Sunday, June 25, 2017

Beacon Hill Chocolates--Boston, MA

Oh, my goodness. What is it with Boston and their access to amazing chocolate products? Four years ago I had a religious experience at LA Burdick with their hot chocolate. Then, earlier this month friends visited from Boston and gave us a box from Beacon Hill Chocolates. And, because they did, they're now pretty much friends for life.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cafe Florian--Foster City, CA

For me, it wouldn't be Father's Day without an eat-till-you-drop buffet and Cafe Florian, at the Crowne Plaza in Foster City, didn't disappoint. 

As long as the lines weren't long, there was Dungeness crab, mussels, oysters and shrimp in abundance at Cafe Florian.

Though I tried to get my money’s worth from the crab and prime rib (both were fine), my favorite of the day was the Kobe beef sliders with bacon tomato jam. The sweetness of the jam countered the savory cheese and beef perfectly. I normally don’t eat bread at a buffet, but I had three sliders.

Kobe beef slider with prime rib and pork rib (in the background) with sweet potato fries

The pork ribs, if anything, were slightly overdone but the delicious sauce and sweet potato fries made up for it. In fact, I probably would have been very happy just treating this as an all-the-ribs-you-can eat pork fest. (Whatever happened to those?)

One nice treat about Florian that I haven't yet found at any other Sunday brunch buffet was an ice cream freezer. The kids raided it for popsicles and ice cream sandwiches and, for them, it was the difference between a good buffet and a When-can-we-come-here-again? buffet. If you're not into frozen desserts, they still have you covered--the selection of baked treats is positively immense.

On that note, one item normally found at a traditional Sunday brunch but wasn't here is eggs Benedict. This dish isn't make-or-break for me, but I've come to expect it with brunch.

The lines were at their longest at around 11:00 and at that point Florian struggled to keep up with the demand on crab. The crowd thinned out a lot by noon. A mandatory tip of 18% was added to the check for the buffet. The service was very attentive and worthy of this minimum.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Choice Lunch

Another school year ended and another nine months spent with a different lunch provider at my boys' elementary school in the Los Altos School District. We lost count, but it has been at least three different vendors in as many years.

Pea snaps, cantaloupe, chocolate milk and spaghetti: Lunch at my kids' school for $6

Both of my kids ate Choice Lunch food twice per week and they have generally negative feedback about it; some valid, some specious (Example: "It comes in a truck, so it isn't fresh." Well, of course it comes in a truck, the school doesn't have a kitchen.). The most common:

1) Much of the food that's supposed to be soft is hard and crunchy, such as the pasta and potato skins. Also, the food is often stuck together as one piece.
2) The hot item comes in a dish with an overlying plastic film. This film, more often than not, is bonded to the container with an iron grip and ripping it off sometimes means ripping the cardboard dish.
3) The food you get looks nothing like the food you order on the Choice Lunch website.

Kids can be harsh when it comes to school lunch, though. Tyler brought home his lunch last week (pictured above) and the plastic film came off fine. Yes, the pasta was a little bit stiff, but it was still acceptable. The negatives? The meat sauce it came with had little meat. Also, it ain't cheap--at $6 the price is a multiple of what many others are paying for lunch around the Bay Area. My understanding, though, is some of this is going to the school.

The verdict: Knowing what the kids are getting for their $6, we never had reservations about ordering the lunch for them given the convenience and, in truth, I don't think the food is really that bad. Getting food to a location in massive quantities and having it taste fresh is hard. It's an age-old problem not limited to school lunch--when's the last time anyone raved about airplane food?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The cell cake

I never thought I'd write a post about my kids' homework, much less their science homework, but this one was too delicious to pass up.

Given the choice between a cake model of a cell, writing a computer program or filling out a worksheet, Tyler chose, with his class partner, to bake a chocolate cake. Tyler's mom helped by softening the fondant using the microwave for about 15 seconds. They made little wells in the fondant for the food coloring and then kneaded away at it. As a glue to hold the candy in place, they added a thin layer of water to the fondant.

There are a lot of wonderful examples of cell-cake projects to be found on the internet. But, what I found to be even more useful than the cake itself is the de-coder table the boys put together, which explains the function of each part of the cell and its corresponding goodie.

