Random Revisit: Old Port Lobster Shack

meter-great-Wait, wait, wait. How could I possibly “revisit” a place I’ve never been to before? Well, if you’ll recall, some time back I reviewed Portola Valley Lobster Shack. The parent (or sister, brother, uncle, etc.) company of that restaurant is actually Old Port, and so really what I’m doing here is visiting a second Old Port location.

So long Sbarro, hello Old Port.

So long Sbarro, hello Old Port.

“Truly tasty grub, now available in a crowded mall near you “

This particular location just so happens to be smack in the middle of Valley Fair mall, an absurdly complicated place to shop with the worst traffic flow in the northern hemisphere. I found myself wandering this retail purgatory the other weekend, led by my happily shopping spouse, trying to decide which clothing shop had the most comfortable “dude chairs”. (It’s Johnny Was, by the way.)

As a reward for my mall meanderings, I was corralled into Valley Fair’s newly renovated food court for a bit of lunch. Gone are the days of crappy fast food burgers, cardboard pizza, and stir fried alley cat. The new food court is filled to the brim with excellent upper-middle-range food options which, in mall terms, is like hitting the lottery. And hey! Over there, in the corner – it’s Old Port Lobster Shack. Lunch is served.

I don't understand why restaurants do this. Bread does not need to be shiny.

I don’t understand why restaurants do this. Bread does not need to be shiny.

We ordered some brisket mac & cheese and a fried popcorn shrimp roll, found a table, and waited. After only ten minutes of watching a toddler gleefully dismember an Avenger action figure, our food was ready. I picked up the brisket mac and the pulled pork sandwich and walked back to…. Waaait a damn minute. Pulled pork? Let me see that receipt again… Crap. It says pulled pork. I guess I mumbled when I ordered.

Well, no matter, everything they make is good. We didn’t feel like sitting around for another ten foodless minutes, so we just went ahead and ate. The pulled pork sandwich was, as expected, top notch. And, unlike all other mall food I have experienced in my life, it was freshly made and absolutely piping hot. The bun was disturbingly oily, or perhaps it was clarified butter, but that’s just me being picky. It was all very tasty in any case, oil and all, and I had no true complaints.

Mac & cheese & brisket. What more could you ask for?

Mac & cheese & brisket. What more could you ask for?

The mac & cheese was unfortunately a little more pedestrian than what I had previously experienced in Portola Valley. I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy it, because I most certainly did, but it didn’t have the crispy baked edges and toasty cheese topping like mac that is truly baked. To be fair, I can’t really expect that out of a kitchen running in “mall prep” mode. The quality that Old Port manages to crank out in this setting is excellent, so they get a pass on this one.

In spite of a couple very minor setbacks, my previous rating of 35,098,552,670,980 flavor molecules for Old Port Lobster Shack stands. It’s a squarely above average eatery with truly tasty grub, now available in a crowded mall near you. Definitely pay this place a visit when you have a chance (along with the rest of Valley Fair’s new food court), but for the sake of your own sanity don’t go during peak hours.

      Pros
+ It’s in Valley Fair
+ There’s something for everyone here
+ Best “mall” food you’ll ever have
      Cons
It’s in Valley Fair

Portola Valley Lobster Shack / Old Bay Lobster Shack
Multiple locations in the Bay Area
www.oplobster.com

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When was the last time you saw an oyster bar in mall? Yeah, me either.

When was the last time you saw an oyster bar in mall? Yeah, me either.

Random Revisit: Xanh

meter-good+Hot on the heels of a scheduling error, I found myself at HNVX just a week after my first visit. Exactly nothing at all had changed, just as I suspected it wouldn’t. The decor was still just as rave-y, the waitstaff was still as quick and polite as before, and the menu was just as extensive. Clearly I would need to look harder if I hoped to find something new to complain about.

” It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a rubber mallet and a football “

My wife and I met our previously-scheduled friend just inside HNVX and followed the host person to a cozy table. By “cozy” of course I mean “nestled between a pillar of glowing purple glass bricks and a wall textured like an avocado”. Naturally. After scanning the menu, we formulated our attack plan for dinner and relayed the order to our waitperson. We selected papaya salad (I was outvoted), pineapple beef short ribs, and a bowl of “Pho You, Pho Me”, HNVX’s questionably-named interpretation of classic Vietnamese noodle soup. Because we liked them so much last time, we also ordered some crispy potstickers and Kobe rolls.

I can't tell where the papaya ends and the salad begins.

I can’t tell where the papaya ends and the salad begins.

