District 7, San Jose
Even veteran restaurants with long-time loyal patrons have struggled during this pandemic, so imagine what it must be like for a brand new restaurant to open for business after shelter-in-place took effect.
Fortunately, its chef-owner is John Le, the former operator of Three Seasons in Palo Alto, with years of experience under his belt.
Le was all set to open the doors to his new restaurant that serves modern takes on Vietnamese cuisine when those plans came to a sudden halt. Instead, he decided to offer to-go food instead, Wednesdays through Sundays. Last week, he invited me to stop by to try gratis a few of his new takeout, heat-at-home options.
Almost resembling TV dinners, the entrees come packed in plastic containers with everything inside vacuum-sealed separately. The label includes instructions for heating in the microwave, as well as an eat-by-date. Because of the way everything is sealed, it makes it easy to purchase a couple of entrees at a time to eat later in the week or even to tuck into the freezer for later.
Priced at $15 to $27 each, these are ample entrees that will definitely fill you up. The majority of them come with either a generous side of garlic noodles (with little containers of Parmesan cheese and fried shallots to add after heating) or fried rice, as well as pickled cabbage and hot peppers, and a load of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and green beans. Even my husband was stuffed after eating one entree — which is saying a lot.
The Jumbo Prawns Dinner ($19.95) includes five sizeable prawns in a garlicky, slightly spicy sauce. The garlic noodles are total comfort food. And the vegetables are cut in big chunks so that even after microwaving they remain pleasantly al dente.
The beef in the D7 Filet Mignon Dinner ($18.95) is wonderfully tender and juicy even after reheating. The bite-size pieces of beef come with a tangle of crinkle-cut fries, probably not the best choice since microwaved french fries never attain perfect crispiness. Halved or diced new potatoes would have held up better.
The Roasted Chilean Sea Bass Dinner ($26.95) comes with a mound of eggy fried rice, and similar vegetables stir-fried in a mildly spicy orange sauce. The sea bass is in one large fillet. When heating, though, I recommend cutting it in half so that it heats more quickly without drying out the fish.
Pro Tip: If you’re feeding a crowd, District 7 also offers family-style meals that feed four that are less expensive than buying four separate entrees. You simply pick a protein, choose garlic noodles or fried rice, and then you get stir-fried veggies, house pickles, and three sauces included.
Viks Chaat, Berkeley
A Berkeley institution that turned the Bay Area on to the wonders of chaat or Indian street food snacks, Viks Chaat lets you get your fix conveniently even if its usually jam-packed dining room isn’t open. Instead, you can order online for pick-up easily at a manned table set up on the side of the restaurant, as I found when I was in Berkeley a week ago at lunch time.
Its website lists the menu each day, everything from samosas to biryani and even the famed bhatura, otherwise known as “the big puffy bread.”
My husband and I went for the family-sized dishes of a quite spicy minced lamb, non-saucy curry ($17); tender chicken pieces in a fairly mild yellow-orange curry sauce ($14); fragrant basmati rice ($6); and tinda masala, stewed gourd with the texture almost of zucchini ($5). We also added a side of moist tandoori chicken ($6.50), and roti ($1 per piece).
It was a feast for the senses — and enough not only for dinner for two, but a couple of lunches afterward. Best yet, curries hold up well when reheated the next day and beyond, with their flavors as bright and bold as the first day.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget that Viks also operates a grocery store in the same space. You can order online for pick-up or delivery anything from cashew cookies, whole wheat flour, and jarred chutneys to canned mango pulp, organic basmati rice, dried garbanzo beans, and frozen samosas. Its fresh produce section even includes the likes of fresh mulberries from Frog Hollow Farms.
The Cheese Board, Berkeley
Although the Cheese Board temporarily ceased operations at the start of shelter-in-place, as luck would have it, I was in Berkeley the first day it reopened its doors for pick-up orders on June 2. Although this favorite cheese store and bakery had initially required customers to order and purchase items online prior to picking up, it has since done away with that practice. Instead, customers can just queue up according to the spaced-out markings on the sidewalk until they reach the window to order directly.
As I waited behind four other people that day in a line that went quickly, I could see that many people were ordering the Cheese Board’s popular pizza of the day. I, however, was there for my most favorite items — English muffins ($5.50 for a six-pack), and cheese rolls ($8.25 for a three-pack).
After I gave my name at the window, I was told to wait for my order at another window just a foot or so away. My bag of goods was handed over quickly, and I was on my way just like that.
The Cheese Board makes my very favorite English muffins. Think Thomas’, but way better — fresher, with more structure, and far crispier once toasted. The cheese rolls are huge, heavy, and irresistible with cheese throughout. It’s always a miracle when I don’t inhale one in its entirety on the drive home.
Pro Tip: Even under normal circumstances, the Cheese Board always got a a crush of customers. So much so that it often sells out of a lot of favorites by mid-day. It pays to visit early in the day to ensure you get what you’re after, especially if it’s the English muffins, which go especially quick. Buy more than you think, because they freeze well, too.