Posted in Food, San Francisco

Lovely Sugary and Sweet

My friends know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I’ve always had a sweet spot for cupcakes :).  There’s something so happy and perfect about a little serving of cake and frosting.  A good cupcake is just a lovely thing.

So I’ve been to a couple of cupcake joints in the city, but have never been able to get to Kara’s to see if all the recent hype about this place is warranted.  I always seem to get there after they close or after they’ve sold the last cupcake.  But last week, I finally made it  And I didn’t try just one!

I got the Chocolate Velvet, Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting, and the Fleur de Sel, which was filled with creamy caramel (talk about decadent!).  All of them were rich and full of flavor.  The cakes were super moist and had great flavor.  You could taste the quality in the local ingredients they used. 

But my favorite was surprisingly the Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting.  I loved how the cake had REAL vanilla flavor that didn’t taste like a synthetic flavoring.  And the frosting was super sweet, rich, and had a sophisticated chocolate flavor because of the high grade chocolate.

This is not a subtle or light cupcake.  It is sweet, rich and decadent so pace yourself!  It is a true sweet tooth’s dream come true.  For someone like me, it was a wonderful treat and definitely worth going back to.

Kara’s Cupcakes – San Francisco (Chestnut @ Scott and Ghirardelli Square) and Palo Alto (coming soon) – www.karascupcakes.com

Kara's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, San Francisco

Pho With a Twist

A nice big bowl of Vietnamese rice noodle soup (pho) may seem like a simple thing, but there are so many elements to the broth that’s much easier to find a “sub-par” bowl of pho than it is to find a really good one.

So a good broth is simmered all day with beef bones and parts, and spices like star anise, cinnamon and five spice.  Mediocre bowls of pho have broths that are not simmered for long periods and lack depth, spice and true meaty flavor.  Boring.

PPQ (Pho Phu Quoc) in the Sunset District is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco.  They make a lovely pho with a broth that has lots of complex deep flavors.  They even use Angus quality beef, which makes a big difference over other places.

But, what I really love to order is their Chicken Curry Pho.  Man, is that a nice hot bowl of yumminess.  It is so damn tasty with that mild broth base that’s full of a Southeast Asian style curry (think Thai or Singaporean).  Along with that is the subtle flavor of lemongrass and kaffir lime and a whole lot of chili oil!  Man it’s spicy!  But it is so worth it.

They even simmer the white meat chicken pieces in that broth, they don’t just dump it in when you order it.  You can tell because the meat is so tender and totally tastes like the broth.  I hate when white meat chicken tastes like rubber or is dry and flavorless (blech!).

My husband loves their Crispy Five Spice Chicken, and I can’t blame him.  It is so incredibly tender, juicy, and full of sweet tasty flavor.  It’s so good.  You can get it with cold rice noodles, over rice, with a bowl of pho, or as a side dish.  Order it.  It IS that good.

I love a bowl of classic beef pho and PPQ does it well, but these other dishes can sometimes steal the show.  But that’s not such a bad thing. 🙂

PPQ (Pho Phu Quoc) – 1936 Irving St. (@ 19th Ave), San Francisco – 415.661.8869

Ppq Vietnamese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food

Ice Cream for those who can’t have it :)

Courtesy of Laloo

It’s pretty common to know someone who is lactose intolerant. Unfortunately, my husband and I both fall into that bucket, though admittedly, he’s better at avoiding cheese than I am. (I’m sorry but a life without cheese is just not worth living.)

There are many digestive enzymes and pills that you can take to help you digest dairy better, but for us, it’s better to avoid cow’s milk when we can. So what to do if we start craving some ice cream?…

We were at Whole Foods the other day and found a product called Laloo. It’s a brand of ice cream that’s made from goat’s milk. Now, I know I’ve mentioned that I’m not crazy about ice cream (I know, I’m just weird that way), but when it gets as warm out as it has lately, even I want some ice cream to cool me down.

So we tried the goat’s milk ice cream and it was fantastic. It was totally creamy, rich, and didn’t have that strange tang that goat’s milk can have. And apparently, goat’s milk is easier for your body to digest than cow’s milk, in general.

The only negative about Laloo? That strange tang comes around after you’ve eaten it. It was like the familiar goat’s milk tang had a delayed reaction, leaving a strange taste in your mouth after you’re done with the ice cream. It was like I’d just eaten goat cheese. Odd, I know, but while you’re eating it you don’t notice any funny flavor at all.

Laloo is a great alternative if you can’t take the cow’s milk, and it’s pretty darn tasty. It’s no Ben and Jerry’s, but you could definitely do a lot worse.

Posted in Food, Travel

Falafel’s Drive-In

Photo courtesy of Stephen I. (Yelp)

I used to work down the street from this place and I’ve never been. Shame on me, I know. Especially since I love myself a tasty falafel sandwich. It’s even been featured on Food Network on more than one occasion.

That’s it. I needed to go.

So my hubby and I drove down to the Falafel Drive-In in San Jose for lunch and waited in the long line (that never seems to dissipate) for about 10 minutes before ordering. It moves quickly enough.

It’s a typical outdoor burger joint (and they do serve burgers and fries, too), except they serve falafels, gyros, hummus and other mediterranean specialties.

I ordered a large Falafel Sandwich and it was stuffed to the brim with iceburg lettuce, tomatos, tahini sauce, four falafel balls and their famous hot sauce, all in a pita. It was yummy and the falafels were fresh, hot and crispy. Great texture, freshness, and blend of herbs. I wish I could say the lettuce and tomato were fresh too, but they weren’t.  Better veggies would really have made this sandwich even better.

