Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lotus Thai Bistro

Photo Nov 11, 20 32 45

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Food: Thai

Nearby: Lucie Stern Center (Theatreworks, Palo Alto Players)

The definition of “comfort food,” in my opinion, has become diluted. To truly be comfort food, a dish should be so delicious and so filling that even if you’ve had a hard day, it will start to look better after dinner. Lotus Thai Bistro, a restaurant squeezed into the California Avenue shopping district, is one of those scant few eateries that feeds the weary spirit as much as the empty stomach.

Like many Thai restaurants, there are a lot of excellent appetizer options. The chicken satay skewers ($7.95) are a little softer than those from other eateries, and combo well with the peanut satay sauce. Vegetarians or those on a budget might want to order the fried spring rolls ($4.95), which are filled with a fresh blend of vegetables.

The soups are served in entrée portions, larger than those at many other restaurants. Though you get a lot, the soup has enough variety of flavor and texture that it works as an entire meal, and you can always take it home. Look out for the Thom Kha ($6.95-8.95), which combines the delicate sweetness of coconut with the acidity of lemongrass. My personal protein recommendation for this soup is steamed tofu, which adds a delightful chewiness without overpowering the broth.

You can find your favorite Thai curries at Lotus Bistro, which are served with a number of different meat and vegetable options. (The menu on Google does not have several of the fish options I encountered, which may be seasonal.) If you want to pour your curry over something complex like Pad Thai, my suggestion would be the simple but effective yellow curry ($9.95). Another excellent choice is the mussaman curry ($12.95), which cuts to the core with just the basic ingredients.

All soups and curries are available at four spiciness levels; I personally enjoyed the “medium” level, finding the kick substantial but not overpowering. However, spice is a personal decision.

It must be mentioned that the coconut rice ($4.50, not shown on Google menu) is an out-of-this-world treat, a sweet, sticky, addicting dish that’s almost impossible to finish once you start. It’s especially great as a vehicle for curry.

Lotus Thai is a great low-key restaurant that serves classic dishes for a range of customers. The large portions are great for sharing, taking home, or enjoying on your own if you’re very hungry. They also deliver (through and other sites), so if you’re hosting a party nearby and want to order something other than pizza, give Lotus Thai a chance!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cafeteria 15L

15L photo

Location: Sacramento

Food: American

Nearby: Sacramento Theatre Company, Capital Stage Company

Cafeteria 15L, located close to the State Capitol and the Sacramento Convention Center, deserves praise for a number of reasons: Friendly staff, a beautiful interior, and a varied drink menu. However, this modern American eatery stands out most for its across-the-board quality of its food.

When I recommend a restaurant, I usually point out a particular dish that excels from among the restaurant’s menu. Doing so with Cafeteria 15L’s offerings would be almost unfair – in fact, it offers so many good choices I would suggest you go there at least twice during a trip to Sacramento. There is no way to experience all this restaurant has to offer in just one visit.

One can judge an American restaurant by the quality of its burgers, and Cafeteria 15L’s do not disappoint. These thick and juicy burgers (starting at $10.95) are cooked perfectly, and come with several topping options that include the always-welcome choice of goat cheese. Also available is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich ($11.95), which makes excellent decisions as to its bread and cheese, though it may be too buttery for some people. The tomato soup served alongside the sandwich is tangy and comforting without being too rich.

Like many modern diners, you have the option of ordering your burger or sandwich with mixed greens instead of fries – don’t take this for granted! The greens are paired with a tart champagne vinaigrette that enhances, but doesn’t overpower, their crisp sweetness. If you’re heart-set on fries, you can also order the greens as an appetizer salad, along with medjool dates, goat cheese, and candied pecans ($6.95). Also on the salad menu is the beet and pear salad ($8.95), which uses two varieties soft, brightly-colored beets for visual excellence as much as they are used for their delicious flavor.

Keeping in line with the Cafeteria's comfort food theme, entrees include a meatloaf ($16.95) and spaghetti and meatball ($15.95, dinner only, not a typo, it’s a huge meatball). The meatloaf doesn’t do anything astonishing with the format, but it falls apart to the fork, the generous helping of sweet and tangy sauce combining marvelously with the taste of the meat. The meatball is well-seasoned and not incredibly dense, working well with the tomato sauce and spaghetti.

The dessert menu puts simultaneously comforting and innovative spins on classic dishes. Cafeteria 15L’s crowning achievement is the Skillet S’mores ($6.95), which takes the uniquely American campfire dessert and spins it. Marshmallows, the basis of any good S’more, are layered over a chocolate brownie in a hot skillet and studded with chocolate and graham crackers. The result is a dessert that is light, rich, and satisfying, though it could have used a few more chocolate squares.

Cafeteria 15L is an excellent choice for people on an extended trip in Sacramento because of its across-the-board quality. If you’re staying at one of the nearby hotels, you can be assured that no matter what you order off the menu, you’re going to have an excellent meal.