|Tacolicious: kale salad and roasted butternut squash tacos|
After Anna arrived on New Year's Eve, we decided to begin our culinary expedition in the beautiful City by the Bay. Our first stop was Tacolicious, one of the many Mexican restaurants dotting Valencia and Mission streets that I had enjoyed since moving to the Bay Area. The energy inside the restaurant was palpable on NYE, generated by a stellar soundtrack (Andrew Bird, The Strokes, etc.) and young clientele. Through this experience, Anna discovered that she did not like the taste of kale unless it was juiced.
|Tong Dumpling and Ten Ren Tea|
The next day, it was my turn to try something new. Writing this blog post two months late, though, it's hard to believe I had never previously been to the Cupertino Village shopping center which features Tong Dumpling, Ten Ren Tea, and Sheng Kee Bakery. These places have all become such staples of my weekly dining routine that I now divide my time in the Bay Area into two eras: Before Cupertino Village and After Cupertino Village.
|Sheng Kee Bakery|
Tong Dumpling was the first establishment we visited, and it was a fantastic, no-frills operation specializing in delicious steamed and pan-fried dumplings with vegetarian options. We then moved on to bubble tea at Ten Ren, which is perhaps the best of the three or four bubble tea shops in Cupertino Village. Finally, we picked up Chinese pastries at Sheng Kee so we could have them for breakfast the next day.
I've completed this pilgrimage many times since Anna first showed me around, but unfortunately the experience may prove to be fleeting — the City of Cupertino recently revived a plan to construct yet another Silicon Valley shopping center-cum-parking garage in the lot currently occupied by Cupertino Village. The shopping center will no doubt cater to the thousands of Apple employees soon to be working across the street at the new Spaceship HQ, but it won't satisfy those of us craving authentic Chinese dumplings or pastries.
|Ramen House Ryowa|
Our culinary quest took us to Mountain View, where we lunched at the Ramen House Ryowa. Anna and I had previously dined at Ramen Shalala in Mountain View, but we both wanted to try something new and gain a frame of reference for judging the popular Japanese dish. Ryowa proved to be a worthy competitor of Shalala, with more vegetables and a better-cooked egg gracing their ramen bowl. Unlike Shalala, Ryowa broadcasted Japanese TV shows as well.
|Tied House Brewery + Vaso Azzurro|
We also explored a few other classic Mountain View establishments while we were in the area. First, we stopped by the Tied House Brewery for a happy hour at what's generally recognized as the oldest microbrewery in Silicon Valley. Anna and I were not overly impressed with our brews — a hefeweizen and sadly watered-down porter — but my subsequent trips to the bar have left a better taste in my mouth. Afterward, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant called Vaso Azzurro. From the outside, it appeared to be just another of the fancy, overpriced restaurants that are far too common on Castro Street. But inside we were lavished with attention from none other than the owner herself, a sweet old lady who expressed a genuine gratitude for our patronage that is rare at such upscale restaurants.
|Olympus Cafe + Bakery|
After dinner, we rounded off our Mountain View dining experience with dessert at Olympus Cafe + Bakery. Olympus has a little bit of everything — from wine to coffee to breakfast food — but we focused on the pastry options. Anna and I enjoyed the macaroons and cannoli, but the real show-stopper was an artfully designed dish with chocolate creme inside of a colorful chocolate shell.
On one of the nights, we made our way further south in the Valley to Santana Row, San Jose's glamorous mixed-use development. The area's layout reminded Anna and me of the upscale town centers dotting Northern Virginia, so perhaps it is appropriate we ended up at a restaurant (Pasta Pomodoro) with a name that is very similar to one of our favorite eateries in Fairfax. The service was a bit spotty — it seemed like they had forgotten to schedule enough waiters — but the food was at least as good as what we had at Vaso Azzurro. My spicy penne was the perfect complement to Anna's buttery sweet butternut squash ravioli, and the half-off Bollini Pinot Grigio would have been a worthy pairing even at full price.
For dessert, we stopped at Cocola Bakery and had our second round of macaroons on the trip. The dessert in question wasn't any tastier that what we had at Olympus, but it was certainly pricier and therefore probably not worth a return trip.
An unexpected stop (at least for me) on our dining tour was Chevy's, a Mexican chain restaurant located around the Sunnyvale/Saratoga border. I was initially confused when Anna directed me to the restaurant since I knew she doesn't like Mexican food. But then I realized there was something more to the experience — Anna had signed us up for Paint Nite, a gathering where an instructor walks through how to paint a masterful (or, in my case, passable) work of art. Having the event at a restaurant with a bar was a nice touch for novice artists such as myself who needed a few drinks to calm the nerves associated with painting in front of a large group.
Finally, we patronized a few establishments in my home city of Sunnyvale for the remaining meals on our trip. We enjoyed brunch at Hobee's, a local chain known for essentially doubling the size of every entree with a heaping side of buttery blueberry coffeecake.
On our way back to the car after Dishdash, we had time for one more spontaneous and surprising food experience. Tucked into a small alley between a couple of restaurants, Chocolatier Desiree hardly cries out for attention. Instead, it seems to survive by converting people who stumble upon the store into repeat customers who are hooked on its wide array of high-quality chocolates. It was a new and delicious spot for both Anna and I, and it proved that there are still plenty of hidden gems that will keep us from being bored at mealtime in the Bay Area.