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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

Our June Food Adventure was old and new favorite places to eat in Palo Alto, CA. Stops included: Shokolaat, Fuki Sushi, Mediterranean Wraps, Cool Cafe and Calafia.

Along with my fun loving foodie friend Carl Mindling we spent the day visiting several great areas like University Avenue and the Stanford Campus after attending the LYFE Kitchen Fork Lifting Ceremony at 10:00 AM that morning.

Because we were in Palo Alto, a city well known for being the home of the prestigious Stanford University, I thought I should use a an equally impressive word in the post title, hence the choice of "Epicurean."

To be honest I wasn't even sure what it meant so I looked it up:
Ep•i•cu•re•an |ˌepikyəˈrēən; ˌepiˈkyoŏrēən|
• ( epicurean) a person devoted to sensual enjoyment, esp. that derived from fine food and drink.
While I don't think I am particularly devoted to food in a "sensual" way I have been told many times that my photos of food would qualify as "food porn" so there you have it.

This month I made our restaurant list (with addresses and lunch hours) and instead of printing it I put the file on my iPad. It worked great! An added bonus was when one restaurant asked about our blogs I was able to pull up last month's East Bay Food Tour post to show them.

Shokolaat was a place I'd read about online that I had to go to. I call it a "place" because it's four things in one: A restaurant, patisserie, chocolatier and lounge.

Not only are their pastries beautiful, another huge draw for me was when I read on their website that their products are made from organic and humanely certified milk, cream, butter, flour, and sugar. That alone made me love the Shokolaat before I'd even tried their desserts!

We ordered at the patisserie counter then found a comfy spot in the lounge area to enjoy a breakfast of treats!

My first order of the day was a glass of pomegranate juice (I think it was around $4.00 but lost my receipt) with a fresh lime wedge.

And what to eat? There were so many choices! I was leaning towards the Framboise Mousse in the lower right corner. It's a raspberry mousse encasing a vanilla creme brulee with genoise sponge cake and a white chocolate glaze topped with a fresh raspberry. . .

Jaconde Sponge, Coffee & Praline Mousseline, Chocolate Ganache and Espresso Sirop with a flake of Edible Gold Leaf.

But I finally chose this very demure Opera Cake ($4.90). It was subtle, elegant and not too sweet. One bite and I could taste a light coffee flavor from the mousseline and espresso sirop. That's not a typo, "sirop" means "syrup" in French.

The thing that really made me want to sample the Opera Cake was that it contained joconde sponge cake, which is the cake I learned to make during my first Daring Bakers' Challenge.

Our next stop was inspired by the GIrl Geek Dinner I'd attended two nights earlier in Palo Alto.

Hosted at Palantir Technologies our guest speaker that evening was Linda M. Krieg who after a 20 year career with the FBI became the Assistant Executive Vice President of Operations at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

She and the Girl Geeks at Palantir outlined how they are now working together since Palantir offered to work with NCMEC pro bono to create an improved database system that allows NCMEC to cross reference multiple databases (missing children, registered sex offenders, geographic areas, suspect vehicles, etc.) to help identify either suspects or who an abducted child is when someone thinks they may have witnessed an abduction in progress.

The dinner that evening was hosted by Fuki (pronounced foo-key) Sushi Japanese restaurant and for me it was fantastic because rather than offer one or two vegetarian options there were several which included a Vegetable Gyoza, a Wakame Seaweed Salad and several kinds of sushi: Avacado Maki, Oshinko Shiso Maki, Umekyuri Maki, Kappa Maki, Jumbo Roll and my new all time favorite, their Vegetable Tempura Roll.

I knew Carl would love the Vegetable Tempura Maki Sushi so it was our first lunch stop that day. Located on El Camino Real Fuki Sushi is a well established restaurant known for their high quality, traditionally prepared food. The ambiance is very "Japanese" with ikebana floral arrangements, beautiful artwork, warm colored wood, shoji screens and window coverings and four distinct, understatedly elegant, dining areas that include two dining rooms, tatami rooms and a sushi bar. Overall the restaurant has a welcoming feel that says "come in, enjoy your food and be comfortable."

As soon as we were seated our waitress brought us a complimentary spicy bean sprout salad.

I'd brought my own chopsticks which is part of my eco-friendly campaign to create less waste when I dine out..

Carl wanted to try two things so we ordered the Konsai Age ($8.00) which was Kabocha (squash), Renkon (lotus root), Fresh Bamboo Shoots, Gobo (burdock), Carrots and a single green Shiso Leaf all fried tempura style. It was served with a dipping sauce and was delicious! The lotus, squash and carrot were my favorites.

And we shared a Vegetable Tempura Roll ($8.00).

It's a reverse roll where the seasoned rice is on the outside and the inside is filled with tempura carrot, tempura green beans, avocado, lettuce and a slice of nori seaweed. OMS (Oh My Sushi) this roll is AMAZING. Love, love, love it and will be back to have it again and again. I didn't even add wasabi or soy sauce. I just ate it plain off the plate and it was perfection.

BTW Carl loved it too.

Our next stop was Mediterranean Wraps, one of Carl's favorite places to grab a bite.

We had the Falafel Deluxe Wrap ($6.95) which along with falafel is filled with lots of veggies including eggplant & potato.

To be honest I'm not a huge fan of wraps, in fact I usually don't care for them at all but this one was really good and I'd happily go back for another. The wrap itself was thin and not too doughy and the flavor of the fillings melded together perfectly while the soft and crisp veggies and crunchy texture and fluffy interior of the fried falafels all simultaneously contrasted and blended together nicely.

