Alexander’s Patisserie

meter-good+Alexander’s Patisserie is a relatively new addition to the city of Mountain View. This high end bakery features all sorts of fancy things I can’t pronounce, and people are going nuts for it. Although plagued with a number of “inventory problems” early in its lifecycle, this bakery has made a splash and, now that it has stabilized, seems to be here to stay. It may not be for everybody though.

” It’s nice, but it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings “

The Alexander’s brand started with a not-so-humble steakhouse in Cupertino, and their reputation for absolute culinary excellence has grown from there. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alexander’s was opening a bakery, but I remained skeptical. You see, I’m not a super duper fan of Alexander’s in general, mostly because overly-gourmet’d anything just kind of turns me off. I know, I know, blasphemy. Alexander’s makes plenty of tasty stuff that I love to eat, and I am always quite happy to enjoy a $180 steak at one of their outstanding restaurants, but they always seem to chef things up one step too far.

The problem with Alexander’s in general is that I don’t really trust them. I feel like if I don’t keep a close eye on what they are doing in the kitchen, they are going to get crazy and put horrible things in my food. No, thank you, I would not like gold-leafed pygmy kangaroo spleen on top of my steak. Please just give me the steak and stop screwing around.

I'm not sure if these are food or not... but they sure are pretty.

I’m not sure if these are food or not… but they sure are pretty.

Alexander’s Patisserie follows the same basic formula as the rest of the brand, and for the most part that is a good thing. This place is spotless. I’m talking surgical cleanliness here; I challenge even the most paranoid of germophobes to find fault in this place. I would have no problem eating off of the floor, and that’s the truth. The immaculate display cases are no exception to the hyper-neatness rule at Alexander’s, and the care put into arranging the displays is clear to see.

Speaking of the display cases, this bakery is truly a feast for the eyes. Never before have I seen such gorgeous baked goods in all my life; if nothing else, it’s worth coming here just to snap a few pictures. It’s impressive.

Colorful little disks of macaron excellence. And yeah, 'whisky' is really a flavor.

Colorful little disks of macaron excellence. And yeah, ‘whisky’ is really a flavor.

Over the course of several visits here, I’ve had an opportunity to sample a decent array of the bakery offerings, and for the most part they are all good. Not necessarily delicious or amazing or omg gimme that right now but just… good. As is their way, they seem to be in the business of taking extra steps in the kitchen to make things more fancy, but not necessarily to make things more delicious. Some people would argue that this is the very thing that makes Alexander’s special, but I’m just not that into it. It’s a still a great bakery though, no doubt. The quality is there, the presentation is there, the cleanliness is there, but one thing is missing: appeal.

You see, the trouble with Alexander’s Patisserie is that it’s so high end it lacks charm. Polish and perfection have come at the price of personality. Nothing feels like it was ever fresh-out-of-the-oven; it all seems like it was assembled in a cleanroom by robots. There is no bakery smell, no wafts of warm air from a nearby oven, no hustle and bustle of busy bakers half covered in flour. Everything is neat and cool and highly processed. It’s nice, but it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings.

The bread offerings are actually a bit disappointing. I hear the croissants are decent though.

The bread offerings are actually a bit disappointing. I hear the croissants are decent though.

So far I haven’t done much besides bash on this innocent bakery, but there’s a good reason for that. I wanted to get all the unpleasantness out of the way before I focus on the highlight of this review. Truth be told, I really enjoy visiting Alexander’s Patisserie. More specifically, I absolutely love two things they make: lattes and kouign amanns. Oh yes, the lattes at this place are absolutely superb – the baristas truly know what they are doing. They’d better for the prices they charge, but I don’t mind the cost. In my book there is no such thing as too high of a price for a truly excellent coffee beverage, and Alexander’s does not disappoint. Major yum factor going on here.

I'm a sucker for foam art. It automatically makes any latte 18.4% more delicious.

I’m a sucker for foam art. It automatically makes any latte 18.4% more delicious.

What else was it that I mentioned? A keegoine-o-what? It’s called a kouign amann, and it is heaven on a tiny little pastry plate. I have no idea how to pronounce it of course, but that should not surprise you. If you’ve never heard of a kouign amann before (I hadn’t), it’s basically a rustic, lightly sweet, layered croissant-like thing. Apparently all the charm in the entire bakery has been focused into this one item, and it shows. The buttery, crispy layers of the kouign amann have just the right texture and softness as you pull them apart, and they go perfectly with one of those fancy lattes I was just raving about.

