Monday, April 30, 2007
Feminine and green. The Garden Restaurant is tucked away along Hwy 101 in Novato. It's a little like visiting your aunt's house, with a Mediterranean flair. Delicate sheer embroidered curtains, nice artwork, and a relaxing patio help set the tone. The waitstaff were quite friendly and prompt.
A tray of bread and a creamy, cheesy sundried tomato-tinged butter was served quickly while deciding on a dinner choice.
The French Onion soup looked inviting, and was as good as it looks.
The Garden Vegetarian Platter came promptly afterwards, hot from the grill with tender and smoky-grilled taste for the vegetables, with a generous serving of hummus and a couple of pita quarters. Also on the platter were falafels (a tad too dark), tabouli, and a rice and lentil pilaf. Very good, and enough to share or take home another meal.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Popular small plates destination. Traveling through Larkspur at dinnertime one evening, I stopped in at Picco for a bite. I believe it was my third visit since it's opened, and it remains inventive with good execution and friendly service.
I tried the fresh spring primavera housemade fettuccine with fresh garden vegetables. The vegetables were fresh and succulent and the fettuccine tender. The emphasis on local and seasonal here comes through in the perfection of the ingredients.
I finished up with a warm almond tartlette with rhubarb and marcona almond ice cream. This was an unusual but excellent pairing and quite a treat!
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Stick food birthday. I took my friend Jo-Ann out today for a belated birthday lunch. Jo-Ann chose Japanese food as a theme, so we left Marin for San Francisco's Japantown to find just the place to celebrate. After walking the corridor and checking out menus, and more to the point, the plastic food displays, Jo-Ann wanted to try Kushi Tsuru. Kushi means 'stick', and is a type of cusine where meats, fish and vegetables are skewered, coated with a light batter and bread crumbs and deep fried. Tsuru means crane, and is a symbol of good luck in Japan. I am happy to report that there were no skewered cranes on the menu.
Jo-Ann chose a bento box with tempura, nimono (simmered vegetables), broiled salmon, a croquette (potato based), sashimi, sushi and rice. I had not intended to blog this as after all, it was her birthday celebration and time for girl talk, but she queried me about my camera since she thought the food so beautiful, and encouraged me to take the photos for a blog post. So that's why I missed the photos of the miso soup, which was good. Jo-Ann reported that she enjoyed her box, although the tempura was a tad too oily.
I chose the kaiseki bento box. It had four kushi -- eggplant, zucchini, beef and shrimp as well as cucumber salad with shrimp and octopus, then broiled salmon, bara sushi (in the left corner of the photo - sushi rice with a variety of flavored toppings) and tuna sashimi. It was excellent.
Then we went shopping... and although window shopped a number of places, came out with the big bags from Ichiban Kan. We bargain loving ladies love picking up sturdy and pretty gift bags, medium and large for $1 each and refills in those environment saving bags which are also cheaper than the entire shampoo/conditioner/bath gel original bottles... and other such irresistible things. Since it was so hot and muggy today, we had to stop along the way for the above Hawaiian ices, passion fruit and watermelon flavored above. The shaved ice takes a long time to eat, so we lingered and chatted and had a marvelous day.
Friday, April 27, 2007
It's the bean! Yes, I was in Chicago until this afternoon. My friend suggested I take in 'the bean' before I left town, and I kept getting interrupted by e-mail and calls in my hotel such that instead of the walk I intended to take, I had to do it by cab on the way to the airport. The cab driver was willing to take me, but he'd never heard of 'the bean', although he knew Millennium Park. So we circled until I spotted it, and then he suddenly did a U-turn in the middle of the street, going up partly on the sidewalk to get the cab adjusted such that I could be on the correct side of the road to get my photo. He stopped and jumped out, opening the trunk like I was getting out so he wouldn't get in trouble for stopping where you are not supposed to! Beyond the call of duty, and he became such a friendly fellow that he invited me to come to his house next time and his wife would prepare a traditional dinner as would be eaten in Turkmenistan where he is from.
I had lunch at the Illinois Bar & Grill at Midway airport.
