Friday, June 29, 2007

Siam Royal Thai Cuisine (Palo Alto)

We get takeout Thai almost as often as we eat in, so it feels appropriate to post a review here even if the title of the blog implies eat-in experiences. Siam Royal is one of several Thai restaurants on the University Ave. strip of Palo Alto (Krung Thai and Thaiphoon being the others that came up in a search--Krung Thai is the restaurant variously called "Pink Thai" for its decor and "Grand Opening" for the banner that remained up for months obscuring the restaurant's actual name). Siam Royal is next to Z Gallerie, and has been recently renovated, which shows in the clean, modern interior of the smallish space. The counter is, somewhat disorientingly, at the back, meaning you have to walk through the whole restaurant to pick up your order.

We ordered crispy calamari, mint rolls with chicken, yellow curry with chicken, mango chicken, pad thai with shrimp, and mango with sticky rice for dessert. The calamari were excellent, with a sweet, spicy sauce that rivals good seafood cocktail as a condiment for this dish. We've tried calamari in several places in Palo Alto, and this was definitely up there with Cheesecake Factory as one of the better ones in the area. The breading is heavier, but crisp and flavorful. The mint rolls, the other appetizer, were cold and wrapped in rice paper, Vietnamese style. Most appealingly to me, they contained no cilantro, an herb it's almost impossible to avoid in cold roll appetizers. Lots of mint, good chicken, and again, excellent light peanut sauce to accompany the roll.

The main dishes were nothing outstanding, but were all fine exemplars. There's not much you can to do ruin yellow curry, and they didn't. The mango chicken had little mango, but the chicken and veggies had great flavor. Similarly, the pad thai had not as much shrimp as I would've liked, but the shrimp were large (rather than the tiny scampi you sometimes find in noodle dishes) and the noodles were good and sticky, with a rich flavor that almost felt more like pad see ew than pad thai. Which I didn't mind, because I like the see ew noodles too.

My big problem with Thai food when I first started eating it a few years ago was that it seemed that no matter how I ordered the spice level, I'd always get something too spicy. While most of these dishes were mild (the calamari sauce was spicy and the mango chicken had chilis in it) and perfectly to my taste, I can certainly see that people who prefer Thai food for the spice would want to ask for spicier meals when ordering here. They advertise themselves as "authentic Thai," but I think it's more like classic Americanized Thai--but that's fine, because that's what we're used to.

Lastly, the mango with sticky rice was okay--again, not great, but then, it had been sitting around for three hours at that point, so that could've been part of it. It tasted good, but the rice and mango seemed to be a little dried out. This is one dessert I really like that is not on the menu in many Thai places, so it was nice to find it here.

All in all, a solid choice for Thai food. And they packaged the takeout really nicely, wrapping the drippy stuff in individual tied plastic bags and using foam clamshells rather than the Chinese takeout-style paper folding boxes. I was thanked by three different staff members on my way out through the restaurant, and all the diners seemed pretty happy. We'd go there again, sit down or takeout.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


For the second time in a row, our restaurant exploration group went out to our chosen restaurant only to find it closed. This time, the Kauai BBQ Grill was not only closed, it was shut down, about to be replaced by Tina's Cucina. Fortunately, in downtown Mountain View, there are plenty of interesting restaurants and a few we haven't explored, so we headed down Dana Street toward Temptations, an "Indian-Chinese Fusion" restaurant on Castro Street just bayside of Dana.

Temptations is a small place, but they seated the six of us immediately at a high table near the front of the restaurant. It's a very pleasant place to eat, decorated in a generic Asian style and not too loud for conversation. The service was fairly attentive, faltering only when Mark asked about a house specialty, which the waiter didn't seem to understand. Still, the menu is pretty extensive, with an Indian section, a fusion section, and a Chinese section.

We ordered chicken vindaloo, hot garlic chicken, hot garlic shrimp, the vegetarian ginger dish (minced vegetable balls in a ginger sauce), and chicken tava as our entrees. The coktail [sic] samosas were quite good, and the Orinoco Brazilian mojitos, I'm told, were quite satisfactory. Temptations has a nice full bar, and I'm sure the drinks are a big attraction.

All the main dishes we tried were very good, and surprisingly spicy, as the coktail samosas were not spicy at all. For me, with my more sensitive palate, the ginger veg and chicken vindalu were right on the edge of acceptable, and I was warned not to try the hot garlic dishes (though it seems the chicken was spicier than the shrimp, for some reason). The chicken tava was, I think, the least spicy, though it was hard to tell after having tried the ginger veg.

We were all impressed that they actually carried out the fusion aspect of the cuisine. The hot garlic chicken/shrimp and the ginger veg dish seemed to be Chinese-inspired dishes with Indian flavoring to the spices. Many of them were heavy with onions and peppers, recalling Chinese dishes more than Indian, but all the sauces were very Indian in nature.

The other excellent feature was the assorted bread basket, which is a menu item as it is in most Indian restaurants. This one included butter nan, tandoori roti, and onion kulcha, all of which were quite good. Unfortunately, we'd finished most of it by the time the spicy food arrived. But I'll be honest, the spice didn't linger too long, and the tastes were good enough to keep me eating. We'd definitely come back here to try some of the more unusual dishes, but for pure Indian food, we'd likely stick with Shivas or Monsoon, up and down Castro from this place.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Tanglewood, in Santana Row in San Jose, is a fairly new restaurant that changes its menu based on available meats and produce. They're one of many Bay Area restaurants to ride the new trend of using locally produced food from small, sustainable farms and fisheries.

We visited Tanglewood for Sunday brunch and opted for their brunch menu rather than the regular luncheon, which also looked good. We ordered the Caramelized crispy French toast filled with orange cream and Vermont maple syrup, which came with scrambled eggs and housemade chicken apricot sausage; and the Eggs Benedict, with housemade Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce, served with roasted potatoes.

Inside, Tanglewood is an elegant but restrained eating area focusing on wood decor, after its name. The tabletops are slabs of wood, polished on top but still rough around the edges. The staff were unfailingly polite even at the end of what must have been a long morning of Father's Day brunch crowds.

Normally when we get Sunday brunches, we walk away feeling stuffed. Tanglewood's version of brunch was very light for what it was, and delicious all around. The French toast was a thick square of brioche-like bread, filled with a light, subtle mixture of orange-infused cream, which tasted mostly like orange butter. The maple syrup was hard to pick out of the flavors, but the toast didn't suffer for that. The scrambled eggs were served in a lump more like an omelette, but still tasty, and the chicken apricot sausage was served in two small patties the size of silver dollars. Unlike most instances of chicken/fruit sausage, the apricot taste was strong, the texture nice and crumbly, the overall taste outstanding.

The distinguishing feature of the Eggs Benedict was the light, tasty Hollandaise sauce, as opposed to the thick cream I'm used to on this dish. The eggs, perfectly poached, had great flavor and went well with the Canadian bacon and the fluffy English muffin. My only complaint was that the Canadian bacon was so thin that the flavor got a little overwhelmed by the others; on its own it tasted fine. The potatoes were good, if not as outstanding as the main courses. Most impressively, the portions were just the right size for us (therefore probably slightly small for the average diner) and the prices weren't more than we'd expect from a nice Sunday brunch place--$10-12 for the meals.

Dinners at Tanglewood tend to run expensive. Try a lunch or Sunday brunch and you'll get great food at reasonable prices, and a chance to see their lovely interiors.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Amber Cafe

We're fans of Amber India in Mountain View and Santana Row, and we'd often driven past the Amber Cafe down the road on El Camino, but hadn't stopped in before last night. When we found ourselves in the mood for Indian last night, we decided to give it a shot.

We tried the Bombay Lamb Frankie wrap, spiced lamb wrapped in an egg paratha (like a thin tortilla with cooked egg on the inside); the chicken khaas combo with chicken curry, nan, dal (yellow lentil curry side), and salad; and cholewale samose (samosas stuffed with cumin potatoes, green peas, and garbanzo beans). It's a fast casual dining setup, where you order at the counter and take a number, and then they bring it out to you.

Service was pretty quick. The samoses came out first. With the tamarind sauce and the mint chutney they provided, they were delicious, warm and crispy, and they came with a side of garbanzo beans, onions, and cilantro with a barbecue-type sauce. Once the cilantro was brushed off, the side was pretty good too.

The main course arrived promptly after we were done. Mark started on the wraps, while I started with the chicken curry, which surprised me by having bones in it. It was good, and I didn't really mind de-boning the chicken. I have a pretty low tolerance for spice, and this curry wasn't too bad. The curry and wrap both came with a coleslaw-like salad of beans, cabbage, and carrots that was nice and vinegary. I guess the salad of the day gets changed up depending on what they have, but this one was pretty good.

Nan is one of my favorite parts of an Indian meal, and the nan they served us was hot and fresh, not quite the best nan in recent memory (that honor goes to Bombay Garden), but definitely top notch. I liked the dal, too--it wasn't spicy at all, was nice and flavorful; if anything, a little soupy for my tastes.

The wrap was surprisingly good, and it came as a pair of thinly rolled wraps, so we each got one. Good flavor to the meat, and I liked the egg paratha.

We were both very full when we left. This one definitely goes on the list of places we'd recommend. Hot, fresh food, not too expensive, and fast.