Friday, November 29, 2013

Psycho Donuts


Location: Campbell and San Jose, CA

Food: Donuts

Close To: City Lights, Tabard Theatre, ComedySportz, Camera 3 Cinemas (San Jose)

Veteran donut eaters may find that the selection in chain bakeries tends towards standard, even boring at times. And while those who tend towards chocolate or plain jelly donuts will find satisfcation at traditional establishment, crazier donut aficionados desire a little more excitement in their pastry. For those people, Psycho Donuts–featuring a wacky B-movie theme both in its atmosphere and in its donut selection–is there to fit the bill.

Both Psycho Donuts locations feature a wide array of donuts, ranging in size, shape, and oddity. I have sampled a number of them over the two-and-a-half years I have been going to the San Jose Psycho, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Key Lime: The first donut I had here, the vegan Key Lime, combines a tangy flavor with a satisfying solidity. It is so dense and chewy, it’s almost a scone.

  • Strawberry Fields: A square donut topped with strawbery icing, freeze-dried strawberries, and with a single stick of strawberry Pocky laid across the hole.

  • Cereal Killer: Marshmallow frosting (not “marshmallow-flavored” frosting–actual marshmallow frosting) covered with Cap’n Crunch. Extremely sweet, but the range of textures stops the flavor from being overpowering.

  • This One/That One: Named after the chef’s frustration at customers not ordering donuts by name, these simple old-fashioned vanilla and chocolate donuts, respectively, are some of the best in the store, showing that Psycho Donuts knows how to do the basics as much as it knows how to show off.

Psycho Donuts also does dozens of seasonal promotions, with some donuts only available for a few days. My personal favorite is only available in the San Jose store on Memorial Day Weekend as part of a cross-promotion with local anime convention FanimeCon: The Psycho Takoyaki is eight ginger-flavored donut holes topped with caramel, lemongrass bavarian, coconut, and toasted pistachio.

Psycho Donuts’ unique selection and rotating menu makes it a great place to go to again and again. Donuts are baked in batches of four to six flavors at a time, meaning that what you want may not always be available in the case, but there is usually enough of a selection to make you indecisive. The San Jose venue also contains a movie theater and the popular improv team ComedySportz–why not make it an evening?

Cliff House Bistro


Location: San Francisco, California

Food: American/Seafood

Situated next to the Sutro Baths in one of the most beautiful parts of San Francisco, a Cliff House has been in operation since the middle of the 19th century. The Cliff House has gone through several architectural (and presumably menu) changes over the years, and it currently lives as an art deco mid-century throwback featuring the signature foods of San Francisco. There are two restaurants in the Cliff House – the sophisticated Sutro’s and the casual Bistro. This recommendation is for the Bistro.

There are no reservations at the Bistro, and the wait may take twenty to forty minutes, but fortunately there is plenty of bar seating where one can order a drink alongside a delicious appetizer. The dungeness crab cocktail ($15.95), artfully served in a martini glass, is sweet, flavorful, and satisfying enough for an entrée, and the prawn-pork potstickers ($13.50) are a beautiful blend of spicy and crunchy – using their accompanying dipping sauce is recommended. The French onion soup ($8.75), warm, soothing, and sweet, is another great choice. Once at the table, fresh sourdough bread is provided – so good my party usually ends up eating two or three baskets worth.

There are also a number of solid choices among the entrees. The fish and chips ($18.50), made with the Bay Area’s famous Anchor Steam beer, is a classic Bistro dish and not to be overlooked. The spinach ricotta pine nut ravioli ($19.95), served in a tomato-pesto sauce with mushrooms, changes flavors – sweet, rich, tangy, and savory – with every bite, creating a sophisticated taste adventure that’s perfect for pasta lovers. For meat enthusiasts, the braised lamb shank ($29.00) is cooked tenderly on the bone and served with a fitting side of Israeli couscous. Vegan dishes are also available on request.

Make sure to save room for dessert! The five desserts offered on the menu (all $7.25)  are an excellent way to round out your meal. The sour cream fudge cake is rich but not overpowering, and the créme brulee is served flat and wide, creating the ideal ratio of crunchy crust to sweet interior.

