Friday, May 8, 2015

Ray's Crab Shack in Newark, CA

Imagine a Boiling Crab but bigger. That's what Ray's Crab Shack is like. Is it me or are these types of places popping up all over the place? Ray's does it right. Not that others do it wrong it just that Ray's does it right.

It's not small or divey. It's big, bright, roomy like a good family restaurant should be. Boiling Crab and other copycats like it feel like a college hangout which is fun and cool. But if you want the great tasting food and want a bigger, polished place to eat, the Ray's might do the trick. The restaurant is clean and the staff wear the same outfits. It feels like one of many Ray's Crab Shacks but to my surprise, it's the only one.

Ray's Crab Shack Newark, CA
Ray's Crab Shack
My wife, two of our sons, and I came here after a movie and it was an excellent choice recommended by a friend. From the outside Ray's doesn't look like much but when you enter it's a different story.

Ray's Crab Shack Seagull
Ray's Seagull

A BIG seagull sits at the entrance which is brightly decorated. Beyond the entry, the restaurant feels open and spacious - a nice departure from the smaller cajun seafood venues.

Ray's Seagull
Ray's Seagull
The menu is familiar. One sheet with laminate. If you've eaten at The Boiling Crab or Hercules' Claws and Craws, you know what I'm talking about.

Laminated Menu
For appetizers my sons ordered the clam chowder in bread bowl. Much like what you can get at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco except there are clam shells! Kinda cool.

Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl with Clam Shells
Clam Chowder with Clam Shells

Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl with Clam Shells
Clam Chowder with Clam Shells

To keep your mitts clean and your clothes splatter free they hand out bibs and gloves. Yes! Disposable gloves! Awesome!

Disposable bib and gloves
Bib and gloves
We ordered the shrimp with Ultimate Power sauce and it is really, really good. From the first bite to the last. There are some things you eat that make you go "Wow! That is good!" and this sauce did that to me. With rice and garlic fries you've got yourself a great meal.

Shrimp with Ultimate Power, Rice, and Garlic Fries
Shrimp with Ultimate Power, Rice, and Garlic Fries

Garlic Fries
Garlic Fries
The food was excellent. The sauce was really good and the fries were really good. The service was really good and the experience was really good. Ray's Crab Shack is really good. You should try it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Zuzu's Tapas and Paella's in Napa

Zuzu Tapas and Paellas Napa
Zuzu Tapas and Paellas in Napa
Downtown Napa is a beautiful place full of quaint shops and boutiques as well as restaurants with character and there's enough variety within walking distance that your chances of finding a nice place to eat at almost any price range is pretty good. 

My wife and I decided to come to Napa for one of our date nights to try someplace new. My Yelp search led me to Zuzu for tapas. I chose Zuzu because we hadn't eaten at a tapa bar in a while. The last time was in San Francisco at one of our long time favorites - Cha Cha Cha in the Mission. I thought this could be just a good. They do serve sangria after all!

Zuzu is a nice little restaurant with excellent ambiance. Music, close quarters, full tables with a cacophony of conversations that give the place a nice feel. We walked through the first floor dining area towards the back near the bar to ask the hostess for a table. A short 10 minutes later, we were lucky enough to get seated in the upstairs dining area. I recommended upstairs if you want it a little quieter and more intimate setting so you can have nice quiet conversation. Downstairs was louder but not annoyingly so.

Zuzu Napa
Top of the stairs waiter station at Zuzu in Napa, CA

Sangra to start off the night!

My lady and I started off the night with sangria. Sangria is pretty tricky - it's good and so good sometimes that you may not stop consuming it until you're too drunk. That's why we split one because we're cheap dates and from my experience, one full glass would be more than plenty for us. I guess I was wrong. Either my alcohol tolerance level has increased or the sangria wasn't as potent as Cha Cha Cha's version. It tasted good but not even a buzz. Oh well...
John Gamboa and his wife at Zuzu Napa
John Gamboa with his wife at Zuzu
We were lucky to get a table for two against the window that faces Napa's Veteran's Memorial Park and the Napa river. The windows are tall as you can see in my picture with my wife above.
Zuzu Napa Menu
Zuzu - Menu with a glass of Sangria
The service was pretty good as one would expect in downtown Napa. We never ran out of water or bread throughout the dinner but we didn't make any special requests so that was to be expected.
John and his wife at Zuzu in Napa, CA

Zuzu 2nd Floor View
View of Veteran's Memorial Park from the Second Floor of Zuzu in Napa, CA
On to the food. We ordered the Gambas Al Ajillo, a shrimp dish, the Croquetas, a chicken dish, and the Paella Del Dia - a paella with clams and sausage.  Being a tapas and paellas restaurant you expect to get appetizer sized servings and Zuzu lives up to that aspect. The great thing is that you can order several dishes and not get to full when the night is over.

