Thursday, September 13, 2012
Three days in a row! I can't believe it either. While it's fun writing posts about new places to eat, the truth is...I don't really have access to my TV. Since my kitchen is being worked on, all my furniture has been squished into my living room. I could technically watch TV sitting at my dining table which is right up against my sofa, but it doesn't make for a very relaxing environment. So instead, my current living space is limited to my bedroom, and at least I have access to the internet here.
Tonight I sort of cheated. This is my second time to Jin Sho, a kind of upscale Japanese restaurant that serves things like ceviche and lamb chop (the lamb is cooked, thankfully). In fact, their website specifies that they are "Executive Class", and the chefs hail from the famous Nobu in New York City. I didn't know this until I looked at their website right now.
There are no bento boxes here, but they offer two prix fixe menus (which they spell, "pris fix"), along with a good selection of entrees, rolls, and sushi. The prix fixe meals are the way to go, which are around $20 or $25, and offers a nice mix of traditional sushi rolls with more unlikely Japanese inspired creations like duck breast served with a little scoop (and I mean really little) of mashed potatoes. Kind of unusual, but somehow it works. Oh, and when you see words like "avo" and "cu" on the menu, they mean "avocado" and "cucumber".
Even though I recommend the prix fixe dinner (which I got the first time I came here), I went with the nabeyaki soba. It's not officially on the menu--I had them substitute udon noodles with soba noodles. I often order this when I go to a Japanese restaurant because I like how comforting a hot bowl of soup and noodles feels. The broth was flavorful and had a certain delicateness to it, the egg was perfectly poached, and even the boiled chicken did not taste disgusting. That may sound like a low bar, but I've never liked the boiled chicken in my nabeyaki soba (or boiled chicken period), and Jin Sho seems to know how to use the right pieces and balance this with the other ingredients in the soup.
For dessert, my dinner companion and I split a mango panna cotta. I think the Japanese have a fascination with Western desserts, but their take on it always comes out slightly different. The panna cotta was definitely served without any frills--they just plopped it on a plate. Nonetheless, theirs was on par with what I've had at Italian restaurants--smooth, creamy, rich but not too thick, and the mango flavoring did not taste artificial.
Overall, the presentation is careful, the preparation is thoughtful and creative, but the portions are a little conservative, which is to be expected at a place like this. The ambiance isn't particularly special, but it's unobtrusive. For a Thursday night, it was not as bustling as I would have expected--there were a few empty tables, though there were a good number of patrons.
I think after this meal, I am going back to low brow fare, though. As much as I appreciate well-prepared and innovative food, something closer to a home cooked meal is what I really crave. And besides, I already feel my waistline expanding, and my credit card could use a break.
Jin Sho is on California Avenue
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Tonight's foray was to a place I often pass by but have never gone to because it looks like one of those restaurants where the food isn't as good as how the restaurant looks. I'm also convinced this is where cool "old money" hangs out. It's a slightly different crowd from what I see on "The Row" (you know, Santana Row). The patrons here seem to be a more serious sort--professional, established, refined, but still current. Which, of course, leaves me a little out of place. But since I'm on an "I'll try anything" stint, a friend and I decided we'd check it out anyway--and I think we can be pretty cool too.
I met my friend at Joya for an early dinner, and already, the outside dining area was filled with patrons, who look like they're genuinely enjoying themselves, having a leisurely dinner. The restaurant is quite large. We were seated in the inner sanctum, where we could neither see passersby nor be seen by them. But that's okay, we were really there for the food anyway. The ambiance is modern and chic, nicely lit (not too dark but not too bright either), and there was no music, just a constant low hum of people's conversations, which made talking to my friend across the table comfortable. The wait staff was also friendly and attentive--less pretentious than I expected.
Tomato salad: hard to go wrong with fresh ingredients for this one; the buratta cheese was a nice complement (and is apparently made in-house).
Crab cakes: they didn't use a lot of filler, and had a nice crispy outside without being too greasy. Very nicely done.
Tuna tartare: also very fresh, and I typically love anything with avocado.
Ceviche: this was our least favorite, I think; the texture of the fish seemed all wrong, didn't seem to taste or look like fish; maybe it was too sour, as well.
Empenadas: just okay to me; the flavor of the crust was overpowering, and the mushroom filling was good but not exceptional.
Seared scallops: the truffle oil definitely made this one special; very nice combination of flavors with the grilled corn.
Total tab on this meal came out to around $50/person (tax and tip included, not including alcohol). Yes, that was not cheap--more than we anticipated. We did, at least, leave there feeling very full, which doesn't always happen to me when I have tapas. It probably was not worth the $50 we each spent on the meal, but I might go there again for a special occasion. While it may not have been truly authentic, I liked that Joya kept things familiar and didn't try to be too fancy. There are far better Spanish or Latin restaurants, but if you like ambiance and are looking for a cool social factor, Joya is a fine choice.
Joya is on University Avenue
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
I've been thinking of a way to add more interesting (hopefully) content to this blog, and I've decided to start a new segment of mini-reviews of places I eat at. I don't always bake (hence the 3 month intervals between new recipes) but I do eat out quite often, and the suggestion that I write up reviews came up in conversation with some friends. These posts are just my (humble) opinion based on what limited experience I may have at these eateries. I am also by no means a food critic, and while I like to try new things, I also tend to veer toward certain types of food--though maybe this new venture will force me to do something different.
Yesterday, I began my kitchen remodel--which means a new oven(!), but which also means I won't be able to cook or heat up (which is more often the case) food for the next week and a half or so. As I was driving to Panera to pick up dinner last night, I had an epiphany. Why not try a new place every night while my kitchen is out of commission? If there was ever a reason for me to branch out, this would be it. (I still ended up going to Panera last night though.)
Tonight I thought I would ease my way in. Asian Box is one of the latest in the food truck or food truck-style food movement--portable meals served by a vendor that specializes in just one thing. (BTW, I haven't quite placed my finger on why the food truck thing is so fascinating--maybe it's the idea that they're mobile and your food is prepared in an impossibly cramped space.) Asian Box takes the food in a box you'd get from a food truck and puts it back in the brick and mortar establishment.
My first thought stepping inside was how stark, hermetic and industrial the surroundings felt. A single elongated table occupies the center of the dining area with metal stools. The walls included signs touting the use of locally sourced ingredients, where possible, and that *almost* everything is prepared in-house. The noodle cart logo is a little kitschy but also minimalist and kind of cute. Also, their utensils and containers are environmentally friendly. The menu requires the diner to choose from each of the categories: 1) starch, 2) protein, 3) vegetables (steamed or "wok tossed"), 4) toppings, and 5) sauces. Come to think of it, I think Chipotle actually pioneered this ordering process. I ordered brown rice, shrimp (lime basil topped), wok tossed vegetables, ALL the toppers (including the egg, which was an extra $0.95), and a combination of "Ms. Jones Sriracha" and "No Oil Fish Sauce". Clearly, Asian Box is geared toward those who are not Asian.
As I waited for my food, a steady stream of patrons of different age groups came into the shop, most doing take-out. I would also say 75% of them looked like they had just worked out. Strange ethnic sounding music in languages I could not recognize was blaring, which also gave me the impression that they didn't want their customers to sit around inside for very long. I had nowhere else to go, though, so I tried to block the music out of my mind.
I was actually surprised by the food when I got it--the ingredients did indeed look very fresh, and my shrimp were nice and plump. This was not your average rice bowl. Portion size was more than enough to fill me up (though I may not be the best measure for this), with a nice balance of the different elements (rice, vegetables, protein, toppings). I really thought the crispy shallots and jalapeno made the meal. I did, however, find that the sauce was a little overwhelming; but I think that can be remedied next time by requesting that they go a little lighter on the sauce. Overall, I liked it enough to want to come back another time. I should also probably mention the price. My total came out to something like $10.50. It is a little on the high side for what is essentially a rice bowl, but not prohibitively expensive if you're craving a Southeast Asian style healthy-ish quick lunch or dinner.
One side note. They serve something they call "VC iced tea". This is terrible branding, in my opinion. I do not think of "venture capitalists" when I see "VC" in a Vietnamese/Asian eatery. I automatically think of Viet Cong, the communist organization that eventually won the Vietnam War. I won't take this personally but I think they should name their iced tea something else.
Asian Box is at the Palo Alto Town & Country Center