Zorba’s

24 05 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A few   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, I like it here.
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Zorba's HaywardZorba’s is a Greek place that’s been around for a long while. They have two locations: Amador Street in Hayward and wayyyy down Mission Boulevard in Fremont. I’ve been to both but I didn’t have my camera at the Fremont one, so I’ve waited until now to post.  Cool story, I know.

I like Zorba’s*.  I like their Mediterranean food, I like their menu, and I like their facilities.  Or maybe I was just in a good mood the other day, who knows.  Their style is order at the counter and pick up when your number is called — no frills, but clear as day.  The menu is extensive and thorough, yet not so diverse that I fear the freshness of certain items.  They of course do the standard lamb and chicken dishes native to the themed region, but they also have sandwiches, paninis (which are actually also sandwiches), salads, and burgers.

Zorba's front counter

The front counter and menu at Zorba's Hayward

Menu

Dedicated Vegetarian menu at Zorba's -- Booya!

During our spur of the moment meal at Zorba’s last week, I ordered off the dedicated vegetarian menu (bonus points!!!) and got a Greek Vegetarian Sandwich which was focaccia bread filled with feta cheese, spinach (raw), kalamata olives, and tomatoes.  One piece the bread was slathered in a sun dried tomato pesto, while the other piece was graced with a generous layer of regular basil pesto (or at least that’s what I deduced).  It was delish, though a bit salty (feta + kalamata olives = sodium overload).

Greek vegetarian sandwich

Greek Vegetarian Sandwich from Zorba's

Boyfriend’s falafel wrap was also a hit – falafel patties with hummus, lettuce, tomato, onion, and cucumber all inside what I call a Greek tortilla.  He liked it, though no falafel can compare to the homemade stuff we create…which will be discussed another time.

Falafel wrap

Falafel wrap from Zorba's before eating...

Falafel wrap

Falafel wrap from Zorba's being eaten...

The criss-cut fries were good in theory, but I submit that whatever oil they deep fry them in added an odd flavor.  I won’t pretend to know the culprit, but I found myself staring at many a french fry through squinted eyes thinking, “There’s something a little wrong with this…”.

Sandwich and fries

Odd tasting criss-cut fries with my vegetarian sandwich at Zorba's

Overall, success!  I like Zorbas.  I like the all-you-can-dip ketchup bar and soda fountain.  I like the semi-cheesy decorations around the place, I like the guy behind the counter, and I don’t mind too terribly much that the place isn’t kept spotless like your grandma’s bathroom.  Zorbas: Greek, good, go there.

Zorba's Hayward

Zorba's Hayward -- the inside

*Despite this statement and all the positive words to follow, I gave Zorba’s rather (or exactly) average ratings.  While nothing is terribly spectacular about any aspect of the place, I did enjoy it here.

Zorba's Deli Cafe on Urbanspoon





Jupiter

19 05 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure, try to get a seat upstairs though
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Jupiter RestaurantOut of this world pizza and beer?  Maybe.  Jupiter is a restaurant and beerhouse on Shattuck in Berkeley and is extremely popular.  Completely packed on a weekend evening, it can be hard to hear yourself think much less have a nice conversation with friends in this European-style ex-stable building from the 1890′s.

Jupiter Bar

The bar and stair in Jupiter Restaurant in Berkeley.

I’ve actually been here once before, many years ago, though I remember almost nothing of it (and am hence counting this as my first visit).  It’s actually a really cool facility, though it has its flaws.  It’s large–the inside area has seating and a bar downstairs and additional seating upstairs.  The place extends into an outdoor “backyard” that is terraced and paved and holds a large crowd.  The decor is dark wood and high ceilings and it works well for an upscale beer and pizza joint.

Jupiter Terrace

The outdoor seating area at Jupiter Restaurant in Berkeley.

The only problems with this place are these: the acoustics inside are such that when the place is full (which is typically is), you can’t hear anything above the roaring sound of other people’s conversations.  It’s deafening and prevents any sort of reasonable chatter between you and your friends, especially if you’re with a group of people.  Someone mentioned that the upstairs is better for this, which may well be true.  Secondly, the outdoor patio does not have this noise problem so much, but it’s outside, so it’s always freezing.  Because this is Berkeley and if it’s not cold, it’s still cold.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but how often is there a warm night in Berkeley?  Not often.

Normal people (not me) can probably deal with this and enjoy a pizza outside.  They do the heat lamp thing, so that would help for said normal people.  For me and any other freaks, there is no solution and eating outdoors is banishing us to a fate of chattering teeth.  At least the outdoor yard is fully enclosed by the surrounding buildings so that the wind can’t get in very well.

