Posts Tagged ‘California’

Sausalito and Salsalito Taco Shop

Friday, November 28th, 2014 by virginia

After leaving Healdsburg in the early afternoon to head back towards San Francisco for our red eye flight back home, we thought about stopping at Muir Woods to see some redwoods but were deterred when signs along the highway indicated that all of the parking lots there were full. Instead, we decided to check out Sausalito, which is just outside SF across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sausalito is a beautiful town right on the water. We parked near the Yacht Club, not realizing that the main part of town where all the shops and restaurants are was much further down the street. It was a gorgeous day out though, so the walk was quite nice. After looking at the boats in the harbor and making our way to the main part of town where there are sweeping views of SF, we met up with some of our friends in search of a late lunch.

Boats by the Sausalito Yacht Club

Boats in the harbor

Seagull admiring the view of SF in the background

Seagull admiring the view of SF in the background

The options along the water near the main part of town all seemed a bit too upscale for what we were looking for, so we headed back towards the Yacht Club where we had passed a cute and vibrant-looking taco shop on our walk into town. There was a bit of a wait for a table but the tacos looked too tempting to pass up.


When we finally scored a table on the patio in front, we quickly ordered a basket of housemade chips, which came with two salsas. While we were a bit surprised to see that they charged for chips and salsa, since most places we go to give you those for free, the chips arrived on our table freshly fried, piping hot, and perfectly crispy. The salsas were a tangy verde version, and a more smoky and spicy red version.

Freshly fried tortilla chips

Freshly fried tortilla chips

Red and green salsa

Red and green salsa

Most of us wound up ordering a few tacos a la carte. Josh and I both got a fried fish and a fried shrimp taco each, and then split a pork and a steak taco. Both the fish and shrimp tacos were “baja style”, meaning they were battered and fried, and topped with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo. There was crema on the table that we added on as well. Both were fried perfectly and were nicely crispy, though the flavor of the fish got a bit lost underneath all the toppings. The shrimp were more prominent, and my favorite of the two.

Taco de pescado

Taco de pescado

Taco de camaron

Taco de camaron

The steak taco featured marinated steak sauteed with caramelized onions and topped with cilantro. The steak was relatively tender but lacking in seasoning and flavor. We wound up using a lot of salsa to punch it up a bit, though I liked the freshness brought by all of the cilantro on top.

Taco de carne asada

Taco de carne asada

The pork taco was the most flavorful of the bunch, with shredded pork simmered in achiote and topped with pickled red onions and cilantro. The sauce was a bit smoky and complex, while the pickled onions added some acid and crunch to the taco.

Taco de cochinita

Taco de cochinita

Overall we were pretty happy with our taco lunch at Salsalito Taco Shop. We don’t have much by the way of good, authentic-tasting tacos (ie., not chain restaurant tacos) in our neck of NJ, and so I enjoyed these a lot. The pork and the shrimp were standouts from the ones we tried. I did wish that they doubled up on the tortillas though, as these were quite delicate and tended to fall apart halfway through the taco. In addition to having to pay for chips and salsa, the tacos were a bit on the pricey side (about $4 each). They’re not the hugest tacos but the amount of filling was decent, and you’re probably paying for the real estate as well, since Sausalito really is a very pretty town with nice views. It made for a nice, quick lunch, and we enjoyed relaxing on the patio and doing a little people watching.

Salsalito Taco Shop
1115 Bridgeway
Sausalito, CA

After leaving Sausalito, we made a quick stop to take some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike the day we arrived, when everything was whited out from fog, this day couldn’t have been any clearer. The views from a hilltop scenic point were just stunning.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Gorgeous views from the top of the hill

Gorgeous views from the top of the hill

And, of course, I couldn’t leave the west coast without hitting up a certain burger destination. ‘Nuff said. All in all, a great trip with lots of good food and quality time with friends.

Center Street Cafe & Deli – Healdsburg, CA

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by virginia


On the morning of our friends’ wedding, we couldn’t bear the thought of stomaching another breakfast at our hotel (which admittedly was not so terrible, especially considering it was free, plus there was even an automatic pancake machine!) so we headed into downtown Healdsburg to grab some brunch. We walked around the square for a while contemplating our options and came across the Center Street Cafe & Deli, which was perfect for us because some of us wanted breakfast and some of us wanted lunch, and the diner-like menu offered both.

