Booka Revisited

Booka in AptosA while back Troya and I visited Booka in Aptos. We were impressed with the food, felt the drinks and wine could use some work, and were not impressed with the service. Lored back by the food, our recent experience was quite different, for the better. The food was still excellent, maybe even better. The wine list has expanded, and the service we had was great. Myles, our server, was cheerful and knowledgeable, busy but very attentive, and had great recommendations on wine pairing with our entrée. Booka has broken through, it is now a “go-to” here in Aptos.

Rosé Challenge Results


Challengers are lined up

Challengers are lined up

1391463_1426580644220916_142933016_nThe first Santa Clara Valley Rosé Challenge  was held at the Dolce Hayes Masion in San Jose California.  A special thanks to Heather Moggia and the Dolce Hayes Mansion for their hospitalilty.  The tables were set and the wine was chilled. The challengers were Thomas Kruse Winery, Aver Family Vineyard, Sycamore Creek Vineyard, Guglielmo Winery, Clos LaChance Winery, Solis Winery, Jason Stephens Winery.  One of the things I like most about Rosé is that they are truly like a box of chocolates.  Each one is so different.  Some of the wines were single varietals and others were blends.  We lined them up head to head to see which wine makers inspiration would be most popular with our diverse group of participants.

We asked everyone to rank the wines from their most favorite to their least favorite.  The results were; 

First Place:  Solis Winery received the most First place votes followed by Aver Family and Thomas Kruse.

Jason Stephens received the most Second place votes followed by Solis and Sycamore Creek.

Clos LaChance received the most Third place votes followed by Thomas Kruse and a tie between Guglielmo and Jason Stephens.

Over all;  Solis received the most total votes followed by Jason Stephens, Thomas Kruse, Sycamore Creek, Aver, Guglielmo and Clos Lachance. 

It appears this group was drawn towards the sweeter rosés in the challenge.  A good time was had by all and we look forward to the next challenge. 


Manresa, Los Gatos

wpid-IMG_20131005_180542_669.jpgAnniversaries should be special. With this in mind Troya and I decided to visit one of the better known restaurants in the area, Manresa in Los Gatos. Any search result for Manresa leads to numerous praises, both locally and internationally, as well as numerous statements of sticker shock. So we were prepared to open up the pocket book, and then some, when we made the reservations. Like I said, anniversaries should be special.
As you approach the relatively non-descript building that houses Manresa you are instantly greeted as they open the door for you. I am not a spa person, but I imagine the service you get at a really good spa is similar to the service here. They have an almost army of service people working in unison to make you feel special. It almost feels choreographed. Not something I am used to but they do it with such grace it does not make you feel uncomfortable.
We got there early and decided to have a cocktail on the front patio and take advantage of the perfect evening. They have a long list of unique drinks that would make any mixologist smile as well as many classics. They also have many wines available by the glass and several beers. It was such a nice way to start it was almost disappointing whey they told us our table was ready.
Our table was almost directly in the middle of the whole dining area, perfect for a couple of people watchers like us. We even had a happy anniversary card on the table signed by the wait staff. You only get two options for dinner, both pre-fix menus. The first had each course listed out. The second had a long list of foods and flavors that the chefs could use in putting together your meal. As adventurous eaters, the choice, while expensive, was easy. The next option was deciding to select our own wine or partake in the wine pairing. Again, an expensive but easy choice. Then we just sat back and enjoyed the show.
Looking back, the meal was clearly separated in halves. The first half was seafood heavy with Abalone and milk panna cotta, Belon osters in lemon-seaweed ice and what was called a fall tidal pool salad. These courses were paired with several white wines, a Riesling from Germany and Sauvignon Blanc from France being the notable choices. All of these dishes and wines were good, but no home runs and we were getting a little concerned. The halfway point was the turning point of the meal, when it went from good to excellent. It started with a simple garden salad but with several sauces that made all the flavors of the salad come alive. It also included a porcini and pear soup that was phenomenal and venison with saffron and licorice. These dishes were paired with various red wines including a Nebbiolo, a Moshin Vineyards Zin, and a French Bordeaux blend that was the hit of the night.
In the end it was far and away the most expensive meal we have ever had, and while the food and wine were very good, the service made the evening. The meal took over 3 hours to complete but never dragged and we never felt forgotten. While memories of the details may fade, experience will not be forgotten. Anniversaries should be special.

Booka in Aptos, a possible go-to?

We have all been waiting for something to “stick” at the Bayview Hotel in Aptos, CA. Over the years several restaurants have come and gone. Some quietly, some in front of a national audience thanks to Restaurante Barolo being on the Food Networks Restaurant Impossible. That didn’t work out too well. Now we have Booka, the newest inhabitants at our local “haunted” hotel. Troya and I stopped by on 4th of July and enjoyed what they had to offer on this limited menu day, so we decided to return for the full experience. The new owners and both chefs hail from Israel and the menu definitely has a Mediterranean feel with a California/Organic influence as well.
We did not have reservations and were told we would have to sit at a table without shade. While it was one of the warmest evenings of the year in Aptos, we did not mind the table, but noticed many other open tables throughout our meal. We decided to start with a couple cocktails and appetizers. The drink menu has several intriguing mixology wpid-IMG_20130816_183250_692.jpgoptions, unfortunately at this and our last visit none of the drinks had the “pop” of flavor they should have given the ingredients, and all ended up looking and tasting very similar. Our appetizer fennel salad was good, decent portion, but nothing memorable flavor wise. The focaccia bread with three dipping sides on the other hand was fabulous. The bread alone has great texture and flavor, and the three sides, all unique and flavorful, each held their own. They include a lemon yogurt, a smoked eggplant and a roasted tomato. You cannot go wrong with any of them.
All of the entrees looked appetizing but I choose the halibut with polenta and Troya had the lamb pasta. I was very happy with my selection. The polenta was perfectly cooked, not gritty or mealy, but smooth and creamy with a smoky corn flavor. I have not had any wpid-IMG_20130816_185114_952.jpgbetter. The halibut was a perfect match and also perfectly cooked. Troya’s pasta was also very good. The noodles were handmade, not an easy find in this area, and the lamb had enough flavor without being gamey and was seasoned nicely with fresh mint. We both had wine with dinner, but nothing spectacular. I would have liked to see more options on the wine list, either intriguing foreign varietals or more of our various local wineries.
The one thing that kept haunting our meal was poor coordination. We ordered our drinks and appetizers at the same time yet waited over 5 minutes after our appetizers arrived for our drinks. We never had bread delivered to our table, but it looked very good at the other tables around us. We also mentioned that we were going to order wine with dinner, and while our server recommended we get our dinner choices in early so the chefs could get everything ready, we had to reminder her that we wanted wine after she delivered our meals. We then waited over 5 minutes for our wine. We did overhear her tell another table that this was her first waitressing job, so our experience might not be the norm, but we do remember waiting a long time for our drinks on our first visit.
So while they say that good service can make up for a mediocre meal, I would say the opposite is true here. And while good service can make one good meal, good food is what you build a restaurant around. They definitely have the core for a long term relationship with our beloved historic hotel, great food and great location. A little fine tuning and Booka could definitely become a go-to in Aptos!

Boston for Foodies

Boston for foodies. I know the term “foodies” is unpopular amongst some, but what else are we going to call ourselves, something more technical like foo-con’s (food connoisseur)? It just doesn’t roll off the tongue like “foodie”. We will just have to go with foodies for now. I was considering titling this “Boston for foodies and winies”, but the wine scene is not real big in Boston. You can get great French or Italian wine, or over-pay for California wine, but not much beyond that. I was also considering “Boston for foodies and brewies”. The brew scene in Boston is big, but unfortunately spread out and difficult to appreciate when you are walking everywhere and maybe have not planed things out as well as you should have. Boston is all about history. You cannot go 5 feet without coming across something or someplace that has historical significance for our country, but if you have done all the tours and museums, or maybe that just not your thing, Boston still has a lot to offer, especially for the gastronomically inclined.
A trip to Boston for a foodie would not be complete without a trip to the north end. This is an old-school, and I mean old-school like few places in the US can offer, Italian district. Truth be told you could spend a week here and not get to all the amazing Italian The Daily Catch, Bostonplaces this area has to offer. A tip by a previous local lead us to The Daily Catch on our last trip here and we had to come back this time to see if this place was really as amazing as we remembered. No Alzheimer’s here, this is the definition of a hole in the wall with seating for about 20, a cash only policy, and a typical line half way down the block and with good reason. The food is knock your socks of good. You will be sitting about 10 feet from the stove where they make these classic Italian pasta and seafood dishes that make you remember that sometimes simple and basic can create a symphony of flavor.
Speaking of lines and flavor, across the street from The Daily Catch is Mikes Pastry. We noticed the line on our last visit but not being much for cannoli’s we skipped it last time. We knew we had to give it a try this time. They have multiple options as well as other pasties and cupcakes, but we went with the basic cannoli filled with ricotta as our litmus. I have never, ever had anything like this with the dough crisp and light yet not greasy at all and the ricotta filling with just enough sweetness and flavor without being over the top. You see people carrying their boxes all over this neighborhood and after you have been here you become like a pavlovian dog as your mouth starts to water every time you see a box.
As with any Italian district the “best pizza in town” signs are abundant, but in Boston the real bench-mark is Regina Pizzeria. Established in 1926, they have been making brick oven pizza here long enough to get it right. The crust is thin and crisp with the occasional tasty burnt spot you only get with the open flame cooking. The sauce is flavorful and abundant, not too sweet and the toping are all fresh, pick any you want, you cannot go wrong. Galleria Unberto also gets a lot of recognition but they are only open lunch hours and we were not able to squeeze it in on this visit.
While the theme in Boston dining is classic, we did find the answer for those looking forDrinks at Shojo, Boston something adventurous in Shojo in Chinatown. An Asian fusion place that puts a modern twist on Chinese food and specializes in house infused vodka and gin drinks. From spicy to sweet, all the flavors are covered with their unique recipes and twists on the classics. They say that good service can make up for bad food, but here they do not have to. With an all hands on deck attitude, you will be made to feel special as they serve you their delectable food and drinks. Across the street is Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, a dim-sum restaurant and while good, I think you would have to work to find a bad dim-sum place among the many scattered around Boston’s Chinatown.
Hidden right behind Boston Commons is Scollay Square, a great place for lunch or brunch with outside seating, several styles of Lobster Roll, Scollay Square Bostoneggs benedict and a north east staple, the lobster roll. Lobster rolls come with many twists and varieties, but here (again the Boston theme) classic rules the day with a generous portion of tasty lobster in a soft roll and a little lettuce. Don’t try to fix it if it’s not broke, right. Finally, a trip to Boston would not be complete without a stop at Sam LaGrassa’s. The award winning and Guy Ferrari recognized deli in the heart of the city. Here you find the classic (again, that word) corned beef or pastrami piled high on rye bread, the type of deli that is famous and prevalent on the east coast but hard to find in the west.
Tips on how to maximize your adventure; stay somewhere in the downtown area and walk everywhere. Traffic is typical for big cities but its small enough that if you are centrally located you can get anywhere on foot and will likely beat anyone Sam LaGrassa'staking a cab. Also lines are common at all the best places. If you find yourself at a place without a line during peak hours you are probably at the wrong place. You can avoid the lines by going at off-peak hours. Troya and I found ourselves skipping breakfast (which does not seem to be a big meal in this town) and grabbing lunch around 11, right when everything is just opening. We would walk right in and then walk past a line of many on our way out when we were done. When ordering pizza, call your order in for take-out. You can then walk right past the line of people, grab your pie and go sit in a park, listen to the street musicians, or sit by the water as you eat while the others are waiting hours for a seat inside.