Friday, March 30, 2012

Amato's--San Jose, CA

Earlier this week I met my pal at Amato's for a good old cheesesteak sandwich. With my friend born and raised in Philadelphia (and a bit of a sandwich expert at that), I knew I could trust him to take me to a spot which wouldn't disappoint--and Amato's didn't.

Things got off to a great start with a mountain of fries that were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. With such a substantial thermal mass, they stayed warm for nearly an hour. The two of us never did get to the bottom of the basket and we end up leaving with food on the table--a true rarity. Of those fries, I can't think of a more pleasant way to get full on just a hair over three bucks.

But, one certainly doesn't need the fries to get full at Amato's. There are many ways to pop your belly here. My method of choice, of course, was the cheesesteak sandwich, which came in three sizes: "shorty", "half" and "whole". If you're tackling a sandwich on your own, don't get anything but the "shorty", which amounts to an all-the-cheesesteak-you-can-eat buffet on its own. Wanting the authentic experience, I went with Cheese Whiz. My lunch partner knew ahead of time to get me a separate dish--to hold half the sandwich. Though it was a little salty, I loved every bite. It was a little messy, though, as the Cheese Whiz was a little overwhelming (in a good way). Napkins are plentiful at Amato's for a reason!

I was told the main difference between Amato's and the best joints in Philly are the bread (ours was a little doughy) and the fact that the cheese is painted on the bread rather than dumped in massive quantities on the meat. I was also told that the Philly meat is a little more tender.

I wasn't the only one at the counter getting a boat of a sandwich. My friend got a ham and cheese hoagie, which he adorned with peppers and thoroughly enjoyed.

Are you interested in eating at Amato's? I have a bit of advice. Amato's has a way of being closed without warning. The first two times I tried going, they were closed--once because the electricity was out. You're best advised to call ahead of time. And, when it's open getting in can be a pretty tough ticket. When we went two days ago, though, there was ample seating at the counter against the wall.

Amato's Cheesesteaks
1162 Saratoga Ave
San Jose, CA 95129
(408) 246-4007

Friday, March 23, 2012

Venus Cafe--Cupertino, CA

Styled after cafes in Hong Kong, Venus Cafe was filled with Cantonese-speaking customers when we walked in and jotted our name on the clipboard. There isn't much of a waiting area--we crammed ourselves in a corner to get out of everyone's way. I recommend you to wait inside for your table because, when it comes to getting a table, your visibility to the restaurant staff will matter more than your placement on the clipboard.

Once seated, we were happy to see that the kids got complimentary juice pouches while we got water. When it came to ordering, though, I didn't quite get what I expected. It's really my fault because I didn't know that seafood with guilin rice noodles was really a noodle soup, which was a bummer because I wanted something dry. The noodles were fine, but the bowl was swamped with whole and chopped peanuts. There was ample seafood, but be aware a lot of it was squid. Each of the other three in my party got a wonton soup. And, each finished his six wontons. The noodles were good but had a slight flour aftertaste.

Just for fun--and because they looked so good in those metal cups--we ordered a Hong Kong style milk tea, which was bitter on its own, but delicious with some sweetener.

After tax but before tip dinner came in at a touch over $26, which wasn't bad considering all but one of us got drinks. That lunch easily carried us through to a late dinner, too. Though I passed by this unassuming little strip mall many times, I never gave it a thought until a few weeks ago, when I went to the bowling alley tucked in the back for a birthday party. Venus Cafe will certainly give us a reason to return, but so will the neighboring Shanghai Garden and Fusion Korea when we give them a whirl.

20956 W Homestead Rd
Cupertino, CA 95015
(408) 865-1122

Friday, March 16, 2012

Peacock Indian Cuisine--Santa Clara, CA

It had been ages since I'd eaten at an Indian buffet and was excited to try out Peacock, near my work, with my dad. Though it was satisfying, we couldn't help but notice that chicken was the only meat served at the buffet. Granted, it came in many forms, but all the meat was chicken nevertheless.

Perhaps the best of the chicken dishes--and one not always found at an Indian buffet--was chicken dum biryani. It was presented as a mountain of rice in a warming tin and you really had to dig around to find any meat. Once you did, though, you'd be rewarded. The chicken was oh-so-tender and juicy.

The other chicken dishes, such as tandoori and tikka masala were delicious but weren't differentiators. The chicken masakalli reminded me a lot of popcorn chicken. It's not for everyone but I can see it being a hit for some.

