Monday, February 22, 2010

Greek Quick Food in California, Arizona, & Colorado

One of my favorite Christmas 2009 presents was a gift card from Daphne's Greek Cafe. It is one of my favorite places for in informal quick lunch or dinner. I like them so much, I plan to have them cater a party I will be hosting.

I am fortunate enough to have three Daphne's close to my home and office. When I am out and about and hungry for lunch, I usually stop at Daphne's. The food is fresh and tasty and the prices are modest.

Just last week, there were some Daphne's coupons in our newspaper. My morning appointment had run late and by the time I got out of it, I was famished. I stopped at Daphne's in Walnut Creek and ordered the Grilled Chicken was a warm day and I took advantage of their outdoor seating.

At Daphne's, you order and pay at the counter and your food is brought to your table.

With my coupon, my salad cost under $5, but even at the full price of about $7, it is a great value...lots of grilled chicken, warm pita bread, and, of course, Tzatziki sauce. Yum!

My other favorites include the freshly carved Gyros; I usually order the Gyros Plate, which comes with Pita, Tzataziki sauce, Greek Salad and Rice Pilaf. I also recommend the Vegetarian Plate which features Spanakopita, Hummus, Falafel, and Dolmas along with the warm Pita, Greek Salad, Rice Pilaf, and Tzatziki Sauce.

Recently, Daphne's has added Burgers to their menu...your choice of a Beef burger, Chicken burger, or Veggie burger. The burgers are served in a pita bread. Frankly, I don't see the need for burgers on a Greek menu, but as restaurants, even moderately priced ones like Daphne's, struggle for customers, I understand the appeal of a burger to some. Daphne's now also offers French Fries in place of Greek Salad and Rice Pilaf on its plates.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Dim Sum in Contra Costa: The Search May Be Over

Since Tin's in Walnut Creek closed last year, I've been searching for a restaurant in Contra Costa County that serves authentic Dim Sum every day of the week. While I've checked out a few leads, none have been of the quality of Tin's.

Today, I think I've found my place! It's Imperial in Concord, right across from the Park n Shop shopping center, almost directly across from Fry's. Imperial occupies the building that previously housed a Baker's Square restaurant. I must thank another friend, Rick, for telling me about Imperial.

When my friend Ray and I arrived there at noon, the place was packed. There are two big dining rooms. The customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in the smaller back dining room where there still were a few open tables. As we walked to our table, we took in the yummy smells from the parade of Dim Sum carts that were circling the dining room.

Just about everything that was offered to us was tempting. Before long, our small table was packed with plates of Dim Sum.

A waiter immediately came to ask what kind of tea we wanted. Jasmine was our choice, always a good accompaniment to Chinese food.

Some of the dishes we enjoyed were Steamed Bean Curd in Oyster Sauce

Pan-Fried Bell Pepper stuffed with Shrimp

Pork Dumplings with a Ginger dipping sauce (it is the Ginger sauce that makes this dish special)

Rice Balls stuffed with Shrimp and topped with a piece of Sausage

Fried Calamari

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns

Singapore Style Chow Fun

We chose so many dishes, we wound up taking leftovers home with us...and, we never got to any of the sweet dim sum, not that I wasn't tempted by the Mango Pudding, Sesame Balls, Egg Custard Tarts, and Coconut Cake that kept passing our table.

Ray and I enjoyed everything we tasted. While some dim sum, the Shrimp Rice Balls in particular, required more seasonings for our taste, this was just our preference and no reflection on the food; added a bit of sesame sauce and some soy sauce and were content. The noodles and noodle wrapping were just right for the dishes in which they were a part.

I was impressed with the excellent service and that, despite the majority of the clientele being Asian, most of the servers spoke enough English to describe the dishes to us. When we asked for specific dishes, such as the Calamari and the Ginger Pork Dumplings, they took our order and made them specially for us. All our dishes were hot and tasted fresh. We so enjoyed the entire experience that, even after we paid our bill, we lingered over tea a bit longer. Even on this busy day, the second day of Chinese New Year and President's Day, we were not rushed to vacate our table.

Most dim sum servings consist of three or four pieces. Price per serving ranges from $2.45 to $5.75, depending on how the item is categorized. A la carte dishes are also served; our Chow Fun was one such dish. And, there were specials including a Lobster dish priced today at $16.95...not that we weren't tempted...

Imperial features Cantonese & Szechuan Cuisine.

Since they do not have a web site, here is their essential information:

Imperial Chinese Restaurant
1680-G Willow Pass Rd.
Concord CA 94520

There is plenty of free parking in the large parking lot that Imperial shares with a few other businesses.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Jim and I no longer have a Season Subscription to the SF Symphony. We now pick and choose our concerts, making it more pleasant to Jim, in particular, to assure not hearing "new" musical pieces, most of which he considers not musical.

At any rate, last night's concert featured Charles Dutoit as guest conductor. The featured piece was Holst's The Planets. The other piece was Walton's Violin Concerto with SF Symphony Concertmaster Alexander Branantschik as the violin soloist.

It was a wonderful concert and a great evening which we started with dinner at one of our favorites for pre-Symphony dining, Paul K.

The food at Paul K is Mediterranean with California influences. Owner Paul Kavouksosrian is Armenian.

The restaurant is small and crowded, with most tables in the front dining room which shares space with the bar. A smaller back area has a few more tables and maybe has a bit more space between tables. I am happy where ever I am seated. It's a lively friendly place.

Meals start with fresh warm pita bread and hummus and glass of cucumber water.

The menu features about a dozen Small Plates and half a dozen or so Entrées. Two Mezza (Mediterranean appetizer) platters are always featured; one is vegetarian.

Sometimes I make a meal of the Mezza. Other times, I have a few small plates.

Last night, we each ordered an Entrée and shared the Butter Lettuce Salad with blue cheese, dates, and hazelnuts to start.

Jim had the Grilled Half Chicken on a bed of White Beans, Clamshell Mushrooms, and Green Garlic.

My choice was the Atlantic Skate Wing with a mixture of Roasted Artichokes and Sunchokes. I have a "thing" for Skate Wing and always order it if it is on a menu. The vegetables that look like roasted potatoes in the photo are the sunchokes.

I've never eaten sunchokes and they were delicious that I bought some today at my local Farmers' Market and am going to try roasting them myself.

For dessert, we shared the Chestnut Fritters which were served with homemade Maple Ice Cream.

A heavenly meal that sent us off happily to a lovely concert.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Macworld 2010 is in San Francisco

It's a new new Macworld this year since Apple decided to no longer participate and several other big companies that make products for or in support of Apple products also withdrew.

But, this did not keep me, Joanne and most Apple faithful away from the show.

it's a much smaller show, occupying only Moscone North. About half the number of exhibitors as last year are present this year.

All the same, we had a great day and, in a way, enjoyed the show a lot more. For me it had some of the spirit of the Home Brew Computer shows in the later 1960s and intimate gathering of folks who loved the tech world.

And we got to spend more time with smaller vendors and actually found useful products to buy. On my recommendation, Joanne bought a Mophie Juice Pack, a battery backup and case for all models of iPhone that just about doubles the play time of the iPhone. The new version is lighter and comes in wonderful metallic colors, a nice improvement over my somewhat heavier one from about a year ago. Also, the prices of the Mophie have come down about 20% since I got mine and there is a big show discount too.

Several companies have begun producing accessories for the iPad. From the mockups of the iPad, I am surprised at how small it actually is. Here is a photo of a case from Targus in front of an iPad mockup.

I vote this booth the most striking. It looks like something that should be in the Museum of Modern Art.

The meeting space was crowded and it was standing room only for the ongoing presentations on the center stage in the middle of the North hall. Also, in another large room was an ongoing assortment of speakers and entertainment. We missed David Pogue first thing in the morning, but ended our day with Leo Laporte's chat with entertainers Heather Gold, Roger McGuinn, Adam Savage, and Warp 11. Some of them gave performances and all talked about their use of Apple Computers, many from way back when.

Geeky Comedian Heather Gold was very wry and funny. Roger McGuinn, folk singer and founder of the Byrds sang and told us that he has lots of free mp3s for download on his web site.

Adam Savage gave his insights into Ghostbusters.

Warp 11 really rocked the house.

Macworld ends tomorrow, February 13.

It will be back in San Francisco in 2011 January 25 -29. Can't wait!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Do Sit Thai: Worth the Detour/Special Trip

Do Sit Thai Cuisine, hidden away in a corner of the Palos Verdes Mall Shopping Center in Walnut Creek looks like, from the outside, the kind of place where I would not stop, or even notice, had I not heard something about it. Sometime last summer I did notice it as I was on my way to Louie's veterinary hospital (Geary Vet) which is right next door.

Since Do Sit's location has been previously occupied by several other restaurants, usually Italian ones, I looked in, curious about the new tenants. On that summer day, there were no customers at mid-day, but I filed it away as a place to possibly have lunch with Mary Ann, our vet, on one of her work days. Also not in Do Sit's favor this summer was an expansion project in Palos Verdes Mall which made the restaurant almost inaccessible.

But, the owners hung in there and in the past few months, I've been hearing lots of good words about Do Sit.

Finally, yesterday, I met friends Molly and Mary Ann there for lunch.

When I arrived at 1 p.m., on the later side of lunch hour, the dining room was full.

With Molly's recommendations (she's been here several times) we made our selections from the Lunch Menu. The Lunch Menu includes just about all the à la carte menu items, in single portions, plated with jasmine rice and a salad. Lunch starts with a cup of Tom Kha, a flavorful Chicken Coconut Milk Soup.

Lunch dishes are priced between $7.95 and $9.95.

Molly ordered the Roasted Duck, boneless pieces of duck served on a bed of spinach. The duck was served with a side dish of brown sauce for dipping or mixing with the duck and/or the rice.

