Showing posts with label Restaurants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Restaurants. Show all posts

All Spice - San Mateo CA

Tucked away from the very busy El Camino, All Spice looks like a nice - but misplaced - house that's actually a restaurant serving Indian fusion.  And very good fusion indeed.
 
Below are a few good examples of our fine fare; sea bass and the beef short ribs.  Both were beautifully plated, cooked and spiced to perfection.   
 
Beef short ribs in a very delectable, slightly curried sauce.

Silky, rich sea bass.  As tasty as it looks!
If there is a negative at all here it's that reservations are hard to come by and a Saturday night requires patience and planning.   Other than that, a true gem!

All Spice
1602 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94402
(650) 627-4303 
http://www.allspicerestaurant.com/
      

Summer Travels - Pacific Northwest

It's way past the end of summer and I'm ashamed to admit I am only posting my August road trip adventures NOW.  Never fear though, the magic of the Northwest is timeless in my opinion and even more so in the Fall.

The trip was somewhat spontaneous and came about due to extra vacation days available, nice weather on the horizon and the lure of being in a car for 15 hours.  Seriously, for me there truly is nothing like the open road and the freedom that comes with it. 

While on the road it's always an interesting challenge to find good food that won't require a three hour wait.  Although not a quick stop, Sa.la.me in Ashland Oregon helped fuel our batteries for the road ahead AND transition into a relaxed state-of-vacation mode.

Sa.la.me
47 N. Main Street
Ashland OR 97520
541.708.5881
 
Bruschetta with fresh cheese - Sa.la.me, Ashland OR




 









Once in the Northwest we hopped a ferry headed for Port Townsend, a charming town that boasts amazing views of the water, a plethora of Victorian houses  and Sea J's for fish and chips (with lots of really good tartar sauce.)


Crispy fish and creamy tartar sauce at Sea J's


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sea J's 
2501 Washington Street
Port Townsend WA
(360) 385-6312
 
Following on the fish and chips theme - some might call it an obsession - we stopped at a relic from the past on our way back to the Bay Area...Skippers Fish and Chips in Roseburg Oregon. 

I was trying to express my love of this chain but the run-down mall it was housed in didn't generate as much enthusiasm as I'd expected from my driving partner.  Buying a case of clam chowder - "it will last longer" boasted the cashier - and fitting it into our packed trunk was quite the challenge but worth the effort in my opinion. 

Anyway, I'll always have the memories of Ashland...and 12 cans of chowder for the rainy days ahead!
 
Skippers Fish & Chips
2090 NW Stewart Pkwy
Roseburg OR 97470
541.672.0909 

Northwest Best: Bernie's, Full Sail Brewing, Roots and friends!

The food scene is definitely hopping in Portland and a quick weekend getaway to visit friends was the perfect excuse to indulge.   We started with a visit to Bernie's Southern Bistro in the very lively Alberta Arts district which was the perfect way to get the party started. 

Key highlight at Bernie's: sitting outside under the trees awaiting our very large portions of fried chicken and mac and cheese.    Of course we ordered way too much but we walked away happy and ready for the arduous task of shopping and hanging out (basically doing nothing.)  Note:  I am NOT complaining here.

Day two we hiked Hardy Falls which served up fresh air and a good dose of nature.  Next up, Full Sail Brewing in Hood River.  With a stunning drive along the water and then a big burger plus salad (gotta have something healthy!) our day was pretty much complete and our trip began to wind down.

Our last day we packed our bags and made a stop at Roots in Camas WA.    Roots is one of those places where you get food and service exceeding your expectations despite the  modest suburban strip mall location.  Don't skip the crab benedict or the Walla Walla onion tart - both amazing! 

Although I seemingly make light of the trip - but not my obsession with the Portland food scene - my true purpose was to catch up with longtime friends over many cups of hot coffee and meaningful dinners.  Past memories and meals tie our friendship together and continue to knit us close despite the many miles now between us.    

So thanks to my wonderful friends for setting aside precious time to connect and remind me what really matters in life.  YOU.