For visitors looking to capture the feeling of the historic San Francisco, the Cliff House Bistro is the perfect dining spot. The Art Deco architecture and signed photos of old movie stars catapult one back to the city of yesteryear. Try to get there in the evening – a delicious meal while watching the sun set over the Pacific coast is an unforgettable experience.

Monday, November 25, 2013



Location: Santa Clara, California

Close to: Santa Clara University, City Lights Theatre, Tabard Theatre

Food: Italian

A noble white-and-gold restaurant stands on El Camino Real in front of Santa Clara University – Fiorillo’s, a family-owned and operated eatery built in 1972. The restaurant has become a tradition for a number of Santa Clara students; one of my friends takes his family there every time they come into town.  And there is good reason why: Eating at Fiorillo’s makes you feel at home.

While Fiorillo’s serves focaccia and whole wheat bread for starters, I heavily recommend ordering a loaf of their garlic bread ($3.95). The bread falls on the chewy side, and though it contains a lot of herbs to make the taste more complex, it retains a perfect level of garlic flavor. Cheese is also available for an extra dollar. The bruschetta ($8.95), piled high with juicy tomatoes, peppers, and spices, is also a good choice for sharing with friends.

There are a lot of options for entrees, with portion sizes large enough that you can eat half and take the other half home. The lasagna ($12.95) is a personal favorite of mine – a classic dish done well, with tender meat, sweet cheese, and tangy marinara sauce. Fiorillos also boasts a mix-and-match pasta menu, ranging from noodles to ravioli, as well as a pizza and sandwich menu. The meat ravioli (pricing depends on selection) is tender and spicy, and the sauce is great for dipping bread.

The dessert menu is not without its options. The cheesecake ($8) has that smooth, fall-away texture that marks it as a masterpiece, and the tiramisu ($7) combines a creamy upper layer with a intensely flavored lower layer, the way tiramisu should be made.

With its warm atmosphere, well-stocked bar, and some of the friendliest wait staff I’ve ever encountered, eating at Fiorillo’s is truly a comfort. Even if you’re having a bad day, it’s guaranteed that you will leave with a full stomach and a smile on your face.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Santa Clara University: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, the most well known of Jane Austen’s novels, has received many adaptations and treatments across the years, and has become cemented in the Western mind as one of the greatest romances ever written. However, the content of the novel is deeper than just a romance, reflecting both the social realities of the 19th century and Austen’s incisive, protofeminist sense of humor. The Santa Clara University production of Pride and Prejudice, co-directed by veteran Fred Tollini, SJ, and senior student Nick Manfredi, highlights the nuances of the novel with sparkling clarity.

One of the difficult parts of adapting a novel to the stage is deciding what to cut and what to retain; this production removed many scenes from the book that, though they worked well on the page, became extraneous when brought to the theatre. The result is a streamlined story that highlights some of Austen’s best language, supported by profound work on the part of the actors, including Maggie Woods’ delightfully vicious Caroline Bingley and Michael Standifer’s charming protrayal of Mr. Bennett.

The relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy – one of the most memorable romances of modern literature – is treated in a fascinating way in this performance, where the two are separated as much by the societal norms of the era as they are by their mutual stubbornness to admit they are in love. Though present in the book, it is rare to see these obstacles treated with such nuance. Gavin Mueller conducts himself with bitter dignity as Darcy, while Gabrielle Dougherty plays a headstrong, fearless Elizabeth. Their chemistry, while slow to unfold, is believable and touching.

Also worth noting is the subtle yet powerful technical work. The set uses rotating triangular pillars (periaktoi) to shift from residence to residence without making the changes jarring, while the costumes (a three-way collaboration between resident professor Barbara Murray and students Heidi Kobara and Anne Kobori) stay true to the time while marking the gender divisions characteristic of the novel, using bold colors for men and muted colors for women. Much like the direction, this is done mindfully, with every setpiece and color making a point.

It is rare to see a play – not just at a university but anywhere – that makes its decisions with such purpose that every facet speaks to its higher truth. SCU’s Pride and Prejudice is one of these. At $15 a ticket, the production is more than worth attending–better catch it before it closes on Saturday!