For us, the end of summer in Yosemite looks like this:
It was a fire and brimstone deal here in Yosemite this August with the Motor Fire ten miles outside the park threatening friends' businesses and homes, and Ted's soccer goalie skillz unable to prevent him from being kicked in the knee and rupturing a tendon. With wildfires currently under control, my husband is currently crutching around Yosemite with a healing patellar tendon. And though wildfires and knee injuries are very bad news, his surgery and follow-up care brought good news as his knee is healing and I ate things like this:
You see, I don't get out to restaurants much, living in the middle of nowhere and all, so whenever I am remotely near a modicum of urban development I try to frequent places where some talented soul cooks for me and then some other kind soul whisks those dirty dishes out of my sight. And then I want to tell you all about it. Ted selected an orthopedic clinic in the Bay Area for his care, so we've spent some time traveling across California choosing our meals at restaurants along the way. Before we found the confounding gem of a restaurant in a strip mall in San Jose, I was first tickled by the fact that the clinic was located exactly across the street from the Winchester Mystery House! I used to read about this haunted house when I was a kid in Michigan where California seemed like another planet:
Unfortunately I have yet to visit the house since walking tours are currently right off Ted's list of entertainment options. However, right around the corner from the Mystery House we found a lovely restaurant called White Shallot with a French and Vietnamese menu. I have little experience with Vietnamese food but it always makes a big impression with me, so I try every venue I can find. This is not a fusion menu, White Shallot offers both cuisines in a historically correct juxtaposition as France colonized (read: invaded) Vietnam from 1887 to 1949 when they finally got the boot. All imperialist barging-in aside, Vietnam did incorporate French cooking into their daily lives and the two cuisines still exist side-by-side in Southeast Asia today with such tasty delights as banh mi. I read a review of White Shallot where the doltish author was puzzled by the combination menu - it does pay to know your history, especially if you publish. Anyhow, the menu offers traditional dishes in both cuisines, though we leaned heavily toward Vietnamese until it was time to order dessert. So we drank Thai Iced Tea (a neighboring cuisine) and Hue beer with our Prawn Sour Soup, Fire Roasted Squid, Hanoi Shrimp Cake and Beef Noodle Soup (Pho).
Every little bit was quite delicious, even the Vietnamese beer. The Prawn Sour Soup was the best version I've ever had with very fresh ingredients like cilantro and tomato. The calamari was cooked just right and the Hanoi Shrimp Cake was bizarre and decadent - sweet potato fries with actual whole shrimp in the batter. The Pho seemed rather untraditional, but a jumble of cooked and fresh food in a hearty portion. We exclaimed while we ate and even though I was full to bursting with Vietnamese goodness, the Vahlrona Chocolate Cake on the dessert menu was not to be denied (third photo up top) and was one of the greatest examples of chocolate cake ever. The cream and raspberries were not necessary as the cake and ganache were chocolate epiphany. This was a worthy last meal before surgery.
However, when Mexican food calls, Ted always answers, so how delighted was he to find that our hotel accommodations for the evening included Mexican restaurant on premises? Judging by the sign, this may be the coolest Super 8 ever (next to Vegas, of course):
Super 8 San Jose houses El Palenque restaurant, which was just okay for tacos. Very convenient for hotel guests, but not even in the top 50% for Mexican restaurants in California. Though Ted agrees, he enjoyed his absolute last meal before surgery.
After all the surgery drama on our way back to Yosemite, we had to stop for more tacos in Manteca at the highly regarded Taqueria La Estrella. Highly regarded by our friend Jack who never shuts up about how much he loves this taqueria. Seriously. Another gem in a strip mall that proves yet again, never judge a taco by it's location. Not only is the food excellent, the restaurant is bright and busy with people really, really enjoying the spread. We ordered many plates to try and did our best to consume it all. Shrimp Tostadas along with Al Pastor (pork), Lengua (cow tongue) and Carne Asada (beef) Tacos. The salsa bar is impressive in size and scope and the staff is very friendly. This is what can be achieved in a Mexican restaurant in California:
Don't sweat the cow tongue thing, lengua is delicious! On our second round of surgery madness we spent way too many days in Redwood City at the Sequoia Hospital where we lived on deli items from Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. But on our way out of town we spotted Tacos El Grullense (also known as the redundant El Grullense Grill) and ducked in for a taco or two. Ted spotted a framed article boasting TEG as one of San Francisco's top twenty Mexican joints. The Al Pastor tacos were possibly the best I've tasted and the salsa bar, though tiny, included piles of fresh cucumber slices and radishes to complement your tacos - just like in Mexico.
Though it seems like all we ever eat is Mexican (and who doesn't, living in California?), I did have a new food experience in early August during a trip to Berkeley with my friend Beth. After a reception at Heyday Books for Beth in her new role as California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, we had dinner with friends at a Salvadoran restaurant. Recommended by our friend and publishing legend, Malcolm Margolin, Platano restaurant served the Salvadoran version of Latin American specialties such as plaintains, beans, and carne asada. We had pupusas and platanos for starters, pupusas being thick corn masa tortillas stuffed with various fillings served with curtido & salsa. The platanos were served with refried beans and cream (!), a surprisingly lovely combination that would have never crossed my mind. We shared all dishes including a veggie stew called Papa Guisada, Carne Asada and my personal favorite of the evening, Albondigas - meatballs with mint, onion and tomato puree. Wine, sangria and the conversation flowed amongst excellent company.
White Shallot: Junk in the Trunk!
El Palenque: Jar Jar Junks
Taqueria La Estrella: Junk-O-Rama
Tacos El Grullense: Junk-O-Rama