Bernie's Southern Bistro
2904 NE Alberta Street
Portland OR  97211
503.282.9864
berniesbistro.com 

Full Sail
506 Columbia Street
Hood River OR 97031
541.386.2247

Roots
19215 SE 34th Street Suite 110
Camas WA  98607
360.260.3001

Mothers Bistro - Portland

The motto on Mothers website is "it's all about the love" which resonated with this diner!  I loved the reuben sandwich with melty cheese, sauerkraut and, of course, homemade corned beef.  It felt like the entire plate was made with love, right down to the crispy bread which held everything together.

Apparently our short wait for a table was the result of good timing and good luck. I'm told our wait wasn't the norm and a visit usually requires patience.  In any case, don't miss the Reuben.  It's really fantastic.

Corned beef and sauerkraut atop toasted bread.  Just the best.
 
Way to start the day!  A mimosa at the ready
 
212 SW Stark St  Portland, OR 97204
(503) 464-1122

Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA

There are many great dining choices in Napa but Bistro Don Giovanni always tops my list of favorites.    The setting is comfortable, whether you're sitting on the patio dining al fresco or seated inside by the fireplace on a drizzly day.   While the setting is key to the overall experience the food is definitely the star of the show; a blend of local flavor and Italian flair served up by the expert staff.

The only problem I have with Bistro Don Giovanni is that there are SO MANY choices and I like them all!  From pasta to fish and the starters it's hard to narrow my meal to just a few items.  This time we focused on the basics: a perfectly cooked burger, fig pizza with blue cheese (amazing flavor) carpaccio and a rich decedant chocolate mousse.  All basic but nothing bland!

The fig and blue pizza starter is absolutely divine!

Carpaccio done well

Chocolate mousse and biscotti
Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Ln  Napa, CA 94558
(707) 224-3300

Pican, Fine Southern Food in Oakland CA

Pican is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants despite the short drive from home.  It's not just because of the food (which the kitchen consistently delivers) but also because the sophisticated, comfortable decor and knowledgeable waitstaff make you feel right at home.   In short, everything works in concert to create a dining experience you want to take part in again immediately.

As for what to order, don't skip the fried chicken and macaroni and cheese combination.  The fried chicken sports a perfectly seasoned crunchy exterior while the mac and cheese is luscious and creamy when you poke through to the interior.  A "can't miss combination" that leaves me satisfied but a little sad when the bottom of the cast iron skillet signals the end to the mac and cheese.

The fried chicken and mac and cheese.  Whoa!
We also indulged in the fried green tomatoes to get started and were happy with the choice.  The tomatoes were light, crisp and accompanied by a creamy burrata and salad.   

 
 While we did not partake in dessert the menu looks spot-on in terms of the choices.  Oh well, there's always next time at Pican!
 
Pican
2295 Broadway at 23rd Street
Oakland, California 94612
510.834.1000

Villa Valentina, Drunken Sailor and Cazuelas in San Jose del Cabo

Although it's summer in the Bay Area and my vacation now seems so long ago (really only a month ago) I'm still hungering for Baja and the food I love so much.  Tacos were the vision - and we did partake - but we also ventured out to restaurants for meals which captured the essence of the region and time and time again reflected the hospitality of the people. 

Martini-time at Villa Valentina
Three standouts on this trip include the following:

The Drunken Sailor 

Located near the new marina (look for Hotel El Ganzo) and sporting a casual, beachy vibe this place really delivers.  We ordered the taco chino; a tortilla filled with panko coated shrimp and topped with a cilantro sesame dressing.    In addition I tried the enchiladas verde filled with shrimp and just the right amount of tang and spice.   This was a nice start to the trip.... 

After dinner we hung on the deck of the very cool and sophisticated Hotel El Ganzo.  El Ganzo is jaw-dropping with it's chic decor, relaxed vibe and roof top pool.   The rooms vary from waaayyyy over the top (one has a ping pong table AND workout room) to more subdued but all boast views of the marina and on this night were served up by Gerry, our effervescent host and impromptu tour guide.  

