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Chateau Montelena Winery

chamont

After seeing the movie Bottle shock Mike and I were curious to check out one of the wineries that put Napa on the map. The Chateau is nestled in the hills of Calistoga. They definitely took some creative license with the film since the drive up didn’t look at all familiar. The estate on the other hand was as beautiful as it was on screen. For $15 we got to taste the following 4 wines: the Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate Zinfandel, and Potter Valley Riesling. I was kinda bummed that we didn’t get to try a Chardonnay. The wines didn’t disappoint. They were all yummy. We ended up bringing home a bottle of the Zin. After the tasting we were sent off with a map of the property so we could go on a self guided tour. We took a quick walk around the grounds as it was a gorgeous day and the vines were filled with colorful fall leaves. It was fun to visit a place with such rich history.

Tasty Tip: By the way, the tasting fee is not waived with purchase which I find chintzy.

Tasting Room Hours
9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily
(except major holidays and the third Saturday in May)

Website: http://www.montelena.com/

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Bouchon Bakery

bouchonbakery

If you can believe it we have never been to the Bouchon Bakery. Since it’s located across the street from NapaStyle we decided to stop by and grab some sweets and breakfast for the following morning. It’s a tiny little shop with many french bakery items to choose from. We purchased the following:

bouchongoodies

Nutter butter, coffee cake, walnut roll, Thomas Keller oreo cookie (TKO), blueberry muffin, chocolate bouchon (not pictured)

Everything was very good and even tasted fresh the next day. My favorite was the blueberry muffin and the TKO. Mike’s was the coffee cake and the Nutter butter. I think this will be a regular stop on future Napa trips.

Website: http://www.bouchonbakery.com/
Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

NapaStyle Yountville / Paninoteca & Wine Bar

napastyle-sign

We headed back to Napa for my bday weekend. First stop was Michael Chiarello’s flagship NapaStyle store in Yountville. It was not exactly what I expected. The space was small and packed to the gills. Things it has that you won’t find at other locations include an olive oil bar, house-made salami section as well as a cafe. I was most impressed with the Panini cafe called Paninoteca. Mike and I had lunch there and the sandwiches were terrific. Very fresh, tasty and light. On the way out we picked up a jug of the NapaStyle everyday olive oil. It tasted delicious.

napastylechick

Toasted spice chicken with braised potatoes

napastylesteak

Grilled flank steak with red onions and blue cheese

Shout out to the weather gods…thanks for the fantabulous weather. It was one of the nicest weekends I have experienced in Napa. On November 14th it was 86 degrees! At that time of year it’s normally in the 60′s. I was wearing shorts and flip flops. :cool:

Address:
V Marketplace
6525 Washington St.
Yountville, CA

Sent Sovi

sentsovi
For my birthday this year I decided to return to the place Mike asked me to marry him…Sent Soví, a small, romantic French-California restaurant located in downtown Saratoga. We hadn’t been in for a meal since the summer of 2006 and I was surprised to find many changes had occurred over the last 2 years to the menu. The regular à la cart items no longer exist. You now only have the option to get the Chef’s tasting menu ($85) or a 3 or 4 course Prix-fixe menu ($65/$72). The wine menu was also overhauled. They now have wine flights as well as glasses by the 1,3 or 5 ounce pour for reasonable prices. This was a welcomed modification. I assume in response to the down economy last month they introduced a nightly special. Each day of the week they feature one signature dish complete with choice of soup or salad and dessert for $45. Mike and I chose to try it out since it was pork night and we are fans of the piggie.

Our dinner began with a complementary Amuse bouche of cold lemongrass soup which had a yogurt consistency but custard taste. It was a interesting start. I chose the Spinach salad with toasted almonds and a harissa vinaigrette for my starter. The spinach was crisp and fresh but the dressing was a bit too spicy. Mike ordered the Squash curry soup which he thoroughly enjoyed. It was Tuesday so our main course was Pecan Crusted Pork Loin With Celery Root Puree, Brussels Sprouts in Brown Butter and Shallot Jus. The pork was cooked perfectly and the puree was light and smooth. I’d never had brussel sprouts before mostly because I only hear negative commentary about them. I think they get a bad rap because these were incredible. I ate ever last one but I’m sure this is not how most prepare the veg at home. There was a bit of a wait in-between our main course and dessert but to hold us over we were offered (large) glasses of a delicious port. I have to say that we have always had stellar service at Sent Soví. The staff is knowledgeable about food & wine and extremely polite. For dessert I picked the trio of sorbets (coconut, dark chocolate and strawberry) and homemade cookies. My dessert was presented on a plate with “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate. I was instantly transported to July 2, 2005 when my dessert had “Will you marry me?” scrolled in chocolate across the plate. I like how they go the extra mile to make events special. Mike had the Rosemary creme brulee which was more savory than sweet. It had a unique taste but I think Mike prefers the classic version. Overall, the nightly dinner was tasty and economical but it didn’t really wow us like meals of the past. I guess we are gonna have to shell out the big bucks in order to experience the flavors we grew to love, and you know what, I really don’t mind because Sent Soví is worth every penny.

amuse soup pork cremebrulee

Rating: drumstick ratingdrumstick ratingdrumstick ratingdrumstick rating
Website: http://www.sentsovi.com/ Continue reading

The Happy Hound

I’ve drove past The Happy Hound countless number of times and never had the urge to stop but the reviews on Yelp changed my mind. I love a good hot dog. This place is a dive but is always packed. Mike and I both tried the cheese hound (seen below). The dogs are big and stuffed to the max with toppings. When you bite into them they snap in your mouth — so fresh. Whoever works the fry station deserves a raise. The fries are perfection…crisp, hot and super salty. I’ve also tried the chili cheese hound which is also good but not photogenic. It’s a mess. You have to eat it with a fork and knife. In the future I think I’ll stick to the plain happy hound dog. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Address: 15899 Los Gatos Blvd.

Happy Hound on Urbanspoon

Sprinkles Cupcake Challenge & Rankings

You’ve heard me discuss my Sprinkles obsession in the past. Now I’m taking it to a whole new level. There are 23 regularly featured Sprinkles cupcakes plus 17 seasonal and I am on a mission to try them all! My plan is to go once a month to the Palo Alto store and buy no more than 6 flavors at a time. By my calculation it will take me 12 months to accomplish the task of eating all 40. Are you up for the challenge? Join me! MISSION COMPLETED SEPT 2009 but when new flavors are introduced I add them to the list.

I adore these cupcakes but all are not created equal. Here is how I rank them…

  1. Red Velvet – super moist, the light chocolate cake and cream cheese frosting are perfect complements
  2. Banana – very moist, bananalicious!
  3. Brown Sugar Praline* -  best seasonal cake, fantastically crunchy and sweet, should be a regular flavor
  4. S’more* – simply genius… the graham cracker bottom is divine & the gooey marshmallow finger lickin’ good, pls make it a regular flavor!
  5. “The King” (banana cake/peanut butter frosting)* – I’m all shook up… the peanut butter was like skippy, needs to be a regular flavor
  6. Strawberry – hint o’ strawberry is lovely
  7. Peanut butter chocolate – soft chips, moist cake, flavors remind me of a See’s Milk chocolate Bordeaux candy
  8. Maple bacon* – they didn’t skimp on the bacon and it’s real not that fake bac-0 bits stuff  *NEW
  9. Lemon – yummy light lemon flavor, dense cake
  10. Lemon meringue* – like S’more subtract chocolate add lemon *NEW
  11. Pumpkin – awesome cinnamon frosting
  12. Eggnog spice* – eggnog frosting rocks
  13. Cuban coffee* – just enough spice and great coffee flavor
  14. Salty caramel* – good caramel flavor frosting, salt on top is nice
  15. Lemon blueberry* – think blueberry muffin w/ lemon frosting – another good morning treat
  16. Triple cinnamon – advertised as a cinnamon roll, tasted more like a snickerdoodle cookie
  17. Almond dark chocolate* – flavor of a poppyseed muffin minus the seeds. I wish it didn’t have sliced almonds in it.
  18. Vanilla milk chocolate – a classic cupcake
  19. Cinnamon sugar – a cupcake with NO frosting, great for breakfast
  20. German chocolate* – cool chunky frosting, wish it tasted more coco-nutty
  21. Flourless chocolate*- dense yet moist, similar to a super rich chocolate brownie
  22. Orange – similar to lemon but with orange flavor
  23. Vanilla peppermint* – great combo,very festive
  24. Peanut butter chip – creamy cake, like a mouthful of peanut butter
  25. Key Lime* – very subtle lime flavor initially but has a zesty finish   
  26. Orange cranberry* – tasty combo
  27. Raspberry* – solid cupcake, nice raspberry flavor
  28. Milk chocolate – not overly chocolaty
  29. Dark chocolate – didn’t think I was going to like this since I prefer milk chocolate but it was good w/ a glass of milk
  30. Caramel apple* – didn’t get any real caramel apple flavors, just spice
  31. Irish Chocolate* – wish the frosting had more Baileys flavor
  32. Vanilla hazelnut chocolate* – if you think this is going to taste like nutella…you’re wrong
  33. Chocolate marshmallow – like a ding dong but needs more marshmallow
  34. Vegan red velvet – if u want a coconut cupcake get this- if u want red velvet …don’t 
  35. Coconut – great coconut frosting, cake a bit dry though
  36. Raspberry chocolate chip* – nice combo but cake was dry
  37. Vanilla- sprinkles on top were too sweet
  38. Ginger maple* – nice frosting, too much ginger
  39. Chai latte – herbal flavor with spice frosting
  40. Chocolate coconut- dry cake, didn’t like dark chocolate frosting
  41. Carrot- if you like carrot cake, you’ll like this (I’m not a fan)
  42. Ginger lemon – good on their own but a weird combo
  43. Mocha – had high hopes for this – very good mocha flavor but with the choc cake was just bla
  44. Banana chocolate – the chocolate frosting masks the banana cake
  45. Neapolitan* – just tastes like chocolate  
  46. Lemon coconut – dry,dry,dry
  47. Chocolate peppermint* – too much chocolate
  48. Choco loco* – cinnamon and chocolate is not my favorite combo
  49. Black & White – really bland
  50. Margarita* – tasted like salt
  51. Summer Cherry* – tasted medicinal like cough syrup
  52. Red Hot Velvet* – frosting tasted/smelled like Dentyne gum (which I despise) & overpowered the cake*seasonal/ limited edition flavors / secret menu

How about you? Which flavors make you drool? Leave a comment or two…
Continue reading

Roux Louisiana Kitchen

Roux is a Louisiana style restaurant on the row. I’ve never had the pleasure of traveling to “The Big Easy” to try out the delicacies (possibly next year!) so I can’t tell you if it’s authentic, but I can tell you it’s enjoyable.

The lunch combo is the way to go if you want to sample a bunch of the restaurant’s cuisine for an affordable price. I ordered 1/2 the pulled pork Po’Boy with a side of mac & cheese as well as the etouffe. The mac & cheese is not your standard fare. It has breadcrumbs and tastes more like parmesan cheese noodles. They were good but don’t expect your mama’s mac & cheese. The etouffe with crawfish was tasty but the highlight of the meal was the Po’Boy. The sandwich was really delicious. Tender pork covered in bbq sauce AND a yummy rémoulade on a toasted french roll with lettuce, tomato and red onion. My taste buds were happy. The portions are large so be prepared to overeat or get a doggie bag.

After reading the not-so-positive reviews on Yelp, I wasn’t expecting much. I left pleasantly surprised and eager to come back to try some more.

BTW – Whoever invented the fried pickle is a genius!

Tasty Tip: M-F from 4-7pm they have a happy hour at the bar where they have a bunch of cheap eats.

Website: www.rouxkitchen.com

UPDATE – 2nd visit: I sampled the sweet potato fries and the fried catfish both were great. I tried the gumbo and was not impressed. Maybe I’m not a gumbo girl but I found the gravy/sauce to be overly fishy tasting. Also, the fried oysters were as big as my fist. Just not appetizing…

Roux Louisiana Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Cafe Artemis

Lamb Souvlaki

Mike wanted to go “somewhere new.” So I did a Yelp search and decided on a highly rated Mediterranean restaurant called Cafe Artemis located in the Campbell Pruneyard. I didn’t recall seeing this place before. It’s situated next to Trudys and is only a couple years old.

It was a sultry night so we, of course decided to eat outside on their large patio. We started things off with the Saganaki. It’s pan fried cheese. Nuff said! I ordered the Lamb Souvlaki which was marinated lamb grilled with peppers & tomatoes over rice pilaf. Mike had the Lamb Kofte – traditional ground lamb patties with toasted cumin, grilled and served with rice pilaf. Both dishes were very nice with classic Greek flavors. My only complaint was that I would have liked a real steak knife. The butter knife I had was not cuttin’ it.

The portions were large so that left no room for dessert. I hear the chocolate torte is awesome. The service was good even though we did end up with 3 different waiters throughout the night… but it didn’t bother me. I rather be served than made to wait. It was a tasty affordable meal. I will return.

FYI – Wednesday nights they have a belly dancer if you’re into that sort of thing…

Rating:

Website: http://www.cafeartemis.com/

Cafe Artemis on Urbanspoon

Sprinkles, Sprinkles, Sprinkles

It’s been exactly 2 years and 7 months since I had my first Sprinkles cupcake in Beverly Hills. The event was life changing. Ever since I have been waiting for a store to open in the Bay Area. That day has come. On October 4th I woke Mike up at the crack of dawn and we made the trek to the new Palo Alto store. It had been open for 2 weeks and I was hoping the novelty would have worn off for the newbies. We rolled into the parking lot at 9am just as the doors were opening and there were already 20 people in line (by the way it was cold and drizzling). My reasoning for going this early was to avoid the 45 minute wait that had been reported on Yelp the past few days, and to make sure my cupcakes were fresh and in-stock. The cakes are made daily and when they are gone, they’re gone. The store layout is similar to LA. Although this is larger they still only allow ~ 6 people inside at once to order, the rest are kicked to the curb (at least they have a bench here). So it’s pretty much a guarantee that there will be people waiting outside when you arrive –pretty good marketing scheme. We were in and out in 20 minutes. We picked out 6 cupcakes ($3.25 each) and 2 dog cupcakes ($2.50 each). They have certain cupcake flavors each day so check the schedule before you go to make sure they have what you are craving. Well, was it worth the wait? You Betcha! I’m not going to go into any details on how things tasted here because in an upcoming ongoing post I will rate all the cupcakes in order of my preference. I invite you to give your opinions on the subject. 6 down 31 to go — I am determined to try them all!

I will leave you with this Warning: Do not attempt to eat the dots on top of the cupcakes. THEY ARE DECORATION and solid as a rock so if you don’t want to break a tooth…lick them and then dispose.

See you in line…

Hours: M-Sat 9-7pm, Sun 10-6pm
Address: 393 Stanford Shopping Center

Tapestry

Tapestry holds a special place in my heart as this was the location of our rehearsal dinner. Tapestry is a California bistro situated in a 100-yr-old remodeled bungalow in Los Gatos. We rented the entire house for that one special night. Mike and I dine here twice a year and each time the memories come rushing back. My favorite time to go is in the late summer because they have a large patio with an awesome outdoor fireplace. I usually order the same thing –the award winning filet but this evening I was adventurous and decided to try something different. After Mike and I split the Honeymoon Salad, which features blue cheese and candied walnuts (note: this name has no relation to our wedding — that is the official name, don’t know why…) I selected the Coconut Poached Halibut w/ Tandori Spices. This was lovely, but I love any kind of fish with a coconut finish. The halibut had a thick crispy crust, sat on a bed of mushrooms and was topped with a sweet relish that blew me away. Too bad this is a seasonal menu item or this would be my new go-to dish. Mike chose the Seared Rare Ahi w/ Coconut Risotto, Black Bean Sauce & Dried Pineapple. Another dish in which he wiped the plate clean…literally.

We never leave without dessert even if we are stuffed. I went with my usual, the Chocolate Lava Cake w/ Caramel Mascarpone Cream and Mike ordered Zack’s Favorite Peach Pie w/ Vanilla Ice Cream. Truly decadent. We always enjoy our time spent at Tapestry.

Rating:

Website: http://www.tapestrybistro.com/

Sino


My office is walking distance to Santana Row so I have lunch there often. In the last 2.5 years I have never had the urge to go to Sino, the row’s version of a Chinese restaurant. I thought no way could this hip joint serve up some authentic eats.

Mike and I finally decided to give it a try. I was unsure about our decision as our leggy blond modelesque waitress took our drink order and Bobby Brown blared over the sound system. Along with the menu we were given a piece of paper with a list of dim sum items and one of those mini-golf pencils. We filled out the form and waited to see what would happen. One dish after the next was placed in front of us and to my surprise they were good. I have worked for Asian run companies for the past 8 years so I have had my share of dim sum and this really stood up. They didn’t try to do anything fancy to the dishes. They were prepared, portioned and presented just like any other Chinese establishment would. The one thing I missed was the rolling carts but getting my food served at well-timed intervals and pipin’ hot was a trade I’ll happily accept. You would think this place was insanely expensive but for 6 dishes we were only out $25 and we were stuffed. What a pleasant discovery…

Website: http://www.sinorestaurant.com/

Sino Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

Village Bistro and Wine Bar

If you want to grab a cheap bite after a movie or work stop by the Village Wine Bar at Santana Row. They have a slammin’ happy hour every night from 3-6pm (weekends too!). Almost all small plates and cocktails are $6! The only downer is you have to sit in the bar area which is small and can get crowded. But the wonderful selection of wines by the glass and appetizers are worth the pushin’ and shovin’.

Recommended eats: crispy Calamari, Heirloom Tomato flatbread, cheese stuffed figs and the crab cakes.

Website: http://thevillagebistro.net/

Tanglewood

Tanglewood serves up modern American cuisine. Located at the very end of Santana Row (across from the Crate and Barrel) the restaurant can be easily overlooked which is unfortunate. After a lovely dinner here a few weeks ago it is now my favorite dining establishment on the row. Their seasonal menu can be eaten on their nicely decorated, fully covered outdoor patio. No worries of getting a sun burn!

The grub for the night:

blt salad: baby iceberg, applewood smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes, point reyes blue cheese dressing

corn chowder

maine diver scallops, fennel puree, lentil salad, pernod poultry jus

maine diver scallops, fennel puree, lentil salad

maine lobster slider with homemade chips

maine lobster slider with homemade chips

I’m gonna keep the comments to a minimum. The pics say enough.
salad … mmm bacon
soup … silky sweet
scallops … perfectly seared
slider … if you’re hungry order 3!

We tried a couple desserts but the standout was the Lemon tart with honey gelato (sorry no photo). Give Tanglewood a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating:

Website: http://www.tanglewood.com/

Campbell Farmers market

My favorite farmers market in the area is in Campbell. There are 2-3 blocks full of art, fruits, veggies, flowers, baked goods, jams, food carts, herbs, pasta, fish, cheese and more. Last Sunday Mike and I strolled through while eating a homemade raspberry cheesecake poppy-seed muffin. Yum! Then we shared a deliciously fresh gigantic savory crepe with spinach, tomato, cheese and lemon. Warning: eat before you go or you will spend all your money on pre-made foods… Finally we purchased some goodies to take home. When it comes to produce I usually buy from the farms that specialize in one or two items instead of 10. First stop, the heirloom tomato booth (you will see what we created with these here soon). Mike and I went crazy at Tomatero, the organic tomato stand and then grabbed some potatoes from Zuckerman’s Farms. If you are in the mood for strawberries check out Rodriguez farms (they’re delicious and organic!). You’ll find plenty of samples so take a walk through before you buy.

this is just 1/2!

1/2 of the crepe!

heirlooms

Address: Campbell Ave at Central Ave Campbell, CA 95008

Hours: Sundays, 9:00am to 1:00pm year ’round

Bottle Shock

© 2008 Unclaimed Freight

Mike and I spend a good amount of time in Napa so we of course had to see Bottle Shock. When I saw the previews I was a bit worried that a movie about a 1976 wine tasting competition between the hippies of Napa and the wine snobs of France could get boring fast. Fortunately this was not the case. As it is not heavy on wine mumbo-jumbo those who are not fans of the grape juice will be able to enjoy the film, and those that are will love the film. Check it out before it leaves the theaters. See Mike’s more in-depth review here.

Film website: http://www.bottleshockthemovie.com/

Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe

The hunt for the best benedict of the Bay continues… Next stop, Gilley’s, another small diner located in the heart of downtown Los Gatos. Mike and I popped in one Tuesday morning to get some grub. I, of course, ordered the Eggs Benedict. Mike had the French scramble which was scrambled eggs mixed with a herb cheese spread and bacon bits. When the dishes arrived they looked unappetizing. The portion size for the scramble was very small. Mike was lucky if he got two eggs. His toast was stale and his coffee burnt. An all around bad breakfast. Surprisingly my benedict tasted better than it looked. The ham and muffin were cooked nicely but the eggs were a tad overcooked, and the hollandaise tasted like light foamy butter. Interesting take on my favorite morning entree. Then came the hashbrowns which were hard, dry and tasteless. As Mike paid he watched the cook slice open a COSTCO size bag of hashbrowns and dump them on the griddle. If you’re looking for fresh ingredients — look elsewhere. We went in with high hopes for a great meal and left disappointed.

The current standings of the benedicts of the Bay:

1. Lou’s Coffee Shop (Los Gatos)
2. The Diner of Los Gatos (Los Gatos)
3. The Southern Kitchen (Los Gatos)
4. The Los Gatos Cafe (Los Gatos)
5. Bill’s Cafe (Willow Glen)
6. Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe (Los Gatos)
7. Sweet Pea’s (Los Gatos)

Address: 47 N. Santa Cruz Avenue

Joseph Phelps Insignia Blending Seminar

Mike’s kind of a wine connoisseur. Before we met my wine of choice was a glass of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill or Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel. Growing up in an alcohol free home I missed out on Wine 101. Over the years with Mike’s guidance my palate has changed. These days I find myself liking Red Blends, Cabs and Rieslings. Mike’s favorite winery in Napa is Joseph Phelps. He has been a preferred club member for over 15 years. Whenever we are in the valley tasting Phelps is always on our list because they have informative seminars, friendly staff, reasonable prices, a beautiful location, and most important fantastic wine.

On our latest visit we took the Insignia Blending Seminar which discusses the different elements that make up a bottle of Insignia. For those of you not familiar with Phelps wine, Insignia is its award winning proprietary red blend. The class started off with a tasting of 4 other Phelps wines: ’06 Viognier, ’05 Pinot, ’05 Syrah & ’05 Cab Sav. Then we moved on to the 5 wines that made up the 2004 Insignia. Once we tasted the components we were free to create our own blend of Insignia by mixing the various wines provided. We had lots of fun and wine…but my Insignia concoction didn’t compare to the original!

Tasty Tip: call ahead, all tastings/seminars require an appointment. If you are member pack a lunch and reserve a picnic table.

Website: http://www.jpvwines.com/

Ad Hoc part II – Fried Chicken Night

THE Fried Chicken everyone goes gaga over

Typical conversation about Ad Hoc:

Have you been to Ad Hoc?
Did you have the fried chicken?
Oh, my gosh it’s the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. It’s life changing bla,bla,bla

Back in May we did go to Ad hoc but not on fried chicken night. We instead had a marvelous pork dinner. If you are not familiar with Thomas Keller’s beloved restaurant in Yountville, Ca read this past post.

Mike and I returned to Ad Hoc to finally try the legendary fowl. We arrived on July 28 super syked and ready to devourer some breasts and wings. Here was our menu for the evening:

First Course - Baby Iceberg Wedge Salad with house cured speck, sweet 100 tomatoes, red torpedo onions, herb-cream dressing

Second Course - Buttermilk Fried Chicken brentwood yellow corn & yukon gold potatoes

Third Course - The Cheese Board with berry jam & medjool dates

Fourth Course - Pecan Tarts with whipped vanilla cream & caramel sauce

The answer to every ones question…Did it live up to the hype? Unfortunately for me – No…as I have stated in the past I like my chicken with a thin salty skin. Keller’s chicken didn’t have either of those components. His chicken has a thick herby skin. Good, but not my style. Mike enjoyed it. At least I can now say — been there, done that!

My favorite parts of the meal were the two sides. The corn was so sweet I didn’t mind the kernels stuck in my teeth and when I die I want to be buried in a vat of that creamy buttery mash. Just because I wasn’t crazy about the chicken doesn’t mean I like Ad Hoc any less. The food is amazing and I love the concept of the restaurant. It still gets 5 drumsticks in my book and I will be back. I look forward to trying a fish and beef menu.

Tasty Tip: If you want to try it for yourself a fellow food blogger has a calendar that lists all the monthly Ad Hoc fried chicken nights. For those of you who can’t make it to Napa Keller’s chick recipe can be found here or to try my version go here.

Round Pond olive oil tour and tasting

imported Mediterranean olive trees

I read about the Round Pond olive oil tour and tasting on Giada’s Weekend Getaway to Napa recap on the food network website. It sounded like fun so Mike and I went July 26th. The tour was very private with only 6 people. It began outside next to the olive trees with a discussion about the family-run business. Then we moved inside the mill and learned how the olives are processed. I didn’t know this but olive oil is only pressed one time during the year (November) so we didn’t get to see the equipment in action. The tour portion ended and we went onto the tasting which included taking shots of the Round Pond Italian and Spanish olive oils as well as their lemon and orange infused oils. Mike and I preferred the peppery Italian blend to the fruity Spanish and the zesty blood orange over the delicate lemon. Next we tasted their two gourmet red wine vinegars by drenching a sugar cube and sucking out the juice. Odd procedure but deliciously sweet. We enjoyed the Sangiovese vinegar best. To finish things off we were given heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, bread, strawberries and mixed greens to try all the varietals with food. We had a foodie feast!

Mike and I highly recommend this unique experience. If you’re going to be in Napa for a number of days it’s a wonderful alternative to going to yet another wine tasting. I will definitely go back, hopefully during the harvest.

mill

tasting room

olive oils

(click images to enlarge)

Tasty Tip: Appointments required. 1.5 hours / $25 per person
Website: http://www.roundpond.com

Le Papillon

For our 2 year wedding anniversary Mike and I dined at Le Papillon. Mike’s parents had given us a gift certificate for Xmas and we decided this would be the perfect occasion to use it. Le Papillon opened in 1977 and was one of the first fine dining French restaurants in Silicon Valley. As we were seated at our table the first thing I noticed was that the restaurant was unusually quiet. Although the room was half full you could hear a pin drop. I guess everyone was deeply enjoying their food. I whispered to Mike “Are we allowed to talk?” This would soon change…

The moment we ordered a well organized food parade began. Starting off with THREE Amuse bouches: first cheese and duck, second shrimp in a citrus vinaigrette and third a tomato gazpacho. Three blissful bites. Next came our starters. We chose to share the Pan Seared Maine Day Boat Scallops with Hazelnut Polenta and Preserved Lemon. It was simply fantastic. I then moved on to my Lobster Bisque with Sweet Corn Timbale and Mike dug into his Baby Lettuce Salad. When I have ordered this bisque at other establishments it’s always a light shade of pink this time it was a deep brown. It was super rich and flavorful. Hands down the best bisque I have ever had.

For our main courses we both chose fish. We attempted to keep things light because we knew we were having dessert. I chose the Braised Sturgeon and Mike the Grilled Turbot. Again, both dishes were magnifique. Cooked and presented perfectly. Then came our two beautiful desserts. The Soufflé Grand Marnier with Fresh Berries and the Banana and Chocolate Torte (pass up a banana dessert–no way!) We r-e-a-l-l-y over ate.

The food and service was superb. The only negative for the evening came at 7:30pm when a large family arrived with two kids under age 4. This was a recipe for disaster. The tykes were tired and restless. They spent the night running around the table, clanging dishes and whining. I don’t hold the restaurant responsible for the unruly children but instead of a sign at the front door that says “No cell Phones” maybe it should say “No children under 8″. I like kids but when you are paying $140 per person you don’t expect to view an episode of romper room.

That aside, Le Papillon was an extraordinary eating experience and a grand way to celebrate two years of marriage. I’m sure we will be back for future anniversaries.

Note: Sorry for the lack of pictures but I took the night off…

Rating :

Website: http://www.lepapillon.com/

Le Papillon on Urbanspoon

Crimson

Crimson is hidden in the corner of a strip mall on Los Gatos Blvd. It’s really not a great location but worth the time to find. As soon as you walk in you will know why the restaurant is named Crimson. Inside it is covered head to toe in red decor. My favorite being the beautiful fresh red rose at each table. Crimson is a Green Certified restaurant serving ingredients direct from local farmers. We arrived on Tuesday July 8 for their weekly $30, 3-course prix fixe menu. We had heard about it over a year ago and we finally decided to go. After looking at the menu Mike and I ordered one of everything so we could try it all.

Prix Fixe Menu – July 8, 2008

The Starters
- Black Mission Fig and Charentais Melon Salad with Gorgonzola, Candied Walnuts, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad, with Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Garden Basil and Lemon Oil
These both were wonderful. I especially liked the warm sweet figs. I’ve never had figs prepared like this before.
The Main Courses
- Herb and Dijon Mustard Marinated Prime Rib with Cabernet Au Jus and Garlic Mash
- Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon with Delta Asparagus, Jasmine Rice, and Organic Lemon Butter
Again, two delightful and hearty dishes. Just because this is a Prix fixe doesn’t mean small portions. We both had to get doggie bags. We never have to do that…

The Desserts
- Mixed Summer Berry Bread Pudding
- Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Berry Sauce
The mousse was silky and rich. The bread pudding was a little doughy — the only miss for the night. 5 out of 6 dishes were on point.

With the economy as it is it’s getting harder to justify all our lavish dinners out. This $30 Tuesday is one of the best deals in town!

Tasty Tip: don’t forget to fill out the form that comes with your bill to get on the weekly email list.

Crimson on Urbanspoon
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Mr. Pickles

How could I not know about Mr. Pickles? I am in downtown Los Gatos at least once a week and I have never seen this little sandwich shop. I read a review on Yelp and decided to seek it out. It is located on a small side street across from the Wells Fargo bank. When we arrived on the 4th of July around 1pm there was a line out the door. I guess I’m the only one in LG not familiar with this place. They feature over 20 specialty sandwiches that are huge, fresh and tasty. Mike and I shared “The Abbott” which has turkey,avocado and bacon with a bag of dirty chips and were full for hours. If you are in need of a great sando, go see Mr. Pickles.

FYI- If you’re in Los Gatos and you see a man in a pickle suit don’t be scared it’s just Mr. Pickles.

Address:151 N Santa Cruz Ave

Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Cafe Beaujolais

Café Beaujolais is a California French restaurant located in a restored Victorian Farmhouse. This would be the destination for our one dinner out in Mendocino with Mike’s cousin and wife. The restaurant has been a town staple since 1969.

We started the night with the following appetizers; seafood bisque, crab cakes and butter braised beets with micro greens. All were good but the award winning crab cakes seemed to get the most admiration. Our main courses included:

-Pan Roasted Quail, Organic Greens, Sparrow Lane Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette, Candied Walnuts, Cashews and Dried White Figs

-Pan Roasted California Sturgeon Fillet, House Made Tagliatelle, Truffle Emulsion Sauce, Wild Mushrooms, Beets and Snap Peas

-Salmon with Raspberry Chile Sauce, Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus

The boys had stellar remarks for the salmon special. The sturgeon also deserves some props. For dessert we ordered the Cherry Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, the Coconut Cream Pie and House Made Fruit Sorbets. Everything was delicious.

My only complaint was that the server wasn’t very knowledgeable about the entree ingredients or the wine we ordered. This is unusual in a small well established restaurant. Despite those minor setbacks we had a wonderful evening.

Shots of the Eats (click to enlarge):

Rating:

Website: http://www.cafebeaujolais.com/

Goldeneye Winery

If you ever travel through Anderson Valley make sure to stop at Goldeneye Winery for a tasting of their world class Pinots. Goldeneye is owned by the Duckhorn family so you know they produce some outstanding wines. While in Mendocino we decided to do a day of Pinot tasting and Goldeneye was our first stop. We had made a reservation to take their Estate tasting session which is a 45 minute semi-private tasting (8 people max) that discusses the winery’s history and production process while tasting wines paired with a selection of cheeses, nuts and dried fruit. This was one of the best tastings I have been to. Our host was knowledgeable and friendly and the setting was breathtaking. At $20 per person this was a steal compared to Napa. You will find that many winery tastings in the Valley are low in cost or completely free.

Tasty Tip: Before you arrive pick up a picnic lunch and sit and enjoy the magnificent views of their vineyard.

Hours: open daily
11:00am – 4:00pm
Website: www.goldeneyewinery.com

Cocola Bakery

You may have passed by the Cocola Bakery in Santana Row and drooled over the delectable pastries, tarts and cakes on display. Many don’t know this, but they also sell a handful of specialty sandwiches. My favorite being the turkey breast with cranberry sauce and brie cheese on a fresh baked baguette. It reminds me of Thanksgiving. It’s a bit on the pricey side at $9.90 but a nice treat every once in a while. For a more affordable bite try the ham and cheese croissants. They also have great beverages…on cold mornings I will sometimes pick up a banana hot chocolate. Really good stuff!

Cocola Bakery on Urbanspoon

Conduit Restaurant

Conduit [kon-dwit, -doo-it, -dyoo-it, -dit]
–noun : a pipe, tube or the like, for conveying water or fluid.


Photo credit: Eater SF

We ended up at Conduit not because we heard rave reviews but because of its location. Mike and I were going to be in the Mission for an event and this was only a few blocks away. We met some friends for dinner with no expectations. As the name states Conduit is filled with many horizontal and vertical copper and bronze pipes. Interesting concept and design. As I scanned the precise menu I noticed it only lists the ingredients for the dishes which requires you to converse with your server to get the full description. Luckily our server was witty and engaging and he did a wonderful job explaining each item. For a starter we order the hamachi special for the table to share. It was refreshing. We then all ordered the beet salad for appetizers which as we all know I love. This version was one of the best I have had. For my main I chose the halibut with artichokes and almonds. The fish was cooked perfectly with a nice seared crust and seasoned well. The almonds gave a wonderful crunch. I accompanied my meal with a kick a** Bründlmayer Riesling. I don’t usually make a fuss about wine but this was amazing. Mike had the game hen with pea ravioli and our friends had the halibut and pork. All the plating was beautiful and the flavors melded perfectly. When it was time to order dessert, to my delight, we were told that all desserts come with a homemade ice cream. We ended up with the chocolate pound cake with espresso chip ice cream and the chocolate creampuffs with, I believe, a tangerine ice cream. I could be wrong about that – regardless, the desserts were out of this world.

I found Conduit to be a very pleasurable experience. Even though we were there for 3 hours I never felt rushed by our waiter. They let you take your time and enjoy your evening. At just six months old this venture possesses fantastic food, staff and prices. I’m sure you will hear more buzz about them in the future. If I lived in the city I would become a regular at this little gem.

Note: My pictures came out horrible so do visit the Conduit website. They have tons of clear photos to peruse. Oh, don’t forget to check out the restroom…I’ll just say it’s different…

Rating:

Website: http://www.conduitrestaurant.com/

Conduit on Urbanspoon

Cin-Cin Restaurant and Winebar

On a whim Mike and I decided to check out Cin-Cin, the replacement restaurant for Cafe Marcella in Los Gatos. We were big fans of Cafe Marcella. When Mike and I started dating it was the site of our first night out at a restaurant that didn’t have paper napkins. Cin-Cin has only been open about a month and seems to be doing well. The evening we went they were relatively full. I really like the new look and feel. It has a very eco friendly vibe from the wicker-like chairs to the bamboo walls and floors. They also tout an organic menu. It took some time for us to go through the menu as it is pretty extensive. It’s filled with wine by the glass, wine flights, beer, specialty cocktails, appetizers, small plates, large plates and sides. Our server did a good job of explaining the majority of the menu items; I guess a new restaurant feels the need to do that. The thing that stood out to Mike and I were the wine flight options. See those three large glasses above… those were $9 TOTAL! Even if only two out of the three were any good the price was unbelievable. Mike was further impressed that the flight glasses came labeled. Usually glasses are dropped in front of you and you have to try to remember what is what. We started our meal with the mushroom empanadas with truffle oil. I found them to be lacking in flavor. For the main course I chose the braised lamb shoulder with mint fava bean puree and fingerling potatoes (is it me or is everyone serving fava beans these days?). Mike had the pan seared salmon with fingerling potatoes and fennel confit. We both enjoyed these dishes, the lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender. To finish things off we had the cheesecake beignets AND the coconut sorbet. The beignets came with a honey/hazelnut dip and a milk chocolate dip. Both desserts were fantastic, my only complaint was that there were 3 beignets. I have a pet peeve about receiving servings in uneven numbers. The chef should recognize that most likely there is going to be an even number of people at a table so give 2 or 4 not 3. I dislike having to cut things in half to share (by the way this was also the case with our empanadas).

Overall the food was good but nothing spectacular. I can definitely see myself dropping in for wine and dessert or to share some small plates with a group of friends. There are a number of large tables as well as a lounge like area with low couches. Cin-Cin seems like a prime location for a gathering.

Rating:
Website: http://www.cincinwinebar.com/


Thea Mediterranean

Mike and I stopped at Thea Mediterranean in Santana Row for a bite to eat after we went to see the Iron Man movie. It was a lovely night and they have a great comfortable outdoor seating area. Thea serves Mediterranean food with Greek influences. We started off with the fried calamari plate. It was very nice. The batter was just like I like…light. For my main course I had the moussaka which is a casserole of eggplant, lamb and beef smothered in a thick bechamel sauce. This was enjoyable but very filling. I took more than half home with me. It was even better the next day for lunch. Mike chose the Garides, prawns pressed in Greek spices over a zucchini cake and topped with an arugula salad. The presentation was fantastic. It was a light and flavorful dish.
On a previous visit I had the pita with regional spreads, the chicken souvlaki and the baclava. All were delicious. The food at Thea is fresh and tasty. I always leave satisfied. If you like Greek food, give it a try.

Rating:

Website: http://www.thearestaurant.com/

Lou’s Coffee Shop

Last weekend it was again time to get my benedict on so Mike and I ventured out at 8:30am to Lou’s coffee shop in Los Gatos. When we arrived to the old school diner it was surprisingly empty. Usually in LG you have to be up at the crack of dawn to get seated in any bfast joint. By 9:15am the place was fairly full.

You know what I ordered and Mike chose one of the specials: coconut and banana waffle with macadamia nuts and raspberry syrup. He must of enjoyed it because thinking back he didn’t even offer me a bite. He devoured the whole thing. My eggs benedict was perfection. Ladies and gents, Lou’s has just bounced to the top of my benedict list. The best part was the sauce. It didn’t taste like a hollandaise but a bearnaise!! I freaking love bearnaise!! Although you can’t see it, the ham was also delicious. The cook had thrown it on the griddle so it had some crusty carmelization. Hands down #1.

The current standings of the benedicts of the Bay:
1. Lou’s Coffee Shop (Los Gatos)
2. The Diner of Los Gatos (Los Gatos)
3. The Southern Kitchen (Los Gatos)
4. The Los Gatos Cafe (Los Gatos)
5. Bill’s Cafe (Willow Glen)
6. Sweet Pea’s (Los Gatos)

FYI- I read a newspaper article from 1998 that said Lou’s and the Diner were owned by the same family. I don’t know if that is still true but they both have mastered the benedict!

Address: 15691 Los Gatos Blvd

Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc is a fairly new restaurant in Yountville from the famous chef Thomas Keller (the French laundry/Bouchon). When you enter the building you will feel as though you stepped into a Pottery Barn catalog. The decor is casual and homey yet hip and fun. Ad Hoc is billed as a family style restaurant which usually means everyone at your table orders a few dishes and you share. Here, things are done a little different… Ad Hoc serves ONE 4 course menu every night which you share at your table. So whatever the chef decides to make, you eat. There are no choices to be made. When I first heard about this unique business model I was highly intrigued. With that said I expected every dish to be prepared flawlessly and guess what?…they were! Every morsel was perfectly seasoned. I could actually taste the salt and pepper in every bite.

Here is the menu we were served on May 10th, 2008 ($48/per person):

First course – Frisee salad with beets
I absolutely love beets so I was totally excited about this salad. It was delectable. It was simple yet refined. When you have fresh ingredients you can’t go wrong.

Second course – Stuffed pork with rice, barley, baby carrots, asparagus and apple compote
Mike was drooling…The pork skin was crisp and salty and the meat tender. The veggies and rice were a perfect accompaniment.

Third course – Goat cheese with pinenut brittle and blackberry jam
A combination I would never think of was a symphony in my mouth.

Fourth course – Thin pastry with baked bananas topped with strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream
I don’t know if you notice from previous posts but if a restaurant offers a dessert with bananas and ice cream Mike and I order it. We adore banana anything. It was like this menu was tailor made for us.

The one and only thing I did not care for was the music blasting in the dining room, it really contradicted with the homey vibe they wanted the restaurant to portray. Don’t get me wrong the soundtrack played throughout the night was great but extremely loud. I found it hard to talk with the friends at our table. Around 8ish the music and lights were turned down which was much appreciated.

This was the best meal of the weekend and probably the best I have ever had in Napa. I hear the evenings with fried chicken and chocolate brownies are to die for. Unfortunately, they only post the menu the day of so you can’t plan ahead. It’s the luck of the draw. Make your reservation (far in advance) and keep your fingers crossed. But really unless you are a picky eater I don’t think you can go wrong on any night.

Side Note: We were told by one of the servers that Ad Hoc originally was a temporary fix until Keller could open a burger and half bottle joint but it became so popular that it had to stay. I’m so glad it did!

Rating:

Website: http://adhocrestaurant.com/

Keller cookbooks:
The French laundry
Bouchon

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

Solbar at Solage

I had heard rave reviews about Solbar the restaurant in the new Solage resort in Calistoga. A bit off the beaten path, Solbar is an interesting mix of hip Napa style and a tropical island. The dining area is split in two — indoor and outdoor. It’s very open and airy and when you are inside you still feel like you are outside, as one main wall is open to the patio. Very much like you would find in a Hawaiian restaurant. Our group of 6 decided to sit on the patio next to the beautiful fire/water display. Mike and I had dinner with 4 friends so we sampled the majority of the menu (Hi- DB, CB, R & JB). We started off with a couple orders of the flatbreads & spreads to share and a bevy of unique mixed drinks. The breads were light and flavorful and the drinks refreshing. The appetizers that followed were the sliders, a mixed green salad and I had the asparagus soup. No complaints there. The dishes were enjoyed by all. Dinner then arrived for everyone except me. I had ordered the sliders as my main course and the kitchen forgot them. No worries …I was actually not super hungry that evening — for a change. Our server was very apologetic for the mix-up and she removed the charge from the bill. Other entrees included the yellow fin tuna, barbecued pork buns, pasta with fava beans and roasted lamb. When my sliders with bacon, cheddar and ten-hour onions arrived they were not all that they had been built up to be. Prior to coming I had a bunch of people tell me to try the sliders. They were tasty but a bit bland, they needed a sauce of some kind (maybe it was left off in the rush to get to my table?). I actually prefer the sliders at the Paragon restaurant in San Jose. For dessert we had the cinnamon sugar doughnut holes and a mix of house made sorbets. The sorbets were the hit of the night. Some were still talking about them the next day.

The food was good but the setting was magnificent. It was a great spot to hang out with our friends. I would go back to have cocktails and dessert anytime.

Rating:

Website: http://www.solagecalistoga.com/dining/index.shtml

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

For our first night in Napa we decided to check out Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. The owner Cindy Pawlcyn, is the James Beard award-winning cookbook author, Chef and owner of Mustards Grill, so we knew it would be good. It was a beautiful evening so we chose to sit outside on the small patio under a large 100 year old fig tree. Light Jazz music pumped through some speakers. Don’t expect a loud, mardi gras like environment. Some colorful hand blown drinking glasses and rooster signs are as crazy as you will get. Cindy’s serves up home inspired dishes in a charming rustic setting.

Mike and I started our meal by sharing a warm spinach salad with smoked apple bacon, caramelized onions and pouched egg. It was nice and the vinaigrette dressing gave it a tangy kick. For the main course Mike picked the smoked duck with fritter and I had the pan seared halibut with fava bean mash, pickled onions, asparagus and artichokes. Both dishes were remarkable!! Check out those photos, they were almost too pretty to eat…but we did :grin: . Mike’s duck was HUGE. The skin was crispy and the meat juicy, it had been cooking all day in a wood burning oven. My halibut was cooked to perfection, light and flaky and the artichokes were magnificent. I love fresh artichokes not the marinated kind in a jar. These were soft and buttery like when I make them at home. Even though we were stuffed we couldn’t pass up a dessert called Campfire pie. I didn’t get a photo because we tore into it as soon as it hit the table. Picture marshmallow fluff filled with peanuts and chocolate chips on top of an oreo cookie crust placed in the oven so it had a meringue like finish. Sooo scrumptious.

I actually enjoyed Cindy’s more than the beloved Mustards. It has all the elements for a perfect restaurant: comfortable atmosphere, awesome food, attentive and fun staff plus very reasonable prices. I can’t wait to go back.

Rating:

Website: http://www.cindysbackstreetkitchen.com/

Cindy’s cookbooks:
Big Small Plates

Mustards Grill

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Del Dotto Wine Caves

We have been going to Napa for many years. For the first time we decided to check out the Del Dotto Cave Experience & Barrel Tasting as it was recommended by a friend. The tour starts off with some history about the winery owner, some background about the caves and info on the different kinds of oak barrels. A guide then takes you into the caves and you taste their red wines directly from the barrel. Following the barrel tasting you return to the winery and sample a few bottled wines along with chocolate truffles and cheese. Our guide was fun and knowledgeable and the wines were good. The tour lasted 1 ½ hours. You taste over 15 different wines so be prepared to be buzzed!

Tip: Make a reservation, not a walk-in situation ($40 per person)

Website: http://www.deldottovineyards.com/

Oxbow Public Market

Mike & I took a trip to Napa May 8-11. Our weekend started off with a visit to the Oxbow Public Market. It is a new market in downtown Napa (very similar to the Ferry Building in SF). I had first heard about this establishment when reading the January 2008 Food & Wine Magazine 100 best. It was #29 and listed as Napa’s best Market. We were going on a picnic so we stopped by to pick up some eats. What we found was a snazzy building filled with restaurants, wine shops, butchers, bakers and a fantastic cheese merchant. On the outside was about 4 farmers market stands. I was expecting a lot more. Hopefully on the weekends (it was a Thursday) they have a bigger selection of produce. It’s a great start and looks like more will be coming soon.

Website: http://www.oxbowpublicmarket.com/index.htm

The Cheese Steak Shop

I don’t usually blog about chain restaurants but I’m going to make an exception for the Cheese Steak Shop in Pleasanton. I have been going to this place since high school– so over 18 years! I have never been able to find a restaurant without “cheesesteak” in the name that can do it like they do. Establishments that don’t specialize in the sandwich just don’t make it right. This cheesesteak has so much flavor and so few ingredients it amazes me every time I eat one. Inside the soft roll is well-marbled steak, white American cheese, onions and sweet peppers from a jar. The shop claims to serve “Original Philadelphia Style Cheesesteak Sandwiches”. It’s so juicy and delicious, makes me want to move to Philly. All I know is if by the end of the day you still can’t smell that cheesesteak on your fingers you haven’t had the real deal!

Website:http://www.cheesesteakshop.com/

Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos

Have you ever seen the mob of people on a Saturday or Sunday morning on the corner of Main & Maple in LG?

Well, they are waiting for a table at the Southern Kitchen, another small diner in Los Gatos. I had to venture in to see what all the fuss was about.

I of course had the eggs benedict. Only seemed right. I also got a side of grits since I rarely see grits on a menu. The grits were nothing like grandma used to make. They were thick and creamy with a mashed potato like consistency. All in all good food, friendly staff and great coffee. I’ll be back.

Address: 27 E Main St

Current ranking of the benedicts of the Bay:

1. The Diner of Los Gatos (Los Gatos)
2. The Southern Kitchen (Los Gatos)
3. The Los Gatos Cafe (Los Gatos)
4. Bill’s Cafe (Willow Glen)
5. Sweet Pea’s (Los Gatos)

Other places I plan to visit to get my benedict on…

  • Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe (Los Gatos)
  • Lou’s (Los Gatos)
  • Little Amsterdam (Saratoga)

Any other recommendations? Leave a comment!

The Counter

the counterIf you’re at Santana Row in San Jose and you want a slammin’ burger, stop by the Counter. The beef/chicken is tender and always tastes extremely fresh. Be warned a little goes a long way. I always leave feeling stuffed. This is the only burger I usually end up eating with a fork and knife. It’s a tasty mess.

How it works: it’s a build your own burger or chicken sandwich shop. After you are seated you are given a clip board and a pencil and you choose your meat and toppings. I went with a burger with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and gruyere cheese. I kept things classic but they have more interesting options like herb goat cheese, grilled pineapple, roasted corn and black bean salsa or a fried egg.

  

Sorry about the blurry photos. First attempt at using images from my cellphone.

Don’t forget to try the onion strings and sweet potato fries. One order can feed 4 people. They come with 3 dipping sauces…good stuff. The shakes are yum too.

Website: http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter Santana Row on Urbanspoon

Gimanelli Deli

Whenever I’m in my old stompin’ grounds and I’m craving a turkey sandwich, I stop by Gimanelli’s. It’s a fantastic little Italian deli with a variety of sandwiches, homemade soups, pastas and salads. It is located in downtown Pleasanton and is a little hard to find but is worth the search. Cruise by if you’re in the area around lunchtime.

 Address: 915 Main St. Pleasanton, CA

Plumed Horse Restaurant

plumed horse

For Mike’s birthday we went to the Plumed Horse in Saratoga. It recently re-opened after a lengthy remodel. The lodge like decor has disapeared and has become ultra modern. The dining area is fairly small. There are ~17 tables packed into a single room. It looks like there will be more areas to dine but they are not ready yet. Pretty unbelievable, but Mike and I were probably the youngest couple in the place. Those that were younger where having dinner with family members. The restaurants clientele is probably older because of the hefty price tags on the menu. Come to think of it, I think I even saw a couple coats and ties on some of the men. Who wears a suit to dinner in California anymore?

Let’s move on to the food…the evening started off with a complimentary Amuse-bouche from the head chef. We received a tiny mug that contained an artichoke and prawn soup. A single roll and butter was then served to each of us by one of the many assistant servers. (I’ll go into more detail about that later). Mike ordered our wine from the extensive wine list. You will see the new 1,800 bottle wine cellar as it is a prominent design element. plumed horse wine cellarThen we sat and waited for our first course to arrive. I don’t know if they were really busy or if they don’t like to rush things but there was a slight time lapse between courses. It also could of been that we were REALLY hungry. We had a 8pm reservation, which we never do, but because of things planned during the day this time fit our schedule. For the first course I chose the crab and asparagus bisque and Mike had the butter lettuce with radish and pine nut vinaigrette. My crab and asparagus bisques came in separate pouring vessels and were presented table-side. When poured into my bowl it looked like a yin/yang sign…very artistic display. The soup was good, nothing spectacular.

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The Los Gatos Cafe

I had heard that the Los Gatos Cafe was one of the best breakfast joints in the area. We finally made it over last weekend. It is located on the end of the main drag in LG near highway 9. You probably would never notice it unless you were looking for it. It is a diner with very modest decor. Could use a bit of a makeover. When we arrived at 8:30am we were promptly seated and the place was almost filled to capacity. The Los Gatos CafeI ordered the eggs benedict and a slice of the Kahlua pound cake. About 6 months ago I strayed away from my typical bfast order of a denver omelet and began seeking out benedicts. Why?? I have no idea. This one was good… not the best. Better than Bill’s Cafe and Sweet Pea’s but not better than THE Diner down the street. They are still the reigning champs (yummy hollandaise). My eggs came with a side of potatoes. They were a blazing yellow color so I’m guessing they were saffron. They had a nice crispy top. Not bad but I prefer home fries. Mike had the french apple pancakes which ended up being mounds of apples wrapped in thin crepes. He said he enjoyed them. The best part of the meal was the pound cake! WOW! It was fantastic. Unlike typical pound cake which can be heavy and dry this was light and super moist. I love my baked goods. Anyways, the menu has a huge selection of omelets, benedicts as well as pancakes, waffles and french toast. We will be back to sample a few more of their dishes.

Tips: Cash only. Open from 6-3pm daily. Get there before 9am and be seated quickly, arrive later and plan to wait.

Address: 340 N. Santa Cruz Ave

Los Gatos Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sprinkles Cupcakes are FINALLY coming to town!!!

My prayers have been answered…THIS summer Sprinkles Cupcakes is opening up in Palo Alto. It’s not my backyard but it’s closer than LA. I’m truly excited. It will be at the Stanford shopping center. Start your diets now!

sprinkles cupcakes
image © sprinkles cupcakes

Sweet Pea’s Cafe

Here is another shout out to a local hot-spot. Sweet Pea’s is a small cafe in Los Gatos. We go all the time for lunch especially on a nice day because most of the seating <if you can get one> is outside. The sandwiches are delicious. They use a lot of fresh ingredients. My favorite is the chicken salad. It has all kinds of goodies in it including nuts, red grapes and cranberries. They are also known for their savory & sweet crepes. One Sunday morning we stopped by for breakfast and were introduced to the homemade nutella muffins. They had just come out of the oven and were still warm. The muffin melted in my mouth. It was down right delectable. What is nutella? It’s the original creamy,chocolaty hazelnut spread. Sweet Pea’s also makes a nutella & banana crepe that is the bomb!

