Sunday, April 30, 2006

Indian Boil-in-the-Bag

In the last couple of months we've tried a couple of ready-made Indian entrees which come sealed in a foil pouch. The first line comes from Kitchens of India, which are imported from India rather than made domestically. They're available locally at the T&C. They export 5 vegetarian entrees: Palak Paneer (cheese in spinach), Pav Bhaji (vegetable curry), Dal Bukhara (black gram lentil curry), Rajma Masala (kidney bean curry) and Pindi Chana (chick pea curry). They're all really good, and not too expensive. I think my favorite is the dal bukhara.

The second source of Indian Boil-in-the-Bag is Rangoli, which is a spinoff of Vij's next door in Vancouver, B.C. We brought these home with us on our last trip. We did declare them at the border and had no problem. These are amazing. They have to be refrigerated or kept frozen, depending on the dish. We had Garnet Yam and Green Chili Dumplings in a Creamy Onion and Tomato Curry (which is two separate dishes combined, as recommended). It was outrageously good. We also had Saag and Paneer, which was better than any I've had in the states. Next time I go to Vancouver, I'm tempted to bring a cooler.

Trader Joe's sells a few frozen Indian dishes. I tried one and I thought it was awful.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Living with Osgood-Schlatter Disease

After taking my son to the doctor, I walked into the bedroom and told my wife grimly, "I'm afraid our son has been diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease."

Actually it's a common cause of knee pain in growing adolescents--the bone grows fast enough that the tendons don't have time to catch up, but it sure sounds serious when you say it right.

Lunch at Madoka

Madoka is now open for lunch, Wednesday through Saturday. Debbie and I ate there last Thursday.

We started by sharing the chipotle red clam chowder. It was great. Lots of clam meat, rich flavor made more interesting with a bit of smoky chipotle and bacon. I think it's my favorite clam chowder ever.

For a main course, I had the American Kobe Beef burger. These photos were taken with my cellphone, so they're pretty low-quality:
The burger was served on a ciabatta bun. I asked for it rare, and they obliged. It had dry jack cheese, arugula, and a fruit chutney that I don't recall on top, and came with taro and yam chips. It was really yummy. $14

Debbie had the BLT.
It's also served on a ciabatta bun. The bacon is house-cured and smoked, and is fantastic--really meaty and flavorful. It's made with kurobuta black pork. I think I'd use sliced toasted bread (pain au levain or something) instead of the bun for this. You can either get chips or sriricha slaw, and Debbie got the slaw. It tasted a bit like kimchee but not so intense. I liked it a lot. $12.

For dessert we shared the coconut-ricotta ice cream with chocolate rum sauce, which was good--lots of coconut gave it an interesting texture, and it's served with a piece of rich, flakey shortbread.

Overall, the food was excellent, and the prices are reasonable--less than some other restaurants in town, for much better food. (I know, $14 for a burger, but it was "American Kobe beef", which is always pretty expensive. You'd pay $25 in New York...)

My only criticism of Madoka is that they might consider getting some better serviceware. They have a very elegant interior and then bring food on plates and silverware that look like they came from a diner. They don't have small spoons for serving with espresso, so you have to stir it with a teaspoon.

UPDATE: Had lunch there again. They really do have reasonable prices for lunch--pasta dishes for $10, and their take on a Salde Niçoise that I had was $12. The salad I had consisted of flash-grilled tuna that was cut into cubes, baby lettuce, green beans, and a not-quite-hard-boiled (whatever you call that) egg. As the weather gets better, the patio will be a good option.

Make Your Own Damned Salad

Earlier this week, we had lunch at Cafe Nola. I had a boring but edible chicken breast sandwich. Debbie had the Surf and Turf Salad, which is composed of heart of romaine, steak, shrimp, and shoestring potatoes. The problem is that they're into this post-salad-making riff on salad, i.e. "make your own damned salad." I'm sorry I don't have a picture. You get a large plate with a whole heart of romaine (i.e. a head of romaine with the outer leaves ripped off) in the middle. There's a bit of dressing sprinkled over it. Then you get some slices of steak, and a few grilled shrimp (which smelled to me like they could have been a bit fresher) on a skewer stuck into the heart of romaine at a 45 degree angle. Then you get a couple of puddles of what I guess was pesto in the corner. Then the whole mess is covered with shoestring potatoes. Oh so clever, these people, mocking our bourgeois salad sensibilities. So you have to first, push aside the shoestring potatoes strewn all over, then try to cut the head of lettuce sitting on your plate (stem-end pointed toward the customer, just to make the point) with a dinner knife, trying not to get it to fly apart and get dressing all over. Of course, the inside of the head of lettuce has no dressing, so you have to smear the lettuce around on the plate. I think it was $14.

Cafe Nola has sometimes been pretty good for dinner, but this was crap, and I'm not going back for lunch until they get some sense.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Vancouver Holiday

We took the kids to Vancouver, B.C. for three days. Stayed at a hotel on Robson St. Weather was pretty good.

