June 30, 2014

Orinda: Village Inn Cafe (CLOSED); restaurant review

Greater East Bay

Village Inn Cafe  CLOSED  204 Village Square/Orinda Way, (925) 254-6080.  B-L daily; $.  No reservations.

interior at Village Inn Cafe in Orinda, California

Popular with locals, this simple old-time coffee shop is a box of a room with a counter, Formica and chrome tables, and a wall filled with historic town photos.  It makes no effort to be cute, but it is usually cheery with animated chatter and is famous for breakfast, which is served until 11:25 a.m (on Sunday, it is all that is served all day).  Fresh-squeezed orange juice is always available.

hamburger at Village Inn Cafe in Orinda, California

The menu is classic American fare, which at lunch includes BLTs and ALTs, The Bird specialty sandwich (grilled turkey, bacon, and Swiss cheese on sourdough), and one of the fattest, messiest, and yummiest burgers I have eaten in a long time (the owner grinds the meat and makes the buns from scratch).  When the waitress handed me my burger, she warned, “Good luck with that!”  For my side, I picked the really crispy and greaseless house-made potato chips, but cottage cheese and peaches, macaroni salad, and potato salad are also options.  I indulged in a satisfying root beer float that came with additional A&W in a can, but you can also get an old-fashioned milkshake served in the mixer can or fresh-squeezed lemonade.

More things to do in Orinda.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 27, 2014

Burlingame: New England Lobster Market & Eatery; restaurant review

101 South

New England Lobster Market & Eatery  824 Cowan Rd./Old Bayshore Hwy., E of 101, (650)  443-1559.  L-D daily; $$.  No reservations. 

This operation started as a fish wholesaler in South San Francisco, morphed into a food truck business, then opened here as a fish market and restaurant and began bringing in lobsters galore.  The area is an industrial park, so there isn’t much else of interest around.  Step up to the counter and place your order, then select a seat at one of the picnic tables either indoors where the decor is industrial warehouse-style unfinished with high ceilings and chalkboard menus, or outdoors where umbrellas provide shelter from the sun.

interior of New England Lobster Market & Eatery in Burlingame, California

The most popular item is the lobster roll sandwich ($17.50), which I prefer undressed with butter dip on the side.  I eat it with a fork, dipping the delicious lobster and pieces of the bread into melted butter.  This dish comes with housemade Kennebec potato chips and coleslaw.  

lobster roll at New England Lobster Market & Eatery in Burlingame, California

The lobster corn chowder and crab nachos are also very popular, and people like to wash it all down with blueberry lemonade.  You can also order a full lobster ($17.95) and do the picking yourself.  As you can see, prices are very good.  More seafood includes Dungeness crab, scallops, prawns, oysters, clams, and mussels.  Consider an It’s It ice cream sandwich for dessert (It’s It is made with oatmeal cookies, vanilla ice cream, and a coating of  chocolate; it was developed in 1928 at long-gone Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco.)

New England Lobster Market and Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in Burlingame.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 25, 2014

Burlingame: Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe; restaurant review

101 South 

Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe  1216 Burlingame Ave./Lorton Ave., (650) 342-1357; B-L daily, D W-Sun; $. 

This combination Danish bakery and restaurant produces a sweet little six-grain loaf and a great sweet French bread as well as exquisite European-style pastries.

counter at Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe in Burlingame, California

The extensive breakfast menu includes omelettes and pancakes as well as bacon and eggs and is served until 2:30 on weekends.  For lunch try a delicious German bologna on sweet French bread with a side of tasty potato salad and, of course, a dessert pastry.  Or get the Royal Lunch, a collection of far-from-dainty open-face sandwiches--each is an ice cream scoop of salad atop a tiny piece of pumpernickel.  Specialty coffee drinks and ice cream treats are also available.

sidewalk seating at Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe in Burlingame, California

Order at the counter, then find a seat in the cheery open dining rooms with sidewalk views—or out on the sidewalk itself. 
After, spend some time shopping the stores lining this avenue. 

Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in Burlingame.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 23, 2014

Sonoma: Sebastiani Theatre; things to do

Wine Country

Sebastianai Theatre in Sonoma, California
Sebastiani Theatre  476 First St. East, on the plaza, (707) 996-2020.  $9.50/3-D $12, 62+ & under 13 $7/$9, matinees everyone $7/$9. 

Built in 1933 by August Sebastiani, this restored Italian Renaissance-style movie palace shows first-run films and also schedules live events.

More things to do in Sonoma.

More things to do in the Wine Country.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

image ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 20, 2014

Oakland: Doukkala (CLOSED); restaurant review

salad trio at Doukkala restaurant in Oakland, California

880 South

interior of Doukkala restaurant in Oakland, CaliforniaDoukkala  CLOSED  4905 Telegraph Ave./51st St., Temescal neighborhood, (510) 653-8691.   D Tu-Sun; $$. 

Serving Moroccan-inspired California cuisine, this soft-edged spot features two rows of posh cushioned banquettes lining either side wall and a golden silk fabric-draped ceiling.  Large bay windows look out to the sidewalk, where there is additional seating.  My favorite items were a really good full-flavored harira soup made with fresh tomatoes, a crispy sweet pastilla stuffed with quail, and a trio of mildly spiced Moroccan salads that included roasted eggplant and fava beans, tomatoes and peppers, and carrots and cucumbers.  Scallops topped with California sturgeon black caviar made crunchy by heat exposure and a very delicate asparagus-Dungeness crab dish were also very good.  Though I loved the presentation in the namesake coned pot, I was disappointed by the vegetable tagine which was like soupy stew and not very flavorful (it also forms the base for the lamb and duck tagines).  The smooth red sangria, spiked with an assortment of Moroccan spices, was a delicious enhancement.

baklava at Doukkala in Oakland, California

Very rich baklava stuffed with a hazelnut-walnut-almond-pistachio mix and served with perfect Moroccan mint tea made the perfect ending.  This restaurant is named after a region in Morocco known for its agricultural fertility and coastal fishing towns.  It is located on a block crammed with an assortment of restaurants and one tattoo parlor, and so is lively in the evening.

More things to do in Oakland.

Way more things to do in Oakland.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 18, 2014

San Rafael: Lotus Chaat and Spices; restaurant review

101 North

dahl puri at Lotus Chaat and Spices in San Rafael, California

Lotus Chaat and Spices  1559 4th St./F St., (415) 454-6887.  L-D daily; $. 

Indian street food is the name of the game in this comfortable spacious dining room with table service.  The menu describes dishes fairly well.  Items at the top of the to-try list  include dahl puri (small crispy rounds filled with mashed potatoes and yogurt), sambar vada (deep-fried lentil donuts with a bowl of spicy sambar soup), chole bhature (a big deep-fried puffy bread with chickpea stew), papdi chaat (deep-fried flatbreads topped with potatoes and sweet-sour tamarind and mint sauces).  The large dosa selection includes one stuffed with eggplant and another with no stuffing.  Almost everything can be made vegan or gluten free.  For drinks, I like the milkshake-like mango lassi.  A small adjacent store sells ingredients to take home.

Lotus Chaat & Spices Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in San Rafael.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

image ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 16, 2014

Sonoma: Unique shops; things to do

Wine Country

These shops are clustered in the 100 block of East Napa Street in Sonoma, going west to east:

●The Corner Store  entrance at 498 First St. East, SE corner of plaza, (707) 996-2211.  
Though the address is based on its position around the corner, the length of the store runs along Napa Street.  It purveys particularly nice gift items, tablecloths, and linens.  Half of store is a stand up wine-tasting bar.

The Corner Kids Store  116 East Napa St., (707) 996-2220.  
You’ll find a spare collection of items that will delight both young and old alike. 

J. James Sonoma  122 East Napa St., (707) 933-8635.  
This low-key shop is filled with elegant items—everything from an assortment of magnifying glasses to a refined and lovely collection of women’s clothing.  You’ll need time. 

Readers’ Books  130 East Napa St., (707) 939-1779.  
This independent bookstore has been here for a long time. 

