Le Papillon, San Jose
For an astounding 44 years, Le Papillon has not only endured but thrived during Santa Clara Valley’s metamorphosis from orchard-rich Valley of Heart’s Delight to tech-visionary Silicon Valley.
So, it’s no surprise that even during a pandemic, it’s managed to roll with the punches, successfully offering a three-course menu ($75 per person for pick-up; $85 per person for delivery) that changes each week with two to three options to choose from for each course.
Even if all you do is roll up to the front of the restaurant to have a server place the takeout in your hands or your trunk, there’s still an air of specialness about it all.
It starts with the attention to detail: The hot food comes in one bag; the cold food in another. First courses and desserts that have a bit of intricate plating get cleverly adhered to the bottom of the takeout container with an extra dab of sauce so that even after a few right or left turns in your car, they not only stay upright, but completely intact.
I was duly impressed when I witnessed that with the chilled beet and puff pastry tart that stood ramrod straight when I opened the container at home, thanks to a tiny bit of goat cheese underneath that acted as mortar.
The slender puff pastry was delightfully crisp and adorned artfully with chunks of beets and curls of beets, both golden and fuchsia in hue, atop whipped goat cheese. It looked pretty enough to be on display in a museum. Eating it transported you to somewhere far fancier than your own dining room table.
The starter of corn chowder was packed in a similarly thoughtful way, with the soup in one container, and its garnishes of poached prawns and crisp chive potato croquettes in another. That meant you could easily microwave the soup to get it warm — then add the prawns and potatoes afterward, so that they didn’t overcook, and leave the seafood rubbery. The soup was thick and velvety with a pronounced taste of sweet corn. My husband and I shared one, and practically had to warm-wrestle over the last spoonfuls.
The miso glazed Chilean sea bass was not cut in the same mold as the famed Nobu version that is soy sauce-based. Instead, this miso sauce was creamy and luscious, adding even more richness to the plump, moist fish. Sliced Cape gooseberries garnished the top, adding a big burst of tang. The potato mille-feuille was golden and crisp all over the outside, and creamy soft within.
Both the roasted leg and breast of duck were cooked perfectly, with the flesh quite moist and not underdone. Candied pomelo peel dotted the top, adding just a touch of fruity sweetness that duck so loves. Black forbidden rice completed this Asian-inspired dish.
There were two choices for dessert, so naturally, we went with one of each. Triangles of bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut financier were fanciful with their vivid stripes of deep brown and gold layers. At home, you pour the container of praline butterscotch around the cake slices before digging in. This is a rich, dense dessert with a deep chocolate and nutty taste, and an almost mocha-like note.
The strawberry shortcake comes with vanilla mascarpone, creme anglaise, and strawberry coulis. The biscuit is crisp and crumbly as it should be, with slices of fresh strawberries overflowing it. With a fresh taste of spring, it’s everything you want in this classic Americana dessert.
Le Papillon completes the takeout order on an haute note by including a little cellophane bag of citrus pate de fruit that you don’t expect, but sure make you feel especially pampered in these times.
Pro Tip: Complete your takeout order with a specialty cocktail ($15) packed in a small Mason jar (with garnishes packed separately, of course). Or spring for a bottle of wine, as Le Papillon offers selections at a 35 percent discount when you purchase to take home. For instance, a 2017 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, which retails for about $39, is priced at $40 at the restaurant.
Dill Healthy, Pleasanton, Livermore and Greater Bay Area
After years as a corporate chef for high-powered companies in Silicon Valley, Arif Mehmood never thought he’d find himself cooking out of his home kitchen for customers.
But when the large food service operator he worked for laid him off during the height of the pandemic, he decided to start his own meal delivery service to help provide for his family. He started small, just doing everything himself out of his home, until word spread, business grew, and he moved his operations to a commercial kitchen in Livermore.
He named his business Dill Healthy, referencing not only the fresh herb, but the Urdu word for “heart.” Because his father passed away at a young age from heart disease, Mehmood makes a point to use grape seed oil and to eschew butter and cream in his cooking. His dishes generally focus on chicken, seafood, and vegetables rather than red meat. He also includes a nutritional breakdown for his dishes.
The menu changes each week, with each one focused on one particular cuisine at a time, such as Thai, Cuban, or Italian. The food is packed chilled and can be heated up at home when you like. The dishes, which come in individual or family-sized portions. are available for either pick-up (at locations in Pleasanton, Livermore or San Lorenzo) or delivery within the Bay Area on Mondays or Fridays.
I tried the delivery recently, making a point to do so when he highlighted the food of Kashmir, from which he hails.
This was a rare menu in which Mehmood used lamb, too, in a super comforting soup fortified with farro ($10). It had that nourishing taste of a long-cooked lamb stew fragrant with eucalyptus-like bay leaves and peppercorns. This is the soup you crave on a rainy night.
Think of the chicken kofta ($30) as like Italian meatballs done Indian-style. These moist, tender meatballs are enveloped in a sweet tomato sauce enlivened with black cardamom and a kick of spice.
The chicken & haakh ($30) is bone-in chicken stewed till fall-off-the-bone tender with a heap of collard greens and arbol chilies. It’s the ideal dish to enjoy alongside a mound of long-grain rice tinged with golden turmeric and flavored with crisp onions ($15)
Seasonal mixed vegetables ($20) bring a jumble of eggplant, red peppers, carrots, cauliflower and lotus root seasoned simply with cumin and ajwain, an herb that lends an almost five-spice flavor.
Mehmood also includes small containers of a gingery kimchi-like cabbage, as well as a mint chutney that’s creamy, chunky, and nutty, which you can enjoy alongside any of the dishes.
If you crave something sweet, Mehmood has partnered with Baked by Liz, a San Lorenzo baker who operates out of her home, to offer one featured dessert to pair with each week’s menu, such as fruit tart, tiramisu or Thai tea flan.
Pro Tip: Learn more about how the pandemic forced Silicon Valley tech cafe chefs like Arif Mehmood to embark on their own start-up food ventures by reading my story in the Nob Hill Gazette here.