Friday, November 25, 2016

Safeway Thanksgiving dinner-in-a-box

For Thanksgiving yesterday we got Safeway's boxed Thanksgiving meal. For $49.95 we got what you see in the picture above. The turkey was about ten pounds. Between two adults and two twelve-year-olds we ate about half of everything, including the bird.

What we received from Safeway was a good value, especially considering how much work it saved us. But, a similar offering from Lucky this year also included a green bean casserole and rolls. We tried Safeway this year, though, partly because it's closer and partly because we hadn't tried their packaged Thanksgiving dinner before.

The turkey, precooked, was tender and the aroma filled our home as if we made it from scratch ourselves. I would get this package again, but am more likely to go with Lucky next time because of the value. Whether you get a Safeway or Lucky turkey, though, be sure to pick it up about three days in advance to let it thaw in the fridge in time for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gen--San Jose, CA

Hawaiian beef on the left, shrimp in the middle, Beef Bulgogi on the right and garlic chicken at 12 o'clock. 

We took the boys to Gen for Korean barbecue for their birthday two days ago. This place is worth all the internet hype. We had a delightful time and the service was top notch. I almost always tip more than 15% but never 20%; that is, until Monday. The grill was replaced five times or so and the server constantly took the initiative to ask if we wanted more food.

We got there at about 11:00 and could have ordered off the dinner menu, which offers about half a dozen more items than the lunch menu. However, the all-you-can-eat lunch offered plenty of offerings including small intestine, steak and shrimp. The best of all, we thought, was the pork chop--it's a must have.

Get there after noon and you'll probably need to wait.

The story of our lives--at least two hours of it. In all, 24 dishes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

CreaTEAve by Hello Desserts--San Jose

I had my best-ever cup of boba tea yesterday and I made it myself! The CreaTEAve model is for the customer to add his own ingredients. This includes ice, creamer and unlimited toppings. You then present your cup of goodies to the cashier, who will top it off with a plastic film and shake it for you.

Not a quick thinker on my feet, I was a little confused at first. But, the teenager behind me guided me through it. There are enough signs and recommendations along the way so you won't mess it up, but the best piece of advice is to go for low sweetness when adding the sweetener.

If this were next door or within biking distance of home, I'd be a regular here. But, alas, the parking in this mall, Pacific Rim Plaza, is positively hopeless so it'll be forever and a day before I can make it back.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ramen Dojo--San Mateo, CA

With literally thousands of reviews on the internet and a seemingly equal number of individuals waiting ahead of you for a table (see photo below), the verdict on Ramen Dojo has long been in. I do, however, have one piece of advice: Even if you love your food hot enough to set the table on fire, for this one occasion try your ramen mild or even without spiciness at all. I got the one with medium heat and thought the ramen was OK and the pork was out-of-this-league tender. But, definitely not worth the 70 minute wait.

Then, my son Dylan, who ordered the same ginger pork as I did but with zero peppers, I was totally consumed by how rich and delicious the broth was. The flavor and creaminess really stood out. And, I thought, maybe I could stand in line again after all.

Ramen Dojo
805 S B St, 
San Mateo, CA 94401

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Poorboy's Cajun Kitchen--Santa Clara, CA

Last month I went to Poorboy's Cajun Kitchen in Santa Clara. I'd never heard of the place before my wife told me about it that morning, but I can't wait to go back.

The shrimp boil--a steal at $13.99
I had a shrimp boil which comes with a pound of shrimp, corn on the cob and sausage with a Cajun sauce with medium heat.  It was served in a plastic bag and you could use plastic gloves the restaurant provided to eat, which I did. Not only does this give new meaning to "bagged lunch", but the food was delicious, too. I counted 13 shrimp, but it seemed more than that. (The sauce was a bit too spicy for my wife and for me it was just under my limit, even at "medium.") Not only did I enjoy the lunch for its tastiness, but it filled me up, too.

Jenny had the Crawfish Salad Po' Boy, which we both ended up enjoying. She actually liked it more than the boil. Whatever your preference, my advice is enjoy your lunch here and then rest for a while--if time allows--at the Santa Clara City Library next door. Both spots will do you right!

Poorboy's Cajun Kitchen

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Scott's Seafood Sunday Brunch--San Jose, CA

About two weeks ago, my family took me to Scott's for Sunday brunch to celebrate Father's Day. Having been to Scott's in Oakland for a memorable buffet a few years ago, my expectations were very high--and they were met! All four of us really enjoyed ourselves and Tyler especially keeps asking when we can go back.

Scott's does so many things right, so it's hard to really know what to recommend first. Given the limited budget allotted by one's stomach space, I suggest making sure you hit the shellfish bar and the "and so much more" in the sign above--that is, the chafing dishes. There, you'll find creations you just don't get at a run-of-the-mill Sunday brunch, like Eggs Benedict with crab or salmon alla bella.

The latter was delicious, with salmon wrapped in a fluffy pancake. I remember regretting I had space for only one.

Salmon alla bella in the lower left

There is an omelet bar and you won't be disappointed by it. However, you can get a good omelet at a lot of places. When I come again, to maximize value, I'd go for more of the prime rib.

That said, one item seemingly commonplace that Scott's did amazingly well was the French toast. With syrup, to me it was as delicious and as satisfying as any dessert.

Prime rib with French toast

The desserts, by the way, were good but not all that memorable given the savory food we came for. The boys really enjoyed the cookies. I was thankful for the cut fruit given all the meat I had. The chocolate covered strawberries were superb, but then, how can one really miss with those?

We got there when Scott's opened, at 10:00 am and it wasn't that crowded. We were politely asked, though, to finish within two hours and by about 11:00 the restaurant was pretty much packed. The brunch comes with mimosas included, by the way, and they don't cheat you. The service is excellent and the liquids are continuously flowing into your glass.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sushirrito--Palo Alto

It's an idea so simple and appealing it should have been put into practice long ago: Take a sheet of seaweed and make a sushi burrito out of it! I remember as a grad student in the 1990s making sushi and, being too lazy to cut it up after it was rolled, would eat them as if chewing on a cigar. With a burrito having a much larger diameter, though, one can pack a wider variety of items which can offer an experience not commonly associated with sushi.

Geisha's Kiss

Such was the case with the Geisha's Kiss (above, featuring tuna, cucumber, ginger guacamole and piquillo peppers), which offered a mouthful of different flavors all at once. The corn in the Satori (below) gave this burrito some crunch and I thought it was a nice touch.


My favorite, though, the sumo crunch, was the most decadent of the three. How can one go wrong, after all, with a mix of shrimp tempura, crab and those delightful, crunchy tempura flakes on the outer shell of the burrito?
Sumo Crunch

All that said, these scrumptious delights don't come at a burrito price, understandably ($36 for the three). Also, be prepared to stand in a line that goes out into the sidewalk. For a lunch on the weekend, plan on waiting half an hour from the time you enter the line to when you receive your goods.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Smoking Pig--San Jose, CA

If you think the lunch below is pretty meager for $20, I hear you. What made me return to the Smoking Pig--and what will call me back again--are the burnt ends (the cubes of fatty meat near the top of the tray). By some accounts a delicacy that originated in Kansas City, the burnt ends come are cut from the brisket.

As served at the Smoking Pig, the burnt ends, with a chewy consistency and a charred flavor, are bathed in a sweet sauce with the consistency and appearance of syrup. Although it doesn't look like there's a lot there, this 2-Meat Combo will fill you up.

Also shown here is the pulled pork, which I thought was a bit overdone and dry. However, as long as the Smoking Pig is the only place I know of that serves the burnt ends, I'll be back!

Smoking Pig

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Katsu Seibu Shibuya--Tokyo, Japan

Upon the recommendation of a friend I went to this conveyor belt sushi restaurant on the 8th floor of the Seibu department store in Shibuya. I have to say it was one of the most pleasurable dining experiences in memory. If I weren't so strapped for time and it wasn't across town from where I was staying in Tokyo, I certainly would have gone again.

Some of the most delicious toro I've ever had.

