A Journey Into Exotic Burmese Cuisine in San Jose

Table-side salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Tableside salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken seem to have been around forever. But all these North American classics are but newborns compared to a cuisine that’s 1,000 years old. So why in all my considerable years of exploratory grazing have I never tasted Burmese food?

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine, in San Jose, California, of all places, offers a chance to rectify this. Unfortunately, I’m lunching alone and thus regretfully have to pass over some enticing curries, stews and noodle dishes.

Instead, I zero in on a Burmese classic—an exotic-sounding tea leaf salad ($9). It features a combination of ingredients I’ve never seen before: pickled tea leaves, fried beans and garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, dried shrimp and marinated cabbage. My server arrives with all this on a plate and proceeds to carefully toss it tableside with a spoon and tongs.

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Time to dig in. The taste is as unusual as the combination. It’s both wet and crunchy, slightly astringent and bearing an unusual, umami-like flavour; maybe it’s the pickled tea leaves.

Overall, it’s well worth the adventure. Now, I just have to find more Burmese eateries and friends to explore the menu with.

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine
1312 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, California
Wednesday to Monday lunch 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner 5 pm-9 pm. Closed Tuesday
Kyusu Burmese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I’m a Content Puppy at San Jose’s Happy Dog

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

I’m parked somewhat precariously at a 10-minute-only stall in front of a 7-Eleven near San Jose State University. Joe, the manager at Happy Dog next door, says it will take seven minutes to prepare my pork pineapple sausage.

The good news, then, is my dog will be made to order. The bad is I’ll only have three minutes to choke it down or risk a ticket, tow or reprimand. So, I’m keeping one eye on my watch and the other on proceedings as Joe lightly grills a fresh French roll and walks the grilled dog aboard. I add a squirt of mustard, a sprinkling of sauerkraut and a healthy dose of Joe’s homemade, crunchy pickled cabbage.

“If it’s a good dog, you don’t need ketchup,” he declares. Agreed. Still, by the time everything’s loaded up, I’ve got scant seconds to legally choke the hot dog down. But with the first bite through the bursting skin into the meaty goodness within, my efficient resolve dissolves. “Screw it. I’m savouring this puppy.”

Happy Dog
284 South 11 Street, San Jose, California
Daily 11 am-10 pm, except 9 pm Sunday. Cash only
Supreme Dog on Urbanspoon

A Staggeringly Good Sandwich in Downtown Oakland

Deciding what delicious sandwich to order at Stags Lunchette in downtown Oakland

Deciding what delicious sandwich to order at Stags Lunchette in downtown Oakland

I ask the guy at the counter of Stags Lunchette if they have a takeout (or even an online) menu. “No, we change it every couple of weeks,” he says.

I could stare up at the board and decipher the intriguing list of sandwiches currently on offer at this a bustling little place in downtown Oakland. Instead, I do something distinctly un-Canadian and start asking customers, seated at high tables in the darkened space, what they’re eating. One woman has turned a grilled wild mushroom tartine into a heaping salad, which she is  jealously guarding with a fork. A nearby guy is tucking into a heaping smoked meatloaf sandwich, which he says is great, especially if you like extra bacon.

No point salivating over these selections. Stags' menu changes constantly

No point salivating over these selections. Stags’ menu changes constantly

I decide to test them on a simple grilled cheese sandwich, which in Stags’s hands (hooves?) is a not-so-simple mix of Belfiore mozza and Wykes aged white cheddar. And how can I resist adding some whiskey bacon chutney, bringing this gourmet comfort-food total to $7, including a little spring salad and wee gerkins.

Just calling this a grilled cheese does this sandwich a disservice

Just calling this a grilled cheese sandwich does it a disservice

I could tell you what to order. But by the time you read this, you’ll have to do your own detective work on a fresh menu. Just make sure you go. I can tell you it’s damn good.

Stags Lunchette
362 17 Street, Oakland, California
Weekdays 8 am-3 pm, Saturday 9 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
Stag's Lunchette on Urbanspoon

Coffee Roasted to Order at Berkeley’s Artis

Artis offers a full-coffee experience, including custom bean roasting

Artis offers a full-coffee experience, including custom bean roasting

I’ve roasted lots of my own coffee, and I’ve obviously picked up plenty of fresh beans from roasters. But Artis, in Berkeley California, has taken things to the next logical level: custom-roasted beans for customers.

Here’s how it works. You pick one of seven varieties of green beans and then choose from two suggested roast profiles, roughly lighter or darker. In about the time it takes sip your pour over (say, six minutes), a roastista “cooks” your pound of take-home beans in one of three hot-air poppers. These are vented, without the usual acrid aroma, up long tubes of sheet metal.

Beans roasted to order

Beans roasted to order

Artis is also a nice, spacious place to savour an in-house coffee, with a high ceiling, concrete floors, table bouquets and a good selection of the latest in brewing equipment for purchase. The only reason to leave is to test out those fresh beans at home.

1717B 4 Street
Weekdays 7 am-7 pm, weekends 8 am-7 pm
Artís on Urbanspoon

Cutting the Line for a Great Slice of Berkeley Pizza

Mass production of just one kind of pie a day keeps the line moving at Cheese Board Pizzeria in Berkeley, California

At around 8 pm, the lineup at Cheese Board Pizzeria extends well down the block. So why would I recommend road trippers hit this spot when dining in Berkeley, California? Timing, my friends, timing.

The next day, I jump out of my car and rush over to Cheese Board five minutes before their lunchtime closing of 3 pm. There’s only five folks ahead of me, and an employee is going up the line asking people how much pizza they intend to order, so they can figure out how many pies to toss in the oven before they shut down for the afternoon.

Obviously, I wasn’t in the long line the night before, but I’m guessing it moved pretty swiftly. Here’s why, which explains the brilliance of Cheese Board. They make only one type of pizza each day—zucchini, onion, mozza, feta and basil-pine nut pesto the day I’m there—and one type of salad, this day a roasted corn with aged goat gouda. You can order the pizza whole ($20), by the half ($10) or the generous slice ($2.50).

Here's the entire menu: one pizza, one salad

Here’s the entire menu: one pizza, one salad

Because they’re only making one kind of pizza, hot fresh pies keep emerging from the oven. Which means they’re fast, fresh and tasty, if you like a thin-crust, slightly greasy pizza. To me, it’s great value for a good, quick pizza… if you can avoid the lines.

A single slice often ends up being a couple

A single slice often ends up being a couple

Note: This being Berkeley, it’s no surprise this pizzeria is a worker-owned collective, which also operates a cheese store and bakery a few doors down.

Cheese Board Pizzeria
1512 Shattuck Avenue
Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 am-3 pm and 4:30 pm-8 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Cheese Board Pizza on Urbanspoon

Beautiful Breakfast to Go at Berkeley’s Gregoire Restaurant

The entirety of Gregoire Restaurant in Berkeley, California

The entirety of Gregoire Restaurant in Berkeley, California

Here’s something you don’t often see: takeout breakfast. Sure, you can get eggy sandwiches, pastries and baked goods to go at many morning eateries, coffee shops and bakeries. But a delightful, lovingly made-to-order, full-meal creation?

You can eat in at Gregoire Restaurant, in Berkeley, California. But there are so few tables and counter seats at this very definition of hole-in-the-wall that chances are you’ll be like pretty much everyone else and taking your brekkie to go. Which is a bit of a shame, because everything looks and tastes so wonderful (albeit in a little paper-lined octagonal box) that you want to devour it in situ while it’s still hot. Of course, I arrive at opening time sharp, so all this is not a problem.

Chef-made breakfasts from this tiny kitchen

Chef-made breakfasts from this tiny kitchen

Gregoire combines its fine in-house pastries with some elegant French takes on the possibilities of breakfast. Take, for instance, my flaky puffed pasty with scrambled eggs, bacon, caramelized onion and melted Jack all tucked inside. On the side are some grilled fingerling potatoes and aioli. Oooh, la, la!

You won't find many breakfasts tastier than this on a full-sized plate

You won’t find many breakfasts tastier than this on a full-sized plate

This being Berkeley, it’s $9.75 for a takeout box breakfast, still a reasonable deal for food this well thought out and prepared. This also being Berkeley, a local walking his poodles (natch) pauses and a cook reaches out the window with a couple of dog biscuits; part of the daily ritual.

Note: Berkeley is the only one of two area Gregoire locations that serves breakfast. Of course, there are numerous lunch temptations including smoked Portobello on grilled lavash or grilled beef “bavette” with Anaheim pepper cream on a French roll, both under $10.

What Gregoire is famous though is for something I don’t even try: their crispy potato puffs. I’m not even sure if they offer them this early. Next time.

Gregoire Restaurant
2109 Cedar Street, Berkeley, California (also an Oakland location)
Daily 7 am-9 pm
Gregoire on Urbanspoon