Looking at their menu, it seemed everything came in gargantuan proportion.
So although I wanted to try something "Illinois", I couldn't imagine eating an XXX size anything, and when I saw the food come out, it proved my hunch. I had a Caesar Salad with grilled chicken breast. It came all boxed up and ready to take on an airplane.
However, I opened the box and poured on one of the two dressing pouches provided, and made a small dent in this XXX sized delicious salad before stopping. The chicken breast was freshly grilled and moist. Quite amazing airport food actually. This was a great trip in every way.
Posted by Anna Haight at 8:50 PM
Plentiful portions, good food. Dad and I found Celia's Mexican American Restaurant off the beaten path in San Rafael, near Marin's only remaining bowling alley. It's not very inviting from the outside, the windows house succulents which have fallen every which way. It looks rather old and dusty, but it's worth it to overcome any hesitations if you would like good Mexican food with hearty portions. The interior is well-worn, but has a old-style feel with comfortable seating with folksy carved wood booths.
After a bit of a wait (locals seem to line up for this place), we were seated and immediately were served chips and salsa -- the salsa was freshly prepared and the taste indicated so.
Dad tried the Pollo en Crema, which was chicken breast in a spicy sour cream sauce with generous portions of rice/beans and fresh corn tortillas on the side.
I tried something I hadn't ever had before, Sopapitos. These were English muffin sized ground corn boats filled with beans, grilled chicken and topped with cheese, lettuce, salsa and sour cream. Very good, but very filling and I took one home for another time.
I am getting ready to see some last Chicago sites before heading off to the airport, just as the sky is clearing from rain here! Chicago's a great town.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Chinese/Japanese. Dad and I stopped for dinner at May Lee's in Mill Valley last week as I was dashing about on errands to get ready to come to Chicago. May Lee's has a couple related restaurants in Marin which I blogged about earlier. In contrast to the one in San Anselmo that I reviewed, this one is a real dive.
However, this May Lee's doesn't wait for summer to serve sushi, so we tried a California roll appetizer. Althought a California roll anywhere can hardly be called authentic Japanese cuisine, this one was quite good.
After checking with Dad to see if he was up for some heat, we ordered the "Triple Crown", shrimp, chicken and beef sauteed with chili pepper, green onions and ginger in a spicy Szechuan sauce. It was definitely hot, but it was made with fresh ingredients and was a winner!
We also tried the tomato and basil fried rice. This had chucks of chicken breast and fresh tomato chunks as well as sauteed onions. It was good, although a tad sweeter than I prefer rice.
This evening I had a fabulous meal with an old friend in Chicago, at Feast. It was delicious from start to finish, charming and highly recommendable.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The main ingredient is fun. Dad and I stopped in for a little of it at Mambo's Cafe last week when the band was in full swing.
We ordered ham croquettes, tasty!
We continued listening to the band. It took awhile for the waiter to take our order.
Dad's Crispy Fried Chicken, despite it being in the style where there were bones involved, Dad loved it and invited me to try a bite. I thought it had nice seasonings and had some spice without being overpowering. He liked the mojo rice which was rice mixed with black beans and fried as something different from the usual.
We listened to the man playing the drums who did some fantastic solo pieces.
I tried the Arroz con Pollo, which was grilled chicken pieces incorporated into a spicy rice with vegetables. It was good, and like Dad's came with some sweet plantain. The plantain injected an authentic and interesting note.
Wishing to continue listening to the music, we decided to order two desserts and share. We ordered the coconut flan and tres leches cake. Both were good, but being a flan fan, I liked it just a bit better. Although the service was a little slow, the waiter and other staff did a good job of making us feel welcome and creating a light and relaxed atmosphere which went well with the music. The age range was nice too, it wasn't just youthful energy, but guests were of all ages.
