Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A sunny day in Half Moon Bay

Sunny days on weekends in the Bay Area.  You need to get out of the house and enjoy the day.

Instead of the usual drive up to the city or down to Santa Cruz, we mixed it up a bit and drove out to Half Moon Bay.  It was one of those lucky days where the skies and the water so clear and blue.  The perfect weather for fish and chips.

Barbara's Fish Trip has been my family's go-to fish and chips spot for as long as I could remember.  Potential traffic along the 92 never stopped us.  We were too drawn to the fresh quality of white fish and that light, fluffy, flaky batter.

It's a relief to know that it hasn't changed.  The fried fish is still as light, airy, and crunchy as ever.  Plus, I love indulging on a plateful of fried artichoke hearts, too.   Prepping and cooking artichokes can be tedious at home, so I usually order it if it's on the menu.

When I came of age (21, that is) I would choose to cross the street to the Half Moon Bay Brewery instead.  Sitting by an outdoor firepit, munching on fried artichoke hearts and sipping on an IPA or an Amber Ale..well, it was usually both by the end of the meal.  If you want some tasty brews, HMB Brewery is the place to go.  If you just want some quality fried seafood, Barbara's Fish Trap is always the good choice.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Barbara's Fish Trap

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tasting our way around Napa Valley

Before leaving for the states, my parents gave me a list of things to buy.  When they said, "Wine," I didn't understand that as going to BevMo to buy a few bottles.  Of course not!  That clearly meant that I had to take a day trip up to the Napa Valley.

On a sunny Sunday, my friends and I made our way up Highway 29.  Our first stop was Yountville (or as I like to call it, "Michelin row" where four restaurants on one road have Michelin stars) for a necessary macaron start at Bouchon Bakery.  Thomas Keller makes some of the best macarons in the Bay Area.  If you're in area, you have to stop by.

With sweets coating our stomachs, we made our wine tasting stops.  We took our time through three wineries in the course of the afternoon.  Robert Mondavi Winery, St. Supery, and, my favorite winery, Peju.  I love that every pourer is friendly and informative.  Some more so than others, which is definitely the case at Peju.

By the time we got to our third winery, we had alcohol-hunger.  We found Rutherford Grill thanks to Yelp (4.5 out of 5 stars from 800+ reviews had to guarantee a great place).  Local Californian cuisine with a friendly neighborhood/tourist restaurant and bar vibe.  I definitely recommend this if you want a food stop before, during, or after your wine tasting day.

I never tire of trips up to Napa.  With great company, it's always a relaxing and memorable adventure full of great sips of several wines.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Napa

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tasting Menu treats at 25Lusk

My Bay Area list always includes the following: ramen, pizza, burgers, Mexican, Giants game(s) at the park or at a bar, day trips, happy hours, and a nice dinner somewhere new.

In my past few trips, I've had memorable dinners at Salt House, Wayfare Tavern, and Benu.  This time around I let my friends choose the restaurant.  They chose their go-to spot in the city for a celebration meal.  25Lusk, a neighborhood city restaurant and lounge that has a weekly tasting menu with a rustic, urban vibe.  That sounded perfect for a dinner with friends.

I love the interior of the lounge and the restaurant.  The lounge on the first floor is a great place for friends and for couples for get pre- or post-dinner drinks.  The cocktail menu has a lot of original concoctions that are worth tasting.  The restaurant is spacious, yet still has a cozy neighborhood feel with the darker lighting, brick walls, and wood finishes.

The meal itself was just as enjoyable as the surroundings.  While a couple of the dishes stood out more than others, the whole tasting menu was well-thought out.  I like that the chef changes the menu every week to encourage repeat customers to try more dishes.  There's also an a la carte menu if you don't want to eat or spend as much.  Compared to other tasting menus in the city, though, $78 for 5 courses (starter, fish course, meat course, cheese plate, and dessert) is not too bad at all.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: 25Lusk

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Always back for more

When I'm back in the Bay Area, I try to visit as many new restaurants as possible.  New ones pop up every season.  My list keeps growing.

And despite that, I make room in my stomach to visit my favorites.  Every single trip back, I'm always grabbing pizzas at Howie's Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto.  There's something about eating in the Peninsula and at a place like Howie's that makes me feel like I never left.  It's such a family friendly, neighborhood kind of place.  Plus, there's an excellent selection of beers and wines to pair the pizza with - that's always a selling point for me.