Next up a trip to Todos Santos to see the real Hotel California.  Of course we were famished upon arrival and a taco platter plus ceviche with red pepper cream salsa was in order.  I admit I had an Eagles soundtrack playing in my head "Welcome to the Hotel California..." but it wasn't until we visited Hacienda Cerritos I felt the dream materialize.  Beautiful stonework, pools overlooking the Pacific and a friendly cat jumping around to greet us made for a delightful day trip away from the core. 

Villa Valentina

Part home decor store, art center and restaurant is the best way I can describe Villa Valentina.  Throw in well-prepared food and the sound of a local musician on his guitar and you've almost got your own romantic movie.   

My dinner companions ordered the huarache (chipped duck with mole, really terrific) and chicken with - you guessed it - more mole.  As odd as this sounds, I ordered the fish and chips thinking it would be fun to see how other cultures prepare this iconic American dish.  In this case, Villa Valentina nailed their rendition and put their own stamp on it with fresh local sea bass perfectly cooked and served alongside wedge cut potatoes.  And don't forget the tarter sauce (I didn't!) 

The huarache with chipped duck and mole.  Incredible!
 
Cazuelas del don

Located in San Jose del Cabo off the tourist loop this local restaurant is about as authentic as you can get.  The premise is that each day the owner slow cooks meat, vegetables and spices and then you get to choose how the concoction is served up.  On  this day we were treated to La Ira; arrachera, chile poblano and cebolla (plus a few other ingredients.)  I opted for the baked potato, my companions the torta (sandwich) and volcan which seemed to translate to "all piled up on a crispy tortilla". 

The torta at Cazuelas (check out the crispy cheese!)
This was probably one of my favorite places and not just because the food was so interestingly delicious.  It's because it was served with a dose of pride and much warmth by the owners themselves.  To this day my travel companion lights up when talk turns to Cabo, Cazuelas and that lovely torta!

Yosemite Wildflowers in Bloom Hite Cove Trail


I’m forever looking for weekend getaways which combine my favorites: beautiful images to photograph, outdoor exercise and of course, food.  Along came an article about local spots where you can view the Spring blooms and voila!  We were on our way to El Portal to hike the Hite Cove Trail near Yosemite. 

Turns out the timing was perfect as the crowds were minimal, hotel rates reasonable and the hills truly were alive with a painter’s palette of color.  There’s still time to plan a trip as the flowers will continue to spring alive until sometime in May.   Here are a few notes from our trip:

The highlight

Hiking the Hite Cove Trail! It's about 4 miles one-way so take plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes (that seems obvious but figured I’d say it anyway). The trail winds alongside the river for views of blooms and the pleasant sound of water in the background.



Vibrant orange poppies everywhere!
Where we stayed
Yosemite View Lodge. Comfortable and reasonably priced. The best part? The back door opened to a view of the Merced River creating the perfect ambiance for our evening wine/cheese fest. 


Yosemite View Lodge - a view from the balcony
Places we dined
Savoury’s in Mariposa. About 45 minutes from the hotel and worth the drive.  I ordered off the menu and a) they were not annoyed and b) it was delicious (a shrimp linguine – perfectly cooked.)


Ahwahnee Hotel for brunch. A little pricier than your standard buffet ($45) but this isn’t really your standard buffet.  What you get is an amazing array of delectable items served up in a grand setting creating an experience well-worth the price of entry.
 
Ahwahnee Hotel brunch (ok, so this was my third - and last - plate!)

Yosemite View Lodge
El Portal (off Highway 140)
209.379.2681
www.yosemiteresorts.net 

Savoury's
5034 Hwy 140
Mariposa CA 95338
savouryrestaurant.com 

Ahwahnee Hotel

Easy, breezy weekend getaway to Carmel and Monterey

We liked our first trip to Monterey so much we headed back for another weekend getaway.  It's no surprise this area is a very popular destination for tourists both near and far with something for just about everyone within arms reach.

