I spent most of last week in California, a state I love. Among the many things I love about California, first and foremost is the food – California is generally a pretty easy place to be a foodie. I tried a few restaurants that ranged from the expected (and I have high expectations), to the surprises – one positive, one not so positive.
My first stop in California is always for Vietnamese, pho (pronounced “Fa”) in particular. There is something therapeutic about Vietnamese food for me – the combination of acid and spice, combined with textures ranging from soft, to chewy, to crunchy is just magical. Now California is a little unusual in that it is comprised almost entirely of strip malls (the Bay Area, anyway), but those strip malls actually contain little gems of eateries. And it seems that there is a mom-and-pop Vietnamese eatery in each one, most of them authentic and outstanding. Pho Quyen 2 (I have no idea where 1 is) is no exception – located at 1185 W El Camino Real Sunnyvale, CA, they immediately satisfied my pho jones. So well, in fact, that I ate two meals in a row there, and that’s saying something for me. safe to say that they met my expectation for fast, inexpensive, healthy and delicious food.
As I headed north, I spent an overnight in Sonoma, land of magical vineyards, and restaurants with a reputation for excellence. The Glenn Ellen Inn Restaurant was convenient to my hotel, the menu read well, and it had a terrific appearance. I figured that in this location, at these prices, it would be at least adequate. Well, I was wrong. Basically, they made the food try too hard. Everything was over-produced. Complicated. And not in a good way. I ordered a pumpkin ravioli that turned out to be sweet. I mean really sweet. Maple syrup sweet. At dessert, I order popcorn ice cream because it sounded novel and interesting. I was told the ice cream was made with popcorn in it, which piqued my curiousity. Unfortunately, it was served as a sundae, drowned in caramel and topped with caramel corn. The ice cream could have been anything and I wouldn’t have been able to taste it. Add all this to a disappointing wine list, slow (inattentive) service, and a big bill, and the result is a recipe for disaster. After the fact, I realized I should have known better (and could have checked quickly) – Zagat users ranked it highly, which almost always means a place is run by no-talent hacks.
On the positive surprise side, I met some friend for dinner in Fremont. Those who know Fremont will recognize it as a slightly dumpy industrial town populated with antique stores. Not much hope for a decent restaurant. My friends had me meet them at the Essanay Cafe, a European-style bistro that easily accommodated our adult tastes as well as their 4-year-old’s preferences. I was pleased that my entire meal was “off-menu”. Golden beet salad, lamb, and three-layer mousse was the prefect end to the trip. If you’re in the South Bay, I recommend you check them out.
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