San Jose

Aqui: Great for Fusion Mexican or a Cheap Buzz

The Bay Area is expensive.  We all know and loathe this, but it is a fact of life.  Everything is more expensive here, but perhaps nothing tops the overpriced list quite like drinks.

Based on personal experience, I’d say paying $8 – $10 for a cocktail is average around these parts, and that gets expensive really fast.  That is why I find Aqui so exciting.  Paying $6.50 for a margarita swirl is a steal around here.  And this is not one of those mini cocktails that you finish in three sips.  These drinks really are industrial strength; if I am going to drive, I cannot have even one.  Yet even with the copious amounts of alcohol, they are super tasty with lots of fruity goodness.

The food is less cheap but still reasonable and delicious.  Aqui calls itself Cal-Mex cuisine, but it is really Mexican fusion in every possible sense.  I’ve had Indian-inspired dishes (which were fabulous!), Thai burritos, and flautas served with barbeque sauce.  Some things work better than others, but on the whole, the mixes truly evoke the best of both worlds.  Being a guacamole connoisseur, I cannot visit without getting the Avocado Dip which answers the age old question, “Salsa or guacamole,” with a resounding “Both!”  The only thing lacking in the food area is a dearth of chips.  Despite having a lovely salsa bar, they want you to actually pay for chips.  I’ve talked my way into getting a small bowl a few times, but I wouldn’t count on that.

As for ambience, Aqui is a “pay when you order then find a table” kind of restaurant.  It still has a sit-down feel, but it can get really crowded, especially the one in Campbell.  You may have to wait for a table before you order, and since there are no hosts, you end up fighting for one yourself.  It’s annoying.  However, if you do not go during peak hours, you should be fine, and they do have a bar if you just want a drink and don’t want to wait for it.

Aqui is a great casual dining spot whether you want to get drunk on the cheap or try a new kind of Mexican food.  Just remember to be responsible with your drinks.  They really do pack quite a punch!

UPDATE:  Of course, once I decide to write about their super cheap drinks, Aqui decides to raise their prices. Even so, $8 for what you get in these swirls is really reasonable for the alcohol content and delicious flavor.

Advertisements
Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Restaurants, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patxi’s: The Ultimate Californian Chicago-Style Pizza

I am not a big fan of deep dish pizza.  Give me an ultra-thin crust California-style pizza any day, and I will be super happy, but deep dish is generally a bit much for me.

Naturally, my husband is from Chicago and thus deep dish is ingrained in his DNA.  Chicagoans generally spurn all Chicago-style pizza that is not made in their hometown, and the search for good deep dish in California can be grueling.  Fortunately, Patxi’s Pizza is there to help.

Daniel assesses that Patxi’s Pizza is likely the most authentic Chicago-style pizza he has had in California.  I am inclined to agree.  We love Zachary’s in Berkeley, but it’s a lighter deep dish that isn’t really Chicago-style.  Chicago likes its pizza to be extra filling in every sense of the word.  Patxi’s definitely fulfills that requirement–I was done after one slice, classic Chicago-style–but doesn’t make you want to split your stomach open after, a quality found in only the best Chicago pizzerias.

Not My Best Camerawork, but the Pizza Was Tasty

Not My Best Camerawork, but the Pizza Was Tasty

At the same time, the ingredients in Patxi’s pizzas feel really fresh which keeps the slice from seeming so heavy you won’t be able to eat again for a week.  The peppers and onions in our pizza were cooked but maintained just the right amount of crunchiness.  Both of us were impressed by the sauce.  Sweet and savory at once, the unique flavor had a surprising yet pleasant tanginess that made the pizza interesting without overdoing it.  The crust was crispy and clearly very bad for you.  Doesn’t get more authentic than that.

Patxi's Has a Rather Stark, Modern Atmosphere

Patxi’s Has a Rather Stark, Modern Atmosphere

Despite my anti-deep dish persuasion, I enjoyed our pizza.  Having those crispy veggies and that tangy sauce made the pizza a bit lighter and thus a bit more manageable for me.  However, it still rang true to the deep dish name which is important for my husband, and I liked that too.  Honestly, I liked it better than most pizzas I’ve had in Chicago.

So if you want an authentic Chicago-style pizza experience, Patxi’s is the place for you.  And if you’re from Chicago, I’d love to get your opinion.

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

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House on a Perfectly Spooky Rainy Day

The Winchester Mystery House on a Perfectly Spooky Rainy Day

Despite living very close to the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose’s only real tourist attraction and the most haunted place in California according to many, I had not been since we moved here until today. This is greatly owing to the fact that I visited while in college and found the experience lacking.  Still, it just didn’t seem right to leave this nearby landmark unexplored during our residency.

My first piece of advice while visiting is not to bring your 3-month-old.  Those pesky spirits were not good to little Zoe, and my poor friend had to duck into many a room to comfort her as we went along.

My second word of guidance is to just give into the cost.  Coupons are hard to find (at least coupons worth bothering with), and there really is no denying that the Winchester House is overpriced.  It’s either worth it to you or it’s not.

