Category Archives: Restaurant

Laili Restaurant Review

On Friday night Andrew and I ventured into downtown Santa Cruz to catch a movie at the Riverfront Twin. We were planning on seeing 50/50 since we’re Joseph Gordon Levitt fans and Seth Rogen is generally amusing. We eschewed the typical pizza, taqueria, or falafel choices that we usually make and decided to check out a restaurant that’s been around for about a year: Laili. It is located on Cooper Street where I believe there used to be an apothecary, but I’m not certain. They have indoor and outdoor space; we chose to sit outdoors since the weather was nice and indoors was fairly noisy and dark. The patio area is beautiful: ivy growing everywhere, tea lights, etc. The only way you were reminded that you were next to Pacific Ave were the drummers outside of O’Neil’s which quieted down about fifteen minutes after being seated.

 

Afghan Chai

The waitress got our drinks ordered quickly: Andrew ordered a beer (typical) and I ordered a chai (also typical). Our drinks came quickly and then we ordered our appetizers and entrees. The chai was an Afghan chai, sweeter and not as spicy as Indian chai. It was also pinkish in color. I really enjoyed it and it had these beautiful bubbles on top that I really wanted to photograph.

While we were enjoying our beverages, a waitress came by and tried to give us someone else’s entrees. Then another waitress came by and dropped off an appetizer that we didn’t order, but we couldn’t exactly remember the names of what we ordered so we started eating it anyway. The Pumpkin Boranee is stewed pumpkin, qurut yogurt, mint, and garlic. It was a very pretty dish that sounded good, but the texture of the stewed pumpkin was slimy and stringy.

Pumpkin Boranee

Next came the appetizers that we did order: the Silk Road Plate and the Pumpkin Bolani. The Silk Road Plate was a selection of hummus, tabbouleh, babaghanoush, and cucumber yogurt dip with “naan”. Their idea of naan was not typical of the naan that I’ve had: it was simply a flour tortilla grilled, completely tasteless and not naan. The hummus was good and the pumpkin bolani was absolutely delicious, crispy on the outside and sweet, spicy pumpkin on the inside. Along with our appetizers, we ordered a prawn salad with arugula, fennel, seasonal fruits, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a completely overpriced salad with (18 dollars) with about six prawns, the pomegranate vinaigrette that did not taste of pomegranate at all, and maybe about three strawberries.  Total disappointment.

 

For our entrees, I ordered Chicken Kabob and Andrew ordered Anar Chicken. The chicken kabob was moist and tender unlike a lot of chicken kabobs that I’ve had. It was served with saffron rice, steamed vegetables that were overcooked and undercooked (a definite low point in the meal), and several different chutneys that really helped add flavor to the meat which was slightly bland. The Anar Chicken was a half roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Andrew said it was very good.
 Anar Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Kabob with Saffron Rice

The service was definitely off. They tried to serve us food that wasn’t ours, served us food that wasn’t ours which we ate anyway, and there was nearly forty-five minutes between being served our apps and being served our entrees. The staff were friendly when they did stop by, but they were simultaneously overattentive and not attentive enough. Overall, the food was good, the service mediocre, and definitely overpriced for the amount of food and quality of that food.

Breakfast at the Eagle Cafe, Pier 39

Despite a rather close proximity to the city, I hardly ever venture up to San Francisco. This weekend however afforded me with the time, opportunity, and motivation to to go the city. My sister was at a geographer’s conference near the Fishermen’s Wharf and I decided I would go up to have breakfast with her.

We walked around the area, which is the most tourist driven part of the city in a city that is a tourist magnet, trying to find a place that did not look like it belonged in Disneyland. Unfortunately, this was a mission impossible and we ended up at the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39, which is like main street at Disneyland, but instead of the nauseating smells of cotton candy and fried food, it smells of fish guts and horse manure.

The restaurant is on the second floor of one of the first buildings. It claims to be historic. I’m not sure how historic it is, but many of the buildings in San Francisco are. Perhaps some of the seats have great views of the bay, ours did not.

