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Inadvertant food snob

Always disliked food snobs until I suddenly realized I became one. Now I love it.

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Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria

 504 Bay Ave
Capitola, CA
 

Delicious local bakery and deli

This place was pretty awesome. I went with my girlfriend and we got there at about 1:00pm…even then, the place was packed…but that didn’t mean the wait was long.

Gayle’s is like a bakery and deli put into one, and they use high-quality ingredients in just about everything they make…and everything we had was great.

The place itself is nothing too remarkable…fairly large, with what almost seem like separate counters for the coffee, deli and bakery area (like separate areas in your local supermarket). You pick a number and then one person helps you get all the stuff you want…simple as that.

We had some peking chicken wings which were delicious…a really tasty, slightly sweet and very smoky-flavored marinade make these stand out.

We then had a turkey, avacado and jack sandwich. The flavors are light, but it’s done that way to let the flavor of the delicious dutch crunch roll it’s on come out…the more I ate this, the more I liked it.

I had a crocodile pastry which was sort of like a slice of pecan pie but with phyllo dough…it was delicious. My girlfriend had a fruit parfait that was excellent…they put fluffy chunks of strawberry shortcake in it that make it unique.

Just if it wasn’t so far away! A great place to grab lunch if you’re ever in the area.

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Jeffrey's Hamburgers

 42 S B St
San Mateo, CA
 

What you expect

Jeffrey’s opened a new location in Menlo Park which I went to check out. As has already been pointed out, it has a classic American diner look, but it actually seems a bit more modern and clean in subtle ways, which is nice.

Food options are exactly what you expect…burgers, salads, milkshakes, etc. The cheeseburger I had reminded me a less-greasy version of a Nation’s Burger (not sure if I think that makes it better or worse). The chili cheese fries are also solid, though I do wish that the chili was a bit more flavorful.

Not a bad place, but it’s not cheap for what it is. Personally, I still would prefer Fuddrucker’s (better variety and also excellent food), Taxi’s (a little cheaper and a little better, imo) or actually Nation’s (I’ve always had a weak spot for their greasy goodness). Of course, In N Out is excellent for their super-low price as well. Still, I can see coming back here on occasion, just to do something different once in a while.

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Chiaroscuro

 550 Washington St
San Francisco, CA
 

Pleasant surprise, solid all around

This is a new Italian restaurant that opened in the financial district of San Francisco that had a rough start, but they apparently worked through all the kinks, because the dinner we had (for a friend’s birthday) was quite solid. Nothing blew me away, but nothing disappointed.

The place itself is small, but not too crowded…it had that San Francisco, modern-warehouse kind of look. Fairly nice overall.

Service was excellent (except perhaps for some long wait times between dishes). The wait staff was extremely friendly and pleasant and the chef himself even came out to make sure we enjoyed our meal at the end (he apparently does this with a lot of tables).

Anyways, on to the food.

We started with several random appetizers, including a mussels dish (solid), a cheese-and-salamis plate (excellent quality stuff) and a calamari plate (okay, nothing special other than some unique dipping sauces that weren’t all that good).

My entree was a duck breast special which was quite good. With some grilled vegetables and a very tasty reduction sauce, it was quite tasty. Lightly crispy duck skin with tender meat underneath, it was solid.

Didn’t really have dessert, as we had a cake for the birthday, but one person did order dessert and it wasn’t bad.

All in all, nothing overly impressive, but nothing to complain about either. Worth trying.

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231 Ellsworth

 231 S Ellsworth Ave
San Mateo, CA
 

Very solid and interesting...but doesn't go beyond

231 Ellsworth is sometimes considered San Mateo’s best restaurant (its main competition probably being Lure, which is awesome), and we thought it would be a good place to take a friend coming into town…so off we went!

The place itself is fairly nice…tastefully decorated, spacious but nothing unique.

Service was good, but perhaps not quite at the level I’d have expected for a restaurant of this caliber. Only main things are that most restaurants of this level introduce to you what your dish is, but this time they sometimes forgot to do so. Also, our waitress seemed to forget about us at first before taking our orders. Other than that, they were friendly and timely.

Now the food…we started with a amuse which was a small bite of smoked salmon with a sort of ceramed horseradish…seemed like they were going for an alternative version of sushi. It was a decent way to start a meal.

I had an extremely light hamachi dish as my first course (I’d say even too light…this might have been better as an amuse as well). I also tried a pepper and corn soup (pretty good) and a sort of cheese appetizer (also quite good).

