Knysna is perfect! (What a relief!)

We wake in Mossel Bay to a perfect day. Cool and crisp, the sun is shining, the sky is blue – and the ocean is blue. And completely empty of whales.

This is getting a bit tough to take. Where are those whales? Folks who live and work around this area are constantly talking about seeing the whales – so the lack of whale is getting me a bit down. But I shall soldier on – the ocean has plenty of fish, and whales. Some are bound to turn up, Right?

We opt for the grocery store breakfast – bread and a bit of coffee. I’m not willing to pay $20 each for a buffet breakfast of more food than I could possibly eat. Makes no sense to me.

After our quick, and not very satisfying breakfast, we head over to the Dias Museum. It’s right next to the hotel – and houses something very special. A touch over 500 years ago, Bartolomeu Dias and 32 crew members sailed a Caravel from Lisbon to Africa on a voyage of discovery. 6 months after leaving Europe, while searching for fresh water, he made land literally 100 feet from where I slept last night. 500 years later, it was decided to build an exact replica of his ship, and sail it with a crew of 17 from Lisbon to Mossel Bay. After the 3 month voyage, the ship was towed by hand power up from the beach and into the museum. Once safely inside, the rear wall of the museum was constructed.

On the outside, the boat is an exact copy, right to the steering mechanism (no wheel – they used a rod tiller). And by today’s standards – it is small. In fact it is so small that it is hard to imagine 17 people working and sleeping and eating on board – let alone the original crew of 33! Inside some modifications had to be made – partly to make her sea-worthy by today’s standards – and partly to make her livable by today’s standards! They added a kitchen, 3 toilets, and bunk bed! The original crew slept on the decks, cooked on the decks, and well – I guess – did you know what on the decks. The cargo hold was filled with ballast to keep the boat steady in the water.

Definitely worth seeing! I was so impressed by the tiny size, and extremely durable construction. Naturally, when they made land, they did it in period clothing – so they have samples of that in the museum as well.

The rest of the Dias Museum complex is kinda silly – a shell museum, the original watering hole, and the Post Tree. Apparently, again 500 years ago, someone hung a message on the tree, and another captain from another boat months later retrieved the message. Hence the name, and the proper post box underneath for visitors to continue the tradition.

Have been there – seen the Museum, we motor on past beaches, houses, townships and informal settlements (their name for clusters of corrugated metal shacks that house folks not really ‘legal’ in South Africa. Our next stop is Knysna (don’t pronounce the K), and we are even going to stay 2 nights.

I’m really looking forward to this – my poor body isn’t built for one night stands – I need to get used to a bed before I can get a good night’s rest.

The drive into Knysna is actually ok – the town had a huge fire in June, so we were a bit worried – but apparently the damage was done to areas around the town, not the actually town. We stop into a hotel to ask directions – and are told that the Conrad Pezula is on the Eastern Headland.

Means nothing to me of course – but I follow the directions and find my self leaving Knysna and heading along the Knysna Lagoon towards the ocean. It turns out that Knysna occupies the far side of a lagoon – part of which is deep enough for proper boats, and the entrance to the lagoon is protected by two Headlands – East and West. These huge out-croppings of rock kept the harbour safe – but they are perilously close to each other. And directly facing South. The British navy named it one of the 3 most dangerous harbours in the world.

And justifiably it turns out. The waves outside the harbour mouth are huge – and if you attempt to enter as the tide is going in – you will be rushed in like no tomorrow. And if you are fool enough to try to bring in a sail boat when the tide is going out. Well – you aren’t going to make it.

In the days before motor – this must have be a entrance to challenge the brave and foolish. Even with the help of a motor – it’s not easy to navigate – you must still time your run in with the tides and waves.

Needless to say – all this nature makes for a spectacular setting for the Conrad Pezula. It’s perched high up on the Head – and the views to both the South and North are stunning. The hotel isn’t slum housing either. We drive up to the huge Portico entrance and are greeted by 3 bellman. One to take the luggage, One to take the car away (the only option is valet parking), and one to escort us in to registration. We are welcomed, offered our choice of refreshments – and assigned our room.

