Friday, April 29, 2016

Santa Cruz Mountains: Los Gatos, Hotel Los Gatos + Dio Deka

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Hotel Los Gatos  210 E. Main St., (866) 335-1700, (408) 335-1700.  71 rooms; $$$-$$$+.  Some fireplaces.  Heated pool; hot tub; sauna; full-service spa; fitness room.  Restaurant; room service.  Located just down the street from a Ferrari/Bentley showroom, this luxuriously spacious property has a colorful Tuscan-country style.  Public spaces are decorated with Mexican tiles and pottery, studded leather chairs, and ornate wood-inlayed Moroccan tables.  A sort of Mediterranean hacienda, it melds the two architectural styles with a terracotta-tiled roof and a spacious interior courtyard with palm trees and fountains.  Attractive art is displayed throughout.  Guest rooms are furnished luxuriously with richly colorful silk drapes and comforters, soft Egyptian cotton linens, and tile-and-granite bathrooms.

guest room at Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos, California
guest room at Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos, California


guest room at Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos, California
guest room at Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos, California

Dio Deka translates in Greek as the restaurant’s address number (210) and also is the area code for Athens.  This is the only Michelin-star Greek restaurant in the United States.  Delicious upscale ethnic cuisine is served in a tasteful ambiance.  Menu winners include silogi (an assortment of delicious spreads served with housemade pita), dolmathakia (grape leaves stuffed with a tasty mix of braised short ribs, rice, and mushrooms), and lavraki (mesquite-grilled fresh fish).  More entrée options include a variety of premium steaks as well as more Greek dishes.  For dessert, don’t miss the perfectly prepared traditional Greek beignets dipped in a thyme-honey syrup (they are made with co-owner Yiani’s mom’s recipe), and do wash them down with a Greek Kourtaki Muscat from Samos Island.

Greek beignets at Dio Deka in Los Gatos, California
Greek beignets at Dio Deka in Los Gatos, California

Afternoon tea is served in the hotel lobby on weekends by reservation.

Dio Deka Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

880 South: Oakland, Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill


Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill  4869 Telegraph Ave./48th St., Temescal, (510) 654-2000.  L-D daily.  Based on centuries-old family recipes passed down to two sisters, exotic choices on this menu are so extensive that it isn’t a bad idea to spend some time online studying the options before your visit.  That’s what I did, and it allowed me to zero in on the bibimbop bowl consisting of rice, veggies, and a protein.  I picked a mixed grain base (the other choice is white rice) with spicy pork topping, and asked them to hold the sunnyside-up fried egg that is usually placed on top.  A sizzling version of this is served in hot stoneware.  This was served with miso soup and nine banchan sides of small pickled and spiced vegetables that are refilled of by request.  After I ate my lunch, I had enough food left over for two more meals at home.  The house specialty Korean-style Fried Chicken--referred to as “KFC”--takes 15 to 20 minutes to prepare.  Among the drinks are fruit-infused unfiltered rice wine and fruit slushies.  The way understated interior decor here includes charcoal gray and taupe painted walls, both inside and out, and stone-tile flooring.  

exterior of Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California
exterior of Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California

interior of Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California
interior of Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California

bibimbop bowl at Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California
bibimbop bowl at Bowl'd BBQ Korean Stone Grill in Oakland, California
Bowl'D BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Santa Cruz Mountains: Saratoga, Hakone Gardens

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Hakone Gardens  21000 Big Basin Way (Hwy. 9), (408) 741-4994.  M-F 10-5, Sat-Sun 11-5; Nov-Feb to 4.  $10, 65+ & 5-17 $8.  Tea & cookies:  Sat-Sun in summer; $5.  Tea ceremony:  3rd Sun of month, Apr-Nov; $7.

wisteria in bloom at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
wisteria in bloom at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

Reached via a steep, narrow, paved road off the highway, this is the oldest authentic Japanese-style residential garden in the Western Hemisphere.  Originally a private garden but now a city park, it is typical of a mid-17th-century residential garden and is composed of four separate areas:  a Hill and Pond Garden,
Hill and Pond Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
Hill and Pond Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

a Tea Garden, a Zen Garden (where stones can represent either water or clouds, and sometimes gardens or mountains),
Zen Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
Zen Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

and a Bamboo Garden that boasts the largest collection of Japanese bamboo in a public park in the western world (bamboo from the garden is popular with decorators and available for sale in the gift shop).
Bamboo Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
Bamboo Garden at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

Besides being soothing, a three-level waterfall symbolizes from the top down heaven-man-earth.
three-level waterfall at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
three-level waterfall at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

Special features include a Japanese-style house built without nails or adhesives,
Japanese house at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California
Japanese house at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California

a pond stocked with eye-catching koi (certain orange-spotted ones are valued at up to $40,000 each!),


and three authentic tea ceremony rooms.  The natural greens in this garden bring calmness and are accented with seasonal bloom.  A claim to Hollywood fame--the final third of "Memoirs of a Geisha: was filmed here.  A picnic area with tables is available.  Cultural classes are scheduled regularly, and an annual Japanese Cultural Festival is held each May.  

