Monday, September 15

Belcampo Meat Company - Palo Alto

In this modern day, meat in your grocery store is proverbial to the stork delivering newborn babies on your doorsteps. It remains mostly unknown to consumers how the cattle were raised and slaughtered before it arrived in your local grocery fridge ready for purchase. Regardless, it’s there and you still need to make that pot roast tonight. One California based meat company dares to go back to basics to provide the much needed transparency into how their quality meat products arrive at their butcher shop. As a vertically integrated company based in Larkspur, CA, Belcampo Meat Company owns ranches, slaughter facilities, meat processing plants, as well as butchers and eateries.  In essence, they grow and slaughter their own cattle, then age the meat in their own plants, and lastly have their own butchers cut it for you. Through the invitation of Belcampo’s PR firm, I visited their newest location in Palo Alto at Towne and Country Village to see the butcher counter and eatery. Towne and Country Village itself has the design of a quaint small town plaza with strips of tile roofed businesses. The shops seem like boutiques and the restaurants like they are mom and pop owned even if it is a chain. In the farthest corner of this plaza sits a small butcher shop with décor reminiscent of the 1950’s, an era where people actually did need butcher shops.

Pristine white tile walls are interrupted only by brown butcher paper and a diagram illustrating that sustainably raised, grass fed, organic meat goes into their product. On the left side, a tall butcher works behind a glass display case full of fresh red meats, organized in sections by beef, goat, lamb, pork and labeled by cut.

I was greeted by the store manager who walked me through the different offerings of the butcher section and gave me a background on the company's mission. Then we arrived at the ordering window where the good stuff truly starts. I ordered the following delicacies.

($3.50) Cup of Posole pork stew with hominy and dried chiles.  
I thought this soup tasted good. The flavors were balanced and hominy is a good soup choice. However, I didn't find it filling or spectacular. I would not get it again only in favor of trying other menu options instead.

($5) Braised lamb belly bun with arugula, caramelized onions, spiced yogurt and feta cheese.
I thought this was a very good preparation of lamb. Just a faint hint of that lamb taste and not enough to be considered gameyness which most people dislike about lamb. Very flavorful seasoning and just the right portion size for a lamb sandwich.

($12) Philly cheesesteak with peppers, onions, and house cheese sauce
Philly cheesesteak is one of Phil's favorite sandwiches, perhaps because his name is in it? I too would love a Ngocwich if one existed. He was very satisfied with this cheesesteak. Although we both think $12 is a bit much for a philly. What do you think?

($6) Spiced broccolini in a flash fried manner with chiles and a touch of lemon.
As a vegetable lover, these are hands down the best way I've tasted broccolini. My guess is that it's flash fried only because it's crispy all around and not burnt. Seems different than sauteeing it. The chili and lemon combo is simple and genius. This was to die for!

($3.50) Cup of bone broth on the left side. Bone broth is made from boiling down many different types of bones and then finished off with some vinegar at the end. Belcampo sells them in large frozen tubs, or by the cup for immediate consumption. Bone broth has been a health rage lately. All I can find online about it is that there are health benefits for babies and for your skin, yet the store manager tells me it isn't just mothers and expectant mothers who consume it. They get customers of all types for this item. 
It tastes really clean and nutritious, exactly as expected from the steps described to make it. I did taste the vinegary finish at the end but it was not over powering. I would definitely have bone broth again as a healthy side or palette cleanser. I would make it Asian style by tossing in chopped green onions and cilantro.

The Towne and Country Plaza in Palo Alto is a cozy and bustling area. Great for getting the offerings of a small town with bigger city people watching. Belcampo's company mission and vertical integration is something to be applauded. It can't be cheap to operate everything within the same company. I trust that the butcher knows what he's doing, I trust the store manager understands the company's values and her store's products. In terms of the butchery, I would definitely come back for squab, grass fed beef steaks, and a frozen tub of that bone broth.

The prices are not cheap and you should understand why before you come in. You're there for the experience, to chat with the butcher about the meat and how to best prepare it. You are not there to pick up a Saran wrapped styrofoam plate of ground beef from a fluorescent lit store. I would reserve a trip to the Belcampo butcher for nights where your in laws are coming over for dinner and you need to impress them with a perfectly prepared lamb chop. Or for when the dreaded time comes that you need to entertain an important manager from work.