To get to our room, we must ride in a golf cart down and around to our 4-plex – 2 suites up, 2 suites down. Our suite is on the upper right, and features an entrance hall, a bar set-up with coffee machine, tea, etc, and then our room itself with it’s fireplace, sofa, bed and glass window wall open to the stunning view. And then of course there’s the bathroom – walk in glass shower, a toilet room, a double soaking tub, and two sinks. It’s a wow. I’m particularly impressed with the walk in closet (oh, I do like a walk in closet) – all wood, all black, and the doors are barn door style opening. Very very nice.

We love our lunch overlooking the pool, and opt to spend the afternoon relaxing in our room. We have dinner reservations at JJ’s Grill back in Knysna, so eventually we have to climb back up to the main lodge (we could have called for a golf cart – but that seemed overkill – it was only one stair case). Dinner is interesting – with a menu that features things like Ostrich, Kudu, and Crocodile. Victor opts for the Crocodile – looks a bit like chicken – I enjoy a nicely cooked T-Bone steak. The trim is different from what we do in Canada – more fat is left on during the cooking – resulting in a richer mouth feel, if also producing a lot of ‘steak’ you can’t eat.

Back to our palace with a view for bed – but first – can you please lite the fireplace? Of course – we’ll be right there. And they do! It’s lovely going to bed to a roaring fire. We will sleep well.

Signing off for yet another day – The Soup Lady

2 Star Michelin Restaurants – Seriously – are they worth the price?

Hard to say actually. We only ate at two 2-star restaurants this trip – the fabulous Atelier in Munich has only 1 star.

The first was the Essigbratlein in Nuremberg, the 2nd was the Fischers Fritz in Berlin. Both are seriously expensive, very elegant, service intensive restaurants – both are clearly intended to offer ‘blow-you-away’ food at prices that will dent your pocketbook.

First – the Essigbratlein. Nuremberg is not Berlin, and one wouldn’t expect either Berlin prices, nor Berlin quality – and you’d be exactly right. The meal at the Essigbratlein – a tiny 10 table hole-in-the-wall located within spitting distance of the Nuremberg Castle – was good – heavy on veggies (unusual in restaurants of this type) – and generous with the wine. But the courses blur together in my memory – delicious why we enjoyed them, but except for the Brussel sprouts with mandarin – not worth blogging about. The one exception were the Brussel sprouts. Not a vegetable I would quickly assume I would enjoy – and in this case – I’d be very wrong. This was a stunning dish. Light, flavorful, full of texture – completely delicious.

And I must compliment the restaurant on the wine service. Traditionally – I don’t order the wine pairing – it’s a lot of money for a lot of alcohol I simply can’t drink. But at the Essigbratlein they went ahead and poured me a sipping portion of each wine served at the table. I could taste, enjoy – and they didn’t charge us. Cool.

Second – the Fischers Fritz. This is a much larger restaurant – more servers, more tables, more space. And located as it is in the Regency Hotel in Berlin, I’m going to guess a much much larger kitchen. The result is as should be expected – a superior experience. Highlights included the Sea Bass in Sel (an entire fish cooked in a flour/salt pastry shell so that the juices are sealed in), and the Cheese Course.



I adore a cheese trolley – and their trolley was outstanding. On the other hand – they did not accompany the cheese with as many treats as did the Atelier in Munich – so I can only give them a B+ for that course. I also loved the first appetizer – a tartare of sea bass with avocado and quickly fried mini-octopus.


Wonderful texture, delightful favors, plus it looked great. Unfortunately – the desert was a disaster – I think the Fishers Fritz needs a pastry chef – bad! The ‘franchise’ on the other hand were delightful tiny bites of chocolate truffles, jellies, and treats. They were as good as the desert was bad.

I must admit that while the Fischers Fritz was the better of the two, the Atelier in Munich trumped them both. Oh well – you never know if you never try!

Atelier – the Ultimate Dinner – Ignoring the price of course!

There’s a 2 Michelin Star Restaurant in Munich – the Dallmayr. It’s extremely small – extremely famous – and naturally – it’s very hard to get reservations. For some reason we’d thought we could sneak in at the last minute. Nope. But the very sweet Matre d’ asked if he could find another option for us – and suggested the Atelier. He even called and got us reservations.

