Review: Hillstone

I’ve done this before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering about the Embarcadero in search of food around 3pm. I wanted to see the newly remodeled Fog City Diner, so, starved, we walked down to their location across from Pier 23. For some unknown and seemingly unnecessary reason, they do not serve food between 2.30 and 4.30pm. I find that this happens to me on vacation a lot — arriving at a restaurant “between meals”. So irritating.

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

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Review: Le Bernardin, NYC

Last month I went to New York City. While in Manhattan for five days, my food-loving friend, Jon, and I agreed to go to at least one world-class super schmancy restaurant and spend a ridiculous sum of money on food. Mission accomplished: we went to Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. Please let me describe to you the most expensive meal I have ever eaten.

Inside Le Bernardin -- from website le-bernardin.com

Inside Le Bernardin — from website le-bernardin.com

Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant. Their motto is “the fish is the star of the plate”, which, imho, could use some work, but they seem to be doing fine even with a sorta cheesy tagline. In 2009, Le Bernardin was voted 15th best restaurant in the world in the Restaurant magazine Top 50. Le Bernardin is one of only seven restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986. In 2013, Zagats ranked it the #1 restaurant in New York City*.

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Lake Chalet

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: A Few  ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes!

Happy Birthday to me… this is where I chose to spend my birthday this year with my family. Where’s a nice place that’s close to Hayward (my fam lives in Hayward), not too terribly expensive (I’m not that kind of birthday girl) and has food that all four of my super picky fams will enjoy (sorry guys, you know it’s kinda true)? The Lake Chalet.

For Mom: Lake Chalet is classy and upscale with nice views of the lake and outdoor seating. For Dad: It’s got a “normal” seafood/steak menu with things that are just short of the “art food” he so dreads. For Sister: The bar is nice and serves cutesy drinks, and the delicious-sounding choices on the menu make it difficult for her to choose though she’ll probably be happy with whatever she gets.

And for me: it’s a nice place with good service and good food. There. Birthday done.

This particular Tuesday evening in July was one of the very few “hot” days we’ve gotten here in the SF Bay this year. The outdoor seating was in full swing, and while we had reservations, there was still going to be a 45 minute wait to be seated outside. Between the prospect of evening mosquitoes and suspecting that the cold would creep in as the night went on, I choose to sit inside at our reserved table (much to mom’s dismay I’m sure, but she kept on smiling since it was my birthday*).

Still with lake views, we took our seats at one of the many inside tables — the Lake Chalet is a huge facility with multiple dining areas, banquet facilities, a gondola dock, a gift shop, and two full bars (three if the outdoor seating is in effect). Perusing the menu, mom insisted that we order an appetizer. Who am I to object? We enjoyed their calamari which was crispy and delicious, along with a few of their signature cocktails.

For dinner, we had a variety of foods at the table. Mom went with Luis’ Chopped Chicken Salad, Dad had the Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib, Sister got the Whole Roasted Cracked Crab, Boyfriend got an Ahi Tuna Burger with Fries, and I ordered the Roasted Sea Bass. It was quite a feast, please, enjoy with us:

Everyone enjoyed their meal thoroughly… I heard some rumblings from Dad regarding the short rib, but I don’t remember the issue. Perhaps the polenta wasn’t very flavorful? Sister’s crab was good but hardly “deconstructed to help with ease of eating” per the menu’s promises; there was still much wrenching and shiny-fingered picking to be had. My sea bass was wonderful, and Boyfriend’s ahi burger was great.

For dessert Mom grabbed some creme brulee and sister and I split a chocolate molten cake that was as heavenly as a birthday dessert should be. If nothing else, go for the molten cake.

Overall the evening was merry, the service was attentive (they even catered to our repeated whimsical moves back and forth from the patio to the indoor seating area), and the food was really good. I love the Lake Chalet and I’d highly recommend it.

*Which is funny, shouldn’t it be the mom who gets what they want on their kids’ birthday? I mean, she was really doing all the work that day. Although I guess I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Find Lake Chalet on Zagat.com here

Lake Chalet on Urbanspoon

Art’s Crab Shak

Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 2/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: Once  ♦   Will I Return?:  Unlikely
___________
neon sign

Hayward Fishery neon sign.