After eating a piece of this very heavy--but delicious--cake, you'll swear your cell membranes are lined with fondant, too!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dumpling Depot--Sunnyvale, CA

I had lunch with Jenny and Dylan today at Dumpling Depot in Sunnyvale. We'd been there recently for the first time and came away impressed. This visit was no different--Dumpling Depot thrilled us again.

Over our two visits we had lamb, pork and zucchini dumplings. These standard dumpling orders come at a dozen to a plate. See menu below. We also tried the xiao lung bao ("Shanghai Soup Dumpling"),Yes, the filling in each case was terrific--Jenny especially liked the crunchiness of the zucchini dumplings and hence those were her favorite. But, the skin and the hot sauce are what really make the experience special.

The skin was chewy, soft yet impervious to the juice inside the dumpling. That said, the skin for the xiao long bao was on the thicker side. That other special quality of Dumpling Depot, the proprietary homemade hot sauce, offers a hot, creamy taste but doesn't have the irritating bite you might get, from say, a habenero pepper. The sauce even looks great.

There's nothing to dislike about Dumpling Depot--even the service is exemplary. Both times we were there, the staff made rounds from one table to another making polite, easy conversation, yet are senstive enough to know if you want to be left alone.

Both times we ate at Dumpling Depot we came in at about 1:00 on a weekday. Both times, there was plenty of seating available. Make the Depot your next stop. This is precisely the kind of establishment the Bay Area needs more of.

Dumpling Depot

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Micklethwait -- Austin, TX

Wednesday I dropped by Micklethwait in Austin for lunch before catching my plane back to the Bay Area. Am I glad that I did! I got the two-meat platter with brisket, pork spare ribs, jalapeno cheese grits and lemon slaw. The pork was nothing special and so was, for that matter, the barbecue sauce. What made this lunch was the brisket, which was as juicy and chunky a slab of meat as I've ever had. Yes, it's well marbled, but the experience was worth the fattiness. The grits tasted a lot like polenta but a little mushier and with a pleasant amount of bite from the jalapeno.

The majority of those ordering ahead of me got a Big Red soda. I'd never heard of it before but felt compelled to try one. I inquired with those eating at the same picnic table (at Micklethwait, you order at a trailer, then eat at one of several picnic tables under a tent) and found that Big Red is a Texas classic, bottled in San Antonio. It's sweet and tastes like bubble gum.

I got to the trailer at about 11:10 am and waited ten minutes to order and food was ready about five minutes after that. The line gets long, though, at about 11:30. The beef short ribs looked delicious, but to get them you need to order a pound and a quarter at once. They don't come with sandwiches or platters.

I walked to Micklethwait from the Austin Convention Center in 20 minutes with a backpack, a rollerbag and arthritis in both knees. So, even if you're in the downtown area and you're craving great barbecue, you don't have an excuse to not try Micklethwait!

Micklethwait Craft Meats

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Seapot--San Mateo, CA

I'm slobbering as I write this review of Seapot, and that doesn't happen often. I'm thinking especially of the endless, steady stream of meat that came to our table by wait staff and the conveyor belt delivering bounties of shrimp, fish, veggies and other raw ingredients for a tasty hot pot. I don't recall being so, well, excited about lunch. And, why shouldn't anyone? For a $17 during a weekday lunch, you can have all the meat and veggies your belly can handle with, in my case, a "creamy milk" broth to cook it in. For all the meat they slice up for you, my favorite ingredient of all, in fact, was Spam (or its equivalent). Please take note of the following:

  • Although there are six soups to choose from to cook your items, you have to stick with one type for the entire meal. Your server will re-fill your pot when you want him to.
  • Chicken, pork, lamb and beef will be delivered to your table; if you want seafood you'll grab it from the conveyor belt.
  • You make your own sauce at the sauce bar.
  • For us, at any rate, the 90-minute limit was enforced.
Not done with mirrors: The conveyor belt really is this long.

Don't go to Seapot for the desserts. You'll be disappointed. There were, maybe, two or three different small cakes you could get and none of them were memorable.

Also, if you can swing it, go here for lunch on a weekday. Otherwise, you'll pay a $12 premium (that's more than 70%) for the same experience. At any rate, it's called "lunch", but for me it was my only meal of the day, if you know what I mean.