I should have taken a photo that showed the bright green interior of the falafel but I was so busy eating I forgot. Sorry for that.

Our next stop took us by surprise. Carl mentioned Jesse Cool's Flea Street Cafe just as I was reading about her Cool Cafe online. Talk about synergy. What we didn't realize was that the Stanford location of the Cool Cafe is located in the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford campus. Yowsa! What a grand entry to lunch!

As we entered the museum I was kind of shocked because I'd never heard of the Cantor Museum before. Collections include art from Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, modern and contemporary works as well as Native American art and the Stanford Family Collection. I can't wait to go back and spend a day peeking around.

We walked through the main entry, through a small exhibit area and down a long hallway. At the end of the hall on the right is the Cool Cafe.

A small counter area with informal indoor and outdoor seating awaited us.

Notice the Separation of the Tea and Lemonade Before Stirring My Arnold Palmer

The first thing to jump out at me on the menu was the Arnold Palmer ($2.75). My friend Gordon Garb had ordered one at dinner at least a year ago. It was the first I'd ever heard of an Arnold Palmer. In case you're as unfamiliar as I was, it's a combination of iced tea and lemonade. Nice because I don't really care for iced tea and though I love lemonade it's usually too sweet, so they cancel each other out combining to form a cool and refreshing not-too-sweet drink.

As an entree we ordered the Balsamic Beet and Goat Cheese Salad ($9.50). This was one of my two favorite things I ordered that day. The portion is very generous. More than enough to be an entire meal. The mixed lettuces were fresh, the goat cheese creamy with a bit of tang and the beets were nice and sweet. The walnuts were slightly spicy with just a bit of hot flavor to them. Definitely a winner of a salad.

After the fact, while researching for this post, I learned that Jesse's restaurants use ingredients harvested and produced sustainably and regionally. Being a locavore restaurant has many benefits including supporting the local economy and helping to sustain local farms. Cool Cafe uses as many organic ingredients as possible with a focus on ingredients produced without petrochemicals, artificial coloring, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides. And seriously, we could taste the difference. The food was so fresh and flavorful.

The only downside was the limited vegetarian options on the menu. While delicious sounding meat options abound there were only two vegetarian entrees to choose from. So for vegetarians the choices straight off the menu are slim and for vegans the only option would have been the lettuce salad. That's not a criticism persay, more of an observation. I will be going again because I loved the food and the way it's produced.

For dessert we shared the Warm Berry Cobbler ($5.00). It was delish. The fruit was good but the cobbler top was really the standout element of this dish. It was a nice, light, sweet cake, not biscuit-like at all. I really loved this and would order it again though Carl was torn between the cobbler and the butterscotch pudding so we may have to order two desserts next time.

Our final destination was Calafia located in the Town and Country Village shopping center at Embarcadero and El Camino Real.

Owner and Chef Charlie Ayers is best known for the six years he worked as the executive chef of Google Inc., a position he won in November of 1999 in a cook-off, judged by the company's 40 employees. Charlie's wanted to create "fine food for the fast crowd" and Google, Inc. was the perfect place to bring his concept to life.

A really neat aspect to Calafia's menu is that along with the brunch, to go and catering menus there's also a "vegetable menu" and a "meat eater's menu." For vegetarians and vegans this is a huge win that the vegetarian menu is equal in size to the meat eaters side of the menu. Awesome.

Calafia Offers Indoor, Outdoor and Bar Seating at the Open Kitchen

I'd had the Burrata and Potato Pizza ($13.00) once before but wanted to have it again so Carl could try it. Burrata is a rich and creamy fresh mozzarella cheese. For the pizza it's combined with Yukon Gold potatoes and thin coins of zucchini. I added some freshly ground peppers and was happy as can be.

Not only are the toppings yummy, the crust is really tasty too. I love pizza crust that actually tastes good instead of it being a tasteless bread vehicle with which to transport said toppings into your mouth. Crust with flavor is a huge bonus.

Carl had the Vegetable Soy Lentil Quinoa Burger ($13.00). It consists of a patty of ground vegetables, pureed organic tofu, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, basil and garlic stacked with a citrus beet relish and smashed avocado on a multigrain bun. It sure was pretty!

While the flavors were nice he said the bun was a bit too dense for his taste. I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of multigrain breads. They are often rather heavy so even though they're healthier than an enriched bun I usually prefer either a simple whole wheat or enriched white bun or bread in most situations.

Someday I'll try this but will probably order it with no bun and the side salad and fork and knife it :)

And the big moment, the funniest part of my food adventure was the Mocha ($5.00) I ordered at Calafia. Why would a mocha be such a big deal? Because it was the first time I'd ever had a cup of any kind of coffee. . . In my entire life. LOL

I tried a sip of coffee over 25 years ago and didn't like it so I'd never tried it again. Hubby has a mocha every day and occasionally will tell me I should start drinking coffee. I always reply it's a habit I don't need to start.

Did I like it? I did. It was tasty with milk, chocolate agave syrup, cocoa powder and a shot of espresso. Yummmmmm I can just imagine how good it would taste and how cozy it would make me feel on a cold and rainy day with a grilled cheese sandwich.

I find hot chocolate to be too sweet so the mocha was a grown up version of hot chocolate. The first few sips had just a tiny bitterness to them. I'm not sure if it was eating the pizza or just the mocha cooling but after a few minutes the flavor changed. The bitterness was gone and it was smooth and creamy tasting like coffee ice cream in a glass.

So as always, the whole idea with our food adventures is to inspire you to try a new restaurant or dish wherever you live. Go to that cool place or hole in the wall that everyone is raving about or chase down that food truck and try something new :)

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