Getting everyone to agree on what to eat is always a challenge. Everyone agrees on Sushi. Our first stop for lunch on the way up was Richmond Sushi, which is an all-you-can-eat sushi and asian food restaurant in a small and crowded shopping center in Richmond, B.C. The menu is very limited, but the sushi you can get is really quite good. For nigiri they have tuna and salmon, nothing else. Then, tekka, kappa, california rolls, spicy tuna, and a few odd "big" rolls. Gyoza, siu mai, and other sorts of things are available as well. It's not a buffet, but the service is almost as fast. A waiter comes with a palm pilot, says, "ready to order", they punch it in, and sometimes within 30 seconds part of the order comes. They keep coming back asking if you want anything else. For lunch it was $9.95 Canadian, which works out to $8.66 U.S. at today's rates. Amazing! Richmond Sushi was in our GPS database, so that made the decision to drop in on the way to Vancouver pretty easy.

First night's dinner, we left the kids in the hotel with room service food, and went across the street to A Taste of India. As straightforward "standard-issue" Indian fare goes, it was done very well. Butter Chicken, Baighan Bartha, appetizer plate, and a nice local honey lager.

For lunch the next day we went to the Granville Island public market and kind of grazed. Don't go to the chinese place, it's as bad as any steam-table chinese food in the states. The perogies were good, as were the baked goods. Catherine had yet more sushi. I think Stuart wandered off and bought himself some smoked salmon and shrimp meat, and ate that for lunch.

Dinner was, once again, Sushi, this time at Tsunami, a sushi boat place on Robson St. Not the best I've ever had, but the kids liked it, and everyone was happy.

Next day we got cupcakes at the cupcake place on Denman St. Yum!

On the way home we stopped at Vij's Rangoli, which is the new next-door branch of Vij's restaurant. Everyone raves about Vij's food, and when we get to Vancouver without our Indian-food-hating children, we'll have to try it, but in the meantime, their new place next door serves a small menu at lunchtime, including takeout. We got takeout and McDo's for the kids, and ate it at Jericho Beach park. The food was amazing. We had a portobello mushroom and cheese curry, a lamb curry, some pakoras that were tasty and undoubtedly much better before the wait at McDonalds and the drive to the beach (should have eaten them in the car!), some dal, and some sort of chaat-y dish. We then drove home and were so full that we never bothered with dinner. Rangoli also sells frozen and fresh boil-in-the-bag entrees, which are sealed in foil pouches. We were able to take them across the border, so we'll eat them tonight and report back later.

Vancouver is the city we wish Seattle was. The city doesn't die at night. There are still families walking around, eating ice cream, whatever. It's not segregated into separate "nightlife areas" where drunken folk are allowed to go out at night but families do not tread, and "shopping areas" which totally close down, like in Seattle. I guess you're supposed to go home at night if you have a family in Seattle, or stay in the nice safe shopping mall. Some of my fondest memories as a child are wandering around Athens, Paris, Rome, and London in the evening with my mom and brother, and I'd like my children to have the same sorts of experiences.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lola Again

Went back to Lola, a somewhat-Greek restaurant in the Tom Douglas empire. It was as good as last time. We started with the "combo" which included tsatziki, red pepper spread, grilled squid on a skewer (yum!), olives, some house-cured meat, dolmades, fried chickpeas, and warm pita. We also shared a fondue, which was sort of like dipping pita in cheesy bechamel sauce, along with a fig-leaf-wrapped grilled fig--yum again. I had sliced leg of lamb and some brussels sprouts with hunks of bacon. Debbie had a lamb kebab. Everything was great, and I ate too much. Debbie had goat milk pie with meyer lemon marmelade for dessert, and I had the loukomades (they call them "yeasted donuts with honey and walnuts" or something).

More San Jose Eats

I'm in downtown San Jose for about one of every 6 or 7 weeks, and am always trying to find decent places within walking distance of downtown to eat. Last trip I tried three inexpensive restaurants I hadn't tried before.

Poor House Bistro on Autumn street, a few blocks' walk from downtown, is in an old victorian house. It serves New Orleans-style food in a very casual (i.e. order at the counter) atmosphere. I had a fried shrimp po boy with remoulade and a side of red beans and rice. Red Tail ale on tap, and you've got yourself a meal. They also have gumbo and other standards, which I'm told are pretty decent.

Tandoori Oven is a small chain Northern Indian restaurant sort of like the many Pakistani/Indian restaurants in San Francisco and the East Bay, except that it's a bit more expensive, and maybe a little more corporate/designed. The food is pretty good, which is to say, better than most of the Indian restaurants in the area, especially at lunchtime where they offer mostly disgusting buffets. It's nothing great, but just a decent plate of chicken tikka masala, naan and rice for $10.

Up the street from Tandoori Oven (86 S. First St) is Smile Sushi, a small Japanese restaurant with fairly standard American Japanese restaurant fare. I wasn't expecting too much, but was pleasantly surprised--the prices were reasonable and the sushi fish was pretty good considering the prices. $10 bento lunch, which included agedashi tofu, sashimi, and three pieces of nigiri. They serve real green tea, not a cup of hot water and a teabag.


Manresa is a restaurant in Los Gatos, California that is always getting on various "top" lists, including one that claims it's one of the top 50 restaurants on the planet, and has been called a French Laundry without the difficult reservation. Well, high praise indeed, and since I find myself about 10 miles away about every week in 7, I figured I'd give it a try. My friend John joined me, and we went for a fairly late seating (8:30pm). Los Gatos is one of those towns in which if you're standing on the right corner you almost forget that you're in the sprawling wasteland known as Silicon Valley.

They claim to serve "contemporary French cuisine with modern Spanish flair," which means exactly what I'm not sure--French Laundry + El Bulli? I guess so. Anyway, if the whole table orders it, a tasting menu is available ($110, plus $72 for wine pairings), so we got the tasting menu. It was late, John was sick as a dog so he didn't get the wine pairings, and I've since gotten the same cold, so I haven't felt like blogging about it until now. So, I might not remember everything we had, because there were a lot of dishes. I've certainly forgotten most of the wines.

The restaurant is in a small one-story building down a narrow lane. It's done in a low-key California chic, with painted concrete floors, lots of wood (vertical-grain fir, I think), etc.

We started off with five amuses-bouches. The first was a tiny black olive madeleine and a red pepper gelées. The olive madeleine was billed as "savory", but was a little sweet. Next we had a martini glass with orange granita, some sort of gelatin (orange again I think), and some foam (for lack of a better description, what I'd call "culinary foam") on top. After that, an oyster in a clear gelatin with a dab of meyer lemon gelatin on the bottom, and then a barely cooked egg layered with various stuff which I didn't quite get, and some cream on top. (I didn't hear every dish explanation that was announced, and didn't feel like asking again.) Michael Bauer claims it's his "signature egg shell filled with soft eggs, maple syrup, sherry vinegar and a topping of cool cream." OK, that. Finally, they brought what they described as "croquettes" of foie gras, but I'd call a "foie gras popper": a little deep-fried cube with a liquidy foie gras center. We were instructed to eat it in one bite, as the center really is quite liquid, and would spurt out if you tried to bite it in half.

The subsequent courses are a bit of a haze. If I remember any more, I'll add them in later.

The first course pre-announced itself by having them bring me a bit of Sauternes. This usually means "foie gras is coming" in restaurantese. I should say the wine pairings were fairly small, which is fine given the number of dishes. This is for me better than some of the tasting menus I've has which would have left me puking drunk had I drank every glass to the bottom (and felt glad about leaving very expensive wine in the glass), but I can imagine many people might find it a little skimpy for $72. So the duck foie gras arrived, and was served in slices. It was mesquite-grilled, which is the first time I've encountered that. I guess they don't use much charcoal, so it heats slowly and the outside gets a heavy mesquite flavor without overheating the foie gras. The mesquite was an interesting complement to the rich flavor of the foie gras.

The first fish course was amazing. It was the "first of the season" fresh sea bream, along with some very fresh squid, and some other fish I didn't catch the name of, served raw in a bowl, onto which miso consommé was poured at the table. The consommé was not extremely hot, so the fish barely cooked. It was a really successful dish.
Next we had raw slices of freshly-opened scallops, covered with thin ribbons of "scallop tripe."

John and I agreed that the sweetbreads were the most successful dish of them all. One slice of sweetbread was served with some other stuff that I don't even remember now, in a bowl with a bit of consommé. The sweetbread was perfectly cooked, unctuous inside with a slightly crisp exterior

Next we had little slices of squab, and then some goat with curry spices. John thought the curry spices were a bit much in the context of the rest of the meal, which was pretty subtle.

The best dessert by far was a vanilla soufflée, which was an amazing little morsel in a tiny dish served with little bits of bourbon and vanilla ice creams. After that was a chocolate rice pudding that was pretty good. I think there were three desserts, but I can't remember the last one.

Finally, we had a chocolate madeleine and a strawberry jelly, which would have been fine but the waiter had to go and say "now, we come full circle," as if we were being beaten over the head with its Significance. Silly proclamations aside, the service was impeccable. I never felt uncomfortable or rushed or waiting longer than I wanted to for anything.

All in all, a very enjoyable meal. If I were to put it in my hierarchy of most enjoyable Bay Area dinners, I'd put it a notch below La Folie and downstairs at Chez Panisse, and right around the same level as my second tier that includes Jardiniere, Fleur de Lys, etc. It's certainly the best food I've had in "The Valley." We still haven't made it to French Laundry, because our few attempts at getting a reservation were fruitless.