If you travel a lot for business, and chances are if you’re reading this you do, then it’s also pretty likely that you eat out way more than you want to. And if all this is true then maybe you feel a bit like I do about mealtimes: Bored.
When I was growing up, eating in a restaurant was exciting. We barely ever got to do it, so it was always a treat. Plus it was generally linked with some kind of event, like a birthday or a guest, which made even another layer of special around it. Now, though, it’s just something I do because my life is too instable for cooking and, as a result, restaurants can kind of lose their charm. Is anyone relating to this?
A couple of weeks ago, though, I went with my sister to a place called The Basin for her birthday, and, suddenly, there was that feeling of being in a special place that I hadn’t had for kind of a while. At first glance The Basin is a pretty average “nice” restaurant. It’s on the main drag in Saratoga, serves pretty food on pretty plates and is priced just a bit higher than actually seems fair. But watch out for the details! There is, for example, a pretty huge tree that got built around and so sits in the middle of a dining room. The wait staff is not just generically friendly, but even eccentrically charming. Plus they had my favorite French wine, which may not excite you, but what if they have yours too? All in all, the night felt surprisingly exceptional. I don’t want to go every week and ruin it, but my own birthday is coming soon enough and The Basin might just be the place. What occasion will you save it for?
And finally, after what seems like years and years of resistance, I’ve capitulated. I’m watching Mad Men. It’s pretty entertaining, for sure, but, seriously, how much of that is an exaggeration? Sexual harassment and gender politics aside, can we talk about the drinking? Not that I hadn’t heard of martini lunches before, my own father says they used to be a regular part of his life, but somehow I always assumed that that maybe happened once a year or something. What I’m learning from Mad Men is that it’s possible that not only was my father not overstating anything, but that it’s maybe even also possible that his version of business practice was of the small town variety.
It’s different now. Being intoxicated at work is not nearly so acceptable these days. We eat sandwiches for lunch and wash it down with a bottle of water, or a nice, fresh carrot beet juice. We feel clear when we go back to the office, ready for many more hours of work. But what if we long for a little midday indulgence? Well, not so long ago my brother took me to a little place that is maybe what we need. It’s called Rose International Market and what it basically is, is a Middle Eastern grocery store. I know that doesn’t sound so good, but hear me out. This little grocery store, tucked away on a quiet Sunnyvale street, is grilling meat to order. You can get it on a plate or in a sandwich. All versions come with a variety of fresh herbs, and all the seating is outdoors. Maybe this is it, maybe this is modern decadence. This is clean, fresh, delicious food, not bogged down by the guilt of oil, fat or sugar, eaten under the clear California sky. You can come here and feel removed, you can relax completely in your lunch hour. It may even be more fun than drinking three martinis and spending the rest of the day trying not to fall asleep or embarrass yourself.
Have you ever been to a Thai restaurant that, for some reason, has a sushi menu? How about a Vietnamese place where you can get a hamburger? I once went to a Chinese restaurant where you could also order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am always suspicious of these places. I just don’t believe that a place can authentically represent two different cultures at the same time, and that opinion is generally supported by the generically greasy fare I am served in them. Normally I forgive places like this for two reasons: They are typically very cheap, first. And, second, I will mostly find myself in one only when there is no real other option.
A couple of years ago a bizarre little restaurant showed up in the neighborhood. Its name was Arya and it purported to serve Persian, Italian and American food. As we are surrounded by good food here and as nothing about this place suggested that it would be inexpensive, I assumed that the only relationship I would ever have to it would be to laugh at it when I passed, and for a long time this was true.
Then, a few months ago, they changed their sign. It now refers to itself as a “bar and grill”. They can’t fool me, I thought, it’s still the same culturally uncertain place it always was. It worked on our general manager, though, and she went even though we laughed at her for it. But she came back with stories of delicately balanced sweet and savory rice dishes and a very talented Persian chef with an unstoppable love for Italian cuisine, and demanded that it be written about here.
I went with my heels dragging, but I’m writing to you as a convert. I am sorry for being a judgemental ass. I’m sorry for all the other ways that I am judgemental in my life. I feel a little bit better because I know that they changed their sign because it was putting everyone, not just me, off, but, still. So, go, please, and help atone for my sins.
If someone told you that, starting today, you had to pick one restaurant and this would be the only place you could eat at for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Careful, though, this should not necessarily be your favorite restaurant, at least in my opinion. My most beloved place to eat out, for example, is The Citrus Club, a little pan-Asian spot in San Francisco. But the last time I was there my noodles were overcooked and mushy and every now and then the tofu tastes like they fry up a huge pile one day out of the week and it’s too bad for you if you’re there the day before that day. Plus the spices give me a stomachache that, because I only go once in a while, seems really worth it, but if I were forced to eat there everyday might get tiresome. I still love it, it’s still my favorite, but it needs to stay special. Do you get what I’m saying?
Of course, the reason I’m asking this question is that I have my own answer prepared. I recently went to a place called Café Torre that was ideal. Not exciting, not wondrous, but pristine. I’ve never had everything on my plate cooked so perfectly before, ever, not in any other restaurant, not in anyone’s home including my own, never. Ditto the dishes of everyone else at my table. Each of our plates carried the textbook definition of the food we had ordered. Not only did I enjoy it immensely, but I believe that, if I only get to eat from one source for the rest of my days, it’s going to be just this lack of idiosyncrasy that’s going to get me through it. Go check it out for yourself and see if you agree.
It’s possibly a complete waste of my time, your time and this space to tell you about a place to go for breakfast. Our morning buffet, after all, is fresh and bountiful. Not to mention free! Still, if a group of your coworkers who, for some reason, were not guests of ours, wanted to meet for breakfast, you might, rightly, feel like it was inappropriate to invite them all to come dine at our place. What then?
The answer, as I see it, is Stacks in Campbell. Now, let’s be clear, this is not a story about the greatest breakfast spot you or I have ever been to. If anything, it’s more to say that the Silicon Valley has been blessed in many ways, but no place can be perfect and we do not yet have a place to go for a truly, truly great weekend brunch. As we discussed, though, sometimes life demands breakfast out and now, thanks to me, you’ll have a place to go around here. And it’s not that it’s bad; they’ve got decent omelets, nice people work there, they aren’t stingy with the coffee. It’s a pleasant place to be. It’s just too bad that being not bad is as good as it gets in these parts.
I’m sorry if this seems like a blatant advertisement for our own comparatively stellar breakfast buffet. I swear it wasn’t my intention, but, yeah, as I get to the end of this, I’m remembering the lushness of our daily spread. Lucky us!
When I was growing up, my mother and I had our hair cut by a man named Allen, who, I think it’s fair to say, was insane. Every six weeks I listened to him talk too fast about aliens and government spies, trying as hard as I could to will his scissors away from my head, but to no avail. And so I, the shiest girl in the class, wore way-too-radical bobs, with tails and asymmetrical lines, through a lot of my delicate years because this man thought he should take it upon himself to see that I was a non-conformist and my mother thought that that was a funny project. Sometimes being a child sucked.
There was one good part about that inescapable Willow Glen appointment, though: When it was over we got to get lunch next door at La Villa Delicatessen. This is a classic Italian deli, the kind that’s half a place you can sit and eat lunch in and half a specialty grocery store. I would get lasagna, the absolute favorite food of my childhood, and delight in the drastic shift in my circumstances.
Now when I go, I go for an overstuffed sub on a fresh sourdough roll and realize that, in some ways, it’s kind of an unremarkable place, because it’s just like all the others that are like it. But there aren’t so many delis like this anymore and it’s good to know where to find the ones that are left. Plus, it’s on a pretty, tree-lined street full of fun shops and there’s sidewalk seating. I’ll never not go there, and maybe you’d like to go there someday too.
The son of a friend of mine recently had an accident. The shower door somehow shattered, shooting shards of broken glass at his naked body at very close range. He’s young and was very scared, but got comfortable when the ambulance arrived because one of the paramedics not only also worked at the little boy’s school, but was the father of one of his playmates too.
That is a small town story, an old-timey story. Most of us these days live in the suburbs and our schoolteachers do not volunteer to drive ambulances at night. Even if we try very hard to stay away from corporate chains and keep very dedicated to the communities that we build, everything around seems to get cleaner and less personal each day.
And so I want to tell you to go to the Golden Mushroom Pizzeria because it’s one little bit of small town charm in the kind of overwhelming suburban sprawl that is the Silicon Valley. I personally feel connected to it because my sister went to school with the owner’s son. You, who are unconnected, can love it because it’s old and dive-y and you can get pitchers of beer for cheap. The pizza is greasy and super delicious when the owner is there. It falls off a little when he’s not around to watch, but order another pitcher and you’ll get over it. This place is old-school, the kind of place Round Table is pretending to be, and maybe once was.
I feel like every year at this time I write some version of this same thing: The weather in the Silicon Valley is close to ideal, most especially in these weeks just before it’s officially summer. We are, right now, in the sweet spot of the bright, easy California sun. Sitting outside is a carefree experience; there’s never a chill in the wind, we know nothing about humidity, the temperature stays just short of hot, we don’t even have mosquitoes. Why, then, is it so impossible to find a nice place to sit outside and eat?
And, as every other time I’ve complained about this aggravating cultural paradox, it’s because I’ve got my current favorite solution to recommend to you! This year it’s a place in Los Gatos called The Wine Cellar. Don’t let the word cellar throw you off, this is one of the nicest places to enjoy both the temperate clime and the sometimes overlooked fact that the word valley in Silicon Valley means that we’re surrounded by mountains. Plus, as you might have guessed from the name, their wine list is even more impressive than our own bar’s, though you will have to pay. This is the place to go for the California experience that so many movies have promised you.
This month I want to tell you about a restaurant that you have to hurry up and go to. And, no, I don’t mean because it’s so good that you shouldn’t deny yourself the pleasure any longer than you already have. It’s because this restaurant, the Taverna Bistro, is in a very precious and fragile state that it certainly cannot stay in forever and my recommendation is that you check it out before its inevitable shift. It’s brand new, you see, still finding a rhythm to live in. Meaning, I guess you could say, that for now it’s kind of offbeat.
My best example concerns the bar. It’s a huge full bar, taking up a good quarter of the dining room, fully stocked with top shelf liquor and, it seems, a dutiful bartender standing behind it. But when we ordered our drinks, a woman in jeans came out of the kitchen to ask my stepdad how to make a martini. Not how he liked it, how to make it. The drinks themselves appeared out of the kitchen, the woman behind the bar having not so much as shifted her stance.
The reason I know it’ll change is that the food is so good. It’s Turkish, real authentic, like-mom-used-to-make Turkish, which, trust me, I have from a very reliable, if slightly too cowardly to let herself be named, source. You can go now to the Taverna Bistro and sit alone, your water glass refilled after every sip, and eat stuffed grape leaves that will make you cry. Sure, you might have to teach them how to make the cocktail you want to sip with your meal, but we’ll all be longing for these days in a few short months when we’re being told that the wait will be at least an hour.
I should have known something special was happening at Opa, the Greek restaurant in Los Gatos that people have been telling me to try for the last year or so, because every time I tried to have dinner there, it’s been too busy to get in. Not that I’ve made such a super special effort. I could have, for example, made reservations. But I’m the kind of person that reads a crowd like one of those signs on the back of a school bus: “Keep back 200 ft,” and, so, rather than thinking that a wonderful culinary experience awaited me, I assumed that this was just the latest trendy spot and that I may as well wait until its moment passed before eating what was sure to be a mediocre meal there.
I guess, if you take the long view, the fact that I will get to have this as my favorite restaurant for many many years to come will, in the end, way outshine the year I spent missing out on it. Right now, though, I admit I’m a little concerned about all the wonderful meals I missed in the last year. Surely by the 50th or 60th time, that feeling will pass. Friends, let me say this clearly, this is the best restaurant in the Silicon Valley. Does that sound like a crazy thing to say? Go see for yourself. I will not try to describe it, just go. If you don’t like it, consider seeing a doctor, as something may be wrong with you.
A tip, though: that dinner rush is no joke. If you can go at lunchtime, do it. Otherwise, don’t even think about it without a reservation. The next time I go will probably be for the weekend brunch. I have no idea what baklava waffles might be, but I will soon!