Gambas Al Ajillo - Zuzu
Gambas Al Ajillo at Zuzu in Napa, CA

Gambas Al Ajillo

We love shrimp. And just like Bubba said, it can be prepared so many ways. So why not try this one, right? It wasn't a little of a let down but nothing to write home about. This dish was a little bland but the sauce was good enough to keep to dip our bread into.

Croquetas - Zuzu, Napa
Croquetas at Zuzu


This chicken dish was't what I expected. The presentation was excellent and it has great texture. Unfortunately, just like the Gambas Al Ajillo it was too bland. 
Paella Del Dia - Zuzu, Napa
Paella Del Dia at Zuzu in Napa, CA

Paella Del Dia - a little redemption

This was the best dish of the night. Again, good presentation. And this time good flavor. 


Will we come back. Maybe. Ambiance and location, yes, we'll be back for those and maybe try some other dishes. The ones we had just didn't make us go "Wow!" I wish they put more flavor into their food. Maybe it was an off night for the kitchen.

Just like people, I believe this deserves a second chance. After all, they do server sangria!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Habit Burger Grill in Vallejo

Vallejo's The Habit Burger Grill
The Habit, Vallejo
The Habit Burger Grill - Vallejo
Ever crave a good burger with fries and a shake? Ever wish you could find a place that's different than the average burger dive or fast food hamburger franchise? In Solano County, Vallejo to be exact, there is such a place - The Habit Burger Grill.

 The Habit serves awesome burgers as well as other good foods. Tri-tip sandwich, anyone? Or how about a grilled tuna filet sandwich or a veggie burger? They have those, too.

The Habit, Vallejo
Custom Built Quality Food

Double Char Fries and Strawberry Shake
Double Charburger, Fries, and Strawberry Shake

Tuna Filet Sandwich on Grilled Sourdough
Tuna Filet Sandwich on Grilled Sourdough

 Grilled cheese with crispiness that's incredible! Sweet potato fries and Onion Rings, too! And not just shakes, but malts as well! A nice assortment of salads are available for consumption by those friends who are forced to eat with you while you get your juicy burger on.
The Habit Burger Grill Menu - Vallejo
 The seating area is bright and always kept clean by the staff. The modern design is cozy and inviting. It's a far cry from the Wendy's that used to occupy this building. Although I miss Wendy's Spicy Crispy sandwich, I am extremely glad The Habit opened up in its place.

Modern interior
 A nice touch at the Vallejo restaurant is their outdoor seating area complete with space heaters above. On a nice warm day, you could relax outside with friends and family enjoying great food all at the same time.
Patio Seating
Patio Seating - Vallejo

  If you're ever in the Benicia or Vallejo area, The Habit is an excellent place to eat. If you're in Napa-American Canyon, don't fret, there are 2 Habit restaurants in that area to serve you. As a matter of fact, there are dozens popping up around northern California - Walnut Creek, Alameda, Vacaville, San Leandro, Novato.

 It's nice to see a great burger concept that was once was a Santa Barbara exclusive, expand into other parts of the state, especially ours!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fine Dining Buffet Experience You Must Have In San Francisco

Got an appetite for steak? Lots of it? Got money? Go to Espetus!

If you have the funds and feel famished, you must try Espetus in San Francisco's Hayes Valley. It's a fine dining buffet experience that I've never had before. My wife and I celebrated our anniversary here one year and Espetus is one of the best places we've eaten and it has ambiance, great food, great service, and it's all you can eat! Granted we don't get to eat at expensive restaurants often so saying that doesn't carry too much weight. Nevertheless, I think it's still a wonderful place to go. Did I mention it's all you can eat buffet?

Espetus, San Francisco
In front of Espetus San Francisco
My lovely wife and I walk in around 8PM on a Saturday night we are greeted by the typical but always a good thing, friendly, smiling hostess. We have a reservation so we don't have to wait very long before we are told our table is ready. This place looks exciting. Nice ambiance, nicely designed and definitely a higher end place to eat. There's another couple who arrive with no reservation. Fearful that the hostess would have to turn them away because the dining area looks full, I am relieved to find they don't have to wait too long, maybe 30 minutes or so, so I feel pretty good about going there on short notice if I ever wanted to return on a future date night with my lady.