Art’s Crab Shak, formerly the Hayward Fishery, can be found at the corner of Foothill and C Street in Hayward. The Hayward Fishery was an establishment from my childhood and was immensely popular locally. I don’t know when it changed hands, but it seems different than I remember from when I was a kid (granted, that was a long time ago), and, in short, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Let’s discuss.

A bit of confusion stems from the signage — they still maintain the “Hayward Fishery” neon outside (which is awesome, btw, see the thumbnail pic) and have both restaurant names scattered throughout different parts of the restaurant. Not sure what that’s about. The Fishery used to have a front area that was sort of like a covered patio, but had walls and felt more permanent but not totally like a part of the building. It had wood slatted floors, permanent tables and a sort of tarpaulin roof, if I recall correctly (which I may not). Anyway, at Art’s, this area was like a fossilized relic of what was previously there. It had weathered the storms of disuse, but not in a way I really wanted to see. It’s sort of a sad disused area that’s just sloppy and derelict now. And it’s the first part you walk through when you enter Art’s. Sigh.

sign

Confusing signage.

After making our way through the wasteland of an entry and into the proper foyer, we waited for someone to seat us. The foyer used to be a market of sorts, I believe, that had various seafoods for sale behind a series of refrigerated countertops; picture the Seafood area at Safeway but in a souvenir store. Maybe it still works like this in the day; but it was closed in the evening when we were there. Adjacent the foyer is a teeny tiny bar that seems to still be in use; a few stray stools allow a very limited amount of bar seating.

foyer

Art's foyer.

We were seated in the main dining area. The decor in this place is almost indescribable. I typically start “writing” blog posts in my head while I’m in a restaurant, but I was at a loss in Art’s. Ok: 60’s style fake veneer dark wood tabletops; padded chairs that were somewhat mismatched throughout the dining area; dark wood paneling halfway up the wall, trimmed green; turquoise paint for the rest of the wall height with odd sea-themed decor such as giant fake fish scattered around the walls. Dingy tile ceiling; scattered ceiling fans. I don’t think anyone else in there cared, but I found it depressing and a bit sad.

art's crab shak

Inside Art's Crab Shak, Hayward.

art's crab shak

Inside Art's, Hayward.

Menu has a variety of items ranging from casual to fancy-ish seafood, and priced quite high in some cases. Which may be good; you don’t exactly want to each cheap seafood. Crab is, assumingly, a specialty, but I hate eating things that require manual labor to consume, so I stuck with a fork and knife dish. Though all kinds of other people were eating the crab — yet another mildly appalling spectacle here at Art’s. Watching people slurp and drip and crack crab with greasy mouths and shiny fingers is probably one of the more sickening things that I am easily able to view in my daily life. I don’t like it; it’s gross.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner.

tuna melt

Tuna melt.

The food we ordered was actually decent, however. It was heart-attack food (at least mine was), but it was not bad. Fried sole with asparagus and hollandaise sauce (how could it be bad with hollandaise sauce) and a side of fries and veggies. Can’t say I was hungry after. The Caesar salad was mediocre, and boyfriend’s tuna melt was diner-good. The service was friendly, but seemed understaffed. We could not get any face time with our smiley waitress. Too bad. I don’t feel like I will return.

Fish.

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:2/5
Times Visited: Once  ♦   Will I Return?:  If I’m in the neighborhood
___________

Fish, period. That’s what they call themselves, punctuation and all. And what’s not to like about Fish.? Unless you’re a true vegetarian. Or you’re allergic to seafood. Or you just don’t like fish.

But I suffer from none of those deterrents, so I liked my fish at Fish. This place is way out of the way for most East Bay folks, nestled into the harbor-y area in the north part of Sausalito, but people around those parts seem to flock to Fish. We happened to be over there with Boyfriend’s mom and were looking for a good place to dine — we were happy to find one.

Fish has mostly… fish. As you might imagine. And they tout the sustainability thing too, which is refreshing. A large signboard in their dining area describes the virtue of sustainability in fishing and their website mentions that they only receive their salmon from “wild, sustainable sources” and never buy farmed fish. And they do use the word “poop” as a reason why farmed fish are bad — kudos to them for that. It takes balls to talk about poo.