On the other hand, I would gladly come back to the eatery for lunch any time. I thought $5 for a lamb slider was decently priced because it's lamb. The Philly cheesesteak is a bit high priced. So is the broccolini but that vegetable prepared in that manner is so worth it. For price sensitive folks, I think you can get a decent meal by ordering a combination of soups, sliders, or sandwiches. It's cooked on the spot and comes out piping hot.

Belcampo on Yelp

Thursday, August 7

The Big Water Grille - Tahoe

As I write this post, I realize I just recommended this place to someone going to Tahoe and I called it Big River Grille which is actually a place in Reno. I am not keen on the name and the signage of this establishment yet it is a more upscale restaurant in Incline Village. 

Pilsner served in a glass with it's own name? Cool. 
On the right is a disappointing virgin strawberry daquiri. It tasted like a strawberry smoothie, which is fine except there's no element of mocktail in that. Since I don't drink anymore, I've been struggling with the non-alcoholic drink options many bar and restaurants offer. This makes me appreciate Paper Plane so much more. It's so disheartening to not drink but want to hang out with your friends who do drink, and then go to a bar with them only to find your only options are soda, juice, or sometimes if you're lucky, a virgin mojito.

It seems so bare to write a post about just two entrees and no appetizers. With entrees like these, one does not need an appetizer.

($32) Cast Iron Duck Breast in poultry jus with farros and grilled belgian endive and celery root puree
The duck breast was moist and salty (there is no way to use those two words without a sexual overtone, is there?) Anyway, they're tender, juicy, savory. The poultry skin, oh the crispy poultry skin. That's my favorite part of the bird when it's cooked just right. The celery root puree was amazing with a smooth consistency. When braised this way, the belgian endives taste more like the stems of romaine lettuce but maybe that's ok for a side character in the dish. The jus was a tad on the salty side. It was the farro that was the weaker link of this otherwise fantastic dish. While farro doesn't taste exactly like barley, it has that heavy feel in your mouth. Not literal weight-heavy, not bread and pasta carbs-heavy, but heavy in the sense that you need to do more chewing than you care to for a little grain and then you won't want to chew anything else after. Fluffy wild rice with much less jus in this dish would have been good. Something you can grab a forkful of and still want to eat other items from the plate.

(price unknown) Chef's special pasta of the day. Pesto pasta with longaniza sausage.
The appearance of this dish is so simple and comforting it's deceptive of the taste and quality. The pesto, rather than being a processed collection of herbs, nuts, and oils, is a finely chopped version. Making pesto sauce at home is deterred by the thought of having to clean out a food processor and this dish changed my mind. Even with the chopped pieces, the pesto sauce was still extremely flavorful and fragrant. I am so inspired to make more pesto at home with just my knife and a cutting board. The longaniza sausages were rich and savory, a slight kick to them, and not dripping with fats. This dish may not fan out as nicely like the duck breast looks but read my words, the chef's special pasta of the day was out the park the clear winner of an already top notch meal.

The ambiance here is picturesque. The restaurant sits atop a hill but not too high where you're overwhelmed by windy cliffside roads to get here. Inside, there are huge windows overlooking trees and a Tahoe-esque landscape. We were lucky enough to be seated next to a window. While the service is attentive, it was at times slightly overbearing and then at other times, a bit neglectful. It took a long time to be served bread but we were asked about our drinks a few times. Overall, nothing to complain on Yelp about though. The food, well, all the above paragraphs have spoken for themselves. It's wonderful. The price is expensive but hey, I only have a birthday every year right? Splurge.

Monday, August 4

Whole Foods Product Samples for the Summer

Summer is almost over so you better go to Whole Foods now to try some of these new products. Whole Foods Campbell gave me another package of goodies to try and these were unbelievably fresh. In the package were a bag of rainier cherries, dark red cherries, Seka Hills Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar, and a healthy piece of Wild King Salmon. It all came in a great insulated Whole Foods shopping bag too. This will definitely come in handy later.

I decided to use the balsamic vinegar and salmon in one recipe to make balsamic and dijon glazed salmon. I used a very rough interpretation of this recipe from the Food Network website. Basically I cut the filet in half for two servings, salt and peppered both sides of the salmon, then in a bowl prepared the dressing by eyeballing amounts of balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil. I tasted to make sure it was balanced and not too much of one taste. In my experience, balsamic tends to reduce into a sweeter flavor so I had honey on the side but was prepared not to use it depending on how the glaze turned out.

On high heat, I seared both sides of the salmon then turned the heat to medium and spooned on half the amount of the glaze. I let it cook on this side for a few minutes and flipped it over for the other side and spooned on the other half of the glaze. When it was done, I was ok with how the glaze turned out so I didn't use honey. I'm not a fan of sweet fish, which is what I'm imagining using honey would do. You do you though, boos! You do you!

Last year, I bought a bunch of green onions, chopped off the white parts with the root and stuck them in the ground. We have some pesky racoons in the hood who dig things up and sometimes bury peanuts in their place. Yes, it's weird. At first I thought teenagers were running around eating peanuts and burying it in people's flower pots. Now I'm certain it's the racoons. So out of maybe 8 roots I planted, only 1 plant survived (and a few pieces of peanut shells in their place). I entirely gave up on taking care of that one remaining plant. I figured it was a matter of time before the coons got it. After the winter rains, by spring time I had an almost 2 foot stalk of green onion. WTF!? My plants tend to do better without my attention. So anyway, cut a few leaves of that onion, shredded it, garnished my salmon with the onions and capers. 

The balsamic vinegar on it's own looks like red wine vinegar. It has that reddish and watery consistency. The taste is sweeter than regular balsamic and not too sour.

While I was in the store, I picked up a few extra goodies for myself.
Tiny juicy little champagne grapes.

The most popular olives from Whole Foods according to one of my friends. The castelvetrano olives with seed in it. It's important to get the one with the seeds. I will always have to Google the spelling of the name every time. They are crunchy, salty, and addictive.

Fresh mozzarella. I'm a fan of burrata but it gets expensive. Mozzarella is the poor man's burrata except it's not that much cheaper! Great cheese is worth it though.

I could not resist getting this bundle of watercress with root attached. The leaves are a bit more light green and larger than the watercress I get from the Asian market. It is also much more bitter. I cut and washed these, then laid them in a bed with cherry tomatoes and sliced beef on top. Dressed all of that in lemon juice, salt, and pepper, courtesy of the bo luc lac recipe we Vietnamese people love. The acid from the lemon juice really offsets the bitterness and the salad turned out great!

The cherries and grapes lasted a good few days for me to have dessert. They were so fresh.

*Sorry I didn't think to write down prices of the items. Whole Foods did give me the cherries, salmon, and balsamic free of charge in exchange for this post. The opinions and recipes I used for the dishes were all my own, unless I linked the recipe.

Tuesday, July 29

Bite - Tahoe

Visiting Lake Tahoe in the summer has been on my to do list for a while. Tahoe is better known for snow activities and the dread of bundling up and driving through snow deters me from visiting more often. Tahoe in the summer though is a dream come true. The lake is beautiful and there are so many water activities to do - the most important of which is to drink by the lake. Since I've only been to Tahoe in the winter and our groups would just hermit in the cabin, I have never dined out in Tahoe and was extremely pleased with the food Phil and I ate.

Bite is a recommendation we got from Phil's coworker who is a chef. Chef's restaurant recommendations hold so much more weight than anyone else's. Luckily our condo rental in Incline Village was just down the street from Bite and we headed over for a quick bite (#pun #intended).

Bite serves American style tapas. Who doesn't want to pay the price of an entree for a third of the size? While this sentence is sarcastic, the food is actually delicious and hey, why not. This trip was for my birthday and I wanted to enjoy myself so I tried not to pay too much attention to the food descriptions.

($12) Wonton wrapped prawns with Thai mango salsa
Juicy prawns wrapped in crispy wonton wrappers, flash fried, and paired with a rich spicy lime cream sauce provided a great start to our meal.

($10) Andouille Sausage and shrimp gumbo
Gumbo is a strange sort of fare. A thick eclectic soup poured over rice. The description in itself embodies comfort; hearty and filling, sounding misleadingly effortless like mom made it out of a few leftover dishes when in reality she had slaved tirelessly to perfect this bowl. This definitely hit the spot for Phil.

($14) Ahi Sliders with wasabi aioli, pickled ginger, and arugula
With much doubt about the availability of fresh seafood all the way in a mountainous region like Tahoe, I ordered the ahi sliders anyway. To my great surprise, the ahi tuna was fresh and tender and the aioli, just a mild creamy sauce with a faint hint of wasabi.

($19) Grilled filet mignon bites with horseradish mashed potatoes and crispy onions
Sadly, we rather regretted ordering these overpriced and overcooked filet mignon bites. They were tough and chewy. The crispy onions are addictive delicate tendrils and the mashed potatoes were very good. Such as a movie that's only as good as it's leading actors, no matter how strong the supporting cast is, it falls flat like this dish.

($8) bite sized ice cream sandwiches
Really smooth vanilla ice cream that's not too sweet paired with house made cookies. I wish they were soft cookies rather than crunchy though. Otherwise, excellent rendition of a childhood favorite. Candle only comes if it's your birthday.

Service was wonderful. There is no wait for a Friday night. The food was amazing and well worth the splurge. If you chose to eat tapas, you should expect to spend alot. I was satisfied with everything we ordered. It was a great start to a Tahoe weekend getaway.

Wednesday, July 16

Business Spotlight - Brad's Bistro

Brad Kunkel is a personal chef who created Brad's Bistro, a weekly meal delivery service based in San Jose. Brad's meals focus on health and wellness, with portion sizes catered towards weight loss and ingredients that are diabetic friendly. He can make slight changes for gluten free meals as well. Brad's Bistro is based in San Jose and he makes deliveries to the South Bay area.

There are a number of people in my life who need to follow restricted diets for health reasons. Some others I know also follow restricted diets for brief or extended periods of time to lose weight. When Brad offered me a complimentary delivery of his metabolic meals, I specifically had these loved ones in mind. 
For $150, you get everything pictured above. Brad has recently started offering a snack service in addition to the meals. When you place your order by no later than 12PM on Weds, Brad will email you an invoice. The delivery is dropped off by Brad on Saturdays and they contain 5 days worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinners. He personally manages all the aspects of his business himself. The containers are reusable, microwavable, and are all labeled with the food item name. I kept the containers and continue to use them to store ingredients I prep for dinner the day before, or to bring lunch to work where I need to separate different elements. They are very handy!

Here's a quick breakdown of what was in that week's delivery. I split off one day's worth to my friend who has diabetes. I wanted a diabetic's opinion of the meal since it is made to suit their dietary needs. I won't be making notes on every item since the menu changes every week. I'll highlight my favorites. The food is pictured in their meal categories.


Almond berry oatmeal
My friend said this tasted much better than it looks. The oatmeal texture was spot on. 

Almond flour pecan pancakes
I thought these were some of the best pancakes I've ever had. I never had pancakes with almond flour before and I should be having more of them in the future! They reheat very well, still fluffy.

Huevos Rancheros

Kale mushroom fritatta


Curried tofu waldorf salad

Salmon, chickpeas, and broccoli salad

Pad Thai salad with grilled turkey
Turkey was perfectly cooked, still juicy and moist.

My general note about all the salads is that the home made dressings are all very tasty. They are all unique and you won't find those flavors in bottles on the store. Aside from that, each salad was pretty good. You should follow the order on the menu that comes with the delivery because it does suggest which items to eat first in terms of freshness. This is most important for the salads.


Quinoa pasta
Yum! I had this for lunch instead of dinner. 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
The dinner actually comes with sides which aren't pictured here so your portion is much larger than this.

Pork tenderloin with date walnut sauce
I ate most of my meals at my desk and the only meal I was able to plate and photograph was this one. This is more like the portion size of what you would get for a dinner. Each element is boxed separately.

Chicken mole with dates and almonds
I thought this was the most filling of all the dinner options. The dates, walnuts, and chicken can really fill you up.

Carrot and roasted chili slaw
A surprising hit! The chili is not spicy at all. The dressing has some acidity, and there's no milkiness like the usual slaw dressing. I liked this side dish very much.

There's no doubt in my mind that Brad knows how to cook and plan meals. Some of the flavor profiles in his dish were spot on. Especially impressive given that he needs to replace certain carbs with healthier options like quinoa and almond flour and I saw very minimal use of sugars. You will notice a lot of use of almonds, dates, and beans to fill out the meals. Having close friends and family members with diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as having gone through a weight loss process for myself and with my husband, I think Brad's ingredient choices and the way he designed the menu is very nutritional and tasty.

His service is great. He cooks everything on Fridays out of a catering kitchen he rents and makes all his deliveries on Saturday. The food will keep well for you up until Friday dinner, given that you follow the suggested order in his menu. The invoice comes to you promptly, and emails are answered quickly. He is very receptive to feedback and can make slight adjustments to your meal if needed. 

The portion sizes are a bit small. They actually look to be appropriately sized for what's recommended if you look at However, everyone is a different size with different lifestyles. If you are active like me (I work out for at least 30-60 minutes almost every day), you will need to supplement the diet with more snacks or other small meals. Brad also started offering a snack package with 2 snacks per day. The portion sizes and ingredients choices will at least get you on the right track to a healthier diet. 

I think what Brad's offering is unique and useful to the community. Nothing seems quite as bothersome as cutting out many foods you used to love for health reasons and not having the time or experience to cook proper replacements. His food definitely has that home cooked feel to it while being nutritious at the same time. 

Thursday, July 10

The Sea by Alexander's Steakhouse - Palo Alto

For three occasions a year, Bay Area diners are privileged with the opportunity to enjoy a Tour of the Bay dinner hosted by the Alexander’s Steakhouse family. Executive chefs from Alexander’s Steakhouse Silicon Valley in Cupertino, Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco, and The Sea in Palo Alto join forces under one roof to provide a unique multiple course dinner that allows patrons a chance to savor dishes inspired by flavors around the Bay Area. For $185 the dinner is served in seven thoughtfully executed courses with optional wine pairings for $100 that are sure to highlight the delicacies in every dish.

Photo from Alexander's Steakhouse
Marc Zimmerman represented Alexander's San Francisco

Photo from Alexander's Steakhouse
Chef Yu Min Lin of The Sea in Palo Alto

Photo from Alexander's Steakhouse
Executive Chef Gerardo Naranjo of Alexander's Silicon Valley (Cupertino)

Hamachi shot with bubu arare, puffed rice pellet

Chilled Alaskan King Crab with pear-sakura gelée, pickled pear, sweet garlic cream, poppy, nasturtium, and karasumi - By ASH SF

Wagyu Carpaccio with negi yuzu-kosho emulsion, spring onion, and soy gelée - By ASH SV

Tai Snapper with heart of palm, wasabi, blood orange, and saffron - By The Sea

Terrine of Winkler Farms Mangalitsa with marcona almond, leaf lard-toasted brioche, and wild spring vegetables - By ASH SF

24 Hour Soy Braised Short Rib with sprouted grains oyster mushroom, ragout, and peas - By ASH SV

Maine Lobster and Miyazaki A5 with carrot, turnips, Napa cabbage, and tarragon - By The Sea

Shades of Grey with bergamot black mousse, grapefruit foam, Earl grey ganache, and crispy milk – Pastry Chef Dan Huynh

Dinner opens with a Hamachi shot amuse bouche topped with bubu arare puffed rice pellets – sliding down nice and smooth to whet the appetite. Then each of the three chef presents two dishes in alternating order. Marc Zimmerman represented ASH San Francisco with a chilled Alaskan King Crab starter accompanied by a mix of textures from pear gelee to creamy sweet garlic. In a few courses, he follows with a terrine of Mangalitsa pork with embedded marcona almonds and a rich lard-toasted brioche, adding just the right crunch to dish. ASH Silicon Valley was represented by Executive Chef Gerardo Naranjo and his Wagyu Carpaccio and Braised Short Rib dishes. The carpaccio, a delicate sliver of high quality beef is allowed to shine relatively on its own save for the dollop of negi yuzu-kosho emulsion and soy gelee. He outdoes himself with a tender and juicy 24 hour soy braised short rib dish topped with sprouted grains oyster mushroom reminiscent of quinoa and grains unlike any you’ve had before. Chef Yu Min Lin of the host restaurant, The Sea in Palo Alto, showcases the restaurant’s strengths in seafood. His first dish is a perfectly flaky Tai Snapper filet surrounded by seasonal blood orange and saffron sauces and garnished with pickled roll of heart of palm. His last dish is an inventive take on surf and turf, containing Maine lobster served in sausage form on Miyazaki A5 wagyu steak and garnished by napa cabbage stems and carrot. Pastry Chef Dan Huynh far exceeded expectations with his aptly named dish, Shades of Grey. This is far from the 50 shades of Christian Grey but rather it refers to shades of Earl Grey tea and other pudding flavors oozing out of rock forms arranged on “dirt” made of chocolate cake. The presentation itself is a treat for the eyes as it appears exactly like you are being served a zen arrangement of polished stones that could have once graced a coffee table.

One can always expect to be greeted and served at Alexander’s with warm hospitality. The Sea in Palo Alto is certainly a fitting child of the Alexander’s family by providing this same quality experience to diners. Your stomach and taste buds are in capable hands with any of the Alexander’s executive chefs but at The Sea, your eyes can also feast on the live lobster tanks, the calming ocean themed décor, and the high ceilings of the spacious dining area. And that signature fluffy cotton candy – have no fear, it will always be there and ready for you.

The Sea by Alexanders Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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