Pho Y #1 – San Jose, CA


Pho Y #1
1660 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1839
(408) 274-1769

In travelling through Vietnam from North to South, it was interesting to see the changes in Pho. Starting in the North, the flavour was extremely subtle, delicate, and extremely balanced. Very light accompaniments. Broth had a wonderful clean odor like perfume, and the taste of beef with gentle underlying spice notes.  A delicate balance between sweet, and salty. As you moved further south, things got richer, spicier, beefier. Bolder flavours, stronger presence, the broth was more pronounced. Darker, saltier, more charred ginger, onion, and star anise.

Bringing back this understanding with me to North America, I’ve come to realize how many variations exist in Pho restaurants here, and that your favorite Pho will likely be a matter of personal preference. The key element, balance, exists in both styles, and in an infinite number of small regional differences.

With a very large Vietnamese immigrant population, it is no surprise that San Jose is home to some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in North America. One area with a particularly high concentration of high quality restaurants is the intersection of the Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road. One of the oldest, most highly regarded, and best known Pho restaurants exists there – Pho Y#1.

Pho Y#1 is a bit of an oddity. If you’ve been a frequent reader, you know I’ve stumped at length for the past few years about restaurants staying within their means, and trying not to be all things to all people.  Keeping a manageable menu that allows them to maintain high quality standards.
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Redwood Grill – Big Sur, CA


Redwood Grill
47200 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
(831) 667-2129

I love road trips to no where. They give you an opportunity to see new places, and explore areas that you would otherwise just drive by. Some of my favorite memories come from impromptu trips and destinations unknown.

The California coast line has some of the best driving vistas in the world. The stretch of Highway 1 from San Francisco down to Morro Bay has a great diversity of scenery – oceans, cliffs, redwoods, beaches, dunes, winding canyons, big surf. It also has some fantastic food finds like Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero. On an impromptu trip to Big Sur, I hoped to discover another find in the Redwood Grill.

Located in the Fernwood Resort, the Redwood Grill isnt exactly what I pictured. A restaurant inside a resort conjures images of white linen, stunning vistas, and well attired servers.

Driving through Big Sur, I almost missed it. What I thought would look like a resort actually looks like a motel with attached drinking hole. Pulling a quick u-turn, we slid into the parking lot.

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Bourbon and Branch – San Francisco, CA


Bourbon and Branch
501 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 931-7292

“No photo’s allowed”.  Oops. Sorry.

While I am a big fan of history, I’ve never really believed that all things used to be better in the good old days. While nostalgia will often make the past seem much more appealing than it actually was, I will admit that occasionally, they did things better. People took more time and care in their work – more craftsmanship. One place where that still holds true is Bourbon and Branch.

Bourbon and Branch is an old Speakeasy that actually operated as “The Ipswitch – A Beverage Parlor” from 1921 to 1923.  The current incarnation is a throw back to those good old days. From a password required to get in (easily found on the web), to secret entrances to escape the prohibition agents in case they ever raided, they’ve done their best to recreate the ambiance and atmosphere of the 20’s and 30’s. Rules from no cell phones to no standing at the bar, you definitely get a feel for the period.

What they haven’t left in the 20’s is the art of mixology. Starting with very carefully selected spirits and ingredients, carefully composed to provide the best cocktails possible, they are artists and masters at blending and mixing drinks. They certainly take their time with each element, from hand juicing, straining, muddling, chilling, pouring, every aspect of creating your cocktail is deliberate and intentional.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA


Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 437-6800

There’s  a movement going on all around us. I call it the gentrification of fast food. First burgers. Now pizza. Almattone argues with me that it’s “fancification”, not gentrification. Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening. Staple fast food is turning into haute cuisine.

In a recent Rachel Ray Magazine special, Ed Levine and Adam Kuban created a “March Madness” bracket for pizzerias around the US. Pitting East against West, South-Southwest against Mid-west, they identified some of the top pizzerias and dared to compared. As a sports fan who also loves pizza, i found this to be a fantastically fun exercise. One of several Bay Area competitors was Pizzeria Delfina.