Inside Fish. Restaurant

Inside Fish. Restaurant

Inside Fish. Restaurant

Inside Fish. Restaurant

The restaurant is right near the water and overlooks the harbor. The building is nondescript from the outside (we would have never found it without the Yelp app on my phone), but nicely done with high ceilings, polished timber picnic-style tables, and a huge glass wall that faces the ocean. We arrived in time to grab a table and avoid the huge line that formed; apparently this place is quite popular among locals.

Crab dip

Crab dip from Fish. Restaurant

Fish 'n Chips

Fish 'n Chips from Fish. Restaurant

Crab Sandwich

The Crab Roll Sandwich from Fish. Restaurant

The food was very good — we had two orders of Fish ‘n Chips at our table, along with some Crab Dip and a Crab Roll Sandwich. The Dip was fine; I’m not the hugest fan of Crab Dip, so I won’t pretend that I’m a good person to discuss this with. The Crab Roll Sandwich was highly Yelped, and Boyfriend seemed to enjoy it. My Fish ‘n Chips were heavenly though the breading (which was amazing) was a bit much compared to the amount of fish inside. The homemade tartar sauce was spot on.

Fish. Food

Fish. Food

The only real downside to this place was the prices. Everything was around $15-$20 a plate, which was a bit on the high side for an order at the counter chippy*. However, you do get what you pay for, and if I’m paying extra for healthy fish populations that are kept sustainable over time, I suppose that’s fair enough.

Also, they have a tiny counter with fish you can buy to take home, in case you want some real, fresh, sustainable fishiness at home, yum!

*See definition #1.

Claim Jumper

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure
___________

Claim Jumper FremontAh, American cuisine.  Gotta love it sometimes, even when it threatens to clog your arteries and send you keeling over into your full rack of ribs.  Claim Jumper is a large chain restaurant, which doesn’t usually qualify for the old B&C treatment.  I thought I’d take the time, however, to just say a few words about CJ, since it’s a bit of a special place.

And by special, I mean ridiculous.  The facility is huge.  The menu is huge.  The portions are huge.  The desserts are…you guessed it…huge.  Claim Jumper really is a mockery of normal sized portions of food.  It’s a guideline for overeating and a tribute to gluttony.  Seriously, this place is almost too much.

Ribs

Small order of Ribs, baked potato, and veggies from Claim Jumper

Somehow though, CJ manages to raise blood pressure and stretch seams with surprising grace.  The place is decorated as an old west steakhouse; it’s not original but it’s well done.  The menu is enormous but plentiful and certainly smile-inducing.  And the portions, while unnecessarily large, are a good value if you take home half of it for lunch tomorrow or fast for the rest of the week.

Claim Jumper Fremont

The cooking area, fully exposed to the seating area, at Claim Jumper Fremont

Basically, it’s not really my style since the food is generally based on quantity and meat, but it’s surprisingly nice, they have a vegetarian section of the menu, and the food is pretty dang good.  If you’re not into the steak and the ribs and the home-style cooking, I’d say gather your friends and theirs and stop by to share a colossal-sized dessert.  The dessert counter–viewable upon arrival in the lobby–showcases only a few of their meal-sized treats including a variety of cheesecakes, the giant eclair, and the “Chocolate Motherload” 6-layer cake.

Dessert counter

Motherload cake in the dessert counter

They also have 4 flavors of mud pie…mocha was absolutely delicious.

Mud Pie

The "No, seriously, get your spoon away from my pie" Mud Pie at Claim Jumper Fremont.

Claim Jumper on Urbanspoon

A Scrumptious Weekend in Marin

For Mother’s Day this year, broccoli and chocolate took a voyage with mom to Point Reyes in Marin County.  Though only about an hour and a half away from the East Bay, the Marin coast is as rural and beautiful as just about anywhere in the world.  We had a fabulous time and mom was glowing.  But, back to the point—we had some excellent food that B&C needs to know about.

First Stop: Marin French Cheese

Forget Google when you want good cheese—she will only mislead you when you get directions to Marin French Cheese Company.  Using the directions on the website, find this lone establishment in the rolling greenery of Marin County.  Established in 1865, this place has some serious history.  It’s still going strong though, even though it’s surely out in the middle of nowhere-ville, USA.  The drive over is beautiful, the grounds are welcoming and have picnic areas around a small lake, and let’s not forget the cheese, which is delish!  If you show up at the right time, you can even see a tour of their cheese making facilities or have a look around their art gallery.  A great stop if you’re having a lazy weekend in the country.