I understand that among food snobs and the dining elite that conveyor belt sushi is often frowned upon--that it's seen as a notch below the stuff prepared specifically for you. However, compared to other sit down sushi restaurants I went to on this trip I can say this one definitely holds its own in quality.

To get into the restaurant, you wait in a line of chairs then scoot down as the people in the front of the line are called in.

The fattiest grade toro, a mere 500 yen per dish, melted and swished in the mouth like a thick cream. They nailed the simple stuff, too, like tuna and salmon. Those dishes were cool, refreshing and fell apart cleanly. It's not a fair comparison, but here in the Bay Area I'm used to the sushi having a touch of sourness--there was none of that at Katsu!

This chef is taking a whole fish and preparing it for serving. The conveyor belt winds its way by tables and counters and traverses the entire restaurant.

Having traveled for more than eleven hours that morning, cost wasn't a factor for me. I would have paid a lot for good food. (Besides, I ate here on an expense account.) However, that all of this wonderful food was so inexpensive was a bonus. By the time it was all said and done, I had twelve dishes, including the toro (and all the tea I could drink) for less than $20.

Salmon for only slightly more than a buck!

Just like in the states, different types of plates indicate the price (the gold and maroon plate is the cheapest; the gold, black and white checkerboard is 500 yen). You can grab what you want from the conveyor belt as it passes by. Or, you can do what I did and jot down what you want from the menu (enough of it is in English to get by) and hand it to a waiter. I was fortunate enough to be seated in front of a chef (and I could watch fish go from being whole to being sliced up for serving). So, the chef handed me the dishes I ordered.

Duck loin! It was only slightly more than a dollar and it was the one dish I ordered twice.

So, yes, the food here is twice as good for about half the price compared to anything I found in California. And, I'm not alone in thinking the value was amazing. I got to the restaurant at about 5:00 on a weekday, but still needed to wait half an hour. Their system for waiting is logical but not something you see often in the States. You don't submit your name. Instead, you sit down in a line of chairs. As people at the front of the line are called in, you scoot over kind of like, well, a conveyor belt. Since you're not supposed to save seats, your entire party has to be there the whole time you're waiting.

For me, the only downside about this restaurant was getting there. It was my first day in Tokyo in more than 15 years. Don't be intimidated, though. Take the JR Line train to the Shibuya station. Look out for department store with the "Seibu" sign on the side of the building. That's the department store you're looking for. Go to the 8th floor and you'll see a food court; there's just one conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Have fun!

Restaurant URL:

There's a hot water faucet located at every other place on the counter. So, you just add tea powder, then get yourself some hot water to make tea.

This is the department store at Shibuya where you'll find the restaurant. Look for the "SEIBU" banner on the side of the building. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tsukiji Fish Market Auction--Tokyo, Japan

After seeing a lot of hype on the internet about the Tsukiji Fish Market, I felt compelled to visit last Thursday. So, I did what I was supposed to: I got up before 3:00 am and took a cab to the market, getting there by 3:25 am, the beginning of a two-hour wait for the first tour.

The auction area with frozen tuna laid out for inspection

To be fair to the market itself, they never asked for us tourists to visit. In fact, I really got the feeling they'd rather not have people watching them. Nevertheless, they provided space for us to wait and an employee answered our questions and handed out vests (more on that later). Moreover, looking back I can't help but think our group was at best a distraction. And, they never charged us a yen. So, I truly feel the Tsukiji Fish Market is to be commended.

A buyer chipped off a small piece of tuna then inspects it with a flashlight
That said, I don't think I've ever been witness to a more over-hyped activity in my life. Time had this as the Number 1 thing to do in Tokyo? I would have to disagree--Tokyo has many better experiences to offer. However, it might be worth the trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market if you could go after a good night's sleep and not have to wait two hours in a room that doesn't have any chairs. As it is, you end up depriving yourself of sleep and killing your joints (whether you sit on the floor or stand in the waiting room) for an experience that will have you, at the end, shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Meh".