I was firmly in the lunch group while Josh was sort of in between, but we both wound up ordering sandwiches and splitting them. Josh picked the hot corned beef sandwich with swiss cheese on rye toast. The corned beef was surprisingly good – thick cut, flavorful, and appropriately fatty, and the rye toast was appropriately studded with lots of caraway seeds. We both upgraded to french fries, which were thin cut and looked like they were made from real potatoes. They tasted fine but were a tad soggy.

Corned beef sandwich with swiss, and french fries

Corned beef sandwich with swiss, and french fries

I selected the Thanksgiving sandwich, which featured thick cut turkey, provolone, lettuce, onions, mayo, and cranberry sauce. The turkey was tender and moist, but the cranberry sauce totally overpowered everything. I appreciated that it was made with real cranberries, not stuff that comes out of the can looking like cranberry jello, but it was overwhelmingly sour and completely detracted from the otherwise fine sandwich. Josh and I both agreed that the corned beef sandwich was the better choice.

Thanksgiving sandwich

Thanksgiving sandwich

Overall we thought the Center Street Cafe & Deli was just ok. It served its purpose, in that everyone found something they wanted to eat, and its location on the square couldn’t be beat. The food was decent. Not great, not awful, in line with what you would expect from a regular diner. Service was friendly, our glasses were always refilled, and prices were reasonable.

Center Street Cafe & Deli
304 Center St.
Healdsburg, CA

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by virginia


Even though I knew we were going to be in Sonoma, not Napa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant, especially because it’ll probably be years before we’ll be “in the neighborhood” again. I know we have Bouchon Bakery in NYC, but it’s not quite the same as a regular sit-down restaurant. The drive from Healdsburg to Yountville was actually over an hour, but it was a pretty scenic trip past rolling hills of vineyards. While I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, logistically, and budget-wise, Ad Hoc made more sense for us. Originally we had made a reservation for a party of ten, but our group dwindled down to four, which fortunately was not an issue.

I was actually surprised by the decor of the restaurant when we walked in. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was picturing something a little more casual and countrified. Instead, it was a beautifully modern space with tall ceilings, large windows, and a contemporary vibe. Even though we had a somewhat early reservation, the place was packed and the atmosphere was hopping.

The menu at Ad Hoc changes every day, but whatever is on the menu that day is what you get. There is usually a salad to start, a main course with the option to add a supplemental dish, a cheese course, and dessert. The meal costs $52, plus an extra supplement cost if you choose to add the supplemental dish, and you get everything. It’s all served family style, with enough portions for everyone at the table to have a healthy serving.

On the night that we dined there, the salad course featured a gorgeous mix of little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta, with a chamomile vinaigrette. The gem lettuce, which is similar to baby romaine, was unbelievably fresh, with such a crisp texture and intense lettuce flavor. The radishes fortunately were not too bitter, and the fennel was pretty mild as well. The apricots were a great addition – sweet and juicy, while the dollops of ricotta added a nice creaminess to the greens. We all thought the salad was slightly under-dressed, until we discovered that they had brought us a gravy boat of extra dressing that no one had noticed until we were almost finished eating. Oh well. The vegetables were so fresh anyway that we were sort of glad to have tasted them in all their semi-naked glory.


Salad with little gem lettuce, fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta

The main course was grilled hanger steak, which was nicely browned on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside. The steak was topped with wilted mustard greens, fried polenta, bell pepper stew, and turnip agrodolce. The mustard greens were soft but not overcooked, and the slight bitterness of the turnips was counteracted by the sweet bell peppers. My favorite part of the dish, aside from the steak, was the fried polenta, which had a perfectly crisp shell and a creamy center. It was a hearty, homey dish and they definitely didn’t skimp on the meat. We wound up boxing up the leftovers.

Hanger steak

Hanger steak with mustard greens, turnips, bell pepper stew, and fried polenta

The supplemental dish was shrimp scampi, which we added to our meal without hesitation (the additional cost was $16). It was a good call, as the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the pasta was clearly homemade, with chewy strands that clung to the well balanced scampi sauce. The dish wasn’t overly garlicky and had just the right amount of acid.

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

The cheese course was the Lamb Chopper from Cyprus Grove, a sheep’s milk cheese that has a mild gamey flavor to it. It’s a hard cheese but texturally smooth, and it was served toasted cashews and honey. The sweetness of the honey really brought out the tang of the sheep’s milk. It was a nice palate cleansing course.