Marin French Cheese

Cheese, wine, and the great outdoors at Marin French Cheese.

Second Stop: Nick’s Cove

Highway 1 is dotted with small shanty restaurants all up the Marin Coast (and probably the entire west coast), and Nick’s Cove is one of these seemingly run-down landmarks.  On the outside Nick’s looks like a standard wood framed, one story shack that may have come straight from the early 1900’s, but the inside is something quite different.  While certainly not uber-fancy, it’s a step above what you might expect from a wind-blown fishing area.  The valet parking is mandatory and complimentary, so don’t freak out and drive right by like we did.  Just let the friendly gentleman take your car away; Cal Trans has required Nick’s to do this, probably to keep customers from having to walk across the highway.

Nick's Cove

Fresh seafood and delicious salads at quirky yet tasteful Nick's Cove.

Situated right on Tomales Bay, Nick’s offers gorgeous views along with it’s upscale, albeit somewhat limited, menu.  We were there for dinner and were offered a variety of oysters, about a dozen starters including salads, soups, and shellfish, and a handful of main dishes.  The mains were mostly surf and turf and you can tell by the wording that it’s not cheap.  That said, it’s not outrageous either and, judging from what we had, it’s worth the money.  We only had appetizers and drinks but everything was really top notch in quality and taste.  The shrimp Louis was fresh and perfect, the grilled hearts of romaine were like a Caesar salad with a twang and were excellent, and the oysters were…oysters.  If you like oysters, I’m sure these were top notch, and they came with sauces that can make them tolerable even to the rest of us. The waiters knew everything about the menu by heart and without hesitation and the bustling staff refilled waters and sodas and removed empty plates with lightning speed.

Along with masses of old gas pumps, anchors, and other fishing equipment scattered around the place in a way that gives it character rather than lawsuits, they also have a dock behind the restaurant that goes out onto the bay and ends at a small shack.  This shack has a couple tables and a few chairs and accommodates probably no more than 10 people.  But if you make it to the shack in time to grab a seat, you can order from the restaurant via a provided phone and they’ll bring you food while you enjoy the rustic nautical decorations (or stored items?) and scenery from your own private cottage. On warmer nights (if that happens in Marin), there is outdoor seating on the dock as well with a large fireplace.  What fun!

Nick's Cove Dock

The dock at Nick's Cove with the surprise cottage at the end.

Third Stop: Farm House Restaurant at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

Since we stayed at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge on this trip, we also decided to patronize their restaurant—The Farm House—for our Mother’s Day lunch.  The website listed a Mother’s Day menu that looked good, but we were very surprised to find that that menu was just the specials list, offered in addition to their standard lunch menu which is huge!  The selection of food here is immense—almost too large—and includes a large variety of oysters, starters, soups and salads, and entrees, which are again mostly surf and turf but often in sandwich form for the lunch menu.  The specials list was almost white noise against all the other food on the menu; none of us ordered from it that day.

The food we ordered took a while to arrive, but was really delicious.  At our table were two grilled crab and cheese sandwiches (slight modification from the menu to include melted cheese), fish and chips, and a blackened rockfish sandwich.  Everything came with hand cut fries, or you can substitute their delicious and sweet onion strings.  Mom also received a complimentary glass of sparkling wine just for being  a (good*) mom. Overall, the food was satisfying and tasty and was pretty reasonably priced for a nice Mother’s Day lunch.  I think the Farm House is doing good business and makes a great addition to what the Seashore Lodge offers to patrons.

Farm House Restaurant Collage

The front of the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and adjacent Farm House Restaurant (at the far end), along with three of our delicious Mother's Day dishes.

__

Overall, we had a great and tasty weekend, and were even graced with mostly beautiful weather.  It rained a bit on Sunday morning, but it didn’t hinder our beach walk or our trip out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.  Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

*They did not verify that she was a good mom, but she is, so I’ll say that’s why she got it.