The papaya salad arrived first, and I reluctantly but politely scooped some onto my plate. I took a tentative bite… and wow! What a great dish. I quickly cleaned my plate and took another helping. Delish! It was crispy, light, and had a mild sweet flavor that was superb and palette-cleansing. And here I thought I didn’t like papaya. I’d certainly order that again.

Somebody at HNVX isn't quite sure what spoons do.

Somebody at HNVX isn’t quite sure what spoons do.

Next up were the short ribs, and they smelled great. Curiously, a spoon was provided. A spoon? I can think of a dozen different ways to eat ribs, and exactly zero of them involve the use of a spoon. Come to think of it, that was the same story with the colossal prawns on our last visit – they came with an utterly useless spoon. Seriously, why? It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a rubber mallet and a football.

Ignoring the pointless utensil (accidental pun!), the short ribs were excellent. They were marinated and grilled to perfection, and the quality of the beef met even my absurdly picky standards. They didn’t last very long though, but we also had potstickers and Kobe rolls to keep us busy. Regardless, thumbs up on the ribs.

It was pho-nomenal.

It was pho-nomenal.

Finally, and with much anticipation, the pho arrived in a huge bowl. We ladled it out into smaller bowls (note puddles of sloshed soup in above photo) and got to work. It was magnificent. There are probably better examples of the breed lurking somewhere in the dark corners of the Bay Area, but for my money I’m quite happy indeed with HNVX’s rendition. The beef was tender and flavorful, the broth was rich, and there were plenty of noodles to go around. The next time we come here I will definitely be getting this, and I won’t be sharing.

I’m happy to report that my second visit to HNVX was better than the first one, and the first one certainly wasn’t bad at all. With a wider sampling of the menu literally under my belt, I’ve upped the Om-nom-eter™ a tick from its previous reading.

Xanh
110 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 964-1888
www.xanhrestaurant.com


Random revisit: The Gazebo

meter-great-haIt’s no secret that I love The Gazebo‘s crazy breakfasts, so I was a little hesitant to go there for lunch. I wasn’t worried that it would let me down or anything like that – I just didn’t want to miss out on any epic breakfast win. Still, any visit to this place is bound to be a good visit, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Gazebo is only open until 2pm, so the only late lunch you’ll have there is no lunch at all. My wife and I showed up at 1pm to try and avoid whatever crowd may have been present, and we were rewarded with an immediate seating. There were only one or two empty tables in the whole place though, so they weren’t exactly lacking for patrons.

” What’s that rice thing they’re eating over there? “

I’m a big Monte Cristo fan, which figures because it’s probably the least healthy “sandwich” imaginable. For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is simply a ham and cheese sandwich dipped in egg batter and pan fried. It’s typically served with powdered sugar and some sort of fruit preserves, so it has the whole sweet-and-savory thing going for it. I scanned the menu in the hopes I’d find one… Bingo! Monte Cristo, front and center. I’m having that.

The Gazebo's version of the Monte Cristo has two kinds of cheese and both ham and turkey.

The Gazebo’s version of the Monte Cristo has two kinds of cheese and both ham and turkey.

My counterpart liked the sound of the BBQ Kahlua pork sandwich, but she had also spotted another dish that got her attention as we were walking in. “What’s that rice thing they’re eating over there?” she asked our waitress, pointing to another table. The waitress told us it was their breakfast fried rice, and that it was still available if we wanted some. It was just too tempting to pass up, so we went ahead and ordered a side of it. There’s nothing wrong with having some leftover Gazebo food in the fridge back at the condo.

Everything but (probably and) the kitchen sink.

Everything but (probably and) the kitchen sink.

Our food arrived and we were just impressed as we have always been with The Gazebo. The Monte Cristo ranked as one of the best examples of the breed that I have ever encountered; it had the perfect amount of batter and wasn’t the slightest bit greasy. The Kahlua pork sandwich was relatively standard but also very delicious, and there wasn’t a trace of any disgusting fatty pork bits that so often plague such dishes. The real star of the show turned out to be the breakfast fried rice – we liked it so much we’re inspired to try making it at home one of these times. It was jam packed with bits of ham, sausage, egg, and who knows what else. We loved it.

The Gazebo’s excellent standing in my list of favorites remains unchanged. They are quite obviously just as adept at mid-day meals as they are at breakfast, and I can’t recommend enough that you pay them a visit.

The Gazebo
5315 Lower Honoapiilani Road
Lahaina, HI 96761
(808) 669-5621
www.mauihawaii.org

Kahlua Pork. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Kahlua Pork. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.