Category Archives: Restaurants

Pausing For A Delicious While At Pausa

A sampler of charcuterie (almost all house-made) on a one-of-a-kind plate at Pausa.

A sampler of charcuterie (almost all house-made) on a one-of-a-kind plate at Pausa.

 

San Mateo’s new Pausa asks you to take time out of your busy life to hit pause.

For a bevy of Italian wines.

For house-made charcuterie.

For house-made pastas, pizza dough and breads — all made in a glassed-in dough room on prominent display.

Pausa, which is Italian for “pause,” entices with all of that sit for a spell and just enjoy. The restaurant, which just opened the first week of January, is a collaboration between Italian-born Chef Andrea Giuliani and Co-Owner Steven Ugur. The two first met a dozen years ago at the old Spiedo restaurant, which was owned by Ugur’s father, and sat on this same spot.

Crowds are already checking out the place, as I found out when I was invited in on a recent weeknight as a guest of the restaurant. Every table was taken in the modern dining room, with a focal wall sporting butcher twine woven into an art piece, tinged white and deep red, that is meant to mimic the topography of the Dolomites in Italy.

Chef-Owner Andrea Giuliani who hails from Veneto, Italy.

Chef-Owner Andrea Giuliani who hails from Veneto, Italy.

To imbibe on the lighter side, there are spritz cocktails ($10) that are meant to awaken the palate as you peruse the menu. I tried one of the more unconventional ones, the Bastardo, a blend of Amaro Ciociaro, pineapple gum, apricot liqueur, lime and Lambrusco, that was like a spicy, fruity sangria.

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Delicious Tacos At — Yes — Tacolicious

A trio of Tacos at Tacolicious Santana Row.

A trio of Tacos at Tacolicious Santana Row.

 

The newest Tacolicious took the longest to build.

Two years of lease negotiations and permit approvals to be exact.

Owner Joe Hargrave said at times he wasn’t sure it would ever open. But thankfully, it did, joining four others in the Tacolicious mini empire when it debuted last year at San Jose’ Santana Row.

It’s a sliver of a restaurant, once housing an Italian coffee shop. A bar with seats and a narrow kitchen take up most of the space with a few compact tables inside. It’s already proving a popular spot, as I found out when I was invited in as a guest a few weeks ago. Even on a weeknight, every seat was taken, and about half a dozen folks outside were waiting to get in.

Chips and salsa are set down for you to nibble as you look over the compact menu. Of course, a beer or cocktail is just the ticket to go with that. If you’re a horchata fan like I am, try the house-made one stirred up with Siete Leguas Anejo tequila, chocolate bitters and a dash of nutmeg in the “Papa Noel” ($12). There’s a hint of citrus from the nutmeg and an almost coffee-note thanks to the chocolate bitters. It’s creamy with a kick — just what you want on a winter night.

Chips and salsa to start.

Chips and salsa to start.

Along with a cocktail blended with house-made horchata.

Along with a cocktail blended with house-made horchata.

Of course, one must have tacos at Tacolicious.  My husband and I shared four ($17.95): chicken en mole Colorado, Baja-style Pacific cod, Guajillo-braised beef brisket, and the “Taco of the Week” — crispy fried chicken.

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Naomi Pomeroy’s Porcini Braised Chicken Thighs

Dried porcini mushrooms add an earthy depth to this comforting chicken dish.

Dried porcini mushrooms add an earthy depth to this comforting chicken dish.

 

Rustic and comforting, this is like chicken stew — only made in a roasting pan in the oven.

“Porcini Braised Chicken Thighs” is a little deceptive. It looks like it’s a breezy one-pan chicken dish. But in all honesty, it will probably take you four pans to make it: a Dutch oven to saute the veggies, a cast-iron frying pan to sear the chicken thighs, a roasting pan to cook the chicken through, and a saucepan to heat the braising liquid.

But don’t let that dissuade you from attempting it. After all, what’s a little more time washing dishes when you can then dig in to enjoy such delightful rewards?

This dish is from the new cookbook, “Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking” (Ten Speed), of which I received a review copy. It’s by James Beard Award-winning Chef Naomi Pomeroy or Portland’s Beast restaurant, and Brooklyn writer Jamie Feldmar. You may recognize Pomeroy as a judge on Esquire’s “Knife Fight” and from her time competing on “Top Chef Masters.” I had the chance a couple years ago to dine with her and a roster of other female chefs at Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine Lab, where the food was mind-blowing, and the conversation about molecular gastronomy thoughtful and insightful.

While appreciative of those techniques and high-tech gizmos, Pomeroy, herself, is more old-school. As she joked, her restaurant opened without even a hood.

TasteTechnique

Her cookbook features nearly 140 recipes. For the most part, they’re not dishes you’ll whip up in less than 30 minutes. But they’re also not so complicated and intimidating that you’ll feel too overwhelmed to attempt them.

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Hola to Olla Cocina

Duck carnitas tacos -- a must-order at Olla Cocina.

Duck carnitas tacos — a must-order at Olla Cocina.

 

The weather outside may be wet and dreary at this time of year, but you’d never know it from the inside of downtown San Jose’s Olla Cocina.

The casual Cal-Mexican eatery opened last summer after the building was revamped, giving it a playful design that makes you feel like you’re sitting on the terrace of a hacienda even if you’re completely protected from the elements. On a beautiful summer day, though, the glass garage doors at the front retract to let the sunshine in.

The soaring space was designed by restaurateur Doug Washington of San Francisco’s Town Hall fame. The colorful dining room is set off by a patterned tile floor, a reclaimed wood pergola, painted cinder-block wall, shoes hanging from overhead wires, and eye-catching Dia de los Muertos wallpaper. There are even a couple of swinging rattan egg-shaped chairs that just beg to be sat in.

Day of the Dead wallpaper.

Day of the Dead wallpaper.

Bringing the feel of the outdoors in.

Bringing the feel of the outdoors in.

There’s also a private dining room upstairs with a massive wood table, an old church pew, and framed historical photos on the walls.

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The Newest Il Fornaio Opens in Santa Clara Square

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

 

So conditioned are we these days to thinking negatively about chains that we often dismiss them without a second thought.

But bigger doesn’t always mean mediocre or less personalized.

Case in point: Il Fornaio.

The Italian restaurant chain started in the Bay Area, but now has 23 establishments not only throughout California, but also in Colorado, Virginia, Washington and Nevada.

I admit I hadn’t dined at one in quite awhile, even if I’d always had fine experiences at them, including when I held my wedding rehearsal dinner at the San Francisco locale years ago.

So, when I was invited in to dine as a guest at the newest Il Fornaio, which opened last month in the new Santa Clara Square retail-residential complex, I knew it would be satisfying, but I honestly had forgotten just how good the food really can be.

After all, it may be a chain, but it takes the time and effort to make its own breads and pastas, which is no easy feat. And it does so exceptionally well.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

The Santa Clara restaurant is a huge 150-seat affair housed in a 6,200-square-foot building that has the air of a modern-day Tuscan farmhouse with soaring ceilings, weighty wood posts, a wide-open dining room, an open kitchen, and stylish glass-enclosed wine storage cases that reach to the ceiling and are accessible by a library ladder.

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