Barefoot Coffee Roasters: Blowtorch espresso from a hand pump!
I used to get dropped off at the bus stop in front of this strip mall center to finish the commute to community college, and sometimes give Spanish tutoring in the afternoons there. Back then, it was just a convenient location with nothing to boast about. That's why I was disappointed to realize that my friend had just driven me half an hour to get coffee at this taped-up-sign, white-plastic-utensil, zero-ambiance cafe.
Before I could get really angry, though, I found that the new roasters who had moved in gave the place a cozy paint job, ecclectic beaten up chairs, and your typical beatnick fare of art and hippie goods for sale. This made it at least more inviting, but what won me over was the obvious appreciation for organic, fair trade coffee that they shared with this 6-year Starbucks employee and coffee addict. The espresso machine was a beautifully crafted Italian machine with three hand-pumps much like a Pavonni, the barista wearing a white 70's tuxedo shirt replete with ruffles and a clean black apron, the menu lacked the disappointing frilly drinks, the wait communicated that the drinks were made with love, espresso comes with the requisite tiny cookie, and fliers and photos announced the recently passed barista convention for coffee connoiseurs as well as photo opps with admiring local news reporters.
A seat can be hard to find now that they have free wi-fi but the music is worth the seat, wherever you sit: Tom Waits, blues, and all that music you hear and think, "how come MY ipod list ain't this cool?" Also take a trip to the bathroom where you can leave your own beat-inspired thoughts on the chalkboard and muraled walls.
The only thing that sucks about this place is walking back out into the black asphalt parking lot to battle the Bed Bath & Beyond customers' oversized shopping bags as you desperately try to focus on the lingering taste of Italy on your tongue before the suburbs wash it away.
Visit http://www.511.org to plan your mass transit trip
Favorite Dish: Looking at the menu, I could not decide between two of my favorite things that they had combined with coffee: cacao powder and "creme-bruleed" foam, so I asked if they could do a Cacao-brulee. Yes! They did and was it wonderful. A spoonfull of dutch cacao in a shot or two of espresso topped with foam and torched sugar. Baby, get your crackin' spoon! The foam at the perfect point of thickness and was poured in a delicate lattice pattern rarely seen in this country, and topped with sugar crystals ever so carefully so as not to disturb the artwork, then: bust out the blowtorch!
For a truly mindblowing experience, get the mint chocolate bar: a chocolatey minty dream, or a "squishy cookie." And don't forget the water.
- Arts and Culture
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Athena Grill: My Favorite Greek Food
I'm really glad I discovered this restaurant AFTER I spent two weeks in Greece; otherwise, all the food in Greece would have been a letdown. This is really one of my favorite restaurants.
The proprietor takes a hands-on approach to management and the food reflects it. She's a little rude in a nice way, which I think adds to the Greek atmosphere.
Sitting outside in the shade with the flowers is perfect on a hot day. The inside of the restaurant is a little tight but tastefully decorated in blue and white colors with nice artwork and photos of Greece.
If you want a seat outside, you need to arrive before noon as this restaurant has become very popular.
You order and pay at the counter and the food is then brought to your table when it is ready.
Favorite Dish: I recommend that most people start with the lamb souvlaki sandwich with Greek fries and then branch out from there.
The bechamel sauce on the moussaka is worth mentioning as is the authentic greek coffee. Be sure to try the dessert samples if they are available while you are waiting in line. Also, I really like the pita wedges in the bread basket they bring you while they are still hot. The dip which accompanies them is also pretty good.
In addition to the items on the menu, there are usally a fair number of daily specials.
The hours have recently been extended to dinner. I have not seen the dinner menu.
Pho Thanh Long: Pho with good broth
This restaurant is located in a strip mall and is usually croweded a lunch times; I've had to wait for a table a couple of times but the line moves quickly. Ambiance is, "crowded lunch place".
Not being a pho expert, I like this place because the broth seems to taste better than some of its many competitors.
There are 34 items on the menu including Pho, appetizers (including rolls), chow fun and a chinese chicken salad.
Favorite Dish: I always order Pho Tai (No. 4).
- Budget Travel
Birk's Restaurant: American Food in Silicon Valley
I ate a business lunch and a business dinner at Birk's; the food and service were mediocre (less than mediocre if you factor in the price). Someone in my party asked that his Cobb salad be tossed; in not only wasn't tossed but the kitchen had fogotten to add the chicken.
There were a lot of people in suits dining at the restaurant and bar; it seemed that most of the lunch clientele were eating business lunches and a few were on dates.
The price range below is for lunch dishes.
This restaurant was named for and coowned by Birk McCandless, the developor of the office buildings which tower over the restaurant. Birk was killed in 2005 by a jealous ex-girlfriend.
Favorite Dish: Nothing dish really stood out for anybody.
- Business Travel
Tomatina: Authentic Pizza from Brick Ovens
I ate lunch here with a friend from Italy and he said that the pizza reminded him of the kind they served in the south of Italy. The service was good and the resaurant was packed (there was a wait for tables).
Note that the price range below is for lunch.
Favorite Dish: The Pizza Margherita tasted great (it has fresh basil) and the garlic rolls were equally good. They are actually 6 small rolls served in a puddle of olive oil and garlic.
Although I didn't try them, the salads served on a disc of bread were also recommended by my friends.
Parcel 104: Tasty, moderate portions
I ate a business lunch at Parcel 104. The wait would have been 45 min. (we arrived at 12:15) but, fortunately, a large group cancelled and we were seated quickly. The nearby convention center and the fact that the hotel to which it is attached also hosts conferences probably means that the restaurant sees swings in the number of people it seats each day.
We found it a bit loud but that could be a function of the table at which we were seated.