This time we stayed in Monterey but spent our first day in Carmel meandering down Ocean Ave looking at all the shops.  We wandered into Il Fornaio which is tucked away off the street and opens up into a large comfortable atrium-covered dining area.  Here you can order a tasty margarita pizza - enough for two - with the usual toppings (cheese + tomato sauce) and a delightfully thin crust for about $7.50.   Add a cookie and coffee for the perfect midday meal.

Lodging this time was Casa Munras on, you guessed it, Munras Avenue.  The hotel is well-located and well-priced with most restaurants a few minutes walking distance.  Also within close proximity is the pedestrian-friendly foot path which winds past Cannery Row down to the Aquarium for a leisurely way to see the sights.

For breakfast try the Old Monterey Cafe located on Alvarado Street.   You might have a bit of a wait but the breakfast burritos and Belgian waffles are worth it!

Finally, we returned to Montrio Bistro where we ordered family style:  bacon-wrapped prawns, spinach salad and a sirloin steak accompanied by mashed potatoes.  All fairly standard but well done and served by the ever-friendly, knowledgeable staff.  The dessert - bread pudding - is simply a must-have!

The bread pudding with passion fruit ice cream at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  Amazing!

Frances - SF - New year, same great food

There are some restaurants which are worth a second or third mention, and one of those is Frances in San Francisco.  Always challenging to secure a reservation,  loud and crowded once you arrive, Frances is worth the effort when you finally experience the unique flavor and texture combinations served on their beautiful ceramic (assume locally handmade?) plates.

Bavette with butter beans.  Love this dish!
We selected many dishes in an effort to try as many things as possible.  The server hesitated when asked "is that too many?" and proceeded to deliver one dish in error (which he left on the table and...we consumed.)  At that point, it was too many but not something I say with regret.

What we ordered:
  • Applewood smoked beignets - the creamy, bacon-y sauce makes these "double-dip worthy"
  • The little gem salad is NOT your average salad!  The petite young lettuce lightly dressed in a subtle apple vinagrette is a great way to start your meal.
  • Riso nero venero - risotto made of small black kernels and dungeness crab.  Wow.
  • The bavette steak with butter bean compote; flavorful, perfectly cooked and tender.
  • Ricotta gnocchi with nettle pesto.  Again, not your average gnocchi!  The gnocchi were light and puffy ("almost like baked cheetos" which didn't entirely amuse my dinner companion) with the pesto to add punch. 
  • Broccoli gratin - creamy farro, Montegrappa cheese and broccoli. 
As though this wasn't enough for two (it was) we ordered ice cream (maple, browned butter) which was a perfect ending to the meal.  In case you are wondering, the browned butter ice cream won out in terms of taste but we crossed the finish line and consumed everything in our path.

Frances is a top contender on my list of favorites and I can't wait to go back.  A really great gem!

Frances
3870 17th St.
San Francisco
California 94114
415.621.3870


A view from Monterey, Big Sur

It was a nice way to cap the year: a quick trip to Monterey and Big Sur complete with a sprinkling of sun to set off the scenery and provide a backdrop for last-minute resolutions.  Mine definitely included getting away more often given the proximity to such beautiful natural eye-candy!
 
Speaking of eye-candy the Portola Inn, located on Monterey Bay, boasts a fair amount of well-appointed decor put together by someone with an eye for fabulous spaces.  The reason I mention this is that all the details come together to create a sophisticated yet welcoming atmosphere where you instantly want to kick back and relax.  "Why go out all night when we can hang out in such a room?"  was the question I asked immediately.
 
Of course we did manage to get motivated to leave when our appetites beckoned.  We ambled down the street to Montrio recommended by the hotel staff and found a small table in the very crowded restaurant. We sampled the luscious lobster mac n cheese, a bistro steak (with truffle fries - wow!) and a sweet creamy bread pudding served alongside passionfruit ice cream.  A nice find indeed.
 
The next day we saw the line for breakfast at Rosine's snaked out the door requiring us to keep our patience in check and go with the crowd.  The food was good, with large generous portions that could have fed 3-4 per plate (I am serious about this.)  When reading about the history of Rosine's this seems to be part of their "claim to fame" (in Monterey at least!) and it seems like something that resonates with customers.  For me personally I always feel guilty leaving so much food on the plate and eating it all was definitely out of the question.
 
Our last stop of the day was Nepenthe (Big Sur) where we sipped hot spiced cider against the backdrop of the Pacific.  The chill in the air was tempered by the welcome winter sun and I couldn't help but make a mental note to visit again during summer (although the crowds would probably be more visible.)
 
Overall, rather than looking forward to the new year I took a moment to catch my breath and count my blessings which are beyond measure.  And with that, we were on the road home again to get ready to ring in the new year.
 
Holiday decor in Monterey Bay

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Seasonal Snacking – Seattle Style

Every year it’s the same:  the holidays sneak up on me, I wait until the last minute to buy gifts and before I know it I’m on a plane headed to the Pacific Northwest to visit family.   The routine might seem, well, routine, but changes to the menu lineup make this “the most wonderful time of the year” for me. 

While Seattle hosts a bevvy of fine dining choices I actually think the unique quick-meal options – some would call this fast food  - define the area (yes, you are welcome to disagree).    Good food at a good price really does make me jolly J  Here’s a snapshot of our adventures…
Taco Time
Crispy meat burritos, housemade salsa and the “mexi fries” (tater tots) all make for a good quick meal at this Northwest classic.  Select from the combo menu and your wallet will thank you.  Oh and it's not just me. A co-worker commented that his first stop in Seattle is Taco Time as well (followed by Starbucks!)
Musashi’s
Nestled in a strip mall in Factoria (suburb of Bellevue) Mushashi’s is the second installment for this family-owned restaurant.   The food was good, tasty and reasonably priced.  My very-picky mother liked it and said she’d definitely return which is good as gold in terms of reviews.
3720 Factoria Blvd SE, Bellevue WA 98006

Sushi from Musashi's in Factoria

The Daily Grill (Seattle) and The Keg (Factoria) share the same paragraph simply because they have similar menu items (steaks, chops, salads) but the experience – and food – couldn’t be more different.
To be fair, we dined at the Daily Grill on Christmas so I have to cut some slack here.  But overall, food was just “okay” (steak wayyyy overdone) with service that seemed to amplify the subpar nature of the meal.  On the bright side, the huge slice of chocolate cake for dessert was decadent and delicious.

Chocolate cake from The Daily Grill - a nice holiday treat.
 

The Keg Steakhouse, located in the same strip mall as Musashi’s in Factoria is part of a long-standing Northwest chain that seems to have aged well and delivers quality in terms of food and service.   I have ordered the rib eye twice (once during my last trip and this time too) and it’s amazing; well-cooked and bursting with flavor.  At 20 oz. you might be tempted to pass up dessert, but don’t.  The Billy Miner pie -mocha ice cream on a chocolate crust with hot fudge, caramel and almonds - is fantastic. 
Now with the holidays soundly in my rearview mirror I am ready to embrace 2013 and all the food adventures I can find.  As always, I’m truly grateful for the people in my life who bring joy and laughter despite anything I might really deserve.  I am blessed and hope you – and those around you – are too!  Thanks for reading.
 

Zuni Cafe & B44 Catalan Bistro in San Francisco

I'm obsessed with the Ceasar salad at Zuni Cafe.  Not sure if it's the perfectly crisped romaine, the crunchy croutons or the zingy dressing but it all WORKS.

Other menu items that work:  the burger and shoestring fries dusted with the perfect portion of salt.

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street
San Francisco CA  94102
415.552.2522
www.zunicafe.com

Tasty tapas are on tap at B44 Catalan Bistro.  Nestled alongside Cafe Claude and Cafe Tiramisu on Belden Place you'll feel like a tourist in France or Spain (without the pricey airfare!)  Outdoor seating complete with a festive atmosphere make B44 a solid choice when dining downtown.

B44 Catalan Bistro
44 Belden Place
San Francisco CA 94104
415.986.6287
www.b44sf.com

Bay Area Asian - Kisaku and Han Sung BBQ

Kisaku is old-school Japanese done very well.  All the dishes ordered were flavorful starting with the miso and moving on to the tempura and sushi.  To be honest it was Thanksgiving weekend and most of my favorites were closed but in the end Kisaku did not disappoint. 

Kisaku
Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
47 East 4th Ave
San Mateo CA 94401
650.347.4121
kisaku888@gmail.com

It's easy to miss Han Sung which is nestled in a slightly dated strip mall in Santa Clara.  However, once you see all the cars in the parking lot there's the realization you are in for a treat. 

My friends ordered the food which is a good thing since I had no clue where to start.  Of course, kalbi is always a good choice and this was no exception.  Cooked at our table, the meat was perfectly seasoned, tender and overall the star of my visit.

I walked away vowing to return soon for the food with vacuum cleaner in tow.  Okay, okay, there's a vacuum cleaner repair store in the same strip mall which makes me ridiculously happy (and probably nutty too!)

Han Sung
Charcoal BBQ
2644 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA  95051
408.246.7799
(Moonlight Shopping Center)


Piccino, Rickshaw Bags, Serpentine - San Francisco

Just when you think you've explored the Bay Area to it's full extent another up-and-comer crops up and you've got a new selection of restaurants and shops to explore.  So it is with the "Dogpatch" in San Francisco located a tad south of the ballpark and newly emerging biotech area.

Looking for great food in a stylish but relaxed setting?  Try Piccino which serves a bevvy of pizzas, salads and small plates.  One such small plate that's not to be missed is the meatballs and sauce.  I must say that although the meatball was certainly delicious it was really the sauce that had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing.  Tangy, rich and well-seasoned with what seemed to be a touch of wine (always a favorite addition to my sauces!)

Next up, the funghi pizza in all it's morel-ish glory.  Topped with cheese and a thin blanket of pesto - and tasting nothing like your everyday pesto - we were told it contained mushrooms and herbs but no nuts.   A nice touch given the plethora of allergies which seem to abound these days.

This is a good meatball covered in an extraordinary sauce.  Don't skip this dish!
Loved the flavor and beautiful presentation of this funghi pizza.

After our meal we headed across the street to Rickshaw where they make custom bags - all types and sizes.  You can select the style and then choose the color, texture and piping to fit your design aesthetic.  All in all, a good price for what looks to be a great product (waiting for it to be delivered).

At this point we were headed down the street for some ice cream but sheepishly returned to Piccino about 30 minutes later for dessert.  We chose to ignore the odd glance from the host and confirmed with the waiter "yes, we WERE here a bit ago and seated in a different location".  Sometimes you really can't get enough of a good thing!

Two other notables which we did not hit this time around:  Serpentine (great brunch place) and Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous (ice cream and sweets). 

Great places to noodle on in the Bay Area

Although January, we've had unseasonably sunny - but chilly - weather in the Bay Area.  The weather prompted me to pack up my camera and head to San Francisco for a day of outdoor shots and of course, food.  Although not planned our lunch and dinner places were somewhat similar in nature (Asian) and both meals involved noodles.  Lots of them. 

Luckily, I was in the mood for spicy, brothy and warm which both served up in spades.  The first, PPQ, is a great place to grab a quick and reasonably priced lunch.  The second, Ramen Parlor, is part of a small but growing empire of ramen houses located in San Mateo CA. 

All three have ramen in common (!!) but each has a distinct ambiance and will probably appeal to different diner's tastes.   Ramen Dojo has a darker interior and serves that amazing truffle scented version I love so much.  Santa Ramen serves good tasty ramen in a loud and busy atmosphere.  Oh, and you can always stop at Joanne Fabrics on the way out (it's in a small strip mall!)

Fried eggplant at Ramen Parlor

Although I loved the ramen at Ramen Parlor, the small bites are a must.  Make sure you try the beef skewers and the fried eggplant.  Skip the crab fried dumplings as the whole plate is a bit of a mess.  Any of the ramen bowls are a winner but beware:  the portions are fairly substantial so don't add the "extra noodles" unless you REALLY think you need them!  We didn't add them and were fine.

PPQ Beef Noodle House
1816 Irving St.
San Francisco, CA 94122

My standard fave:  the pork vermicelli salad with spring rolls.  The best of all worlds:  BBQ'ed pork, crispy spring rolls and flavorful vermicelli.  YUM.

Ramen Parlor
901 South B Street San Mateo, CA 94401-4207
(650) 344-9728

I ordered the ramen with the miso broth although I really wanted the pork flavor.  Because I had the pork vermicelli for lunch I thought it might be overkill until the dish arrived with big pieces of fatty pork on top!

As mentioned above, Santa Ramen and Ramen Dojo are in the same family as Ramen Parlor.  All have long lines so be patient because this won't be a quick hit for lunch unless you get very lucky.
 
Santa Ramen
1944 South El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
 
Ramen Dojo
805 South B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401

The Golden Gate Bridge:  always breath-taking!

Geraldine’s, Shanghai and MOD Pizza in Seattle / Bellevue

Seattle is well-known for coffee but should also be praised for interesting food trends and tastes in my opinion. I live in the Bay Area which has a plethora of fine food, but when headed to Seattle I put my adventurous spirit in high gear and get ready for gastronomic bliss.

Geraldine’s Counter
4872 Rainier Ave, Seattle
206-723-2080

From the airport we weren’t exactly sure where to go or what we were in the mood for. After a few minutes of indecision we hopped off the freeway and onto the south end of Rainier Avenue. Driving north – midway between Renton and Seattle – we paused in Columbia City where we noticed a packed place called Geraldine’s Counter. We stopped and added our name to the long and growing list waiting for a seat.

Geraldine’s is hoppin’ with good coffee and Americana-style comfort food. The French toast was crispy (fried?) and topped with a sweet blueberry compote and Geraldine’s breakfast casserole a combination of hashbrowns, sausage, eggs, cheese and spicy salsa. Note: I’d suggest splitting the casserole as it’s a very generous and filling portion for two.

This small stretch of Rainier Avenue is what I love most about Seattle: vibrant hot spots which sprout up and nurture the neighborhood spirit – and appetites – along the way.  Other noteables near Geraldine’s:

• Lottie’s Lounge
• Columbia City Bakery
• Tutta Bella Neopolitan Pizza
• Bob’s Meats
• KC’s Flowers

MOD Pizza (now has 5 locations!)
317 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, WA 98004
425-455-0141

Made-On-Demand Pizza oozes with good pies (all priced at $6.88 each – despite the number of toppings you choose) and an uber hip NW vibe. Industrial chic décor, a big pizza oven and that good ole Northwest version of cool make this the place – and trend – to watch (my opinion only.) The best part? The large tower of ding dongs (yes, the retro foil-wrapped cakes with white creamy center) at the end of the counter. I LOVE this place and want to see it in California!!!

Shanghai Café
12708 Southeast 38th Street, Bellevue, WA 98006
425-603-1689

It seemed like a tall order: Shanghai-style dumplings on Christmas Eve without a long drive. A quick online search led us to the highly-rated Shanghai (Factoria) and house-made dumplings served with soy + vinegar dipping sauce, garlicky green beans and honey walnut prawns. The one item we skipped but plan to order next time is the house hand-shaved noodles (green barley) which many raved about. Another trip, another visit to Shanghai Café!

Shrimp Etoueffe at Hudson's in Seattle

Hudson
5000 East Marginal Way South
Seattle WA  98134
206-767-4777

It doesn't come any better than this:  funky, eclectic restaurant located in an industrial area of Seattle and featuring comfort food done really, really well.

I chose the shrimp etouefee over cheesy grits and I have to say...I chose WELL.  Ridiculously rich and creamy with bits of peppers, tomatoes and shrimp all covering a large portion of grits plus eggs on the side.  Whoa. And although vowing to eat just half (uh...save calories) I gave up mid-plate and literally finished it all with a huge grin.

Once again I am reminded how well Seattle dishes up food and funkiness and for that, I bow down to greatness.

A magical meal at Michael Mina, San Francisco

Michael Mina
252 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 397-9222

Dining at Michael Mina in San Francisco was a treat that surprised and delighted this diner from start to finish.  From the warm greeting by the host and wait staff to full immersion in the sleek, sophisticated setting I eagerly anticipated a meal to remember.                           
                                                                                                
Before launching into the details of the food I have to take a moment and applaud the attention-to-detail which prevailed throughout our meal.  Although reprimanded by my dining companion, I couldn’t help but lift the plates to see where they were produced.  Of course the server noticed and told us that all serveware had been commissioned by the restaurant (no doubt Mr. Mina himself) and produced by various artisans.  A very cool and personal touch carried throughout the meal.

We started the meal with oysters which were good, but the sauces and sides really made the overall experience superb.  Pimms cup, bloody Mary and basil French “granita” graced the platter alongside more traditional mignonette and cocktail sauce.  “Too ordinary” my dining companion said through slurps and I agreed. The basil French granita rocked the house – and our table too!

The shaved ice "granita" flavorings are at the top; bloody mary, pimms cup and basil French
                                                                                      
The ahi tuna tartar was a sight to behold and mixed tableside with ancho chile, sesame oil, pine nuts and mint.   A  favorite of mine since dining at the Las Vegas location and a great reminder of how I STILL love this dish!  The foraged mushroom risotto was fairly standard in ingredients but amazing in preparation (“the creamiest” proclaimed my dining companion) but it was the lobster potpie that really defined this meal.  

Less “potpie” and more buttery pastry, it’s decadence turned inside out on a very beautiful and delightful plate.  Big perfectly cooked chunks of lobster topped the pastry and were blanketed with a delicious savory sauce.  Total perfection and totally devoured.  A note to diners: we split this entrée which seemed like the right serving size given the richness of ingredients. 

Not your average pot pie!
While the appetizers and main dishes were spectacular it was truly “the little things” that won me over at Michael Mina. The amuse bouche featuring a mini grilled cheese and ginger-carrot soup on the side was both fun and sophisticated.  Rather than the tried-and-true bread and butter, Mina dished out little pots of rich silky ricotta with a swirl of thick honey on top.  And the lemony custard dish of sweet at the end sealed the deal:  the perfect meal, top to bottom in every way.    

For me, dining at Mina was the perfect gift for a foodie who loves a memorable, mind-blowing meal wrapped in the glitter and romance of the holiday season.  

Peace, love and joy to all those I hold dear.

A Day of Dumplings: China Village and Shanghai Dumpling Shop

It wasn't planned but for some strange reason I ended up awash in dumplings by the end of the day.   Dim sum at China Village kicked things off with Shanghai Dumpling Shop the finale.  Both places were super satisfying and a nice way to spend the bulk of my Sunday.  Okay, I did find other things to do during the day besides eat which makes everything seem a bit more acceptable (and it IS the holidays after all).

China Village
600 Ralston Avenue
Belmont, CA 94002

Today we made a run through all my favorites and then came back for a second dish of the fried tofu with shrimp and green onion garnish.  It was a combo of crunchy, creamy and well-seasoned goodness in small bites.  I admit it, I am still thinking of that dish and it's almost 11pm (yikes!)

Shanghai Dumpling Shop
455 Broadway
Millbrae, CA 94030

The pork dumplings are a "must try" item on the extensive - and inviting - menu.  Had I not gone overboard  at China Village earlier in the day I might have ordered more.  Instead we settled for the pork dumplings and ma po tofu (whoooo...spicy!)   I loved this place and can't wait to return.

Hint:  get there early.  The place was PACKED when we left (around 7:30 on a Sunday evening).