'Kouign amann' is French for 'Finally, something with character'.

‘Kouign amann’ is French for ‘Finally, something with character’.

At the end of the day, Alexander’s Patisserie is a great way to spend 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. There are fancy expensive things you can take pictures of to impress your friends, and if you look closely you’ll find a few delicious morsels to eat too. If you’re a fan of macarons, there is a good variety of flavors (and colors) to choose from, and of course there’s something here for coffee lovers as well. I rate this place 43 out of 50 robotically crafted shiny food spheres – above average but not spectacular. Alexander’s is good enough for an entertaining visit, but I don’t think I could ever truly fall in love with it. I’ll visit anytime for a latte and a kouign amann though.

      Pros
 + Super duper ultra fancy
 – …but no personality
 + Unbelievably clean and neat
 + Prettiest display cases you’ll ever see
++ Kouign amanns and lattes to die for
      Cons
It doesn’t “feel” like a bakery
The bread is just kind of meh
Nothing is cheap here
Nothing is served warm either

Alexander’s Patisserie
209 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 864-9999
www.alexanderspatisserie.com

Alexander's Patisserie on Urbanspoon


Like I said, it's all fancy and stuff.

Like I said, it’s all fancy and stuff.



Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Small Bite: Easy corn off the cob

” Please do not remove any fingers in the process “

There’s nothing quite like fresh corn. I always like to have a few ears on hand whenever it’s in season – it goes with just about anything. One of my favorite ways to prepare (and eat) corn is to cut it off of the cob and sauté in a skillet with some butter and black pepper. Cutting the corn from the cob isn’t a particularly difficult task, but it can be a bit tricky to do it neatly. I can’t take credit for this technique, but to be honest I’m not sure who can, therefore I’ll go ahead and take all the credit. Thanks.

A bowl in a bowl. So meta.

A bowl in a bowl. So meta.

To keep corn from flying all over your kitchen counter, you’ll need two bowls: one very large and one relatively small. Turn the smaller bowl upside-down and place it inside the larger bowl, stand an ear of corn against the bottom of smaller bowl, and (carefully) cut the kernels off the cob with a very sharp knife. Please do not remove any fingers in the process, and don’t push down too hard with the knife as the corn cobs tend to get rather slippery after a bit of cutting.

Observe photo above. Add corn. Process complete.

Observe photo above. Add corn. Process complete.

The good news is that you now have a bowl full of neatly cut corn kernels, all while keeping your countertops clean. The bad news is that you have an extra bowl to wash, but I’d call that a fair trade.



Nonstandard Disclaimer of Randomness
The vegetable cutting technique detailed in this post involves the use of both a sharp knife and a cerebral cortex, so if you are an idiot please do not attempt. If any part of this post confuses you, please see the previous sentence.


Sweet corn spoonbread

” It’s the hybrid, half-baked lovechild of cornbread and creamed corn “

Spoonbread is apparently a real thing. I had never heard of it before seeing a recipe on Pinterest (this one in fact), but after consulting a few people it seems I’ve been living under a rock. It’s too bad, because I’ve really been missing out. Spoonbread is good.

Skip to the short version

This is one of those 'dump and stir' kind of recipes. It's awesome.

This is one of those ‘dump and stir’ kind of recipes. It’s awesome.

What is spoonbread? The name alone describes it about as well as I could hope to, but I’ll still give it a shot. Spoonbread is the hybrid, half-baked lovechild of cornbread and creamed corn, raised in the wilderness by a pack of untamed bread puddings. It is sweet and stick-to-your-ribs tasty, but not quite a dessert. It’s just about the most perfect side dish for a meal of barbecue that I can imagine. This recipe is just begging to be put in a Dutch oven and lovingly baked in a smoker alongside a slab of brisket or baby back ribs.


Ingredients

  • 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix (8.5oz)
  • 1 can cream style corn (14.75oz)
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained (15oz)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a 2 quart casserole dish
  • something to grease the casserole dish with


Directions

As you may have noticed, pretty much all of the ingredients are yellow. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with color-coordinated recipes, provided they taste good. And this one does.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Dump all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir until you have attained a large mass of evenly-mixed yellow goo. Grease your casserole dish, pour in the goo, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Goo in a casserole dish.

Goo in a casserole dish.

The spoonbread is done when it has “set”, meaning it is not liquidy and has the same approximate texture as bread pudding or underdone cake. If the top is a little browned, it’s probably done.

And this is what it looks like when it's done.

And this is what it looks like when it’s done.

Dish it up, eat it, and enjoy. If anyone you serve it to doesn’t like it, kick them out of your house.

Looks good enough to eat, right? Believe me, it is.

Looks good enough to eat, right? Believe me, it is.




tl;dr

Sweet corn spoonbread

Ingredients

  • 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix (8.5oz)
  • 1 can cream style corn (14.75oz)
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained (15oz)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a 2 quart casserole dish
  • something to grease the casserole dish with


Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine ingredients until evenly mixed and pour into a 2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until spoonbread has set.



See also



Standard Recipe Disclaimer
I don’t come up with a lot of my own recipes (unless you count my own personal milk-to-Grape-Nuts ratio), and chances are the recipe posted above belongs to or was inspired by a person other than me. So if you’re wondering whether or not I ripped somebody off, I probably did. Don’t get out the pitchforks and torches just yet though! I want to make absolutely sure I give credit where it’s due, so if you think someone deserves recognition for something that I haven’t already called out FOR CRYING OUT LOUD LET ME KNOW. Thanks, I appreciate it. Here’s a cookie.


Introducing Small Bites

“Small Bites” is a feature I’ve intended to add to my this blog for quite a while now, but simply haven’t. Unlike my feature-length recipes and restaurant reviews, Small Bites will be shorter posts on a variety of topics, most of which will not really have a point. In other words, they’ll be exactly like everything else I write, only more concise.

To help explain in more detail what Small Bites are all about, here’s a handy infographic:

The only reason this is here is because I feel like all posts should have a picture.

This is here is because I feel like all posts should include a photo of something.

There, I hope that cleared things up.

The good news is that I’ve built up something of a backlog of Small Bites lately, and I’ll be adding them to my publishing schedule here and there. I hope you enjoy reading them, but it’s okay if you don’t because I still enjoyed writing them.



Nonstandard Disclaimer of Randomness
The intent of this disclaimer is to disclaim any claims made in the body of this post, whether or not it has claimed or dissed anything at all. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure why I decided to add a disclaimer here, but since I’ve fooled you into reading this far I’ll go ahead and chalk it up as a win. Thanks for being a willing victim.


Back A Yard

meter-greatIf you look up “hole in the wall” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Back A Yard. This tiny little Caribbean eatery is exactly my kind of place – it’s quirky, unique, and adored by locals. From the moment I first heard about this place I knew I’d have to pay it a visit.

” Oh, how I’ve dreamt about those sides “

I don’t tend to trust Yelp very much, thanks to their questionable policies and gangster-like business practices, but it’s worth noting that Back A Yard is perched comfortably on top of Yelp’s highest rated list for the area. That is no easy feat, even if you’ve paid your monthly protection money. But enough about Yelp. This is about a great little restaurant and its relationship to my stomach.

This is the whole place. No really, this is it.

This is the whole place. No really, this is it.

Parking at Back A Yard’s Menlo Park location is tricky at best, so if you have the opportunity to talk someone else into driving you there, you should. Once you manage to make your way inside, you will be greeted by an array of hand-written menu boards detailing the eight million different things you can order. There are a number of delightfully authentic choices available (Oxtails and sweet potato pudding anyone?), as well as a selection of more typically American lunch options.

The BBQ chicken was no-nonsense and delicious. Pretty good coleslaw too.

The BBQ chicken was no-nonsense and delicious. Pretty good coleslaw too.

On my first visit I opted for a barbecue chicken lunch. In retrospect this was a stupid choice, because why would I go out of my way to visit a Caribbean joint and then not order Caribbean food? Yeah, sometimes I don’t understand me either. In any case, the barbecue chicken was wonderful. It was cooked to perfection and absolutely drenched in sauce. It came with a healthy serving of crinkle fries, cole slaw, and a dinner roll. A metric ton of napkins were also provided, which was a good thing – it was MESSY.

The jerk chicken was the lunch of my dreams.

The jerk chicken was the lunch of my dreams.

Realizing that I had been an idiot, I returned a few days later and got myself some jerk chicken. Where, oh where has this place been all of my life?? The chicken was nothing short of amazing; it had an entire spice cupboard’s worth of flavor packed into every bite, and it was neither too spicy nor too mild. And the sides! Oh, how I’ve dreamt about those sides since I visited. The jerk chicken lunch comes with rice and beans – a personal favorite – as well as fried plantains – an even favoriter.. personal… uh, thing. I kind of wrote myself into a corner there.

