Thursday, February 26, 2009

Open Door Church: A Menlo Park Presbyterian Service

After last week's adventure, we decided to check out Open Door Church, which we were told was a contemporary Presb service. They have services at 9 and 10:30, and it was raining again so we went to the 10:30. It was completely packed, with well over a hundred people in attendance, possibly over two hundred. It was so full that people were standing in the back (where there was free coffee and bagels, by the way). The age range was all over the place, as were the nationalities represented in the crowd. It certainly had the makings of being a great service.

And then it started. I should mention that there was no bulletin, which was my major gripe. We were handed a bulletin-like pamphlet on our way in, but it included church news and contact information, and that's about it. There were also no Bibles. This isn't that big of a deal, since I don't mind bringing my own, but having no reference point in print (the fake-bulletin didn't even list the scripture) was annoying. The first thing was "welcome your neighbor" and this was the first time I've been to a church and nobody realized we were new. In fact, three other people we shook hands with were also first-timers, I guess we just all decided to sit in one area, LoL. There were two or three opening songs, led by a praise band. They were in an odd order (medium, slow, fast), and Jonathan pointed out that he much prefers an upbeat song first to get things going, and a slower, more relaxed song just before the more serious parts of the service begin. People kept entering the room (not a sanctuary per se, as this was more of a "fellowship hall" setting) throughout the worship music, but it calmed down for the offertory. There was a casually-dressed, middle age man kinda leading things, but really just making announcements and stuff.

They put on a DVD of the sermon, given by the pastor of the main church (again, this is a satellite branch of a Menlo Park church). The pastor for the most part, was quite good. The subject was superiority, and the scripture was about superiority (using the parable in Luke about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector). His history, analysis, and lesson were interesting to me, although he didn't equally address all parts of the scripture (it's only about five verses), and I really feel it could have helped drive his point home. However, I just couldn't connect with a pastor who isn't actually there. I'm not sure if he rotates around for "live" services or if there are always DVDs or streamed sermons at this church. CasualMan talked some more, but didn't tie-in the sermon or anything, other than leading a prayer about how he felt affected by it. There should have been a tie-in, simply because he had made it clear that this was the fourth and final part of a series on "Flow" (which we didn't really get, there was no further explanation). The closing songs were quite annoying, and the lead singer either forgot how the song went or decided to improvise, because it threw off the other band members. AND, people started leaving during the songs, which irritated me.

I wouldn't be opposed to driving out to Menlo Park to try the "real" service (it's about 15-25 min away, traffic-dependent), but I don't know my thoughts on such a "mega church" to begin with. Oh well, next week we'll try something else!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Japanese Tapas and Do-it-Yourself Frozen Yogurt

Tapas, for those who may not know, are like appetizers. Very common in Spain and similar cultures. There's a great tapas place in Orlando (Cafe Tu Tu Tango), and although we've only been once, we know a lot about tapas in culture thanks to one of our Spanish teachers in high school. She incorporated a lot about living in Spain and Costa Rica into the course, and we even know the hand gesture for "check, please," LoL. So when Kathy suggested we go for Japanese tapas, Jonathan and I were on board!

We drove into Cupertino (about ten minutes away from the apartment) and in the back of a plaza was GocHi, a Japanese Fusion tapas place. GocHi is short for "gochisou," meaning "treat or delicious hearty meal." It was packed for 8:30pm on a Wednesday night, and we waited a few minutes for a table. At first I was very excited, as many of the tables are a more traditional (sit on the floor" style, where shoes are removed and placed in a cubby before entering the seating area. However, we were given a "standard" table, one side was a bench against the wall and the other was chairs.

We ordered five dishes and split them all.
  • First out was one of the daily specials (I don't remember the name), which was deep-friend salmon with potato cream and tartar sauce, described as a croquette, but served like a roll as sushi. I didn't care for it, tasted too much like tempura (which I loathe). The potato cream was tasty, but as a whole I wouldn't order it again. Both Jonathan and Kathy enjoyed it.
  • Then came the Sake Cream Cheese Miso Fushion Pizza. It had salmon and roe, scallions and cheese. It also had mushrooms which were not listed in the menu. I only had one piece, I just couldn't stomach it. The crust was light and crispy and the cheese was delicious and not oily, but it was large roe (probably about a centimeter in diameter), and it grossed me out. I tried eating around it, but I also didn't really care for salmon on pizza. I'd go as far as to say that I wish the salmon was smoked instead of baked, it might have helped. The other two liked it, but JB also pushed off the roe.
  • The shiromaguro tataki came after that, which was seared albacore in garlic oil with little chips of garlic. The garlic chips were not very flavorful, but the albacore was pretty good. (Tataki means seared on the outside and raw in the middle). We probably ate this dish the quickest.
  • Then was the duck steaks in a sweet, thick brown sauce. They were my favorite dish of the evening, and I thought the sauce was great. The meat was a little fatty for duck, but half of the slices were gristle-free. Jonathan didn't like the duck but thought the sauce was good.
  • Last was a vermicelli noodle dish with cod (although none of us could taste it) and seaweed. With some cayenne pepper sprinkled on it, it was good. Otherwise it was a bit flavorless. It wasn't anything special, but it was recommended by the server, and nothing worth complaining about.
Overall, it was an interesting place, and the menu is very extensive. However, I don't think I'm very likely to return. Tapas are not a cheap meal anywhere, so they need to be delicious in my opinion.

We headed to Carvel afterward, but they were closed. So we drove a few blocks and found a plaza with a Baskin Robbins and a DIY Yogurt. It was a very cool place, and a concept that I was unfamiliar with. Basically, you take a cup and add your own frozen yogurt and toppings. They had about 10 flavors of yogurt, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cappuccino, taro, tart, mango, and a few others. There were over fifty topping options, including a bunch of cereals and candies, four syrups, and probably ten fruits. When you're finished they charge you 33 cents per ounce, and put it on a scale. There's a "weight of the day" and if it matches, yours is free. The weight yesterday was 0.88 oz, and I came closest with 0.83.

I tried vanilla, cappuccino, strawberry, and tart. I added brownie bits, oreos, and strawberries. The strawberries were delicious, and the oreos were a good crushed size. The brownie bits left something to be desired (they weren't "fudgy" or fresh). Tart froyo tastes like yogurt, and I had to mix it with the strawberry for it to be palatable. The strawberry was delicious and strong. Tee cappuccino was too strong, I had to swirl it with the vanilla, which was that "country vanilla" style. As a whole, the place was good and I'd go back. BUT, since this is a typical set-up out here, I'd love to try another fro-yo place, as this one has pretty poor reviews on yelp in comparison.

Sidenote: I asked Kathy if she liked frozen custard (my fave) and she had never had it, even though she went to undergrad at Berkeley (and there's a great place less than a mile from the campus - ate there summer 2006 when I was at a conference). So she's all about going to the Willow Glen place in San Jose, which is the closest place to get some around here (without going into SF). :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dim Sum: Not For Dum Dums

Jonathan and I have been looking forward to trying a full dim sum meal for some time now, as we love the small selection that can be found in certain restaurants in Florida. We've been twice since living in California. Andy and Jim, from the ELDP program, and Jim's girlfriend Vivien invited us to a dim sum lunch in downtown Mountain View the first time, and we went with just Andy the second time. Both times we went to Fu Lam Mum, which is on the north side of downtown. The place is two stories, but uses a gigantic atrium with only a handful of tables upstairs, when it might have been smarter to have a smaller atrium and more upstairs seating.

Servers bring around carts with covered baskets and plates of food. This ranges from chicken feet to egg custard tarts to pork dumplings. There are also pork-filled pastries, rice paper-covered shrimp, pork-rice-mushrooms in leaves, and a variety of other things. You just let the servers know what to put on your table (which has a big lazy susan), and then you share the dishes. The servers mark on your receipt what you got, and then it is tallied up later to get your total bill. The difficulty: the servers don't speak English, and the dishes aren't labeled. So if you're not sure, you take a gamble. Luckily, Andy could communicate with the servers, so we were set.

We loved pretty much everything we tried, especially the shrimp dim sums (and I'm not sure of the pluralization, so feel free to correct me). I didn't care for the leaf-filled option or the sweet pastry with pork, but we're definitely dim sum fans in general and can't wait to try more. The Chinese broccoli is also worth noting... I thought it was bitter, JB thought it was sweet. It looks nothing like regular broccoli except that it is green. However, it has the stem of asparagus and leaves like spinach. I included a stock internet photo, the only difference from ours being that the oyster sauce was served on the side for ours, not drizzled across (which was a good thing, since it was way too salty for my tastes).

Luckily, this place has a night special, where after 9pm you can get three plates of dim sum for $10, so we want to try that next. :)

Something to beware: only three people out of five had tea with the meal (trip #1), but they charged us for five people. Since the table was set with cups at each place setting, I guess that's how they charge... but Andy and I didn't even turn our cups over so they would be usable. Perhaps it could have been argued, but we didn't bother, since we only caught it at the last minute. The second trip, none of us had tea so it was a simple solution.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Xanh: A Vietnamese Lounge/Restaurant

Kathy felt like Xanh, and we are big fans of Vietnamese, so we headed there the other night for dinner. As are most of the places I've written about, it's in downtown Mountain View, and it was a nice night (clear in the upper 40s) so we took a walk down there to try it out. It was a Thursday night at 7pm, and there was a thirty minute wait to seat the three of us.

The lounge area was pretty fantastic, but it was packed so we weren't able to sit and enjoy appetizers/drinks. We walked around downtown instead, but I did snag a few pictures of the room. There were comfy-looking couches and low lighting. The silver decorative hanging balls were fun to look at, and the entire side wall was smooth stones with water pouring down them. (the photos on the website are quite a bit better than the ones I took, so if you're interested, just click on the link at the beginning of this post)

Instead of giving us a pager, they actually phoned Jonathan to let him know that our table was ready. We were seated in a side room that was bordered with exciting paintings and ball-bearing curtains. There were clear glass panels and a wall of shelving with fancy lighting on bottles.

The three of us shared dishes, which was easy to do since there were appetizer plates on the table when we sat down. We ordered the Traditional Roll to start with, which was a spring roll filled with poached pork and shrimp, rice noodles, green apple, cilantro, mint, cucumber, and shallots. There was no soy sauce provided, but Kathy and JB both enjoyed the peanut sauce with the roll. Then we had the Ahi Tuna Tartare, which was served as a cerviche/guacamole dip with wonton chips. It was made from ahi tuna, cucumber, avocado, mango, green apple, scallions, and some kind of herbs. It was mixed in front of us, and set in a vase of dry ice (see the photo!). I loved the concept, but the rush of flavors was a bit strange, and the cucumber was not chopped finely enough. We want to give it a try at home, but we'll probably alter the dish a little, espcially since our Magic Bullet is sitting at the house in Melbourne. Then we got a dish of glass noodles with dungeness crab that included scallions and fried shallots as well. I didn't try any, as the crab was shredded and I couldn't eat around it. Both of the others enjoyed it, and Kathy mentioned it is one of her favorite dishes at the place. Finally, we had the Peppercorn Beef, which was filet minion over potatoes, asparagas, and bell peppers, all in a decently-flavorful peppercorn sauce. The beef itself was quite good, although the potatoes were horribly unflavored... they could have used a spice rub in addition to the sauce. It was the priciest dish, but then again it was filet minion.

We did not have dessert or anything, but I did want to mention the glasses. They are really neat, and the ones for soft drinks are even cooler than the water glasses. The blue cup is a candle.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of Mountain View

I should start this post by saying that we really love Indian River Presbyterian Church in Fort Pierce, FL. Both of us love the people, the environment, and the messages. Because of this, we measure our opinions of other places of worship using IRPC as the base. We had a difficult time in Melbourne finding a church, and were never quite successful, even though I think we tried eight or so different places.

We finally began our hunt out here with First Presbyterian Church of Mountain View. It's only three miles from our apartment, so travel time is less than ten minutes. They only have one service, but they have a lot of ministries and outreach. I picked them from the phonebook advertisement, so we headed there this past Sunday.

It was raining that morning, but it was barely drizzling, so we headed out without thinking twice. We arrived about fifteen minutes before the 10:30am service was supposed to begin, and were confused at to the layout of the campus. There was a directory, but as we headed toward the sanctuary, we saw tons of people headed toward another building. So we asked the parking attendant where to go, to which he responded, "which service are you attending, First Presbyterian or Open Door?" Turns out that three different congregations share the campus: First Presb which owns the property, Open Door which is a satellite campus of a Menlo Park Presb church, and a Korean church (which holds service at a different time). The first two hold service at the same time because they have combined Sunday School classes.

So we head into the sanctuary (which was awkward as the doors were not open, although there were numerous greeters after we let ourselves in) and find a nice pew to sit in. The pew is lower than the standard, and the cushion is very uncomfortable... not things that make or break a church, but notable nonetheless. For only being ten minutes out, it was a bit empty, but there were still at least fifty people there as we browsed the bulletin and the "welcome packet" we received. A friendly family sat in front of us, and we made small talk. As far as the atmosphere goes, it was very friendly. The stained glass was minimal but there. The roof was pitched and there were candles at the altar. Awkwardly the choir was visually blocked by a printed-design screen, but I could get over that. Demographically, there were only three families there, one with teenagers and two with very young kids. There were a few couples in their twenties, but it was mostly 40-50 and up. I'm not sure how representative this group was, given the "rainstorm," but it was not what we had hoped for, given the demographics of the area in general.

The choir came in and service began. The pastor welcomed everyone, and made a comment about how he was "glad so many people came out in the rain." Apparently the sprinkling stopped people from attending, and we guessed about 200 people belong to the church but only about 75 were in attendance that morning. Songs included Chris Tomlin's "Forever," Matt Redman's "Blessed be Your Name," and "Faithful One" (by somebody I don't know). The readings were broken up into three different parts of the service, which was rather strange, and were not tied together in the message (which didn't really fit its title, either). The Children's Message was very vague, but incorporated props and interaction. The church leader seems to be an interim pastor, but has worked in Presb churches a long time, as he referenced two or three others in his sermon. It seemed like a sermon he has done before, but he still appeared rather uncomfortable with speaking freely, and followed his notes a bit too much (while still getting off on a few tangents). After the service, the music leader introduced himself to us, and he was very kind. They were having a Valentine's Party after service, with cake and coffee, but we passed in order to get some errands done.

The people were all very friendly, but between the age range and the pastor, we'll be trying something else next week. Perhaps Open Door, since we did see a lot of people (especially families) going in.

If you can recommend a good service in Silicon Valley, we'd love to hear it. We're not set on any particular denomination within Christianity, but both prefer a traditional service to a contemporary one. The only other main requirement is a congregation of all ages (this was a severe problem in Melbourne, as we rarely met anyone in their teens and twenties at services), as we are hoping for fellowship opportunities as well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day: Mountains, Hiking, and Thai Food, Part II

Continuing on with the dinner part of the evening...

We really had no specific hankerings for dinner, so we just walked downtown and let our noses be the guide. We were between a Thai place and an Italian place, and Thai won. King of Krung Siam was the name of the place, and it was decently crowded. We were sat immediately (it was a little after 8pm), and water was served. I had only read through the appetizers and salads when the waiter came to take our order, so we had to ask for a few more minutes. The entrees spanned several pages, so I flipped through to see the categories. I read through noodles and rice dishes and hadn't even gotten to three pages of options when the waiter came around again. Now, those who know me well know that I read the entire menu every time I go out to eat, unless I go there often and know what I want (like the tuna melt pita and Greek fries at Pitaria. that's all I ever get there). So while I was a bit frustrated, I realized that it was Valentine's Day so the guy could be doing his best if it's been packed all day. So, we went ahead and ordered - Chicken & Pork Satay as an appetizer, I ordered Chicken Pad Thai (no peanuts), and Jonathan ordered the Red Curry with Chicken and a side of steamed rice.

There were chicken, pork, and beef options for the satay, and while we ordered a chicken/pork combo, the plate we were served was all chicken. They were delicious though... marinated overnight in a slightly sweet and slightly sticky sauce. There was peanut sauce on the side, and chopped vegetables (cucumber, peppers, onions) in a light sauce as another side. The vegetables were great with the satay (aka chicken on a stick), and Jonathan said it was a good peanut sauce. The only downfall was that they were brought out WITH the meal, instead of first (and the table behind us got their spring roll appetizer quite a bit sooner than their meals). Jonathan enjoyed his curry, noting that it was hotter than the pa-nang he had the last time we got Thai. The taste was too coconutty for me. I was very unimpressed with my pad thai, and will note it as the worst I have ever had (and I've gotten it fast-food style before!). First, the bean sprouts were very long and not mixed in. Second, besides the noodles, there were only a few green onions, a bunch of carrots, and a minuscule amount of (cubed and unflavored) chicken. I tried to make the most of it, but there were two other (big) problems. One, there were no chopsticks. Not one table in the restaurant had chopsticks! So, I had to eat with a fork, which I really hate to do for certain foods, pad thai included. Second, the wedge of lime was very small. Now, I usually ask for extra limes (I probably use the equivalent of a whole small lime if given the chance), so this isn't a big deal. BUT, when I asked the server for extra limes, he repeated "limes?" as if he didn't know what it was. So I pointed to the lime on my plate and reiterated my request. He seemed to understand.... but brought my back two LEMON SLICES instead of LIME WEDGES. Now, the funny part is that in many countries (like Bangladesh), the word for lemon and lime is the same, even though they have both fruits. But I pointed to a very GREEN lime, so I have no idea what happened. Anyway, I didn't eat very much of the meal, for the reasons all mentioned already.

While our water was refilled regularly for the first half of dinner, we were ignored for a good twenty-five minutes when we were ready for the check. Eventually Jonathan had to get up and go request that our check be brought so we could pay and leave. Needless to say, we only gave a 10% tip.

It was still a wonderful Valentine's Day as we were able to see some great sights from the mountains, try out our new jackets, and spend some time being happy together and talking about what we want to accomplish this year.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day: Mountains, Hiking, and Thai Food, Part I

So this year for Valentine's Day, Jonathan and I played it pretty low-key. We woke up, had breakfast, and headed out to play in some snow. There have been a bunch of snowstorms in the Bay Area lately, so we figured it would be a good time. Jonathan had mapped out a few places, so after packing changes of clothes and some snacks, we bundled up and headed out.

We drove toward San Jose, and then up onto Road 130. We wound through the mountain for about eight miles when our plan was foiled. Two police cars were in the road, and it was closed to non-local traffic. We were forced to turn around near Joseph D. Grant County Park. We considered stopping there to play, but there was a sign noting that there was no snow there. So, we drove back down the mountain and stopped by the house for lunch and to re-group. Jonathan had a back-up plan, unfortunately it was using the same road we couldn't travel, so we needed a new idea.

So we changed directions and drove toward Redwood City. We took King's Mountain Road up all the way to Skyline Blvd in Woodside, CA. There had been reports in the area, and we watched the thermometer drop from 50 to 39 over the course of the drive. We ended up being 2,180 feet up (give or take) when it seemed like we weren't going to find snow. We saw a sign for Wunderlich County Park and gave it a try. We put on our ski jackets and hats (and I wore my black scarf and brown snowboots) and headed into the park. There was no parking, so we were lucky to grab one of two nearby spots.

On our way into the park, we both noted the mixture of rain and flurries that fell, and it was great to feel a snowflake on my face for the first time in seven years. We were at a trailhead for about 6 different trails. We started hiking on one of them, despite the wet leaves and dirt everywhere. After about twenty minutes, the weather started getting bad so we turned back after snapping a few pics. It was a good thing, because on the way back it began to storm. We headed down the other side of the mountain and returned home from the south.

It was a good time, and while I'm sure some of you are "weren't you freezing?" but we were fine. You just have to wear the appropriate attire and you're good to go! :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Zen Lounge & Chef Liu

Last weekend we finally gave clubbing in Mountain View for the first time. Jonathan's friend Andy had a few friends in town, so that bunch, Vivian and Jim, and JB and I all met up at The Zen Lounge about 10pm.

Let me start by saying that the music selection was AWESOME until about midnight. That's when they started throwing in some Latin junk and playing some 80s, which made a ton of people pour out of the club. We hung out mostly in the bar area, which had an impressive amount of seating. I felt the drinks were overpriced, but there aren't many clubs in downtown, and this worked out rather well. Apparently there are many happy hour specials (which run 7-10pm), but we didn't know about that ahead of time. They can't spell well though, as they have glasses of "champange" for $2 during happy hour. It bothers me quite a bit, as they have looped videos of the specials, so the spelling error was often showing on the screens.

About 12:45, Andy and the guys were getting tired, so they headed home and the rest of us went for Chinese at Chef Liu. It was a super-cheap place to eat, and we had a ton of food. The potstickers were a little pricey, but were delicious. The beef chow mein was so-so. The scallion pancakes were fantastic and worth so much more than the cost. And the spicy wontons were a hit with everyone else, I just didn't particularly care for them. The dozen we had were gone in a flash. Their lunch specials also look wonderful, at just $5-7 a person. I imagine we'll be back, possibly again as a post-clubbing snack. The only downfalls: 1) our water was not refilled quickly enough, although they did come by a couple times without prompting. 2) there seemed to be two tables shooting off racial comments at one another and it escalated into shouting and fighting gestures. It was rather uncomfortable, as we were less than ten feet away, but the employees made one table leave (albeit the more innocent table). Oh, and they don't split checks, but that's not the end of the world, as it's a fairly common practice out here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pizza in Downtown Mountain View

Jonathan was feeling like some pizza, so we headed into downtown for some. It was only our second outing for pizza since we've been here, which is kind of amazing when you think about it. I'd read about Kapp's Pizza Bar and Grill in my Frommer's, so we decided to try it out. One of the pies they recommended was the Wild West, a BBQ pizza. It had chicken, green peppers, onions, mozzarella, and cheddar with a bbq sauce instead of marinara. We didn't wait too long before it came out, and it was delicious. The chicken was very tasty and the bbq sauce was good and thick. The onions and peppers were cooked to the perfect degree, and the mixture of the cheeses made for a stringy and tasty topping. The best part was the crust... it definitely had the flavor and texture of a good Jersey crust, which excited me. We ordered a medium and took half of it home, so it was a pretty good deal. They have some neat booths, so we want to go back with some friends at a later point and try those out. The rest of the menu included pizzas, salads, typical appetizers (mozzarella sticks, potato skins, chicken wings, onion rings, fries, and poppers), a few calzones, three burgers and three pasta dishes, and a few sandwiches. Certainly an interesting array of options, but it seems odd to me to order non-pizza at a place with "pizza" in the name, LoL. It reminds me of that episode of Home Improvement where Brad and Randy are talking with Angela and her sister about what they order at a Chinese place... pizza and burritos!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Chinese New Year

Since our Chinatown in San Francisco is so large, and the Asian population in general is pretty big, it makes sense that the country's second-largest Chinese New Year Parade is in San Francisco. I've been looking forward to it for weeks, and it couldn't have really been a better time.

**warning -- this is a photo-heavy entry**

We took the Caltrain and the BART into San Francisco (I think I'll do a post on the public transit system soon) this afternoon, and headed from the Powell Street Station to Chinatown. For those familiar with that area of SF, the street fair covers California up to Broadway and Stockton to Grant. We walked several streets of the festivities, but there were a few others that we missed, in the interest of heading over to the parade route and finding a decent spot to stand (more on that later). There was an erhu player that was absolutely fabulous. I got a few pics, but I really should have taken a video to be able to encompass the beauty of the sound. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20. There were a few spin-to-win roulette games, but the lines were incredibly long. Of course, a few balloon vendors were handing out colorful balloons to the kids, there was a petting zoo, there was an inflatable playground, and they had a balloon sculptor making neat shapes. There were also a bunch of wok sales, and we came close to picking up another one (ours is sitting in FL). There were some neat gift items, including jade carvings, wood carvings, wall hangings, and Chinese pinwheels. We looked at two Chinese bakeries, but the lines were too long for us, so we moved along. I was mentioning that I was upset we didn't enter through the "main gate" of Chinatown, and we decided to head out toward the parade route. Well, lo and behold, we end up walking OUT through the gate, so I was able to snap a few pics.

We headed down toward Union Square Park, figuring that would be an excellent place to watch the parade since it goes completely around it. But, the place is closed off tightly (and it wasn't when we came into town, so they must have cleared it out just a short while before), with policemen not letting anyone through. So we found a decent spot to stand. We were across from the bleachers, so we knew it must be a good spot (the bleachers are sold $30/seat). We were about 3 people in from the street, and it was only about 4pm (the parade did not begin until 5:30). Jonathan suggested that he try and get a reservation at one of the restaurants that are on the nearby roofs. He headed off to see what he could find out and I held our spots. Turns out that the wait for a patio seat at the Cheesecake Factory on the top of Macy*s was about an hour, which would seat us when the parade began. So, we took it and proceeded to wander Macy*s for about 45 minutes. This is a BIG Macy*s, with seven stories of departments, and this was only for women... the Men's side was across the street! I checked out the coats, swimsuits, and shoes.

We were sat at exactly 5:30, and our waiter (Joe) was kind enough to switch us from a center patio table to an edge table, so there was just a wall of glass between us and the world below. The parade was wonderful. I had never watched a parade from an overhead view, it was quite stunning. We couldn't hear everything the marching bands (there were like eight different ones!) were playing, and we couldn't see the parade when it passed by the bleachers (since that was directly below us), but it was spectacular. We also had the opportunity to dine exquisitely at a restaurant that we don't normally go to, as it's quite pricey in Florida. For some reason, the prices here were on-par with those of a Chili's, although we did have to splurge the $7 to share a slice of the Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake. It was phenomenal: fudge cake, chocolate cheesecake, vanilla mascarpone mousse, and chocolate, with whipped cream and surrounded by chocolate and vanilla syrup piping.

Besides the bands, there were a bunch of float, sponsored mainly by banks and other corporations, including Southwestern Airlines. Nothing too extravagant, but lots of gold and lots of oxen. No balloons, which are always my big draw. The dancers were neat, especially those with ribbons, umbrellas, and flags. There were also a lot of fireworks, which were sparkly on the ground and gave off a lot of smoke. There were several dragons throughout the parade, made from different materials and different colors, including one that was over two hundred feet long. The lit-up one was my favorite.

In case anyone was curious about the rest of the meal, we had the Firecracker Salmon Rolls, which were spicy salmon rolled in spinach and dried in a wonton wrapper, served with a sweet chili sauce and cabbage (delicious sauce, the salmon was kinda overpriced otherwise). I had the Hot Turkey Supreme, which was humungous (I don't think I even ate half before having it boxed up). It was an open-faced sandwich served with fresh fries... it was brioche bread, turkey, spinach, tomato, and bacon, all covered in a white cheddar sauce. I loved it, and thought the cheddar cheese sauce was delicious. Jonathan had the Grilled Skirt Steak with mashed potatoes, corn, and onion strings. He quite enjoyed the steak (it was in a mushroom sauce, so I wasn't a big fan), and we both thought the mashed potatoes were amazing. The onion strings, notsomuch.

More photos here (http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2584057&l=9f9b7&id=5201298)

I also took a video of a small part, hopefully it'll work for you:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Sushi Buffet

Jonathan's colleague from Cape Canaveral, Li, was out in Sunnyvale for a week with some LM employees, and we were able to get together for dinner. We headed out to Cupertino to go to Todai, a sushi buffet. It's a nice place for being in the Vallco mall, near Sears and the AMC movie theater. It's set up like a Golden Corral, with the buffet being mostly along a counter that spans the back of the restaurant.

Aside from chicken teriyaki and some pork chops, almost every dish was seafood or sushi. There were some noodles and rice though. The sashimi only offered salmon and tuna, both of which were decent, but not the freshest/most flavorful. There were about twelve nigiri options, the ebi (shrimp) weren't the greatest, and the eel was not good. Tuna and salmon were good, and I believe Jonathan tried a few of the whitefishes without complaint. Now, there were probably twenty different rolls, ranging from your California to spicy tuna to a "fruity roll" which was crab with banana and kiwi. There was a spicy scallop salad roll, which tasted just like it sounds, and a chicken salad roll, which was a little like liver. None stick out too much in my mind, but that's okay since I chowed down on tuna sashimi. I also tried the Hawaiian Poke, but the tuna in that was too fatty to make up for the delicious marinade on the salad. The crispy calamari was among the most delicious I've ever had (and far more delectable than any I've tried off of a buffet), but the grilled calamari was rubbery - neither Jonathan nor I cared for it.

The dessert options were plentiful. Chocolate and vanilla soft serve, creme brulee, cream puffs, three types of cheesecake, chocolate cake, pumpkin pie, butter cookies, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, green tea cook, several gelatins, mango yogurt, and a few fruit tarts. Allegedly they have wonderful crepes, but we did not see any. The cookies were pretty bad (and hard), and the cake was a bit dry. Jonathan loved the creme brulee, and the cheesecakes would be enjoyed by those who like that particular pastry.

This little balloon guy to the right was sitting on the cashier's counter. I thought he was cute, and the cashier made a joke about it being his boss.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

two delicious meals and one 'eh' one

While we had every intention of eating home for the majority of the weekend (we have a lot of leftovers), it didn't really happen. We woke up on Friday morning craving Chinese, so we planned to go downtown for some that night. We planned on eating at home for lunch today, but the new vehicle called out to us, wanting us to drive it around some and use the new features, so we took it to Jack in the Box, LoL. We were really planning on eating leftovers for dinner when Kathy asked us to join her for dinner, and I hadn't met Kathy yet, so we did that. But on the plus side, now I have some more things to review for you!

At the suggestion of one of Jonathan's coworkers, Chris, we went to Hangen, a Szechuan restaurant on the outskirts of downtown. It was pretty dead for 8pm on a Friday night, but there were still about six or seven tables occupied. The food there is served family-style, and the menu is very extensive. We went with "family dinner B," (which is denoted as the "spicy" meal) which started us off with fried shrimp (very bready) and vegetarian eggrolls. They were served with a sweet and sour sauce that had a very spicy mustard, almost like a horseradish. The eggrolls were fried to perfection, and were pretty good for having no meat inside. We were then served a pot of Hot & Sour soup, which was ladeled into our bowls. Neither of us had previously tried this type of soup, and found it interesting. The tofu was pretty general (we're not fans), and the egg was tasteless. It was strange to have a sour taste to soup, but we enjoyed it and each had seconds. As for the "hot" part, it wasn't hot in a spicy sense. We then had the Hangen Beef and the Kung Pao Chicken. We chose Chicken Chow Mein instead of white rice. This was a decision I was a little afraid of at first (seeing as the meal was being billed as "spicy"), but it ended up being fabulous. While the chicken was a bit hotter than the beef, neither were that spicy to us (although we are a little "tougher" when it comes to spicy than the average mouth). The beef was flavored with basil and green onions, and was so very tender that it was fabulous. I thought that the chicken was a little "dark sweet" like a molasses, but Jonathan enjoyed it just fine. I fell in love with their chicken chow mein, which was a great combination of noodles, egg, chicken, and vegetables. We had chow mein and chicken left over (we gobbled up the beef), so we have those in the fridge, awaiting our chomping tomorrow. The meal ended with fresh fortune cookies and orange slices. It was very reasonably priced, and the lunch specials seem simply amazing. I can guarantee we'll be back. Oh, and even better: they are one of the few places around that actually deliver!!

Now for a sidebar... we had to take our Ford Escape in today to renew the contract on the rental for another month (which we need to do every month we're out here). Escape 1 needed an oil change, so we needed to get a new vehicle. We had a friendly customer service rep, and he hooked us up with another, still grey. We get out to Escape 2, and it's leather interior with chrome details. It also has Microsoft Sync, so Jonathan got it to recognize his cell and download the phonebook. We promptly gave his mom a call to try it out, and before we knew it we were on Shoreline, so we went to the Jack in the Box near Safeway.

Jack in the Box was our 'eh' meal. This time I ordered the Chicken Fajita Pita, and Jonathan got the Sirloin Sourdough Melt. I was very disappointed with mine, it was a soggy pita with a large leaf of lettuce, a few chunks of tomato, and chicken and cheese. The salsa it was served with was spicy but runny. Jonathan said that his was okay, he wouldn't get it again. When I had a bite of his, I thought it was too fatty.

Kathy took us to BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in Cupertino. It wasn't even fifteen minutes from our place, so it worked out quite well. The place was packed, and Kathy was surprised we were able to find parking and not have to valet. She had also called ahead and put us on the list at least half an hour before we got there, and there was another half hour wait when we arrived. Those who entered the same time were told a wait-time of an hour! We went to scope out the bar, and a table became available, so we grabbed it (very lucky!). Jonathan tried the Piranha Pale Ale, but I forgot to ask how he liked it. Kathy said pretty much everything was good there except the jambalaya (and I'm glad she told us that, since we're big into New Orleans cuisine and have high expectations in that area). She highly recommended the side salads, so Jonathan tried the caesar and I had the house with honey mustard. They were pretty good, and a good value for $2.95 each (salads and raw veggies are expensive out here if you haven't heard me mention that before). Jonathan and Kathy split a deep-dish pizza ("BJ's Favorite") with meatballs, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, olives, onions, and tomatoes. It also had a few bites of buffalo chicken for some reason, LoL. While he noted that it wasn't Uno's, it was still a good pizza. I was overwhelmed by the size of the menu, and although I wanted to try their pizza (it seems to be what they're known for), I decided to have something else since there was already pizza waiting in the fridge from the night before. So, I chose the Blackened Chicken Potato. Think McAlister's, but the potato wasn't as big. Toppings included blackened chicken breast strips, red peppers, green onions, jack and cheddar cheeses, and ALFREDO SAUCE. At first I was a bit skeptical, but the alfredo turned out to be a fantastic topping. As is the usual with a stuffed potato, I was only able to eat half of it (and thus added to the collection of leftovers in the fridge), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly, Kathy mentioned that there are very few places around that serve potatoes as a side. We had noticed this, but figured we just must be hitting places that didn't do potatoes. Me and my spud-loving self are kinda sad, and I'm not sure how to overcome the situation just yet. (We ran into a similar dilemma last weekend when there were no boxed mashed potatoes at Costco or Target.) Had we been hungrier, we would have gotten dessert. They have a giant cookie topped with ice cream (a Pizookie) that they're known for, but we'll have to get it another time. And although it was a delicious place to go, I don't know if I'd want to wait an hour. But if I can really just call ahead an hour early and waltz in, that'd be worth it. Oh, and if you were wondering, it was actually a very quiet restaurant when you consider the number of people in there and the set-up of the place.