Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 18
Jalsa Catering & Events, Milpitas and Bay Area
Its name means “celebrate,” and pre-pandemic, Milpitas-based Jalsa Catering & Events was all about that, catering lavish weddings and festive parties all over the Bay Area.
But of course, with large events — and pretty much gatherings of any sort — verboten right now, Jalsa has pivoted to being a meal delivery service instead.
The company was co-founded by Vittal Shetty, who for years was the corporate chef of the Bay Area’s Amber India restaurants; and Reshmi Nair, who was Amber India’s director of events and catering.
Delivery (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and pick-up are available on a schedule that depends on what city you live in: Monday and Friday, there’s delivery to San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno. Tuesday and Sunday, it’s Palo Alto, Los Altos, Atherton, Redwood City, San Mateo. Thursday, it’s San Carlos, Hillsborough, and San Francisco. Saturday, it’s Fremont, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Dublin, Hayward, and Danville. And Wednesday, pick-up is available at its Milipitas commercial kitchen.
You don’t know necessarily when the food will show up at your doorstep between 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., but everything heats up well enough in the microwave or a skillet if you want to enjoy it hours later, as I found when I was invited to try some of the food gratis.
The menu, which changes each week might include a creamy, rich, velvety pumpkin and coconut soup ($7.99) that will warm you up fast, thanks to its deceptive amount of chilies.
Indeed, with Jalsa’s previous clients largely hailing from the subcontinent, it pulls no punches when it comes to the liberal use of authentic and peppery spices. In fact, its butter tandoori chicken ($9.99), redolent in a copious amount of rich, creamy gravy-like sauce tickles the palate with heat much more than other renditions with a hit of spicy warmth moderated by sweet tomato.
Same for its biryani ($15.99), which is the first one I’ve ever had that had such nasal-y warmth. But this is Chettinad chicken biriyani, a mound of fluffy, well-seasoned rice hiding turmeric-tinged fiery chicken curry pieces.
A side of cucumber mint raita ($2.99) will help cool things off, as will the pomegranate mung bean sprouts ($9.99). The latter is a little like Mexican pico de gallo, a mix of finely diced raw onion, tomato, corn kernels, and pomegranate arils. It even comes with taro chips. It’s a big taste of cold, bright, and fresh.
Paneer korma ($12.99) brings cubes of soft, mild cheese in a load of velvety, rich coconut-milk sauce. You’ll want plenty of garlic ($2.99) or regular ($2.99) naan to dunk into the creamy sauce, too.
Tandoori lamb chops ($34.99) are slathered in a Masala spice paste before getting roasted until the flesh is tender and smoky, and the edges ever so charred.
The baby corn-pepper fry is a real surprise because had I closed my eyes when I took a bite, I’d swear I was eating takeout Chinese food. The little pieces of baby corn are wonderfully heady with cinnamon and five-spice.
You might not normally crave grated golden beets for dessert. But Jalsa’s golden beet halwa ($5.99) is so comforting, you’ll find yourself reaching for spoonful after spoonful. Mixed with ghee, sugar and nuts, it’s served warm (again, that microwave comes in handy at home) with threads of saffron on top. It’s got sweetness and loads of texture.
The crispy rice hazelnut chocolate mousse cups ($6.99) will make you feel as if you’ve been invited to a fancy party in your own home. These two-bite chocolate cups are the type of confection you can imagine being passed around at the end of a cocktail party. The thin, delicate chocolate petals hide a foundation of crisp, puffed rice topped with a thick, dark chocolate ganache-like mousse, and tiny, crunchy chocolate balls. And just think, you don’t even have to change out of your sweatpants to enjoy one.
Pro Tip: On the Jalsa web site, you’ll also find bake-it-yourself items — chicken tikka flatbreads ($8.99) and marinated shrimp kebabs ($20) that come already prepped and seasoned to cook in your own kitchen at your leisure. Be sure to click on the link for “Xari” at the top of the home page, too. It’s Jalsa’s marketplace, where you can purchase house-made mango-ginger chutney ($7.99), tandoori spice mix ($7.99), and artisan truffles just in time for Valentine’s Day ($25 to $49).
Love For Butter Pop-Ups, Palo Alto
There was a time when Chef John Shelsta was the best kept secret, a gifted savory chef whose true love shone in his pastry pop-ups that only those in the know had intel on.
Those days are long gone now, with Shelsta growing into a true phenomenon with his Love For Butter pastry business, which now pops up fairly regularly once a week at Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto, near the Stanford Shopping Center.
A former chef at Howie’s Artisan Pizza and Zola, both in Palo Alto, and an apprentice to Belinda Leoong of B. Patisserie in San Francisco, Shelsta hand-makes all his dazzling croissants, kouign-amanns, muffins, loaf cakes, baguettes, and cookies.
He typically will sell a variety by the box ($25 to $30) that can be pre-ordered or some a la carte items that you can walk up to purchase on the designated sale day. But arrive early, as these a la carte offerings go fast.
A recent holiday kouign-amann box that I purchased included six of the lavishly laminated Brittany-style pastries ($30) with irresistible sugary crisp layers. Three different flavors were included: traditional, which is just sugar; plus dark Valrhona chocolate-centered ones; and delightful jammy, sweet-tart cranberry-ginger ones.
Among the treats included in another 7-piece box ($30) were a brioche pastry filled with sunny, bright Meyer lemon curd; a moist blueberry cornmeal muffin strewn with brown butter-almond crumble; and an individual-sized epi bread studded with dried cranberries and orange zest.
Also included was the most unusual carrot cake I’ve ever had. First, the mini loaf was much darker than most, thanks to cocoa powder in the batter. Second, it had Japanese curry powder in it. Yes, curry. Rather than make the cake savory, though, it really played up the warm spices such as ginger typically found in carrot cakes. It was incredibly moist, not too sweet, and just a bomb of winter flavor. No wonder it’s one of Shelsta’s favorite cakes to make.
Don’t miss his deeply golden dinner rolls come snuggled in pan. They’re everything you want in a roll — squishy, airy, and buttery tasting. They’re so good, don’t be surprised if you eat two at a time.
Occasionally, Shelsta will shake things up with a fried chicken sandwich pop-up instead. You have to reserve and prepay ahead of time for them. For $20, you get a fun little boxed lunch: a golden-fried chicken breast battered with Korean seasonings, and slathered with slaw and an Asian-y Thousand Island-like dressing — all on a soft, sesame-flecked brioche bun that Shelsta makes from scratch, but of course.
Most recently, it came with thick Russet wedge fries baked until crisp, and a simple bean sprout salad tossed with sesame, soy and garlic that was a nice, light counterpoint to the rest of the substantial meal. A bottle of San Pellegrino is included, as is a little cookie square squiggled with lemon icing.
We actually ended up eating our lunches in the car while parked in the adjacent parking lot. After all, a fresh fried chicken sandwich ought to be enjoyed pronto — if possible.
Pro Tip: Shelsta’s pop-ups will be a little more sporadic over the next few weeks, because he’s taking some much needed time off and also traveling to Hawaii to do a few pop-ups there. The best way to find out about his upcoming pop-ups locally is to sign up for his newsletter. When you get an email announcing pre-orders for his next pop-up, don’t hesitate. Speed counts here. Let those fingers fly and put your order in fast, fast, fast, because it’s not uncommon for him to sell out less than an hour after dropping the announcement. You can also find his pastries offered on a limited basis at the Tono Coffee Project’s pop-up at 369 Lytton Ave. in downtown Palo Alto, Wednesday through Sunday.
Basuku Cheesecakes, Palo Alto and Beyond
Few desserts have amassed the cult following and unabashed adoration as Basuku Cheesecakes.
Charles Chen probably never envisioned his little baking hobby would take the Bay Area by storm, with his Japanese-style Basque cheesecakes selling out in mere minutes time and time again.
A food industry consultant, Chen started going full-bore on perfecting his cheesecake in the early days of shelter-in-place 2020, baking one after another in the kitchen of his Oakland apartment.
Fast forward to now, where he’s baking as many as he can five or six days a week at Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto for pick-up there, as well as at Nightbird in San Francisco, The Morris in San Francisco, and Commis in Oakland. He’s hoping to soon start limited nation-wide mail-order, too.
I finally managed to snag one at Vina Enoteca last week. The $35 cheesecake is only 6-inches in diameter, but it’s a heavy-weight at 1 pound, 11 ounces. (Yes, I actually hefted it onto my scale.)
Crustless, it’s all filling. And what a marvel it is. It’s not wiggly-jiggly like Japanese souffle-style cheesecakes. It’s not stiff and dense like New York ones, either.
It’s deeply burnished on top, giving it a lovely caramel taste and fragrance. The texture of the cheesecake changes as you go from rim to center, turning from velvety yet firm to softer, almost creme caramel-custardy.
There’s a gentle tanginess. But what you really taste is nostalgic, pure milky sweetness. It’s akin to what you enjoy with the best Buffalo-milk mozzarella.
Indeed, it’s the organic cream that Chen uses that really makes his Basuku cheesecake (Japanese for “Basque”) so special. He gets it from Alexandre Family Farm in Crescent City, where the cream boasts a higher fat content.
To be honest, while I love cheesecake, I rarely order it at a restaurant or bake it at home because it’s such a leaden dessert. It’s usually just too much. But Basuku Cheesecake has opened my eyes to the wonders of what cheesecake can truly be.
Pro Tip: How to get one of these coveted cheesecakes for yourself? Follow Basuku Cheesecakes’ Instagram for the most up-to-date instructions on how to reserve, purchase and pick up at various locations in the Bay Area. Be quick and nimble, because if you snooze, you will surely lose.
If you happen to be picking up your cheesecake at Vina Enoteca, be sure to browse its freezer case while you’re there or its online store beforehand. You can purchase its delicious hand-made pastas and sauces, all conveniently frozen, to cook for dinner that night before you dive into that cheesecake for dessert.