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images and video ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Santa Cruz Mountains: Los Gatos, Fleur de Cocoa

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Fleur de Cocoa 39 N. Santa Cruz Ave., (408) 354-3574. Tu-Sat 7:30-6, Sun 8-4; $. This tiny, authentic French pâtisserie presents a case full of croissants, éclairs, decadent macarons, and buttery madeleines. French mingles with English as customers exclaim over the famous housemade hot chocolate. And a small lunch menu offers several soups and quiches as well as the traditional croque monsieur and madame (with a sunnyside-up egg) sandwiches and a perfectly dressed salad.

exterior of Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California
exterior of Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California


interior of Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California
interior of Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California

counter at Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California
counter at Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California

croque monsieur at Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California
croque monsieur at Fleur de Cocoa patisserie in Los Gatos, California
Fleur de Cocoa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Santa Cruz Mountains: Los Gatos, We Olive & Wine Bar


We Olive & Wine Bar  112 N. Santa Cruz Ave./Grays Lane, (408) 354-7474.  Daily M-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm; $$.  What a great idea to allow customers to sit down and order from a menu a snack or small meal made with the packaged items the shop also sells.  Actually tasting the products provides inspiration for using them to whip up something at home for dinner or even a party. 
Sara Bega pours a taste at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

Wine is among the stocked items--so you can also enjoy a taste or two of those currently in stock--and hand-crafted beers are also available on draft and in the bottle.  I came here for a browse and early dinner based on the restaurant’s reputation.  Seating is in the back of the store, either inside at a bar or at separate tables, or outside in a landscaped courtyard garden that is pleasant in the area’s generally good weather.  The menu features bites (the peppadew African peppers stuffed with salami and goat cheese were cute, colorful, and delicious),
stuffed peppadew African peppers at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

salads (a burrata version prepared with tiny baby arugula was delicious and served with crostini),
burrata-baby arugula salad at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

and flatbreads (the artichoke-caper with fresh mozzarella, basil, and roasted tomatoes is particularly tasty). 
artichoke-caper flatbread at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

A few panini are also options, and recipes for some of the menu items are available.  I tasted four wines, glasses for which were lined up in front of me with numbers matching descriptions on a menu.  This was fun.  I selected a spicy aromatic Gewurztraminer (2013 Handley, Anderson Valley) and full-bodied, smooth Tempranillo (2012 Bodegas “Viva Yo!”, Paso Robles) as my favorites. 
wine tasting at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

The shop specializes in California extra virgin olive oil from small growers and farmers (all certified by the California Olive Oil Council) but also stocks balsamic vinegar, gourmet foods, and small production wines from throughout the state.  You can do an enlightening olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting for no charge.  I tried two versions of white balsamic vinegar--a mild young white version and an older, more colorful and tastier version—and learned that balsamic vinegar comes only from Italy, and that it gets sweeter with age, even in bottles. 
white balsamic vinegar tasting at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California


Amanda Sarich conducts an olive oil-vinegar tasting at We Olive & Wine Bar in Los Gatos, California

Artisan food products sold here include tapenades, mustards, pestos, chocolate and caramel sauces, and unique spreads.  The shop also purveys some kitchen and dining accessories, and special events are scheduled. Custom gift baskets are a specialty and can be ordered in person or online. 

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

1 South: Carmel Valley, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

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Tassajara Zen Mountain Center  39171 Tassajara Rd., 40 mi. from Hwy. 1.  Reservations:  (415) 865-1899 (M-F 9-12:30 & 1:30-4).  29 units; $$-$$$+; includes 3 vegetarian meals.  Closed Sept-Apr.  Child rates; number of children permitted is controlled.  No TVs; some fireplaces; some shared baths.  Hot springs pool; steam rooms.  Day use:  (831) 659-2229; $25, children $12; reservations essential; lunch by reservation.  No pets.  Owned by the San Francisco Zen Center, this traditional Soto Zen Buddhist monastery is the oldest one outside of Asia.  Located deep in the Ventana Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest, it is home to 50 male and female monks.  Getting here requires a 14-mile drive down a steep dirt road (a four-wheel-drive or stick shift is strongly advised), but overnight guests have the option of arranging a ride in on a four-wheel-drive "stage."  The famous hot mineral springs are semi-enclosed in a Japanese-style bathhouse.  Men's and women's baths and steam rooms are separate, and swimsuits are optional; mixed bathing is permitted after dinner.  More activities include hiking, river wading, and picnicking.  Guests stay in simple wood or stone cabins with no electricity.  Kerosene lamps provide lighting, and everyone shares one phone.  This is not a place to sleep in--bells go off at 5:30 a.m. to announce meditation time for any guests who want to participate.  Getting a reservation can be difficult; call early.  Reservations open on April 3 for overnight stays and on April 25 for day visits.  Day guests must bring their own towels and food. 

sign at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California

bridge over river at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


outdoor hot spring pool at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


indoor hot spring pool at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


fresh bread at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


vegetarian dishes at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


vegetarian dishes at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California


vegetarian dishes at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley California