Listen. It’s difficult to write sentences that make sense when you have fried plantains on the brain. They are one of the very best things in the entire world, and Back A Yard knows how to cook up a mean batch of them. Go get some. Now.

There is exactly as much seating available outside as there is inside: Not much.

There is exactly as much seating available outside as there is inside: Not much.

Back A Yard is exactly the kind of place I love discovering: A homey little joint with fantastic food tucked away in a forgotten corner of town. If you’re a fan of Caribbean cuisine, this is the place you’ve been looking for. If you’ve never tried Caribbean, then get your butt down to Menlo Park sometime and give it a whirl. This eatery earns a respectable 16 out of 18 deliciously fried plantain slices, making it well worth a lunchtime visit. Just remember to get there a bit early if you expect to both park and find a place to sit.

      Pros
+ 1) Authentic
+ 2) Caribbean
+ 3) Food
+ See pros 1-3
      Cons
It’s tiny inside
I mean like really tiny
+ But nobody cares about that

Back A Yard
Two locations in the Bay Area
www.backayard.net

Back a Yard Caribbean American Grill on Urbanspoon



Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Umami Burger

meter-great-Umami Burger has a lot going for it, namely truffles. This restaurant also happens to make a mean burger and some of the best onion rings I’ve encountered west of Salt Lake City, but it’s the truffles that are the first, last, and pretty much only thing you’re going to remember. The thought of this will have you either drooling or gagging, depending of course on whether or not you like truffles.

Thanks to sf.eater.com for letting me, ahem, 'borrow' this picture.

Thanks to sf.eater.com for letting me, ahem, ‘borrow’ this picture.

” Oh how I longed for a humble bottle of Heinz 57 “

Umami Burger is a medium-sized restaurant chain primarily based in California, but there are a handful of locations scattered across the U.S. as well. The very first thing I noticed when I walked in to the Umami Burger in Palo Alto was – you guessed it – the smell of truffles. It seems that the majority of humans on the planet love the hell out of those musty underground tumors, but I am not one of those people. To me, truffles have a very chemical-y, unpleasant reek. There’s a funk to the things that just isn’t right, and they taste like other people’s bad breath smells. Most of the other patrons in the restaurant seemed to be on the opposite end of the truffle spectrum from me; they were all rather enjoying the odor, inhaling blissfully as though they were eating $100 bills with their nostrils.

To each their own, I suppose. I can’t hold the truffle thing against Umami Burger just because I don’t personally like them, but because so much of the experience at this place relies on those stinky little mushrooms, the subject can’t be avoided.

The artisan pickle plate (shown here half-eaten) was excellent.

The artisan pickle plate (shown here half-eaten) was excellent.

The capable and courteous restaurant staff quickly showed me and the rest of my lunch party (the usual suspects) us to a table. I counted eighteen items on the menu, consisting of burgers, salads, and sides. Of these, more than half featured truffles in some form. I opted for a Manly burger (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) and a side of truffle-less fries. For the table we got a house pickle plate and an order of tempura onion rings. The pickle plate showed up almost immediately, and it featured six different kinds of pickled vegetables. The green beans were by far my favorite, but the beets were pretty darned excellent as well. We were halfway through the plate before I remembered to take a picture of it… Oops.

The next time I develop a craving for onion rings, I'm coming back here.

The next time I develop a craving for onion rings, I’m coming back here.

A few minutes later, our order of onion rings showed up. Wow! Why oh why doesn’t everyone prepare their onion rings tempura style? These rings were absolutely superb with just the right balance between crunch and perfectly cooked onion. Most importantly, when taking a bite of a ring, molten hot onion did not slide out of the batter and slap me in the chin. The onion severed cleanly and easily; every bite was perfection.

Hey, my hamburger bun still has the label on it.

Hey, my hamburger bun still has the label on it.

My Manly burger and fries arrived shortly afterwards, and everything looked great – this place certainly does a good job on presentation. I am happy to report that both the burger and the fries were extremely delicious. The quality of the beef patty was outstanding, and it had a nice crispy grilled crust on it. Yum. I could still faintly taste truffles somewhere in my burger though, likely cross-contamination from all of the other truffle-heavy foods prepared in the kitchen.