Espetus, San Francisco
Table's ready!

Just behind the hostess podium were a few tables and beyond that was the salad bar. I notice that to the right beyond the bar is an opening that leads to another large dining room. The salad bar, well decorated and with a wide selection of pre-meal appetizers, you can bet that if you're not particular, you can easily fill up with its offerings well before the main eating begins.

So we are led through the first dining area, through the doorway and we get seated at our table and are promptly greeted by our server for the night who is pleasant and polite. A quick survey of the dining area I see waiters walking around with skewers of meat stopping at tables as patrons select what they want to eat and pass on others. This is different and a little exciting.
Espetus San Francisco Food from the appetizer bar.
Espetus appetizers

On our table sits a little Espetus version of Bubba Gump's Run Forrest Run, Stop Forrest Stop sign. I get it, green for stop by my table with your goodies, red for I'm eating, don't bother me. Cool. In Bubba Gumps you use the sign to catch the attention of servers for service type needs, here at Espetus, in addition to service, you use the sign to get them to bring food to you.

John Gamboa and wife at Espetus, San Francisco
A little wine, salad, appetizers
See the little Stop-Go sign?

Steaks - All you can eat!

I won't go into all the foods I try but the steaks are very good. All with the exception of the flap steak. It's the bottom part of the sirloin area of the cow and it should stay there. It definitely has a taste I don't care for. Other steaks, however, are excellent. Sirloin steak, Top Sirloin. Both are very tasty. Beef ribs have always been a favorite piece of cow, and Espetus does it well. Being a buffet and all, I make good use of the stop-go sign to keep trying and getting food. 

Espetus | Meat
Meat! Juicy and Delicious

Different Foods

Oooh! What's that? Grilled pineapple on a skewer! Spin the sign to get the waiter to stop at our table NOW! The server cuts me a slice and leaves and it's gone in two bites. Hey! Where'd he go! Come back! There he is coming by again. Thank you! The grilled pineapple is a must have if you come the Espetus.

Grilled Pineapple | Espetus
Grilled Pineapple at Espetus SF

On the stranger side is the chicken hearts. "Why not", I say. Might as well try it once. I try it and my taste buds scream, "Because, they taste nasty!" At least I can say I tried it.

For dessert, a well prepared Petit Gateau (pe-TEE gah-TOO as our server pronounces it) makes its way to our table. It's a chocolate cake with ice cream but with the flash and flare of a fancy restaurant. Yummy!

Petit Gateau | Espetus
Dessert - Patit Gateau

Is it worth it?

You bet!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ

Good ol' southern BBQ is what you get at Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que. My wife, kids, and my wife and my parents tried this place out not too long ago and I'm a fan. We are lucky that there's one in Concord, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area. Concord is located east of San Francisco about 20 miles. The only other one near the Bay is in Rocklin which is near Sacremento.

Lucille's Bar-B-Que
For appetizers we had the flame-roasted artichoke, spinach and cheese dip with chips, southern fried dill pickles, and the brisket burnt ends. All except the brisket burnt ends were very very good. I've never had artichoke before but one of my kids likes it and I tried it. Verdict? Excellent. It's too bad that I never gave artichoke's a chance in the past but I'll be eating more of it - at least when I come to Lucille's.

The southern fried dill pickles were a treat. I believe they are a southern comfort traditional food and I'm glad we can now enjoy it here in Northern California.

For my main meal I ordered the beef ribs. I love beef ribs and Lucille's prepares theirs wonderfully. They are tasty! With the BBQ beans, spinach, corn, potatoes, or cole slaw (can you tell I've been there more than once) you can't go wrong.

My wife had her staple baby back ribs and she really enjoyed how Lucille's prepared them. Around the table it seems that everyone liked what they ordered. The servings are large enough that we had to take several to go bags home. Which was good because we got to extend our enjoyment of their southern cooking for at least one more day.

On separate occasions I've had the good fortune of having room for dessert. I recommend the Snickers Ice Cream Pie. Just by virtue of the tantalizing name, you know it's good. And it is!

Visit their website and check out the large menu. I'm sure everyone in your family will find something they'll like. The service is friendly and warm and our servers have always handled our large family with all its fan fair gracefully and with smiles.