The food itself was very good; the staff emphasized that they change the menu daily in order to utilize fresh, local produce.
Favorite Dish: We all ordered the lemonade on the recommendation of our host; it was fresh and frosty with a mint sprig and a unique taste. I'd definitely recommend it.
The dish I had was a barbequed pork loin on fried green tomatos (crusted in cornmeal) with rhuarb. I really enjoyed it.
- Food and Dining
- Business Travel
Parcel 104: Santa Clara's Best Restaurant
Every once in a while a restaurant comes along that really shocks you with its sophistication and quality. And living in the Bay Area, most of the time you have to head on up to San Francisco to find such a place. Not any more. There is such a place and it's right here in Santa Clara -- Parcel 104. But the biggest shock of all is that it's located next to a theme park in a Marriott hotel. Parcel 104 gets its name from the pear orchard that once occupied the region now covered by the Marriott hotel, Mission College and The Paramount's Great America theme park.
Of course, most foodies took notice and gave this place instant credibility because of the fact that its owned by celebrity chef Bradley Ogden. When I went to chef school 14 years ago, one of my first cook books was written by Chef Ogden: "Bradley Ogden's Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner". I read it from cover to cover and really fell in love with his philosophy of using only the freshest small-farm locally grown produce, meat, fish and poultry, served only when the items are in the peak of season. If peaches go out of season locally, he won't use the ones shipped up from Mexico.
Now just because a restaurant has a celebrity Chef's name on the door doesn't make the restaurant good. Just ask Jeremiah Tower. The key to consistent quality is finding a working chef who is as passionate about your cooking philosophy as the big dog is. And Ogden found that in the person of Chef Bart Hosmer, a Bay Area native who cut his teeth at Whitehall Hotel in Chicago, the Flying Fish Cafe at Disneyworld and Ogden's Lark Creek Inn, just to name a few. And pulls it off with consistently great food served by a confident dining room staff headed by Robert Sharpe, Wine Director/GM. The food is excellent; creative without being too ambitious. I'd eat here every day if I could afford it.
Favorite Dish: I recommend trying the 5-course tasting menu, which runs about $60. You can also order off the regular menu for such favorites as Bigeye Tuna Tartare, Gazpacho "Water", Onion Crisp, 50 Year Jerez Vinegar as a starter or for an entree try the Berkshire Pork Loin Chop, Hoppin' John Grit Fries, Warm Apricot-Rhubarb Jam. If you're still hungry after that, try the Warm Chocolate Spoonbread with Malted Ice Cream and Rich Hot Chocolate. Average price of an entree is $25 to $30 and wines can be had for about $8 per glass.
- Theme Park Trips
- Food and Dining
- Luxury Travel
In-n-Out Burger: The only fast food allowed by law
In n Out Burger is a legend. Many a stoner has proclaimed after a few bong hits "dude, I've got an in-n-out urge!" But until the last few years, you could only find them in So-Cal (Southern California). Not well known outside the boarders of the US, In-n-Out Burgers are a cult legend -- kind of like a John Waters film. This place is not a franchise, but rather a single family owned operation. Their fries are cut fresh and their burgers are remarkable.
Unfortunately, you eat at this place, you will get fat! I repeat: you will become a fat, ugly American. But this place is pure Americana, and no page on American dining habits in the suburbs would be complete without a classic hamburger stand. They even have their own secret language!!
From their Web Site: In 1948, the first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder. In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry's idea caught on and California's first drive-thru hamburger stand was born.
The Snyder's business philosophy was simple: "Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment." Esther continues to maintain the warm, friendly operation that was started over 50 years ago. Though times have changed, little has changed at In-N-Out. The menu-burgers, fries and drinks-is still the same basic menu customers have enjoyed since 1948. Everything is still made fresh to order. There are no microwaves or freezers. Customers may observe French fries being made from hand-diced, fresh, whole potatoes. And the shakes are made from real ice cream.
This is a pure Americana experience.
Favorite Dish: If you are going to get heart disease and high cholesterol, you might as well live it up. Try the Double-Double Animal Style or the 4X4. And the best fast food chocolate milkshake in history.
- Food and Dining
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- Historical Travel
Parcel 104: Fresh and Natural
Parcel 104 is in a wing of the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel. The food is excellent! They use local, organic ingredients, and serve fresh fish - often caught that morning, and natural, grass-feed beef - as well as other organic meat.
Favorite Dish: Their menu changes daily - based on what is freshest. I had the pork, and it was perhaps the most succulent, juicy pork I've eaten. It was served with a fancy and tasty broccoli, and these really awesome onion rings.
Parcel 104 has a HUGE wine list, but there were no bargains on the list. I'm pretty sure there was no red wine under $45.
Also - Parcel 104 provides the food for room service at the Marriott during the week. I had a cheeseburger that was delicious!
- Business Travel
Udupi Palace: Fantastic Indian Food!
Just a short drive from San Jose, down El Camino Real, lies the best Indian Vegetarian restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of dining at. On the border with Sunnyvale, the Udupi Palace is often overlooked and difficult to get into if your coming from Santa Clara. As soon as you enter the Udupi Palace, you know it is going to have great food because of the number of Indian-Americans that frequent the restaurant. The ambience is nice and unintrusive, and everything is very clean and modern. The walls are adorned with statues of Hindu deities. The menu is made up mostly of Dosas and Uthapams (sp?), with a variety of bread appetizers and drinks. Get a Mango Lassi to start with, it is very good. I would reccomend anything on the menu really, it is all really good. And, it is relatively cheap.
Favorite Dish: I always get the Masala Dosa. It is never too greasy or too spicy, always crisp and cooked to perfection.
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