It's only natural to be intrigued by the hordes of cash that can be exchanged over what was once used for cat food in the 1960s. But, for all the talk about the astronomical figures tuna here can pull in (no article on Tsukiji, including this one, will let you forget about the tuna in 2013 that went for $1.76M), what sends tuna pricing into the stratosphere is the fact that it's the first tuna sold of the new year. There's some prestige and, some will say, some luck associated with reeling in that first fish of the year. But, relatively little is said about what's paid for a fish on some random Thursday in February. Maybe it's because it isn't nearly as much.

I enjoyed the auction itself, largely because of the singing of the auctioneers' whose styles complemented each other well. Here's the video I took:

A number of us in my group were surprised to find out that the vast majority of the tuna was frozen--hard as a rock frozen. (While I was there one of the fish, accidentally knocked by a buyer, spun around and wobbled on its side.) This only makes sense. Fishermen go to where the fish are and sometimes that means many days if not weeks away from Japan. So, the fish will need to be frozen on the spot once caught. However, if you have this romanticized idea that you're going to an auction where the fish were swimming in the ocean earlier that morning, to be sold to nearby restaurants for sushi breakfast served minutes later, disabuse yourself of that notion.

So, did I get anything out of the visit? Well, yes, it was a learning experience certainly. It was fun watching buyers flipped open the flaps near the tail so they could try to ascertain the quality of the tuna. (The flaps were intentionally cut for this purpose.) Or, with their pick axes many chipped away at ends of the tuna, inspecting the resulting morsels with a flashlight for fat content or disease. Also, part of the enjoyment was seeing the hustle and bustle outside of the auction area. We had to dodge a number of trucks that seemed to almost hit us and each other. Here's some video I took:

If you checked out all the images and videos online and still decide you want to go, remember to check the market calendar first. Otherwise, it'll break your heart to get there at 3:30 in the morning only to find out the market is closed, as is often the case on Wednesdays.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tin Pot Creamery--Los Altos, CA

Walking through downtown Los Altos yesterday, we dropped by Tin Pot Creamery. Kids 12 and under can order a Kiddie Cone, which is much like a Mini but with eyes and a smile, which made at least one of my sons a little hesitant to eat it. But, not too hesitant.

The older one opted for Premium Chocolate with TCHO Shards. This was the only flavor that carried with it a 50 cent surcharge. From my family's reaction, though, I could tell it was well worth the extra fee, and it was easily their favorite flavor.

I liked the mint chocolate chip, as the herbal flavor from the mint really stood out. Jenny and I shared a scoop of Earl Grey, which carried a subtle flavor but, like the twins' cones, had a creaminess that separated it from what you'd find at Baskin Robbins or, for that matter, the Safeway across the street.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Chicken and Rice from How to Cook Everything: The Basics

A few nights ago Jenny whipped up a chicken dinner using a recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Specifically, she used the Chicken and Rice recipe which can be found here online. Our family loved it! Jenny used thighs (with bones) only and skipped the limes. The real star of the show is the rice, which absorbed the stock and juices from the chicken. The rice was fluffy, tender and oozing with flavor. The recipe states that the cooking time, about an hour, is that needed for both the chicken and the rice. That could be so, though we found that although the rice was perfect, the thighs might have been a little--just a little--overdone.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Vue Grille and Bar--Indian Wells, CA

During the first morning of our Palm Desert vacation over the holidays, we went to the Vue Grille and Bar at the Indian Wells Golf Resort. There, the kids enjoyed the California rolls and the countless number of screens showing every NFL game. The carving station offered turkey and ham and, nearby, you can get an omelet made to order.

I tended to go for the seafood items such as shrimp and lox. The one distinctive item of this buffet not normally found elsewhere is the carmelized pepper bacon. My wife and kids thought it was too spicy, but I thought it delicious.

If there was one disappointment, it was that the buffet did not have everything stated on the menu online (like the pumpkin pancakes). What also wasn't clear from the website, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out, is that kids are roughly half price: $12.95 each for kids and $24.94 each for adults. The adults can have all the mimosas they want at no extra charge.

Vue Grille and Bar