Mary Ann chose the Green Curry with Chicken (can be ordered with beef, pork, or seafood also) and green beans, eggplant, bell peppers and sweet basil.

My selection was the Garlic & Pepper Prawns.

As you can see from my photos, the servings are generous. Each dish that we ordered was tasty, well-prepared, and distinctive. We sipped hot Thai Tea with our meals.

Most Thai restaurants tend to serve the Thai Tea only as a cold drink blended with condensed milk. It was a treat to enjoy this sweet thick red tea as a hot beverage, with no added milk or seasonings. Even during the busy lunch hour, our server kept our cups filled with the tasty tea.

For the sake of "research," I ordered Thai Tea Ice Cream for us to share for dessert. As with our hot tea, it had the same red hue and was the perfect end to our lunch. The sweet ice cream was made even sweeter with a drizzle of honey on top and a Maraschino cherry garnish.

The dining room is both elegant and comfortable. We all will return!

Do Sit is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and every day for dinner.

Since lunch, I've learned that Do Sit is owned by the same family who own Manora's Thai in San Francisco and Similan Thai in Danville. Manora was where I first tasted Thai food many years ago. I consider myself very lucky to now be able to enjoy their food close to my home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Panama Canal Cruise: Aruba & Cartegena

Our January Cruise to the Panama Canal started and ended in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. In our 10 days at sea, we made stopped in five ports.

Our first stop was at the Dutch Island of Aruba where I snorkeled off a catamaran. We were docked in the capital city of Oranjestad.

On a half-day trip, we made two stops to snorkel off the boat. At one stop we had about half an hour to explore beautiful coral reefs. The second stop was right above the shipwreck of the Antilla, a 440-foot sunken World War II German freighter that has been in this spot since 1940. The water was so clear that we could clearly see the sunken ship. The fish here were more plentiful and beautiful than at the reef but the water currents were so strong that we had to hold onto the anchor rope while in the water, thus limiting our exploration.

Jim spent his day in Aruba on another excursion that included stops at a butterfly farm, an aloe factory (aloe is a major ) and to the Ayo rock formations where Aruba's first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians took shelter. He does not recommend this outing, as he did not think it was interesting enough for the time spent. I enjoyed the snorkeling but would have liked more time in the water or, perhaps, on one of Aruba's beautiful sandy beaches.

With no camera in hand, for fear of it getting soaked on the boat, my only photo is from the ship of the one high spot on Aruba, a 540-foot high hill.

The next day, we were in Cartegena, Colombia. The weather was sunny, hot, and very humid.

It was exciting sailing into Cartegena harbor early in the morning. There is the modern skyline in the background and a statue of the Virgin of Carmen in the water, much like our Statue of Liberty, protecting sailors traveling the ocean.

Our excursion for the day was a walking tour of the Old City.

Cartegena has been called the drug capital of Colombia, but, at least where we went, with our trusty guide Marcos, we felt safe.

Marcos assured us that the drug traffic has been controlled. He also noted that we were in the more affluent sections of Cartegena. We saw a beautiful historic city.

Cartegena was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. It was governed by Spain throughout the 16th century. The wall around the city center was built to defend the city against pirates who wanted the gold and emeralds that came from Colombia's interior and which were shipped back to Spain. Cartegena's windy narrow streets were designed as further protection against attack from outsiders.

On the short drive into the City, we got a brief look at the less affluent parts of Cartegena.

Along the way we made a quick stop at the Castillo de San Felipe, a 17th Century Spanish Fortress that, from a hillside, stands guard over the city and the harbor.

It is a major tourist attraction and is walking distance from the the cruise ship harbor. Even just getting off our bus for photos, we were immediately surrounded by street vendors. This man selling interesting zipped leather purses actually had a very nice product.

Our next stop was at Las Bóvedas. Previously, dungeons along the city wall, the cells in Las Bóvedas now house shops and galleries. For me, this area was just too touristy, with tour buses and even city buses stacked up in front.

Some of the traditional Colombian art, gifts, and clothing looked interesting, but the crowds and the heat put me off.

Looking across the street, I more enjoyed some of the city buildings and the architecture.

We then spent several hours exploring the Old City.

My first impression of the City was that its balconied buildings reminded me of Havana and New Orleans.

The abundance of public art caught my attention. The hearts reminded me of the Hearts in San Francisco, some of which are still displayed around San Francisco.

There is a theatre dedicated to Don Pedro de Heredia.

And, a lush park dedicated to Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan political leader who helped Colombia gain its independence from Spain. He was president of the Republic of Colombia from 1819 to 1830.

We stopped at the Palace of the Inquisition which is now the city's History Museum.

We had time to visit the lovely Modern Art Museum.

We even got a look at the courtyard of Casa Pestagua, an 11-room luxury hotel, in the former home of 18th century Count of Pestagua.

And, visited several other plazas, churches, and historic buildings in this vibrant and interesting city.

When I return to South American, Cartegena will be on my list of places to revisit.