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images courtesy of venue

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Santa Cruz Mountains: Saratoga, The Mountain Winery

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The Mountain Winery  14831 Pierce Rd., (408) 741-2822.  First owned by the famous Paul Masson--when it only produced sparkling wine--this winery continues to produce fine wine, including a signature Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  It is also a premier concert venue in Santa Clara County.  After driving up a long, winding, scenic road and parking in a lot with a spectacular panoramic view of the Silicon Valley, you stroll a fairly flat paved path—also with a good view--to the cave-like, windowless tasting room.  Additional seating is available on a deck, where comfortable padded chairs surround fire pits and feature a view of the adjacent stadium (when you leave, make up for this by visiting the small deck beside the catering house which provides a stunning view of the valley).  My favorite of six tastes was a crisp, citrusy 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast. 

The world's largest and the country's oldest winery-related music festival, the Mountain Winery Groupware Technology concert series has been held in its picturesque hilltop setting every year since 1958.  This eclectic series schedules outdoor concerts from July through October.  Before-show dining at the Chateau Deck Restaurant provides an outdoor white-tablecloth experience, while the Vineyard Bar & Grill provides casual outdoor elegance and beautiful views of the Silicon Valley.

parking lot at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California

entrance to The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California

tasting room at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California

view of Silicon Valley from The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California


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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

San Francisco: Caffe Bianco


Caffe Bianco  39 Sutter St./Montgomery St., Financial District, (415) 421-2091.  M-F 6am-6pm.  Located on the ground floor of the 1923 Chancery Building, it’s unlikely you’ll find this pleasant spot unless you are looking for it.  It is just a block from BART, but on a section of street that is a sunless concrete throughway.  But once inside, I was pleased with the atmospheric high ceilings, round marble tables, and two walls of windows letting in plenty of light and sustaining a tall plant hugging them in the corner.  Place your order at the counter, then select a seat and it will be delivered to you when ready.  Breakfast includes a fluffy scrambled egg sandwich, oatmeal, pastries, and my choice--bagels with cream cheese (lox is an option).  Lunch brings on a popular three-salad sampler plate (the kale is said to be very good), hot items that include lasagna, and a variety of sandwiches--havarti and avocado sounds good, and next time I plan to try the reputedly exceptional Proscuitto di Parma I with pesto, roasted peppers, tomato, and fresh mozzarella.  Everything is housemade, orange juice is fresh squeezed, and gluten-free bread is available.  Upstairs seating is a balcony, with some tables that overlook the activity downstairs.  


exterior of Caffe Bianco in San Francisco


order counter at Caffe Bianco in San Francisco


interior of Caffe Bianco in San Francisco

bagel and ice tea at Caffe Bianco in San Francisco

interior of Caffe Bianco in San Francisco
 Caffe Bianco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 
 

Friday, April 1, 2016

101 North: Larkspur, Left Bank Brasserie



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Left Bank Brasserie  507 Magnolia Ave./Ward St., (415) 927-3331.  L-D daily; $$.  Reservations advised.  Valet parking F-Sat D.  The vintage 1895 building this atmospheric Parisian-style brasserie is located within--known as the Blue Rock Inn--is in this small town’s Historic District.  A restaurant has operated on its ground floor since the early 1900s.  The building’s name is derived from its blue rock façade, which was quarried from the base of Mount Tamalpais.
exterior of Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

Today’s airy restaurant retains the original pressed-tin ceiling and often greets diners with a welcoming fire in its massive stone fireplace.  Theater posters enliven the walls, and clocks above the bar tell time locally as well as in Tahiti, Montreal, and Lyon (the chef’s hometown).  In good weather, outdoor dining on the veranda fronting the town’s quiet main street is a pleasant option.
interior of Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

The menu is rustic, unfussy cuisine grand-mère, or “grandma’s cooking,” and portions are big.  Lunch is sandwiches, a hamburger Américain, salads, and a few entrees.  Dinner brings on signature dishes:  bouillabaisse, rotisserie chicken, steak frites.  Cocktails include a Pamplemousse (grapefruit vodka with 7-Up) and 12 kinds of pastis.  Apple tarte tatin, Bing cherry clafouti, and molten chocolate cake are among the scrumptious endings.  Special events are often scheduled.  Currently, Sunday Supper begins each weekend at 4 p.m.  Three courses are priced at $32, plus an additional $4 for a paired glass of wine.  What a deal!  Diners get a choice of several salads and desserts, but the main course is scheduled.  When I visited, it was Coq au Vin (restaurant’s recipe)—marinated for 36 hours and long cooked so that the meat fell off the bones.
tableside service at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

Coq au Vin Sunday Supper at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

It was a delicious, bountiful portion, with enough left over to take home for another lighter meal.  For the main course my dining partner and I both chose the crispy butter lettuce house salad with tasty Dijon mustard vinaigrette dressing,
butter lettuce salad at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

but for dessert we shared our choices of classic crème brulee and profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.  
creme brulee at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California

profiteroles at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California
Left Bank Larkspur Brasserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers