Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bay Area Sampler- Day One

So in contemplating moving West later this spring, there are many factors to consider - jobs, friends, housing, earthquakes, but high up on the list for me (perhaps higher than I'd like to admit) is food. One of the things that makes New York home to me is the abundance of eating options. We have everything from the high end like Daniel and Yasuda to the Outer Borough wonders like Sri and Spicy Mina, plus everything in between. I love eating here and planning where to go next. I know who to turn to for advice on new restaurants or recent discoveries, and I have developed a good system of shopping to mix my desire for high quality,organic (sometimes local) ingredients with the most diverse of imported ethnic goods, to my addiction to preservative laden Skinny Cows and Thomas High Fiber English muffins.

So in heading out to the Bay Area, I did copious amounts of research to ensure that I would get a good taste of what northern California has to offer. I posted a query on Chowhound, and the hounds did not disappoint. I received around 130 responses. Luckily, we're heading back in a month to try some more recs. So here's what we ate. Day-by-day.

But first a prelude:

Because of an unused ticket to Venice from my previous job, I got to fly first class on the way to San Francisco. This meant that unlike my friends in coach, I was served an actual meal. I've been hearing a lot about top chefs creating menus for airlines, and so I was excited to see what I'd be receiving. I chose the chicken, which came with green beans and some kind of apple stuffing. A side salad and a roll accompanied the main course, and then some kind of citrus meringue pie was served for dessert. The chicken was dry, the beans were greasy. The salad was glorified iceberg, and the pie was nothing special. On the upside, I did like the roll, which was a multi-grain affair. Luckily I had a brown rice krispy treat stashed in my carry-on.

moving on...

El Huarache Azteca - while I had a meeting in Oakland, the lovely Daniel drove out to this highly recommended Mexican to pick up a little take out before we headed off to my next appointment in Los Gatos. He chose the huarache with chicken tinga and the chicken mole. The huarache is basically a lightly fried, kind of thick tortilla, covered in refried beans, a little cheese, and shredded chicken - with hot sauce. The chicken mole was on the bone chicken in a thick mole with a side of rice and beans and warm, freshly made corn tortillas.

The verdict: we both loved the huarache (made bites for Daniel that were dairy free). The huarache itself was a great blend of chewiness and crispiness and the chicken was really flavorful and moist, and I love refried beans. The mole was a little less flavorful, although we both loved the rice and beans. And those corn tortillas were the best I've had. I can't wait to take my mother who loves fresh tortillas to try them out. Overall, it's hard to give Huarache Azteca a fair review since Mexican isn't the most take out friendly food, especially when eaten in a moving car. But I will definitely go back there next time.

University Cafe - On the way back from Los Gatos, we stopped in Palo Alto to check out Stanford. After getting lost in and confused by the actual campus, we decided we deserved a snack, and wandered up and down the main street until we found this place. We shared a citrus salad with goat cheese, grapefruit, oranges, and candied walnuts and an open faced turkey sandwich with avocado.

The verdict: just simple bistro food, but made 150% better by the incredible freshness of the citrus. I love grapefruit, but I couldn't get over how much better this grapefruit tasted than the kind I usually eat in New York. The turkey sandwich was overwhelmed by the enormous pile of turkey, but the bread it was served on was nice, and who doesn't like avocado?

Uzen - by the end of the day, I was basically a zombie, so we drove back to the East Bay, and went to Uzen for sushi. We each had several pieces of sushi - including the special baby yellowtail, sockeye salmon, and I had some sea eel. I had an ume shiso roll and Daniel had an avocado. Each of us received a free green salad and miso soup.

The verdict: Uzen had been recommended to us because of the freshness of the fish and the simplicity of the presentation, and that's exactly what it was. High quality, straight forward fish. I especially liked the yellowtail, and Daniel loved the salmon. I have to admit the eel was a little much for me. The pieces were huge and just a little too much for me. In general the fish to rice ratio was a little skewed to the fish for my taste. I like the delicacy of a smaller piece. But the rice was really good, and the ume shiso was delicious. And for such good fish, the price was excellent. Also, much to Daniel's delight, the miso soup was served without spoons. He really enjoyed drinking out of the bowl.

Then we went home and ate Skinny Cows. The have them in California too!

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