Sunday, November 30, 2008

In an unlikely place


Dad & I were in San Francisco the other day and it was lunch time. We found ourselves on Ocean Avenue, and just decided to stop whenever we saw something promising. The something promising ended up being Kamakura. Kamakura is a famous spot in Japan, that probably explains why there are two others with the same name (I think different owners...) in San Francisco.

Calamari Rings

I really need to listen to the waiters better. I was forewarned that the calamari rings may be a little 'chewy', and I ordered them anyway. Have you ever been to a Japanese bar where they serve saki-ika (dried squid)? It is a normal bar snack, think - beef jerky. It is TOUGH and CHEWY. Parts of these calamari rings had that texture. I wouldn't recommend it.

Soup & Salad

And then out came our salads and miso soup. The salad was nothing special, but it was fresh and crisp. The miso was fine, but not spectacular.

Salmon Donburi

I had the salmon (pieces) donburi, which was quite nice. Think oyako-don using salmon and extra veggies. There was a bit too much sauce/liquid for my taste, but the waiter immediately improved it by bringing and extra bowl of plain white rice. If you like your rice under the toppings soupy and saucy, you'd like this dish the way it was served.

Tempura & Teriyaki Chicken Bento Box

My Dad had the two-item bento box, with teriyaki chicken and shrimp tempura. He felt it was generously portioned and liked the flavors. I'd like to come back and try their sushi, as the menu showed some creative options. Other than the misstep on the appetizer, the food was fine, but not exciting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008



I was able to stop by the old Magnolia Thai in SanRafael and snap this photo the other day. There were workers inside the building working busily to make the new Fondue! a reality. Stay tuned for future developments!

Yesterday evening I had good friends over for a post-Thanksgiving no-poultry dinner. We enjoyed some wild coho salmon marinated and baked in a raspberry roasted chipolte pepper sauce. It was accompanied by lentil pilaf and some sauteed wild porcini mushrooms, and a mixed green salad with glazed walnuts, fresh blueberries and feijoa. Of the dressings offered, champagne seemed to be the hit. I was not in photo-taking mode, concentrating on good flavors so you'll have to use your imagination on this one.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day after


Thanksgiving Day Report: Dad & I enjoyed a lovely holiday. After assembling our dish and ingredients for a green salad, Dad & I were on our way to the first stop: Jonathon & Jo-Ann's. Everything was perky, even the new dog, Bobby. We caught them just at the right time when the table was set, things were in the oven and we could enjoy a chat. The kids were all dressed up and cute. It was nice to have a some Thanksgiving time with them!

Then we went on to Glen Ellen to spend the rest of the day with Linda, Yalda, Olivia & friends Joan & Greg. Linda made the beautiful turkey above, and went with her perfect instincts on when the turkey was done, despite the erroneous thermometer reading. Olivia wanted traditional holiday yams with melted marshmallows on top, which I brought. It was a lovely Thanksgiving for all, and great conversation.

Sweet Rum Yams

Sweet Rum Yams

1 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 cup mini-marshmallows
2 large organic Jewel yams
~2 tablespoons water

Spray a large baking pan with Pam. Cut yams into sections to the size of the baking pan, leaving room at the top for topping. Put about 2 tablespoons of water in the dish, cover with lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350F for about an hour.

Prepare the sauce -- put remaining ingredients except marshmallows in a saucepan and melt together, over medium to low heat, stirring gently. Set aside until yams are done.

When the yams are cooked tender, pour off excess liquid, then pour the melted sauce over the yams. You can pause them here, warm and do the marshmallow step later if you like (I did). If you pause, you'll want to rebaste the yams in the sauce. When you are about 20-30 minutes from serving, sprinkle the marshmallows over the top, recover and cook at 350-375F until the yams are warm and marshmallows melted. Serves 6 or more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude

First of all
Happy Thanksgiving!

And how appropriate that the post for today is about a visit with a friend and fellow food blogger, Catherine from Albion Cooks, at Cafe Gratitude in San Rafael. We had been planning this get together for weeks, and it finally rolled around.

