Monthly Archives: July 2013

Swimming in a Tub of Garlic at The Stinking Rose

I love garlic.  Garlic is amazing.  In chicken, in potatoes, in pasta, in just about anything savory, I defy anyone who says you can have too much garlic.

Naturally, soon after moving to Northern California, I realized that my life would be incomplete without a visit to the Stinking Rose.

There are two ways to look at this garlic-happy restaurant:  as a consumer of yummy food and as a garlic lover.  Let’s start with the regular consumer.

The Stinking Rose deserves its spot along Columbus Avenue, a street filled with more delicious Italian restaurants than you’re likely to try in a lifetime.  The garlic chicken is tender and juicy, the neon ravioli was served in the most delicious rich, creamy sauce, and I literally stuffed myself to bursting to have another bite of the gnocchetti.  Needless to say, we were all satisfied.

Neon Ravioli
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That said, there are a large number of other fabulous Italian restaurants in North Beach, many of them within walking distance of the Stinking Rose, many of them cheaper.  I would say the food is about on par with what you would expect from this area, but the gimmick does raise the price a bit and so we must view this restaurant as it was intended:  as a garlic restaurant.

And as a garlic lover, I walked away wanting more.

Now, I have only praise for the bagna calda, and if you are a garlic lover and do not order this vat of garlic and oil goodness, I will slap you upside the head.  The focaccia pairs with it wonderfully, and this dish was truly a garlic lover’s paradise.

However, I was expecting a stronger garlic flavor from the rest of the meal and was left wanting.  The food is all good, and you can taste the garlic if you look for it, but it’s more of an undertone in the main dishes while I was looking for a “BAM” moment.  The food is good, but it’s not particularly garlicky, and for a garlic restaurant, you really want there to at least be garlic-smothered options.

I have been trying to try the garlic ice cream ever since discovering this little garlic garden, but alas, I am always too full by the end of the meal to stuff anything else down my throat.  I have to wonder if theirs is better than others I have had.  The version I had at the Garlic Festival was…weird.  Not bad, but weird.  I’m not eager to repeat the experience, but I do wonder if the Stinking Rose’s is different.

Garlic Ice Cream
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Perhaps one day I’ll go for just the bagna calda and the ice cream.

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Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Restaurants, San Francisco | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Paradise Lost

Today I have been plagued by the subject of loss.  I talked to an old friend who made me realize how much I have brooded over losses of late.  Lost homes, lost friends, lost funds, lost family, lost dreams, the losses of others.  There is much in life to lose, and I have been lost in its midst this year.

It is easy to become petty over lost travel opportunities, at least for me.  I am often frustrated by nights and weekends at home, wishing to be somewhere else, somewhere better.  I am apparently one who wishes to run away from her problems.  Talks like the one I had today remind me how trivial such thoughts are when there is so much more to lose.

But having much to lose is good, they say, because it means that you have much.  Those words ring ever more hollow each time I hear them.  However, more comforting perhaps is hearing the woes of others so that you can put yours in perspective.

I have had a rough year.  My family has lost much.  My husband losing his job has been particularly concerning.  Hearing about the plight of the poor half a world away has never been near enough to give me the proper perspective of how much worse my situation could be.  Hearing about my friend’s loss was.

My family could certainly be doing better, but at least we are all relatively OK for now.  Not all of us can be so lucky.

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Dolce Bella = Chocolate Heaven

I am a long-time connoisseur of fine chocolates and confectioneries.  Being a sugar addict (acknowledgement is the first step toward recovery!), chocolate and I are good friends.  Besties, in fact.  Apart from cookies and ice cream, chocolate is probably my favorite food…although the combination of all three is actually the best thing ever.  But I digress.

As you may have noticed from my many cupcake adventures and highly-informed opinions of various sugar-based products, I spend a lot of time looking for sweets.  Not just any sweets, the best sweets.  The kind of sweets that cause an orgasmic experience paralleled by none.  Sweets that you know could only be made by the gods.

Few chocolates have lived up to this description.  See’s was my gateway drug.  The port-filled chocolates I had at Pessagno Winery were perfectly balanced.  I had a couple of truffles at Harrod’s in London that are probably the best chocolates I’ve ever had.  And then there’s Dolce Bella.

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Dolce Bella is less than ten minutes away from my house (I really need to stop telling you these things, don’t I?).  How I managed to find such a fabulous chocolate shop so close to me, I will never know.  I will just have to thank the chocolate gods.

Every chocolate I have had at Dolce Bella has been a dream.  I really cannot recommend anything in particular because it is all so good.  Take your pick.  Or pick with your eyes closed.  You won’t be disappointed.

The staff adds to the treat of your visit as well.  They are very knowledgeable, eager to help, and may even let you try a free sample.

Being a cafe, Dolce Bella offers much more than just chocolates from espresso to panini.  While I can attest that the hot chocolate is a thick bowl of awesome, I really couldn’t care less about the rest of their offerings.  If they put the same amount of work into their food and drinks as they do into their chocolates, I’m sure they’re excellent.  A good reviewer would have tried everything and have, like, opinions and stuff.  Sorry, I’m going for the chocolate.

And you should, too.

Categories: Dessert, Food, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Post I Will Never Write

Everybody has a special place, a secret place, a place that’s all their own.  A place where you can go to be alone with your thoughts or a place where you can let go and feel at peace.

This place could never be shared with others, except perhaps a select few.  It is a place that is  completely your own.

I have a special place.  It is the only place in the world where I have been able to truly relax.  It is the only place that has ever really felt like home.

I spent the last week in this place, and while it is a place of many wonders that I could expound upon for hours, I know I never will.  The secrets of this place remain ever hidden in my heart.

Do you have a secret place?

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Savannah-Chanelle Winery Has It All

Getting to Savannah-Chanelle Winery is its own adventure.  Coasting through redwoods and mountains, it is easy to overlook the small, windy off-shoot of a road that leads to this delicious hideaway.  But keep a weather eye out because the necessary tree-dodging and down-shifting are well worth the reward.

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Once you turn onto the hidden pathway to Savannah-Chanelle, you may well think you are on your way to a private estate instead of a winery.  Driving up the hill, winding around trees, and praying that you don’t meet another car may cause a little apprehension, but all of that disappears when you break into the sun.

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On a lonely hilltop sits the old, white mansion where Savannah-Chanelle’s winemakers once looked out upon their fields.  Surrounded by vines and tree-covered hilltops, this house with its beautiful fountains and manicured lawns looks like a dream.  Well worthy of any wedding, it creates an unparalleled picnicking experience.

But the real gem of the winery is of course the tasting room.  The old, dark wood of this barn sets up a high expectation, one that will absolutely be met.

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Generally, I am not a big fan of red wine.  I like sweet, I like light, and I hate tannins.  You would think a winery that almost exclusively serves red wines would turn me away unhappy.

On the contrary.  Savannah-Chanelle was the winery that convinced me that red wines can be delicious.  All of their wines are low in tannins, high in alcohol content, and exhibit robust, expressive flavors bound to impress.

They specialize in Pinots that will satisfy any palate, from light yet complex flavors all the way to the big, bold flavors red wine connoisseurs love.  But Savannah-Chanelle offers more fabulous wines than just Pinot Noirs.  Their Cabernet Franc has amazingly complex flavors, combining the subtlety of their tamer wines with a bold taste that leaves you wondering how the winemakers could ever create so sophisticated and exciting a drink.  The winery also boasts several Syrahs with varying degrees of “bam” flavor sure to appeal to those who want an extra kick.  But being a dessert fan, my personal favorite will always be their Port.  Made from Syrah grapes, this Port is smooth and velvety while still boasting that extra kick that makes it the best Port I have ever had.

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A discussion of Savannah-Chanelle would not be complete without a standing ovation for its staff.  Kind, lively, and chock full of interesting facts about the wine, vineyard, and pretty much any other topic, their chief pourer, Mike, makes the tasting experience even more special.

Savannah-Chanelle is a fabulous place to eat, drink, and just sit back, relax, and observe the beauty around you.  It is in my opinion the best winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not least because only those in the know seem to make their way there.  I expect that will not be the case for long.

Categories: Bay Area, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Freebirds: The World’s Only Burrito Diner

Downtown San Jose and its surrounding areas I generally avoid.  Not on principle but merely due to lack of interest.  Why bother with the slightly larger amounts of traffic downtown when you could go, well, anywhere else and have it be just as exciting?

Nonetheless, there are times when venturing near downtown San Jose can be worthwhile.  J. Lohr is one, Schurra’s another, and recently while walking between them I came across Freebirds.

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If Chipotle got together with a 1955 Chevy and had a diner-shaped baby, it would probably resemble Freebirds World Burrito.

Freebirds is populated by old photographs, flying guitars, tin foil creations, and paint left over from the sixties.  It is eclectic, industrial, and groovy all at the same time.

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As you approach the counter, you are transported to a more varied, hipper version of Chipotle.  You pick your burrito (or bowl or taco), your meat (or veggies), and your fillings and salsas.  The choices are daunting yet delicious, and the result is much more personalized than other burriterias (it’s a word now, I’ve decided).

But you should really check this place out for the atmosphere.  It’s not every day that you find a burrito diner, and it’s pretty hilarious.

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You Got to Love the Flying Guitars

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Tin Foil Art

Categories: Food, Northern California, Restaurants, San Jose | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bridal Shops, the One Thing San Jose Does Best

One would think that the best place to shop in the Bay Area is the city around which everything spins:  San Francisco.  It is after all one of the most prominent cities in the country, perhaps even the world.  How could it not be the best place to shop?

Unfortunately, unlike Chicago or New York, San Francisco just sucks when it comes to clothes.  They have all the big names, but in this fashion-deprived city, well, let’s just say you’re better off finding somewhere else.

In fact, I am amazed that all of the Bay Area does not descend upon San Jose for their shopping needs.  With so many malls to choose from, you’re bound to find what you need.  They have everything from second hand stores and outlet malls to the hip, classy name brands of Santana Row.

And if you are a girl looking for that perfect dress for the Biggest Day of Your Life, you will not find better bridal stores than in the South Bay.

I lived in Berkeley when I got engaged, failed to find any decent bridal shops in the East Bay or San Francisco, and eventually made my way to San Jose where I did in fact find that perfect dress.

And I am no amateur when it comes to bridal gown hunting.  You know those crazy people on Say Yes to the Dress who have tried on 100+ dresses?  I can sweep the floor with any of them.  I have tried on well over 200 bridal gowns and loved every minute of it.  For me, wedding dress shopping was a hobby, so you can trust me when I say that you want to visit San Jose before making a decision.

One nice thing about the suburbs is having a lot of people in a concentrated area where rent is still significantly cheaper than the city.  Especially in the sky-high real estate Hell that is the Bay Area.  Stores in San Jose can afford to have more space than those nearer the city which means more dresses, more variety, and lower prices than you’re likely to find in pricier neighborhoods.

It’s awesome.

Of the stores I’ve visited, I have three to recommend in the San Jose area.

I cannot say much about Trudy’s because I have never shopped for a wedding dress there.  However, I have been there, I have seen how extensive their collection is, and I feel I must include it in this list for that reason alone.  I also have heard that it is more expensive than the other stores I am recommending, so just make sure they know what your budget is.

Bay Area Bridal was the first wedding dress shop I visited in the South Bay, and it was a breath of fresh air after the tiny, cramped salons farther north.  The sales ladies were nice and helpful, and I found a large number of dresses that I would have been happy with were I not so focused on perfection.  The variety was endless.

But it was at Elegant Lace Bridal that I found The One as well as the most pleasant dress shopping experience of my career.  My sales lady, Synthia, was exceptionally helpful and very focused on helping me find my perfect dress.  Though the other sales ladies I have encountered were not nearly as good, Synthia left me with a very positive feeling about Elegant Lace.

But of course the dresses themselves were the most important part of the experience, and while the selection at Elegant Lace is the not the widest I have seen, it does seem to be the best.  Somehow, they manage to order the dresses most likely to please because I along with two of my friends found my perfect dress here.  The selection is still varied, but mostly I think they have good taste.  This shop is the one I most recommend in the Bay Area.

And for me, this was the result:

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My Dress

So if you’re a bride looking for that perfect dress in the Bay Area, I highly recommend making the drive to the South Bay. For this at least, you’re unlikely to find better.

Categories: Bay Area, Northern California, San Jose, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Ici: Ice Cream for the Gods

As you may possibly have figured out from my love of cupcakes, I have a little bit of a sweet tooth.  You know, nothing major, definitely not an addiction I’ve devoted most of my life to.

Yeah, so ice cream is one of my favorite foods.  Actually, it’s a tie for my absolute favorite food between cookies and ice cream, so my absolute #1 top favorite food is homemade ice cream sandwiches.  But we’ll get to that later.

My love of ice cream runs deep, so I am always excited by really good ice cream shops.  Ici is really, really good ice cream.

The Day’s Flavors

It’s hard to describe what separates Ici from other ice creams.  I could talk about the wide variety of interesting flavors.  I could expound on the light yet creamy texture or the amazing homemade sugar cones (I don’t eat cones, but theirs are worth the extra dollar).  I could tell you about how their vanilla is the best vanilla I’ve ever had without contest.

I could try to put into words how delicious this ice cream is, but in the end, it’s pointless.  What Ici does with ice cream is beyond description.  This is one of the rare foods that is best described as “made by God.”

That said, Ici is an extraordinary place for even the tasteless ice cream eater.  They have new, exciting, and crazy flavors every day along with the standard chocolate and vanilla and a few other favorites.  Some of their creations work out better than others.  The rum is divine while the tiramisu is nearly gag-worthy.  Garam masala was surprisingly good while the idea of black pepper made me squirm.  But even the not-so-great flavors make you admire their creativity and perseverance.

