Thursday, December 30, 2010

Layang Layang @ Milpitas

A small Malaysian restaurant in Milpitas, that is packed for lunch on week days. If you don't get there by noon, be prepared to wait for god knows how long. The restaurant is in a strip mall and fairly small, with some simple Asian decor. A nice spot for a casual lunch or dinner.

Layang Layang
I feel kind of iffy dining in Malaysian restaurants where, on the menu, under Vegetarian Entrees you usually see "Okra or Asparagus with Malay special shrimp paste sauce". I always have a teeny what-if-there-is-fish-sauce-in-my-food kind of doubt lingering in my mind, and I don't enjoy the food as much. So, this time when ordering my food, I asked the waiter, "No fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce or duck sauce, right?" Have I left anything out? The waiter shook his head, "No", he said. And then, I added, "I am allergic to fish sauce...sea food, in general." He looked a little rattled and I felt a lot better. I hoped I had scared him enough, for I could then eat peacefully.

He came back with bowls of soups. He said it was vegetarian. It looked like some kind of hot and sour soup. I passed on it, while A polished my share as well.

Soup @ Layang Layang
We ordered the Roti Telur to start with. It is a multi-layered home made Indian bread stuffed with egg and is  dipped in curry sauce. It tastes very Indian and should rather be called a fusion food. The bread was shallow fried and tasted fantastic when dipped in the fragrant curry sauce.

Roti Telur @ Layang Layang
For the main course, we ordered something completely new. I don't think you get it anywhere else. It is called the Sarang Veggies - Fried taro root nest topped with vegetables, corn, snow peas, black mushrooms and cashewnut, served on a bed of rice crispies. I still can't imagine how they managed to make that nest! Absolutely fantastic. You can eat it as is or order rice on the side. The taro root was so crisp and brittle on the outside, yet soft and well cooked on the inside.

Sarang Veggies @ Layang Layang
It was delicious. Despite the crowd, the service was reasonably fast, and the entrees were reasonably priced. There may be many other Malaysian restaurants in the area, but I don't think anyone else makes the Sarang Veggies. You should go there, try that. They also have another branch in San Jose.

Layang Layang on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dosa on Fillmore

A classy, stylish Indian restaurant in the heart of San Francisco. I think it is one of a kind, where the ambiance makes you feel you should have dressed up a little more, may be something in black and red, the service is exemplary and extremely quick, and the food intoxicates your senses. Mind blowing!

The dimly lit, exotic looking chandeliers spruced up the interiors. There is a fairly big sized bar.

Dosa on Fillmore

We stopped by for dinner at 6 pm and were pleasantly surprised to know that the Happy Hour was on till 7 pm. We grabbed a couple of bar stools, ordered drinks and a Vada Pav. Well, it is a little pricey, given the location and the classiness, but it is worth every penny.

The waitress brought out a complimentary plate of Papad (a thin crispy cracker like munchee). Vada Pav is like Potato Slider. A fried potato patty is stuffed between bread, usually with a green chilli. A couple of spicy sauces (chutneys) are applied to the bread. The plate included a side of salad and a garlicky spicy dip.

Vada pav @ Dosa
We then ordered the Chili Garlic Masala Dosa. Dosa is more like an Injera. It is a savory rice and lentil crepe, served with tomato & fresh coconut chutney, and sambar, a flavorful lentil dipping soup made with vegetables and spices. The Dosa had a filling of potatoes and onions cooked with spices, called "Masala".
I have tried sambhar at a few other restaurants and nothing comes close to what you get here. It was piping hot till the last spoon.

Chili Garlic Masala Dosa @ Dosa
Here's how you eat it - Take a piece of the Dosa, dip it in the sambar, pile some chutney on it and pop it in your mouth. And, feel free to use your hands, the Ethiopian way.

It was really huge and very filling. We left the place quite sated. On reaching our hotel, I realized that I had left my cap beihind in the restaurant. The kind waiter had given it to the front desk, where it was waiting for me, when I went back for it.

