Reviews

Dosa….Revisiting Southern India’s Flavors

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have spent some time in Southern India—Chennai to be exact. And in my days there, I took every opportunity to indulge in the colorful flavors of the cuisine. From street vendors, to food courts, to banquets and most importantly–the dishes prepared by our host family….I sampled everything I could get my hands on. More acquainted with Northern Indian and Punjabi cuisine, I was delighted in the discovery of what the Southern states of India had to offer.

Since I have been back, I had been hard pressed to find a restaurant that featured Southern Indian cuisine—that is, until my sister took us out to Dosa in the Pac Heights district in San Francisco. A somewhat “upscaled-urban” version of their other location in the Mission district, Dosa on Fillmore fuses modern chic décor with ornate Indian influenced pieces. The beautiful dark woods mixed with warm golden hues around the two-story restaurant are absolutely striking. And of course, let’s not forget to mention their long and swanky bar featuring specialty cocktails from mixologist, Jonny Raglin, of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar and Nopa.

Restaurant View from 2nd Floor

Statue of Shiva as Nataraja

Once seated and greeted, we were given delicious Papadam (lentil chips), which I happily munched on while my sister ordered for us. For our party of four, we settled on a family style selection of the Channa Bhatura, Spicy Mung Masala Dosa, Chicken & Eggplant ‘Baingan Bharta’, and the Kerala Fish Moilee.

I will try to describe the wonderful flavors as they danced around on my palette but how about I do it some justice first by showing a few pictures?

Papadam: Thin, crispy chips

Channa Bhatura: Chickpea masala with large, soft, puffy wheat bread

Spicy Mung Masala Dosa: Mung lentil dosa with green chiles, chopped onions, cilantro and spiced potatoes

Kerala Fish Moilee: Sustainably-caught halibut, coconut sauce, coriander, cumin, mustard seed & chiles

Chicken & Eggplant ‘Baingan Bharta: Organic boneless chicken with roasted & pureed eggplant, peas

First, let’s talk about how amazingly delicious and fun the Channa Bhatura was. Perfectly seasoned and tender chickpeas that are scooped up with pieces of lightly fried and puffy wheat bread (bhatura). And the most fun thing? The Bhatura comes served like a balloon ready to be punctured and used as a utensil. DEE-LISH and ENTERTAINING? that’s a Nguyen-Win Situation to me 🙂

The Spicy Mung Masala Dosa brought back many memories for me as I constantly ordered Dosas in Chennai. This particular dosa was not only stuffed with mung beans but also with potatoes and cilantro–quite possibly two of my favorite things. All Dosas here are served with three types of “dipping sauces”: coconut chutney, tomato chutney and sambar. As a Condiment Monster, this was also a Nguyen-Win Situation for me 🙂

Our two main entrees were also scrumptious–though I did prefer the aforementioned two items. The Kerala Halibut Moilee was extremely tender, moist and paired so well with the velvety coconut sauce. The Baingan Bharta was indeed succulent and earthy.

And although we were way too stuffed for any dessert (shocking, I know), we did indulge in a few cocktails. 🙂

Specialty Cocktails (Top Left to right): Batsman, Bollywood Hills, and Emerald Sound

Our dining experience was extremely enjoyable and I would HIGHLY recommend Dosa on Fillmore to anyone interested in Indian cuisine. True, although many dishes have been slightly modified from their original state to compliment San Francisco, you will be hard pressed to find a spot that serves such high quality, South Indian inspired cuisine. *Big Kudos to proprietors Emily and Anjan Mitra for being “the only Indian restaurant in the Bay Area that has a holistic commitment to primarily organic, bio-dynamic and sustainable ingredients and products.

Dosa on Fillmore
1700 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 441-3672

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Reviews

Hilo Farmers Market–a Treat for the Senses

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I LOVE Farmers Markets…just LOVE them! And the charming Hilo Farmers Market is no exception.

Primarily open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Hilo Farmers Market is broken up into two main areas. The first section predominantly offers crafts, clothing, and other gift items. The second area features beautiful produce, florals, and ‘Ono Grindz. As with other markets, I love to stroll up and down the stalls while chatting with the vendors about their products.

Truth be told, I could go on to describe all the wonderful delights that the Hilo Farmers Market offers but as they say, pictures speak a thousand words.

Snapshot of side entrance

Produce

Veggies and Fruits

Beautiful Long Beans, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Bananas

Avocados–These were HUGE! Easily the size of an average Pomelo.

Hydroponically Grown Lettuce

Sweet Yellow Corn

Kale, Mint, Dark Greens

Strawberry Papayas

Rainbow Papayas

Ulu (Breadfruit)

Golden Pineapples

Cigar Mangoes

Soursop

Flowers

Orchids

Mixed Tropical Flowers

Anthuriums

Heliconias

Red Ginger Flowers

Tuberose

Cymbidiums

Gardenias

Mixed Arrangements

Uncle Randy with his stunning handmade leis. Many of the flowers used are grown in his own yard. This lei uses nearly 900 flowers!

Snacks and Treats

Rolls, Musubis, Babingka, and more….

Macadamia Nuts

Sweet Rolls and Breads

Cascarones and SPAM Musubis

Fresh Coconut

The Hilo Farmers Market—a definite MUST when visiting this side of the island!

Hilo Farmers Market
Mamo Street & Kamehameha Avenue
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7:30am-5:00pm


Reviews

Malasadas: Mmmm…Donuts

Where can you find a “bakery” attached to an auto repair store? The Big Island of Hawai’i, of course. 🙂

But better yet, where can one find a “Malasada” while getting your car’s oil changed? Only one place really…at Baker Tom’s in Papaikou.

Never had the opportunity to try these delectable delights? Malasadas are no-frills, no thrills just darn good local eats. How could you possibly go wrong with fried dough rolled in sugar?! Traditionally a Portuguese style donut, I do my hardest to go on a malasada binge whenever I visit the islands.

Fried Dough? Goooood. Filled with Tropical Flavors? Goood. Seriously-it’s a WIN-WIN situation!

During our visit Isaiah’s cousin, Dave, raved about Baker Tom’s malasadas–and as he’s quite the donut aficionado with his own blog (http://www.donutblog.com) I knew we had to give it a try! So on one gorgeous morning on the Big Island we ventured down to Baker Tom’s to grab a box of malasadas to bring back to the house.

True to form, the open store front was attached to an auto repair shop. Why not, right? 🙂

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to chat with Baker Tom though his Mom and Dad were staffing the front of the house. And due to a large bread order that morning, they didn’t have any of their infamous Peanut Butter & Jelly malasadas on hand. However we did grab a mixed box of the following malasadas: Canadian Bacon, Lilikoi, Strawberry, Cherry, Apple…and even grabbed a cinnamon roll. As they handed over the heavy box over to us, I instantly caught the luscious aromas of freshly fried dough. Heaven. And yes, the box was still warm. 🙂

Mmm…Malasadas.

Tasty Loaves of Bread

Once back at the house, we cut the malasadas in half so we could try multiple flavors. The dough was absolutely wonderful—light, crispy, yeast-y, and not the least bit greasy. Perfect. With the exception of the Canadian Bacon malasada, each were lightly dusted with sugar–great flavor and texture addition. Of the fruit options, the Lilikoi was my favorite. As for the Canadian Bacon, it was akin to a Ham and Cheese croissant with Canadian Bacon and Cheese wrapped inside. All of them perfect to enjoy with a hot steaming cup of Kona Coffee.

Cherry Malasada (left), Canadian Bacon and Cheese Malasada (Right)


Next time we visit, I’ve got to try the PB&J and the Jalapeno Malasada–and so should you! 🙂

Baker Tom’s
27-2111 Mamalahoa Hwy
Papaikou, HI 96781
(808) 964-8444




Reviews

Shimmy, Shimmy Coco Puff…..Hawaiian Style

Liliha Bakery Coco Puffs

When you hear the two words “Coco Puff”, what comes to mind? If you’re like many, the first images that arise are of the chocolate, crispy morning cereal. And indeed, I thought the same—that is, until I was introduced to the “Hawaiian Coco Puff”.

Coco Puffs are a choux based cream puff that are most often filled with a chocolate “pudding-like” mixture and topped with a heavy dollop of Hawaiian Chantilly. And where does one find the best Coco Puffs in the Islands? Without a doubt, Liliha Bakery in Honolulu.

Now to be fair, Liliha Bakery not only offers delectable pastries but also has a 24 hour Coffee Shop that serves all kinds of local grindz. But when we stop on in, we only have our hearts (and tummies) set on those magic puffs.

The Coco Puff has three basic components that when combined, are just divine. First, the choux dough. Light….perfectly baked….not too sweet….and is the perfect vessel for the filling. Which brings us to the the filling. The “chocolate pudding” is creamy….rich….dreamy chocolate flavor…..and wonderfully silky. And lastly, the Chantilly. Not to be confused with the Classic French Chantilly, this local creation is like a sugary butter cream. And when you combine the three—HOT FIRE!

And for those who are looking for a different spin, Liliha Bakery also offers a Green Tea Coco Puff—ooooh.

Green Tea Coco Puffs

Looking for other types of sweet delights? Don’t worry, Liliha Bakery has a little something for everyone.

Lilikoi and Guava Chiffon Cakes


Scones, Rolls, Cookies, Jams, and Coffee


Hello Kitty inspired Sugar Cookies


Banana Cupcakes topped with a swirl of Chantilly

So next time you’re in O’ahu, do yourself a favor and swing by Liliha Bakery to pick up a dozen or so Coco Puffs. And while you’re at it, pick me up some, too!

Did I mention that they also sell frozen Coco Puffs so that you can take these little bundles of joy home with you? Trust me, when you’re back at home, you’ll wish you had some.

Frozen packaged Coco Puffs ready for a plane ride home with you.


Liliha Bakery
515 N. Kuakini Street
Honolulu, HI  96817
(808) 531-1651
24 hours a day from Tuesday 6 a.m. to Sunday 8 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Reviews

Downtown Campbell Farmers’ Market

What’s better to do on a sunny morning than stroll the stands of your local farmers’ market? Only one thing…..RIDING your awesome beach cruiser 5 miles to your local farmers’ market and stroll around the stands on a beautiful California day.

The Downtown Campbell Farmers’ Market is sponsored by the City of Campbell, California. Over the years, the vendor stands have grown significantly offering an array of fresh produce, artisans fare, flowers, food stands, and entertainment. Not too small and not too large—perfect to spend a few hours at.

So, on one particularly gorgeous day, we hopped on our bikes to peruse the farmers’ market to pick up some produce and be inspired with what was fresh and in season.

And what did we find?

Deliciously sweet and juicy Navel Oranges

Tart and sweet Tangerines

Fresh Sauerkraut

Sea Salt

Beautiful Flowers

A Medley of Mushrooms

Wonderful Carrots

Sugar Cane ready to be juiced

Cabbages Galore

Colorful Swiss Chard

First of the season Artichokes

With so much to enjoy, we were easily inspired with menu items for that week’s meals. And that’s the great things about eating fresh—eat what’s in season and what inspires you to cook.

Our goodies we walked away with: Red Cabbages, Asian Pears, Red Swiss Chard, Fresh Sauerkraut, Navel Oranges, Cauliflower, and Artisan Bread.

Here’s to eating fresh and local! 🙂

Downtown Campbell Farmer’s Market
Campbell Ave at Central Ave
Campbell, CA 95008
Sundays, 9am-1pm
(Year Round)

Reviews

Livermore Valley’s 2nd Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend

Sunshine. Spring. Loved Ones. Wine.

We couldn’t have asked for any more as we enjoyed the first Sunday of Spring at the Livermore Valley’s 2nd Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend.

Per the the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association:

“Less than an hour east of San Francisco, Livermore Valley Wine Country welcomes visitors with a flourish expanse of vineyards, wineries, and wine country experiences. Amid picturesque canyons, ridges and outposts of suburbia, the lush vines and convivial tasting rooms increasingly define the quality of life in the valley.

One of California’s oldest wine regions, the Livermore Valley played a pivotal role in shaping California’s wine industry. Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes in the Livermore Valley in the 1760s. In the 1840s, California pioneers looking for outstanding vineyard sites began planting grapes in the region.

Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, putting California on the world wine map.

Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. Nearly 80% of California’s Chardonnay vines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone.”

Livermore County Wineries are a wonderful alternative to folks in the South Bay who want to enjoy an affordable wine experience and do not want to make the 2+ hour drive to Napa.

The Barrel Tasting Weekend spanned two days. With presale tickets ($25), participants were able to visit over 25 wineries that included tastings and a souvenir wine glass. I particularly appreciated the fact that the ticket was valid for both days if folks didn’t want to try and squeeze all the wineries into one day. The intent of the event was to feature upcoming wines from each wineries as well as attract visitors to Livermore County.

With a car packed of snacks and water, my comrades and I opted to squeeze as many wineries into Sunday beginning at 12pm. We were blessed with gorgeous weather and took full advantage of seeing all that Livemore Valley had to offer.

Before I go further, I have to admit what a knucklehead I was to forget my SLR battery in the charger at home. Thus the photos in this post were either taken via my iPhone or borrowed from our friend Carol who is quite the photographer 🙂

Our first stop of the day began at Fenestra Winery

We sampled the Malbec, Petit Verdot, Estate Mouvedra, and Cabernet Franc. I preferred the Estate Mouvedra as it had a fuller, bold flavor. The BF LOVED the Mouvedra and remained his favorite for the day.

Their wine bottling machine.

(Photo by Carol Le)
Since we were tasting right out of the barrel, they used this tool called a “thief” to siphon the wine. It became my goal to convince someone to allow me to try my hand with the thief by the end of the day 🙂

Fenestra Winery
83 Vallecitos Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 447-5246

Next stop, Page Mill Winery.

At Page Mill we sampled a Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Petite Sirah–both from 2008. I really enjoyed the Cabernet. As for the winery itself–very charming and great for photos 🙂

(Photo by Carol Le)
Giving the Estate Petite Syrah a try 🙂

Page Mill Winery
1960 S. Livermore Avenue
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 456-7676

Next stop…Tamas Estates Winery and Wente Vineyards Estate Winery. Quite convenient since the tastings were taking place at the same location. I love efficiency 🙂

At Tamas, we sampled their 2008 Sangiovese Riserva. And although they were very kind and I loved the smoked cheese they had to offer, the wine was somewhat non-memorable.

At Wente, we sampled their 2008 Small Lot Merlot and another red. Both wines….not my fav.

However, we took advantage of the grounds and picnic tables to take in some snackies.

Cold cuts, cheese, fruits, crackers, and homemade Caramel Apple Mini Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting–made by Carol. 🙂

Tamas Estates Winery
5489 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 456-2380

Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room
5565 Tesla Rd
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 456-2305

We then hustled to Les Chenes Estate Vineyards because we heard they were offering food pairings with their wine tastings 🙂

At Les Chenes, we sampled by 2007 and 2009 Syrah. The food paired with the wines were a bright, fresh bruschetta and an amuse bouche. I preferred the 2007 to the 2009 Syrah.

However, this was one of my favorite vineyards of the day for overall charm and scape. Just gorgeous. 🙂

(Photo by Carol Le/Jason Leong)
On our way to the next tasting….

Les Chenes Estates Vineyards
5562 Victoria Lane
Livermore, CA 94550
(925)373-1662

We were then in need of some good eats for our tummies and heard that Charles R Vineyards had tri-tip sandwiches for sale. Did someone say Barbecue????
Tucked away off of Crane Ridge Road, Charles R was in full swing by the time we arrived. Alas to our chagrin….no more tri-tip sandwiches. Needless to say, I was Sad Panda 😦

So we settled on tucking into their tastings of 5 varietals: Zinfandel, Syrah,  2007 & 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. I enjoyed the ’08 Cabernet Sauvignon and we grabbed a table al fresco to enjoy the sun and live music.

Charles R Vineyard
8195 Crane Ridge Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 454-3040

Next up? White Crane Winery. And this is when thing got out of hand—in a good way, of course 🙂 By the time we arrived, their quaint little tasting room was filled to the brim. Their barrel tastings included the 2007 Cabernet Franc and 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Neither suited me well but they were also offering their full tasting wines—6 to be exact.We sampled  Zinfandel, Merlot, 2 additional Cabernets, Chardonnay, Sparkling Wine and a Port. Yup, it was A LOT! In hindsight, perhaps it was not too smart to mix the ports, sparklings and various reds. But I guess hindsight is 20/20 🙂

My favorites (hard to believe I remembered them all!) were the 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Winery 21 2006 Cabernet Sauvingon. The 2005 was indeed, more refined and priced so at over $50. Their Winery 21 line is more affordable wines but still, delicious. At a little over $20 a bottle, we thought it was a good deal for what we were getting, and walked away with a bottle.

White Crane Winery
5405 Greenville Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 455-8095

Still standing, we headed over to what we thought would be the last winery of the day– McGrail Vineyards and Winery.

We sampled three types of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon which were held in French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels. I was surprised to find how distinct a flavor each of the oaks left on the wine.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon in American Oak

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon in Hungarian Oak

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon in French Oak

The grounds at McGrail Vineyards were beautiful–the lush lawns are almost made for weddings and other festivities. We particularly appreciated the BBQ they had for sale and snagged up a few sammies to fill our tummies.

(Photo by Carol Le)
Basking in the sun…..

McGrail Vineyards and Winery
5600 Greenville Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 215-0717

At McGrail, we somehow made quick buddies with a couple who told us of a vineyard that was staying open later than the rest and allowed you to bottle your own wine. WHAT?! Let’s do it! So off we headed to El Sol Vineyard.

They had several varieties to taste: 2004 Cabernet Franc, 2005 Petite Sirah, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon….but I’ll be honest friends. At this point in the game, things were getting a little fuzzy to me. Wine Fuzzy that is 🙂 BUT, two things occurred at El Sol that made my wine tour day!

First, I got to use the “thief” and poured tastings for my friends and new friends!!! SO fun! Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of it—-amidst my excitement, we didn’t take any.

And second, I bottled my own wine! Sounds kitschy right? But no, it was SO much fun!!! For only $14 I bottled a 2003 Livermore Cabernet.

Using a high air pressure apparatus to clean out the bottle

Filling the bottle with vino

Corking the bottle


Affixing the foil seal

(Photo by Jason Leong)
Labeling the bottle

(Photo by Jason Leong)
MY OWN BOTTLED WINE!!! Yiippee!!!

El Sol Vineyard
8626 Lupin Way
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 606-1827

If you were keeping count….it was 9 wineries in a course of 6ish hours with countless wines tasted. Beautiful spring day with wonderful friends. It’s days like these that make this foodie-in-training feel utterly blessed. 🙂

(Photo by Darren Yuen)
HUGE THANKS to Carol and Jason for photography, organizing the event, and of course–driving! 🙂

(Photo by Carol Le)
And of course to Darren…for all the laughs.

(Photo by Carol Le)
And lastly, to My Better Half, for ALWAYS indulging this Wine-O.  🙂
Reviews

Al Pastor? Yes, please.

I LOVE “Mom & Pop” joints.  And I LOVE Street Foods. So when you combine the two things, it’s just bliss.

For the past few years, one of my favorite places to pick up such goodness is just a hop-skip-and-jump away near our home at Metro Balderas 1 in San Jose, California. We’re blessed on the West Coast, and in particular California, to have great authentic Mexican food readily accessible. And in the Bay Area, that’s no exception.

Like most taquerias, Metro Balderas 1 offers the standard fair of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, sopas, pambazos, tortas, and more—all filled with your choices of proteins. Pollo, carne asada, chorizo, cabeza, tripas, camarones….Oh My. And let us not forget, my personal favorite…..the Al Pastor.

Al Pastor is beautifully marinated pork that is slow roasted on a vertical rotisserie called a Trompo, It has an appearance of the Shawarma but the flavors are completely different.

And Metro Balderas 1 does them THE BEST.

Offered 5pm to close only on Thursdays to Sundays, hoards of patrons flock to Metro Balderas 1 as the amazing aromas of the Al Pastor roasting on the Trompo waft in the streets. With only 4 tables indoors, its ideal to grab a seat al fresco to watch the “Al Pastor Man” expertly slice thin pieces of the meat into the fresh small tortillas cradled in his hand. With a small flick of the wrist, he cuts a tiny piece of the pineapple that sits at the top of the Trompo to top of your tacos.

We order our tacos with “everything”….which includes the corn tortillas quickly dipped in the Al Pastor grease (yup….it’s THAT good), Al Pastor, chopped onions, and cilantro. A quick squeeze of lemon or lime with a little drizzle of one of their fresh salsas and I am in HEAVEN. The meat is so perfectly marinated, juicy, and gets that beautiful roasted charred flavor from the rotisserie flames.

Side accompaniments include, fresh tortillas chips, sliced cucumbers, radishes, grilled onions, and pickled jalapenos & carrots. And yes, all those fixins’ come free.

And the final kicker? Al Pastor tacos are only $1.50 each. <Pause for dramatic effect>.

Fresh. Authentic. Delicious. Cheap.

It just doesn’t get any better than that. 🙂

And if delicious rotisserie pork isn’t your thing—their menu has a little of everything to please all palettes. Their Quesadilla des Camarones is pretty amazing too. Perfectly seasoned and grilled shrimp with cheese. Yum.

So next time you see a rotisserie going with a ginormous slab of meat in front of a taqueria, stop on in and grab an Al Pastor Taco. And if you’re within a 30 mile radius of San Jose Thursday-Sunday nights, come to Metro Balderas 1.

You won’t regret it.

In fact, message me if you do. I’ll meet you there with a Negra Modela in hand. 🙂

Metro Balderas 1
688 South Almaden Avenue
San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 295-4078

Did I mention they have Al Pastor??? 🙂