Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 27: New Mongolian BBQ (Yishan)

This place is really the old Mongolian BBQ, which is to say Colonel Lee's Mongolian BBQ. Back when PayPal had its offices right behind this row of restaurants, I would sometimes come here to get take-out for lunch and bring it back to the office, where it would be so delicious-smelling as to be highly disruptive to meetings.

Sometime in the past few years, they upgraded the interior of the restaurant and changed the name, but everything has actually stayed the same: the inside looks a lot better, but the staff is exactly the same (in particular the one chef who waters down all your food) and the serving trays and food selection are the same as well.

Today's visitor was Alex Khomenko, from 23andMe. We knew each other from PayPal days when we were on the same team, and then later we went our separate ways when I joined Facebook and he joined 23andMe. Alex was an extremely good engineer back when we worked together; these days he is Director of Engineering at 23andMe. They are hiring, by the way.

I have been able to identify two chefs here, the older one and the younger one. The older one is much worse than the younger one, because he throws water on your food and basically washes out all the flavoring sauces that you put on it. It makes your dish incredibly bland. The only way to counteract this is, when to get to the sauce area, to fill up all the interstitial space in your bowl with sauce (and I mean all - right up to the brim) with sauces, including sauces much spicier than you would normally use. After the watering-down, your dish will taste approximately okay. If you get the younger chef, he doesn't water down the food and you can use a normal amount of sauce, which is to say that you still need to use quite a lot. I really loathe the old chef (he has been here since the Colonel Lee days), as he's pretty much the primary reasons why this mongolian BBQ lags significantly behind in terms of meal quality (because the ingredients and such are perfectly fine) compared to Su's Mongolian BBQ in Santa Clara and Great Khan's Mongolian Festival in the Valley Fair shopping mall. Great Khan's is, incidentally, probably the best mongolian BBQ you can get in the area - the problem is that you have to go to the mall and walk all the way to the food court to get to it.

The price here is very low, and quality is commensurate. While Alex and I were eating, Ted Wang from Fenwick happened to walk by looking for lunch and said hi (apparently Fenwick works with 23andMe as well as Facebook, so Alex and I both knew him) and then asked how this place was, to which I replied, "Well, it's commensurate with price." He looked at the price of the lunch specials which were posted, chuckled a bit, and thanked us before continuing on.

Bottom line: This place is a bargain.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 26: Bella Vita (Yishan)

This is that fancy Italian restaurant on the corner of Castro and Dana that none of us had never been to. Turns out it's pretty good.

Today's guest was Michael from Facebook, and people from Sunfire were Andrea, Niniane and me. Unfortunately, that front-facing camera picture I took was quite poor. I don't remember what everyone got, but Niniane got the special, which was crab ravioli, and I got the pepperoni pizza. Both were good; I got to sample some of Niniane's crab ravioli via a pizza/ravioli trade agreement.

Other than that the restaurant was unremarkable, but if you are looking for a new alternative to the other Italian restaurants on the street, this one is quite adequate.

Day 26: Bella Vista (Niniane)

I had the beet salad, which was quite good! The crab ravioli had a heavy sauce, so I would only advise eating it if you don't plan to walk very far afterwards.

Michael from Facebook talked about crazy business-development ideas. At first, everyone thought the idea was crazy. Then Yishan slowly came around, and decided that it's "so crazy it might be great". I remain of the opinion that it's just crazy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 25: Taqueria Los Charros (Yishan)

It was a hot day and this place didn't have air conditioning.

I never know what to say when I meet Peter Norvig, because he is so much smarter than me. This was useful for not leaking any information about Facebook features.

Day 25: Taqueria La Charro (Niniane)

Today Peter Norvig (director of research at Google) came to visit.

We talked about his times at NASA, and how Google has evolved over
time. Peter and I speculated about Facebook features, while Yishan
tried to keep a poker face to not leak information.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 24: Temptations Indian Chinese (Yishan)

This is the Indian-Chinese fusion restaurant on Castro. I went there today with Giri Rao, a visiting engineer from Google. The menu at Temptations has many items, including Indian, Chinese, and Indian/Chinese fusion dishes. Giri and I were also an Indian-Chinese lunch duo, but we had an Indian appetizer (Gobi Manchurian) and each ordered Indian entrees. I got my usual butter chicken, which I use merely as a naan delivery mechanism. The clientele at the restaurant consists predictably of Chinese people, Indian people, and a smattering of white people.

The food was decent, and I especially enjoyed the appetizer. Gobi Manchurian is apparently deep-fried cauliflower, which is great. Next time I go I shall try one of the Chinese or fusion dishes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 23: Pho Garden (Yishan)

Today was another pho place, ugh. Once again, Niniane was conveniently absent, so I went to knock this place out with today's visitor, David Braginsky, an ex-Googler who is currently at Facebook. He came to visit and I treated him to lunch because he drove me to the emergency room at 3am a couple months ago after my tonsillectomy when a stitch came loose in my throat and I start coughing up blood. As you can see, these days I am the picture of health, so that harrowing night turned out well.

Luckily, today's pho restaurant turned out to be a class above the other two (I'd never been here), so it could credibly be called an actual thank-you lunch. You don't want to thank someone for driving you to the emergency room at 3am by taking them to the worst restaurant at the street. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of David and me (Niniane is usually the one who remembers that we have to take pictures), so all you have is this picture of the best calamari appetizer I've ever seen. It was pretty tasty too. In the corner you can see David's hand, which he uses to produce quite exceptional code.

This place is the home of that huge "2 lbs of Pho, 2 lbs of random meat products" bowl where if you eat the whole thing in under an hour, you get to keep the bowl or something. If you fail, you get a t-shirt. We both declined to try this challenge as we are both several years out of college, and instead got other dishes. I got a dish involving cubed filet mignon with garlic noodles and David got something similar but with rice. Neither of us got pho, and we appreciated the expanded menu sparing us of this. Both dishes were quite decent. If you have to eat pho on this street, this one is the place to go to - and it definitely qualifies for a mention in my other blog, Sucks Less Than Expected.

I think this is the last pho restaurant in the downtown area, thankfully.

Day 22: Nami nami (Niniane)

Nami nami's tofu appetizer was surprisingly good (I don't normally like tofu).  The black cod was also very expertly cooked.  I would return here.

We talked about how Chris's fashion-related startup is going, and ways that we envision ourselves using his product.  I would definitely use his product for online clothes shopping.

We also discussed a controversial practice described by one of our previous speakers, the founder of a startup.  He likes to reward his employees immediately when they do a good job.  One of the methods he's chosen to do this is by sprinkling a few hundred dollars' worth of one-dollar bills over the employee's head.  

Several of us at lunch said that we would find this perturbing.  Rob (name changed) said, "Having a handful of dollar bills thrown at you for your performance.  When else does that happen?"

Yishan said he wouldn't consider it an objectionable practice, but after hearing us talk about it, he is viewing it more negatively.

We analyzed the components of what makes it tasteful.  What if the money were direct-deposited?  That would be fine.  Is it because the amount is relatively small?  What if your manager phoned you to say, "Due to your excellent performance, we are giving a spot bonus that will be direct deposited, in the amount of $2"?  (Plus one of those two dollars would be held back for tax.)  That's fine, said everyone, they would pocket it and go buy coffee.

Rob said, "Normally, money is part of the employer-employee relationship.  Giving a bonus strengthens the bond.  But making a spectacle is different.  It's like the difference between sending your wife roses for your anniversary, versus paying her $500 to have sex with you."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 22: Nami Nami (Yishan)

I've never been to this restaurant, despite the fact that it's right in the middle of the street amongst a bunch of restaurants I've been to. As it turns out, it's an excellent sushi restaurant, rivaling the other good one in downtown Mountain View, Sushi Tomi. You might need a reservation for lunch; we didn't have one and had to wait 15 minutes for a table to clear for us.

Today's group consisted of Chris, Jahanzeb, Niniane, and me. I ordered the ten-piece nigiri (a one-piece upgrade from my usual 9-piece that I often ordered at Kanpai in downtown Palo Alto. Jahanzeb ordered a really good duck and mango appetizer (see pic below). We talked about Chris and Ben's project to build a product to tell you what size you are across different clothing brands and lines.

In the future if I want sushi in downtown Mountain View, I'm definitely coming here.

Afterwards we went to get some gelato, because at some point I think Jersey Shore was mentioned and in this season they are all working in a gelato place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 21: Chef Liu (Yishan)

The last time I'd been to this restaurant was 5 or 6 years ago, and my impression hadn't been a positive one. The place had just opened so we went a couple times (like when Queen House was closed) and on the second time, we had crullers ("you tiao") but when you bit into them, there was an unsettling whiff of ammonia, as though the oil in which they had been fried had been contaminated with one of their cleaning products. We also found their chicken was also undercooked. They tried to pass it off as no big deal, and I was unable to convince them (should I even need to?) that you can undercook beef, you can even undercook pork (in this country), but you can't really undercook chicken. They comped me my orange juice on that visit and we never went back.

Until now.

It had been a few years so maybe things had improved. They own the place above them which they rent out to various small startups, and a friend of mine had worked for a startup there (WeBook), where they ate at the restaurant often without incident. This time, I saw the beef stew noodle soup on the lunch menu and was about to order until I happened to check their Yelp reviews to find recommendations on specific dishes since I hadn't been there in so long and was horrified to discover this particular review. I decided not to order the soup, and got General's Chicken instead.

The lunch party consisted of Adam, Matin, and Mike Tsao, and after all that, we ended up eating perfectly good meals without incident. They also came around and offered us complementary tea eags, which were quite beautifully done. I was half-afraid that they were pawning off some expired eggs on us, but a close examination of the film integrity just inside the shells indicated that they had been made with fresh eggs. The tea eggs were good, the rest of the food was okay - though obviously much better than my fears. The green onion pancakes were a little too doughy, rather than being light and crispy.

