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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Review: 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…. 

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Review: Art’s Crab Shak

Update: Art’s Crab Shak in Hayward is now closed.

 
Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 2/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: Once  ♦   Will I Return?:  Unlikely
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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…. 

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Claim Jumper

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

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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
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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.