Feast your eye’s on the nutella muffin…Sooooo good.

nutella muffin

Address: 453 N Santa Cruz Ave
Nutella Spread

Fleur de Cocoa …uber-licious hot chocolate?

Fleur de Cocoa

As I flipped through the Feb. issue of Sunset Magazine I saw an article entitled “What to do in Northern California in February”. They list Fleur de Cocoa in Los Gatos as having a uber-licious hot chocolate. How could I not want to try that?! So I did and it was screaming hot, super thick, incredibly chocolaty and not at all sweet. I could only get through 1/4 of the itsy bitsy cup it was served in. I guess French hot chocolate is too sophisticated for my pallet. What I will be back for is some of the pastries. The display of croissants looked magnificent.

My favorite hot chocolate:Godiva Chocolatier Hot Cocoa

Restaurant James Randall

James Randall is another treasure in Los Gatos. Mike and I went for our first time last weekend. When you walk in you will feel as though you stepped into your parent’s living room. It’s a very small restaurant, dimly lit with candles and a fireplace. This evening the place was filled to capacity (30 people max). james randall thumbWe took our seats and were handed the concise menu. Don’t expect more than 6 main entrees to choose from per night. We began with a 5 spice Ahi tuna stack which consisted of fresh spicy tuna, sliced avocado and mixed greens sandwiched in-between circular won ton crisps. When dipped in the accompanying wasabi mayo dressing it was a little party in your mouth. It was simply delectable. Things started off with a bang and only got better. For the main course I chose the double pork chop with red cabbage and maple jus. It came with a side of crisp, buttery spatzle like pasta. Everything was cooked perfectly and had really great flavors. Mike picked the flank steak that came with green beans, mashed potatoes and a chipolte bbq sauce. He practically licked his plate clean. Now onto dessert…you didn’t think we would skip this did you? We chose the cheesecake with blueberries. It was pleasing but nothing special. What impressed us more is that they served french-press coffee. Each of us were given our own individual press…so good! French pressed coffee is sublime. As the evening came to an end Mike said, and I quote “This is my new favorite place in Los Gatos!” Now that’s a huge achievement. I don’t know if I would rank it at the very top of my list but it came close. We will definitely come back.

Tip: Mon-Thurs they have a 3 course prix fixe menu for $40 per person! For all you wine lovers james randall offers 5 or 8oz pours per glass. We went with the 8oz which comes in a personal carafe and gives you about a glass and a half. Nice option that saves you money.

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Website: http://www.restaurantjamesrandall.com/

Restaurant James Randall on Urbanspoon

Ristorante Da Mario – the best Bolognese around

My favorite cuisine is Italian. All my life I have been searching for the perfect bowl of ragu. I have found it (well at least the best so far). If you stroll the streets of downtown Saratoga you will find a handful of quirky stores and upscale/expensive restaurants. To our surprise last year a quaint little Italian restaurant opened up. We’ve dropped in three times and have never been disappointed. Last week we took a friend to dinner. We started things off with an Antipasto platter that included mozzarella, San Daniele prosciutto and two types of bruschetta (tomato and mushroom). Everything was fresh and flavorful. We also had a new addition to the menu a thinly sliced stuffed eggplant with a marinara sauce. It resembled a cannelloni and was wonderful. For the main course I had my usual — the Spaghetti Bolognese. I just can’t say enough about this little bowl of heaven.

The sauce is light with lots of tiny bits of meat and mushrooms. I could eat it every day. By the way the Spaghetti with meatballs is just as good. Mike had the veal piccata and our guest had the homemade gnocchi with pesto and Gorgonzola cheese sauce. I’ve never been a fan of gnocchi but Mike and our friend both said they were fantastic. To finish things off we ordered the tiramisu and chocolate macaroons. Be sure to leave room for dessert because the tiramisu is some of the best I’ve ever had. During our meal Mike attempted to get the ragu recipe out of the hostess but she wasn’t leaking any family secrets. I guess we’ll just have to continue to visit Da Mario for all my future ragu cravings…

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Website: http://www.ristorantedamario.com/

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Slanted Door

the slanted door

The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese restaurant located in the newly renovated Ferry building in San Francisco. It has a nice simple, clean design. If you can get a seat by the window (which we did) it has great views of the bay. Along the main wall to maximize space tables are situated tightly. Watch your bum cause you will likely bump the table next to you if you need to get up. The majority of the food was delicious including the Meyer Ranch shaking beef (filet mignon with garlic, watercress and red onions), Caramelized tiger prawns (garlic, onions and chili sauce) which had a nice kick, and for dessert a peach/apple tart. The only dish that didn’t meet expectations was the Slanted door spring rolls w/peanut sauce. This being a Vietnamese restaurant I was looking forward to trying their rolls. Bad choice, they were missing something….taste. On this rare occasion we chose to have beer with our meal instead of wine and we found an unexpected selection of German and Belgian beers. They were good but at a Asian restaurant — where is the TsingTao?! The service was another thing to be desired. I think our waiter was more worried about lookin good than servin good. The guy was nice and polite but we ended up getting our main course (after a very long wait) before our appetizer and never received the soup we ordered. Lucky for him we were not in a hurry and in a celebratory mood (Mike’s B day Weekend) so we didn’t let him ruin our evening. My suggestion to the waiter would be to write down an order instead of trying to memorize it. In theory that seems cool and sophisticated but when orders are incorrect or completely forgotten…I don’t mind the pen & paper. After all is said and done, I would go back to the Slanted Door FOR THE FOOD. Maybe take-out next time.

Tip: Adjacent from the restaurant they have a shop called “Out the door” where you can get some of The Slanted Door items to go.

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Website: http://www.slanteddoor.com/

Slanted Door on Urbanspoon

The Green Papaya

This is not a review but more of a shout out to the Green Papaya. If you are ever in Los Gatos at dinner time and are looking for a low key spot to grab a bite and don’t need a reservation drop by the Green Papaya. Mike and I like to eat here every once in a while. It’s a cozy Vietnamese restaurant with good food and a nice wait staff. I highly recommend the Los Gatos beef and the spring rolls. I would pass on the fried banana dessert unless you close your eyes as you eat it. Think big fried banana –no frills or fus. I wish I had a picture of it :lol:

Address: 137 North Santa Cruz

La Fondue

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La Fondue in Saratoga recently re-opened down the street from the old location. The restaurant is much bigger and the dark medieval theme is gone :-) . When you walk in you will not recognize the place. I think the only thing they kept from the old spot were the fondue pots. The new decor is modern with a touch of crazy. The owner knows Mike so we got a tour after our meal. There are at least four different rooms all with their own style. Mitch (the owner) had the materials (wallcoverings,lighting..) flown in from all over the world. It was clear that a lot of time and energy had been put forth in coming up with the design choices. The food was as good as usual and filling. You won’t leave this place hungry. We ordered the Fondue Feast. We started off with the Stinking Rose cheese fondue, which is scrumptious. Then moved on to the main course which included the following: chicken, calamari steak, buffalo, scallops, shrimp and filet mignon. We chose to cook our feast on the grill. They no longer give you the garlic butter to saute but opt for a healthier oil. I must say I prefer the old fattening garlic butter! It was tastier. If you’re coming to La Fondue you’re not watching your weight! Keep in mind if you are more adventurous you can choose alligator, crocodile or ostrich for your meat. For dessert (my favorite part of the meal), we chose the milk chocolate fondue with a shot of irish cream. They give you all kinds of goodies to dip including the healthy: strawberries, bananas, apples and the sinful: cinnamon covered cream cheese balls, rice krispie treats and snicker bars. Coming to La Fondue is always a fun and entertaining way to spend an evening. Although your body can really only handle visiting once a year. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s worth going just to see the renovations.

Tip: Remember you can just go for the chocolate Sunday-Thurs at 10pm.
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La Fondue website: http://www.lafondue.com/

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