So that’s how we ended up there – personal reference!

You’d never find it on Tripadvisor – 2 year ago someone reviewed it – in German, and gave it a 98 out of 100 – but blew it on the overall rating. Instead of a 5 – he gave it 2 – thinking Michelin stars. So the restaurant is ranked about 50th in Munich – instead of the first or second place it deserves. How do I know – after I ate there I emailed him to ask why the 2 stars!

Anyway – The restaurant is located in a tiny space (10 tables max – although all were large – at least double sized normal tables, with generous aisles and plenty of room for the serving staff). The tiny space is located in one of Munich’s don’t ask the price – you can’t afford it – upscale hotels. There were 2 other restaurants (at least) in the same hotel – the Garden which shared chefs and maitre d’ with the Atelier, although not the menu or wait staff, and rather surprisingly – a Trader Vic’s on a lower level. I haven’t seen a Trader Vic’s in at least 30 years. I didn’t get to see inside this one either!

But the layout was such that once in the Atelier – you didn’t hear or see or know anything about the other restaurants – it was a private space, set up to impress, comfort, and clearly feed you.

Huge round stone platters marked each place, and the salt and butter service was pink sea salt, unsalted local butter, and a house made spread.


I felt very under-dressed in my blue jeans and bright blue ski sweater, but the extremely well-trained staff didn’t bat an eyelid. If I came recommended by the maitre d’ at Dallmayr – I was ok!

There are only 2 main options – a tasting menu of 5 courses, or a tasting menu of 7 courses. But our talented, knowledgeable, and very pretty head waitress assured us that the kitchen was extremely flexible – we could pick and choose as we wished.

So my husband ordered the 7 course menu with wine pairings, I opted for the 5 course meal. In my opinion – I was the clear winner on this deal. My menu included unlimited selections from the cheese cart featuring raw milk cheeses from Maitre Affineur Waltmann.

Restaurants of this caliber offer additional surprise courses – delivered to the table and described as ‘gifts’ from the kitchen. At the Atelier – there were at least 4 or 5 such gifts – and the first one had 2 separate bites – both served on the same plate, I loved the mixture of crunch and soft in both the fish puree and mini ravioli. That distinctive combination of soft and crunch was a theme that niftily was repeated in most of the other offerings.

My 5 courses went from a lovely Duck breast dish with a side dim-sum of duck confit to a delightful fish slice delicately placed in a chinese lettuce and false flax oil puree. (Don’t ask me what that means – I’m just quoting from the copy of the menu they gave us when we left). What made the fish special was that they had quick fried the skin (crunchy) and properly cooked the fish (still soft and flaky – and delightfully seasoned. Yum.


I didn’t much care for one of my courses – but Victor was glad to help me out. My lemon and we think lime and/or mint sorbet cleanser was delightful too.

The cheese course was as perfect as it could be.


The offerings ranged from cow to sheep to goat, from mild to strong to stronger. I opted for 6 different cheeses, and they were properly sliced and placed in order of complexity of flavor on a plate.


In addition there were 6 homemade jams – I asked to try all 6. And they had very lightly toasted and still soft nut bread.


One of the cheese I’d picked was called Trappe Echourgnac – according to the staff – it made with a walnut liquor that we thought was exceptional. When we asked for the name – they not only provided that – they gave us a second, larger, piece to enjoy. Such an elegant way of dealing with a guest.

Desert – ah desert. Not just one, or two, but 3 deserts were presented. The first was a pre-desert, my main desert was a carmel butterscotch wonder with again that signature contrast of crunch and soft. In this case – the soft was home-made ice cream. After that they served a mini-desert of home-made truffle and marshmallow – followed by a box of truffles and nougat – pick however many as you want – when they presented the bill.



Meanwhile – Vic was enjoying his 7 courses – again each better than the last. His cheese course was particularly special – a goat cheese that had been bruleed on top. I didn’t taste it – but he loved it. They called it Clacbitou – and described it simply as cheese with eggplant and sesame. It was anything but simple.

His favorite main course was the Fillet of veal and calf’s tongue with brown mushroom and Savoy cabbage. Again much more flavor and style than the description or picture could possibly could convey.


Bottom line – at the Atelier you definitely get what you pay for – and if you can afford it – then it’s definitely worth the money and time! It took almost 4 hours to eat dinner – and yet we never waited for a course. There are just so many courses to enjoy, discuss, and share.

One note – Victor ordered the wine pairing – and for each course they OPENED a bottle for him, and left it available for him to enjoy as much or as little as he wanted. The same happened at the other tables – no sharing of wine. What do they do with the half-finished bottles we wondered, but didn’t ask. My guess – they become wine by the glass for the Garden restaurant next door. But if other restaurants of this type have done that in the past – I didn’t notice it. Sure made me feel special! Wine was good too.

Antioxidants to the Max – Super Foods Part 4

Super Foods and Antioxidants – a match made in your local kitchen!

I didn’t invent these lists, for that I must give credit to Rebecca Katz’s “The Longevity Kitchen” and my favorite source for advice to the aging – the AARP Magazine. But as I’ve said before and will say again – the comments are all mine!

Food 11: Pomegranates
I’ll never forget being in China and seeing how Pomegranates grew. Who knew that they grow in baggies. Well, they do – at least in China. It was explained to us that putting the fruit when they are small in clear plastic bags encourage them to grow bigger – and juicier. Interesting, eh? Like Apple Trees, Pomegranate Trees are kept short for easier picking. But it’s not just about the yum – it’s about the antioxidants! Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, and a 17 oz glass a day was shown to lower blood pressure in a study in Britain, but that might just have been the result of getting all that liquid out of the Pomegranates!

Food 12: Green Tea
The signature dish of China – second only to BBQ Duck in my book – Green tea is known to be delicious – and not surprisingly – good for you. It’s abundant in catechins, a type of super antioxidant known to protect cells. And it turns out that green tea may also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer – particularly those of the stomach and esophagus. So drink up and be merry! (We know how that ends – but at least you get to be merry first)

Food 13: Blueberries
I unabashedly love blueberries. Those and raspberries are probably my favorite summer fruit snacks. And I admit to a total passion for Lac St. Jean wild blueberries. Unlike the huge, and sometimes tasteless store-bought Blueberries – the wild ones are tiny – but packed with flavor. But it’s not just about flavor with Blueberries – it’s about even more antioxidants. Blueberries rank among the top disease-fighting foods – including but not limited to reducing a woman’s risk of heart attack by 33%. Even better – blueberries are good for staving off the loss of memory – by several years. So eat up – Today.

Recipe from Allrecipes: Green Tea Cheesecake

Makes 1 – 9″ Cheesecake, cooking time is over 2 hours including the wait for the cake to ‘set’

16 oz of fat-free or low-fat cream cheese, softened
2 eggs beaten
3/4 cup white sugar (or use Splenda)
1 tbs green tea powder (some reviewers went up to 3 tbs for a stronger flavor)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 9″ prepared graham cracker pie crust (some reviewers when with lady fingers – another prefered a short-bread crust. So reader – you choose)
Lots of Blueberries and Pomegranates for Garnish

Step 1: Pre-Heat oven to 350 degrees

Step 2: In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Mix in the green tea powder, eggs, and vanilla extract until lightly and creamy; pour into the prepared crust.

Step 3: Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the center jiggle evenly when the case is shaken lightly. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving – more is merrier.

Step 4: Garnish with Walnuts, Blueberries, and Pomegranates. You can even add the mint.

Super Foods – Part 3 – Asparagus and Avocados

Super Foods Part 3 – yummy ways to eat yourself into better shape!

I didn’t invent these lists, for that I must give credit to Rebecca Katz’s “The Longevity Kitchen” and my favorite source for advice to the aging – the AARP Magazine. But the comments are all mine!

