Friday, January 16, 2015

12 restaurants to try in the Bay Area (my 2014–2015 edition)

Special thanks to my brother, Biboy, my sister-in-law, Barbara, Mommy, Daddy, my aunts, uncles, and cousins for making sure that I got to try as much of the good food that the Bay Area has to offer as possible. My last visit was one for the books because I gained a sense of the diversity of the cuisine choices there. Without further ado and in no particular order:

This is my absolute favourite among the restaurants Biboy and I have visited. Peruvian rotisserie chicken... it's better than Andok's, Señor Pedro, and Baliwag's rotisserie chicken because the flavours go beyond the usual lemongrass. The chicken was so rich in complex tastes and aromas plus it was so tender. There, I was also introduced to Inca Blu's mango lemonade and to Pisco Sour. Biboy said that Limon has got to be one of San Francisco's best-kept secrets. I couldn't help but agree.

Burmese Kitchen (Oakland)
My brother is always spot on in choosing restaurants where I'd enjoy eating. One lunch time, he and Barbara made me try, for the first time in my life, Burmese cuisine (albeit the Bay Area version). Burmese Kitchen is a gem. The most memorable food for me there was the la phat thok tea leaf salad because I've never eaten tea leaves before. It reminded me of the Greek dolmas because of the leaves' texture and taste; weird, probably, but that's what I associated the tea leaf salad with. Aside from that, it would take some time for me to forget pairing the meal with coconut rice... it felt like eating dessert for lunch. It's delicious but I need to get used to it.

La Sen Bistro (Concord)
I've never taken my dad to be a fan of French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine so it was a big surprise when he thought up of having dinner at La Sen. The restaurant definitely had a friendly, welcoming charm despite the seemingly formal dining atmosphere. And the food was great. I tried the salmon with the saffron sauce and vegetables... it was so delicious!

Tomales Bay Oyster Co. (Marshall)
I didn't believe that I'd see the day when my Mom was actually enjoying eating in a picnic... and munching on raw oysters, no less! Another good recommendation from Biboy, I might add; worth the long drive definitely. So, the thing is, we had to buy the oysters by the bag at this hut and then we'd be using fire in a barbecue grill to open up the shells. Daddy and Biboy started burning charcoals but somehow, I ended up keeping the embers burning. Must be a leftover skill from all the Girl Scout camping trips I'd made in grade school and high school. Barbara and Mommy took care of the other food and the drinks; I thought: now this is the ultimate family outing!

Three Brothers from China (Pleasant Hill)
My first ever New Year's Eve dinner in a restaurant. Mommy, Daddy, and I were out of the house the whole day, I think, which was why we didn't cook anymore. In Three Brothers, we tried the shellfish special for the day, a first also for my parents who don't normally look at the daily specials. It's definitely good. No wonder my parents always eat there. 

Chili Garden (Milpitas)
If there's one thing I learned early in exploring, it is this: the restaurant must be good if people line up to eat there. Then there's this other lesson I learned from being in Divisoria a lot as a kid: if Chinese customers are flocking a Chinese restaurant in a foreign country, then the food there must be really good. Apparently, Biboy got those ideas too because he brought us to Chili Garden, the Chinese restaurant whose vibe felt closest to our Chinese cuisine dining experiences in the Philippines. The food was so tasty! I liked the spicy pork spare ribs a lot! 

Saigon Bistro (Concord)
Of course, Daddy and Biboy would recommend the sandwiches because this is what the restaurant is famous for. And the sandwiches they ordered were so good! However, what's a girl to do in a Vietnamese restaurant but eat pho ga, right? I had only good experiences associated with pho in Hanoi, in Manila, and in Calamba that I just had to try Saigon Bistro's version. No surprises... the pho was yummy!

Kevin's Noodle House (Concord)
When I first ate here, Mommy and Daddy referred to the restaurant as if they knew Kevin. It wasn't surprising because the place looked like a typical neighbourhood canteen: white tiles all over the place, white tables, glass panes dividing the kitchen area from the dining area. Unsophisticated, if I may say so myself. I was surprised with I visited this time because the vibe became more upscale! Definite improvements, possibly to capture a more diverse audience. The pho ga was still superb but the feel inside was a bit warmer with the wooden floor finish and the new tables.

Champa Garden (Oakland)
Another first, again with my favourite only brother. He wanted me to try Lao food; even if I've studied Lao rice varieties in graduate school, I've never eaten Lao food before. So, we went to Champa Garden to try it out. It turns out that the Oakland version sounded very much like a series of Thai dishes. No complaints here. I've absolutely loved the spring rolls and the papaya salad! Also, I felt right at home because the vibe was similar to a Thai restaurant I used to frequent in Sydney called Thai Times Nine.

Shimizu Sushi (Oakland)
This restaurant features the perfect example of how ethnic cuisines are adapted to palates in the Bay Area: it is Shimizu Sushi where I first encountered "In & Out", a spicy roll containing salmon, jalapeño and cucumber. Yes, instead of wasabi, I got to dip it in Tabasco. Absolutely delicious. When I go to a Japanese restaurant in the Philippines, I'll check if there's a local version of this so that I can go beyond my usual Philadelphia roll (seafood allergies tend to limit the variations that I can have on my maki rolls). Thank you, Tito Donnie, for the lunch!
Ate Maddie and I had lunch in this Sicilian trattoria before we went "hiking" in Muir Woods. One of the friendly owners, Norine, was warning us that the serving portions of the food in her restaurant was big and we might not be able to finish if we ordered a lot. And so I ended up ordering a lettuce salad with pan-seared salmon, which was indeed huge but was very tasty. We also ordered the cannoli to get a taste of Sicily. It was delicious! Good thing we were famished; otherwise, we'd end up ordering more than we can eat!

After my dining experience in Bangkok, I think that the flavours of Thai cuisine (in restaurants outside Thailand) have been mellowed down to cater to the tastes of the locals. I absolutely love the tom yum because it's the closest dish to sinigang that I have tried so far. And the dessert absolutely blew me away. It was sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and mixed with ripe mangoes. How good is that! Lunch was made even better because I had it with Tita Babie, Joycelyn, and Biboy.