Sunday, August 22, 2010

Southland Flavor Cafe

My wife is not easily impressed with restaurants. It takes an exceptional one to gain her accolades. So when she enthusiastically endorses a restaurant as having authentic Taiwanese taste (she herself hails from Taiwan), I have to respect the place for measuring up to her exacting standards. One of these rare places is the Southland Flavor Cafe in Cupertino, CA.

We sauntered in one afternoon and found business to be brisk as always.

We started off with a Taiwanese favorite: stinky tofu. My wife first introduced me to this pungent dish years ago while we were still dating. And although we have (well, mostly she has) eaten it many times since then, I still don't understand the appeal of this unusual dish.

Stinky tofu truly lives up to its name. Know anyone with stinky feet? I mean REALLY foul-smelling ones that cause you to choke, gag, retch, and cover your nose, mouth and other vulnerable body parts as you fall to the ground, convulsing in the fetal position? Well, that's pretty much what it smells like, except you didn't have to put that person's feet in your mouth (well, if you did, shame on you!)

Despite its "aroma", stinky tofu is one of the most popular snacks in Taiwan. So what does it taste like? It doesn't taste bad, actually. But I don't find anything really special about it, either. To me, once one gets past the smell, it doesn't really offer anything different than regular tofu.

However, my wife disagrees and gives Southland Flavor Cafe's stinky tofu two thumbs up. Well, all I can say is bon appetit my love, knock yourself out.

Fortunately, the other dishes we ordered justified my wife's praise for this place. Like the pork potage soup, which featured generous chunks of tender pork immersed in a refreshing broth, spiced up with a tinge of satay sauce.

We had a plateful of on choy - fresh and crunchy.

The sauteed beef special was also quite good.

It's these other dishes that explain to me why this place is one of my wife's favorites. It has also become one of mine, and I look forward to our next visit there. I just won't be going there to eat stinky tofu.

I'll leave that to my wife.

Southland Taste on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Harumi Sushi

(Author's note: I wrote this article about 5 months ago when Harumi Sushi just opened. I was preparing to post the article on this blog, when things got insanely busy for me at work, and my job (I'm an IT worker in a major software firm) just consumed my life for the next several months.

Now that things have calmed down a bit at work (well, for now at least), I revisited this article and realize it is somewhat dated.

Nevertheless, I had a positive experience at Harumi Sushi and I still wish to give them props and recognition. So here are my impressions of Harumi Sushi from several months ago. Enjoy!)

The Daiso store in Cupertino, CA carries a mind-boggling variety of irresistibly cute little knick-knacks from Japan. Which is why my wife can't resist going there, often dragging me along to help carry all the stuff she scoops up. It was after trawling around the Daiso store recently that we stumbled upon a newly opened sushi restaurant in its vicinity: Harumi Sushi.

Harumi Sushi's interior looks slick, clean, and new.

The menu hanging above the bar grabbed my attention because of one of its offerings - Monkey Brain. Could it be THE Monkey Brain, the unusual dish that I've heard so much about?

You see, I've heard tales of special restaurants in Asia that literally serve the grey matter of small, hairy primates. Could this item on Harumi Sushi's menu be the same thing?? My inquiring mind was dying to know...

I asked our waitress about it and she laughingly told me that no, it's not really monkey brains. The main ingredient of this exotic-sounding dish is actually mushrooms.

Okay, with that little detail out of the way, we decided to go with Harumi's more pedestrian-sounding fare. My wife got the assorted maki rolls combo plate:

I got a beef teriyaki bento:

It was all good stuff. The maki rolls were fresh and had a subtle, pleasant seasoning. The beef was tender and tasty. Plus, we got a 30% discount on the rolls thanks to Harumi Sushi's grand opening promo. Our dining experience was a pleasant one and we look forward to visiting this place again next time my wife feels the urge to raid the aisles at Daiso.

Best of all, no monkeys were harmed in the process of writing this article.

Harumi Sushi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vung Tau Milpitas

Every Vietnamese person I know touts this restaurant as the place to experience real Vietnamese food. I can easily see where the illustrious reputation comes from. After repeated visits (and many more future visits planned), Vung Tau is hands-down my favorite Vietnamese restaurant.

So it was with great excitement that I introduced my Japanese friends (the same ones who taught me to make temaki sushi) to the pleasures of Vung Tau. We started off with some spicy tofu, which was delightfully fresh, with just the right level of spiciness:

The seafood soup was equally good, with very fresh ingredients and a stimulating tang:

We tried the catfish stew, a dish enthusiastically recommended by a Vietnamese colleague whom I hold in high esteem. The dish did not disappoint, as the meat was tender, and the sauce rich and tasty:

For me however, the absolute star of the show was the grilled beef rolls stuffed with onions. This is the dish that keeps me coming back to Vung Tau. The thin slices of beef are grilled to a perfect crisp tastiness, with the onion strips adding a subtle kick:

The verdict from our Japanese friends? I got an email calling Vung Tau "the BEST Vietnamese restaurant!" (capitalization and exclamation point theirs)

I couldn't agree more.

Vung Tau II on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Temaki Sushi

One of the really cool things about living in the Bay Area is that one gets to meet people from many different parts of the world, and learn about their unique language, customs, culture, and of course... their food!

We are very fortunate to have some very good Japanese friends, who invited us to their home for a roll-your-own-sushi party. They taught us how to make temaki-sushi (hand-rolled sushi). It's easy, fun, and very delicious!

To start, we laid out all the ingredients on the dinner table. There were the mandatory thin sheets of nori (seaweed) which serves as the outer wrapping of the sushi. And then there was a wide assortment of fish, vegetables, egg, tofu, and rice to act as filling.

To create your own sushi, simply take a sheet of nori and add a little bit of rice plus your desired filling. It is very tempting at this point to really load up on the filling. But as we soon learned the hard way, this is not a good strategy...

The next step is to simply roll up the seaweed into a conical shape (or in my case, as close to a conical shape as I can get ;-) and presto! - you've got sushi! If one got too carried away in the previous step and used too much filling, then it will be very hard to roll the sushi without the contents spilling (maybe even squirting ;-) all over the place.

After a few embarrassing attempts I kinda got the hang of it:

From there it's simply a matter of chomping away at your creation until it's gone...

We also enjoyed some great home-made miso soup:

Our friends told us that kids in Japan love temaki sushi not only because it's delicious, but also because of the extra added fun factor of rolling one's own sushi. Judging from our own temaki sushi experience, looks like that statement holds true for us "big kids" as well.

(You can find more recipes using nori - the seaweed used to make sushi - at Just click on the image below:)

Nori on Foodista

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jollibee Milpitas

It was with great excitement and anticipation that I awaited the opening of Jollibee right here in my town of Milpitas. So naturally, I was deliriously overjoyed when it finally opened in the Great Mall, which is very close to where I live. At last, I get to enjoy a taste of the Philippines' most popular and beloved fast food chain as often as I please!

I headed over there soon after the grand opening, and saw that their business was going briskly:

I was greeted by a familiar sight - the Jollibee mascot cheerfully welcoming customers:

The convenient location really comes in handy during times when I want some quick take-out food (which saves my lazy ass from having to cook ;-) On this particular occasion, I bought a mini-feast for myself comprised first and foremost, by the venerable Jollibee Yumburger:

The Yumburger is the product that skyrocketed Jollibee to the top of the Philippine restaurant food chain. It has a unique flavor that appeals to the Asian (and in particular, Filipino) palate. I remember many years ago Jollibee ran an ad campaign touting their burgers as "not bland like those other burgers" - a slogan that reflects the Filipino perception of foreign burgers like McDonald's. The ad campaign worked because it echoed the sentiments of Filipino consumers, and Jollibee went on to totally trounce all other burger chains in the Philippines.

In addition to the yummy Yumburger I got their tasty palabok (a Filipino noodle dish):

...and also their deep-fried Chicken Joy:

Happily, I found that everything tastes the same as it does in the good ol' Philippines. I'm happy now. My favorite Filipino fast food chain has come to my town, it tastes great, I get to enjoy it as much as I please, and all is right in the world...

Jollibees on Urbanspoon