Pizzeria Delfina was founded by Craig and Anne Stoll of the extremely popular Delfina Restaurant next door. The winner of the 2008 James Beard award for Best Chef in the West, Craig Stoll was inspired to create Pizzeria Delfina based on the pizzerias of NYC, and Naples. What he has done is brought his expertise and love of quality ingredients to the neighbourhood pizza joint. And the neighbourhood loves it. Between the Bi-rite and Tartine Bakery, this is a veritable stretch of culinary goodness.

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Dosa (on Valencia) – San Francisco, CA


Dosa on Valencia
995 Valencia (@ 21 St)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 642-3672

It took a long time for me to come around on South Indian food. It was one of those things that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to growing up – most cuisine where I grew up, of the South Asian variety, was usually Northern Indian, or Pakistani. Then, even when given the opportunity to be exposed to food from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and other South Indian cultures, I eschewed them for more meat-based cuisines. I was, after all, an unapologetic carnivore. Vegetarian food was to be avoided at all costs!

Times change, as thankfully have my opinions. Once I managed to try South Indian food, i was hooked. Fantastic flavours with lots of balance, heat, and texture. Even though they do have meat dishes, for the most part, I usually stick with the vegetarian. And of all the South Indian vegetarian dishes, my favorite is the Dosa.

The namesake restaurant, Dosa on Valencia (used to distinguish from their new outpost on Filmore), is one of several South Indian restaurants that have cropped up in The Mission over the past few years. Serving a wide variety of South Indian dishes, they don’t represent one specific cuisine, but a broad representation of many cuisines from South India.

The restaurant itself is actually fairly intriguing. They have been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand three of four years they’ve been in business – Michelin’s award for good value. The decor is upscale casual, and they have an interesting and diverse beverage menu – not your average South Indian eatery.

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Fremont Diner – Sonoma, CA


Fremont Diner (The Fremont)
2660 Fremont Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-7370

For me, the term “diner” conjures up images of neon, white and black checkered tile, red leather stools, wise cracking waitresses, and greasy spoon food of questionable origin. In reality, these days, good food can be found anywhere. Lunch counters, strip malls, and of course, diners.

Fremont Diner is best described as a “slow food” diner. Ingredients all locally sourced. Time, attention, and care is paid to every aspect of every dish. This is not what you would consider your average “diner”.

Located on Highway 12/121 that cuts through Napa Valley and Sonoma, Fremont Diner is actually easy to miss. You could drive by it every day and barely notice the understated sign, the rusting truck out front, and the gas station diner appearance.

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Mission Burger by Mission Street Food – San Francisco, CA


Mission Burger (by Mission Street Food)
inside Duc Loi Supermarket
2200 Mission St (between 18th St & 19th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sat-Wed, noon-3pm

Food and cooking knowledge can come from a variety of sources. Being a detail-oriented person, I really enjoy shows that explain why, not just what. Aside from Alton Brown, who has really started turning me off with his over the top corny humour, one show that I really enjoy is the BBC classic “In Search of Perfection” with Michelin 3 star chef Heston Blumenthal from the Fat Duck. He really caught my attention with his episode on steak (it really works btw), and I’ve enjoyed the knowledge, and the hilarity of his exploits.

In his cookbook Further Adventures In Search of Perfection, Heston Blumenthal reinvents the burger to deliver what he feels is the perfect burger. While in principal, his ideas are fantastic, in practice, they are often so time consuming, and difficult to source the ingredients, that it just isn’t feasible for us “normal” people. I remember duplicating his steak recipe, and the total time required before i could put fork to mouth was almost 48 hours. His burger recipe, as tested by the dedicated hamburger folks at aht (serious eats), took over 30 hours. For a hamburger.

Enter Mission Burger, brought to you by Mission Street Food – a not for profit organization that donates their proceeds to charity. In the entire lunch counter revival I was discussing in the Villa Mexico post, they’ve set up a burger counter inside the Duc Loi Supermarket in the Mission.

