Pasta Armellino, Saratoga and Cupertino
Two years ago, the original Pasta Armellino opened to great anticipation in downtown Saratoga. After all, who wouldn’t be excited about the Michelin-starred chef of the Plumed Horse (right across the street) plying his skills on hand-made pastas at moderate prices?
That casual eatery has done so well that last month, a second Pasta Armellino appeared on the scene at Main Street Cupertino, albeit much more quietly. Then again, it’s not easy for a new business to muster blustery fanfare during a pandemic.
Yet if you are a pasta lover like I am, you should be rejoicing mightily. Because these are supple, toothsome pasta dishes that will surely leave you giddy from the first forkful.
The new Main Street Pasta Armellino is a beautiful, bright space done up with floor-to-ceiling windows, plus walls of classic white subway tiles, though, you’ll only get to see it all from the outside, things being what they are right now.
Order online and pick up the food at a station set up outside the restaurant. Chef-Owner Peter Armellino might even hand you the food, himself, as he’s there regularly.
Start with the mini, house-made sourdough boule ($5), which comes with a little container of garlic oil, as well as grated Parmesan. It’s big on crunchiness, all the better for tearing apart with your hands to enjoy.
There are six pastas on the menu — and we ordered all of them. We couldn’t help ourselves. The vegetarian Gnochetti Sardi ($16) has always been one of my favorites, the one I fight my husband over for the last bite, because its deeply earthy flavor from the mushroom ragout is so winning. A touch of truffle oil doesn’t overwhelm; it just amplifies the mushrooms even more.
The “Pasta Armellino” ($19) is a taste of luxe in pasta form, with tender tagliatelle rendered ever so creamy with plenty of Parmigiano, and elevated with crab and uni. You may not taste the uni that much, but this pasta is definitely a decadent, rich bite.
If you like your pasta a little spicy, the bucatini ($18) and orecchiette ($14) will hit the spot. The former gets its heat from a spicy tomato sauce that includes lardons of applewood smoked bacon. The latter includes crumbled spicy Italian sausage, melty green onions, and peppery arugula leaves.
Impossible Burger fans can enjoy that plant-based product in a rigatoni bolognese ($18), which has the feel and taste of a bona fide meat sauce.
Even the simple spaghetti ($14) with crushed tomatoes, garlic butter, and basil, tastes special, with an intense sweet-tangy tomato presence.
If you’re married to a diehard carnivore like I am, you’ll be glad to know that you can add real meatballs ($5 for two) to any dish. They are tender and covered in sweet tomato sauce, and would even be great the next day alongside scrambled eggs or tucked into a baguette, if you’re so inclined.
Because we had ordered so much, Chef Armellino threw in an arugula, asparagus, and burrata salad ($12) on the house. It’s garnished with big, chewy-crunchy croutons, and a well-balanced lemon vinaigrette that ties everything together nicely.
Pro Tip: For any of the pasta dishes, you can substitute gluten-free noodles or zucchini zoodles for an additional $2. And beer lovers take note: Pliny the Elder is available to-go, too, for $14.
Oren’s Hummus, San Francisco, Cupertino, Mountain View, Los Gatos, and Palo Alto
When my husband and I contemplated what to serve with a leg of lamb we had defrosted from our freezer, we both immediately thought of making a run to Oren’s Hummus.
After all, what could be better with grilled lamb than pita plus the best hummus around. Thicker than most and richer than you can believe, this hummus has truly spoiled me for all others.
Order ahead online, and your items will be ready when you arrive. We snagged a large (16-ounce tub for $12) hummus, plus the incredible, smoky babaganoush (16-ounce tub for $12), and a light and crunchy Untraditional Tabule (16-ounce container for $12) that’s unusual because of the addition of kale. There’s usually corn in the Untraditional Tabule, but it was missing in action this time.
With the dips such as hummus, you get two pitas for free, too, when ordering the larger-sized tub. And honestly, you’ll want the large tub because it will keep just fine in your fridge for a week to enjoy day after day with carrot sticks or cucumber slices or just by the spoonful (yes, I have done that). Be sure to check the box online for three free sauces, too, which includes extra tahini, red chili garlic, and a very fiery green harissa.
To snack on as the lamb cooked, we also picked up a few bourkas ($2.50 each). These golden phyllo turnovers come stuffed with potato, mushroom or cheese. They are crisp and buttery tasting. Warm the cheese ones in the toaster oven to get it melty gooey for the perfect cocktail snack.
The chocolate babka ($6) here is more petite. The babka is yeasty, tender, moist, and shot through with a spiral of dark chocolate. Two small slices come with a little container of sweetened whipped cream, making for a perfect dessert or a spoil-yourself-rotten breakfast the next day.
Pro Tip: If you want to serve a family of four for at least two days, order the “Oren’s Family Meal,” which includes your choice of skewers and schnitzels, along with large sizes of hummus, Israeli salad, green cabbage, basmati rice, four other dips, two order of fries, three desserts, sauces, and pita. It retails for $200, but is being sold for $155. If you want to make your outing super efficient, too, pick up Pasta Armellino and Oren’s Hummus at the same time because they are mere steps from one another at Main Street Cupertino.
Chef Chu’s, Los Altos
Chef Chu’s has long been a favorite of folks, both the everyday and the illustrious such as Justin Bieber, Steve Jobs, and Jimmy Carter, whose photos grace the interior. It’s such a go-to place for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan that the couple donated $100,000 to the restaurant to help ensure its survival during the pandemic.
Lawrence Chu established the restaurant more than 50 years ago. It’s still decidedly old-school: For to-go orders, there is no online system. You actually have to call to place your order and pay when you get there. But Chu, who owns the building that has its own parking lot, makes it all work smoothly. Employees bring your order right out to you. If it’s not quite ready yet, just park in one of the marked stalls, and they’ll put it in your trunk when it is.
Chef Chu’s serves up Chinese-American food that appeals to a broad range of palates. So if you’re looking for the incendiary heat of Sichuan cuisine, you won’t really find that here. Instead, dishes such as Won Tons in Peanut Sauce ($10.95) riff on classic won tons in red chili oil, but is far tamer, with a rich, weighty peanut sauce that coats them completely instead.
The same is true of the Ma Po Tofu ($12.95), the saucy dish of cubed soft tofu, minced pork, garlic and chili bean paste. It’s as homey as ever, but much less spicy than at other establishments. If you want more heat, just add more chili sauce from your own home stash to amp it up.
A signature is Chef Chu’s Famous Chicken Salad ($7.95 for a small; $12.95 for a large) that comes with quite a bit of shredded, fried chicken. The lettuce may get a little soft from the mild mustard-sesame dressing during travel, but it’s still a plenty satisfying rendition.
The pot stickers ($9.50 for six) are a must-order. They are far juicier than most. In fact, after one bite that sent juice dribbling down my chin, I was so glad that I had actually had the foresight to get TWO orders of these dumplings.
Hunan-Style Lamb ($16.95) is a delicious tangle of supremely tender lamb slices stir-fried with sweet leeks, red pepper chunks, red chili, garlic and fermented black beans.
Sometimes you just need a mountain of Chinese noodles. I know I do. And the chow fun with barbecue pork ($12.95) and Chef’s Special Chow Mein ($12.95) with shrimp, chicken and barbecued pork definitely satisfy that urge.
Pro Tip: Take a taste of Chef Chu’s home with you in a different form with the “Chef Chu’s: Celebrating Your Place at Our Table” cookbook ($30) that includes 147 recipes from the restaurant. Or with the adorable “Pork Buns and High-Fives” book ($17) by local teacher and long-time Chef Chu’s regular, Norma Slavit. Designed for young readers, it showcases stories and experiences from the childhood of Larry Chu Jr., Lawrence Chu’s son who now runs the restaurant, and includes a recipe for Chef Chu’s steamed pork buns. Ask to purchase either book when you place your order by phone with the restaurant.