Sunday, May 5, 2019

Maya Thai House in Vallejo

Drunken Noodle with Beef at Maya Thai

Maya Thai opened in this strip center a few years ago, at the NE corner of Redwood & Sonoma in Vallejo. This was the former location of Pho #1, and at first I didn't think Maya Thai was that special--it was very good, but boy howdy, they sure have upped their game. Spices and flavors are vibrant, there's a level of nuance here I've only encoutered with a couple of Lao/Thai restaurants in the East Bay, but given what I've tasted in recent visits, this is in my opinion the best Thai restaurant I've experienced in the Bay Area.

Another shot of the Drunken Noodle with beef. Plenty of basil & garlic, some chile, flat rice noodles cooked perfectly, as is the beef and vegetables. Sue's Kitchen (El Sobrante) & Champa Garden (Oakland & other locations) do versions that are similarly excellent, but all 3 have their own signature flavor.

Above & below: Eggplant Salad. The Papaya Salads is what I usually get at Thai, Lao and Vietnamese restaurants, and of course Maya Thai does a great version of that. But I've never seen Eggplant Salad on a menu that I can recall. 

Larb. We got the Chicken version, which we think of as the "classic" version, but I'm noticing they also do a Tofu version. That might be interesting to try sometime. Nearly ever protein on the menu can be subbed with Tofu.

Here's the must try dish: Panang Curry (above & two below). I've never had a version quite as excellent as this one. This dish should single-handedly make Maya Thai a destination restaurant. The thin green strips are Kaffir Lime, and the curry (like much on the menu) is coconut & spice based. Absolute bliss.

Above and below, a great version of Tom Kha (Thai style coconut noodle soup with lemongrass).

Another brilliant dish: Curry Noodle, or Kao Soy. Egg noodle in yellow curry base with cilantro, scallions, lime, pickled mustard.

Papaya Salad.

Pad Thai.

Spicy Basil Duck. The blend of eggplant, basil & duck is exquisite.

Maya Thai House
3624 Sonoma Blvd.
Vallejo, CA 94590
Closed between 4 & 5pm

Friday, January 18, 2019

Dyafa: Arabic Cuisine in Jack London Square in Oakland

Kefta at Dyafa.

We wanted to try something new for Restaurant Week in Oakland, so we came here. As you can see from the outside and indoor shot, Dyafa's got a great view of the Oakland Marina in Jack London Square.

Damascus Lemonade: lemon, mint, & orange blossom water.

Kefta Burger Flatbread Wrap with onion, parsley, red cabbage, tahini and spices (including Zahtar, I do believe). All the constituent pieces of this dish set a new gold standard for me. The pita bread tasted very fresh, a scrumptious interplay between the spongy inside and slightly charred outside. The beef was very juicy considering it was more on the medium side rather than medium rare, and tastes like prime quality ground with spice accents. The vegetables are bright & fresh.

Fattoush: our salads included chicory, that bitter winter green that plays well off the pomegranate seeds and dressing. All the vegetables were crisp and quite flavorful. All said, a perfect lunch. We shall return to explore the menu further.

44 Webster Street, Oakland

Thursday, January 17, 2019

One House Bakery in Benicia

Grilled Cheese on Toasted Levain Bread with Pulled Pork.

Key Lime Tart.

Almond Chocolate Croissant & Leek Brioche at One House Bakery in Benicia.

I'd been hearing nothing but rave reviews about One House Bakery, and after a number of visits, I'd have to say if anything, what I heard doesn't praise One House enough. This bakery is on par with favorites in San Francisco (Arsicault, B. Patisserie & Neighbor Bakehouse), the East Bay, and  Bouchon in Yountville. Except the lines here, as I've experienced them, are quite short. I don't think that'll last. Also, there's plenty of free parking nearby. We're lucky to have such a place here in Solano County.

Check out the nautical decor. I shot lots of photos of One House, but decided to leave them out so you can discover that on your own, and leave the focus here on the great pastries and brilliant lunch menu.

Above and below: the pastry counter is up first, and what you see here is a typical selection, though there's usually some new things here and there.

At left: Almond Chocolate Croissant & Leek Brioche; at right, Cardamom Date Coconut Oat Bar.

One House Bakery does the small things right. Part of the reason to come here is because of the undoubted skills of the pastry chefs, but also for the use of top-notch ingredients, high quality chocolate, locally sourced vegetables, and imported French butter. I used to be so thankful that I went to Paris once & experienced what it was like to have a perfect croissant, still hot from the oven. I'd probably never experience that again, I thought, but then I moved to the Bay Area, and found a few bakeries on such an exalted level. And now there's one here in Solano County. We are so blessed.

In all my life, I've never encountered a Cardamom Date Coconut Oat Bar, and this combination is so classic that I'm sure there are pastries or dessert items with Cardamom and Date combined. It's a stunningly great pairing, and Oat Bars are easy to make. Though the result here is so beyond anything I've had or made, so it's as if they made perfection look easy & relatively effortless.

Another time we got a Cardamom Date Bar, this time with a Pecan Brownie, rich & fudgy, and paired nicely with pecans.

Lemon Poppyseed cake and two pieces of Shortbread. Spot on.

Chocolate Raspberry Roulade to die for. Luscious, melty rich, erotic and fulfilling at once.

