Dining at Downtown San Jose’s Aji Bar and Robata

Lemongrass chicken potstickers at Aji Bar and Robata.
Lemongrass chicken potstickers at Aji Bar and Robata.

Years ago, the lobby of the downtown San Jose Fairmont Hotel was elegant if a tad sleepy. But since taking over that prime spot in 2022, the luxurious Signia by Hilton Hotel has transformed that space into a splashy, happening restaurant, Aji Bar and Robata.

Done up with loungey couches, an artsy angular chandelier, arches galore, and a horseshoe-shaped bar that’s dramatically lighted underneath, the restaurant serves Nikkei or Japanese-Peruvian cuisine. On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, there’s also a DJ or live music.

I had a chance to dine there last Thursday, a more sedate night in comparison, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.

Executive Chef Joe Derla. Can you guess that he grew up in Hawaii?
Executive Chef Joe Derla. Can you guess that he grew up in Hawaii?

Executive Chef Joe Derla oversees Aji, as well as all other food operations at the hotel. Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, he may have been destined to be a chef — even if at one point he trained to be a Nascar driver. After all, his mother was a chef (and his dad the chief of police). One of nine children, Derla and all of his five brothers are all chefs. Talk about runs in the family.

The name of the restaurant works two ways: Aji can be pronounced “ah-hee” as in the Japanese word for “taste” or “ah-jee” as in the Peruvian word for “spicy pepper.”

Read more


Lamb-Spice Lamb Chops That Are Kismet

A quick spice mix gives these lamb rib chops incomparable flavor.
A quick spice mix gives these lamb rib chops incomparable flavor.

Dare I say that smoky, juicy, and flavorfully spiced little lamb rib chops are your destiny?

They definitely are if you follow this recipe from the new “Kismet” cookbook (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.

“Lamb-Spice Lamb Chops” is one of more than 100 mouthwatering recipes in this book by the chef-owners of Los Angeles restaurants, Kismet and Kismet Rotisserie. Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson were named among the “Best New Chefs” in 2017 by Food & Wine magazine,

You have to love a cookbook that states from the get-go: “Yes, we’re restaurant chefs. No, this isn’t a restaurant book. Why? Because we want you to actually cook these recipes.”

Read more



Endive Salad With Indian Flair

An endive and romaine salad gets jazzed up with seared paneer and a punchy tamarind chutney dressing.
An endive and romaine salad gets jazzed up with seared paneer and a punchy tamarind chutney dressing.

Like so many ethnic households, my family’s included a pantry where fermented black beans, three types of soy sauce, and tubs of tofu had equal billing as ketchup, mustard, and frozen hash browns.

Same for Khushbu Shah, whose family arrived in the first wave of Indian immigration to the United States.

The former restaurant editor at Food & Wine magazine, the Los Angeles-based Shah grew up in a home where Bisquick, peanut butter, and Taco Bell burritos were as beloved as curry leaves, coconut milk, and moong dal.

It’s that blending of heritages that informs her new cookbook, “Amrikan” (W.W. Norton), of which I received a review copy. Just what is “Amrikan”? As Shah explains in the book: Both a noun and an adjective, it is the word that Indians use to describe all things American. Or in short: “It’s America — with a desi accent.”

As such, the 125 recipes showcase the clever, surprising, and inspired ways that Indian American families have adapted what they found in American grocery stores or added a Southeast Asian spin to American comfort food classics.

Read more

A Visit to Calistoga’s Theorem Vineyards

A Wagyu slider with black truffles on house-baked brioche -- part of the "Garden & Glass'' tasting at Theorem Vineyards.
A Wagyu slider with black truffles on house-baked brioche — part of the “Garden & Glass” tasting at Theorem Vineyards.

It’s not by accident that the names of both Theorem Vineyards and its signature Voir Dire Cabernet Sauvignon allude to science and truth.

After all, the 60-acre Calistoga property was originally purchased in the late 1800s by Dr. Richard Beverly Cole, who not only was San Francisco’s first practitioner of obstetrics and California’s first surgeon general, but also built what is believed to be the first school house in the Napa Valley on that land. The Cole Valley neighborhood in San Francisco is named after him, too.

In 2012, the property was purchased by husband-and-wife, Jason Itkin and Kisha Itkin, who were merely looking for a second home. He is a Houston-based top trial lawyer who famously won an $8 billion record-setting verdict against Johnson & Johnson, and she is a former reservoir engineer who worked in the oil and energy industry.

Six years later, though, they opened their winery there. They now produce eight wines with their winemaker Andy Jones, former assistant wine maker for Thomas Brown; and consulting winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, one of the valley’s most distinguished winemakers.

You can taste those wines, if you’re fortunate enough to be one of only 17 guests the winery is permitted to host each day, Wednesday through Sunday, by appointment-only. But it will cost a pretty penny. Lavish and over-the-top, the standard wine tasting with cheese is $200 per person. If you’re feeling flush, tack on additional $95 per person for the “Garden & Glass” option that includes substantial gourmet noshes featuring beef from cows with Wagyu genetics raised on the Itkins’ 20,000-acre Theorem Ranch in Montana, as well as veggies and herbs harvested from the winery’s own culinary garden.

One of several tasting areas at the winery.
One of several tasting areas at the winery.
And another tasting area.
And another tasting area.

Last month, I had a chance to do just that when I was invited as a guest to tour the winery and experience its “Garden & Glass” that began with a welcoming glass of its 2022 Sauvignon Blanc, a zippy white with nice minerality plus more body than expected, thanks to time spent fermenting in neutral French oak.

Read more

A Slice of Cool

If this doesn't help beat the heat, nothing will.
If this doesn’t help beat the heat, nothing will.

The heat is on.

Is it ever.

I may not have the ability to turn the master switch to “off” to quash this heatwave. But I can definitely cool things down deliciously with “Frozen Yoghurt-Honey Parfait with Flash-Roasted Blueberries.”

Creamy, tangy, and — yes — frosty, it’s like ice cream without the need for an ice cream maker.

The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Fruitful” (Kyle Books), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Sarah Johnson, an American-born pastry chef who trained at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, and now splits her time at two United Kingdom restaurants, Spring and Heckfield Place. Hence, the UK spelling of “yoghurt” in this recipe before you think that a typo.

Read more
« Older Entries