Arts Guild of Sonoma in Sonoma, California
Arts Guild of Sonoma  140 East Napa St. (707) 996-3115.  Sun, M, Thur 11-5, F-Sat-10-9.  
Artists are local and become members through a juried screening.  Once admitted, their work is displayed here. 

La Haye Art Center  148 East Napa St./East First St., (707) 996-4373.  Hours irregular.  
This complex consists of five artists’ studios operating inside an active bronze foundry and permits viewing the creative process in action. 

La Brocante shop in Sonoma, California

●La Brocante  156 East Napa St., (707) 996-8800.  
Items are displayed throughout this self-described “whimsical marketplace” in a warren of rooms in an attractively repurposed house. 

June 13, 2014

Berkeley: Amazing Crab Restaurant (CLOSED); restaurant review

80 North

Amazing Crab Restaurant  CLOSED  2370 Shattuck Ave./Durant Ave., downtown, (510) 843-6666.  L-D daily; $-$$. 

This simple place has warm brick walls painted with a giant crab, paper-covered tables, and a wall of windows to the sidewalk.  

interior crab mural at Amazing Crab Restaurant in Berkeley, California

The seasonal New Orleans-inspired menu includes the restaurant's signature King Crab and Snow Crab Legs and seasonal Dungeness crab, as well as crawfish, shrimp, mussels, and clams sourced from Cajun country.  You purchase each by the pound (it is possible to mix two) and they are boiled in a plastic bag in a choice of four housemade sauces—Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter, and bouillabaisse.  We ordered the shrimp in Cajun sauce along with corn on the cob and a few small potatoes (they are also put in the boiling bag).  It was a messy affair, so we bibbed up and put the offered plastic gloves on our hands.

meal at Amazing Crab Restaurant in Berkeley, California

We placed the discarded heads and shells on a plate, and used a paper towel to hold our glasses of Berkeley-made Trumer Pilsner—no fiddling with personal electronic devices here!  And it was great fun.  Next time I want to try Dungeness crab in garlic butter sauce.  We also shared a side of tasty sweet potato fries and a salad, and then concluded with a slice of carrot cake.  Lunch features po’boys, jambalaya, seafood gumbo, and pastas. 

More things to do in Berkeley.

Way more thing to do in Berkeley. 

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 11, 2014

Healdsburg: Grape Leaf Inn; hotel review

101 North

Grape Leaf Inn  539 Johnson St., 4 blks. from plaza, (707) 433-8140.  12 rooms.  Some fireplaces.  Afternoon cookies & wine tasting; full breakfast. 

Located in a residential area, this rare 1900 three-dormer Queen Anne mansion is surrounded by gardens.

guest room at Grape Leaf Inn in Healdsburg, California

Freshly baked cookies are usually available.  Wine tasting featuring the inn owners’ boutique wineries occurs with cheese and chocolates in a subterranean bar whose entrance is hidden behind a bookcase, and guests are welcomed during their stay to complimentary tastings at the inn owner’s nearby wineries.  Bikes are available for loan.  Guest rooms are spacious, and each is uniquely decorated and named for a grape varietal.  Some rooms have whirlpool tubs for two, and one has a steam shower and deep Japanese-style soaking tub.  Four rooms are tucked romantically under the eaves of the steeply pitched roof featuring 17 skylights with views of trees and stars.  A beautiful array of wallpapers is enhanced by an eclectic collection of antique furnishings, oriental rugs, and high-quality linens and towels.  Puffy white comforters top the beds.  Amenities include fresh flowers and a turndown chocolate.

breakfast at Grape Leaf Inn in Healdsburg, California

Breakfast is served in the formal dining room.  Ours included an appetizer raspberry shooter with prosciutto-wrapped melon spheres, plus a main course of saffron-sausage risotto topped with a poached egg, a rosemary-marmalade scone, and freshly sliced tomatoes garnished with a rosemary sprig. 

June 9, 2014

Sonoma: The Girl & The Fig; restaurant review

chicken liver mousse at The Girl & The Fig in Sonoma, CA

Wine Country 

The Girl & The Fig  (707) 938-3634.  L-D daily, SunBr; $$-$$$.  Reservations advised. 

This popular spot operates off the lobby of the Sonoma Hotel.  A signature arugula-goat cheese-pancetta-pecan-grilled fig salad is usually among the menu’s figgy goodies, even in off season.  Appetizers might include a charcuterie platter, a selection of artisan cheeses, and--if you’re lucky—rich chicken liver mousse with a side of house-pickled vegetables.  Lighter sandwiches are available even at dinner, including the house top sirloin burger and a croques monsieur with applewood-smoked ham and St. George cheese.  Entrees might include Liberty duck confit with French green lentils, a traditional French steak frites, or a thick grilled pork chop sprinkled with colorful flower petals.  Desserts are seasonal and often flavored with intriguing herbs, but sometimes they are just plain rich and creamy—think salted caramel trifle.  The wine list favors Rhone-style varietals from Sonoma and offers flights for comparing and contrasting.  This festive spot’s back patio is wrapped with a rustic recycled wood-and-corregated tin fence and is outfitted with a fountain, umbrellas, and strings of lights.  It is primo in warm weather.

The Girl & The Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in Sonoma.

More things to do in the Wine Country.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

image ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 6, 2014

Richmond: Pacific East Mall; things to do + restaurant review

80 North

Pacific East Mall  3288 Pierce St.   

This indoor mall features Asian restaurants, small shops (including several specialty tea shops), and a large supermarket.  When I come here I usually start with a foot reflexology treatment, then go to lunch, then shop the small stores and market, and top it off with a beautiful orchid from the open lobby stall. 

orchid stand at Pacific East Mall in Richmond, California

99 Ranch Market  #81, (510) 769-8899. 
This supermarket dominates the mall and has a vast selection of Asian grocery items.  Rice can be purchased in 50-pound bags, and delicacies include dried black moss and pork blood soup as well as roasted duck and exotic fruits and vegetables.  A cafeteria-style Chinese restaurant operates in the back, which is also where you’ll find an array of live fish in tanks. 

99 Ranch Market at Pacific East Mall in Richmond, California

Sheng Kee Bakery  #C133, (877) 580-8000. 
Located across from the market check-out, this bakery is set up cafeteria-style.  With tongs, you select what you like and put it on your tray.  I like to pick up several hot curry beef crescent pastries (these are best eaten right away while hot, or heated later in an oven--not a microwave) to take home for dinner along with a few random pastries for dessert.  More description. 

Golden Island Massage  #M268, (510) 525-8288.  Daily 9:30am-10pm.  $25/hr. for foot reflexology treatment. 
Find this spot by heading inside to the back of the mall.  On the north side by the stairwell, look for the signs in Chinese and go upstairs.  This treatment is all business, with no frills or pampering.  You remain fully clothed--wear an old t-shirt and loose pants—and should expect your hair and any make-up to get mussed.  You’ll be in a dark, quiet communal room outfitted with a number of comfortable reclining chairs or perhaps a chair-table.  The exceptional foot reflexology treatment is done by a certified attendant and includes head, arms, shoulders, back, and, of, course, the feet and legs.  I sleep so blissfully well after.  Appointments are not necessary unless you want a specific person.  Most workers speak very little English, and most are very good.  Complimentary use of a sauna and steam room is included.  More traditional Western treatments and massage are also available. 

Golden Island Massage desk at Pacific East Mall in Richmond, California

168 Restaurant  #A109, (510) 588-9168.  L-D daily; $. 
Come here for Taiwanese-style Chinese cuisine.  Tasty lunch specials I’ve enjoyed include spicy eggplant, beef with yellow leek and dry bean curd, and a fresh papaya juice icee. The special comes with a bowl of soup, rice, and a choice of iced green tea or iced coffee.

168 Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

spicy eggplant at 168 Restaurant at Pacific East Mall in Richmond, California

Asian Pearl Seafood Restaurant  #A118, (510) 526-6800.  Dim sum M-F 11-2:30, Sat-Sun 10-3. 
This is the spot for dim sum, which here is ordered from a menu. The deep-fried stuffed taro and sticky rice in lotus leaf are very popular. 