Lamb Chopper cheese with honey and cashews

Dessert was ice cream sandwiches with sweet corn ice cream between shortbread cookies, rolled in blackberries. They were impossibly messy (the ice cream squeezed out the back when you bit into the cookies, and the blackberry juice got all over our hands), but they were delicious, whimsical, and just plain fun to eat. The shortbread cookies tasted like sugar cookies, though not too sugary, and the ice cream had a subtle hint of corn flavor. I was hoping to taste more of the corn, but the sandwich was just the perfect amount of sweetness to end the gluttonous meal.

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches with blackberries

Immediately after our meal, we had kind of mixed emotions about the dinner at Ad Hoc. The food was really good – seasonal, well prepared, and plentiful. But there was nothing that knocked our socks off. Everything was properly seasoned and tasted great, but it was simple, homey fare, and I think we were expecting something a little more extraordinary from a Thomas Keller restaurant. In hindsight though, it was our own preconceived notions that had us a little disappointed at the end of the meal. Thinking back, we truly did enjoy our meal, and each course was amazing in its own right. The salad was unbelievably fresh, the steak was expertly cooked, as were the sides, the shrimp scampi was nicely balanced,  the cheese course was simple but delicious, and the ice cream sandwiches put smiles on all of our faces. It was a meal I would happily eat again, and a complete bargain considering the quality of the food and the size of the portions. If you’re expecting more composed dishes and creative combinations, then this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for uncomplicated, straightforward, and perfectly executed food that is also unbelievably tasty, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Ad Hoc.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, CA

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, Ad Hoc was still a great restaurant in its own right

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, we wound up having an amazing meal at Ad Hoc

Campo Fina – Healdsburg, CA

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by virginia


By Thursday, all of our friends had arrived in Healdsburg for the wedding festivities. First we stopped at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill for a group happy hour on the back patio, and then we walked along Healdsburg Avenue in search of a restaurant for dinner. Campo Fina drew us in with it varied Italian menu and immediately available seating.

At first we were crowded around a small round booth by the door, which was cozy and intimate and perfect for conversations, but not practical for the amount of food that would wind up on the table. Fortunately some more tables opened up in the front and we were able to spread out more comfortably.

Because we were all couples with different food preferences, we decided to order our own dishes rather than share with the table, even though the menu is pretty conducive for sharing. Josh and I decided to split two appetizers and a pizza so that we could try several dishes.

First up was the burrata cheese with grilled bread, prosciutto, and aged balsamic. It was a twist on our favorite mozzarella/tomato/prosciutto dinners that we indulge in almost weekly during the summer. The burrata was soft and milky in the middle and while the prosciutto was very lean, it still melted in mouths. The aged balsamic was intense in flavor and very sweet, which contrasted nicely with the salty prosciutto. There was arugula on the plate as well, adding a bit of bitterness to cut through the richness of the burrata. The grilled bread doused with good olive oil was the perfect vehicle for the ingredients. Even though it was a simple appetizer, we enjoyed it so much that it inspired us to grill our bread and eat more burrata all summer long.

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Our second appetizer was pork belly sliders. We had enjoyed the pork belly biscuits at Chalkboard the night before so much that we were in the mood for more pork belly. These were served with fig and red onion marmellata, sauerkraut, and pickled mustard seed. The pork belly wasn’t as crispy on the outside but it was still tender and deliciously fatty. The fig and red onion added a sweet glaze to the pork, while the sauerkraut provided a tangy contrast and crunch. The mustard seeds were a nice touch, adding a little extra burst of flavor with each bite. My only complaint was the bread, which was just toasted white bread buns. They were soft and squishy and pretty mundane, especially compared with the delicate biscuits from the night before. Plus there was too much of it, which detracted a bit from the delicious pork belly.

Pork belly sliders

Pork belly sliders

For our main course, we split the salsiccia pizza, which was topped with sausage and roasted spring onions. I liked the mellow onion flavor that the roasted spring onions brought to the dish, and the sausage was also pretty mild, which I prefer. I would have liked a little bit more cheese (it was definitely on the saucier side), but overall it was a pretty tasty pie. The crust was nicely browned from the wood-burning oven and had good flavor and chew to it. We also traded slices with other people at the table and tasted a fantastic spiced lamb pizza (it was a special that night) as well as pizza calabrese, which was unfortunately did not have enough calabrese salame on top.