I have yet to get some great artisan pizza in Manila.  There are some standout thin crust pizzas, but there's nothing with that chewy-fluffy-baked-crispy pie crust.  It's a true art.  At Howie's the toppings and the crust are so well-researched for quality and execution.  Now I'm counting down the days until my next trip for more of these pizza pies.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Howies

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crepes in Menlo Park

On any perfect Bay Area day, it's a requirement to get outside and enjoy the weather.  So for a late lunch, my family and I went Crepes Cafe for some al fresco dining.

I went here years ago when it first opened.  This place is always packed on weekends for lunch.  Locals here love weekend brunches and lunches.  Fortunately, mid-week and mid-day the place was practically empty, so we had our choice of outdoor tables.

These dishes are definitely good for sharing because of the sizes and to get a variety of tastes.  I was happy to come here because I was craving for smoked salmon for a couple days now.  Smoked salmon crepes?  Heck yeah!

Overall, it was a great place to go to enjoy the day.  The food was satisfying enough for a mid-day meal.  I did find the crepes to be on the heavy side, though.  I tend to go to Cafe Borrone when I'm looking for an outdoor meal in Menlo Park, but I'm glad my brother had a certificate to mix things up a little.  Another plus about this place, they have a nice little beer and wine selection.  You can't enjoy the day without some tasty beverages.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Crepes Cafe

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Completely satisfying my Mexican craving

"What are you going to miss the most when you're back home?"  My last meal in the the Bay Area hours before my flight back home to Manila.  And that is the perfect question.

My response, "American or Mexican."  Both are found all over Manila and all over Asia. But there's something about eating American in the states and Mexican in California that just tastes so much better.  Even my friends living in New York say they miss the Mexican food from the Bay Area.

So on the drive from the South Bay to SFO, my friends and I stopped by Mountain View for some Mexican food.  La Fiesta is a real local spot a few blocks from downtown Mountain View.  This was my first time here, and it's not going to be my last.

The meal starts with the usual chips and salsa while waiting for our food and drinks to arrive.  I love that there are 3 kinds of salsa.  The drinks soon followed.  Our Coronas came with beer mugs with salted rims.  Salt with beer?  Did they think we were having margaritas?  Just recently, though, I actually read that a pinch of salt can do wonders for beer.  I've heard this about hot chocolate and coffee.  I've tried it with both: love it in hot chocolate, and one time was enough to try it in my coffee.

How was it with beer?  "Interesting" and "different" were the 2 words we kept saying.  It was definitely a learning experience.  Will I try it at home?  Definitely not if I'm by myself wanting to enjoy a good beer.  But, if I'm entertaining friends and the conversation comes up, then sure I might give it another try.

As for the food, this meal completely satisfied my Mexican cravings.  The enchiladas were doused with a special sauce that hit the spot.  I've been home for a week and I'm already looking forward to eating here the next time I'm back in town.

(While this was my last meal in the Bay Area, there are still several posts to come from my trip.  Next week features crepes, pizza, and a tasting menu!)

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: La Fiesta

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Happy Hour Sangria & Tapas in San Mateo

Family dinner in the Bay Area.  Since there's a baby in the family, our dinner gatherings are earlier.  I love how baby-dinner-time corresponds perfectly with happy hour.  It's fun for the whole family.

We all met halfway in the Peninsula in San Mateo.  With several options for kid-friendly dining, we chose Cha Cha Cha Cuba.  I've eaten at the Haight St. restaurant up in San Francisco a couple of times.  It's always crowded with patrons eager for sangria and tapas.  This new branch is more family friendly, and at 5pm on a weekday it's the perfect place for my nephew and for happy hour.

Sangria is half off.  We ordered a big pitcher for the table, and it was more than enough.  The price was even better, $12.50!  That's a pretty great deal for all that you get.

A good selection of the tapas menu is $5.00.  They are pretty generous portions for tapas.  The food was satisfying and fun - I love eating with a variety of small plates to choose from.   

The overall experience was pleasant and the service was pretty good.  I can see myself going back here with a group of friends, and definitely during happy hour.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Cha Cha Cha

Friday, May 11, 2012

Trying out Afghani Cuisine

I love adventuring with new foods.  After seeing some great reviews on Yelp, my family and I ventured to an Afghan/Mediterranean restaurant in the East Bay for dips and kabobs.

Pamir has all the traditional fare that you'd expect and that we were looking for.  Afghani dips are a favorite of mine because of how they are so healthy (and gluten free).  The kabobs were fresh from the grill with a bold spices and that charred taste.

Overall, it was an enjoyable meal with friendly service.  I don't think I'll find myself that far in the East Bay anytime soon, but I'm happy to have had an Afghan/Mediterranean meal experience.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Pamir

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Banh Mi Craving Satisfied

One of my favorite sandwiches ever is the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.  Crunchy, light, airy Vietnamese style French baguette sandwiching meats, pickled vegetables, and herbs.  It's filling and fresh with a great blend of flavors in every bite.

If I'm near the East Bay at lunch, Milpitas has some great banh mi choices.  Dakao 2 (because there are other Dakaos in San Jose) has some excellent banh mi and other classic Vietnamese choices.  My banh mi craving was completely satisfied after one sandwich.  The bread was light and crunchy, and the filling was just right in quantity and balance of tastes.

Along with the sandwich, we also ordered the traditional fresh and fried rolls.  Both excellent and freshly made for the day.  The atmosphere is rugged and casual, while the service is excellent and friendly.  I'm definitely coming back here the next time I'm in town.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Dakao

Monday, May 07, 2012

Sake Tasting and Sushi in San Francisco

Being back in San Francisco automatically brought me back to my old weekday routine.  Roaming happy hours to socialize usually followed by finding a dinner spot nearby.

On a Monday afternoon, I met up with my friend at the bar of Palomino for their all day happy hour.  After a couple drinks and an appetizer, we headed out for a change of scenery.  The bar was too quiet (and a bit too white-haired).  So we walked around a few blocks to look for a livelier scene.

After a quick bathroom break at the nearby Hyatt, and a few tips from the concierge, we headed to Ozumo -  Japanese sake lounge/restaurant.  Sake lounge - that sounded perfect.

While it wasn't exactly the "poppin'" scene we were looking for, it was the scene we settled into.  A dark, modern, sake bar that had sake tasting flights and unique sushi rolls.  That all sounded delicious.  My stomach took over my need to socialize.

I had eaten here years ago with my family in the restaurant side.  It's a hip Japanese spot with American influences.  If you're familiar with Blowfish, it's a lot like that.

The sake tasting was fun and satisfying.  Little sips to discover the flavors while comparing it to the written descriptions.  Learning at a bar - I love it.  The sushi was refreshing and paired perfectly with the sake.  Our quest to socialize ended up being a casual night of learning new sakes.  That's still a win in my book, and in my stomach.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Ozumo

Friday, May 04, 2012

Revisiting an old favorite for more Tonkotsu Ramen

After proclaiming that Orenchi Ramen is my new favorite tonkotsu ramen in the Bay Area, I had to go back to my old favorite tonkotsu ramen just to compare.

For the years I lived in the Bay Area and become acquainted with the ramen scene in the Peninsula and South Bay, I had 2 go-to places for ramen.  Ryowa Ramen House for miso ramen and Santa Ramen for tonkotsu ramen.  These days, I've been favoring tonkotsu ramen.  It's a true art to produce a good bowl of this pork bone broth and chewy noodles.  The broth alone takes a whole day to simmer up that milky, pork liquid.

Santa Ramen is just as consistent and tasty as I remember with a standout pork bone broth.  Milky, creamy, and filled with pork flavors.  The noodles have a pretty good amount of chew that softens a little as you get down to finishing the bowl.

So who has the better tonkotsu ramen in the Bay Area?

By a hair...well, in this case, by a noodle...Orenchi Ramen has the slightest edge because of the consistent chewy bite of noodles down to the last slurp.  But, I still would go back to both.  It really just depends if I'm in the South Bay or the Peninsula.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Santa Ramen

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

My New Favorite Ramen in the Bay Area

My favorite ramen restaurants are all in the Bay Area. When I have ramen, I look for either miso or tonkotsu broths. Given one choice, I'd readily choose tonkotsu. There's something about that milky pork bone broth that is so attractive and addicting.

Since I moved, my Ryowa and Santa Ramen friends have been raving about a new place in the South Bay, Orenchi Ramen.

And that's where I went for my first meal back in town.

After a sip of the broth and a bite of the noodles...this is my new favorite ramen place. The broth has that right amount of milky, pork tastiness. The noodles have that al dente chew that I love. And that Japanese style hard/soft boiled egg is a great addition to the bowl.

I also ordered the karaage. It's really good, but it's not as delicious as Ryowa's karaage. I think if Orenchi had gyoza on its menu, this could be the perfect ramen restaurant.

Right now I literally looked at the time to see if Orenchi is open yet (they have limited lunch and dinner hours - and get there early because there's always a line). I only have a few days left here, so every meal counts.

If you can't see the slideshow check out my Flickr album: Orenchi