Best Non-Beer Brewing
Use of Irish Moss
Cafe Gratitude’s Raw Vegan Desserts
Cafe Gratitude, inside Whole Foods, 20955 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino; 415.814.1364. “Vegan” and “raw” aren’t often words that make the masses come running. But Cafe Gratitude’s raw vegan cheesecakes and pies, which use Irish moss as a thickening agent, are something special. The pies are all made by hand from organic and mostly local raw ingredients (if only we could harvest cacao here …), and along with staples such as chocolate-hazelnut and coconut cream, the restaurant features a pie of the day and a cake of the day. Other goodies here include the I Am I Am, Cafe Gratitude’s take on the It’s It ice cream sandwich, made with almond-milk ice cream and raw vegan cookies, and decadent milkshakes. This truly is a haven for good-for-you treats.
Best French Fries
International Kabob House
2707 Union Ave., San Jose; 408.626.7211. French fries aren’t really French. At least not anymore. For better or worse, they’ve become a staple of the American diet. That means that tradition has gone out the window. Cheese fries. Curly fries. Chili fries. It’s all fair game. My favorite tweak of the American classic is the Greek fries at San Jose’s International Kabob House. That’s right: Greek-influenced, Americanized french fries. The dish is quite simple: fries sprinkled with tangy feta cheese and tossed with an assertive oregano-based vinaigrette.
Most Over-the-Top Burger
Grill ‘Em’s “The Monster” Jucy Lucy
Grill ‘Em, 2509 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.371.8729. A bacon cheeseburger is already a ridiculously decadent creation if you think about it. Meaty protein topped with gooey protein with some crispy protein on top of that. But why stop there? Campbell’s Grill ‘Em steakhouse takes the burger to the next level of sybaritic outlandishness with its “The Monster” Jucy Lucy burger, which starts with a beef patty stuffed with pepper jack, Provolone and cheddar cheeses and stacks on bacon, sauted garlic mushrooms and crispy onion strings. Pickled jalapenos are served on the side.
Best European Cafe Experience Without the Jet Lag
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650.327.0830. Originally in Redwood City, Cafe Borrone has been in Menlo Park for what seems like forever. Located right next to Kepler’s Books and a mile from Stanford, the eatery continues to prove that if one has a concept that works a place can exist for a long time. Not only is Cafe Borrone a great place to sit around and write, if you’re a scribe, it just exudes an outdoor, Italian-style, charm that is difficult to compete with. You don’t have to be an academic or a venture capitalist. The food appeals to essentially anyone. It’s almost like a permanent Siamese Twin of Kepler’s. In 2011, you can’t imagine one without the other.
Best Asian Hamburger
1530 S. De Anza Blvd., San Jose; 408.865.0302. America doesn’t have a lock on the burger. Chinjin, an Islamic Chinese restaurant, serves a delicious but highly nontraditional Chinese hamburger: a thin, wontonlike wrapper stretched over deliciously seasoned beef to form a rough patty shape. The disc is pan-fried on both sides to a crispy brown. Knife into it and out spill oniony, garlicky juices. It’s really good and less than two bucks.
Best Restaurant Without a Kitchen
Enoteca La Storia
416 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.625.7272. Enoteca La Storia is an Italian-style wine bar and wine shop that manages to serve a great lineup of sliced, cured meats, excellent Italian cheese, panini and salads. What the restaurant doesn’t have is a stovetop. But who needs a flame when the food is this good? The wine doesn’t hurt either.
Best Place to Have Sunday-Funday
Flames Eatery and Bar Downtown
88 S. Fourth St., San Jose; 408.971.1960. The world looks golden from the bottom of a bottomless mimosa. Sunday-Funday Brunch resembles some kind of labor of Sisyphus. Foolish mortals, the champagne and OJ flows like slurred speech on Sunday mornings. The cup may overfloweth, but it’ll never be empty. If the flames of hell resemble Flames on Sunday, I’m stealing the collection plate and inviting my friends.
Best Egg Dish
The 62-Degree Egg at Baume
Baume, 201 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650.328.8899. Eggs are such a simple ingredient but the 62-degree egg at Baume is extraordinary. Chef Bruno Chemel cooks the egg in a 62-degree water bath for one hour and then lets it set for another four. The silken egg is then served with creamy pureed peas and a vermouth-scented foam that mimics egg whites. It’s fantastic.
Best Street Food
55 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.722.2022. Yes, I love my taco trucks and Korean barbecue on wheels, but for sheer simplicity I’m a fan of downtown San Jose newcomer Fruit Bites. The Mexican-style fruit cart sells the sliced fruits and vegetables of your choosing (mango, pineapple, oranges, strawberries, watermelon, apples, cucumber and jicama). What sets the cocktail apart at this cart is the salsa served over the fruit. The sauce comes from a family recipe and is made with dried chiles, vinegar and various spices. It’s watery but anything but bland. It’s spicy, a little tart and faintly salty. Poured over the sweet fruit, it’s a delicious counterpoint.
Best Almond Croissant
Fleur de Cocoa
39 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.3574. Never buy an almond croissant (or any pastry for that matter) wrapped in plastic. It’s guaranteed to be limp and stale. What you want is a flaky, buttery and rich croissant baked on the premises that very morning. What you want is what they’ve got at Fleur de Cocoa. You’d be hard pressed to find anything short of delicious at this Los Gatos bakery and chocolatier, but I’m especially fond of the almond croissants. Unlike most versions of the sweet pastry, which are made with marzipan, pastry chef and owner Pascal Janvier makes his with a light cream filling and then bakes them until they are brittle crisp at the edges yet still light and flaky inside. They are sweet but not overly so. The abundance of butter makes them supernaturally crisp and rich.
Best Royal Family Food on the Salt Flats
Lunch With Tony
5202 N. First St., Alviso; 408.493.6090. The Santos Family constitutes the royal blood of Alviso—sort of like the Jesus and Mary Magdalene bloodline of the salt flats. Proprietor Tony comes from a legendary and colorful family of Alvisans. His grandfather Tony P. Santos served time as mayor and police chief eons ago when Alviso was still its own city. Tony P. passed in 2004, and a street now bears his name. The eatery itself is a pure-hearted family-run operation of the most regal sort. For lunch with the divine right of Alviso kings, Metro recommends Lunch With Tony, even it’s your last supper before the crucifixion.
Best Place to Worship the Mighty Coffee Bean
231 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.0508. It’s easy to forget that coffee is an agricultural product. Someone grew it and harvested it by hand. There’s no better place to appreciate the virtues of a well-made cup of coffee brewed from carefully produced and roasted coffee beans than downtown San Jose’s tiny Red Berry Coffee Bar. The cafe serves artisanal coffee from the Bay Area’s top roasters and importers (Verve, Barefoot, Ecco, Temple, De la Paz and Ritual) made by baristas who know their stuff and take their craft seriously.
Tu Mero Mole
2041 Woodard Road, San Jose; 408.369.9559. Tu Mero Mole is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. The little restaurant specializes in regional Mexican food. But what first sold me on the place as I was waiting for my order was the array of six different delicious salsas. The roasted chile and tomatillo salsa is flat-out delicious, as is the unconventional spicy peanut sauce.
Best Place to Sip a Martini and Eat Mussels
Left Bank, Santana Row 377 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.984.3500. Sure, oysters get all the hype—they deserve it. But their bivalve cousins the mussels deserve love, too. At Left Bank, they’re treated with typically French affection, and are available with a variety of broths or sauces. But—as with oysters—the best accompaniment to a succulent mussel is vodka, on the side, in a chilled glass, with three olives. As a bonus, Nick’s attracts a cool crowd, and the bartenders are fast.
Best Excuse to Eat Cake for Breakfast
Los Gatos Cafe’s Carrot Walnut Bread
15662 Los Gatos Blvd., Los Gatos, 408.356.0600; 340 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, 408.354.4647. The carrot-walnut bread at the Los Gatos Cafe is sweet but not too sweet, so the sharp sweetness of the carrot and the tang of the nut come through. But be warned: If you order this thick, rich “bread” with your omelette, you aren’t going to be able to eat much of your omelette.