Pizza salsiccia

Pizza salsiccia

We were wavering on dessert but after hearing what the special of the day was, we couldn’t pass it up. The dessert special was grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, topped with olive oil and sea salt. The grilled peaches had a nice savory quality to them, which made them the perfect pair for the sweet gelato. The fruity olive oil bound the two components together, and the sea salt just put the whole combination over the top. As someone who doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, it was the ideal dessert for me.

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Overall, we enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere at Campo Fina. While it was a more casual and warm environment where we were at the front of the restaurant, we discovered a huge crowd out back in the garden area where it was more like a boisterous party, complete with a bocce ball court. The dishes we tried were well prepared and flavorful, though nothing extraordinarily complicated or fancy. The prices were pretty reasonable, and I liked the “smaller plates” aspect that would allow you to share dishes. Service was friendly, and our waiter introduced us to a local trousseau gris wine that was fruity yet crisp – definitely one of the favorite wines we tasted during our trip. I would happily go back there again.

Campo Fina
330 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA

Chalkboard – Healdsburg, CA

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by virginia


We arrived in San Francisco on a misty and foggy (per usual) Wednesday morning. After picking up our rental and enjoying an awesome dim sum breakfast with my godparents, we headed into downtown SF to meet up with our friends Claire and Sean, and their adorable son, L. From their apartment we headed off to Healdsburg in our respective cars, stopping once at the Vista Point by the Golden Gate Bridge (which was completely whited out by the fog) to swap passengers (Claire and I needed some girl talk time).

The trip to Healdsburg took about 1.5 hours with minimal traffic. After checking into our hotel (make sure you never accidentally request a smoking room when filling out a reservation online!), Josh and I took a drive around downtown before meeting up with Claire, Sean, and L again for an early dinner at Chalkboard. During my usual pre-trip research, Chalkboard was one of the more heralded restaurants I read about, and the menu looked fabulous, so I had Josh book reservations for us well in advance.

We opted to sit outside on the back patio and enjoy the gorgeous weather. The menu features small plates, and our party of 4 (plus L, who picked off a little from every dish and has an incredible palate for a 1 year old) was the perfect size for sharing everything. We pretty much ordered to our hearts’ content, hitting almost every dish on the menu.

First up was the beef tartare, which had a wonderful texture to it and tons of beef flavor, as the meat was cut in larger chunks rather than the over-chopped mush we’ve seen in many other places. It was topped with a quail egg yolk that gave the beef a creamy richness, and was served with parsley, celery hearts, calabrian chile (which wasn’t too spicy), and smoked salt. We scooped up the tartare with the accompanying crunchy crostini, and it was a well balanced, well seasoned bite to start off our meal.

Beef tartare

Beef tartare

The trio of bruschetta featured duck rillete with peach mostarda, pickled beet with crescenza cheese and pistachio, and smoked salmon with smashed avocado, creme fraiche, and pickled onions. The rillete with peach was a nice combination of savory and sweet, while the tanginess of the pickled beet was mellowed out by the creamy and milky crescenza. Smoked salmon with avocado and creme fraiche is a pretty standard combination, but the pickled onions added a nice touch of acid and a bit of crunch to the mix. All three were pretty delicious.

Bruschetta trio

Bruschetta trio

The only vegetable dish we ordered was the caramelized baby carrots, which came with kohlrabi sauerkraut, caraway-dill yogurt, and rye crunch. I’m usually not a fan of carrots in general, but these were bursting with flavor. The sweet carrots were soft but not mushy and paired nicely with slightly sour sauerkraut. The yogurt was bright and fresh-tasting from the dill, and the rye crunch added a nice textural contrast. It was a great combination that I never would have thought of in a million years, nor did I think I would enjoy it, but it was a sleeper hit on the table.

Caramelized baby carrots

Caramelized baby carrots

The crudo of the day was ishidai (a Japanese fish) with pickled nectarines and fried olives. The fish was mild in flavor but definitely fresh, and the nectarines and olives added a burst of brininess without overwhelming the fish. Definitely an interesting combination, and the fried olives were a nice twist.

Crudo of the day

Crudo of the day

From the pasta section, we chose the squid ink gigli with dungeness crab, calabrian chile, black truffle butter, and lemon verbena. We couldn’t detect any truffle flavor in the dish, but we also didn’t miss it. The pasta itself had lots of depth and savoriness to it from the squid ink, and there was tons of crab meat mixed throughout. We could taste the fruitiness of the chile but it wasn’t overly spicy. My only complaint would be that the pasta was slightly mushy.