I ordered the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, something I would not normally order, but this was a special event: my sister was “in town” and it was part of my birthday weekend. Denise ordered the Griddled Banana Pancakes topped with pecans and brown sugar.

The crab cakes were piping hot, crunchy on the outside, and smooth on the inside with excellent seasoning and a uniform texture. I hate crab cakes that are dry or have crunchy raw onion bits in them. These were neither of those things. The eggs had the largest yolks I have ever seen and our waitress even asked how hard I wanted them. They were perfectly cooked. I could not have asked for a better poached egg. The consistency of the hollandaise was spot on, not too thin and not too thick. The English muffins were huge, but were the correct size to support the crab cake and poached egg. In addition, there were home fries, which were good, and watermelon with a couple slices of orange. There was some strange fried spaghetti garnish that really had no place on the plate, but otherwise it was a wonderful meal.

Denise enjoyed her pancakes and said that they had a hint of orange that helped cut through the fattiness of the bananas.

In all it was a very good trip to San Francisco. I got to see my sister for the first time in months, the weather was great, and the ride to the city was beautiful and short. I took highway 1 up from Santa Cruz through Half Moon Bay, barely hitting any traffic on the way up. On the way back, I encountered a traffic jam in HMB, doubling the amount of time it took me to get to San Francisco.

Weddings, Gardens, and Aquaman?

I found these on my computer and realized that I had not shared them yet on my blog. They are on Facebook, but not in my blog. They are not things that I have cooked, so that is probably why they have not made it over here, but they are things that I have eaten so they deserve a place here.

One set of pictures is from the Concord Farmer’s Market. Concord is a city near Walnut Creek in the East Bay (east of Oakland, up the 680). My friends Cindy and Eric live in Clayton which is outside of Concord. We were visiting up there and in between painting a garden shed and attending a fantastic wedding reception in Emeryville, we went to the farmer’s market to enjoy tamales, berries, and gelato.

Strawberries and blackberries. I’m lamenting the end of blackberry season.

Chicken tamale with salsa verde and crema.

Pork tamale with salsa verde and crema

I did not get any gelato pictures. It was tasty, especially on an incredibly hot day.

Later we walked around Cindy’s garden and admired the artwork, such as the sculpture that I have dubbed aquaman.

He’s some sort of mermaid fish dude. My friend Eric made him while he was in art school.

The rest of their backyard is made up of trees, a vegetable garden, a green house, and a number of fruit trees. It’s really impressive for a suburban backyard. I miss having my garden. We have yet to start on our new one here in Santa Cruz. It was the one nice thing about our apartment back in Santa Clara.

The rest of the day was spent at a friend’s wedding. I had never met the person whose wedding it was. Isn’t that always awkward? Congratulations on one of the biggest moments in your life, it’s so nice to meet you. So I did what any self-respecting, awkward individual does, I drank a lot of wine and ate chicken heads.

Why yes the bride on top of the cake is about beat the groom. And yes this was a beautiful cake, but unfortunately it did not taste as good as it looked. It was like one of those Safeway bakery cakes if you had left it out on the counter for a couple days and then some sort of cake Bunnicula came by and stole its cakey essence.

That didn’t make any sense. I’ve been up since two in the morning, ever since my neighbor woke me up to chanting to the full moon.

The rest of the meal was fairly traditional Chinese wedding food (I think) with the exception of my favorite dish of the night: the lobster thermidor. For once, I actually enjoyed lobster. Plus, the view from this restaurant (located on the Emeryville wharf) was fantastic.

The view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline from Hong Kong East Ocean restaurant.

An assortment of bbq meats including char siu pork (one of my favorite things on this planet, especially when put into a steamed bun).

Some sort of seafood salad in a crispy noodle bowl.

Some sort of crab croquette claw thing. It’s like a tribble ate a crab and then was deep fried. The batter around the outside (tribble flesh) was disgusting, but crab claw was alright.

The “not” shark fin soup. Fake shark fin soup. I took about one bite of it and couldn’t eat the rest.

Abalone and mushrooms. I’m skeptical that this was real abalone, but whatever it was it was one of the better dishes of the night.

I believe this was lobster thermidor. Whatever it was it was absolutely incredible, especially after three or four glasses of wine. Best dish of the night and the only time I have ever enjoyed lobster. Of course it would be a French dish at a Chinese restaurant.

The chicken head that I hate. Not bad.

 

 

Silver Spur Restaurant Review

The Silver Spur is essentially across the street from our house in Santa Cruz. It is a quaint looking place with a Western decor reminiscent of my grandparent’s living room, minus the shag carpeting. Andrew and I heard good things about it from a couple of locals who have lived in the area for over twenty years, plus the line out the door every Saturday is another good sign.

Breakfast seems to be a battle ground in Santa Cruz, restaurants fighting for a place as the best restaurant. There are few restaurants that serve dinner in town that can hold a candle to the cuisine served at breakfast, according to most of the locals anyway. I have found that most of the breakfast restaurants in town are incredibly overrated: Walnut Cafe, Zachary’s Restaurant, Hoffman’s Bakery, and Cafe Brazil being the most notable examples. They each have something that I enjoy, but overall I have never been wowed. There is only one place in town that I believe serves a perfect breakfast: Kelly’s Bakery. Kelly’s Bakery is the only restaurant, and I mean the only restaurant, I have ever been to that serves satisfactory poached eggs. Every other restaurant serves them with at least a quarter cup of water still in the cup with them. The perfect breakfast at Kelly’s Bakery is two perfectly poached eggs nestled atop toasted slices of Francese bread baked in house with smoked salmon and sliced avocado. Amazing.

Silver Spur is on the same level with Zachary’s Restaurant for me. It is better than Walnut Cafe and Hoffman’s Bakery, while not as good as Kelly’s Bakery. I ordered a Two Egg Combo with poached eggs, two biscuits, home fries, and three chicken apple sausages with limitless coffee. Andrew ordered three slices of French toast, two scrambled eggs (well done, sigh), and bacon with Early Grey tea. The coffee was good and there were limitless free refills. The eggs were still in too much water. Really is it too much to ask for that they drain their eggs before serving them to you? The home fries could have been crispier, but they were tender and there were no bell peppers, which makes me incredibly happy. The sausage was generic, but tasty. The biscuits were the standout for me. They were light, fluffy, and tangy served with apricot preserves. Andrew enjoyed his French toast, eggs, and bacon.

Overall, I would go back to the Silver Spur and I would also try them for lunch some time. Their service was good (a rarity among breakfast restaurants in Santa Cruz) and their facilities were clean.

The Best Restaurants Are Always in Strip Malls

I’ve realized living in the San Jose area that the best restaurants are in the most run-down looking strip malls next to the dumpiest donut shops and porn stores that you can find. Yas Restaurant is no exception to this. Located in Maple Leaf Plaza on Saratoga (at Williams) it is in the same shopping center as a medical marijuana clinic, a donut shop, and an excellent burrito place. The exterior leaves a lot to be desired. It is incredibly non-descript with the exception of a blue and white striped awning. If I didn’t know it was a restaurant I would have assumed it was a strip club. All the windows have blinds. The doors do not have windows. It is made of white cinder blocks. Frank Lloyd Wright did not design this building.

The interior is not much better. The walls are a pept0bismal pink, the color of the bed pans I used to make barbie doll houses out of as a child. Our white table cloth was dirty. Food stains. This was not starting off on the right foot. The blinds were those folding mini-blinds that I hated as a child. Those off-white spotty kinds that never work. Ugh.

They start you off with free lavash bread and a shy, stuttering gorgeous waitress with a heavy Iranian accent. She was perfectly attentive, answering our questions freely, but probably had not expected us to have so many. The lavash bread was good for lavash bread. I personally find it a little dry and uninteresting.

For appetizers we ordered Ash-E Reshteh, which their menu describes as a “Traditional Persian soup. A combination of herbs, vegetables, lentils, garbanzo beans, and noodles”, and Falafel. I found it creamy and full flavored. The yogurt swirl in the soup added a sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing touch. I thought the yogurt taste would be overwhelming as I tend to find yogurt, but it added a necessary amount of tang and creaminess. I only had a small cup and I would have loved the entire bowl. The falafel were very hot and fresh. They were a little dry because we ordered them without the yogurt sauce. They had a great, freshly made herby flavor. Another excellent dish.

For the main dishes, we ordered Shireen Polo and Kabab Barreh. Their menu describes Shireen Polo as “Orange peels, almond, pistachio, and saffron rice syrup fixed with basmati rice with chicken”.  I found the dark meat chicken pieces, which were on the bone, as incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. The sauce was a tomato based sauce, but I could not taste any tomato only the spices that they used, which I liked. The rice they served with it was a little on the sweet side, but it was fluffy and fragrant with the additional texture of pistachios and almonds.

Ex-Girlfriends…Black Jettas…and Brunch?

If you’re not familiar with the weirdness that is Ima Robot, then Ex-Girlfriends, Black Jettas will not make much sense to you, but I can try to explain. It is a song that is simply about a man driving around Hollywood and running it all his ex-girlfriends who all strangely drive black Jettas.

I drive a black Jetta. And today I had brunch with an ex-boyfriend.

Okay, I just wanted a clever title for a post on a mediocre brunch.

Hey, I had that same dishware growing up.

Today my friend and I went to Jeffrey’s Diner in Santa Cruz for brunch. Jeffrey’s is a place on Soquel Avenue in mid-towrn Santa Cruz. It caters mostly to old people and it serves decent pancakes, which I learned this morning. It lacks the tastiness that Zachary’s has and the ambiance of cheap, drunk black outs of the Santa Cruz Diner, but it had good pancakes. I don’t generally like pancakes, but these were delicate, tender, and fluffy.

The rest was okay. The bacon could have been crispier and goddamnit, why can’t any restaurant drain their poached eggs all the way. I do not want my egg yolk getting mixed with lukewarm water. I just don’t. I will never be satisfied on this front.

 

Not Doing Beef Balls Again

This weekend so far has been a weekend of eating out and not cooking in. Last night Andrew and I went out to Pho Little Saigon, a place on the corner of Homestead and Wolfe (about five minutes driving distance from our house). We had been there before and I had been impressed by their pho, shrimp spring rolls, and avocado smoothie. Last night was a little lackluster for me. Let me explain a little more.

The Pho

The first couple times that I had pho from anywhere I was unimpressed. I’m not a huge fan of rice noodles and I always found it a little bland. A couple weeks ago I was up for trying it again when I was feeling a little under the weather. We went to the closest place to our house: Pho Little Saigon across the street from 99 Ranch Market. I got the pho with rare beef and lean brisket. I also ordered an avocado smoothie and shrimp spring rolls. The pho really hit the spot, it was savory and spicy, the noodles tender but not mushy. The beef was tender and correctly cooked. The smoothie was creamy, cold, and sweet. The spring rolls were full of shrimp and the peanut sauce that came with them was great. The service was efficient and the food came out super quick. This meal made me change my opinion of pho.

Last night I was craving pho again. I wanted to enjoy that savory hot beef broth laced with lemon, mint, and fish sauce. I wanted tender beef, slippery rice noodles. Instead, I got a clump of sticky rice noodles, bland broth, and the beef balls. Oh, the beef balls. They were like meat balls, but the texture looked like hot dogs and felt like squeaky rubber in my mouth. I had been looking forward to something totally different.

I still ate most of it. It was passing and edible. I would just never get beef balls again.

Fried Shrimp Cake

I like shrimp. I like fried things. I’m not sure if I like cake things. I’m not entirely sold on seafood in cake form, but I was intrigued. It sounded good. It sounded like greasy debauchery. It was okay.

What came out was something that was wrapped in layers of flaky, grease soaked pastry. It was like they had not bothered to drain the damn thing. The inside was pretty tasty: creamy, but also chunky and peppery mashed shrimp. It came with a sweet, slightly vinegar sauce that cut through some of the grease. I ate about half of it and couldn’t eat anymore. It just was too greasy.