Anyway, those are two items that someone else may not even notice but that are important to me.  So there, take what you will.

Hummus plate and garlic focaccia

Hummus plate and garlic focaccia from Jupiter Restaurant.

Garlic focaccia

Necessary close-up of the garlic focaccia at Jupiter.

As for the menu, the selection of pizzas is adequate and creative, there are a variety of appetizers and salads for those who don’t feel like ‘za or want to change it up a bit, and the beer is locally made and a big draw for many people.  The hummus plate to share was especially good, and the garlic cheese focaccia was fabulous.  The pizzas looked pro though I only got a chance to try the 4 cheese which was good but not great.  The other pizzas looked even better though.  My salad was well made though for some reason it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  I think this was my own fault though and won’t hold it against them that I didn’t read the menu thoroughly before ordering.

Four cheese pizza

Four cheese pizza from Jupiter.

Pizza

"Io" pizza from Jupiter.

Pizza

Another Jupiter pizza.

Salmon salad

My salmon salad from Jupiter Restaurant.

The service was good and the prices were reasonable; I can certainly see why this place is popular.  Overall, Jupiter has a fun atmosphere, good food selection and quality, and is a fun place for a night out with friends.  My only caution is to beware of the acoustics in the downstairs area if you are with people who you actually want to listen to.

Jupiter on Urbanspoon





Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant

15 05 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  I’d love to
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Las Americas Peruvian RestaurantPeruvian food?  Well, ok.  Is it sort of like Mexican food?  No, not at all.

There’s apparently not one but two Peruvian restaurants on the same downtown block of B Street in San Mateo, and we chose Las Americas to try out the cuisine a few nights ago.  It was awesome!  The restaurant was cute, though nothing super fancy, the menu was extensive, and the food was great!

In related news, this restaurant is the subject of my very first post on Examiner.com!!  I signed up and was accepted to be this site’s San Mateo Restaurant Examiner.  They didn’t have one for Hayward, surprise.  Anyway, I’ll be writing up San Mateo restaurant reviews and news stories as much as possible, while still keeping up with B&C, whew!!  My review on Examiner.com is shown below (I own the rights to my own articles, w00t!!), or click to see for yourself.  Check out my bio and photo and subscribe to my page if you like it.  Thanks for reading!

Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant is one of two Peruvian restaurants on the same block of South B Street in San Mateo, and one of over a dozen in the area stretching from San Francisco to Redwood City. Overall, the menu is large and interesting, the facility is welcoming though not fancy, and the food is excellent.

Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant

The seating area at Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant in San Mateo.

The menu at Las Americas is extensive and surprisingly diverse. Grilled chicken and beef feature often, but much of the menu is dominated by seafood—halibut is very common, and appetizers include mussels, calamari, and garlic prawns—while boiled potatoes and fried rice find their way as the sides for many items. All of the mains—which include a couple vegetable dishes, a handful of steak or chicken meals, and about a dozen halibut and other non-specified seafood plates—are around $12 per plate (give or take $1.50), with the most expensive dish, Arroz con Marisco: Peruvian seafood paella, topping out at $17.

Papa a la Huancaina appetizer

Papa a la Huancaina appetizer: boiled potatoes in a spicy creamy cheese sauce. From Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant.

Perhaps more important than the menu selection; the food is delicious. The Papa a la Huancaina appetizer (boiled potatoes in a spicy creamy cheese sauce) is a small yet heavenly plate of plain boiled potatoes which are quartered and slathered generously in a light cheesy sauce that has everyone else at the table begging to dip their food in it. The fried rice with chicken is akin to an Asian dish presenting crispy rice interspersed with chicken pieces and green onions, all topped with egg. The Pescado al Ajo, fried boneless halibut filet in garlic sauce with white rice on side, is a garlicky delight of tender fish and plain but satisfying rice.

Arroz Chaufa de Carne o Pollo

Arroz Chaufa de Carne o Pollo: Peruvian fried rice with beef or chicken (this plate was with chicken). From Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant.

Pescado al Ajo

Pescado al Ajo: fried boneless halibut filet in garlic sauce with white rice on side. From Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant.

There are even some traditional beverages offered that make any dining experience a fun one for those not accustomed to Peruvian cuisine—the Chicha Morada is made by boiling purple corn with cinnamon and fruit and is a unique addition to any meal.  The Maracuya, or passion fruit juice, is sweet and tasty. Each meal also comes with a tiny ramekin of Peruvian corn which is crunchy and salty, and spicy green dipping sauce that can really light a good fire on the taste buds.

Beverages from Las Americas Restaurant

Maracuya, Chicha Morada, and Peruvian beer, with Peruvian corn kernels and spicy sauce in front from Las Americas Peruvian Restaurant.

Las Americas is definitely a great place to start exploring Peruvian cuisine, and appears to also be a favorite of seasoned eaters—you’ll certainly hear snippets of fast Spanish being spoken at dinnertime. So while it’s not the most elegant place in town, the food is great, the atmosphere is plain but endearing, the service is adequate, and the price is right. This reviewer recommends it to anyone interested in sampling some excellent South American cuisine in San Mateo.





A Scrumptious Weekend in Marin

10 05 2010

For Mother’s Day this year, broccoli and chocolate took a voyage with mom to Point Reyes in Marin County.  Though only about an hour and a half away from the East Bay, the Marin coast is as rural and beautiful as just about anywhere in the world.  We had a fabulous time and mom was glowing.  But, back to the point—we had some excellent food that B&C needs to know about.

First Stop: Marin French Cheese

Forget Google when you want good cheese—she will only mislead you when you get directions to Marin French Cheese Company.  Using the directions on the website, find this lone establishment in the rolling greenery of Marin County.  Established in 1865, this place has some serious history.  It’s still going strong though, even though it’s surely out in the middle of nowhere-ville, USA.  The drive over is beautiful, the grounds are welcoming and have picnic areas around a small lake, and let’s not forget the cheese, which is delish!  If you show up at the right time, you can even see a tour of their cheese making facilities or have a look around their art gallery.  A great stop if you’re having a lazy weekend in the country.

Marin French Cheese

Cheese, wine, and the great outdoors at Marin French Cheese.

Second Stop: Nick’s Cove

Highway 1 is dotted with small shanty restaurants all up the Marin Coast (and probably the entire west coast), and Nick’s Cove is one of these seemingly run-down landmarks.  On the outside Nick’s looks like a standard wood framed, one story shack that may have come straight from the early 1900′s, but the inside is something quite different.  While certainly not uber-fancy, it’s a step above what you might expect from a wind-blown fishing area.  The valet parking is mandatory and complimentary, so don’t freak out and drive right by like we did.  Just let the friendly gentleman take your car away; Cal Trans has required Nick’s to do this, probably to keep customers from having to walk across the highway.

Nick's Cove

Fresh seafood and delicious salads at quirky yet tasteful Nick's Cove.

Situated right on Tomales Bay, Nick’s offers gorgeous views along with it’s upscale, albeit somewhat limited, menu.  We were there for dinner and were offered a variety of oysters, about a dozen starters including salads, soups, and shellfish, and a handful of main dishes.  The mains were mostly surf and turf and you can tell by the wording that it’s not cheap.  That said, it’s not outrageous either and, judging from what we had, it’s worth the money.  We only had appetizers and drinks but everything was really top notch in quality and taste.  The shrimp Louis was fresh and perfect, the grilled hearts of romaine were like a Caesar salad with a twang and were excellent, and the oysters were…oysters.  If you like oysters, I’m sure these were top notch, and they came with sauces that can make them tolerable even to the rest of us. The waiters knew everything about the menu by heart and without hesitation and the bustling staff refilled waters and sodas and removed empty plates with lightning speed.

Along with masses of old gas pumps, anchors, and other fishing equipment scattered around the place in a way that gives it character rather than lawsuits, they also have a dock behind the restaurant that goes out onto the bay and ends at a small shack.  This shack has a couple tables and a few chairs and accommodates probably no more than 10 people.  But if you make it to the shack in time to grab a seat, you can order from the restaurant via a provided phone and they’ll bring you food while you enjoy the rustic nautical decorations (or stored items?) and scenery from your own private cottage. On warmer nights (if that happens in Marin), there is outdoor seating on the dock as well with a large fireplace.  What fun!

Nick's Cove Dock

The dock at Nick's Cove with the surprise cottage at the end.

Third Stop: Farm House Restaurant at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

Since we stayed at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge on this trip, we also decided to patronize their restaurant—The Farm House—for our Mother’s Day lunch.  The website listed a Mother’s Day menu that looked good, but we were very surprised to find that that menu was just the specials list, offered in addition to their standard lunch menu which is huge!  The selection of food here is immense—almost too large—and includes a large variety of oysters, starters, soups and salads, and entrees, which are again mostly surf and turf but often in sandwich form for the lunch menu.  The specials list was almost white noise against all the other food on the menu; none of us ordered from it that day.

The food we ordered took a while to arrive, but was really delicious.  At our table were two grilled crab and cheese sandwiches (slight modification from the menu to include melted cheese), fish and chips, and a blackened rockfish sandwich.  Everything came with hand cut fries, or you can substitute their delicious and sweet onion strings.  Mom also received a complimentary glass of sparkling wine just for being  a (good*) mom. Overall, the food was satisfying and tasty and was pretty reasonably priced for a nice Mother’s Day lunch.  I think the Farm House is doing good business and makes a great addition to what the Seashore Lodge offers to patrons.

Farm House Restaurant Collage

The front of the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and adjacent Farm House Restaurant (at the far end), along with three of our delicious Mother's Day dishes.

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Overall, we had a great and tasty weekend, and were even graced with mostly beautiful weather.  It rained a bit on Sunday morning, but it didn’t hinder our beach walk or our trip out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.  Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

*They did not verify that she was a good mom, but she is, so I’ll say that’s why she got it.





El Rancho Taqueria

7 05 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 2/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Probably not
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El Rancho SupermercadoEl Rancho Taqueria is a countertop-conveyorbelt-style setup along one edge of the El Rancho Supermercado across from Trader Joe’s on Redwood Road in Castro Valley.  What I mean is that it’s a Subway Sandwiches sort of deal with one long glass-protected counter where you order and watch as the cooks assemble your order in front of you.  You then make your way down the length of the counter and pay at the end.  When we went the other day, there was a line of a few people in front of us and the service was sloooow.

El Rancho Taqueria

Counter at El Rancho Taqueria

We visited El Rancho on a recommendation from friends, but we sadly did not have as pleasant of an experience as they did.  I thought at first that the service was taking so long because one of the cooks must be new.  But after watching both of the men scurrying around behind the counter handle some of the food, I realized otherwise.  I think it was actually a large to-go order that was holding up the line, though I feel like they could have dealt with it a bit better than they did (for example, have one cook work on the to-go and the other help the patrons in line).  Regardless, we paid at the counter and decided to eat in, which appears to be less common that to go orders.

El Rancho Taqueria

Tables and chairs at El Rancho Taqueria.

There is a little section of chairs and tables–nice ones, actually–just near the food counter and we sat down at one of the clean, tidy tables.  Since this place is in a supermarket, we were surrounded by the non-refrigerated beverages on one side, and the refrigerated drinks behind us.  It did make for a colorful scenery, and we had a variety of refreshments to choose from–I bought a Snapple.

The menu at this place is standard Taqueria: burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and soups, but also has tortas, tostadas, breakfast, dinner packs, dinner combos, and seafood meals.  I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the standard choices also listed with a vegetarian option on the menu.  All Mexican food can be made veggie–just take out the meat–but not all places list the items on their menu as vegetarian.  This always makes me feel more comfortable ordering meat-less dishes, I can be confident that they already know what they’re doing.  Veggie choices include burrito, quesadilla, torta, and tostada.

Veggie Torta

Veggie torta at El Rancho Taqueria.

Veggie burrito

Veggie burrito at El Rancho Taqueria.

I ordered a veggie torta, which is like a Mexican sandwich, and Boyfriend got a veggie burrito. At the recommendation of our friends, we also tried an a la carte chile relleno.  The torta included melted cheese, freshly sliced tomato and avocado, lettuce, mayo, and onions.  It was pretty good, I enjoyed it.  Boyfriend’s veggie burrito had the standard beans, rice, cheese, and also included tomatoes, lettuce, and guacamole.  It was pretty good as well, though we’re somewhat of veggie burrito elitists, so we’re a bit hard to please on this item.

Chile relleno

Our sad chile relleno from El Rancho Taqueria.

The chile relleno was a different matter.  The one described to us by our friends was delicious.  Lightly battered, fried but not greasy, and smothered in a delicious tomato sauce.  Ours was not similar to this.  It was large but flat and floppy, filled with an inordinate amount of cheese, and resting in a pool of grease – no sauce.  I’m not sure what went wrong with it, but I deemed it not worth eating and only had a few bites.  My friend showed me another chile relleno he bought at a later date that was again what he experienced the first time.  Maybe we just hit them on an off day.

Overall, I didn’t find this place particularly special, though Yelp reviewers seem to disagree.  The store itself is actually awesome; it’s phenomenally clean and organized and offers a large variety of Mexican food stuffs.  Plus, their take away menu is extremely pro.  They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so if you’re driving by it might not be a bad option.  I may not be returning just because there are literally hundreds of other taquerias to try in the area, but it seems like other people really like this place, so I wouldn’t be opposed to trying it again someday.

Also, where else are you going to fill all your tomato and shrimp juice needs?

Tomato and shrimp juice

Tomato and shrimp juice was offered in the non-refrigerated drink aisle of El Rancho Supermercado. How can you resist?








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