Squid ink gigli

Squid ink gigli

The lamb meatballs were another huge hit at our table. The meatballs were gamey but not overly so, and juicy and tender. They were served with charred grapes, mint, harissa, feta, and saba (a grape syrup). The sweetness of the grapes and syrup was unexpected but paired well with the meatiness of the lamb, and the fresh mint finished the dish on a bright note.

Lamb meatballs

Lamb meatballs

The dungeness crab tater tots were well executed, with perfectly crispy tots and a big heap of dungeness crab meat on top of each cube. The crab meat was sweet and fresh, while the tots had great potato flavor and were not the least bit greasy. Compared to the other dishes on the table, however, these were tasty but not as exciting.

Dungeness crab tater tots

Dungeness crab tater tots (some of the crab bundles fell off en route to the table)

The PEI mussels steamed with white wine was another more classic dish that was well executed. The mussels were plump and juicy though, and the broth had a lot of flavor from big pieces of bacon and fennel mixed throughout.

Steamed PEI mussels

Steamed PEI mussels

The hamachi crudo featured summer squash, kimchi, and crispy quinoa. It was a surprisingly large portion, which was not a bad thing, and I liked that the hamachi was cut into large chunks rather than the thin slices we were expecting. The kimchi flavor on the summer squash was present but mild, and I liked the textural crunch of the quinoa. It was definitely a more rustic dish than the crudo of the day, but both were tasty in different ways.

Hamachi crudo

Hamachi crudo

Last, but definitely not least, we had the pork belly biscuits. The pork belly was glazed with maple and perfectly cooked so that it was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The biscuit itself was fluffy and delicate, and pickled onions and chipotle mayo rounded out the little sandwiches. The salty sweet flavors were spot on, and I could have eaten all four of them by myself.

Pork belly biscuits

Pork belly biscuits

Overall, Josh and I both thought our meal at Chalkboard was one of the best that we’ve had in recent memory. The company was definitely part of it (it’s always a pleasure dining with Claire and Sean), but the food itself was well executed, and most of the combinations of flavors were innovative and exciting. The restaurant tries to use local produce and ingredients, and the care taken with each individual component was evident on the plate. At about $9-$16 per dish, the prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food and the portion sizes. We all walked away satisfied but not overwhelmingly full. Service was attentive, and the back patio area was just lovely. I highly recommend checking out the restaurant if you’re ever in the Healdsburg area.

29 North St.
Healdsburg, CA

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Sonoma

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 by virginia

During June, Josh and I spent a long weekend in California to attend our friends’ wedding. The wedding and most of the wedding events took place in Healdsburg, although we did get to explore a few of the vineyards in the surrounding area and also trekked over to Napa for lovely dinner. The best part, however, was spending time with friends that we don’t get to see too often, and enjoying great conversations over plenty of wine and food.


Beautiful vineyards

Rows of grapes

Rows of grapes

Ripening on the vine

Ripening on the vine

New Years Banquet at Zen Peninsula

Sunday, January 10th, 2010 by virginia

After we got back to the Bay Area, Claire and Sean dropped us off at my godparents house, which was about 20 minutes away from their apartment. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with my godparents for dinner before our flight from SF back to Newark. I hadn’t seen my godmother since our wedding in May 2008, and my godfather since the last time we were in California, in October 2005. They graciously arranged for us to have a New Years banquet dinner at a Chinese restaurant near their home called Zen Peninsula.

The restaurant was a pretty big and grand space, perfect for large banquets and wedding parties. It was decorated in similar style to restaurants in NYC Chinatown such as Jing Fong and the Golden Unicorn. There were 10 of us dining altogether so we had a big round table with a lazy susan in the middle. The meal started off in typical Chinese banquet fashion, with a platter of assorted meats sliced into small pieces. There was juicy bbq pork, slices of either pork or duck (Josh and I couldn’t agree on it but I still think it was pork) with super crispy skin on top, compacted tofu skin, and jellyfish.