If you’re on the fence, it’s probably not worth it.  The house is cool, but the cost is pretty exorbitant for what you get.

However, if this is a place you want to see, it is pretty cool.  Speaking as one who loves all things supernatural, I could have done with more history of the hauntings associated with this house, but even though the tour concentrates more on the house and Mrs. Winchester, it’s pretty creepy.  I am thoroughly convinced that if I had gotten lost from the tour, I would not have been able to escape without walking out a door to nowhere.

Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, one of the makers of the Winchester rifle, when she started building the house.  Despite her vast piles of money, her life was not a happy one.  Her only child died in infancy, and she was widowed long before her own death, cursed to spend the rest of her days alone.  After losing her daughter and husband, she consulted a psychic about her misfortunes and was told she was troubled by the spirits of the many, many people killed by the Winchester rifle.  The psychic told her to build a house that would never be finished, and thus began the Winchester Mansion.

Meant to confuse and appease spirits at once, the house was under construction from its beginnings until Mrs. Winchester died in 1922.  She made the plans for its construction herself and was very involved in the building process.  The result is an unfinished house with staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open onto twelve foot drops, staircases made for hobbits (small ones), and a labyrinthine series of passages that I imagine confused the hell out of her servants.

Entering the Winchester House is like stepping into an old Victorian house that went through World War II.  Since it is unfinished, many a room looks…wrong.  The house is so ornate, but the unfinished rooms show piping or the interior of the wall, almost like the world’s tiniest warehouse.  Juxtapose that with the gorgeous ballrooms, fireplaces, and stained glass windows that could easily be found in a European mansion, and you really lose a sense of where you are.  The house really is a maze too.  Some rooms have four exits but only one entrance, some closets open onto walls while others have secret doors to other rooms, and some doors have no purpose whatsoever.  Even paying double the going rate, I’m surprised Mrs. Winchester was able to keep the house staffed.

Mrs. Winchester Was a Fan of Stained Glass Windows

 Outside, the house is much more normal.  It’s huge, and it’s very tasteful.  The gardens are well groomed and filled with roses and statues.  You would never know how crazy the house is inside just by looking at it.

Despite the Weird House, the Grounds Are Quite Nice

I’m glad I went on this tour.  I still think it’s overpriced, but it is an interesting bit of history that you just won’t get anywhere else.  It’s also an amazing look at what endless amounts of money can do for you, especially if you are an eccentric old lady.  Few places on the west coast offer more history or such a refined abode.  It is one of the rare quirks that makes San Jose interesting.

 IMG_7416

Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose | 2 Comments

Baking Beauties at Bijan

Hustle and bustle is the very definition of a trip to Bijan Bakery.  Come when the morning coffee is still brewing, and you will definitely want to take a number.  This business is booming for a reason:  whether you’re looking for a morning pastry or a wedding cake, you’re bound to be impressed by this European bakery.

My first encounter with Bijan was a decadent chocolate birthday cake that made me do a double-take.  The rich ganache and decorative slices of chocolate made for the ultimate chocolate cake experience.

Clearly, I had to go back and try the rest of the shop.

While in France—and frankly the rest of Europe—I spent my time seeking out the greatest pastry shops I could find, and looking for such desserts in the U.S. is one of my hobbies.  Bijan is among the few that make the list.  All of their pastries are delicious though I am particularly partial to the guava and mango mousse cakes.

Likewise, their more basic pastries have that something special that makes them worth the calories.  The croissants in particular impressed me with their light and fluffy yet crispy consistency.  So much buttery goodness!

Bijan is definitely worth braving the crowd (and if you come later in the day, you shouldn’t even have to do that).  If you’re looking for a morning snack or something more decadent, your taste buds will be pleased.

Categories: Dessert, Food, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Old Spaghetti Factory Reborn!

The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton still awakens fond childhood memories for me.  Walking by the train station to the old brick building just makes a kid feel important, like you’re stepping into a piece of history.  This image is heightened by the old manor style, dark wood thrones in the waiting area.  When the time arrives for you to be taken to your seat, you have about a 50/50 chance of sitting in an old caboose, elevated  for a classy yet fun dining experience.

It’s a kid’s dream.  Well, this kid anyway.

At the same time, the decor is tasteful as is the food so that this restaurant is fully palatable for both kids and adults.

There is a Spaghetti Factory in San Jose too, and I have been wanting to visit it for ages.  This week, I finally got around to it.

I was not sure what to expect when I did.  The only Spaghetti Factory I have been to is the one in Fullerton, and I know that my feelings about it are strongly rooted in childhood nostalgia.  What would this new one be like?  Would I arrive just to find that I was completely blinded by my childhood memories?  Would it fail to live up to the (for me) original?

Fortunately, no.  The Old Spaghetti Factory in San Jose met my every expectation.

Within and without, this restaurant is amazingly similar to the one in Fullerton.  With the old brick walls and antique decor, I assumed the feel would be the same but the look a bit different.  It really wasn’t.  The chairs, the couches, the decorations, and even the dining caboose were all very much like what I remembered from Fullerton.

So was the food.  What I like most about the Spaghetti Factory is that the food is good without being pretentious.  It is really hard to find a sit-down Italian restaurant in the Bay Area, and particularly in the South Bay, with entrees starting at less than $13.  At the Spaghetti Factory, it’s more like $10, and I appreciate that.  But it gets better because that price gets you a full meal.  All entrees come with bread, soup or salad, a drink, AND spumoni ice cream.  I can’t believe that you can get all of that for $10 or $11.

And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to sacrifice quality.  There are many great options.  The meat sauce is rich and flavorful without overdoing it.  True to its name, Spaghetti Vesuvius is a spicy concoction with a cajun flavor that diverges from tradition but is still delicious.  Topped with satisfactory amounts of garlic and a large helping of cheese, the garlic bread is sure to satisfy.  We got the Bay Shrimp Crostini this time which was particularly impressive because I enjoyed it even though I don’t generally eat shrimp.  The cheesy goodness made the shrimp more of an afterthought which was fine by me.  And at the end, you get the spumoni too which is without contest the best spumoni I have ever had (granted, there has not been a lot of competition).  Each flavor is good on its own, but they also work well as a unit, something I have not found to be true in most spumonis.

If you can stomach anything else after all of the food they already bring you, try the homemade Italian cream sodas.  Unlike most American versions, they actually combine soda, cream, and flavoring to make this soda, and it is so good.  They ruined all other cream sodas for me for life (but I don’t mind).

I was very happy with my experience at San Jose’s Old Spaghetti Factory.  Too often, we revisit places we loved as children only to find them lacking as adults.  It was encouraging to find somewhere that is just as good as I remember.

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

Campbell Farmer’s Market of the Gods

Farmer’s markets are one of the greatest of Northern California institutions.  Ever-present, they bring quality fresh, local produce right to the consumer, and it tastes so good!  Though not always cheaper than grocery stores, it is almost always tastier.

The King of Farmer’s Markets in the South Bay has got to be the Campbell Farmer’s Market.  Every Sunday, Downtown Campbell gives it’s main street over to tents, produce, and vendors from 9am to 1pm(ish).  And never have you seen its equal.

IMG_7376

Four long blocks of goodness, the Campbell Farmer’s Market is so big it has to be broken up into sections.  On the west side, you’ll find prepared food vendors.  The east side sports artsy goods, and in between you’ll find mountains of produce.  I could never begin to tell you which produce vendors are the best, cheapest, or best value; there are too many.  But I can tell you about a few gems.

My favorite stop is always the Milk Guy.  His business is not actually so named, but he will always be the Milk Guy to me.  One might think that milk is not a product to get excited about.  One has clearly never met the Milk Guy.

IMG_7381

He sells raw milk, straight from the cow, no preservatives, no pasteurization, just pure milk.  It is beyond compare.  Richer than milk, more refreshing than cream, you can drink this milk in place of a meal and feel completely satisfied.  It’s deliciousness is beyond compare.  Get the true raw milk–that is, the whole milk–and I swear you will be amazed and astounded unless perchance you have had milk straight from the cow.

There is an abundance of scrumptious prepared food as well.  Should you be willing to brave the lines, the Oaxacan Kitchen is amazing AND reasonably priced.  Everything is hand-made in front of you, including the tortillas, and this is one of those rare instances in Northern California where the Mexican food lives up to–or perhaps even eclipses–its southern counterparts.  I always stop by the Indian food booth for a $1 samosa, and Daniel rarely visits the market without buying a Flying Falafel sandwich (even rarer are the times I don’t steal at least one of his falafels).

IMG_7377

Yummy $1 Samosas

 

IMG_7378

Flying Falafel

IMG_7379

Oaxacan Kitchen

Some of the booths straddle the line between prepared food and…not, and they are generally worth a visit if nothing else for the free samples.  The Hummus Guy (and that is actually what he calls himself) is awesome.  All of his hummus is delicious as are the flavored pita chips.  The bolani people are really good too, giving you the perfect combination of sauces and flavored bolanis though alas we cannot afford them.

And indeed that is the most difficult thing for me about the farmer’s market:  not dropping all of the cash in my wallet on their wares.  We pretty much do it every time we go, so we’ve had to keep our visits to a minimum.  Everything tastes so good, it’s hard not to buy the whole market.  And frankly, most of its offerings are a bit pricey anyway.

But totally worth it.  The quality is impossible to find in a grocery store.

Making up for the price is the ease of finding samples at the farmer’s market.  Almost all of the vendors have samples of their wares, and I usually fill up on samples before deciding what to buy.  And it absolutely works in their favor because we have bought way, way more than we ever would have without a taste first.

If you haven’t been to the Campbell Farmer’s Market, you are seriously missing out.  Go now!  Eat and be happy.

Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

IMG_7108

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

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.

IMG_7084

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.

IMG_7081

IMG_7083 IMG_7082

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.

IMG_7076

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.

IMG_7078

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.

IMG_7104

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.

IMG_7096 IMG_7098

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.

IMG_7103

You Got to Love the Flying Guitars

IMG_7100

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:

nd0813_10354

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.