There are a few very notable things about Mission Burger.
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Shiro’s Sushi – Seattle, WA


Shiro’s Sushi
2401 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA
(206) 443-9844

I have had Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant on my wishlist for a few years, ever since I learned about the master-student relationship between Japan’s revered sushi master Jiro Ono, and Shiro Kashiba.  When I recently found myself on a short notice trip to Seattle, I was elated to learn that we scored a dinner reservation.

Unfortunately Kashiba-san was out of town, so we were at the mercy of his deshi.  The many reviews out there, state that the best seat in the house is at the sushi bar (which was full), so we opted for the Kaiseki dinner to give us an opportunity to try a variety of dishes.  With three price-points to choose from, we went with the $80 middle option.

We begin with a trio of appetizers:  tempura of king salmon wrapped with smelt, asparagus with a miso dressing, and yellowtail collar. At first glance, I thought we were given a fried salmon roll, but the tempura of two variety of fish with a squeeze of lemon made this the stand-out of the trio.

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True Sake – San Francisco, CA


True Sake
560 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-4214
(415) 355-9555

Most of the time, an establishment is somewhere you go to be served. Once in a while, you come across an establishment that you go to be educated. I get a great coffee education everytime i go to Transcend or Phil and Sebastians, a great wine education from Soif, and right in the heart of San Francisco, a great Sake education from True Sake.

The first dedicated Sake store outside of Japan, True Sake is an uncommon “liquor” store. First off, as the name suggests, they offer nothing but sake. Secondly, they are one part store, five parts school. Sake is not a very well understood beverage in North America- and with diversity and complexity similar to wine, there is a lot going on. In order to grow the market for their product, it is important that they explain, and educate users on the differences, and the diversity that is sake. Thankfully, they are both patient, and understanding.

The shop itself is clean, pretty, and simple. Sake is appropriately stored in a clean, simple environment.

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Toronado Pub – San Francisco, CA


Toronado Pub
547 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2276

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers on Foodosophy. In honor of US Thanksgiving, I’ve imbibed a tremendous amount of beer. Making this post, well, a lot less verbose than my usual posts.

In honor of the beer I’ve imbibed, I would like to introduce you to Toronado – quite possibly the best pub in North America. I say quite possibly because I haven’t been to every pub in North America. But I have a hard time imagining a better pub from a beer standpoint.

Toronado is not about the decor, or the atmosphere, unless you like quirky, unkempt beer snobs in irreverent t-shirts boasting loudly after one too many, while the strong smell of stale beer wafts over each slightly sticky table. While this doesn’t make up all their patrons – it is a bit of hyperbole, certainly, and there really are a diverse number of people who love the Toronado – it certainly makes up a good percentage that will give you the evil eye when you need to slide by them and actually try and get a beer from the bar.

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Swannie’s – Seattle, WA


Swannie’s
222 S Main Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 622-9353

Say what you will, and I’m sure many of our Canadian readers could if given the chance, about the believed shortcomings of our neighbours to the south, but you have to admit they really know how to go all out when it comes to combining two of the classic male pastimes – eating/drinking plus sports…

Where else can you start from the early morning, drinking beer and gobble down a hearty, greasy breakfast in a pub while watching sports on giant tv screens amid the company of many others who are there for same purpose as you?

After making the short drive down from Vancouver, a group of us made our way down to Pioneer Square, just a few blocks away from Qwest Field, the home grounds of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.  With Opening Day kickoff hours away, we thought we could easily find a free (as in not having to pay money to park) spot to watch the early games playing in the eastern time zone, before we made the short walk to the stadium.  Oh how wrong we were.

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The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar – Seattle, WA


The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar
1301 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA
(206) 623-3500

“One for the road!” my pal exclaimed as we toured the area around Pike Place Market in the evening hours before we made our trek back to Vancouver (following an afternoon at the ballpark and a light meal at Elysian Fields).

With the still blistery hot temperature of the day (an all-time high for Seattle) prevailing, we soon were desperate for some shade and relative comfort.  It was baffling how the ambient temperature seemed to drop a few degrees as we got closer and closer to the waterfront – much needed relief from the high 30C weather.  With only the desire to be in some more manageable environment and a cold one to kick back with, we stumbled upon The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar.  With its open patio, we figured it would suffice.  But a total tourist trap, I know…

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Ramen Ezogiku – Honolulu, HI


Ramen Ezogiku
2420 Koa Avenue
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 922-2473‎

I admit, curiosity got to me when I saw the distinctive logo hanging from the banner outside this front entrance.  For our readers familiar with Vancouver, yes, this is the same chain that operates the two outlets in the Canadian city, both on Robson Street, going by the name of  Ezogiku Noodle Cafe.

Some more background…  The Tokyo honten (main branch) of Ezogiku is a tiny ten-person counter joint, located in the college-saturated station area of Takadanobaba, and competes with many ramen-ya and inexpensive eateries for the tight student wallet.  Offering a Sapporo-style miso ramen, Ezogiku has been around for over thirty-years and claims to be one of the first to bring true Sapporo miso ramen to the Kanto region.  Forgive me, but my first and only bowl there was way back in 1997, but I can faintly recall that it was pretty decent, a mid-thickness crinkly noodle and a miso soup that was on the heavier side on the fat meter.

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Elysian Fields – Seattle, WA


Elysian Fields
542 1st Ave South
Seattle, WA
Tel: (206) 382-4498

Preface: Being from Alberta, I know how at times it seems the province is actually part of Saskatchewan.  The seemingly large number of people from that Prairie province who live and work in Alberta, as well as those who actually make the journey to watch their beloved Roughriders football club play in cities like Edmonton and Calgary, further compounds this image.

On a recent day trip down to Seattle to catch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the local Mariners, I was surprised to find a row of ten young men decked out in full Roughriders fan gear – complete with those popular watermelon helmets, green body paint and colored wigs.  The curious and bewildered Yanks in the stands were coming down and taking pictures of these fellows, and as a Canadian, I was proud to see them showing love for our country (albeit, I am not a fan of that particular ball club, while my travel companion is).  Incidentally, the hottest daytime temperature ever in Seattle was recorded on this day!  Field level mercury was reported at 41 degrees C!

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Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice – Honolulu, HI


Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice
525 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI
(808) 735-8884

One of the several pre-trip, researched spots on my food adventures in Hawaii was Waiola.  It was also noted by someone I know who has a residence in Honolulu that it was along the same road as some others I’d asked him about, so as far as location went, it was perfect.

In a pretty run down looking building, complete with some garish plastic banners and graffiti, Waiola is mainly about the shave ice desserts.  Nothing more refreshing on a hot summer Hawaiian day.  A few other customers came in while we were there, along with a delivery guy who brought in huge cubes of solid ice.

Stepping inside does nothing to improve the sense of it having a dated and in need of a refresh design.  But this is part of the appeal of the place, knowing that despite its popularity and well known name, they haven’t plugged the money into expensive furnishings or makeovers.  At the same time, they’re not avert to plastering the joint with pages from various media publications that have reviewed or profiled the place.

With anywhere from thirty to forty toppings and flavors, Waiola can probably meet any craving you have for a tasty shave ice.  With its distinct soft, fine shavings, I tell you they are addictive.  And you get none of that dreaded “brain freeze” from say a more liquidly-ice concoction.  We tried a trio of flavors.  Pictured above, the adzuki (Japanese sweet bean) and mochi (Japanese rice cake balls) combination.  Easily the version among the three we ordered with the most interesting textures with each bite, and the sweetness was not too strong.

In comparison, this pineapple-flavored very basic shave ice was cleaner in taste profile and probably more refreshing as there was less to have to chew.  The fine shavings once again proved to be excellent – and I enjoyed this one more than the one I had at Island Freeze days earlier, thus confirming that Waiola is one of the best shave ice joints on the island.

Lastly, another Japanese-influenced flavoring in the matcha with mochi provided yet another twist.  Almost like a blended coffee-like drink as the flavoring was “heavier” than just the pineapple syrup of the other dish above.

So as you can see, this was just a sample of a few varieties of shave ice to be had at Waiola.  I’m sure there are many more interesting combinations to choose from, and perhaps if you make a visit, you can try them out for yourself.  If there are any readers who have any recommendations, please do leave them in our comment box for this post!

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