My hubby got the Gyros Salad. It had the same lettuce and tomato (not great) and the gyros had a really good, clean flavor. It didn’t blow him away, but it was definitely tasty enough to order again.

We also got a side order of hummus which is served with some veggies and two large pitas. Very tasty with again, with good clean chickpea flavor. I personally like my hummus with more garlic and olive oil, but if you don’t, you’ll love this.

All in all, the food is indeed, very good and I’d definitely come back. And I love how none of the food gave me that horrible MSG headache or aftertaste that can sometimes come with this type of food.  It was certainly one of the better falafel sandwiches I’ve had in the Bay Area, but not the best I’ve ever had. (That title goes to the ones I’ve had in NYC and Paris!)

Falafel’s Drive-In – 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose – 408.294.7886

Falafel Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Travel

Just Like Heaven

I can’t believe I was actually considering canceling our reservation! I had booked it two months out so we’d have somewhere special yet unpretentious to go for our anniversary, but we were starting to talk ourselves out of driving up to Yountville for our meal. In the end, we peeled ourselves off our lovely new leather couch and drove up to legendary chef, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc.

All I have to say is, “Oh…my…gawd.”

Now, it was Keller’s intention at first to turn this casual space in the Napa Valley into a burger and wine joint: casual, rustic, unpretentious. But as an experiment, he decided to make a temporary restaurant out of it with just one seasonal four course meal that changed nightly. No menu of entrees, appetizers or desserts to choose from. There’s a small selection of good wines to choose from though, and the staff knows their wines.

It became so popular that Keller decided to make Ad Hoc a permanent eatery late last year, and thankfully, started to take reservations.

Because all they offer is one four course meal a day for $48 per person (vegetarian option available), they have the opportunity to get the meal as close to perfection as humanly possible, and it shows. They’ve offered many different dishes here, but the popular ones remain their Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Meatloaf, and Braised Shortribs. Because the menu isn’t published until earlier the same day and reservations usually need to be made no less than one month out, it’s really a crap shoot. But Saturdays usually yield a good meat dish. If you’re really lucky, you get the Braised Shortribs.

We got REALLY lucky…

But first, we were served a salad that totally blew us away (and you know I’m a meat and potatoes girl, so that’s saying something).  It’s base was made up of whole petite romaine heart leaves that had an amazing sweetness to them.  It was accented with meaty, smokey chunks of local applewood smoked bacon, oven-roasted tomatoes (if you’ve never had tomatoes cooked this way you HAVE to try it) that were ridiculously sweet and flavorful, and a light yet creamy housemade herb dressing.  The mix of flavors, textures, and level of quality in the ingredients just made this dish sing.  It was phenominal (and my husband’s favorite part of the meal, actually).

So as far as entrees go, I’ve long considered braised shortribs to be one of my favorites to order when eating out.  But I had no idea what we were in for here.

First off, the quality of meat was unsurpassed with a flavor so rich and buttery. The meat is braised for 48 hours, then seared and roasted. The meat was so tender it barely needed my knife, yet it hadn’t disintegrated like you’d expect with a 48 hour braise. There was even a brilliant salt crust to the meat, yet it was cooked to a perfect medium rare on the inside. It was served with a light au jus and roasted sweet onions. I’m still having dreams about it.

And the accompanying Buttered Egg Noodles with Fresh English Spring Peas and Baby Carrots were no slouch. I was in heaven, literally. Those veggies were so damn fresh you’d think they just reached out the window and picked them out of the garden five minutes ago.  And there’s something so comforting about a bowl of noodles.  It’s like a hug in a bowl. 🙂

Next up was the cheese course.  We were already stuffed to the brim, so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make room for this.  But just one bite and we MADE room.

We were served  a cheese from the Matos Cheese Factory (“St. George”) that had similar characteristics to a gouda.  It was served with fresh cherries that we were advised to dip in our accompanying Marshall’s Farm orange blossom honey and chopped pistachios.  Again, “Oh…my…gawd.”  Follow that up with a bite of cheese and it was so crazy good that there are no words. 

As if that weren’t enough, we both had a glass of sweet wine that was made with grapes from the Malaga region of Spain (Jorge Ordonez & Co. Malaga Special Selection).  It had wonderful flavors of peach and citrus and just sent this whole third course over the top.

By the time we had gotten to the dessert, my palate was exhausted. But my husband says it “picked my palate right back up!”  Fresh local organic apricots were made into a crisp and topped with housemade vanilla ice cream.  My husband is still dreaming of the ice cream, which had the flavor of fresh, rich, full-tilt cream.  Crazy sweet and crazy good.  And the fruit was fresh and delicious.  Again, it went wonderfully with our sweet wine.

Everything is served family style, which adds to the casual, homey feel.  But there’s no ignoring the pretention that automatically comes with being in this part Northern California.  I can’t believe I have no complaints about this restaurant.  If I HAD to choose something, it would be the terrible blaring music.  I overheard three other tables around us complaining about it.  It’s so loud that it gets in the way of conversation and none of it is very good (a mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Buble, INXS, and Peter Cetera).  But all in all, it still adds to the charm, quality, and character of this place and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a detractor.

I can easily say that it was one of the top three meals I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s amazing how such a casual restaurant can have such knowledgeable service, beautiful scenery (a winery is just across the street) and brilliantly executed food. I can’t even imagine what going to Keller’s other restaurant, French Laundry, would be like. I mean, I’ve been to Bouchon before (it was lovely, but it didn’t blow me away), but after eating at Ad Hoc, there is not doubt of this guy’s genius in the kitchen. 

Ad Hoc – 6476 Washington St. – Yountville, CA – 707.944.2487

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon