Let me start by saying that I feel really unqualified to give a recommendation for a Mexican restaurant, given that so many of my co-workers are Mexican. Surely many of the people who are around to assist you during your stay with us should be able to point you in the direction of the kitchen that most resembles their grandmothers’. I am encouraged in my recommending (though, I must say, discouraged in a bigger-picture, life kind of a way) by the fact when I recently asked a native of Oaxaca who works at this hotel, and who I will not name even if he doesn’t think he needs to be protected, to recommend a good place to get a burrito, he tried to send me to Taco Bell. Really truly. I couldn’t make that up.
Though, thinking about it, Taco Bell is pretty much what I remember eating at my grandmother’s. Maybe he and I just have that in common.
Anyway, the Mexican restaurant that I like is called Pedro’s. And, really, since I may as well be honest, it’s all about the ambience. This is one beautiful restaurant. It’s open and spacious, hacienda style with tiled floors and beautiful wooden furniture. You leave Silicon Valley when you enter Pedro’s, and while my co-workers would be more qualified to tell you whether or not it’s Mexico you go to, for me it’s enough just to leave. So you sit, calmed already by all the unexpected space in the dining room. Then the margaritas start coming and this is even more calming. Plentiful chips and salsa abate your hunger. And then, eventually, the food comes. It’s really fine, this food. It fits exactly the description of “Mexican food” that I recognize. I don’t feel done with my search for the best burrito, but I will go to Pedro’s again and again in the mean time.
Once, when I was a little girl, someone took my mother to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Not a subtle woman, she came back with a report that it was like eating out of a baby’s diaper. In the years that followed, it never once occurred to me that that was an experience I needed to have for myself. In college I felt myself softening. There were a few Ethiopian restaurants in the area that my friends were always raving about. It was turning out that quite a few of the things my mother had told me over the years were not quite as absolutely etched-in-stone-true as she had led me to believe, and I was kind of into a bit of truth-seeking. I had gone so far as to make a date to eat at a place called The Blue Nile when a “friend” told me that the soft injera bread that is used in lieu of silverware, is actually tripe. (To digress quickly, it now seems so silly to say a thing like that. With google and iphones and all this access we have to information, a rumor like that could last for a half of a nanosecond in our modern life. But this was back in the days when you could still spread a nice little story.) The point is, I think I was 25 the first time I ate Ethiopian food. 25 long years before I discovered the fun of eating family style, with your hands, cooling your burning mouth with honey wine.
I recently took my sister to a place in San Jose called Zuni. She’s 24 and still entrenched in her process of unraveling our mother’s yarns. I like to help sometimes, when I can, and so, in that spirit, I told her we were going for Italian food. I was nervous because I had never been to this place before, it was a recommendation from a friend, and I knew the stakes were very high. As predicted, she was horrified when we arrived. I begged her to stay and she relented only when I promised we could go somewhere else afterwards if she found she couldn’t eat anything there. This, then, is a note of thanks to Zuni. My sister is a convert. I’ll spare you the details, the faces she made when the giant plate of injera covered with strange brown lumps came out. The way she pretended she wasn’t enjoying it until she realized she wasn’t going to get to keep eating unless she confessed. Beautiful Eithiopian food, done very nicely at Zuni, and she and I are just a little bit more free.
When I was 21, a very lucky and spoiled little girl, I spent 3 weeks on a beach in Thailand with the most exciting man I had met thus far in my life. My mind is a little hazy on the subject, the idyllic part of a relationship that did not end well, but something I do remember is that some parts of the menus in all the restaurants we went into were translated into English, and some parts were not. Too spicy for anyone who couldn’t read it, we were told. My traveling companion, a young man wanting to play with extremes, was constantly incensed. Over and over he tried to convince waiters to bring him something they thought he couldn’t handle, just to try, and over and over again he was refused. Me, I was already sweating over what they would let us have. I trusted the wisdom of these places that, if nothing else, understood the average tourist’s palate.
Besides shameless bragging, I guess there are two points to telling this story. One is to say that I am not without bias on the subject of Thailand, Thai food, or Thai anything. The other is to show that my taste for/ability to deal with spice is in the average range. And all that is just to tell you that my brother took me to a Thai restaurant the other day, Thai Pepper it’s called, that I found endlessly pleasing. I had a pork salad with mint. Not super easy to eat, for me with my average spice capabilities, but very rewarding. It was a fun little adventure for my mouth, without any sense that my strength or will were being tested. All the flavors, like mint, onion, and lime, got to stand tall and proud, instead of getting dwarfed by the chili. Together with the swirly nostalgia of being someplace that kind of really looked and smelled like Thailand, I was a very happy girl. Perhaps this is a bit too personal and specific to be a very good recommendation, but, anyway, it’s a rave review!
The Willow Street Café is my brother’s favorite kind of restaurant. It surprised me to hear this because it is so far from mine. Not that it isn’t a good place to eat. It is good. Everyone that we were with enjoyed everything that they ate. My chicken was cooked perfectly and tasted exactly the way I expected it to taste. I’ve eaten a lot of other chickens that tasted exactly the same as this one, so I knew I would like it. It’s the kind of place where you already know what a thing will be like when you order it, so all you have to do is decide whether you feel like eating, for example, a big salad or a chicken dinner. This is fine with me; it’s an easy place to go with a group of people. It’s even the kind of place I would gladly agree to, and maybe even suggest, if I were super hungry and just wanted to be someplace I could trust to feed me. But it would never occur to me to call it a favorite.
But here I’ve just exposed a part of myself that I should maybe not feel so proud of. I get deeper into my 30s every moment and yet I’m still stuck with an adolescent need for cool and exciting. I might truly love the Willow Street Café, but if you ask for my favorite dining experience, I’m going to try to impress you with a story of some vegan-organic-raw-Eritrean-Burmese fusion cuisine that was so spicy I had to go to the emergency room, but boy was it ever a memorable night. My brother, however, will just say that he loves the Willow Street Café. The food will always be good, you will always be able to find things for everyone to like on the menu. It makes me think that my brother will get to be truly happy in his life, while I keep chasing cool.
Some time ago I wrote to you about a Persian restaurant that I really liked to go to. This was, for a long time, the place that I would go when I wanted to have Persian food and I told you nice things about it because there are nice things to say about it. But last weekend they made a big mistake and if you’ve noticed that I’m not naming my former favorite Persian restaurant, it’s because I probably won’t be going back there. No, I didn’t get food poisoning or bad service. There were no stray hairs or roaches in my food. The thing is, I went there on a night when they were booked out for a private party. Disappointed, I asked the hostess to recommend another Persian restaurant and she told me about Yas. I think that she should probably stop telling her customers about Yas.
Before I went to Yas I think I didn’t understand how soft rice could be. It’s light and pillowy there and I instantly knew that this was the way rice was always meant to be. Plus mine had sour cherries in it. It tasted the way donuts smell, to me. I don’t know that my experience of feeling like donuts don’t taste as good as they smell is universal, but, again for me, this was the taste I’ve been looking for in vain in donut shops for all these years. And all this is just about the rice! My chicken was excellent too, my stepmother’s lamb was perfect and my father’s vegetarian kebabs were, he said, the best he had ever had. Plus the waitress was above average nice. And also the restaurant itself is cozy, comfortable and full of sunlight. This is a place to go back to over and over again. A new favorite, and though I’m sorry to lose the old one, now that I know more about what Persian food can be, I just don’t see myself going backward.
My understanding of Afghanistan is that it is not an easy place to live. The climate and geography define harsh, or so I’ve read in books, seen in photos. You and I would not survive a night in the mountains of Afghanistan without some serious assistance, and even with help it would be difficult. Assuming that you, my reader, are not a highly trained, experienced mountaineer, that is.
People live there, though. Thrive, even. Over time they’ve adapted to their surroundings and know how to take care of themselves in a place where Mother Earth seems more like an angry dictator than a loving provider.
One thing I know, not from a book but from actual experience, is that a part of Afghan culture is a robust and hearty diet. I learned this at Kabul, the neighborhood Afghan restaurant. This is food for mountain men, warriors. Huge portions of meat and rice, no frills. I go there when I feel battered and need to regain my strength. After a long flight, followed by a full workday, for example. Can anyone out there relate? If so, give Kabul a try.
I would like to announce a new diet craze. Or, rather, I would like to try to spark a new diet craze. Meaning that I would like to be responsible for a moment of pop-culture hysteria and I have a good idea about something that has not yet been exploited. Ok, ready? Vietnamese food! Specifically those bowls, bun is what they’re called, heaped with cold rice noodles, salad greens, mint, carrots and cucumber with your choice of grilled meat on top. Sauce always served on the side. It’s a healthy, complete meal, low in fat and fun to eat. It’s wheat free, for those that are into the gluten intolerance thing, dairy free for the lactose intolerant. It’s culturally exotic, but simple and non-threatening. I think it has all it needs to become a real trendy item, like when all the super skinny actresses were saying that they weren’t on diets, they just ate a lot of Japanese food. Speaking of which, I do need a celebrity or two to really get this thing going.
However, as I have not yet found my celebrity, I’m starting with you. All you have to do, when you’re here staying with us, is take a little stroll down the street to a place called Pho Saigon. The fluorescent lighting is a bit off-putting, I know, and I’m sorry for that, but the food is the exact example of simple and clean that I think can become a very strong fad. Plus, everyday at lunchtime, the place is packed with Vietnamese people, which is not a bad sign of authenticity and means that I’m actually encouraging you to have a genuine multicultural experience. So, head on over there, eat, enjoy, and then tell all your friends how good it makes you feel. The best, actually, would be if you would go every day for a week or two, and then start reporting your feelings of clear energy and general well-being. And if you were to drop a couple of pounds, well, that, also, would be very good indeed.
Do me a favor, though, if you’re going to be doing this with me, lay off the pizza and French fries and donuts and stuff. You will only do harm to my movement.
In Amarillo, Texas, there’s a place that serves a 72 oz steak and says that if you, one person alone, can eat this steak, and the salad and baked potato it’s served with, in one hour, you can have it all for free. I had heard rumors about this place from my brother, but now I know it’s true because I’ve driven through New Mexico and seen billboards that promise exactly that.
Last night I went to a restaurant in Saratoga called The Basin. The woman sitting behind me was served something that was, at first, kind of difficult to recognize. (If my family is the only one in the world that looks around at other people’s food in restaurants, then we sincerely apologize and promise to never dine out again. Somehow, though, I think maybe other people do it too.) So, anyway, she had this big thing on her plate that kind of looked like an entire meatloaf, but clearly wasn’t, and we were all looking and guessing, and it took quite a while for us to figure out that it was, actually, a steak. It was the largest steak I have ever seen in my life. Maybe it wasn’t 72 oz, but it was about the size of a paperback copy of War and Peace. My stepdad was excited and gleefully ordered one of his very own, but neither he nor the woman sitting behind me did much serious damage to their respective dinners. Each, in fact, ate about a normal steak size portion and had as much and more to save for the next day’s lunch.
Here, then, is my challenge to you: Finish this steak, plus all the broccoli and potatoes that come with it, and I’ll buy you as many drinks as you can take in two hours. You’ll have to take a witness, but the menu is full of amazing, delicious things and it will not be a chore to find someone who will go with you. And you’ll have to take photos of your plate, before and after. When I get one email with photos and one email from your witness, I’ll meet you, and your friend, too, down in our lounge at cocktail hour and for two full hours, whatever you and your friend drink will be my treat. Happy eating!
For me, the best thing about having lunch or dinner at Il Postal, is doing it as someone coming from this hotel. Of all the relationships that we, as a business, have with other businesses in the area, this is among, if not the, most genuine. Our dear general manager has been known to call her Il Postal counterpart at odd hours of the night with, for example, a desperate request for several pans of bread pudding, ASAP, and has found herself met with the accommodating kindness she does not deserve in such circumstances. Said Il Postal manager, for his part, has been known to call our sales manager on occasion when he’s looking for someone to have a beer with. I would not think the word friendship would be inappropriate, even. And those relationships are ours to take advantage of! Try it out for yourself! Go into Il Postal and tell them you’re our guest, and then pay attention to the difference between the service you get and the service all the other diners are getting. Not that anyone else is being treated badly, but we all know what it is to get special treatment. It feels nice, especially when you’re away from home and finding your comfort is not as easy.
Il Postal, as you may have gotten from its name, is an Italian restaurant. The food is excellent, the space small and elegant. In the summer there’s a sunny patio to sit on. You would want to go here anyway, I assure you, it just happens to come with the extra added bonus of unearned friendship and preferential treatment.
My sister grew up with an instinctive aversion to a restaurant called By Th’ Bucket. Instinctive, meaning that she hated it without ever having been there. Never, never would she agree to go, and a youngest sibling’s refusal can be a treacherous thing to try to overcome. Which is such a shame because, in fact, it’s the perfect place for a family to go for dinner. The menu is enormous and includes everything that, to me, is normal American cuisine, with an Italian bent. Steaks, fish, chicken, lots of pasta, pizza, big salads. What makes it worth recommending is that, for all the many, many different things you can order, you can’t get anything bad. The place gets zero points for originality, but I think you can’t find a better standard, hearty meal in the area.
We won my sister over, finally, by tricking her. We started getting take-out, but salads only. Enormous Greek salads with all her favorite stuff: feta cheese, Kalamata olives, hummus, grilled chicken. We said they came from “the salad place,” and waited until she started being the one to suggest “the salad place”. Once we were sure she was a proper fan, we let her in on the true identity of the mysterious “place”. She was very confused for a bit, trying to maintain her position of hatred in spite of evidence to the contrary. It could never last. Just a few weeks ago, I watched her go three days in a row.