Archive for September, 2010

Gordon Biersch: A sad disappointment last night

I have a standing dinner date with a friend every Monday night, so I was thinking about having a new thing at Metblogs where we cover a different restaurant in downtown San Jose every week.  We already have many favorites downtown and thought it would be a great way to let more people know about them.

Unfortunately, last night did not go as expected.

We chose San Jose’s beloved Gordon Biersch last night because my friend was dying for their French fries.  Gordon Biersch serves delicious fries which you can order standard or garlicky.  They are always delicious!

When our server took our order, my friend asked for a chicken sandwich and fries, and requested extra French fries.  We told her we had come specifically for the fries that night, and that my friend would rather have more fries and less sandwich, if anything.  She also asked for a side salad with oil and vinegar, and I ordered my favorite dish, the Cedar Plank Pecan Crusted Salmon.

The first problem arose when the salad was served with no dressing at all.  A different server had brought the salad, and when we pointed out there was no dressing she quickly brought the oil and vinegar bottles over.  No big deal.

The second problem arose when our dinner was served and my friend received her chicken sandwich not with extra fries, but with what looked like less fries than usual.  The waitress apologized and said she had requested extra fries, but that was all she was given.

The third problem arose after the waitress left and I looked down at my own plate.  My salmon was still sitting on the cedar plank; usually it is removed at serving, but no biggie.  I took the piece of wood off the plate but then stared at my salmon…  something was missing.  It had a pile of pecans on top as usual but there was no dill cream sauce!!  We flagged another server down and pointed it out.  She again apologized and offered to have the chef put the sauce on or just bring me out some sauce on the side.  Same result so I didn’t care; she brought me a little tin of sauce.

Before we go to problem four, let me state that Gordon Biersch’s Cedar Plank Pecan Crusted Salmon is one of my very favorite dishes in the whole world, and I rarely order anything else at GB because I can’t stand to go to GB and NOT get it.  I know the dish, I know it’s delicious (heaven, usually), and every other time I’ve ordered it has been perfection.

But not this time.  I put the sauce on the fish and tried to cut into it with my fork.  And I mean TRIED.  This piece of salmon was so overcooked and dried out it was almost inedible.  I could tap my fork on top of it and it was just solid salmon crust.  I would expect better salmon served at Denny’s.

But I wasn’t at Denny’s, I was at Gordon Biersch and had ordered a dish that cost almost $21.  If this was the first time I had ordered this dish I never would have ordered it again.  Under normal circumstances I would have sent the dish back, but we are on a tight schedule for our Monday dinners so it just wasn’t an option at that point.

I’m not being sarcastic when I say the sweet ginger rice was delicious, and my friend loved her chicken sandwich and fries.  She was just disappointed that there were not a few more fries.  And it’s not like we expected GB to serve her bottomless fries for no charge, but do potatoes really cost so much that they couldn’t throw a few extra on the plate for a happy customer?

Any ONE of these problems would have been silly to complain about (well, except for the overcooked salmon).  Any TWO of them could have been overlooked.  But when you have FOUR issues with dinner, and one of them results in a very sad $21 meal, it’s just not right.

To be fair, I can’t remember another time when we have had a bad experience at Gordon Biersch, and we chose it last night because it is one of our favorite restaurants to go to downtown.  Metblogs has been chided before for putting up bad reviews of restaurants that are normally fantastic, but is it right to let this go?  Gordon Biersch is not a cheap restaurant, and if we’re going to have a $50 tab we shouldn’t have to ask for each specific ingredient to be included on our plates, and no one should be served a dried up piece of $21 salmon at any time.  It was my prerogative to send or not send the fish back, but it is my right as a paying customer to not have been served an obviously unacceptable piece of fish in the first place.

And seriously, how much do potatoes cost?  She couldn’t have been given just a couple extra?

An unhappy customer is an unhappy customer, and restaurants should strive to make every customer happy, not just customers with the power of the review pen.  Because every customer has access to Yelp reviews.  So I stand by our right to post the honest review of our experience last night.  I expected to be writing a great one this morning, but one bad dinner changed everything.

Recommendation: Normally it’s priced a bit on the high side but the food is delicious and the service is always friendly and quick.  The beer of course is outstanding.  But based on last night’s dinner:  2 stars out of 5.

Gordon Biersch
Dining inside or on patio
33 East San Fernando Street
San Jose, CA 95113
phone: 408-294-6785

No lunch plans on Tuesday? Let me fix that!

The trend of food trucks continue and thankfully there are a few more available to us in the South Bay. Two somewhat new trucks are the Louisiana Territory and No Way Jose. Both trucks were started by the well known local catering company, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme. I’m officially warning you now – this post is long and filled with photos of food. You might end up having to get a snack after reading this post!

Louisiana Territory

After checking out the calendar on the LT site, I picked a Tuesday to try out the food. The closest location near my job (I work near downtown San Jose) was up at the Netgear campus around Montague Expwy and First St. Easy to get to and plenty of parking was available.

As my coworker and I drove up we noticed the truck right away – a large banner on top of their truck had a picture of a alligator declaring they were “Back!” You see, Louisiana Territory used to be a restaurant located in Mountain View. After eight years in that location the owners moved it to the Pavilion in downtown San Jose.. and well.. it failed. (Stories I’ve heard about the Pavilion have never seemed too positive, unfortunately.) Just recently they decided to give it another go – this time as a gourmet food truck. Brilliant idea, I say!

So what does the LT truck serve it’s oh-so-hungry patrons? Cajun food of course! They list their entire menu on their website but the truck offers a different mix each time. I think that’s a great way to keep it fresh for repeat customers.

There was a small line already formed outside of the truck. Actually it was a few feet AWAY from the truck which honestly I haven’t seen before. I’ve been around a lot of food trucks in the last few months (Downtown San Jose, SF’s Off The Grid, and Oakland’s Eat Real Festival) and this was the first time I didn’t stroll right up to the window. There was a woman ready with a clipboard standing near the end of the truck near the menu to take our order. It’s a little mix of servers at a restaurant and food truck dining. There were also three standing tables nearby. My favorite bit about the truck – the jazzy music they pumped out for patrons. They really were able to give the small space a nice atmosphere for customers to eat.

My coworker and I looked through the menu and for the sake of being able to do a decent review, we opted for two different meals. While my personal diet frowns upon eating rice (long story, you can read my personal blog if you’re that curious) I decided to get the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. I had originally asked if there was a dish that could be without the rice – and it was suggested that I try the Shrimp & Sausage Creole (and hold the rice that it is usually poured over) OR the Bend Bowl (Beans & Rice, garlic hummus, cheddar cheese, scallions, avocado, cilantro, fage yogurt, & Srirachi chili sauce) again, without the rice. However, I’m a sissypants to most things “spicy” and decided I’d battle it out with the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. My coworker picked the Blackened Chicken Po Boy. In addition to our meal, we were graciously offered a beverage to try. One of their homemade drinks; either their Ginger Ale or their Tropical Storm Punch. Again, because of my personal situation I could not try their Ginger Ale (though I hear it’s quite tasty) and opted for the TSP.

The foods!

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo: $5
Fully of spicy flavors but not super hot
GIANT chunks of chicken and sausage. I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Blackened Chicken Po Boy: $6
The bread was soft yet crunchy in all right right spots and to our surprise, the bread didn’t seem to have any additional openings. It seemed like it was cut at the top and stuffed full of chicken, tomatoes, lettuce and “special sauce.”

The chicken was seasoned and the veggies were very tasty – overall a great mix. It was a really great sandwich and the next time I hit up the LT I will try either their Shrimp Po Boy or their catfish one.

Tropical Storm Punch: $2
I expected it to be super sweet but it wasn’t. It had a mellow sweetness to it and didn’t bite back with it’s mix of passionfruit, guava, orange and lemonade.

No Way Jose

No Way Jose

After my yummy adventures with the Louisiana Territory truck, two other coworkers were eager to join me in my next food truck excursion – this time PSRT’s other truck, No Way Jose. NWJ’s theme is mexican cuisine. Before leaving, I let my fiance know where/when to find the truck and he got some of his coworkers to come along as well.

The truck is painted in flashy colors and featured some of the same tables that the LT truck had. Unfortunately, there was no music (aww bummer.) **UPDATE A stereo has been installed!** I ordered the Monterey Quesadilla and my coworkers bought the Mission salad and the Santa Maria burrito. The overall consensus was that we enjoyed them! DEEELISH. Lots of meat and full of flavor. Plus the prices were pretty good for the portion.

Monterey Quesadilla $3

Chile verde chicken – saucy, flavorful, and plenty of meat. I don’t like over-packed messy quesadillas, and even though I knew that the chile verde would be saucy it didn’t overpower the tortilla at all. Delicious and I’d totally order it again.

The Mission Salad $6

Huge chicken salad in a crispy shell. My coworker added a little bit of pico de gallo for extra flavor (they had a little salsa bar available for customers to add what they liked) and totally enjoyed her meal.

Santa Maria Burrito $6
Large chunks of chicken packed this burrito. My coworker is a typical male that can pack away hefty burritos and sandwiches and the only thing he mentioned to me was he wished it was bigger – yet it was still a very decent size. I didn’t get a picture of it because he devoured it so fast!

Because my fiance and his coworkers were there as well – there were a few more opinions available on different menu choices:

The Nuevo Mexico Tamale Pie $5
Tamale Pie
I took several bites, I couldn’t help it – it was pretty good. Here’s their description: Tamale pie with fresh masa, roasted corn, shredded pork and earthy, flavorful red chile sauce.

The LA Fish Taco $1.50

The fiance says “It was good. Fish was cooked well. Tasty. It wasn’t fried!”

And last but not least…

Cajun Chimichanga $6

“Red beans & rice, jambalaya, blackened chicken, wrapped in a warmed flour tortilla and deep fried!” It’s a mix of their two trucks – which I thought was a pretty cool idea. I didn’t get to taste it myself but was told that the person who ate it did comment that he felt it needed a bit more meat inside, but overal it tasted good.

Man I’m hungry just going through this list.

Where can you find these truck?

Louisiana Territory
Tomorrow Tuesday, September 28th
Netgear parking lot!
350 E Plumeria Drive
11:30a – 1:30p
LT FacebookLT Twitter

No Way Jose
Tomorrow Tuesday, September 28th
3101 Park Blvd, Palo Alto
12:00a – 1:30p
NWJ Facebook

Vote for your favorite BRT station design

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a system where specially designed buses in dedicated lanes enable highly efficient public transit comparable to light rail with much lower construction and vehicle costs. VTA has completed an environmental impact report and begun preliminary engineering to build a BRT system for the Alum Rock-Santa Clara corridor (replacing the current Rapid 522 service). A future project would add BRT service between Eastridge Mall and De Anza College via Stevens Creek Blvd, supplementing the current route 23 local bus.
Now they’re asking for your input on two options for the design of bus stations along this route. The designs and survey are here.

Thanks to Carrie on the NNASJ mail list for pointing out this survey.

Free Ice Cream Social 2010

In honor of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Cold Stone Creamery is hosting its Ninth Annual World’s Largest Ice Cream Social.

Throughout September, you can show your support for the Make-A-Wish Foundation by purchasing a Make-A-Wish paper star for just a dollar at any Cold Stone Creamery location.

On Thursday, September 30 from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, you will be able to get a free 3 oz. portion of “Kate’s Creation” – Caramel Apple ice cream mixed with Chocolate Shavings, Graham Cracker Pie Crust and Apple Pie Filling.

Kate, 11, is the Junior Tastemaster behind this year’s Make-A-Wish Creation. Kate’s wish was to create the exclusive Creation for the World’s Largest Ice Cream Social.

Cold Stone Creamery locations

Make-A-Wish Foundation

Calvin’s Cheesesteaks owner dead of heart attack

Mike Cassidy’s column in the Mercury today announced the passing of Jonne Aleeson, proprietor of Calvin’s World Famous South Philly Cheesesteaks on the Alameda. He apparently died of a heart attack and was found in his home this past Sunday. Aleeson’s son Calvin Simmons indicated that plans to open a new store on San Carlos Street and reopen the store on The Alameda damaged by fire will go forward. A few more details are available in the Mercury story.

Jonne Aleeson’s friendly smile and banter will be sadly missed by his customers.

San Jose Metblogs previously reported on the fire at the The Alameda store, and reviewed the restaurant.

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

I’m just back from this free festival, still ongoing at Backesto Park (on N. 13th Street at Jackson). Aside from watching the artists at work, the entertainment highlight was a presentation by an Aztec dance troupe.

White Eagle dance

The chalk artworks should still be available to see for the remainder of the weekend.

Wrapping up the $4.50-a-Day Challenge

Tonight is my last dinner on the $4.50-a-day challenge. I’m not quite using up those black beans I cooked Monday night on a heavily-modified version of the enfrijoladas from Marge Poore’s 1000 Mexican Recipes. Instead of making a smooth bean sauce, frying the tortillas, and dipping them just before serving, I leave the sauce chunky, cut the tortillas into wedges, mix everything up, and bake it like a pan of enchiladas. If I had Mexican ancestors, they’re probably roll over in their grave from this butchery of the recipe. But its sure tasty.

Overall, the challenge for me was more about having to cook at home every night and not eating out, than about getting enough nutrition or feeling hungry all day. Since my home cooking is even normally 90% vegetarian, the budget hardly limited my choices compared to what I’d normally cook. But all that home cooking sure did produce a pile of dirty dishes to be washed. I’m don’t think I’m going to keep this up as a normal lifestyle choice.

If you’ve been taking the challenge, or just following it on the net, now’s the time to think about what else you can do for people who are living on this budget out of necessity rather than choice. United Way Silicon Valley and Second Harvest Food Bank may be able to give you some ideas.

Take Flight for Kids 2010

The Third-Annual “Take Flight for Kids” brings science, arts and do-it-yourself activities to Reid Hillview Airport Saturday, September 25.

Take Flight for Kids is the biggest free hands-on science and art festival in the Bay Area. More than 200 nonprofit groups and vendors will demonstrate hands-on activities focused around science, technology, engineering and math. Also, live entertainment and food vendors.

Take Flight for Kids is dedicated to empowering and encouraging underserved young people through hands-on science and aviation-related activities, but all young people and their families are welcome.

Festival admission is free for everybody who signs up online here.

Please bring a canned good, diapers and wipes, or new socks for Bill Wilson Center.

Exhibitors include:

Academy of Model Aeronautics
Association for Women in Science
Botball – NASA Robotics Alliance Project
Cisco System – Women in Technology Action Network
Cisco Systems – IT Rocks performance
Critters by the Bay
Girls in Tech
Mad Science of the Bay Area
NASA Accessibility
Oak Grove High School Eaglebots Botball Robots
Oakland Raiders
Reading Partners
Rise Above Dyslexia
San Jose Earthquakes
Santa Clara Valley Gem and Mineral Society
Schmahl Science Workshops
Space Sciences Laboratory UC Berkeley (Surfin’ the Solar Wind!)
St. Clair Aeronauts
Stanford Solar Center
Team 254 Robotics
VCHS Robotics Teams
Women in Aviation
Youth American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter
Youth Science Institute
Over 200 nonprofit groups and vendors …

Third Annual Take Flight for Kids
Reid Hillview Airport
2500 Cunningham Drive, San Jose

Saturday, September 25, 2010
9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Free Admission to the Festival – Register here

Burn the Floor sets the stage and our souls on fire

Before you start reading this review, before you pass Go, before you collect $200, go here to buy tickets for Burn the Floor before it is sold out.  It is only playing through this Sunday, September 26 and (SPOILER!) you do NOT want to miss this show.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

The original Broadway cast in "Club la Narcisse" Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Now, on to the review!  Well, it was okay.  HAH! Totally kidding!  I hope all the Bay Area establishments that offer salsa and ballroom dancing had their telephones manned today because I am sure there was an overload of calls from people wanting lessons.

The original Broadway cast in "Ballroom Beat." Photo credit: Joan Marcus

This show is exciting, infectious, sexy, fun and mesmerizing.  From the intense opening percussion beats you can’t help but have a smile on your face as the stage is filled with gorgeous male and female dancers shakin’ what their mama gave ‘em.  Cast with many familiar (and extremely talented) dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance”, the men and women you will see on stage have won more than 100 Championship Dance Titles between them.  You don’t need to know Anya and Pasha or Ryan and Ashleigh from SYTYCD to enjoy Burn the Floor.  This show has been around for over a decade and most of the dancers started with it on Broadway, long before SYTYCD ever aired.  You don’t need to know the difference between the Foxtrot and the Paso Doble, or the Rumba and the Samba, but you’ll see all of those plus the Cha Cha, Swing, Lindy, Jive, Quickstep, Salsa, Tango and the Viennese Waltz.  You’ll enjoy music ranging from Irving Berlin to Duke Ellington to Brian Setzer to Steve Perry to Louis Prima, and many, many more.  You’ll see costumes ranging from the skimpiest fringed bikinis to the loveliest pink feathered gowns – but mostly you’ll see sexy, sexy, sexy.

On the other hand, if you are a fan of SYTYCD, you will get to see Ryan and Ashleigh, and Anya and Pasha, plus Karen Hauer and Janette Manrara, live on stage and dancing better than ever.  Other dancers come from SYTYCD seasons from around the world.  Even more exciting is the special guest appearance by Mary Murphy!  She stars in at least three of the dances, and you can see the joy and love for dance on her face as she glides and shimmies across the stage.

If you have never seen SYTYCD or DWTS, rest assured that this is not your ordinary ballroom dance.  In fact, rest quite a bit before the show, because you’ll be clapping, stomping, and dancing around in your seat through the entire two hours.  This is ballroom dancing at its best and most exciting, the sexiest dancing done by the sexiest dancers.  There is drama, romance, comedy and just plain fun, but there is never, ever, boring. (Click through! Keep reading!) (more…)

Keeping up with the $4.50 a day challenge

The $4.50-a-day challenge is presented by United Way Silicon Valley to raise awareness of the limitations of the federal food stamps program, which provides only $4.50 per day in food to the average recipient. It’s now day two of the challenge, and I think I’m doing okay so far.

Yesterday I ate Corn Bran cereal ($0.23) with 1/2 cup of milk ($0.16), 10 saltine crackers ($0.20) with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter ($0.14), a carrot ($0.30), about 3/4 pounds of grapes ($0.45), and pasta with tomato sauce ($0.75) for dinner. I also had a couple of Hershey’s chocolates after lunch and after dinner ($0.41). I got those grapes at the closing bell of my local farmers market in about a 5-pound bag for 3 bucks — not only very affordable, but a lot sweeter than the Thomson seedless grapes I’ve gotten at the supermarkets this summer. I totaled all that up and realized it only makes about $2.64, so maybe I can loosen up a bit for the rest of the week.

To get ready for today, I cooked up a pot of black beans with oregano and bay leaf last night. Tonight I’ll start using them up in a recipe from my go-to Mexican cookbook, 1,000 Mexican Recipes by Marge Poore. Here’s my adaption of her recipe for black beans and rice:

Black Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos)
2 c cooked beans ($0.40)
1/2 c liquid from cooking beans
1 Tbsp and 2 tsp olive oil
1 c white rice ($0.20)
2 c broth (or water)
1 medium onion, chopped ($0.30)
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped ($0.10)
1 jalapeno chile, seeded, de-veined, and finely chopped ($0.10)
1 pasilla chile, seeded, de-veined, and chopped ($0.20)
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Add the rice, and stir until coated with oil. Cook until the rice starts to brown and gives off a nutty smell. Add the broth all at once. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and cook 18 to 20 minutes, until the broth is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, heat 2 tsp oil in another large saucepan. Cook the onion until it starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, chile, cumin, and oregano. Cook another 2 minutes. Add beans and 1/2 cup of the broth they cooked in.

When the rice is finished, add it to the bean mixture and stir gently to mix. Add the salt. Cook about 5 minutes to heat through. If the mixture is dry, add a bit more of the bean broth.

I may add a sprinkle of crumbled dry “enchilada” cheese to make it a little more filling. I plan to get two dinners and two lunches out of this recipe.

late addition: I just found out the Twitter hashtag for the challenge is #eaton450. Let us know how you’re doing on $4.50 a day.

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