Lucille's has become one of our favorite restaurants in the last year. We're so grateful that good southern cooking along with good ole southern hospitality has made it's way to Concord, CA!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Claws And Craws in Hercules, California - Cajun and Creole style dining

Finger linkin' good. And I'm not talking Kentucky Fried Chicken. I'm talking about Claws N Craws in Hercules, CA. The kids, my beautiful wife, and I have eaten here several times and the food their is excellent.

Claw And Craws
Claws And Craws | Hercules, CA

If you're in the East Bay of Northern California it's not going to be too much of a drive. If you come from Napa or Vallejo, Concord/Walnut Creek, or Oakland/Berkeley, you're only looking at a 20 to 30 minute drive. For those of us with a Boiling Crab affinity, Claws And Craws offers us a local experience thankfully.

The restaurant is modern looking with a bar in the middle between 2 dining areas and ample flat screens throughout the establishment. There are even three booths with their own flat screens! That's a pretty cool feature. I really like the way they designed the interior. It's simple but not plain.

With several patrons and TVs, there's a nice lively feel about the place. Almost like a family get together.

Claws And Craws Hercules
Claws And Craws Bar

Booths with their own flat screen TVs!
The Claws And Craws menu is full of southern style seafood but I've had the pleasure of trying out only a few of their delicious items. They consider themselves a cajun and creole restaurant. (I don't know if that's true or not, but it works!) For the appetizers, we had fried oysters on one of our visits which are pretty good. The kids tried their chicken wings and they seemed to enjoy them. The fried calamari is another fine choice as well.

Claws And Craws Fried Oysters
Fried Oysters

For main dishes we get the peel and eat shrimp with either rice or garlic noodles. My wife also gets fries for the kids and sweet potato fries which are pretty good considering I'm not really into sweet potato fries. When all of us are really hungry we can share and finish 2 to 3 pounds of peel and eat shrimp with the CC sauce in the medium spice after having some appetizers. Medium has enough spice to give it a nice kick while not being too spicy so everyone can enjoy the meal. We tried the crab once but it wasn't as good as we had hoped so lately we've stuck to the shrimp which hasn't disappointed us the every time we've eaten here.

Peel And Eat Shrimp With CC Sauce
Peel And Eat Shrimp With CC Sauce

Now I can't not talk about the desserts that Claws And Craws offers. The first is their fried banana and ice cream. It's really good. Frankly, I don't of a place where I didn't like fried banana and ice cream and this place is no exception. The other dessert is one I've never had anywhere. It's their fried Oreos and Ice Cream. Yes, you read it right! That was amazing and I would say on par with the fried banana. What I'm saying is you can't go wrong with either one.

Claws And Craws Fried Oreos and Ice Cream
Fried Oreos and Ice Cream
Our family enjoys coming to the Claws And Craws restaurant and I'm sure yours will too. If you're craving some good southern style seafood then prepare yourself for some finger lickin' goodness and go to Claws And Craws in Hercules, CA. To learn more about them, check them out on Facebook and Yelp - or you can just go there!

-John Gamboa

Claws and Craws
Claws And Craws

Friday, May 30, 2014

A great place for burgers - City Center Grill in Oakland, CA

There's a great place to eat if you're in a rush for lunch in Oakland. It's located in Downtown in the Civic Center and if you take BART, it's right there off the 12th Street Station. I'm a burger fan and I have to say that the City Center Grill makes some really good burgers.
Oakland, CA Civic Center
Oakland, CA Civic Center
City Center Grill is located in a plaza in downtown Oakland and it's a small place but they serve one of the best tasting yet simple burgers I've ever had. They are always well seasoned and cooked perfectly. The buns are toasted which should be a standard but some places fail to do that basic step.
City Center Grill Oakland
City Center Grill
You're in charge of your burger in this place. Toppings and sauces are there for you to pick from. Add as much as you want. Now it's not bacon or grilled mushrooms but fresh veggies and your choice of sauces. Ketchup, thousand island, ranch, bbq sauce all there in squirty bottles. One thing I've noticed about the vegetables is that they have always been fresh and crisp. The lettuce leaves are green and bouncy. The tomato slices are bright red and firm. The onions crisp. Add as much or as little as you like.
Fresh toppings daily
Fresh toppings daily
Once you're done building your custom burger - ENJOY!
My burger. Plain but delicious!
My burger. Plain but delicious!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Berkeley's Suzette Crepe Cafe

While in the Berkeley, CA area my wife got the craving for a crepe concoction. A quick Yelp search led us to Suzette Crepe Cafe. Suzette's is a nice quaint place with a European feel (coming from one who's never been to Europe). So I guess it's what I think a European eatery would feel like. I could be totally off, but it is a nice little place to have crepes regardless.

Suzette Crepe Cafe, Berkeley
Suzette Crepe Cafe - Albany/Berkeley, CA

My wife chose a healthy gluten free crepe filled with grilled chicken, spinach, and mushrooms. It was tasty! I wasn't hungry so I picked the banana, nutella, and ice cream crepe. And they had Thai Iced Tea! Don't know how that got into the menu but I was glad it was available.

The gluten free chicken crepe was delicious. I never had a non-dessert crepe and this was really good. The chicken was seasoned very well. I could definitely have that again. The banana nutella crepe was absolutely wonderful. Both plates were cleaned off within minutes.

Suzette Crepe Cafe - Albany/Berkeley, CA
Our crepe dishes at Suzette Crepe Cafe

There are several crepe places in Berkeley - Albany, but Suzette's is worth the trip. If you're every in the San Francisco area and craving crepes, you may want to think about crossing the bridge to Berkeley to have tasty and large crepe dishes at Suzette Crepe Cafe.

Friday, May 16, 2014

San Francisco's House of Prime Rib

My wife and I have never been to The House of Prime Rib in San Francisco, CA. Recently we decided to give it a try.

John Gamboa House of Prime Rib
San Francisco's The House of Prime Rib
It's a nice place. Old San Francisco feel in my opinion like the opposite end of The Original Tommy's Joynt further down on Van Ness Avenue. Classy. Our server was pleasant and cheerful. Very friendly which is also a plus when you go to a higher end establishment as this one is. The menu is very simple - Prime Rib. Different sizes. There's a bone in one called the King Henry VIII cut! That you can imagine would be pretty big. I was surprised that the entries come with your choice of side orders. Most higher end places charge for their side orders and the fact that The House of Prime Rib doesn't is a nice surprise.

The wife and I opted for the English cut which are thinner cuts which allows the au jus to soak into more of the meat. For sides, we had creamed spinach, baked potato, and creamed corn. All were pretty good. We also had the yourshire pudding which was some form of bread. Pretty bland tasting and I think it's more of a filler than a flavor enhancer type thing. The texture was interesting like a crunchy outside, soft inside feel. You tear it with your hands - at least that's the way I ate it.

The prime rib is carted to you in a blimp looking metal cart where 3 to 4 slabs of prime rib sections of cow are hot and steaming. Your slice gets carved from one of the slabs in the cart by your chef while the cart is in front of you and serves it to you right there freshly cut.

Enjoy it with some horse radish, au jus, and your sides. The Yorkshire pudding can be used to soak up some au jus I remember. It actually tastes pretty good that way. Overall I think our meal was well worth the city traffic and price.

For dessert we had this...

The House of Prime Rib - San Francisco

Some chocolate layered cake with sauce. Recommended by our server.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dessert at Vallejo's The Original Red Onion

Finally did it. I tried one of Karl's homemade desserts at The Original Red Onion in Vallejo. If you haven't been there, it's off of interstate 80 in Vallejo on Springs Road. Vallejo is a bedroom town about 30 minutes outside San Francisco north and east from the City between Benicia/Crockett and American Canyon/Fairfield. I wrote another post about this cool place to eat here.

I had mentioned that I hadn't tried some of the owner's, Karl's, desserts that are made fresh daily I heard. I was finally able to give one a try. Actually I tried two desserts. The Red Velvet Cake and the Dark Henny. Didn't know which to try so ordered two to share with some friends.

Now I've gotta tell you, they were delicious. The cake in the red velvet was smooth and subtle and moist. The cream was mmm scrum-diddly-umptious. The chocolate in the Dark Henny was Wow! I don't know if the Henny is short for something but it doesn't matter.

The Original Red Onion in Vallejo | Dessert Selection
The Original Red Onion in Vallejo | Dessert Selection

Of the two, the Dark Henny was the winner but I'd still eat the Red Velvet Cake any day of the week. Both are rich in flavor and after a full meal, I can't finish either one, so it works out like getting two desserts for the price of one. One for that moment and one for later on. Although there seems to be a lack of later on because my wife often eats the leftover dessert!

The Original Red Onion in Vallejo | Dark Henny
The Original Red Onion in Vallejo | Dark Henny

My wife tried the Dark Henny and after that, I couldn't get the cake away from her. So if you're ever in the Vallejo, Benicia, American Canyon areas in Solano County, and are hungry for some good food and desserts, go to The Original Red Onion. Man they've got some good food!