We Are Bountiful

We Are Bountiful started us off on an evening of gratitude. The sampler plate included a variety of live crackers and breads with soft cashew cheese, spicy hummus, black and green olive tapenade, and vine ripened tomato with basil and garlic. We were greatful!

I Am Festive

Catherine found the "I Am Festive" fitting and seemed to enjoy every bite. It is a kind of taco salad using crumbled walnut seed taco filling as the 'meat', and cashew nacho cheese as another vegan substitute.

I Am Briliant

I Am Brilliant tempted me away from the regular menu. It was one of the special dishes, made with cooked beans, rice, cashew cheese and other delights with a MOUND of the freshest green salad on the side. It was good, and it was one of the few dishes offered which contained cooked goods in this raw and vegan restaurant. Catherine and I had a great time and I was grateful for our getting together even more than for the delicious and inventive food. I also always feel 'clearer' and more enlivened after eating a meal here, a very potent reason for continuing to find my way back.

Previously reviewed:
February 22, 2007

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Marin Thai Restaurants

Thai Collage

Since the last update, there have been a few changes on the Marin Thai Restaurant scene. I have to visit a new one that has popped up in West Marin to reclaim my previous record of having visited every Marin Thai restaurant. Marin is fortunate to have a large number of very good Thai restaurants. I last summarized a list of reviews on January 20, 2008. Links to reviews on this blog, or other information about the restaurants appears organized by city below.

Thai Restaurants I've discovered

Corte Madera
Tub Tim Thai

Siam Lotus

R'Noh Thai
Tha Siam

Mill Valley

Thep Lela

Cafe Bankok
Chao Praya

San Anselmo
Lanna Thai Restaurant
Orchid Thai

San Rafael
Bankok Thai Express
Bay Thai Cuisine
Citrus & Spice
Jhan Tong
My Thai
Royal Thai Restaurant
Signature Thai
Thai Smile

Arawan Thai Cuisine
Kitti's Place
Thai Terrace

Thai Restaurants I've yet to try

Thepmonggon Thai on the Bay

Previous Thai Lists

January 2o, 2008
September 13, 2007

Other Greater Bay Area Thai places I've reviewed

San Francisco
Be My Guest

Rins Thai

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Too bad

Magnolia Thai

Last year I discovered the charming Magnolia Thai in San Rafael. I passed by it today, and found it's gone. A banner over the top of the sign is announcing that fondue is coming soon.

I also passed through Fairfax and noticed that The Sleeping Lady appears to be open now!

Monday, November 24, 2008



Friends stop by with the most unusual surprises! From the same Point Reyes garden the lemon cucumbers came from, some unusual feijoa (pineapple guava) came my way. Feijoa is a small evergreen shrub originating from the highlands of southern Brazil, parts of Colombia, Uruguay and northern Argentina. They look like cucumbers to me, but they taste very sweet and fruity!

Cut Feijoa

The friend who brought them, Glen, said that you don't have to peel these, just wash and slice. He said they are good for jam and pancake toppings too.

Feijoa in salad

I highlighted the feijoa in a fresh green salad with strawberries. My dinner guest last night, Daniel, exclaimed "These are cucumbers?!" probably not knowing whether to trust his eyes or his taste buds.

And this post just begs to be entered into Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Scott of The Real Epicurean this week.

Now some of the information I've been reading on the web says that the fruit is typically eaten by scooping out the sweet interior, and that the skin is rather bitter. I didn't notice any bitterness in this recipe, perhaps because it was with other greens and strawberries.

It also appears pretty healthy with a one-cup serving of puree having 119 calories, with daily values being 104% of fiber, 82% of vitamin C, and 23% of folate to name a few.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fabulous Izakaya in San Francisco

Sozai Restaurant

It's really nice to have friends who are natives of various countries as they have great tips on what's really good around town for their native cuisine. Sachiko introduced me and her young just-turned-21 friend, Shoko, to Sozai Restaurant and Sake Lounge, which is an Izakaya style restaurant in San Francisco on Irving Street.