The service was attentive, but it could have been because our lunch was on the late side and the customer to server ratio was dwindling. Understood from the get-go was the 90-minute time limit and, indeed, at that point we received the check as our cue.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Icicles--Cupertino, CA

The four of us dropped by Icicle, where you can watch ingredients of your choice get crushed, mixed with cream and, after being spread on a cold plate to freeze, turn into a delicious dessert. The person making your dessert will make it a point that you see your chosen ingredients in its original form before mashing away, be it a strawberry, banana, Oreo, or what have you.

In theory you can get all the toppings you want, but in reality, thre's only so much room in the cup. It gets crowded at four or five toppings.

Although the ice cream is served as rolled strips, it all blends together after a short while into one big glob. While we ate, we could hardly believe how wonderful it was. However, after coming home, we were all thirsty for water and tea. I felt as though I'd eaten half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. It was super-sweet. I'd had all I could take and that was after sharing mine with Jenny. Make no mistake, this ice cream is rich.

While we were there, we heard one boy say, "Man! Yogurtland is in so much trouble!". That could be, but I don't think it'll be because of Icicle. The desserts are different from each other. What you get from Icicle will inspire awe, something Yogurtland will never do, then afterwards leave you feeling knocked out, which Yogurlan won't do either so long as you take it easy on the gummy worms.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

BLVD Kitchen and Bar--Minnetonka, MN

Every once in a long while--maybe a year or two--a meal delivers for me what borders on a religious experience. Wednesday night I had such an experience and it happened at BLVD Kitchen and Bar in Minnetonka. I love jambalaya and order it more times than not when I see it on the menu. Indeed, I had jambalaya on the first date with the woman who would eventually become my wife. No event will be quite as amazing as a date with Jenny, but when it comes to the jambalaya itself? Well, nothing compares to the dish I had at BLVD. Piping hot and loaded with seafood, there was delicious meat of some sort with every--and I mean every--forkful. The fish was tender, the shrimp succulent and the dish was spiced to perfection. Also, the prompt service (ask for Denise, who will treat you with the utmost care) was with a smile, with the dish coming out in little more than ten minutes after ordering. I've been to BLVD multiple times before and they always do everything right. But, that jambalaya. Oh, my.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Shan Xi Magic Kitchen--San Diego, CA

A recent trip to San Diego brought us to Shan Xi Magic Kitchen, which, at the time, was having a "soft opening".

We started with a stewed pork burger, which looked and tasted very ordinary. The green beans were crisp and delicious.

The big attraction: Biang Biang Noodles

The main event, though, and what was ordered at every table was the Biang Biang Noodles. The attention was certainly justified. At three inches wide, the dimensions alone made the noodles unique. What really set it apart, though, was the chewy goodness of those noodles. The peppers on this dish, though, would probably put it out of reach of most kids.

The beef noodle soup was super-salty and the noodles were really long. Nothing wrong with the latter, but be prepared for a lot of biting and splashing.

Beef noodle soup

The bottom line? If you come here, it's for the Biang Biang Noodles. Otherwise, the wait is really long (more than 30 minutes for a table for us on a weeknight) and everything else we ordered was average.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Kula--Laguna Hills

With Kula having prohibitively long lines in the Bay Area, we jumped at the chance to try one in Laguna Hills, where there was no line at 11:30 am on a weekday.

Each item on the belt is $2.25. Plates are returned in the slot at the bottom of this photo.

The novelty of having all food--even those ordered off a menu--delivered by conveyor belt was fun for all of us. However, the quality of the sushi, perhaps because it's sitting on a belt for such a long time, is below average.

You can also order food from a touch screen tablet at your table and the dish will arrive on a separate conveyor belt. There are two levels: Guests can choose standard sushi dishes from the lower belt (kind of like baggage at the airport) and the upper is dedicated to delivering ordered dishes to a specific table. This upper belt is controlled, in conjunction with sensors at each table, to assure the dish stops at the right spot. It's pretty slick. Below, my son's grabbing a dish we ordered from that upper belt.

What really motivates the kids, though, are the cartoons and prizes. Every five dishes gets you a silly animated short on the monitor and, for every fifteenth, a ball rolls down from a dispenser to your table. Inside the red ball is a knick-knack (like a tiny Post-It note pad you'll lose in a day or two).

Did we have a great time? Are we glad we went? Yes and yes. However, the quality of the sushi was the lowest of the half dozen or so restaurants we tried during our recent trip to southern California. Some restaurant try to get you to buy more sushi by selling you good food at a value. Some use gimicks. Kula is in the category of the latter.