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!