Saturday, December 22, 2007

Beau Jo's, Idaho Springs

Beau Jo's, unique pizza in the heart of the Rockies
(Image from Liz Is Working, who reviewed this place back in April.)

Beau Jo's is a Colorado pizza chain in a number of locations. It's unusual in pizza chains in that it includes calorie counts on the menu (!) and also offers a selection of "SmartMeal" pizzas, with lower-calorie toppings and a whole wheat crust. In fact, they have a philosophy around their customers' health. No sugar in the crust; they use honey as a sweetener instead.

We started, of course, with the cheesy artichoke dip (no spinach), which was heavier on the cream than the artichokes, but still pretty good. They serve it with bread made from the pizza dough, so it's hard to resist going back for more. For our main course, we got Chip's Pie, with artichoke hearts, chicken breast, black olives, Roma tomatoes, and feta cheese. We also got their soup and salad bar.

The salad bar was decent, with the usual salad fixings and some average pasta salads. I liked the bowl of chicken soup I got there, too. Good flavor and thick noodles. But the centerpiece of the meal was the pizza. It's thick-crust (not deep dish), and the outer crust is huge, rounded and solid. The sauce had a good, robust flavor, but there wasn't too much of it. By contrast, there were plenty of toppings, all fresh and delicious.

In keeping with their use of honey to sweeten their dough, Beau Jo's provides honey for you to dip your thick crust in when you're finished with the rest of the pizza. It goes especially well with the whole wheat crust we got.

Good, hearty pizza, and friendly service in a casual dining atmosphere. Perfect for mountain communities, and that may be why Beau Jo's continues to be so popular in Colorado.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Morimoto, Japanese cuisine from the famed Iron Chef in downtown Philly

We first tried Morimoto's restaurant several years ago on a visit to Philly. At a recommendation from my father, we sat at the sushi bar, and ended up right across from the station of the chef himself. It was a real treat to watch him work, illuminating for us that he loves the "chef" part of being a celebrity chef more than the other, and that likely he started a restaurant mainly so he could cook more. He seemed to be having a great time preparing at his station, tossing scraps into his mouth from time to time. When one of the staff came over to request a picture, though, he grimaced, or looked resigned, then smiled for the camera and the tourists, and as soon as possible went back to preparing.

That's the kind of place you want to go back to. It helped that the sushi was the best we've ever had. So when Mark and I found ourselves in Philly again in December, we dragged Ned, Laura, and Brent there for sushi and other delights.

The interior is decorated with gentle waves. The lights cycle through a rainbow of colors, slowly enough that you look up halfway through the meal and say, "wait, wasn't the lighting blue when we came in?" It seems like a very late 80's-early 90's decor (if "modern" is now the sparse, clean look of a place like Citrine--very different restaurant, I know), but that's not to say it's bad. It is certainly a very relaxing atmosphere, if not what I would think of as Japanese.

The service was not quite as good this time as on the previous occasions, when we were at the sushi bar (the last time, we got the "omakase" or chef's dinner, and the server asked about our dietary preferences, explained each of the courses, and handwrote them out on a paper for us when we asked for a menu, explaining that there was no fixed menu, it was just whatever the chef was preparing at the time). Still, we had no real complaints about it, and the food more than made up for it.

Sushi. Oh, the sushi. Creamy octopus that didn't taste rubbery, heavenly tuna, divine fatty tuna, shrimp, yellowtail, mackerel, red snapper, salmon... plus a spicy tuna roll, a tempura shrimp roll, and another I can't quite place. We ordered the $100 sushi plate for four and it probably would've been a good dinner for the four of us (Brent doesn't like raw fish, and opted for the "Morimoto Surf'n'Turf," which he pronounced excellent).

However, we were greedy, so we also ordered tuna pizza and cha-soba, cold soba noodles with sauce, as well as a mushroom and seafood soup that we were advised to eat by eating the solid vegetables and meat with chopsticks and then drinking the broth. The tuna pizza, we'd heard, was something he insisted on putting on the menu despite the advice that "Philadelphia isn't ready for it." It was delicious, though I thought the soba noodles were a bit better, and the soup had a great blend of flavors: fish and seasonings, nothing overpowering or too strong.

Though we were pretty full after that, we couldn't resist dessert. There's a sorbet trio, which turned out that night to be coconut, chocolate cardamom, and some kind of berry. Laura got the chocolate-caramel parfait, which was declared the winner, although the chocolate cardamom sorbet was amazing as well. They were so good that they obscure the memory of the dessert Ned got, which I'm sure was delicious as well.

We can't wait to go back. It's funny that, living in the Bay Area, our favorite sushi is from a Philly restaurant. We can only hope that Morimoto opens a place out here by the Bay sometime soon. Until then, we'll have our memories...

Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois

Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois, veggies, roasted meat, and cheese in the heart of Paris
The Ile de la Cité, behind Nôtre Dame, consists of one main street running the length of the island. It's a great place to shop and eat, with little wine shops, chocolate shops, and the famous Bertillon's ice cream (which is worth the trip by itself). During our 2001 trip to Paris, we were referred to this restaurant and enjoyed the baskets of raw veggies and dried meat, and the all-you-can-drink wine. The Ile de la Cité has a heavy American/English population, so the staff is fluent in English, and it's got a fun atmosphere that we really enjoyed.

The interior is all broad timbers, firelight, and copper cauldrons, in keeping with the restaurant's name ("Our Ancestors the Gauls"). The first thing you get when you sit down is the aforementioned basket of veggies: celery, cauliflower, carrots, bell pepper, radishes, and more. You can nibble on those while deciding on your main course, which comes down to beef or lamb, generally (the night we were there, we also had the choice of duck). Once you've placed that order, you can go to the all-you-can-eat salad bar, which is pretty euphemistic, because it consists of a couscous salad, duck paté, another pasta salad, corn, and a basket of sausages that you cut whatever you want off of.

The meat itself is nothing special, either kebabs or off a spit, but the ratatouille that accompanied it was terrific. After the meats came a cheese plate that included a blue cheese, Emmenthal, Camembert, goat cheese, as well as another softish cheese we didn't catch the name of. All very good as well, even if we were nearly completely wrong at identifying them. The blue especially was very popular (again, there was a ton of cheese, and I presume they'd refill it if you wanted more). Desserts were good as well, a traditional French apple tart, chocolate mousse, shaved lemon ice served in a lemon, and an ice cream dish that had walnuts on top of and a dark fruity sauce beneath the ice cream. By that point we were all pretty full, so we took a long time to finish dessert.

But the real hit was the all-you-can-drink wine. We ended up chatting for about an hour and a half of our four-hour dinner with a woman at the next table. She was bored by her company, I guess, but as she spoke only French, I had to translate for everyone. Also, she and most of our table were rather tipsy, which made the conversation even more entertaining as I had to repeat a lot of things that drunk people were saying in various languages. Her husband, a retired police officer, dragged out his wallet at the first opportunity to show us his police ID and his organ donor card. Next to them, a Brazilian who spoke English and followed the NBA talked about the French players in San Antonio (Parker) and Phoenix (Barbosa). But Huguette (if I'm getting her name right) was the chattiest. When she found out we were from San Francisco, she said it inspired her to dream. We told her that Paris inspired us to dream, too. It turned out that she lives in a suburb of Paris and had never been to this restaurant before, but like us, she enjoyed herself immensely.

I think that exemplifies the dinner experience. Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois is a nice, casual, friendly place, and if the food isn't of great quality, it's at least French (the bread is therefore amazing) and so it's pretty darn good. You go more for the atmosphere than the cuisine, but that atmosphere is really worth it.

Blue Mango

Blue Mango, Thai food in a small Santa Clara location

We love Thai food, and yet there isn't really one Thai restaurant that stands above the rest. We go to Amarin a lot because it's the closest one. We used to go to Thai Pepper because it was the closest one (and they made a mean pineapple fried rice). The only other one we've reviewed in this blog was Siam Royal in Palo Alto, a restaurant we've visited exactly once.

But Blue Mango had come up in Best of Silicon Valley a couple times, and when a friend of ours came back into town and suggested it, we jumped at the chance to try it.

It's located on El Camino in Santa Clara, in a small space that used to be an Italian restaurant (they still haven't changed the glass on the partitions). The kitchen faces right out into the dining room a la Banana Leaf, so you can see and smell what's cooking. The friendly hostess surveyed the small room of twelve or so tables and told us that there was one party that was almost finished and could we just wait for them? Even though we said that would be fine, she apparently reconsidered and cleared off a table near the back for us to be seated earlier.

The menu is impressively varied and interesting-looking, with a vegetarian menu accompanying the regular one. They had a pumpkin curry special, which I tried, while Mark opted for the mango curry, and we started, of course, with tom kah soup. When you order, they ask for you to rate your spiciness level from 1 to 10 (some dishes have a higher minimum). We opted for three, the lowest the curry could go, while our friend went for five (which he would later regret).

The tom kah was quite good, with the usual landmines of cilantro and lemongrass, but not too spicy. Good coconut flavor, mushrooms, and moist chicken. Both the curries were slightly on the spicy side; not too much for me, but I had to take breaks. They were just right for Mark. I'd also gotten a Thai iced tea with soy milk, which was interesting to watch them make. They use half and half regularly, and seemed to put a lot less soy milk in mine than the half and half in our friend's, but it tasted just as good and did a nice job cooling the fires from the curries.

I enjoyed the pumpkin taste and would get the pumpkin curry again. The mango curry was less distinctive but still good as well. Overall, though, I don't think anything jumped out at us that would make this place worth the drive. The Bay Area's Thai restaurants are generally top-notch, and this one is no exception. However, there are two or three closer ones that we'd go to more frequently simply because they're closer. I wonder if this one won "Best of Silicon Valley" just because it's nearer the center of Silicon Valley, and something had to win.