Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cooter's Wine Reviews: Curve Balls

I can't barely remember where that whole thing started but I thought we were talking about the rules of Nine Ball pool, but then he started talking about aerodynamics as it related to putting "English" on the cue ball was just like two fingers together producing a curve ball, tacking the sail just off the headwind, or riding the curve while accelerating at the angle to increase velocity and stability. Some still objects could blow over with the amount of wind being generated.

Pitching a line from the dock takes a flick of the wrist like skipping a stone across the water. If the line or stone is wet, you'll get different action. Wind always plays a part, as does gravity. Buckminster Fuller spoke of the idea of a natural inclination for the velocity of a moving object to proceed in an arc instead of a straight line. Makes me think of the science of pouring ale into a pint glass, or vino into a wine glass.

Morande Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Sweet, nutty and complex. Similar to Sherry or Marsala.

Riaza Faultline 2014 California Red Blend, 90% Tempranillo (from two vineyards) & 10% Zinfandel. Big berry and plum overtones, dry, earthy.

Hilt & Blade Zinfandel Lodi 2015. Full fruit, long finish, hearty. Typical of the better Lodi Zins.

Rock Springs Sierra Foothills 2013 Red Blend. Ripe fruit, balanced. Opened up nicely after two hours. Perhaps a bit more age would improve? Quite good nevertheless.

VQ Cuvee VIII Napa 2012  25% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 15% Tempranillo, 10% Carignan, 10% Petit Syrah, and others. Big fruit, complex, solid structure & finish. Pomegranate notes. Pretty sure this is only the second wine I've had with Carignan grapes.

White Cliff Pinot Noir 2013 Winemaker's Selection Marlborough, New Zealand. At first I realized I needed to let this wine breathe as it was extremely tart on first sip, and opened up to be a very interesting mix of cranberry & raspberry. Stunningly good when you consider this is about $6, and you'd normally pay $35-50 for a Pinot this good from down under.

Alder Springs Vineyard Ukiah Row Rive 2013 Red Cuvee. Full-bodied fruit, slightly dry, a solid choice.

Projection Winemaker's Cut Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. Strawberry notes. Great cab for the price, on par with most cabs I've had in the $25-30 range. One of my favorites I've had a few times from Grocery Outlet in recent months. I wonder if cellaring could improve this vintage? I'm happy to drink this now.

Pythian Rock 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Sebastopol Big, fruity Cabernet with solid tannins, structure, tart cherry, raspberry & plum notes. Another solid Grocery Outlet bargain.

Hippie Modernism Exhibit at UC Berkeley Art Museum

The work of Frances Butler, professor emeritus, UC Davis.

Nyum Bai: Cambodian cuisine at Emeryville Public Market

Chicken Salad at Nyum Bai.

I've heard this new restaurant is constantly updating their menu. The Chicken Salad above isn't on their online menu. What I understand is their best dish, their Fried Chicken, is only offered on Sundays. The Chicken Salad is an exquisite interplay between thinly sliced red chiles and Thai basil.


rice noodles, minced pork, pork slices, crispy garlic, herbs, khmer pork & shrimp broth

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Kitchen: Dim Sum in Millbrae, CA

Shiu Mai & Sticky Rice Wrapped In Lotus Leaf at The Kitchen in Millbrae.
I rarely find myself in the South Bay, but whenever I'm there, I try to check out one of the many great Asian restaurants. We've tried to eat at The Kitchen before, because it came so highly recommended. 

Above and below: Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf. The contents are a blend of pork and Chinese sausage. Tasted like a bit of seafood in there too. Delicious start.

Shiu Mai. Obviously the real version, all the others are poor parodies of this. Dark meat chicken, possibly a bit of shrimp. Intense chicken flavor.

Above and below: Steamed Shrimp Dumpling. Eating these beautiful dumplings is a bit like eating a Faberge Egg. But in this case, with perfectly cooked, moist shrimp inside.

Above & below: Pea Sprouts Dumpling. Stuffed also with delicious shrimp. At this point I was marvelling that they could match or top the previous dish.

And, finally, behold: Veggie Tofu Skin Roll. Fried tofu stuffed with intense Shittake mushrooms. Easily the best Tofu dish I've ever had, and probably the best vegan dish I've ever had at a restaurant. Is it any wonder that all the close competitors would be other dishes I've had at Chinese restaurants?

The Kitchen
279 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030
Hours: 11am -2:30 pm & 5pm - 1am
(650) 692-9688

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Zaiqa Indian-Pakistani Cuisine in Hercules

Bhindi Masala at Zaiqa Indian-Pakistani Cuisine.
Hercules is one of the last bedroom communities along Interstate 80 before you cross the Carquinez Bridge into Vallejo. You'd never know there was anything there but Starbucks and Mountain Mike's Pizza, as that's pretty much all you see passing by on the highway. However, that little strip mall's got a few mom and pop stores, including this fantastic Indian-Pakistani restaurant that's up there with some of the best in the Bay Area. 

Lamb Palak, boneless lamb cooked with spinach. The spinach tastes like it was cut by hand instead of blender because it has some tooth to it. Normally, when you specify "medium spicy" that's simply a reference to the heat of the chiles. There's nothing "medium" about the explosion of spices that hits your palette with each bite. Tender lamb that's probably been marinated in yogurt and ghee are the backbone of this Palak, along with plenty of spices, no doubt the chef's mother's own garam masala blend.

Goat Korma, definitely has some of the sweeter spices like anise, mustard seed and cardamom, but also some pepper and chile. Another highly nuanced blend in the sauce with the tender goat meat on the bone.

Bhindi Masala, my favorite Indian vegetarian dish, with the blend of okra, onion, peppers and tomato making for a joyous counterpoint to the meat dishes. Each entree comes with your choice of rice or naan. During lunch, Zaiqa features a buffet.

Zaiqa Indian-Pakistani Cuisine
848 Willow Ave.
Hercules, CA 94547

Del Taco

Ah...Del Taco. Haven't eaten there since I worked at a Del Taco across the street from Richardson Square Mall when I was in high school. Looking back, I'm kind of impressed that we did things like make refried beans from scratch. The place is still very clean, some stuff is fresh, but there are things like those packets of "salsa"--not very fresh, and full of sodium. 

The staff was extremely professional and courteous.

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos. This is what Robin got, and they looked great. I was already impressed they'd updated their menu to this extent.

But here's a classic that tastes exactly like it did when the album London Calling came out: a crispy Del Taco with ground beef filling. 

They were out of Romaine Lettuce, and I didn't want to order a salad mainly consisting of Iceberg lechuga, so I got this Avocado Veggie Bowl, served over rice and black beans. Pretty good.

Here's one of the main shocks: Carne Asada Street Taco. It was actually pretty outstanding. This is definitely what I'd order again, though there are some better versions around. Still I'm extremely impressed.

Here's the other shock: one of the most disgusting things I've tried in a long time, and definitely not what I expected. They call it the Epic Cali Steak & Guac Burrito, but what they should call it is a Carne Asada Fries Burrito. The fries are completely disgusting, clearly frozen, soggy, and a total waste. Everything else is OK, but this burrito is about 65% fries. I have a hard time imagining why they named this burrito something that's such a small part of the product. I know Carne Asada Fries are thing around California (some people get extreme munchies, and apparently don't care what they put in the mouth), but there's much better burritos (made with carnitas, for example), and think this is an insult to the Golden State.

No, I don't want fries with that shake.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Loft: Thai Fusion in Vallejo

Drunken Noodle with Beef at The Loft Thai Fusion.
Already I think this is the best Asian restaurant in Vallejo. 

The Loft, located in the Hiddenbrooke neighborhood of North Vallejo, has only been open two weeks but already has quite the buzz going in the culinary world. In the same way restaurants close to Chez Panisse up their game, I can't help but thinking that the influence of Michael Warring next door has a positive effect on The Loft.

Nice decor: plates, table tops, lamps. Presentation clearly professional.

Above and below: Pad Thai, pretty much a standard Bangkok version. But the shrimp is cooked perfectly, the texture of the noodles perfect, the tofu has soaked in the tamarind sauce, and if there's any slight hint of a complaint, I thought this dish was a bit mild in terms of heat (we always ask for medium spicy, when prompted by front of the house staff). But the shrimp and the tamarind sauce? Simply divine.

Above & below: Drunken Noodles with Beef--par excellence. Again, the meat was cooked perfectly, with great flavor and texture, as were the green beans & red bells. The wide drunken noodles themselves had just the right amount of char on them, and there was no shortage of thai basil here, a sign of things to come. And as far as the spice level? Perfectly medium: the chile heat was evident, with just enough of a punch to enhance all the flavors in this masterful dish without sending one into a red-faced, brow-drenched tumult of chile-induced tumult. Impressive touch.

Above & below: Chicken Salad, as it says on the menu, but we know this dish better as Larb. Minced Chicken cooked perfectly, and still warm when served. The texture was just perfect, no hint of rubbery chewiness that one sometimes encounters. And of course no Larb would be complete without ample mint leaves, thinly sliced red and green onions, lettuces, cucumber, toasted rice powder, cilantro, and most of all, a sauce which is a blend of lime & fermented fish sauce. 

The Loft Thai Fusion
8308 Bennington Ct Vallejo, CA 94591