A little taste of everything - jellyfish, compacted tofu skin, roast pork or duck with super crackly skin, and bbq pork

Funny story about jellyfish – if you’ve never tried it, it kind of looks like long, thick rice noodles, and has sort of a gelatinous, crunchy texture. For our wedding rehearsal dinner, we had a big banquet at Jing Fong where our meal started off with a similar platter of meats surrounding a huge pile of jellyfish. Most of Josh’s family and friends had never eaten or seen jellyfish before so they all thought it was noodles or some sort of vegetable, and gobbled up the entire serving. It was only later when they found out they had eaten jellyfish that they denied liking it, but the empty platter doesn’t lie!

Back to our dinner at Zen Peninsula, our next course was shark fin soup. It was served in a mild, clean-tasting, yet rich soup. The pieces of shark fin had a soft, loose texture, a bit similar to shreds of scallop or stingray.

Shark fin soup

Next was one of my favorites, peking duck. The pieces of duck were served with soft steam buns, scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.

Peking duck in a steamed bun

I was shocked when I saw the size of lobster in the following course. It was huge! It must have been at least five pounds, and was chopped up into large pieces that were battered with salt and pepper and deep fried. The meat was still moist and tender.

Giant lobster head

We also had a large dungeness crab that was battered and deep fried. I snagged one of the legs, which was sweet and flavorful.

Fried dungeness crab

A dish of vegetables followed, filled with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu skin, and what I think were ginko seeds. They’re the yellow round things and had a soft texture and a mild nutty flavor.

Assorted vegetables

Then we had a big platter of poached chicken surrounded by a bitter green vegetable. It was a simple dish but the meat had a very concentrated and deep chicken flavor.

Poached chicken with a bitter green vegetable

Next we had even more lobster, this time in a ginger scallion sauce.

Lobster in ginger scallion sauce

Then fried rice with pork and shrimp.

Pork and shrimp fried rice

Our last savory course was something that I’ve never had before, a braised lamb dish in a hot pot with assorted vegetables. The lamb wasn’t very gamey but the whole dish and a really interesting and complex flavor that was kind of hard to describe. Our waiter would come by every so often to reheat the pot and add in a few more vegetables.

Braised lamb in a hot pot

For dessert, we had mango pudding, which was the best mango pudding that I’ve ever tasted. It was like a thick and rich jello consistency, and the mango flavor was really intense. It actually did taste like mangoes, which surprised me since most other mango puddings have an artificial taste to them.

Delicious mango pudding

Then we had some Chinese petit fours, which were a small roasted bun with a sweet paste filling, a square of mochi covered in coconut, and a small, dense almond cookie.

Roasted bun with sweet paste, mochi covered in coconut, almond cookie

Last but not least, we had a traditional New Year dessert, nian gao, which is like a sticky crepe made with rice flour and was filled with crushed peanuts. It was sweet and salty with lots of interesting texture to it.

Sticky dessert crepe with crushed peanuts

After the feast, I went to look at the fish tanks in the front that held some of the fresh seafood we had eaten during our meal. There was a tank full of ginormous lobsters.

Ginormous lobster in a tank full of ginormous lobsters

And one with huge dungeness crabs.

Dungeness crabs

King crabs with super long legs.

Live king crabs

Some freaky and scary looking eels.

Scary looking eel

And some giant prawns that were bigger than my hand.

Giant prawns

Overall I really enjoyed the banquet meal that we had at Zen Peninsula. The food was delivered at an even pace, and all of the dishes were hot and freshly prepared. Seafood is obviously one of their specialties, based on the dishes we had and the large tanks they had out front. My favorite courses of the evening were the two lobster courses (who doesn’t love good lobster?) and the peking duck. The best part of the meal, however, was being able to catch up with my godparents. I get to see them so rarely and each time is a wonderful treat. I feel so honored and thankful that they held off on their New Years banquet for a few days because they knew that Josh and I would be in town that weekend. It was a great end to a really great trip.

Zen Peninsula
1180 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA

Driving from Tahoe to SF – Tortilla Flats

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by virginia

We left Tahoe around 11 in the morning and headed back to the Bay Area. We were too busy packing up the car to have breakfast so we decided to stop for lunch about an hour into our drive. We ended up at Tortilla Flats in Placerville, a Mexican restaurant on Main Street.

Our meal started off with complimentary baskets of fried tortilla chips and fresh salsa. The chips were thin and perfectly crispy, while the salsa had a fresh combination of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and scallions. They happily brought us refills of each throughout our lunch.

Complimentary tortilla chips and salsa to start

I ordered a combination plate with two items – a ground beef burrito and a chicken enchilada. I ended up receiving a chicken burrito and a chicken enchilada instead, which I didn’t realize until I had already cut into both items. The chicken was fine, moist and shredded into tender pieces, so I didn’t bother asking for them to replace my burrito since we were kind of in a rush. Our waitress was really nice though so I’m sure that if I had said something, they would have fixed the problem graciously. Both the burrito and enchilada were covered in tangy salsa verde and melted cheese. I preferred the burrito only because it was wrapped in a flour tortilla, which I like better than corn tortillas, but otherwise they were pretty much the same so it just depends on your preference. The combination plate came with rice and refried beans, and it was just a huge platter of food. I barely finished half, but I thought it was pretty tasty.

Combination plate with refried beans, chicken enchilada, chicken burrito, rice

Josh and Sean both had fajitas with a combination of chicken and steak. The plate had a huge pile of meat mixed with assorted peppers and onions, and a side of rice and refried beans.

Chicken and steak fajitas

The slices of grilled chicken and steak were tender but the dish lacked seasoning. A sprinkling of salt and a few spoonfuls of the tasty pico de gallo fixed that problem, although it was surprising that the huge plate of food only came with three small corn tortillas on the side. I used some of the guacamole on my own dish and I thought it was fresh and tasty.

Pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, tortillas

Claire ordered carne asada tacos, which come with a choice of rice and beans or creamed corn on the side. Claire asked for “chips” instead, which our waitress said she would be bringing out anyway. She suggested that Claire get the mini tacos instead, since it was cheaper and didn’t come with any unwanted sides. After the waitress walked away, Claire realized that she had mistakenly said “chips” instead of fries (Claire is from Ireland) so she clarified with the waitress, who told her it wouldn’t be a problem to fix. We all had a good laugh about that, since we thought she meant tortilla chips as well, but the fries turned out to be fantastic – hot, crispy, and potato-y on the inside.

Carne asada mini tacos

Overall I really liked both the food and the service at Tortilla Flats. We only stopped there because it was right on Main Street but it turned out to be better than I expected. The atmosphere was laid back and relaxed, the music was good (Rodrigo y Gabriela were playing over the speakers), service was attentive, and the food was tasty. It wasn’t totally authentic Mexican food but it was comforting and familiar. Portions are very large and the prices were reasonable. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat either on your way to or from Lake Tahoe, I’d definitely recommend this place.

Tortilla Flats
564 Main St.
Placerville, CA

Le Boulanger

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by virginia

Before heading out on the road from Claire and Sean’s apartment to South Lake Tahoe, we grabbed a quick breakfast at Le Boulanger, a bakery/cafe that has locations all over the Bay Area. The branch that we went to has a big glass wall through which we were able to watch them making fresh bread. It was kind of neat to see a giant mound of dough and the various machines used to shape and bake the bread.

Big mound of dough in front of a bread machine

There were lots of baked goods on display in a glass case in the front where you order. They looked pretty good but we wanted something a bit heartier.

Baked goods on display

Josh and I decided to go halfsies on two different breakfast sandwiches. The first was the bacon cheddar sandwich, which had an egg omelette, bacon, cheddar and Italian cheeses. It’s supposed to be served on a bagel but Josh didn’t want to have a non-NY/NJ bagel so he opted for a croissant instead, which was a good choice. The croissant was light and flakey and paired well with the rest of the ingredients.

Bacon cheddar omelette sandwich on a croissant

The other sandwich we had was the Italian frittata. This sandwich featured an egg omelette, sausage, roasted red peppers, and provolone cheese on a ciabatta roll. The sausage was mild and not too overpowering, which was good for me since I don’t always like sausage, and the peppers added a nice brightness.

Italian frittata omelette sandwich

Josh had regular coffee but I decided to get a caffe mocha, which was the perfect combination of coffee and chocolate – not to sweet and not too bitter. The whipped cream on top was a nice touch.

Delicious caffe mocha

Overall I really liked Le Boulanger, even though I typically stay away from chain cafe/bakeries (like Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain). The bread was obviously super fresh and the sandwiches were made to order so they were hot and all the right textures. It’s not too pricey and there was plenty of seating in the restaurant so it’s a great place to hang out with a cup of coffee and a pastry. I would definitely come back, and maybe next time I’ll get to try the award-winning sourdough bread.

Le Boulanger (multiple locations)
305 N Mathilda Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA