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!
For years people have been telling me that I should write to you about Birk’s. So much so that I thought I already had, though I can’t find it anywhere, which makes it kind of seem like I only ever just meant to get around to it someday. The thing is that if I did write about it, it would probably not have been very convincing because I don’t personally get why people like it so much. People love it. My family loves it, my co-workers love it, my friends love it. And I’ve just never really understood why. I have not eaten anything there that can I even remember, and I don’t find the atmosphere to be anything beyond the absolute average large room where people in work clothes can come and pay too much to eat and drink very normal food.
Recently, however, my brother gave me a very impassioned speech about the pepper steak at Birk’s. It’s like a religious experience for him, something he saves for very special occasions when he really deserves the best that life has to offer. And then I understood what’s been so inexplicable all this time. The thing is, I don’t remember the last time I ate a steak, and the last time I enjoyed one was long before that even. Birk’s is a place for steak lovers, of which I am not one. But maybe you are, in which case this is very exciting information that I’ve been accidentally withholding from you for a very very long time. Sorry for that!
This month I’m going to use this space, normally reserved for talking about restaurants, to tell you about something that’s on the same subject, but a little different: A grocery store! Now, I know that when you’re here with us you are most likely eating all of your meals out. You have no place to prepare food, and, in all likelihood, no time for it anyway. I know. Still, at least for me, when I’m traveling, the thing I end up hating the most is all the garbage I pull out of vending machines or pick up at gas stations, simply for lack of the fresh fruit or carrots or raw (as opposed to soaked in oil, salt and whatever other super trendy flavors) nuts I would have around me if I were in my normal routine. It is with this in mind that I’m telling you about Sprouts. It’s very nearby and it’s a beautiful, healthy grocery store full of organic produce, big, bulk tubs of nuts and sweets, fresh, locally made bread, plus a huge selection of herbal remedies, if that’s your cup of tea.
We’d all like to take better care of ourselves, I think. Travel, especially business travel, can make that really hard. Maybe Sprouts can help a bit.
I stayed away from Dish Dash for a very long time. It was over a year that my mom tried to convince me to eat there and I resisted, always thinking of some very specific reason why I wanted to go somewhere else instead. I invented so many particular cravings, she must have thought I was pregnant. The problem, for me, was the name. She swore it was the best Mediterranean restaurant she knew of, but I combined what I know of her love for greasy nastiness with that name and did not come up with a pretty picture.
To digress for just a moment, I think I should start alternating, every other month telling you all about awful restaurants to stay away from at all cost. Remembering my mother’s love for a place called The Mini Gourmet, in all its dreadful, oily mediocrity, is sparking this idea. If one of you somehow met my mom, you could end up The Mini Gourmet, and, man, I should do what I can to protect you from that.
Ok, but this time I was wrong. Sure, the name makes it sound like you’ll be eating suspicious gyro meat out of a Styrofoam container, but it’s actually kind of an elegant little place. The food is fresh and delicately spiced. I had a great experience there, made all the sweeter by surprise.
And now, while you all check Dish Dash out, I’m going to start considering my anti-recommendation project. In the mean time, stay away from my mother.
Normally when I write to you about a chain, I’m very apologetic. I do what I can to justify myself, feeling guilty for trying to send you to anything but quaintly charming local haunts. This month is a little different. This month I’m going to tell you about a blossoming little chain that I hope continues on to take over the world. It’s called Pluto’s and it’s been quietly spreading itself around Northern California for the last several years.
So, how am I going to explain singing the praises of the kind of place that’s opening up identical restaurants in as many cities as will give it leases, stretching whatever soul it started with to its utmost limits? Well, I am going to start by saying that I am a modern girl and I have a desire for fast food in my life. The ultra-casual ease is so appealing to my busy American lifestyle that I sometimes overlook the ridiculously fatty, salty, over-processed side of that oh-so-cheap and available burger. Pluto’s makes that compromise unnecessary.
At Pluto’s, in the time, for the price and with the ease of any of the monster chains that come to mind, you can have a fresh salad bursting with seasonal vegetable and fruits, a hand-carved roast turkey sandwich on fresh baked bread, or a plate of roast beef with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Plus they’ve got a really fun space theme. If Pluto’s manages to infiltrate every nook and cranny of this country, the results will only be good. Give it a try, I bet you’ll agree.