This restaurant is a gem and we will have dinner here whenever we visit SFO. They are open only for dinner on week days. They also have another location, on Valencia. If you haven't been to Dosa, go right now!

Dosa on Urbanspoon

Anjappar @ Milpitas

A recent vacation to the Bay Area found us at this excellent restaurant. Chettinad cuisine is a type of South Indian speciality and restaurants featuring this cuisine are sparse. There are none in the Seattle area and the only time we get to eat it is on our visits to India. OK, so we should try this one, we thought.

We got there at 11:30 am. They had just opened and in no time the restaurant was filled with office goers. The ambience is very casual and makes it a great lunch spot. The waiters were very attentive, always checking on us and enquiring about the food.

We ordered the Gobi 65 (Cauliflower dipped in corn flour and spices and fried) to start with. It is the best I have had so far. The outsides were very crispy, fried to perfection and the insides soft. We had asked for it to be spicy and it was just right. I could eat plate after plate. And, it was resaonably priced at $6.99.

Gobi 65 @ Anjappar
For the main course, we ordered a plate of Veggie Kothu Parotta and a Biryani meal. Kothu Parotta is minced Parotta ( a layered flatbread more popular in road side shops in Sothern India) sauteed with onions and other veggies. It was spicy and came with a side of a cup of Kurma (a gravy of vegetables and garlic) and Raitha ( a yoghurt dip that consists of grated cucumber, onions, carrots, coriander and other spices). It was delicious.
Vegetable Kothu Parotta @ Anjappar
The Biryani meal came with a bowl of Veggie Biryani( a rice based dish usually made using Basmati rice, veggies and other spices) a cup of the above mentioned Kurma, Raitha and one Chappathi. The Biryani was fantastic. The flavors were mild yet very tasty. It reminded me of the authentic Biryani my friend's Grandma used to make for us. Different regions in India cook it in different style. Chettinad Biryani is quite popular among the Southerners. The Chappathi was also soft unlike the rubbery ones you get at some places.

Vegetable Biryani @ Anjappar
A ordered a meetha paan in the end. It is also called as Beeda and usually aids in digestion after a heavy meal. Essentially, it is a Betel Leaf filled with coconut, candies fruits, rose petal preserve (gulkand) and various spices. It was served with a Cherry on top.

Meetha Paan @ Anjappar
It was an awesome lunch. They have a really big menu with a variety of dishes from different parts of Southern India. It is worth trying it if you like South Indian food!

Anjappar Chettinad on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Frida's Gourmet Mexican @ Mill Creek

Thanks to a recent coupon, I now have a new found love for Mexican food. Gourmet Mexican food, to be precise. For a Vegetarian, Mexican Cuisine translates to rice, beans, cheese, pico di gallo, and tortilla in various forms such as Tacos, Enchiladas, Burritos, Chimichanga, Fajita, Quesedilla and Chili Releno. If you are mighty lucky, you will find a Vegetarian Tamale or some veggies in your food. So, we don't eat at Mexican restaurants that often. Especially because, there are zillion other cuisines that offer much better healthier variety for vegetarians.

But after a recent mind blowing dinner at Frida's, we have developed a new found love for Gourmet Mexican. The one that has a lot of interesting flavors like sweet, sour and spicy and is also known as Authentic Mexican. Such restaurants are rare to find and am glad I have one about a mile from where I live.

Frida's is a fairly small restaurant in a strip mall at Mill Creek. Because of its obscure location, it is not so popular. But once you visit, you will want to go back again and again.The restaurant is warm and inviting once you step in. A softly lit decor with soft lighting and a Spanish melody playing in the background.

There is a small bar too.

No one knows the secret ingredients that this restaurant uses. The food is fabulous. It seems the owner doesn't share the secret recipes of the various sauces even with his own chefs; he makes them himself.

The waitress brought a basket of colorful tortilla chips, a couple pieces of bread and three different types of dips - Salsa, Salsa Verde and a white creamy dip (no, not sour cream or ranch) - we assumed - for the bread.

