Tuesday, December 3, 2013

78 Hours In Silicon Valley - My Brother Comes for a Visit

My brother Josh came to see me a couple of weeks ago. I wanted the optimum mix of novelty, conversation, and beer. I came up with enough to fill a week. Or two. Complex Excel spreadsheet were involved. Here’s how it went down, a la the New York Times “36 hours in…

11 am.
1. Lunch For All Tastes

There are over 50 restaurants on Castro Street in Mountain View. By definition, the entire Silicon Valley is a Mountain View. Castro Street has multiple Mexican, Italian, Indian, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Greek and American restaurants, to pick a view. We chose a greek restaurant called Ephesus. It was quiet on a Saturday afternoon and the food was delicious. While our food was prepared, I made Josh fill out some complicated questionnaires so we could start planning our days.

After lunch we walked the length of Castro street just to get some fresh air and exercise. Josh took photos of Le Boulanger, a bakery chain in the bay area. On the way back we passed Bier Haus - a favorite beer garden of mine - and saw we had just missed the free beer they were serving to celebrate their new name. Or not. The co-owner in - lederhosen - informed us the free beer was still flowing. I had a half-liter of delicious WinterBraun from Lost Cost. We realized we were sitting next to a guy I’d met on a previous afternoon at the same place. That’s a beer garden!

After the free beer we sampled the espresso at Red Rock coffee. If you like your expresso sour, this is the place for you. I needed chocolate truffles with mine.

1 pm
2. Nice to Mead You
We took a 30 minute ride on the light rail to the Rabbit’s Foot Meadery. Mead is anything brewed from fermented honey, whether it be wine, beer, or cider. Josh had the tasting flight: 2 wines, 2 beers, 3 ciders, and the Chocolate Raspberry Love port. I had a couple pints of Death By Raspberry, which is Raspberry Cider with a splash of Raspberry Mead wine and the Chocolate Raspberry port. The tasty room staff are as eclectic as the hip office park location.

7 pm
3. Hot Hot Pot

If you have to wait 30 minutes for a table, it must be a good place. Shabuway on Castro Street did not disappoint. The thin-sliced lamb that you cook yourself in a boiling pot of miso broth is a delight on a cool evening. Maybe we shouldn’t have made it spicy, since they’re serious about it. At least it cleared out our sinuses.

10 am
4. Grown Here

There must be a dozen Farmers Markets in the bay area, with vendors coming from all over California. Campbell is known for having one of the best.  Josh took photos of the stands and their arrangements as research. I took photos of colorful stuff. We hadn’t eaten breakfast before the market, so it was nice to get lots of samples: grapes, apples, and pluots (plum-apricot hybrids); cookies, hummus, and pie. Mmmm…pie. The bakery had a sign that read “I’m pie-curious”. At another bakery we had to ask what an epi was. (A denser baguette, baked to look like a wheat stalk.)

As the samples wore off we needed real sustenance - aka brunch. We decided on Aqui Cal-Mex. Josh got a fancy burrito. I had the turkey meatballs with mashed sweet potatoes and a polenta cake. And a mimosa with frozen margarita in the center.

5. Honky Tonk Blues

Up until the ‘80s, the entire Silicon Valley was orchards. Entertainment was Honky Tonk bars, like Saddle Rack. It has since moved out of the valley to Fremont, and is usually filled with city-folk celebrating a birthday or bachelorette party. Today there was a country dance lesson event. We met a couple of my Reno trip friends. After a line dance lesson, Josh worked on the beginner 2-step while I tried my hand at the intermediate class. After the lessons we stayed for a few hours dancing to whatever songs the DJ selected.

4 pm
6. Garden City

San Jose was once known as the Garden City. There are several new churches springing up to minister to the vast and divers population. Josh accompanied me to Garden City church and met all my church friends, who were all really excited to meet him as well. 

6 pm
7. House of Yards

The Yard House has a huge beer selection and gets its name from the half-yards of beer they serve. The six of us from church stuck to pints. Josh got to try some new dark beers that he really enjoyed. After dinner we walked past the fancy shops that make up the Santana Row outdoor mall.

9 am
8. Just Peaking

The Bay Area has tons of parks, “open spaces” and other areas to hike full of forests and mountains. Mission Peak in Fremont offers a well traveled path up to an amazing vista of the bay, the valley, and the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s 3 miles to the peak, and the weekends can be crowded, but the weekday was much quieter. We saw - and heard - cattle on the way up. Then we saw a fox. I still don’t know what the fox says. Then we heard the chirping of a smoke detector with a dead battery. Turns out it was actually a ground squirrel - probably on sentry duty, warning about the fox. Later on we saw a falcon perched on a fence post. It looked like it was in the mood for some squirrel meal. The 6 mile round trip took just under 3 hours, giving us plenty of time for a range of conversation topics.

9. Ramen Without Styrofoam 

For lunch we chose an authentic Japanese Ramen spot called Dohatsuten. It had good reviews on Yelp and lived up to them. Exceeded them, even. Afterwards we got espressos and chocolate-covered madeleines at Mission coffee shop. Still sour, but only half as much as in Mountain View. Enough to give me some extra energy for the hour-long drive to Josh’s farm.

2 pm
10. We’re Farming and We Grow It

The farm turned was a 10-acre organic oasis sheltered from the surrounding open-field crop rotations by a wall of Eucalyptus trees. Their main crops are figs, rosemary, and green garlic. An entire section was just rosemary bushes growing wild. Josh got tons of info. I got some good fresh air time. We stopped for another espresso before heading back to the South Bay. 

7 pm 
11. I Dance the Line

A local Meet-Up teaches line dancing in the bar area / dance floor of the Mexico Lindo restaurant in the middle of San Jose. It’s called Mojo Monday. Everyone was excited to meet Josh. He had a blast and we stayed until the place was about to close down. 

10 am
12. The Monarchs Will See You Now

Natural Bridges park in Santa Cruz is an over-wintering station for Monarch butterflies. We made the drive over the winding highway 17 and stopped at Emily’s bakery for a hot turkey and cheese croissant a cheese scone and some lattes. Fueled up, we headed to the monarch grove. At first we only saw a couple monarchs flying around and I thought the trip might have been a waste. Then we read the signs explaining that the clumps of dead leaves in the Eucalyptus trees were dormant monarchs. Sure enough, a Stellar’s jay showed up and munched on one, ripping off the poisonous wings first, and causing several of the monarchs to scatter. Visit after noon and they’ll be more active, having soaked up the sun’s rays.

A bus load of school kids showed up and we took that as our cue to move to the beach. We listened to the waves, watched the pelicans, and admired the rocky “bridge” formation. A while later the kids followed us, so we headed back to the car. We pulled around for a different view of the natural bridge, and then cruised the oceanside drive. The rocky banks leading to the beaches are covered with an “ice plant”. It’s a succulent that a native of South Africa. Introduced to keep the ground cover, now it’s considered a menace, like kudzu in the South.

13. Sweet French Cookies and Celebrity Mug Shots

We stopped at a charcuterie and - another - bakery, where I got macarons, which are soft french cookies that form a sandwich around a sweet creamy filling. Yum! Then we went to a burger shop called “Burger.” We sampled about 10 beers each before deciding on some juicy dark pints to go along with our burgers. When we placed our food order, we were given a mug shot of Matthew McConaughey. Classy!

1 pm
14. Cruisin’ the Pacific Coast

W drove highway 1 all the way to San Francisco. Locals call it PCH - Pacific Coast Highway. Josh was fascinated by the farms along the ocean. The ocean views didn’t disappoint either, despite the grey, cloudy winter weather. We stopped in Half Moon Bay for even less bitter espresso, then continued up to San Francisco.

2 pm
15. Foodies in the Mission District

We had been given a mission to accomplish in the Mission District. Reconnoiter the bakery called La Tartine. We arrived after a perilous parallel parking performance. Research photos were taken, and a massive Lemon Meringue cake was purchased for a party that evening. From there we walked to the Yelp-recommended chocolate shop called Dandelion. They specialize in single-source chocolate beans from tropical destinations like Madagascar and Belize and you can see the entire production area. It was like a Krispy Kreme for chocolate bars. Next door is another artisanal bakery called Craftsman and Wolves. I ordered one of everything. Then I canceled my order because my stomach wasn’t big enough, nor was my wallet.


I'm not going to spell it all out for you. You can use Google to find the addresses and websites on your own. I won’t baby you like the New York Times does


Josh stayed with me in Mountain View. The fold-out couch is always at your disposal.