Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adventures in Northern California

Capitola Beach - surf competition.

AJ and I were lucky enough to take a trip to Northern California to visit his Uncle in Los Gatos (about an hour south of San Francisco). I could not have been happier with the weather, 70 degrees and sunny, a nice respite from the frigid East Coast. We took in the sights - surfing, mountain views, and sun.

75 degrees and sunny - could life be better?


Our first night in California we had the pleasure of watching the Golden State Warriors play from the 8th row back. (Thanks Uncle Peter!) These seats were perfect and we got to watch them win a game (a rarity this season). We headed toward the stadium early in order to avoid traffic, and decided to stop in Oakland/Berkley boarder for a bite to eat before the game. The downtown area is very cute, lots of restaurants and shops. We ended up eating at a chain, Pasta Pomodoro. For an italian chain restaurant we were very pleased with the quality and creativity of our dishes.

Pesto dipping sauce and foccacia bread.

Our server was very friendly and immediately brought us out some pesto and olive oil for our complimentary foccacia bread. The pesto was full of bright basil flavors. The bread was soft, but a little cold. But better than one would expect from this type of restaurant.

Farro and grilled vegetables with parmesan.

I ordered the farro with grilled vegetables and parmesan, while AJ ordered the pesto with whole wheat capatelli. I only vaguely remembered that farro was some sort of whole grain, and decided to order it out of curiosity.

Butternut squash ravioli with fried sage, crushed amaretti cookies, and parmesan.

Before our entrees arrived AJ and I split the butternut squash ravioli. This was definitely the hightlight of the meal. The ravioli were filled with sweet creamy squash and topped with fried sage, crushed amaretti cookies, and parmesan cheese. For those of you who think sage is too overpowering, this is the best way to eat it - the frying process mellows out the flavors and makes for a lovely crunchy topping. The amaretti adds to the liquorice flavors and the saltiness of the cheese cuts the sweetness of the squash. These raviolis could put some gourmet versions to shame.


We woke up bright and early the second day of our trip, and ended up visiting the charming "historic downtown" Campbell. Did you ever notice that "historic downtown" is a requirement on all signs even if a town was established 30 years ago? The "downtown" area only lasted a couple blocks, but there was a huge crowd swarming around one restaurant in particular - Stacks. It appears this is the place to eat breakfast on the weekends. Stacks offers all your breakfast favorites - omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, waffles, and their signature "stacks".

Coconut macademia banana pancakes.

After debating whether or not to get the lumberjack pancakes, a combination of wheat germ, blueberries, raisins, walnuts, and bananas, I decided to go with the more tropical themed coconut macademia banana pancakes. A full stack is listed as three pancakes, the short is two. AJ wanted to try some, so I went with the full stack. They initially brought out just one, which as is turns out would have been enough for me. These pancakes are the size of a plate. Surprisingly not too sweet, the coconut and nuts provided a nice crunch and texture. The warm sweet bananas were delightful. These pancakes are best served with a little butter and warm syrup.

Where ya at, where ya at? (AJ is excited for breakfast)

AJ got the manly "Stacks breakfast sandwich" - scambled eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, tomato and avocado all piled high on an english muffin. Piping hot, this sandwich is more than filling. I enjoyed my first bite - the sweet tomato and avocado livened up this protein feast. A couple more bites and reality set in. There are a just a few too many flavors going on here. The english muffin was dry and bland. I would have prefered this on a toasted bagel or multigrain toast. Unfortunately, Stacks doesn't bake its own bread.

Stack's Big Breakfast sandwich - ham, bacon, tomato, avocado, eggs, and cheese.

After our breakfast we walked around Campbell and then to downtown Los Gatos to check out some shops. After burning off our breakfast we stopped into Icing on the Cake to fulfill our sugar cravings. AJ's uncle likes to say that he will never move from Los Gatos because of this bakery. He is that in love with their cake. We decided on a caramel cupcake and a chocolate chunk brownie cookie. We headed to Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company to compliment our goodies with a coffee.

Los Gatos Coffee Brewing Co. - Amaretto latte and mexican mocha.

The coffee was the perfect compliment to our sweet treats. The mexican mocha had a very strong espresso flavor with a subtle chocolate flavor. If you love a strong coffee with a hint of cocoa, this is the drink for you. AJ and I preferred the amaretto latte, with a hint of sweet almonds.

Caramel cupcake from Icing on the Cake!

The cupcake was the winner of this afternoon snack. The frosting was buttery, light, and full of rich caramel flavor. The chocolate chip cookie was cloyingly sweet. The chunks of brownie tasted too much like chocolate chips.

Chocolate chunk brownie cookie.

Buttery caramel cupcake.

That evening we met up with some old friends in Mountain View for some ramen noodles. I had never been to a noodle bar before, and the novelty was quite fun. The seating is communal style, around a U-shaped bar. You may have to wait a little while to be seated if your party is larger than 2. Our friend Austin has some experience visiting Japan, so we deferred to him to interpret the menu. All of the bowls come with a flavored broth and similar accoutrements - hard boiled egg, pork, seaweed, and scallions (FYI: you can order more vegetables or meat at an extra cost). At Austin's recommendation AJ and I ordered the sesame broth.

Ryowa Ramen - sesame broth with pork, egg, noodles, scallions, and seaweed.

The broth was extremely salty, full of pork flavor. I couldn't taste much sesame flavor, and to be honest couldn't tell the difference between this broth and the miso. The noodles were of good quality. I added hot chili paste to the broth, and that really made all the difference. If you're in the mood for some spicy noodles, this should do the trick. The noodles cost around $6, but could definitely fill you up for two meals. We also ordered some potstickers. These were crispy on the outside with a nice pork and scallion filling. These were my favorite of the evening.

We ended up in Palo Alto at Red Mango for dessert. For those of you who haven't experienced the yogurt craze sweeping the nation, jump on the bandwagon already. The yogurt is tangy and not too sweet. I highly recommend the tart pomegranate flavor loaded with fresh raspberries and blueberries.


The Big Sur.

AJ loves pizza. He could probably eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And while I don't quite share the same affinity, I cannot resist a chewy crust piled with cheese. Pizzza My Heart is a chain located in Northern California. They offer a number of award-winning pizzas. We ordered a slice of the hawaiian and the Big Sur. The Big sur is piled high with sausage, pepperoni, roasted garlic, portabellos, scallions, mozarella. The roasted garlic makes this pizza - it is sweet but still retains a nice bite.

After lunch, we hit up the Farmer's market in Los Gatos. I have been deprived of a good farmer's market this winter, so it was nice to see sweet strawberries, oranges, and dates in season.

I can't wait to head back to Northern California, and not just for the weather.

Pasta Pomodoro
5500 College Ave
Oakland, CA

139 E Campbell Ave
Campbell, CA

101 W Main St
Los Gatos, CA

50 W Main St
Los Gatos, CA

Ryowa Ramen House
859 Villa St
Mountain View, CA

1390 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA


Malia said...

Wow what a fun food filled trip. My mouth is watering. :)

Raisin Canes said...

We sure ate a lot. . .butternut squash is delicious

Also, it's "Pizza My Heart," not three z's :). . .at least you know I am reading your blog

Ariel said...

Pizzza - I added that extra z for emphasis! lol