Mi Southeast Asian Eatery  #B101, (510) 527-3788.  Cash only.  
With a new name and refreshed decor, this place has the same menu but has added beer and complimentary tea.  It is always busy, but any wait is usually short.  Personal favorites are the soupy version of beef-broccoli with wide chow ho fun noodles (#30) and the Singapore-style fried vermicelli rice noodles (#32).  On my list to try in the future are shrimp chow fun with mixed vegetables (#37), a rice plate/platter with spareribs (#40) or five-spice duck (#41), and the signature fried fish cake.  Soups and vegetarian options are available.  The signature hot sauce and diced jalapeno pepper condiments are very good.  Prices are a tad high.

Mi Southeast Asian Eatery interior at 168 Restaurant at Pacific East Mall in Richmond, CA

Pho Saigon II 
#A116,  (510) 528-6388.  L-D daily. 
Vietnamese noodle dishes rule the menu.  Choose a soup version or dry version.  My favorite is dry thin rice vermicelli noodles with a barbecue-pork topping and the soup on the side.  I add flavoring to my taste from condiments on the table.  Fresh fruit smoothies are delicious and include the unusual—durian, jackfruit, cherimoya—as well as the more common.

vermicelli noodles with barbecue-pork topping at Pho Saigon II in Richmond, California

Daimo  (510) 527-3888.  Dim sum daily 9-5; open to 3am. 
Located in a detached building outside and in front of the mall, this spot serves excellent fresh seafood and a limited selection of order-from-the-menu dim sum.

Daimo Chinese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in Richmond. 

Dim sum photo gallery.  

More places to explore in Northern California. 

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
updated August 3, 2015; September 13, 2017

June 4, 2014

Sonoma: The Sonoma House at Patz & Hall; things to do

Wine Country

exterior of The Sonoma House at Patz & Hall winery in Sonoma, California

The Sonoma House at Patz & Hall  21200 Eighth St. East, (707) 265-7700.  Wine tasting daily; fee. 

Situated in Napa for 25 years, this winery moved to Sonoma in 2014.  The new winery buildings are on the outskirts of town surrounded by baby vineyards and feature striking views of the Mayacamas Mountains to the east.  The winemakers make just two varietals--Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

salon wine tasting at The Sonoma House at Patz & Hall winery in Sonoma, California

An hour-long salon tasting ($50; W-Sun at 10:30, 1, 3:30; appointment required) includes six wines paired with tiny bowls of food enhancements.  It begins in the super-modern, clean-lined tasting room appointed with leather couches and fireplace, where participants are given a little something to punch the palate—a sparkling wine with a hint of apple.  Then everyone moves into the salon, where they are seated at a table covered with wine glasses for the guided tasting.  During my tasting I learned that Patz & Hall ages all its wines in French oak, which are used for only 3 years and not shaved and this is what gives the wines a luscious smooth finish.  My tasting was a lot of fun, with plenty of chatter and bantering from the knowledgeable participants.  You can optionally do a regular tasting of four wines ($25; daily; appointment not necessary).  Wines are available only at the winery and through their wine club.

More things to do in Sonoma.

More things to do in the Wine Country.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

June 2, 2014

Berkeley: Nomad Tibetan Restaurant; restaurant review

80 North

interior of Nomad Tibetan Restaurant in Berkeley, CaliforniaNomad Tibetan Restaurant  1593 Solano Ave./Tacoma Ave., (510) 984-0738.  L W-Sun, D daily. 

Featuring a woodsy decor, with hand-crafted wood tables and art by a local Tibetan artist, this comfortable spot provides a restive retreat.  A good way to start a meal is with the juicy beef momo dumplings, which are very much like pot stickers, and particularly tasty with the house sauce.   Among the many vegetarian items is duluma, a slice of eggplant topped with an assortment of other vegetables in a tasty sauce.  Traditionally, ting-mo—hand-
rolled Tibetan steam buns that look like big yellow flowers--are used to sop up the sauce.  Among the many more dishes I want to try are Shambala curry and ngo-thuk (stir-fried noodles with beef and vegetables).  You can enhance your meal with salty Tibetan butter tea or sweet ginger tea. 

vegetarian dulumama eggplant dish at Nomad Tibetan Restaurant in Berkeley, California