Also available in truffle version. This should not surprise you.

Also available in truffle version. This should not surprise you.

The shoestring-style fries were also quite excellent. Partway through the meal, however, pungent truffle flavor suddenly appeared on the fries and forcibly drove all other tastes out of my mouth. What the… Where did that come from? I tried another fry and there was no truffle taste at all. Eh? It was then that I realized there were truffles in the ketchup. IN THE EFFING KETCHUP. Is nothing sacred in this place?? I had no choice but to endure my otherwise excellent burger and fries without any ketchup at all, which was something of a disappointment. Oh how I longed for a humble bottle of Heinz 57.

In spite of my mushroom-based grumblings, I truly enjoyed my experience at Umami Burger. I know that I am among the genetic minority of people who find that truffles smell like pig urine. Yes, yes, I’m sure I am missing out on something wonderful, but that’s beside the point. Getting back on track, I rate Umami Burger a very respectable 90 out of 100 grams of tuber melanosporum. If you’re looking for a good burger and some great onion rings a notch above standard burger joint fare, this is the place for you.

      Pros
+ Well-executed burgers with a gourmet kick
+ Masterful tempura onion rings
      Cons
 – Black truffles are in everything
– – Like seriously EVERYTHING
+ If you enjoy truffles that’s good though
 – But I don’t

P.S. I used the word “truffle” in this post 18 times. Make that 19.

Umami Burger
Multiple locations throughout the U.S.
www.umamiburger.com

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon



Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Ham and cheese rolls

” This is not rocket science “

On weekends, I’m often in the mood to make something complicated from scratch, messing up every single pot and pan in the kitchen in the process. On weeknights, however, I tend to be exceedingly lazy; I’m all about maximizing couch time after a long day of work. My wife Shawn (aka The Czarina of Pinterest) discovered this incredibly simple Pillsbury-based recipe a while back, and we recently gave it a try. We loved it, not only because it requires absolutely minimal effort, but also because it’s darned tasty.

Skip to the short version

Super trailer-trashy and awesome because of it.

Super trailer-trashy and awesome because of it.


Ingredients

  • 1 tube Pillsbury classic pizza crust
  • deli sliced ham
  • cheddar cheese


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a couch to sit on afterwards


Directions

This is not rocket science. You could get along just fine figuring out what to do from the pictures alone, but because I like to hear myself talk I’ll go ahead and walk you through it anyway. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Open the explosive tube of Pillsbury goodness without losing any fingers and lay the dough flat.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make dough look interesting?

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make dough look interesting?

Add ham. Leave an inch or so of dough exposed along the upper edge so that you’ll be able to seal the roll at the end.

Lunch meat. It's what's for dinner.

Lunch meat. It’s what’s for dinner.

Layer on some cheese, either sliced or grated. Both work equally well. We added salami as well because we’re crazy like that.

Keep adding stuff until you are satisfied.

Keep adding stuff until you are satisfied.

Roll the whole thing up and seal the edge along the side of the roll by pinching the dough together. If you didn’t leave the edge of the dough uncovered like I said, you only have yourself to blame.

Spiral food is always sophisticated.

Spiral food is always sophisticated.

Slice into 1-inch pieces and lay flat on a greased cookie sheet.

Not all of the slices turned out this perfect. Martha Stewart I am not.

Not all of the slices turned out this perfect. Martha Stewart I am not.

Bake for 10 minutes or until browned on top. Eat. Go sit on couch. Success.

Serving suggestion. (Actually, it was dinner.)

Serving suggestion. (Actually, it was our dinner.)




tl;dr

Ham and cheese rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 tube Pillsbury classic pizza crust
  • deli sliced ham
  • cheddar cheese


Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Unroll dough and lay flat. Add ham, cheese, and other toppings in layers. Roll up carefully, sealing edge of dough against side of roll. Bake for 10 minutes or until browned on top.



See also



Standard Recipe Disclaimer
I don’t come up with a lot of my own recipes (unless you count my own personal milk-to-Grape-Nuts ratio), and chances are the recipe posted above belongs to or was inspired by a person other than me. So if you’re wondering whether or not I ripped somebody off, I probably did. Don’t get out the pitchforks and torches just yet though! I want to make absolutely sure I give credit where it’s due, so if you think someone deserves recognition for something that I haven’t already called out FOR CRYING OUT LOUD LET ME KNOW. Thanks, I appreciate it. Here’s a cookie.