We’ve been Food Partying! a little more at neighborhood hot spots, taking advantage of new menus and openings. Maybe you have too? Do tell.
Here’s two of our discoveries...
Walk into iChina and go wow. Sparkling emerald green accents meet Shanghai art deco. Opened in August 2021, it's a destination location.
Enjoy the first floor cocktail lounge, second floor restaurant, and private spaces including a virtual reality dining room. Yup you read that right. This is image-cuisine; customizable to your celebration. Eat in your own movie - a culinary Immersive Van Gogh.
Executive Chef Eddie Lam offers prix-fix dinner, updated seasonally. Individually plated with eclectic cultural influences, dishes incorporate locally-sourced organic produce and humane / sustainable meats and seafood. “We strive for fine dining and authentic technique that is traditional in spirit but contemporary in approach,” says Lam.
Specialty drinks shine here -unique creations, unexpected garnish. Rarely do I order creative cocktails - honestly they go down too fast. But this is a good place to do it. ($18 - $22)
Oolong Milk Punch
hennessey vs | mount gay black barrel rum | licor 43 | aloe liqueur | oolong tea | blue agave | milk | pineapple juic
Lost in Shanghai
pandan infused whiskey | capaletti amaro | amontillado sherry | cocchi vermouth di torino
The food is meticulously prepared; it’s a kitchen where house-made doughs abound, hard spices steep in jars for homemade chili oil, vegan xo sauce cures, and hawthorn berry leather is prepared at whim. We choose the vegetarian prix fix. It begins with Dumpling of red vinegar essence, truffle and tofu.
A creamy kabocha squash soup follows, with coconut, puffed brown rice and chili oil.
Claypot Style Mushroom Rice impressed with king oyster mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, and taro.
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage with vegan xo sauce, corn grits and mushroom gravy
Zha Jiang Mian featuring Shanghai wide noodles, in-house pickled crudites and a soybean paste based sauce.
Dessert is a delicate and flavorful Choux Au Craquelin trio (cream-filled pastry of banana and burnt sugar cream, matcha and azuki mousse, and raspberry and chocolate.
The meal was delicious, creative and such a treat. My one suggestion, as funny as this may sound, is to incorporate more vegetables. I wanted more vegetables to chew on during the meal.
Lunch is available (not prix fix), as well as a daily Tang Dynasty-style tea ceremony updated for the times.
With a high price point, iChina is a special occasion destination for many, if that. Prix fix ($118 per person), Vegetarian prix fix ($88). If you want to check it out but save some cash, give a look at their happy hour menu offering $8 bites and $10 cocktails.
Located inside the Hotel Citrine in Palo Alto, Wild Onion opened in 2021 with a crisp, contemporary design and homey feel. Upon entry, you are greeted by a full sliding door which opens majestically out to the pool area, creating this inspiring, bright spot - perfect to catch up at days end alongside a glass of wine or house specialty drink. Lots of space to spread out, think, and be inspired.
I’m a plant-forward eater, but no purist, so when my dinner partner orders meat, we share dishes and experience a little of both worlds. Once you have a good sauce and condiments, it can adorn vegetable or animal. We learn from everywhere. RG started with Crispy Spiced Calamari ($18), paired with a delicious Mango Curry Dipping Sauce – the za-za-zing to an already colorful dish. Ol’ plant-forward ordered the Buffalo Cauliflower sprinkled with blue cheese and a tangy, house-made hot sauce. ($16). Don't tell chef, but I liked dipping it into RG's mango sauce.
Salad course was a hard decision, all the options sounded yummy. We chose Palo Alto Chopped ($21), a refreshing mix of crisp romaine, prosciutto and Sopressata (Italian salami), grilled vegetables and crispy artichokes with a well-balanced red wine dijon vinaigrette; a meal in itself.
For entrees, RG ordered the Grilled Lamb Chop ($39), a stand-out dish adorned with a delicious pink peppercorn fresh herb sauce and crispy sea salt potatoes. Forgive me Goddess and God's of the environment, and thank you to the cows, but don't you love a good cream sauce?
I chose Mushroom Eggplant Bolognese ($24). As vegetarian bolognese goes, it needed flavor RX/. What a good time to review favor-enhancing tips for plant-forward meals.
Bolognese is a type of braise; an uncomplicated, old-fashioned cooking style. Actually it’s a magical process that brings out the most of very simple ingredients when a slow, low heat is utilized. Start with a Sofrito (Italian mirepoix), a mix of chopped onions, celery and carrot, then add the Italian part - garlic, rosemary, parsley, bay. If your recipe says something like “sauté the onions for 5 – 10 minutes,” I encourage patience. Try 20 – 30 minutes. Remember, low and slow. Time gives complexity and fills in the flavor profile of dishes with or without meat. A slow heat breaks down long chains of onion protein into amino acids, like glutamic acid, known to lend a rich savory flavor called umami. Slow cooked celery has also been found to bring out sweetness and umami (the Japanese word for deliciousness). Celery may be tasteless, but in combination with other ingredients and cooking time, alchemy occurs. The dish becomes more than the sum of its parts. When you eliminate meat from a dish, remember that slow cooking and umami are important ways to build extra layers of flavor.
For the eggplant, this is a vegetable filled with water that benefits if you take some out. Cut into 1” slices, salt for 20 minutes over a colander, blot off the excess salt and water, drizzle on some olive oil and roast until lightly browned and soft. Then dice and add to your sauce for additional cooking.
Adding mushrooms to your vegan Bolognese is another flavor trick. Listed as one of the Hottest New Ingredients, mushrooms are considered an “umami bomb.” When added to ground beef in a 30% mushroom / 70% beef ratio, tasters don’t even notice. Here’s an idea: forget the meat. Just grind mushrooms in a food processor, sprinkle with a little oil, and roast at 400°F for 10 minutes or so till browned (tossing half-way through). This step does the same thing to mushrooms and eggplant, it removes excess water, allowing natural flavors to enhance. Once browned, add mushrooms into the sofrito or straight into the tomato sauce for additional cooking. Without water taking up space, dehydrated mushrooms (and eggplant) have more room to pull in outside flavor.
After your meal at Wild Onion, consider relocating for dessert on one of the cozy chairs flanking the outdoor fire pit. On Tuesday nights this summer, the restaurant hosts live music, poolside, 6:30PM – 9PM.
Westfield Valley Fair
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose
Happy hour (3 PM – 6 PM daily)
750 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto
Weekend brunch (11 AM – 2 PM)
- photos by LSIC