Rose Was Excellent

For me, Ici has become a must-visit on my trips up to Berkeley.  One would expect no less from a veteran of Chez Panisse.

Categories: Berkeley, Dessert, Food, Northern California | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

J. Lohr Is the Best Free Winery in San Jose (Because It’s the Only One)!

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Caveat:  this review is for the San Jose tasting room only.

The absolute best part about the J. Lohr tasting room is that it is free!  Yay free!  I love free.  Things are always better when they’re free.  Wine tastings in particular really ought to be free because the entire point of the tasting is to get you to buy something, so trying it for free is the best way to guilt you into a purchase.  Alas, a free wine tasting is a rare treat around these parts.

Stepping into the tasting room is like taking a trip to Tuscany (albeit the touristy bit).  This old winery-style building is covered in grape vines, and you enter through a wooden door that feels like it leads to another world.  It doesn’t, but it does transport you away from the stark reality that is not-so-downtown San Jose.  Upon entering, you are met with a long, wooden tasting bar, pleasant winey decor, and tchotkes (or for those of you not married to Jews, trinkets) which I always enjoy perusing.

The majority of their wines are pretty basic.  They are relatively inexpensive with good reason, and with so many other local wineries to choose from, well, there is a reason this place is free.

However, if you are looking to buy, you will probably find something you like.  My recommendation would absolutely be the Bay Mist Riesling which is genuinely a great find.  Subtly sweet and slightly sparkling, this light, fresh wine speaks of summer and quality absent in the majority of their wines.  At a mere $10 a bottle, this is the only wine that I consider underpriced at J. Lohr.

One of the things that makes J. Lohr unique among Silicon Valley wineries is that this is a big company, meaning you can find their wines in grocery stores and the like.  If you can remember what you liked, a visit to J. Lohr can save you from staring blankly at your grocery store wine section, clueless as to what you’ll actually enjoy.  Though the wine options are much more plentiful at the tasting room itself, it’s still nice to pick up a bottle at a store and know what you’re going to get.

J. Lohr is far from the best tasting room I’ve been to in San Jose, but it’s still fun to visit, it’s conveniently located for those of us who actually live in San Jose, and the fact that it’s free really does make the experience so much more enjoyable.  What can I say?  I’m poor.  Free is awesome!

Categories: Bay Area, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Guayma’s: A Uniquely Classy Mexican Experience

Mexican food in Northern California is generally not awesome.  Let’s just be honest.  The Bay Area does a lot of food really well, but Mexican got left out in the fog.  There are of course exceptions, but considering this is California, they really ought to step it up a notch.

Mexican food in Southern California is generally tasty but limited to hole-in-the-wall, “I’m not sure this place is sanitary” dive-like restaurants.  Again, there are exceptions, but Mexican food ain’t exactly classy down south.

Guayma’s Restaurant is the exception to both rules.

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Never before or since have I encountered a restaurant that proffers Mexican food while being so upscale.  Located on the bay in Tiburon, it is no surprise that this place is expensive, but instead of being overpriced, every penny brings happiness.

First, the food is exceptional.  And while I wouldn’t call this the height of traditional Mexican cuisine, it does seem to be genuinely Mexican or at least Latino.  And as I said, it’s good.  Really, really good.  I rapidly became partial to the cheesy empanadas.  Appetizers they may be, but I’m happy eating an entire dinner of cheesy goodness surrounded by walls of mashed potatoes and fried shells. They are one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

Everything we have ever had at Guayma’s has been exquisite.  From the chips and guac to the banderilleras and camarones to the coconut flan and churros.  Oh God, the churros!  They used to be stuffed with caramel sauce!  We never knew a churro could be so delicious.  Now, they’re just regular awesome instead of caramely awesome, but they are still served with ice cream and drizzled with caramel and are way better than churros have a right to be.

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Upper Left:  Chips, Salsa, Guacamole.  Upper Right: Banderilleras, Camarones a la Diabla, Beans, Rice
Bottom:  Coconut Flan, Churros, Chocolate Pie

But as with any nice restaurant, the atmosphere is the real key to their success.  Guayma’s literally sits on the bay, overlooking Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge with the city off in the distance.  On a sunny day, you can sit out on the terrace, hear the water lapping at the pier, see the sunlight dancing in the ripples and feel it slowly baking your skin.  For a more pleasant dining experience, you would have to go to the Caribbean and do one of those dining on the beach things.  No really, it’s that awesome.

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The View

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Guayma’s truly has it all:  great food, great drinks, and great atmosphere.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s no more pleasant place to eat on a sunny day in the Bay.

Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Marin, Northern California, Restaurants | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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