Peacock did a lot of things right. The service was good. Fresh naan was delivered to the table. They even had a mixed fruit kesari, (a pudding with chopped almonds, grapes, pineapple and other fruit mixed in), which drew me back for seconds. And, certainly, business was booming. And yet, although the experience at Peacock met expectations, at the same time it wasn't special. Moreover, the $10 per head at Peacock puts them in a very competitive Indian buffet market in Santa Clara. I'll return because of Peacock's proximity to work, but the next time I feel like busting my gut at an Indian buffet, I'll feel more compelled to try a spot that trumps Peacock on variety such as Mezbaan Bar and Indian Cuisine or Madhuban Indian Cuisine (where the pudding is killer), both nearby.

Peacock Indian Cuisine
2798 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 247-9264

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant--Sunnyvale, CA

Honestly, I have no idea what all the fuss was about. We got to Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant at about 11:40 last Saturday. We were told we we'd get a table in 15 minutes. We ended up waiting more than half an hour with a mass of humanity outside the restaurant. As we waited, one group of six returned from what I assumed to be a trip elsewhere to find their number had already been called. They went ballistic, giving the crowd a tutorial on how to cuss in both Cantonese and English. I definitely side with the restaurant on this one. It's not that they would have to go back to the end of the line--it was just that they'd have to wait for the next available table. Their number was called, they weren't there. What was the restaurant to do? Holding an empty table for them would be inefficient, making the wait longer for everyone else. Nevertheless, they stormed off in a huff. To me, the display was regrettable because it happened in front of my first-grade boys. However, looking at the bright side I also thought to myself, "If the crowd out here is this huge and people get that upset over missing a table, the grub here must be damn good."

Only it wasn't.

Overall, the dim sum was salty and the shao lung bao in particular was a sticky, globby, too-many-holes-in-the-skin disaster. Sure, shao lung bao is a Shanghainese dish and this dim sum was Cantonese. However, if you're gonna do a job...

They did offer dishes not found everywhere (such as lobster with noodles) and the desserts (like the mango pudding) were passable. Also, they got many of the staples right, like siu mai, gai lan and the sticky rice. However, the filling in the char siu bao had a flavor that was enough off the mark that my gluttonous son Tyler wouldn't eat it. I never thought I'd see the day.

As I sat there in the overcrowded restaurant, I spent much of the lunch trying to figure out what the big deal was, but without success. The only argument I can understand is that Hong Kong Saigon might be closer to home. But, even then, why not go the extra few miles to Dynasty or Fu Lam Lum? The dim sum will be just as good or even better and you won't be waiting at 11:40. And, even if you do wait you get to do so inside if you want.

Quick tip: Hong Kong Saigon thins out at 1:00 with no sacrifice in available variety.

Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant
1135 Lawrence Expy
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
(408) 734-2828

Friday, March 2, 2012

Euro Grill--Santa Clara, CA

Kart racing brought us back to our old neighborhood in Santa Clara, where we had lunch at Euro Grill on El Camino. With Jenny having done some research ahead of time, I knew to get their burger. The patty of the burger was made the night before to give some time for the seasonings to work their magic. The patty was dense, much like the meat in a gyro, Jenny's choice, only thicker and we were surprised to find out it was made of good old ground beef. The highlight of each of our sandwiches, though, was the bread, which might very well have justified the trip to Santa Clara on its own. Baked by the restaurant, it was soft, chewy and soaked up every drop of juice from the meats. Though the burger and the gyro were salty, we'd probably order them again because of the buns. By the way, be sure to get the sour cream on the side. It tastes great but you'll probably get much more than you want.

The crepes were terrific. The chicken inside was tender and the crepe itself light and fluffy. On its own, I liked Crepevine's Bombay more because it was loaded with hot tasty shrimp (and it came with potato and salad). However, if forced to choose, I'd take the Euro Market crepe because the portion was so darn big.

Jenny's gyro came with fries as a side, but the portion was so huge it was practically a dish in itself. All of us loved diving in. The kids each wanted strawberry juice, which came from a box. To the restaurant's credit, they were honest it came from a carton and at least it was a European box rather than one could find at Safeway.

Set in what appears to be a townhouse complex, one is struck by the homey environment upon entering Euro Grill. And, the server was very friendly. Make no mistake, though, they will try to upsell you if you drop your guard. The kids were offered the juice directly by the waiter and of course they said yes before we could put a muzzle on them. And, make sure you specify the water you want when you ask for it. Otherwise you'll be served a small bottle of Arrowhead (as we were) at $1.50 a pop. All that said, the portions were huge and lunch still had to be deemed a good value. For a little over $35 after tax but before tip we filled ourselves up with food left for dinner.

Euro Grill
980 El Camino Real
Ste 100
Santa Clara, CA 95050
(408) 244-9745