Friday, July 4, 2008

Top 15

Happy Day of Independence!

Since I posted my wish list yesterday and will be (as you are) relaxing with family today, I thought it the perfect time to publish a post I've been working on for a long time. I enjoy lists and recommendations, so I'd like to share my Top 15 dining destinations~ in my humble opinion. Why 15? You can't force greatness, that's what the number comes to.

I very much hope you have the opportunity to visit at least one.


1. Le Papillon
San Jose, California

This restaurant/caterer provided the food at my wedding. I know, I'm ridiculous lucky. As the bride my dinner was only partially eaten which I regret, but I look forward to our 1st anniversary dinner at the restaurant. I hope our entree is on their menu that day.
The tasting for the wedding catering is the thing I'll never forget. We sampled dish after amazing dish for every aspect of the event. rocquefort popovers, tuna tartare, roasted pear salad, chilled soup, venison, filet, halibut, prawns....I could go on and on and nothing was short of delectable. We sampled them all, rotating plates around our table to sample everything, making notes and drinking amazing wines that were paired with the dishes.
No pictures from this tasting, but here is one of dinner at the wedding, to give you an idea of how beautiful and delicious their food is.

2. Los Gatos Gourmet
Los Gatos, California

This is a 'place to eat;' is attached to an incredible coffee shop and a hangout for my family. They carry cheeses, meats, and wine but it's the sandwiches that put this place on my list. I crave sandwiches from this shop; there are no bad ones and the staff are kind enough to modify them if the whim strikes me. I used to be devoted to their peanut butter and jelly on pain de mie, but on my last visit the sandwich I had was ingrained in my memory: Aged provolone, tomato, greens, and housemade aioli sandwiched between toasted ciabatta. Hopefully I wasn't too piggy as I devoured it.

3. B Street and Vine
San Mateo, California

The devotion to B Street and Vine was born from a spur-of-the-moment dinner one evening while exploring our new hometown a year ago. We saw 'Live Jazz' and a casual but interesting menu posted in the window and stopped by. That first night we sampled some paninis, nice wine, and great art and music. Our second visit created the repeat visits in the sampling of their amazing bruschetta. Simple and oh so satisfying, there really is nothing better at week's end than some great wine paired with quality combinations of smoked salmon and mascarpone, tomatoes and basil, gorgonzola and honey. Split and shared, it's amazing every time.

4. Chow
Lafayette, California

A favorite my college, I used to come here after dance rehearsal to enjoy some minestrone soup and to split their wonderful ginger cake and pumpkin ice cream with my companion. There were many visits with other dishes- they have an eclectic menu with different international options, as well as a sandwich menu with a different one every day. I do remember a fabulous roasted salmon sandwich on one visit, buttery and richly dressed with aioli and greens.

5. Barracuda Sushi
Burlingame, California

When NH and I first met, he had never had sushi. We went to a Japanese restaurant on one of our first dates and he tried 'sushi with training wheels'- california roll and kappa maki. He has always been willing to try new things for me. :-)
Today, we both love it and eat sushi when dining out more than anything else. San Mateo has dozens of great places, and prices are good due to competition.
Barracuda is a favorite because it was our first experience with the 'creative roll' type of restaurant. They have a large menu of interesting and unusual house rolls, the quality is high and we have get to sample a roll we didn't really love. We like to order one roll each and share a third; the Spicy Dragon roll is always on the bill.

6. Junnoon
Palo Alto, California

I've only been to this Indian restaurant once, but it was the kind of memorable dinner that makes me anxious for future trips. As a non-meat eater it can sometimes be difficult for me to find something on a menu. This night I indulged in their Vegetarian trio- a petite paneer cake, black lentils, and crush of roasted eggplant. Together with fresh naan and some nicely paired riesling. The atmosphere is comfortable and chic.

7. Va de Vi
Walnut Creek, California

I'd say Va de Vi marks the beginning of my exploration of fine dining. When I got my first job out of college (after 3 months of search agony) NH brought me here to celebrate with some champagne and tapas. We shared several plates including tuna tataki, duck confit, and a dessert tasting for two. The second visit was for my birthday two years later with NH and my cousin Katie. Great wine, excellent company, more delicious food. A memorable night since I never get to see Katie enough, and a month later we were engaged.

8. The Green Papaya
Los Gatos, California

My first experience with Vietnamese food. To be sure it's on training wheels because the menu has a heavy French influence. But oh my, the pho ga is exceptional. The broth is flavorful and turns gelatinous when cold so you know it's high quality. They also make a delicious and light summer roll with eel, which I've ordered repeatedly.

9. Alana's Cafe
Burlingame, California

NH and I moved to San Mateo on a Friday and Saturday, and we rewarded our hard work with Sunday breakfast. I did some research on our new area and Alana's in Burlingame had great reviews. We went early and each ordered short stacks of the Swedish Oatmeal pancakes with lingonberries.
We fell in love, and in the many times we've returned we've never ordered anything else. These pancakes are the best I've had around, they are deliciously flavorful with a wonderful texture. I usually give most of my lingonberries to NH because he loves them and I prefer (lots of) real maple syrup.

10. Chez Spencer
Mission District, San Francisco

Chez Spencer is so unobtrusive that if you are not looking for it, you will miss it. And a shame if you do because it would have been a night to remember.
The outdoor patio in front of the restaurant is a miracle; I was there on a very windy night under the awning and heat lamps it was quite cozy. The dim lighting is the perfect shade for mystery and romance at the table.
Dishes? Sweetbreads, bouillabaisse, and foie gras were enjoyed at our table of six; my husband and I tasted the roasted garlic bisque which was mellow and delicate. I ate risotto with a variety of rare mushrooms and truffles. Dessert was very satisfying; NH and I shared the hazelnut parfait (my favorite- a nice mix of textures and flavors in the frozen hazelnut, meringue, caramel sauce, and crunchy toasted nuts) and the apple almond tart (his preference, but I also really liked- the warm tart was crunchy and buttery, nicely paired with a scoop of ice cream). The wine we had was chosen by one of our party and was exceptional. I wish I could remember what it was!
A blind pianist seated inside plays beautifully, a wonderful accompaniment to our experience.

And Beyond

11. Sally Lunn's
Bath, England

Sally Lunn's is legendary- literally. There is a great deal of mythology surrounding the place, from the building to who Sally Lunn actually was. In short, it's a several hundred years-old tea house with a closely guarded tea bun recipe. And not just any bun- I'm talking the best bun you've ever had with tea. A large, fragrant, toasty bun covered with clotted cream and jam. The bun is so large one feeds two people. I'm telling you, there is nothing better.
I've been to England 4 times in my life and to Sally Lunn's on three of those occasions. Once we nearly missed our train back to London, so important was a trip to this tea house. And should I ever visit Bath again, Sally Lunn's will be a #1 priority.

12. Taverna Nikos
Durham, North Carolina

Brightleaf Square is a shopping center created inside old brick tobacco factories. I can remember coming here at 4 and 5 with my parents, visiting the gourmet store for pate and Hero jam, getting ice cream at a place I can't remember the name of. Taverna Nikos is an authentic Greek restaurant that came along years later after we moved away. When I say authentic, I mean my Greek father really approved and enjoyed it; the hieroglyphics of naked Greek men on the walls also help with the authenticity.
The food here is truly excellent; it's surprising to me how hard it is to find good Greek food in a restaurant. It always seem to be mediocre, one of the reasons Taverna Nikos stands out. Sandwiches made with fresh pita, containing lamb and chicken and fresh produce. The dish I truly remember is the lamb and orzo stew, a medley of deep flavors that was always shared by several at our table.

13. Lido
Elbow Beach Resort, Paget Parish Bermuda

We went to Bermuda's Elbow Beach Resort on our honeymoon- need I say more?
Obviously the occasion itself creates a special and romantic memory. We were lucky that our resort housed some of the best restaurants on the island; we didn't have to leave the property to have some truly sensational meals. Lido is one of the top restaurants on the island and we went two times during our 6 day stay. Both nights I had the same unforgettable seafood risotto. Neither too rich nor too light and with perfectly cooked rice, the dish contained all the prized seafood that I crave. A plate of risotto is difficult to finish but I managed both times and will never forget this savory dish.

14. Postrio Cafe
The Venetian, Las Vegas

My first trip to Las Vegas (like my second) was very short and sweet. My last family vacation before marriage, it was great fun but Vegas in June proved to be a mistake. Because of the sizzling temperatures we didn't leave the Venetian Hotel for 48 hours. The extreme dryness and cigarette smoke caused a few bloody noses and some yucky allergies, but we did manage to have some good family time before gratefully returning home. In a city with glorious high end food I maintained discipline a month before my wedding, but I did manage to scarf down the best chicken salad sandwich I've ever had at Postrio, Wolfgang Puck's cafe in St. Mark's Square. The moist chicken salad was combined with celery, apples, and port glazed grapes on pecan-raisin toast. Mom and I shared this sandwich and I was so sorry when my half was gone.

15. Joel Robuchon
MGM Grand, Las Vegas

16 courses, 4 hours.
How can I possibly describe to you the most complex, memorable, and expensive meal I've ever had in my life? I can't, so I'm going to save myself the anguish and not even try. Few get to experience such an event in their lives, let alone someone of my age. It's a fantasy, an alternate universe inside the smoky, low-class casino.
A few writers more courageous than myself have documented the Robuchon experience; click here if you'd like to see an exact replica of our tasting menu.

Our party at dinner,

and my personal plate of petit fours (after the 3 dessert courses!!)
Sweet heaven.



LizNoVeggieGirl said...

Oooh, what a great list!! I've especially heard nothing but great things about the Green Papaya.

Anonymous said...

So neat of you to take the time to share your tasting adventures with us!! Similary to VeggieGirl...the Green Papaya sounds really familiar?! Is it a chain?

Sarah said...

My Green Papaya is NOT a chain, but I believe it's a fairly common name for a Vietnamese restaurant. :-)

Great question! Alas, I wish you could all visit for the food, but I'm afraid you must travel to Los Gatos for this particular one.

Sharon said...

Hope you enjoyed the 4th! What a great list...hopefully I can score another vacation sometime soon and hit up some of those spots.