Bevri, Palo Alto
When it debuted in downtown Palo Alto in 2018, Bevri was thought to be the first Georgian restaurant in all of Northern California.
Russia-born Pavel Sirotin, who also works at Google, opened it with his brother and sister-in-law because he missed his favorite homeland noshes. Over the years, word has spread about this unique gem of a place, and even more so now after the restaurant was featured on a recent episode of “Check, Please! Bay Area Kids Special.” Sirotin says a lot of newcomers have discovered Bevri as a result of that show, with many of them racing in and declaring, “I want what those kids had!”
It’s all available for takeout, too. If you are a carb lover like I am, you simply must order the iconic khachapuri adjaruli ($21), the soft, puffy, canoe-shaped bread whose center is molten cheese. The bread comes packed in a pizza box so it won’t get smooshed on the drive home. A separate container of butter, and a raw egg yolk is included. Warm up the bread in a toaster oven, then plop the yolk and butter in the center, and mix it into the warm cheese. Tear off a hunk of bread, dip it into the center like fondue, and prepare to experience bread-and-cheese nirvana.
If you don’t want to contend with a raw yolk, there is also the khachapuri imeruli ($18), which is more like a flattened round bread that has a filling of soft, stretchy, mozzarella-like cheese. It’s also wonderful, but not as quite as special.
The pkhali ($16) is a fun appetizer with two different spreads made from finely chopped walnuts; the green one features spinach in the mix, while the vivid pink one is composed of beets. The dips are dense, creamy, nutty, and the beet one is wonderfully earthy-sweet tasting. Two custardy eggplant roll-ups and a couple of tiny cornbread rolls complete this starter.
Another must-order is the signature khinkali (5 pieces for $20 or 8 pieces for $30) that come filled with your choice of beef, lamb or mushroom. These are a little like Chinese xiao long bao in that they are a bit brothy inside. But these Georgian ones are huge. You also eat them in a far different manner. Pick one up by grasping the pleated top with your fingers, then turn it upside down, so that it almost looks like a chef’s toque in your hand. Chow down on the meat-filled top part, and discard the bottom pleated part, which is fairly thick and doughy anyway. The lamb one is particularly divine with its accent of mint.
For entrees, the chicken tapaka ($36) is actually a tender, flattened Cornish game hen that gets dressed with pickled onions and a tangy-fruity Georgian tkemali sauce of sour plums.
Incredibly juicy and tender, the lamb rib chops ($38) are garnished with both a pomegrante sauce and pomegranate arils for a most winning dish.
If you’ve ever wanted to explore the world of Georgian wines, this is your perfect chance. Bevri often lists its wines on sale or offers discount coupons for its wines via its newsletter and Facebook page.
I indulged in a 2019 Dila-O Rkatsiteli-Mtsvane ($44) from the Telado/Orgo winery in Georgia. It’s a 50-50 blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes, fermented in the age-old way in qvevri (clay jars buried underground). As you can tell from the glass, it is indeed an orange wine, tinged from the pressed juice being in contact with the grape skins for one month. The unfiltered wine with good acidity is fragrant of cantaloupe, and tastes of apricots and white flowers.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to check out the “store.” You’ll find the tab for that toward the top of the restaurant’s web site. Get tempted by everything from Georgian spices ($2) and bottled Georgian sauces ($4 to $10) to these adorable socks ($10), which you can easily add to your takeout food order. I mean, who can resist sporting the love for your favorite khinkali and khachapuri for all the world to see?
Alexander’s Steakhouse, Cupertino, San Francisco, Pasadena
With its plush surroundings and sexy displays of decadently marbled Japanese A5 Wagyu, Alexander’s Steakhouse was the place pre-pandemic to live big on an expense account.
OK, so your bosses are probably not going to be springing for that now. But if you’ve had it up to here with too many Zoom business calls at home, this is the place to splurge on some haute fare with a side of playfulness. You deserve it, after these many months of being cooped up, don’t you think?
Don’t worry; you don’t necessarily have to spring for the 28-day, dry-aged prime porterhouse for $89 or a 6-ounce slab of A5 Japanese Kobe beef for $245 (cough, cough), either.
In fact, we went for the French Dip ($24), the classic sandwich piled with thinly sliced, juicy prime rib, and topped with Gruyere, mushrooms, a touch of horseradish, and peppery arugula. A cup of concentrated beef jus came with to dunk pre-bite. Fat onion rings were the ideal accompaniment.
We also chose the Maine lobster roll ($32), with plump pieces of lobster stuffed into a griddled buttered brioche bun along with a thick slice of bacon and thick slices of sweet tomato. What I really appreciated is that the lobster wasn’t smothered in butter or mayo, so you could actually still taste the purity of the sweet crustacean flesh. The crisp, skinny fries were drizzled with just enough truffle oil to elevate not overwhelm.
A perfect starter to all of this is the iceberg wedge ($16). This rendition features small iceberg hearts, hard boiled egg slices, tomato, Point Reyes blue cheese dressing, and big chunks of thick candied bacon (almost ham-like in flavor) — all packaged separately so the lettuce stayed crisp until you got it home and assembled everything together.
No meal at/from Alexander’s would be complete in my book without its uni fried rice ($31). You could make a meal out of this alone. Boldly savory with garlic and green onions, this fried rice is loaded with bacon, omelet slivers, shishito peppers, shiitakes, bonito flakes, nori strips, and yes, uni. Take one forkful, and you won’t be able to stop eating it. And if you’d like to make it at home, the restaurant actually gave me its recipe a couple years ago, which I cooked up and blogged about here.
Alas, the restaurant’s signature cone of cotton candy that normally comes to the table with the check can’t be enjoyed at this time. But you can still get macarons from Alexander’s Patisserie by ordering them to-go, as well. A chic box of 6 assorted flavors is $15. and yes, the blue, sprinkle-bedecked birthday cake one is just as sweetly satisfying as it looks.
Pro Tip: Still craving a huge steak? Click on the tab for “Butcher Shop” at the top of the web site. There, you’ll find an array of steaks, take-and-bake frozen croissants, and even yeast and flour for sale. Yes, it’s a separate transaction from your takeout prepared food order. But you can pick up both orders at the same place at the same time. That dry-aged porterhouse that’s $89 as a prepared entree on the restaurant’s menu? We bought the exact uncooked porterhouse through the “Butcher Shop” for $75. We grilled it the next night, served it with our own baked potatoes, and a bottle of Cabarnet Sauvignon already on hand, to recreate that steakhouse vibe in our own home.
Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, Berkeley
If there’s one shining light to the pandemic, it’s that Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen was prompted to up its bagel game. It now boils and bakes them on site, rather than buying pre-baked ones to serve.
And my gawd, what bagels these are.
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had a bagel quite this good in a long time.
They have a dreamy snappiness to them. So much so, that there is a distinct change in texture from the outside to the inside. The exterior has a crisp, crackling finish, while the interior is chewy-soft.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get them when they are still a little warm, as Saul’s bakes them throughout the day. Don’t even think about toasting these. You don’t need to, not with that already burnished exterior. Just split, shmear, and go to town on it. Or heck, even eat it au naturel. You can, because they taste just that good. Heck, I froze a couple bagels, and when I ate them a week later (after defrosting and toasting), they still had a fabulous chewiness to them.
You can order the bagels ahead of time for pick-up by calling or using the online form. Or you can just take your chances and walk up to the window to order.
The bagels come in plain, sesame, poppy, onion, and Everything — for $3 each. There are gluten-free versions, too, for 75 cents more. There is a limit of 6 bagels per order — which might be crushing once you realize how incredible these are and want more. You can — ahem — get around that, of course, if there are two of you, and each one orders the limit of 6. Or you pre-order 6 to pick up at the tent in the parking lot, and then walk up to the window surreptitiously to try ordering another 6. (But you didn’t hear that from me.)
Pro Tip: While you’re there, don’t just stop at the bagels. The house-made knish ($4.95) is outstanding — a buttery pastry filled with seasoned, creamy mashed potatoes. If that doesn’t say comfort, I don’t know what does. Slices of babka ($5 each) come tightly swirled with an abundance of chocolate or poppy seeds. On that particular day, the chocolate babka slice had sadly been over-baked, so it was a little dry and overly browned on the bottom. The poppy seed one was far better — quite tender, moist, and crunchy with poppy seeds so plentiful that on quick glance it almost looked like layers of bittersweet chocolate instead.
Maybe I’ve just had mediocre black & white cookies in New York, but I never understood the fuss about them. That is, until I tried this one, which is actually baked by Batch Pastries in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. This one is far more tender and buttery than ones I’ve had previously. The top has the requisite bifurcation, with half done up in dark chocolate, and the other in white icing, scented with fresh lemon juice, which made all the difference in the world.
Trek to Saul’s to enjoy all of that, and pretend as if you’re on vacation in Manhattan. The New York egg cream, though, you’ll have to concoct on your own at home. Unfortunately, Saul’s doesn’t offer those to-go.