So they've got a nice patio, and various nooks and crannies indoors and out front. I know folks who've started bakeries and cafes, and I've considered getting in the business myself, having worked in the industry, and I've considered what do you have to do to make it work. One House is doing everything right. Profit margins for bakeries are low because it's such a demanding, time-consuming craft. But One House Bakery does more than serve incredible pastries and coffee--they have lunch offerings, & a well-curated wine and beer list as well. 

Creamy Polenta with Braised Pork, and side Frisee Salad. Pretty sure I've never had a Polenta with that level of depth of flavor, unctuous pork dusted with parm, and plenty of butter and cream in the polenta.

Salad Lyonnaise, with a soft poached egg, crispy pancetta lardons, over frisee with caramelized onion, parmesan, and a couple of pieces of bread from an Epi Baguette. They mill their own flour at One House, so their breads have a tooth to them that sets them apart.

Cuban Meat Pie & Bacon Frittata. More superb offerings. One thing to add is the prices are astoundingly affordable given the caliber of the offerings.

Puff Pastry Cheese Sticks.

One House Bakery
918 1st Street, Benicia, CA
Hours: 8am-6pm (closed on most holidays)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sonoma County Mycological Association Christmas Dinner

Entrees at the Sonoma County Mycological Association Christmas Dinner.

Last night Robin & I went to this incredible fancy mushroom dinner given by the Sonoma Mushroom club in Graton. Sorta like the one we went to in Mendocino a month ago, but, this is hard to believe, this one was even better and if I had known, I would have made sure all my friends who live in the area from Occidental to Santa Rosa knew about it (there's always next year). Here's a shot of the Graton Community Club where the even took place, in downtown Graton.

SOMA provided the entrees and some wine, but attendees were encouraged to bring appetizers or dessert courses, and everything we tried was just fabulous. Above is the appetizer table early on in the event. Many more arrived later, and this was all dispatched post-haste.

Savory Morel-based Quiche. Never had anything quite like it.

Above and below: this sweet young couple seated near us brought this Baked Brie (the cheese was from Marin French Cheese, naturally)--topped with chopped Maitake Mushrooms lightly sauteed in olive oil first.

As you can see, this one didn't last very long, and it's a good example of some of the lighter offerings--a great example of Vegan fare that's not like wearing a hairshirt--marinated shiitake mushrooms and other raw vegetables rolled up like spring rolls--absolutely delicious! I was lucky to get one and get a photo before they were all gone! That was one of 20 things last night in the category of "one of the best tasting things I've ever eaten."

One of the late arrivals I didn't try because I was already starting to get full--mushrooms with cheese.

I stopped drinking a couple of weeks ago, as a temporary dietary measure, and Robin MacLean doesn't drink much, but we decided to have some of this delicious dry rose bubbly, a Loire Cab Franc, provided by the SOMA club (most folks brought their own wine). It made for a great pairing with the feast. Even though we just had a couple of cups, it was perfect.

Main entrees for the SOMA dinner. I was slightly worried that I might not get any of the beef, but the platter was replenished just as I got there. Notice the pot of gravy nearby.

Here's a photo of the incredible plate of the main courses--that's Prime beef with Porcini gravy on the lower right, the beef was so incredibly tender, you could use the fork to cut it. It was almost like eating butter, some of the best beef I've ever had, as was the gravy, which was a rich, Porcini based gravy. Going clockwise, you can see two puff pastries, filled with mushrooms, and Foie Gras (there were also some without for vegans)? Did I hear that right? Damn, those were so good, but I was already getting full, thanks to the incredible onslaught of delicious appetizers which preceded this glorious table of main courses. Next was some Couscous and Quinoa, main dishes for Vegans and Gluten-free folks (thought I'd try them, these were delicious and did a good job soaking up the incredible Porcini Gravy), and then there was some Lemon Spinach, and an Arugula Salad to die for, with slices of Parmagianno Regiano, Pear, and Pomegranate kernels.

Sure looks like quite a few desserts on that table, doesn't it? Believe it or not, this was really early on in the event, right when we arrived about 4:30. That table was chock full of desserts by the time everyone had arrived, what you see is perhaps only about a third of what was on offer. You should have seen the rush after speeches were given--I've scarcely ever seen a line queue up that quickly!

Like I said, I'm on a diet, especially foregoing sweets. However, I did have a bite of some delicious ginger cheesecake this nice lady made. The Desserts Table was seriously crowded with all kinds of tempting fare, including several confections using Candy Cap Mushrooms. Above is my photograph of the to-go "safe plate" that a French lady seated near us let me shoot for Cakes & Ale. BTW, that's probably only a selection of *half* the desserts on offer. For example, it doesn't include Robin MacLean's Tart Lemon Dessert, which were meant to seem like cheesecake. A home-made graham cracker crust, topped by a yogurt (high quality yogurt) mixed with a lemon curd made from organic lemon zest and juice, with only half the sugar (half of that was agave) called for in the recipe, so the result was something very lemony, very very tart. Extra graham cookies were provided in case folks wanted more sweet flavor with theirs.

SOMA has forays and other events open to the public. They have SOMA camp in Occidental, California the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and I highly recommend it. Check out their website for more information.