Category Archives: Family

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode VI

On Day 6 we were on a quest for more Mexican food. This time we hit one of the Tlaquepaque chain of restaurants. Apparently there are several within a short distance of each other in Willow Glen, and they have a reputation for solid food but not so great service. Fortunately for us, we found both the food and the service to be very good. I liked the tamale at Tlaquepaque better than Puerto Azul’s, and I really loved their guacamole. The guac was really fresh and creamy tasting, so much so that we wondered if maybe they had added sour cream or something. And just like our previous day’s Mexican lunch, this one also featured a nice beverage:

Chavelas at Tlaquepaque

This one is called a Chavelas and it’s made with beer, tequila and lime juice. Even though it’s gotta be higher in alcohol than the Michelada due to the tequila, it is so light and refreshing you don’t even notice. You know it must pack a punch though, because the limit is 2 per customer. Oh, and as you can see, it too is served in a gargantuan goblet that could otherwise serve as a candy bowl.

After kicking back and relaxing for a few hours in the afternoon, it was time for dinner. This time we decided to go for Korean BBQ. This is not one of the cuisines that they do better out west than here in NY, but the place we went, called Tobang, was still very good. They had a particularly nice selection of panchan including delicious big ol’ sardines which I had never seen before. Best of all, they served rice paper wraps which are essentially like square pieces of Chinese hor fun. Once you’ve had Korean BBQ with those types of wraps, plain lettuce wraps just don’t cut it anymore. Overall, not in the same league as any of our NY/NJ Korean places, but Tobang was still quite good.

I should point out that most everything out in the Bay Area is contained in strip malls and this Korean place was no exception. Amusingly, in the same strip mall was this store which I thought was rather unique:

Lingerie Babywear Store

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode V

While out in the SF Bay Area, I wanted to take advantage of the various cuisines that they do better out there than here in NY, namely Mexican and Vietnamese. Day 5 of my trip opened with Mexican food. Lily and CS picked me up from Nancy’s place since I would be crashing with them for the rest of my stay, and they took me to Puerto Azul in Willow Glen for lunch. It had been a long time since I’d had a good tamale so I was thrilled with the authentic tamales and tacos combo that I ordered there. But even more thrilling was this beverage that CS convinced us we needed to get our afternoon started right:

Michelada at Puerto Azul

It’s called a michelada and I believe it is made with beer, bloody mary mix and lime juice, served in a massive chilled goblet lined with a salt and spice mix. It was enormous in size and flavor. Addictively refreshing and went well with the food we ordered. Nice call by CS on the drinks!

Later that afternoon I was off to a tour of Crushpad. They’re a winery that allows anybody to create their own wine with a minimum order size of one barrel. I’m in on a barrel of syrah with Eric and his friends and family so I figured I would stop in and check on our wine-in-progress while I was in SF.

Crushpad Room
Crushpad Our Barrel

I was given a tour by Crushpad’s Stuart Ake who was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the entire wine making process. I was thoroughly impressed by their entire operation. They work with customers from the initial concept stages all the way thru to bottle selection and even custom label creation. And seeing their operation in person I can tell you they really strive to do the best they can with every aspect of the winemaking process. They even have a ceiling mounted webcam so that clients can watch their wines being racked over the internet. They can even fashion custom barrels, mixing and matching staves to create barrels that will impart specific characteristics to the wine!

Custom Barrel

It was a fascinating and educational tour of the Crushpad facility, and our syrah was tasting pretty good already even though it has about 5 months of aging left.

Afterwards I headed across the street to a seedy looking hole in the wall call The Hard Knox Cafe. I love it when you stumble across excellent food in the least likely of places and that was the case with Hard Knox’s array of soul food. How does this spread look?

Hard Knox Cafe soul food

Clockwise from left to right- collard greens, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, cabbage, blackened catfish rice and beans, mac and cheese, and ox tails. The chicken was a little bland, but that was the only disappointment out of the bunch. Even the cabbage and collard greens were really addictive. But the ox tails were my favorite, falling off the bone and served in a rich gravy. That was a surprisingly superb meal in the shadiest looking of places.

After that we headed back to Dell’Uva for a few more bottles of wine before Mat called it a night and I went back to Lily and CS’s where they had a couple friends over and we just hung out in the man-cave (and of course did more drinking well into the night).

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode IV

The main event on the schedule for Day 4 was to take in a Giants day game at AT&T park. But first we figured we should grab some lunch at Santa Ramen. This is the ramen place with rich pork broth similar to that of Ippudo Ramen in NY. The main thing I remembered from last year was that their special premium pork was outstanding. This time around though, it wasn’t quite as fatty and therefore not quite as good. It was still a thoroughly satisfying bowl of noodles, just not as good as the one I had a year ago.

With a full belly we made our way out to AT&T Park. I had never been there before and all I can say is wow. It’s a beautiful park and an incredible place to watch a game. Check out this view from the cheap seats:

AT&T Park

The whole place just has a friendly and inviting vibe. I also liked their variety of concession stands and that I could enjoy a Guinness while watching baseball!

After the game came another big moment in the trip for me- my virgin visit to a Philz Coffee. This one was located a few blocks from the ball park. As we walked in, there was a lot of activity going on as they were apparently training a team of new employees and one guy behind the counter flagged me down and insisted I try a special coffee drink he had just made. I tasted it and it was fantastic. It turns out it was their iced mint mojito. I don’t usually go for coffee drinks with too much milk or cream, in fact I usually take my coffee just black with sugar, but in this you could still really taste the coffee and the accent of the fresh mint added a nice freshness. Intrigued, I read through the entire list of descriptions of their dark roast selections to figure out what I was going to order. I decided upon the Julie’s Ultimate blend. The process at Philz is kind of cool. The barista took my order, asked how I like it and I told him black and medium sweet. He turned to the vats of beans behind him, scooped some out of the appropriate bin, ran them thru a grinder, then placed the grinds into a coffee filter atop an empty pitcher. Then he poured some hot but not boiling water over the grinds and took a spoon and stirred everything in the filter. Upon dripping through, he then poured the coffee back and forth from cup to cup (to aerate the coffee?) and then presented it to me saying “try that for me and let me know if it’s how you like it”. Nice. Total elapsed time was probably about 5 minutes for this single cup of coffee. I picked it up and took a sip… and I will never be the same. It was perfect. It tasted like great dark roast coffee, but somehow more refined and balanced. Perfect amount of sugar, just enough to enhance but not overwhelm the flavor of the coffee. And best of all, there was no bitter finish. Zero. None. For as long as I can remember, coffee that is rich and dark has always come with a downside- a bit of astringency and bitterness on the finish. Not so with Philz. Not sure if it’s better beans or better coffee making technique, but whatever it is, it’s magical. I was, and still am, thoroughly impressed with this place.

Philz Coffee

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode III

I awoke on Day 3 still feeling pretty good; surprisingly not hung over. I was staying at cousin Nancy’s place and Mat came over to pick us up and take us out to Tomales Bay for the day. The goal was to check out Hog Island Oyster company right at the bay (last year we just had the oysters at their restaurant in the Ferry Building). We relied on Mat’s Garmin GPS to get us there and unfortunately for us it seemed to think we were riding a bike instead of a car because it took us on a journey through narrow winding roads zig-zagging up and down hills infested with Lance Armstrong wannabes. I’m talking hundreds of bikers adorned in lycra complete with racing numbers on their backs. I was wondering if anybody was gonna chuck their water bottle into the woods like in the Tour de France.

When we finally arrived at Hog Island I was actually queasy from all of those turns on those windy roads but I was not going to let that stop me from enjoying some oysters dammit! The setup at Hog Island Oysters is pretty cool with picnic tables and grills set up for all to use:

Hog Island Picnic Area

You order your oysters and they serve them to you on a plastic lunch tray covered with ice and provide you with a shucking knife and glove. You take them to the picnic tables and practice your shucking technique, or if you are all thumbs at it, they can send a shucker over to help you. We all got the hang of it pretty quickly and enjoyed 11 dozen oysters between four of us for a mere $150. And the view of the bay wasn’t too bad either:

Tomales Bay

After an afternoon of eating shellfish, what better way to round out the day than with a nice dinner of… shellfish! The one place I had targeted as a must-try for this trip was The Boiling Crab, a chain with locations in Texas and Southern CA before recently opening a branch in San Jose. They serve all types of shellfish which they boil and serve in clear plastic bags containing the sauce of your choice- cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter, or a blend of all three which they call “the whole shebang”. Each sauce can be prepared to the heat level you choose. I’m guessing The Boiling Crab is Vietnamese-owned because you also get a little thing of salt and pepper and lime wedges to mix your own muoi tieu chanh, a sauce that Vietnamese use for seafood.

We were told the wait would be an hour and a half so we ordered some beers from the back and waited. Fortunately for us it seemed many of the people on the waiting list had wandered off and since we were friendly to the hostesses we managed to get seated within 20 minutes. There were four of us and not being very good judges of poundage, we completely over-ordered. We went with 4 lbs. of shrimp and 4 lbs. of crawfish to share, and a Dungeness crab for each of us, all with the whole shebang, medium hot.

Boiling Crab shrimp
Boiling Crab crawfish
Boiling Crab Dungeness

What we didn’t know was the crab would be a mammoth 2.5 lbs! Incredibly huge and incredibly sweet and delicious. The crab “brains”, all the guts inside which are my favorite part of the crab, was unbelievably plentiful and I was able to drink it out of the crab shell like a bowl of the richest most unctuous soup you can imagine. All of the food we had was just awesome. Medium was the right amount of heat to make me happy (Vietnamese medium hot is probably hot hot for most people) but seemed to be a bit much for the others, especially Tony whose nose was particularly athletic, running all over the place. Next time mild would probably be a better choice for everyone. In the end, after all the messy carnage of eating this type of food and going through a roll of paper towels, we found we had over-ordered by about 3 lbs. of food between the shrimp and crawfish. Amazingly, all that food and a couple beers each, plus a good tip, only came to $65 a person! Unequivocally, The Boiling Crab is an absolute MUST for any foodie visiting the bay area.

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode II

Friday morning I woke up feeling surprisingly good considering how much alcohol had been coursing through my system just a few hours earlier. Cousin Tony had been good enough to take the day off from work to take me around town, and he picked a terrific spot for lunch- Out The Door. This is the sister restaurant to Charles Phan’s acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door. The food at Out The Door is simpler, less expensive, but still excellent. Especially after a night of boozing and all you want is a nice bowl of noodle soup. The restaurant is located in the Westfield Centre in downtown San Fran. Yes, it’s in a mall. But trust me, the food is good. The broth in their Pho was soul satisfying and their seafood was delicately cooked to let the fabulous quality of the fish itself shine through. What a perfect lunch.

After lunch we hit Peet’s Coffee which was my favorite coffee in the Bay Area at the time. More on why I use the past tense for that statement in a later post. For those who haven’t tried it, Peet’s is a big, bold ultra-strong style of coffee, similar to the Mud Truck in NY. People usually love it or hate it. I like it.

After a lot of walking around SF for much of the afternoon we ended up at restaurant One Market across the street from the Ferry Building. Two excellent signs, literally, bode well for us- a banner indicating that they were running a month-long wine promotion, and a plaque showing they possessed a Michelin star. The wine special was simply unbelievable- 50% off the price of all bottles. Browsing thru the wine list it appeared their regular prices were at 100% markup, so essentially their special was equivalent to no-corkage. And with a wine list as broad as theirs is and the quality of wine service they provide, this was an incredible deal. We started with a bottle of Roederer champagne, made the big leap to a bottle of The Prisoner, and then took the server’s recommendation and tried a 2005 Martella Petite Sirah from Mendocino.

Martella Petite Sirah

Awesome selection. This was probably the best wine discovery from the entire trip. At $70 (cut to $35 with the promotion, which is retail price at any wine shop), this wine was fantastic. A big, rich wine to be sure, it’s got tremendous intensity of fruit, think blackberry and cherry, but somehow well balanced and not overly tannic. Petite Sirah like this can make me forget my usual favorite varietals of cabernet and zin. One word of warning though- this wine will stain your teeth like nothing you’ve ever seen, so when you’re smiling because you love what you’re tasting, you will also look like you just ate Grimace.

After many bottles of wine at One Market, we moved the party over to the North Beach area where an old friend Paulina was bartending at a wine bar called Dell’Uva. The wine list at Dell’Uva was mostly foreign to me, smaller boutique labels I’m guessing, but all fairly inexpensive. We let Paulina pick for us and we ordered some food as well. I was pretty well toasty by that point so I can’t say I recall much of what we ate or drank, save a respectable flatbread pizza and some pretty good pate on the appetizer plate. The end of that evening is a bit foggy, though I remember Kenny took off early, Tony disappeared for a while and came back with a box of fudge, and their was also one funny food incident. Apparently at one point Nancy and Lily had asked if we could get a plate of just pate instead of getting just a little dollop of it on the mixed app plate. No problem. It arrived as three scoops of pate on a narrow plate and Nancy told me to try it. I didn’t know what it was because it was dark in there and I thought Nancy had said “try one”. So I picked up the entire center scoop and ate in one bite what was probably meant to be at least 4 servings. Oops! It was a delicious if greedy mouthful of food. But hey, it was my birthday! lol