Food 9: Asparagus
The problem with Asparagus – it makes your pee smell! Otherwise – it’s the best food ever. Low calorie, elegant, sophisticated, and if it wasn’t for that very unfortunately ‘smell’ problem – I’d love it every day. And best of all – it’s a Super Food. A natural diuretic (makes you pee), it’s high in B12 and Potassium – seriously important for cell repair. Plus B12 has been shown to boost the auditory system – if you have low levels of B12 in your blood – you are 39% more likely to have hearing issues.

Food 10: Avocados
Unfortunately – Avocados are high in fat – but eaten in moderation (like in the recipe below), they are great sources of glutathione – and antioxidant that improves overall hormone function. So – win some, lose some. But since Avocados are delicious – I say – why not up the fat just a bit – in exchange for better hormone function. You can just walk it off!

Recipe from Allrecipes: Asparagus Angel Hair Pasta!

Makes 8 servings – takes 30 minutes start to finish!

16 oz package of angel hair pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil (Super Food # 4)
2 cloves garlic, minced (Super Food # 6)
1 pound fresh asparagus – trimmed and chopped
2 cups grape tomatoes
1 quart of chicken broth
1 tsp dried dill weed
ground pepper to taste
2 avocados – peeled, pitted, and mashed
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp garlic powder (got to love that Super Food)
1 cup shredded white Mexican Cheese (substitute any bland cheese here!)

Step 1: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, cook 5 to 6 minutes, drain and toss with t tbs of olive oil.

Step 2: Heat remaining 3 tbs of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the garlic for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and tomatoes, stirring to coat. Pour in the broth, continue cooking uncovered 10 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender by still bright green.

Step 3: Place pasta in a large bowl, toss in asparagus and tomato mixture. Season with dill and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the avocados, lime juice, and garlic powder together until blended.

Step 4: Serve pasta with a dollop of the avocado mixture, and top with shredded cheese.

Super Foods Part 2 – yummy yourself into better health

I didn’t invent these lists, for that I must give credit to Rebecca Katz’s “The Longevity Kitchen” and my favorite source for advice to the aging – the AARP Magazine. But the comments are all mine!

Food 5: Kale
Ok – not one of my favorite veggies – so I’m more into hiding it than featuring it – but Kale is a definite Super Food. It’s rich in vitamin K (for Kale) – which is essential for blood clotting. Kale also contains lutein – which reduced the risk of cataracts and eye disorders. A surprising fact – one serving of Kale has almost 3 times the amount of Lutin as Raw Spinach. (So if you have to pick between Spinach and Kale – pick Kale!)

Food 6: Garlic
Not just for scaring off Vampires – Garlic is a great Super Food – and you can use it just about anywhere. It contains antioxidants, and antimicrobials. And when it’s crushed, it releases allicin, which wards off heart attacks, strokes – and vampires!

Food 7: Thyme
Beyond being famous for being in the title of a song from Simon and Garfunkle, Thyme fights bacteria. And in tincture form, it has recently been found to be effective in the treatment of acne. Pretty sure you don’t want to put the food on your face – but still, interesting to know, eh?

Food 8: Dark Chocolate
Ok – this is clearly my favorite Super Food. Honestly – ask me to eat more dark chocolate – I’m so there! Notice its dark chocolate – not milk and not white – that’s good for you. It’s lower in calories, rich in flavonoids, can aid in decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And – at the 60% or more cocoa level – it may reduce heart attacks and strokes in high risk individuals if consumed daily. Let’s see – daily consumption of dark chocolate. I can handle that.

Another yummy recipe from using 3 of the 4 Super Foods described above!

Whole-wheat Lasagna with Butternut Squash and Kale

You can assemble and chill the lasagna a day ahead, but add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time. You can also freeze the lasagna, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for up to 1 month and bake it frozen (add 1 1/4 hours to the oven time).

Yield: Makes 8 servings
Total: 2 Hours

Recipe Time
Total: 2 Hours
Nutritional Information
Amount per serving
Calories: 424
Calories from fat: 38%
Protein: 20g
Fat: 18g
Saturated fat: 7.4g
Carbohydrate: 51g
Fiber: 8g
Sodium: 659mg
Cholesterol: 39mg


4 tablespoons olive oil, divided $
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
3 peeled garlic cloves (1 minced, 2 left whole)
2 cans (14 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
About 1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided
6 cups (about 2 lbs.) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-in. cubes
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 pound Lacinato kale (often sold as dinosaur or Tuscan kale)
9 whole-wheat lasagna noodles (about 8 oz.)
1 container (15 oz.) part-skim-milk ricotta cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a 2- to 3-qt. pot over medium heat. Add onion and minced garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent, 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer until thick and flavors are combined, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
2. While sauce is cooking, in a 12- by 15-in. baking pan, sprinkle squash with thyme, remaining olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic cloves and toss squash mixture to coat with oil. Bake until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 3 qts. salted water to a boil in a large pot.
3. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Transfer squash and garlic to a food processor and purée until smooth.
4. Tear kale leaves from center ribs and discard ribs. Boil leaves until soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain; let cool. Squeeze out as much water as possible and chop finely.
5. In the same pot, bring another 3 qts. salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until tender to the bite, about 10 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water.
6. In a bowl, mix ricotta, nutmeg, 1 cup mozzarella, and remaining 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper.
7. Coat the bottom of a 9- by 13-in. pan with 1/3 of tomato sauce (about 1 1/2 cups). Lay 3 noodles in a single layer over sauce. Top noodles with squash, spreading evenly. Sprinkle 1/2 of kale evenly over squash. Arrange 3 more noodles on kale and top with ricotta, spreading evenly. Top with remaining kale and noodles. Cover noodles with remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella.
8. Bake lasagna until juices are bubbling and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Note: Nutrition analysis is per 4 1/2- by 4 1/2-in. serving.

Le Papillon in San Jose – Expensive, Great Service, B rated food!

We wanted something a bit old-school – and in theory Le Papillion should have been perfect. Like so many other restaurants in San Jose – it’s location is not the best – there’s nothing within walking distance but a furniture store and a 7-11. But the older home that has been renovated into this charming restaurant is glorious inside. The dinning ‘room’ is all muted gold, brown, and white – with cali lilys on each table and a huge floral arrangement taking up the center area of one of the rooms.

There’s a bar area that doubles as a semi-private dining room, and an outdoor area that I imagine must be for people needing a smoke, and wanting a location that’s more elegant than the driveway.

Waiters wearing tuxes, including our pleasant young waitress who was proudly 7 months pregant, made the elegant atmosphere even more refined. And I must say I totally appreciated the no cell phone policy – which didn’t distract from picture taking given the ‘special night’ atmosphere. The clever use of a single lit candle to take a dessert offering from elegant to Congradulations was totally in tune with the atmosphere.

I just wish the food had been of similar quality.

My duck entre was tough – I badly needed a sharper knife, and there was none on offer. My quail appetizer featured a farro base – too much farro, not enough Quail. The result was like having oatmeal served with a marsalla reduction. Weird. But most truly disappointing were the desserts. The ‘souffle’ was mostly egg white, although given the number we saw served, not a problem for most diners. I guess people just have forgotten what a real souffle should be. My berry Coulis looked lovely, and the berries were lovely – but the commerically produced pastry cup was stale tasting. At this price range – not acceptable.

On the other hand – my husband thought his beef tenderloin was quite good.

We also tried the ‘gourmet’ cheese course. With all the wonderful artisan California cheese producers around – how could they just give us commercial cheese of relatively common quality. At least one surprise would have been appreciated.

So – beautiful restaurant, very energetic service, so-so food at a fairly high price. I give them a B – and that’s generous.

Oh well.

Le Papillon on Urbanspoon


A restaurant worth Blogging about – Zeni in San Jose, CA

Ever eaten ‘Ethiopian’? Me neither. So when my son and brand new daughter-in-law suggested we try their favorite restaurant on our trip to visit them this week – we were delighted to accept. And what a meal it was!

First a bit about the restaurant. It’s located in a mall (not totally surprising around here – there are lots of restaurants in malls) in a rather laid back and lower-income section of San Jose. As my son joked – it’s the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. But once thru the front door – the restaurant exudes love, warmth, and welcome. From the smiling staff in their very attractive bright blue blouses to the gentleman playing jazz on 3 – count’m 3 – keyboards in the corner, this is a delightful space.

There are 2 sections to the restaurant – and we were fortunate to score a table in the more traditional section with its wicker tables and low stools. These are perfectly suited to the very traditional way the meal is served – on a single large platter with a pancake like flat bread serving as the base on which the food is lovingly placed. Along with that pancake (intended to be used to mop up the remains of the meal) they gave us a basket of rolled flat breads. The basic idea – use the bread to grab the food – and good luck getting it from the platter to your mouth!

Cautioned by our kids to be careful about ordering too much food – we opted for just 3 main courses for the 4 of us – a vegetable combo, a lamb dish (stewed lamb in a curry like sauce), and a spicy beef dish that came with home-made cheese. We also ordered one appetizer to share – a filo dough pastry stuffed with meat. Everything – and I mean everything was totally yummy. I particularly liked some of the vegetable options – colorful and tasty, they were a delight to the palette. But I’m ready to eat Eggplant under just about any condition.

What was most surprising – beside the extremely reasonable price of just $70 for everything – including 2 drinks – was how incredibly filling the meal was. Despite our cautious ordering – we simply could not finish everything.

According to my kids – who apparently eat here regularly – coming early is critical. If you arrive around 7:15 – you can expect to wait in line – a truth that was obvious as we left, pushing our way thru waiting customers!

Another note – during the day they offer a ‘coffee’ ceremony that must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance – costs $40 for up to 10 people – and includes a server who roasts the beans right in front of you. My husband was keen to come back to try that – and I must agree – it would be cool to watch.

Definitely an A restaurant – do check it out!

Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Surprisingly good Pub Food and Great Beer – Summer Fun

The Vermont Pub and Brewery has been around for over 25 years – so the question is – how come I never ate there before? Answer – I thought it was more bar than restaurant – and I thought wrong.

It was one of those priceless Vermont summer evenings – daylight seems to last forever, and when the sun finally does decide to go down, the air still has that soft summer feel to it. I asked advice of Roger – the guy trying to sell me a Prius (more on that later) – and he recommended the Pub. I figured – why not!

I scored an outside table, and settled in for an easy evening. The newspaper cum menu was a nice start – and listed on the board was a yummy sounding Cajun Catfish for just $11.95. Ok – I could seriously handle that.

According to the informative menu (Prohibition ended on April 7, 1933 among other brew based tidbits) – the VPB has won lots of awards for their home brewed beer – and for just $1.25 they will give you a sample of any one of their flavors. You can even order a flight of samples. I opted for just one- their award winning, and car salesman suggested, Burly Irish Ale. Described as rich and malty – it was a small yet delightfully filling way to end my day. For dinner I tried their fried oysters (skip those next time), and for my main course – choose the catfish. That was exactly the right decision. The catfish was perfectly cooked – white and flaky, rich and delicious, perfectly seasoned. The potion of sweet potato fries was way too large – but they were delicous too.

Service was perfect – fast when needed, and they ignored me completely when I wanted to be ignored.

A B+ (fried oysters were just too thickly breaded to rate an A, beer was way too delicious to just give them a B. So B+ it is!)

Hana – Sushi in Burlington, VT – bit of a hit and miss at a great price

We did our research, and the Hana – an oversized empty space located in a shopping mall just off the highway in Burlington – got decent comments. So we ventured out – looking for a relatively inexpensive late lunch.

The restaurant was completely empty – but given the crazy hour we were there – I can’t say I was completely surprised. We were greeted with a smile – and presented with what I suspect was the dinner menu. Oh well – we were late.

Rather than order 2 differnt maki’s – we ordered a combo platter to share. This was probably a mistake. I suspect that the maki’s were pre-made left overs from lunch time. My fault – I know to avoid that beginners mistake, but I was too tired to even fuss.

The good news – service was very nice and the miso soup was delicous. The bad news – the restaurant is cold and forbidding – too bad they haven’t thought of some way to make it feel more welcoming. And the best that can be said about our Combo Platter is that it was acceptable.

I might give them another try anyway – judging a restaurant on off hours is a bit tough, even for me.

A C – with hopes of doing better next time.