Hs Lordships

Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: One   ♦   Will I Return?: I’d be happy to
___________

Hs Lordships is an enormous restaurant and banquet facility out on the Berkeley marina, situated happily on a tiny sliver of land next to the Berkeley pier and surrounded by water on three sides with views of the City, the bridges, and Berkeley.  Their main deal is a surf and turf sort of situation, but during this visit I didn’t even lay eyes on the menu for one moment.  That’s right, we went for the Lunch Buffet.

This place has a lunch buffet to end all lunch buffets.  According to my family, the place is usually really quiet on weekdays, despite the amazing spread of food available Monday through Friday for an extremely reasonable price ($17 or so a person).  The day we went, however, must have been “work Christmas party” day or something because the place was packed.  There must have been hundreds of people in the restaurant, parked in front of their white tablecloths in packs of 4, 6, 10, and 20.  It was a bit of a madhouse.  And like amateurs, my party of six walks in with no reservations at 12 noon.

I was extremely impressed with how well the staff was handling the immense volume of people – we were seated with a waterfront view in under 15 minutes, as they shuffled us in gracefully between reserved parties.  After we were seated, we immediately proceeded to the buffet.

Table at Hs Lordships

Ocean view table at Hs Lordships.

Side note – I love buffets.   And not because I like to “get my money’s worth” – which I rarely do.  What I like is that: a) I can get whatever I want; b) I can get however much I want of whatever I want; and c) there’s a certain mysteriousness to a buffet.  It’s like opening a present – you just don’t know what’s going to be under those shiny silver platter lids!  And, like a present, once they’ve been opened some of the excitement is surely lost, but then it’s time to move on to decision making and prioritizing, both of which I love almost as much.

I digress.

The buffet at Hs is excellent in all respects.  And my mom tells me that this day was no special day for the selection; it’s always this grand, even when the population is far more sparse.  I’ll give a (sort of) brief rundown:

Hot foods: herbed catfish, rice, mashed potatoes, something chicken-y that I didn’t pay attention to, mixed veggies (they were good), bread rolls, roast beef and turkey at the carving station, and two chef-manned (or womanned) stations that will make omelettes or pasta on-demand (awesome).

Buffet

The bay-side buffet at Hs Lordships.

Pasta/Omelette station - the chefs will custom make them for you!

Cold foods: green salad with choice of dressings and toppings, other cold salads (shrimp, pasta, potato), fresh cut fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, honeydew), fresh whole cooked shrimps (the kind you have to peel out of the shell), and the reason my family attends: crab legs.

Salad Bar

The salad bar at Hs Lordships.

Dessert: I can’t even begin to name all the cakes and tarts available for dessert but it was a beautiful thing.  See?

Dessert bar at Hs Lordships buffet. Excellent.

The choices were plentiful to say the least, and I’m sure I didn’t even remember everything.  I only had a fraction of what was on offer, but it was really good.  Everyone else was mmm-ing and ohh-ing at the freshness of the seafood and the appeasing taste of all the dishes.  I did not hear one complaint from any of the six of us.  Except from me: I have discovered that crab legs are not my thing.  I don’t want to have to (wo)manhandle my food to coax out a tiny bit of meat.  I tried it, I washed my hands, I’m not doing it again; it’s gross.

Buffet plate

My plate filled with delicious buffet foods at Hs Lordships.

Dessert was also well-received; the plethora of sweets on offer left no one wanting. I had the creme brulee and a slice of chocolate cake (what can I say, I’m a dessert traditionalist) and they were both very fine.  I had to make an effort not to gorge myself.  Some of my other family members did not make this effort and I commend them for making up for what I didn’t eat.

Dessert

Chocolate cake and creme brulee at Hs Lordships.

I would have to say that between the seaside views, expansive and delicious buffet, great service, and perfect location, this place is a real find.  Only real complaint?  There are a couple of beams in the restaurant that are a bit low – boyfriend got a mighty smack on the forehead for not realizing this (he’s 6′-5″, so I realize it’s partially his fault for being so tall, but still) and wasn’t terribly happy.  But for normal sized people, this place is fabulous for a fun mid-week buffet lunch.  And, glancing at the typical menu, I bet it’s great for a regular meal as well.  Plus they cater to huge banquets – up to 500 people!  Surely a real nice place for any occasion.