We ordered the Champinones al Ajillo - mushrooms, onions, guajillo chilies and herbs sauteed in oil till perfection and served with a roasted garlic sauce and house herbs. One word - Fantabulistic!! I Have never seen something like this at a regular Mexican restaurant! One thing to note - this appetizer is not available during lunch. The steaming hot tortillas were brought wrapped in a napkin.  The pico di gallo was served in a flower shaped tortilla shell.

We then ordered a plate of Morrales Dona Rocio - A lovely blend sauteed vegetables wrapped in a large crepe, served in a sauce of blended light cream cheese and zucchini. The beans were in a bowl shaped tortilla. It came with rice

Next was the combination dinner. Chiles en hojaldre - Poblano chillies filled with chihuahua cheese, wrapped in thin layers of baked pastry, served with a light zucchini bloom sauce and Enchiladas Chipotle - Two corn tortillas covered with light cream sauce with chipotle chilies and roasted peanuts. It came with beans and rice.

 The poblano chili releno was so different from the ones we get at other restaurants. Very delicious.

And, the food was not heavy at all. Cheese was used very sparingly. The sauces were to die for. This restaurant gets full points for presentation, taste, innovation, ambiance and service! If you want to try gourmet Mexican food, I highly recommend this restaurant.

Frida's Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ephesus @ West Seattle

It is hard to drive by and not notice the huge pink structure that houses this restaurant. What an amazing Turkish restaurant in West Seattle!

Don't get fooled by the exteriors, the interiors are rich and decorated in a Sultan-ish style. Upon entering the doorway, I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and inviting it was. We were greet by two or three staffs, asking us where we would like to sit. We slid into a booth and sat on huge comfy chairs.

They are only open for dinner. They have a big parking lot, so parking was not a hassle. They also have a huge out door seating, that's open in summer. There were only two vegetarian entrees and quite a few appetizers to pick from.

We ordered Ezme to start with. It is served cold with warm pita. Crushed tomatoes tossed in olive oil with Pomegranate sauce and walnuts. A marvel of mediterranean food is that even when it is bad, it is still good. May be I was really hungry or the dip was ultra delicious (the latter, am sure), I sopped the leftover Ezme with a hunk of pita and licked my fingers clean. Eating with your fingers makes it tastier. (I guess like in India, the middle easterners consider eating as a sensual activity. According to them, one should enjoy eating with as many senses as possible - taste, smell, sight and touch.) I wished they would refill the bowl, like the chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. I could have some more. Can someone please explain how such simple a dish, that doesn't need any cooking, taste so good?

For the main course, we ordered Toprak Garvue - A buttery stew of vegetables cooked with an amazing blend of spices, served with rice. It was nice of them to accommodate our request for a vegetarian version, that's not listed on their menu.  It came with Fatoush, a salad.


How healthy! When the waiter first brought it out, we had doubts about the quantity being sufficient for the two of us. But as we started guttling, the buttery richness of the stew, rushed in and quickly filled up every corner of our stomachs.When the last morsel was polished off, i found myself saying, "Oh, this was more than enough!". And it is a little on the expensive side.

It will be nice if they can introduce more vegetarian options. We'd be privileged to try a lot more of the yummy food. Food, service and ambiance were fantastic. Our pursuit for a casual dinner after a long walk along Alki Beach, turned out to be an extraordinary dinner!

If you want to celebrate a special evening with your special someone, in a quiet place, where food and conversation are the highlight of the night, Ephesus is the place to go!

Ephesus on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Punjab Sweets @ Kent

My only complaint about this fabulous North Indian vegetarian restaurant is that it is too far away from where I live. Seriously! I love, love, love the homemade punjabi fair at Punjab Sweets. Authentic Parathas, Chaat, Malai Kofta and many more! And the huge array of sweets and snacks! Oh yum!

I have been to PS a few times, but never got a chance to review it. Guess what? A won a free lunch at PS :) and we were going to be in the area anyway, so stopped by for lunch last weekend. The quality of food hasn't changed a bit. The same authentic and flavorful punjabi food at its best.

One thing that's new - each table has a small bowl of nibbles, something for you to munch on while waiting for the food. This is something new and thoughful of them!

We ordered a Thali - rice, roti, malai kofta, kahi pakora, mutter paneer, raita and gulab jamun.

Everything was as delicious as ever. I can never stop raving about their Malai Kofta. It IS a must-eat.The only restaurant that makes it so well! So creamy and yet so light! To be honest, I don't think I have had such good Malai Kofta even in India!
And then the Paneer Paratha.It was huge and came with pickled radish and yogurt. Fantastic. Though, I love their Aloo Paratha more.

We finished with a Mango Kalakand. This was one amazing sweet with flavors of real mango. It was too small a piece and was over even before I could click a pic!

If you have never been to PS, it is definitely worth the long trek.They are expanding these days and I heard they have even introduced the South Indian Dosas in the menu. Quite frankly, I would never order Dosas at PS. C'mon! It is like ordering Samosa at an Italian restaurant (if they even make Samosas)! They are good at North Indian food and I totally agree and love them for it. I don't think they should be introducing Dosas, though.

Preet's is comparatively closer and we go there often. PS, it will be great if you can open another branch on the Eastside!

Punjab Sweets Vegetarian Indian Food on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In the Bowl Bistro @ Seattle

Finally, I get to review my one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Seattle. In the Bowl has the widest variety of Thai food at prices not really reasonable, but proportionate to the portions. How often do you bump into a Thai restaurant that is all vegetarian? I feel relieved because I can order anything without asking the hundred usual questions like "Does that have fish sauce? Oyster sauce? It is all veg, right? I mean there is no sea food or no meat of any kind in it? How about shrimp paste?" Phew!!

This is a tiny hole in the wall, with the tables on one side,

and the kitchen on the other.

 Some things to expect when you go there:

  1. There is just one cook (and a helper) and one waitress who run the show.  It  takes atleast 20 mins for the food to reach your table. When the restaurant is packed, it can take longer.
  2. There are only 7-8 tables, but we usually go for lunch at noon and are seated right away.
  3. The open kitchen is right next to where you sit, so it can get really hot in there. They do have a couple of fans, but it hardly serves the purpose.
  4. You get to pick the type of noodle (Udon, mung bean, rice etc) and the type of rice (brown, white or wild rice medley). You also get to pick faux chicken, beef etc or tofu.
  5. When you order an entree, for $3 more, you can get 3 or 4 pieces of any of their appetizers. Although, when we ordered the entree and an appetizer, the appetizer never came and we finally just cancelled the appetizer.
  6. When you order fried rice or the stir-fry entrees, you get a complimentary dessert. But keep in mind that the dessert can be anything. We got a couple of pieces of Orange!!
  7. Service can be a little lousy at times, but you hardly notice it once you start digging into the food.
  8. The family believes in Hindu Gods and you will get to listen to a lot of Hindu religious music being played in the restaurant. It's kind of a different environment. Very peaceful and soothing.
  9. The food is great and the variety is awesome! Definitely worth trying out their specials!

Here are few pictures of what we ate: Yellow Fried Rice -Stir fried rice with yellow curry paste, carrot, onion, snow pea, broccoli, pineapple then top with coconut milk. We asked for soy chicken and white rice. It was excellent!

and Garlic Mania Noodle - Stir fried homemade garlic and herbs sauce topped over steamed noodle with sesame oil, sesame seed and served with steamed mixed veggies. We asked for mung bean noodle. Absolutely delicious!

If you haven't been to this restaurant, I highly recommend checking it out. You will be stunned by the variety!
In the Bowl on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Baan Thai @ Chennai

We heard that Thai restaurants in India are one of a kind. With tons of vegetarian options, you will never find anything like it here (US), we were told. Curious cats that we are, we decided to check out the fairly new Baan Thai, expecting to plunge into some Indo-Thai fair. We realized once again that great expectations don't always lead to great food.
Baan Thai is located on Khadar Nawaz Khan road in Nungambakkam. The road is very popular but the restaurant was hard to find.It is tied up with Kobe Sizzlers. Valet parking saved us the rut of finding parking on a weekday afternoon.
The restaurant is very classy. Nice interiors. Food, pricey, ofcourse. In India, Thai food is meant for occasions, isn't it? So, may be you can foot the enormous bill occasionally. The service was great. Especially after I told the waiter that I will be reviewing the food. I swear, I didn't tell that to get his attention. He was curious to know why I was more interested in taking pictures of the food than eating it. But even otherwise, he was quite attentive. Always ready to serve the dish and catering to our needs of hot sauce and plum sauce.

There were lots of veggie options. We ordered a couple of mocktails to start with - Blue Lagoon and a Virgin Mojito.

We settled on Tod Mun They - Tender fried vegetable patties with mildly spiced thai herbs. Amazing! I have never had anything like that before. Delicious!

Yod Kow Pod Pad Hed - not as complicated as the name sounds - Mushrooms and Baby corn tossed lightly in black pepper sauce. Very simple. Now, this dish did not have anything Thai-ish in it. Shouldn't I be getting the flavors of kaffir lime leaves or watercress or lemon grass or basil or the like? For a moment it felt like I was sitting in Wang's Kitchen, eating their Indo- Chinese food. Disappointing. I told the same to the waiter, when he appeared concerned about my disapproving frown.They do have chefs from Thailand in their kitchen. What could have gone wrong, I wonder.

Next came the Pha Bamee Tow Hu - Fried yellow noodles with vegetables and beancurd.

The same Wang's Kitchen-ish feel. Sigh. I would suggest ordering dishes that have "Thai" in the name. You know, like Thai green curry or Thai fried rice and try your luck. May be you will then get to taste real Thai! I would call it an Asian restaurant, rather than a Thai restaurant.It can do much better in bringing out the Thai flavors.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant @ Chennai

The first thing we do the day we land in Chennai is - head to Sangeetha for breakfast. It is a ritual we have religiously followed. We can't wait to relish piping hot pongal, vada, sambar, chutney and poori, while sitting at a table on the sidewalk. They now have branches in the UK and other countries.

It is a vegetarian fast food restaurant, more popular for breakfast. It is one of the few restaurants that has maintained the ancientness. Stainless steel jugs, plates (covered with plantain leaves), tumblers and cups, uniformed waiters, the same old tables and chairs and the same fabulous food! Nothing has changed.

Just a five minute drive from home, we reached there at 7: 00 am, and sat at a table on the sidewalk. The waiter came by.

A: "Menu irukka?" (Do you have a menu?)
Waiter: "Sambar vada, pongal vada, masala dosa, ghee roast, uttapam, rava dosa, onion rava,.............."
Me: "Poori irukka?" (Do you have poori?)
Waiter (noding): "Irukku."( Yes. It's there.)
Me (to A): "I'll have a poori."
A (to Waiter): "Oru Poori, Oru pongal vada." (One poori, one pongal vada)
Waiter: "Approm?" (What else?)
A: "Avalodhan" (That's it for now.)

Steaming hot Poori and Pongal arrived within 10 minutes. The Poori came with two smallish sized bowls of  different tasting Potato gravy - Potatoes cooked with onions and green chillies with turmeric and other spices. Excellent!

And, the Pongal was smothered in a generous portion of ghee :) It came with Sambar and chutneys (usually unlimited, but was sufficient for the amount of pongal and vada it came with) - Tomato garlic chutney, cilantro chutney and coconut chutney. All very fresh and as tasty as homemade.The Vada was very crispy and inviting.

We reminded ourselves of the calories that will be consumed later in the day and in the days to come, and forced ourselves to leave the restaurant before being seized by an insatiable urge to order something else off the menu. An excellent place for south Indian breakfast!
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