, which was ordinary.
Scott's even featured three variations of eggs Benedict. There was the traditional kind with Holandaise sauce but also two others that were fantastic. One featured, instead of ham, a slice of roast beef and tomato. What an interesting spin! Jenny correctly pointed out that the tomato cut the heaviness of the egg and beef. The third variation was a poached egg on a crabcake. I could have eaten those all day long. The crabcake alone would have been a great appetizer on any menu.
The prime rib was tender and filling. I seemed to like it more than my family, who found the meat a little tougher than I did.
The desserts were good, but I wouldn't go to this buffet just for those. The best of the bunch was probably the creme brulee and the ice cream sundae, both of which are served from behind a counter. The boys loved the chocolate-covered strawberries.
The jazz band started at about 11:00. We all enjoyed the performance. The singer's silky voice was fantastic.
Mimosas, juice and champagne were all included in the $40, which was a welcome change from Astaria two weeks prior. The $20 charge for each of the seven-year olds, though, was a little stiff. Service was outstanding and there wasn't a mandatory add-on, which I appreciated. (Again, that was a nice change from Astaria.) There are many buffets that we've yet to try and Oakland isn't close to where we live. However, Scott's has me hooked and I'll be looking for any excuse (Anniversary? Next birthday?) to go back. 
Scott's Seafood Restaurant
2 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-3456

Friday, June 29, 2012

Flying Fish Grill--Half Moon Bay, CA

Earlier this month on a sultry Saturday we headed for the beach at Half Moon Bay and afterwards settled down for dinner at Flying Fish Grill. The location was unbeatable with the restaurant sitting near the intersection of Route 92 and Highway 1. We started with the Crabby Cheezy Bread, which was rich and delicious. 

For their main dish, the boys each had fish and chips, chosen from the kids portion of the menu. The fish was served hot, but the Dylan thought it tasted plain.

My cioppino was loaded with goodies and filled me up. It came with two big pieces of garlic bread. It was slightly salty, but everything was cooked perfectly. We spotted calimari, salmon, mussels, clams, white fish and shrimp. I was a little under the weather and this really hit the spot. Jenny had the Caribbean Cod Wrap, which tasted lively due to the mango and wasabi.

Though the bread and the adults' main courses were worth the visit, the service was subpar: They gave us two dirty dishes, which we returned, and didn't come back with clean ones. They put pasta in my cioppino when I didn't order it with pasta. Watch out for that because on the menu they charge an extra $3 for the pasta (not worth it unless you're a pasta lover), though they didn't for me. Also, the food took half an hour after ordering to arrive. With two hungry kids that wait felt like a year.

Flying Fish Bar & Grill
211 San Mateo Rd.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 712-1126

Menu below. Click images to expand and read!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Astaria--San Mateo, CA (Father's Day buffet)

For Father's Day Jenny surprised me with a buffet at Astaria. Buffets aren't the norm at Astaria, but exceptions have been made for Mother's Day and, in our case, Father's Day. To accommodate the buffet, the food was served in a large dining hall in the neighboring Draper University. Astaria aimed to make this a "man's brunch" and with the amount of meat available, I thought they achieved that goal. 

My favorite dish of the day, though, wasn't a meat but the eggs benedict. The first one I tried was right on the mark--very soft but without liquid. Not able to believe Astaria could do this twice in a row, I tried another. Alas, it was very runny. I have the following observations of other dishes:

The spicy sausage (there were three other types) had a lot of heat, but it was great. The cream corn was delicious and crunchy. Dark meat chicken, served with other barbecue items, was tender an had a rich smokey flavor. It was my second-favorite dish of the day. Of the ribs, two were tender and scrumptious but one was tough. Chicken was also served deep fried, but tastefully so--it was deboned and tender. It could have used a little more salt, though.

I really have to credit Astaria for their presentation of some of the items. The shrimp cocktail was a work of art and another delight was the seafood pasta, loaded with mussels and clams.

The kids' favorite was the fruit (blueberries, strawberries and melon), which Astaria did a great job displaying. Astaria also had the requisite omelet station. While good, it wasn't anything above and beyond.

As for the desserts, what stood out the most was the chocolate bark. The sweetness from the chocolate went well with the embedded pretzel bits.

Sunday was hot and I'd been feverish for a day. As such, I wasn't active Father's Day and our visit to Astaria was the highlight of my day. I'd love to go again, but that said, at $39 per adult and a whopping $15 per seven-year old, it's pricey. There were add-ons, too, that were at least mildly annoying. Orange juice was extra, at $3 per glass, whereas virtually every other buffet in this price-range would offer complementary drinks. Finally, it was with some gall that they charged 18% service. I say "gall" because we were just a party of four and this was, after all, a buffet where we got our own food. That said, service was very attentive.
Astaria Restaurant
50 East Third Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 344-9444

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rose International--Mountain View, CA

When we want to grab some delicious skewered meat in abundant quantities, our first impulse is to go with Kabul in Sunnyvale. When we want meat on a stick quick and cheap, however, we turn to Rose International, which features Persian cuisine. On our most recent visit we brought home some koobideh (ground meat), chicken and barg (top sirloin). The koobideh and barg were flavored very similarly. The koobideh was delicious, as it almost always is, but the barg was overdone and chewy in some places, but absolutely perfect in others.
Keep in mind all the food is for carry out. Rose International, after all, is a grocery store. And, you order a la carte in the truest sense of the term. The rice, meat and even tomato have to be ordered separately. For example, the broiled tomato, which was a little underdone, was a dollar. You order at the register, pay, then go outside and hang a left to go to the pick up window on the other end of the building.
In the photo, the pickup window is the hole in the wall on the right side of the building. So, the rice (and there's a lot of it) makes a trip from the chafing dish in one corner of the store to the pickup window at the opposite corner of this long building. All the meat is grilled at the window. It's an odd system but it works.
You can try calling in your order, as we did, ahead of time. But, we still needed to wait in line like everyone else to pay. And only then did they start putting our order together. So, the benefit of calling in an order as opposed to showing up to order isn't clear. We ended up paying $28 to feed three adults and two kids.
Rose International
1060 Castro Street  
Mountain View, CA 94040
(650) 960-1900