I am writing this from Waukegan, Illinois. Since I have been with clients the past two days, there hasn't been much of an opportunity to take photos of eating establishments, but I can report that Tsukasa of Tokyo in Vernon Hills did a wonderful Benihana-style teppan yaki complete with chef who created a couple of artistic fires, and shot pieces of stir fried broccoli into everone's mouth from a flip of his spatula. Tonight a smaller group of us drove around for miles looking for something uniquely Illinois, but passed mile after mile of chains. We finally settled on Red Lobster in Gurnee, which was quite good considering how far the seafood had to travel. Tomorrow evening dinner will be in Chicago with a long time friend.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Another Japanese restaurant! Yes, last week I met good friends and former co-workers at a yummy Japanese restaurant called Hime in San Francisco. It was a farewell dinner for one of them, who is returning to Japan soon. Given the circumstances, taking food photos wasn't appropriate, but I wanted to note that this is a great place for artistic small plates and beautiful interior.
I myself am leaving early Tuesday morning for Chicago for a project launch meeting -- I have to earn money to support my blogging habit :-). I've tried to visit several restaurants in advance so I might continue posting. I'm not sure whether I'll be in appropriate circumstances to blog the Chicago restaurants this time, but I'll take my camera just in case. If I'm absent a bit, be assured it's just the press of business, and I'll soon be back!
Monday, April 23, 2007
Encyclopedia of Small Plates. Dad and I stopped for dinner at Masa's Sushi & Appetizer Bar in Novato, and I was pleasantly surprised by the new menu which has an enormous number of small plates to choose from, along with the numerous sushi choices.
I started out with agedashi tofu which came swiftly and was suitably crispy-sticky coated on the outside and heated through hot all the way. The dashi was nicely flavored as well.
Dad's cucumber salad and miso soup were likewise served promptly. And the miso (which I was served also) was just the right temperature and had an authentic complexity of flavor. Dad said the cucumber salad was crisp and vinegared without being overpowering.
Dad's next entree took a very long time. I was nearly finished with mine by the time it arrived, the only misstep in the evening. The sushi bar team is either just more efficient, or everyone was ordering kitchen items, or perhaps the staff just isn't tuned in to timing issues. My dish was next up, a chirashi sushi. It was gorgeous to look at with lots of different tastes. This was masterfully done.
At last, Dad's grilled chicken teriyaki with salad arrived. He said it was good, moist and well-marinated. We enjoyed the evening and look forward to coming back and trying some of those small plates.
On another note, Sunday afternoon I comitted a horrible faux pas -- I thought I was meeting Elle of Feeding My Enthusiams at Tony's in Marshall for a joint blog NEXT Sunday, but it was actually yesterday. Watch her blog for a review of this fabulous place!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Simply suberb. Piazza D'Angelo has never failed to deliver a good meal anytime. Wanting something predictably good for lunch one day last week, I visited and ordered a special.
It was a special sandwich indeed, and the waiter's exclamation of "oh, that's a good one", was absolutely true. It was a Piadina con Pollo alla Milanese which is a piadina sandwich with chicken breast coated in bread crumbs, roma tomatoes, arugula and fresh mozzarella, spread with tartar sauce and served with rosemary potatoes. All for only $10.25 in an elegant and peaceful atmosphere where the waiter gave impeccable service. The sandwich was SOOOO good, and it was generously sized so I had lunch the next day of it as well.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
This is a tough one. It seems as though I've been waiting forever for this one to open. I would drive past it in Tiburon from time to time, trying to find an opening date. It finally gave one about a month ago, and I just recently got myself here for a lunch. I can see why they took their time -- the interior is simply gorgeous. There was a lot of money and effort put into Ginza Sushi for a graceful elegance to match its beautiful view.
I sat by a movable glass wall, and asked the waitress to open it as I wanted to take a photo, and enjoy the sea. I could hear the sound of the waves lapping on the shore all during lunch, and it was quite refreshing!
The menu was heavily redacted with white stickers obliterating a good deal of the menu. The waitress mentioned that it had been cut back due to its over-ambitiousness, and it was hoped that they could bring back some of the items. I hope so too, as they were some of the more interesting things! So I decided on an old Japanese standard, oyako-don (Chicken & egg over rice). But first came a creative rendition of miso soup, with curls of agedofu in it. It was quite good. When I requested iced tea, they asked if green was ok -- and I found that they serve a very refreshing iced green tea.
Rather than the same-old green salad with miso dressing course, Ginza paired the soup with a Japanese-style fruit salad. Kudos for originality, oops for execution. The salad consisted of what appeared to be canned fruit cocktail mixed with fresh apple pieces and yes, sweet corn. Entirely something you could be served in Japan. However, the canned fruit wasn't drained well enough, making the mayonnaise dressing become quite runny and diluted. Believe me, corn is a much better suprise in fruit salad than purple octopus arms in potato salad, and I've been served both. There are no cultural inhibitions about food combinations in Japan, except in their own traditional cuisine.
I am sorry to report that I didn't like my oyako-don, and I was sooo hoping that this place would be stellar. The egg was rather curdled and sauce was too heavily soy sauced... and they used dark meat which I do not like. It had a kind of boiled taste where it becomes rather rubbery. As you can see from the photo, the chicken pieces were not well incorporated into the egg mixture either. I heard that their grilled yellowtail collar and tempura are highlights. I'll come back again to see if they've gotten in the grove in a few months, it is just their first month in operation.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Lunch at Fred's. I reviewed this place July 19, 2005 for breakfast, and thought it time that I try it for lunch. The first thing I noticed, is that Fred's Coffee Shop is very oriented towards breakfast. It was noon, and all were eating breakfast foods on a weekday, and the specials were all about breakfast. Not only that, but the server noted only breakfast items and handed me the menu, breakfast side facing me. I didn't take the hint.
This place seemed quite oriented towards things between a bun on the lunch side of the menu, so I tried their Teriyaki Chicken with Mushrooms on a Sourdough Bun. It took some time to make, but it was well worth it as it was obviously a fresh generous sized chicken breast, cooked thoughtfully to preserve the moistness. Everything was hot and fresh-cooked. If you are looking for a ham/chicken/turkey/garden burger with hot and fresh fries for lunch, this would be an excellent stop.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In your face taste. Nothing subtle about Lily Kai in Mill Valley. It has the standard top 50 all time American Chinese favorites with American style large portions.
Dad wanted some Beef with Mixed Vegetables. The beef was very tender, with a large amount of beef compared to the vegetables. It was cooked in a not hot, but intensely flavored sauce. We took a lot home.
I thought some seafood would be nice, so I tried one of the items listed in their specialties, Lemon Prawns & Scallops. It was predictable with bright yellow sauce. I wouldn't go out of my way to order it again, but it was fine.
We tried their Chicken Fried Rice as well. More oil that I like, and quite a lot of seasoning sauce that overpowered the other flavors. This is a true hole-in-the-wall, rather run-down place, but very popular for take-out as we observed a constant stream of customers coming to pick up.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Serene setting. Dad and I enjoyed a little ramble to Fujiyama Restaurant & Sushi Bar in San Rafael for dinner on Sunday. After the shock of a disembodied voice saying "Irashaimase" ("welcome"), you enter a most serene world of Japanese dining.
The dining space is decorated with memorabilia, and the beautiful wood carved piece over the sushi bar must have been shipped from Japan.
Complimentary edamame is served soon after the menus are given.
Dad ordered the "early bird special", a bento box with teriyaki chicken, tempura, salad, rice & miso soup. A good value at $11.95. And he said it was delicious!
I tried the california roll with authentic snow crab, which I could tell was made by someone who knows traditional sushi making. It was the right size, smooth and delicious.
Then my miso soup and salad was served. The miso dressing had a kick to it, I think it was made with red miso instead of the milder yellow or white.
My main course was sukiyaki. This is a good cool-weather dish, and as we are definitely now heading out of cooler weather, I thought it may be a last taste for the season. It was artfully arranged and compact, but wow, the cook stuffed a lot of ingredients in this small round pan! The tofu was seasoned perfectly, a native of Japan must be in charge here! If you would like good standard Japanese fare in a casual, yet serene setting, Fujiyama would be a great bet!