For my second course, I had a lobster with tarragon foam. Interesting…pretty good…enjoyable…nothing amazing.

Third course was a squab dish…this might have been my best dish. It was quite good, and the meat was tasty and flavorful. Still, not amazing.

Fourth course was a lamb dish. This was a little disappointing…the lamb was good, as were the sides (some vegetables), but I was hoping for better. Others had a salmon dish (which, like our amuse-bouche, had a horseradish…I can’t say that this was too good) and a flat-iron steak (this was also quite good…flavorful meat and interesting sides).

Desserts were quite good, but also not amazing. I had a chocolate-carmel tart. We also had a sorbet that was pretty good for sorbet (I don’t usually like sorbet much).

All in all, there wasn’t much to complain about, but I was expecting more. The price wasn’t cheap (more that Lure) and the food was quite solid all the way around, but it never really impressed. For that price, I would like to be at least somewhat impressed by a few dishes.

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Mustards Grill

 7399 Saint Helena Hwy
Napa, CA
 

Excellent, quality food

Mustards Grill is a restaurant in Napa, CA, where there are a load of high-quality places to eat, mostly because of the area’s high-quality, local produce.

Mustards Grill is no exception…it’s not the perfect place, but it’s very good, especially the food.

But, before we get to the food, what abuot the decor? Surprisingly simple…it’s very casual inside, almost like a Chili’s. The environment is similar as well: neither loud nor quiet, neither spacious nor crowded.

The restaurant’s weak point? Well, in our experience, it was the service…though not because they didn’t try. Our servers were all nice and polite, and our food arrived in a timely fashion. the problem is the food wasn’t the right food on multiple occassions. The truth is, looking around the restaurant (albeit on a Saturday night), the place was PACKED…and they just didn’t have enough people to deal with this many customers. As a result, each waiter or waitress was too rushed and, inevitably, mistakes were made.

So, the food. While they serve relatively plain, simple dishes, the high-quality ingredients and execution make it all stand out.

We started off with bread that was really good (you can somewhat tell the quality of a bread by the flatness of the bottom crust and the size of the holes in the bread…more importantly, it was just good.), and people ordered some excellent crab cakes and an interesting tamale which was realyl light and let you taste the flavor of the corn…mmm! I also had a ceasar salad…it was just a ceasar, but it was done exactly the way I like: quality, shredded parmesan (not grated), fresh-made croutons and the lettuce was cut (not in huge leaves, which I don’t like as much).

Among the things we ordered, we had a vegetarian mushroom burger (no, not the all-too-common portobello mushroom) that I thought would be a mistake. I was wrong…this “burger” was amazingly flavorful and delicious! I had a pork chop which was excellent and had an interesting sauce…the only thing I didn’t like was the red cabbage salad on the side. However, one of their daily specials was a ribeye that sounded REALLY good, so all the other people at our table got it…and it wa actually rather disappointing. The steak was kind of lacking in flavor and a little overdone. It’s too bad so many people at our table got this dish.

Dessert, however made up for a lot of it. Wow…an excellent sundae, a good creme brulee, a very good fruit tart and an absolutely AWESOME chocolate dessert made us leave happy.

Save for one entree that was disappointing and mistakes made by our server, it was an excellent dinig experience (and the price isn’t even that high!).

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Morton's, The Steakhouse

 400 Post St
San Francisco, CA
 

Great steaks, decent other stuff...but a bit overpriced

I’ve been to this Morton’s twice and enjoyed my meal there both times.

The place itself is very nice and classy, though nothing eye-popping. Just standard, nice decor.

The service is usually very good, but we happened to run into a waitress who wasn’t exactly excited to be there. She went through all the motions, but little more…it seemed like she just wanted to get out of there. Still, she did all that she needed to do, so you can’t complain too much.

The salad I had was okay, though not worth the money I paid for it. The sides were similar: decent, but not worth the exorbitant price. The steaks we had (I had the Chicago bone-in ribeye) was SUPERB. I’m not sure what it is they do…obviously, it’s prime-grade beef and they know how to cook it just right…but it seems like it’s more than that. Perhaps their season salt is just that much better? Anyways, it’s awesome…but even it might not be all that great of a value: its base price was something like $45!!

Dessert was solid: we had the chocolate souffle, which was good (though I’ve had better).

All in all, a solid meal with excellent steaks and good enough everything else. But…then the bill comes and it’s like $100. Wow…don’t know if I would say it was quite THAT good…

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Aqua

 252 California St
San Francisco, CA
 

Not what it should be

Aqua is one of the most well-known seafood restaurants in San Francisco, oftentimes referred to as the best seafood in the Bay Area. Most people think it didn’t even lose a step when Mina left, and some think it is yet better. Needless to say, as someone that loves great seafood, I was looking forward to this meal.

We pulled into the front of the restaurant, got our car valet parked, then went in. They had our table ready and things were off to a good start. I can’t say that I care much for the stuffy decor, but decor isn’t a big deal.

Service was exceptional…sort of (I’ll get to that later). The wait staff and sommelier were extremely helpful and friendly, they kept our waters filled, wine poured, bread coming and presented every dish with great knowledge of the food. My mom even had difficulty reading the menu due to the darkness of the restaurant, and our waiter brought reading glasses for her! What a nice touch!

Amuse bouche came, and it was quite good…three small dishes. None blew me away, but they were enjoyable and got us started.

Appetizers then came…and my crab souffle was very good. My mom had a hamachi which was good, and my dad had some foie gras, which was decent (though I’ve had much better foie before). My sister had a soup which none of us really enjoyed that much, but it was still okay and I can see that perhaps others may enjoy it.

So, while nothing was SUPER impressive, the meal was about what I had hoped for up until now. this was the turning point.

Entrees, of course, are the most important part of the meal and talk about a huge let down. I’m not sure what the deal here was. I had the surf a turf (veal and halibut) that was…okay. It wasn’t bad, but that’s about all I coudl say for it…it lacked flavor and meats tasted a little dry.

I was disappointed with my dish, but I can let that pass if I just ordered wrong…I tried the other dishes we all got.

Hmm…this sturgeon isn’t any good either. This John Dory is totally unremarkable (even tasted a little like teriyaki salmon!), and my mom’s halibut wasn’t that good either. Wow…I can NOT believe how average these dishes are. I wouldn’t say BAD, but that’s the best thing I can say for ALL FOUR of our entrees. For a restaurant of this caliber, I couldn’t believe it.

I was hoping dessert could somehow salvage a bad entree (it can’t, even if it’s awesome), but it didn’t even come close. My mom and dad’s dessert was sort of interesting, but not really any good…this was a risk that the chef took by coming up with this dessert and I have to say it was a failure. My sister’s dessert was also only okay.

Then there was the matter of my dessert: it wasn’t the right one. I ordered a chocolate tart and instead they gave me the chocolate mousse. At a normal restaurant, this sort of thing happens, where they mess-up your order…it’s fine. But at a place like this, a mistake as careless as this is just ridiculous. I just figured “screw it” and had the chocolate mousse…unremarkable, like the other desserts.

We got a few petit fours (they were decent, at least), and that was the end of the meal.

If I had spent about $45 per person at this meal, I would think “Hey, this was pretty good for this price. About comparable with other stuff I could get for that money”

Well, the check was for $120 per person. This is more money than Boulevard for crynig out loud! We could have eaten at Boulevard that night and each have another $10 or so in our pocket! Lure, which is a FAR better restaurant, costs almost HALF this amount! And they never messed up my order there either!

I was totally disappointed…and then came yet one more issue. The valet allegedly “lost the key” to our car. WHAT?! We waited around as he said he couldn’t find it and that we should wait. Then, suddenly, magically, “Hey, we found it” and they brought the car to us. After making us wait more than 20 mins, our car was suddenly back, with no explanation on how they “found” the key, or how they “lost” it. I have no proof, but one can only imagine that they were taking our car out for some joy riding and didn’t think we’d be done with our meal already. Even if that was not the case, losing our key is totally unacceptable for a restaurant of this caliber!!

For $120 a person, this meal was complete crap. I gave it 3 stars since, if you ignore price, that’s what it was: decent. Once you take price into account, it should be 1 star.

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Los Gatos Cafe

 340 N Santa Cruz Ave
Los Gatos, CA
 

Best breakfast in the area

Have to agree with shaomai…this place is awesome.

The decor itself isn’t much to write about…sort of like a diner, but kind of cramped. They have a nice outdoor area, but it is a bit cramped as well. Overall, not much to say about the atmosphere, but it isn’t so bad that it hurts in any way, so who cares?

Service: solid service, about what you’d expect for a cheap diner place. No complaints.

Now, the food. Almost everything I’ve had here has been excellent. I’m big on breakfast foods and this place has great waffles, awesome pancakes and is just really good all the way around at any breakfast item. Their potatos are lighter than the usual super-oily hash browns you get at most places…and you get a lot of it too.

But, as good as those are, it’s the amazing souffle omelettes (yes, the crab one is excellent, but so are many others) that are better than any other omelette you’ve ever had. Light, flavorful, yet huge and filling…the perfect omelette.

And, as has been mentioned, their bakery items are all AWESOME too. The raspberry coffee cake is popular and really good, as is the strawberry shortcake. However, I was told to get the carrot walnut bread, which didn’t sound so hot…I reluctantly ordered it, expecting to be disappointed and wishing I got something else. I was wrong…wow, the carrot walnut bread is simply incredible!

There’s basically nothing you can complain about at this place other than the wait and the slightly cramped atmosphere. The best breakfast place in the area for sure.

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Corkscrew Cafe

 55 E Carmel Valley Rd
Carmel Valley Village, CA
 

Corkscrew Cafe

One of the best places I’ve been to recently, Corkscrew Cafe is out of the way, but worth the drive.

The place itself is almost like a small house, that was once used as a motel and even a beauty salon way back when CA was still run by Mexico. It’s very quaint and nice indoors, without being old-fashioned.

Service was good…we had a friendly waitress who was very nice, attentive and very friendly.

The great thing about this place is the fresh ingredients they get. Being in the middle of Carmel means they get all the locally grown produce and fresh fish from the sea. This all added up to an excellent meal.

Even the bread served at the start of the meal was good: the french bread (stone-hearth baked, which is the best kind) was toasted into a crouton-like crunchiness and served with humus…delicious.

I had a very good salad with a walnut vinaigrette and marinated chunks of fresh mozzerella cheese…what made it good was definitely the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

We had a calamari appetizer which was well-made…a lot of calamar is overly bready and oily, but this one had a light fried taste to it which was refreshing. My only complaint here was the garlic aioli sauce it came with was a bit too heavy.

As good as the other dishes were, the entrees excelled even more. A beef short rib was very good, but, even better, I had a seafood linguini with salmon, clams, mussels and shrimp in a tomato sauce that was magnificent. All the flavors just came together beautifully and you could taste the freshness of everything there…awesome.

Dessert was a minor let down, probably only because expectations were so high after the quality of every other course. A brownie with vanilla ice cream was very good and freshly-made, but I had an olallieberry pie which was a bit too tart for my liking. If it weren’t for this, I’d have given the meal five stars.

Best of all, the price: very reasonable for the quality of food you’re getting. You can defintely go to SF, spend twice the money and not get food this good. We spent about $50 a person for a whole bunch of food AND wine (including tax and tip), so a good deal overall.

If you’re willing to make the drive, or heading out to Carmel already, then I would definitely recommend dropping by.

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Cafe Gibraltar

 425 Avenue Alhambra
El Granada, CA
 

Superb food in out-of-the-way location

We went to Cafe Gibraltar, which has gotten excellent reviews from all over, so I had high expectations. Those expectations were pretty much met…this place was excellent.

The service was very friendly; we even presented a problem for the restaurant when we had a lot of flakers on the meal and had to cut down our reservation dramatically…they were amazingly gracious about it, given that we pretty much cost them a table’s worth of business.

The decor was nice, though nothing overly amazing. We actually got one of the tables at the end where we get to sit down on the ground on pillows instead of chairs, all under a nice canopy…pretty cool.

Food was excellent. A beef short rib appetizer was VERY good (though it was pretty large and heavy, so it seems like it should be an entree, not an appetizer), and there was a good prawn cake (like a crab cake, but with prawns), served with a red pepper sauce.

I had a corn and artichoke soup that was very tasty, and a salad which was solid for what it was. My entree was a lamb shank which tasted very good. I also sampled some other entrees, including a seafood cioppino and a rabbit dish, both of which were quite impressive.

Dessert was actually perhaps the best part of the meal: the poached pear tort was simply incredible, served with a pasty almond/pecan filling, flaky crust and vanilla gelato. Wow.

Overall, an excellent meal and actually not that pricey for what it is (for five courses, I spent about $80, including tax/tip). The only gripe is that Half Moon Bay is so far out there in the middle of nowhere. But, if you’re there for a day trip already, then this is definitely the place to go for dinner.

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