Sozai Corner

Precisely, it is on the corner of Irving and 16th Streets. Izakaya style restaurants are a casual 'tapas' type environment where small plates are eaten with drinks. The other name used for these is Akachōchin because traditionally red lanterns were hung in front. The literal meaning of izakaya is "i " (to remain) and "sakaya" (sake shop) because the early start of these places were from sake shops that allowed customers to remain on the premises to drink.

Salmon-stuffed Organic Squash Blossoms

The emphasis is on good friends and coversation and often those at the surrounding tables become your friends too. Sachiko, Shoko and I had instant friends at the table next as we recognized a couple of men we knew (Matt & Ki) dining there as well! Now, on to the food, which we paired with a nice chardonnay. The evening was long and enjoyable and we had A LOT of dishes which were also sometimes shared with the men. First up was the salmon stuffed organic squash blossoms. These were tempura battered and fried and were heavenly! Sozai's menu changes monthly, and is seasonal so if you' d like to try these as well, be sure to visit before the end of the month. Sozai also posts its current menu at its website in case you'd like to preview before visiting.

Deep fried Tofu , Dashi Broth

This agadashi tofu, or deep fried tofu in sauce was perfect. It had the traditional fish flakes and perfectly blended sauce as well.

Butter Mushrooms, Soy Lemon

These butter mushrooms with soy and lemon were also superb. There were three kinds of mushrooms steamed inside a foil packet, button, shitake and enoki.

Russet potato cooked with Kobe beef

This nikujaga, or as the menu translates "Russet potato cooked with Kobe beef" was to die for. I ate only the potato portion, and the flavors were well seeped into it. The menu is also written in Japanese, with an English translation to the right.

Assorted Sashimi (12 pcs)

Sozai, like a traditional Izakaya, does not serve sushi, but it does serve fresh sashimi. Sozai does have a Monday "Sushi and Kushi" night, and through their catering branch will send a sushi chef to your event (see Mari's Catering).

Edamame Hummus, wonton chips

The edamame hummus with won ton chips is a must try item. Oh this was surprisingly good!

Kushiage Scallops, wasabi aioli

Next up was kushiage scallops with wasabi aioli. "Kushi" means skewer and "age" means deep frying and typically these are put on a bamboo stick, coated with a light panko batter (panko is breadcrumbs) and deep fried. These were delightful bites!
Mozzarella Stuffed Jalapeno, Sweet Chile

This kushiage was a delicious east meets west blend - mozzarella stuffed jalapenos with a sweet chili glaze. These were a perfect blend of spice and smoothness and didn't have a biting heat like one might imagine.

Kurobuta Pork Belly, Shichimi

A favorite treat in Japan is anything that features the soft pork belly. This Kurobuta Pork Belly, Shichimi was just the ticket to send my friends into ecstasy! Kurobuta to pork is what Kobe is to beef, and the Shichimi coating is a very spicy 7-spice add to the softness.

Fries with wasabi aioli

These fries with wasabi aioli reminded me of all the interesting dips there are for frites in Belgium and was a great pairing.

Kushiyaki Chicken Sampler

This chicken kushiyaki sampler offers the typical skewers offered in yakitori houses, including ones that western audiences usually find 'challenging' -- Yakitori (Chicken meat), Negi-ma (Chicken & Green Onions), Chicken Gizzard, Chicken Hearts, Chicken Liver, and Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs). My friends loved these.

Organic Beet Salad

The organic beet salad was wonderful. It was lightly dressed with what I think was a plum (umeboshi) vinaigrette.

Broiled Sanma (Mackerel Pike)

Then the broiled sanma (mackerel pike) was spotted on the menu - a favorite Japanese fish choice with its oilness cut with grated daikon radish.

O–Chazuke - pickled plum

Traditionally, at the end of the succession of plates and drinks is a carbohydrate based dish, and pickles. Shoko chose the O-chazuke with umeboshi pickle, a rice and tea comfort food.

Assorted Pickles

Then the pickle (tsukemono) plate came, with a sampling of the three typical pickle tastes in Japan, miso, nuka (rice bran) and sake. These were good homemade type pickles.

Organic Petite Soba, with Shrimp Kakiage

My starch option was the organic petite soba with shrimp kakiage. These were SO good - checked whether Sozai is open for lunch as this would be a perfect lunch dish, but alas not.

Assorted Kanten

Yes, we are drawing to a close for this dreamy meal. We were offered a choice of a rainbow of kanten fruit flavors.

Unmolded Kanten

We made our selections and put them all in the center so we could share. I mentioned at the end of another post about kanten being a Japanese ancient diet secret, so how appropriate at the end of a multi-course meal! If you enjoy Japanese food, don't miss Sozai!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eggs the easy way

Cuisinart Egg Cooker

My friend encouraged me to stop by Mervyn's the other day, and all those big markdowns proved too much to resist for something(s) I normally wouldn't buy. Case in point, the Cuisinart Egg Cooker. It was so deeply discounted, and I recalled that my little niece Collette only likes poached eggs. And also that my poached egg efforts generally turn into egg drop soup, less the flavored broth.

Poached Eggs

So I tried it this morning, and found it makes perfect poached eggs, if rather triangularly shaped. Now, to figure out how to get Collette up from Long Beach again...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tucked away near Richmond


I happened to be in the Hilltop Mall area in San Pablo around lunch time the other day, and found Tokyo hidden in a strip mall. On its menu it states "Fine Japanese Cuisine, Sushi & Seafood". I was immediately struck by the friendly atmosphere which included Japanese touches like Japanese music in the background.

Cucumber Salad

A jazzed up cucumber salad was served first with the lunch set I ordered.

Miso Soup

This was followed immediately with a nicely flavored and hot miso soup.

Kabucha Age

The kabocha age (fried squash) was coated with panko and freshly crisp and delicious. Tonkatsu sauce was served for dipping on the side.

Zaru Soba with Maguro

My main course was zaru soba with maguro (cold green tea soba noodles with fresh tuna slices). It's hard to find this dish out of the summer season, and it's one of my favorites. You put as much of the green onions and wasabi (mustard) in the dipping sauce and enjoy dipping the noodles in it to taste. The noodles had the perfect bite, and it was generously portioned. I also liked that although the staff couldn't have known that I speak Japanese, that they greeted me in traditional Japanese and said the customary polite things in Japanese as my visit progressed. It was another nice point for the atmosphere. It is a casual, family style restaurant and I would not hestiate to visit again if in the area.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ming's Morphs

China Villa

Thanks to Kudzu's keen power of observation (and willingness to share it), and Cookiecrumb's echo, I was able to find that China Villa has actually moved into the space that Ming Garden occupied for many years in San Anselmo. I had put off an errand to San Anselmo which I was inspired to take care of once I caught wind of the move. When the waiter approached my table the first questions I asked were "Is this the China Villa that used to be in the Northgate Mall?", "Yes", and "Do you still serve the wonderful veggie dishes?", "Yes". And so my curiosity was quickly satisfied.

Chicken Salad

Because the side dishes that came with the lunch special had some meat in them, I took a veggie holiday in order to properly report on what comes standard with lunch. The salad, far from being an uninspiring iceberg with mayo-based dressing was a saucy and palate-pleasing Chinese Chicken Salad in miniature.

Beef Vegetable Soup

The soup was a beef-based vegetable, and the soup stock was complex and delicious with beef enriched tomato flavors.

Tofu and Broccoli with Black Mushrooms

For the lunch entree choice I had the Tofu with Black Mushrooms and Broccoli, and Chow Mein for the starch choice. The sauce on the tofu dish was made with garlic and the dish was both tasty and satisfying. If Ming's is to be gone, there couldn't be a better replacement. I'm glad that China Villa is still with us!

Previously reviewed:
November 19, 2008 - San Rafael
June 28, 2008 - San Rafael

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

China Villa gone

China Villa closes

I was driving around the Northgate Mall in San Rafael, and did a double take in front of the space China Villa occupied. It looked very closed and bare. I had to turn around and look again. I wasn't sure whether the restaurant may have relocated as there is construction going on at the mall, but a call to their phone number got a "this number has been disconnected" message, so I assume the restaurant is simply gone. This is a loss as it is one of the more veggie friendly restaurants around. Anyone have the scoop on this?