Interestingly, one of the servers apparently recognized me, and confirmed it by asking me if the last time I'd been here was 5 or 6 years ago, and if my girlfriend at the time was white (the literal translation in Chinese being "foreigner"). I suspect this may have been because I'd either made a scene last time (I do recall being quite put off by two health code violations in a row) or if I'd made a positive impression by tipping them reasonably despite the negative events (I tend to believe the waitstaff shouldn't be excessively punished if the kitchen is run poorly). Maybe both.

In any case, I still don't think I'm going back there again. Niniane happened to be absent for this lunch, the lucky duck.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 20.5: Pho Hoa (Niniane)

I came down from San Francisco via public transportation. Taking the
BART to Millbrae and transferring to Caltrain ended up taking almost
three hours. I never want to do it again. I ended up arriving after
everyone else finished eating the Indian food. Yishan was gracious
enough to sit with me at Pho Hoa while I ate.

There is a "just big enough" meal at Pho Hoa, which is $5 and gives
you a reasonably sized bowl, as opposed to the typical ridiculously
large portion at typical pho restaurants.

The sunlight streamed in through a skylight and shone on Yishan as we
spoke. We sat for a long while talking about startups, and the sun
moved during this period to shine directly on me instead. It's quite
surreal to have the sun on you, almost like a spotlight.

The tea was very strong.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 20: Godavari (Yishan)

Godavari is formerly known as Sue's Indian Cuisine. The interior is different - more sparse and modern. It's an Indian buffet, and I have trouble telling if it's any different than Sue's because I only went to Sue's once, many years ago. In any case, I'm a very unsophisticated Indian food eater, in that I just get whatever thing seems to be most effective marsala/butter-based chicken sauce as a naan delivery mechanism. The food at Godavari performs adequately at this task.

Today's visitors were Yumi Hosaka Clark, a colleague from PayPal days who now works at Intuit, and Jessica Mah from InDinero, a Web 2.0 version of Quickbooks (intriguing). I later tried signing up but wasn't able to get my Chase account integrated. I will try again later, I guess. Jawed Karim and Chris Robinson from the office also attended, with Chris coming up with numerous terrible analogies relating Y-Combinator to in-vitro fertilization. Niniane took the Caltrain down from San Francisco, which arrived much later than expected and resulted in her showing up as we finished eating, so she went to eat separately at the next restaurant (Pho) herself, knocking it off the list and taking one for the team like I did with the other Pho restaurant.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 19: Gyro House (Niniane)

Today we had a big lunch crowd, because Thursdays are mixer days and
the office is more bustling than usual. LG came down from the city,
as did Omar, my former colleague on Google Desktop.

I was dismayed to see that we were at Gyro House, because the gyros
I've eaten in the past were disgusting. But I think those may be
memories from college, where the chefs did not know how to make proper
gyros. The chicken gyro I ate today was great! I would definitely
eat there again, even though I still experience a tiny amount of
disgust every time I type the word "gyro".

We talked about startup culture, and what's happening at various hot
startups now.

Day 19: Gyro House (Yishan)

The gyros here were surprisingly good. I've never been to this place before.

Day 18: Hong Kong Bakery (Yishan)

We skipped Hong Kong Bakery because it didn't really seem to be a real restaurant and there were no chairs or tables where we could sit down. Instead, we went to the Gyro House next door.

This front-facing camera on the iPhone is really good for these shots.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 17: Totoro Korean House (Niniane)

Today's lunch visitors were very funny. They told us about a site, for matrimonial matchmaking between South Asians. Apparently it's very fobby. They were quick to reiterate that none of them had ever used it, but they all knew about it.

One of them said, "You make fun of the site until one day, you realize it's gotten to the point where you need to use it. Then you are depressed for a day, and sit in your apartment feeling bad."

None of us had ever eaten at today's restaurant before. so we were all a bit wary.  My bulgoki was quite good.  I would definitely go back.  It was only $12 for lunch including tax and tip.

The waitress barked orders at us -- to move to a different table, to take our entrees from her when she brought them over.  It was strangely endearing, like having your mother boss you around in a harried tone of voice.  Yishan ordered fried chicken, which took twice as long as other entrees.  It turned out to be many pieces of chicken that were not battered and had clearly been cooked in a vat of oil.  I feel like this restaurant is "keepin' it real".

J told us about his surreal life last year, when he was doing his PhD thesis on software to help developing countries, but he'd also developed one of the best-selling iPhone apps.  By day, he was helping illiterate Pakistani villagers use a voice interface to interact with computers.  By night, he huddled in a tent, doing customer support for wealthy Americans.

On another note, we debated about which product would be more offensive to men: a product where the man's friends vote on what they think his salary should be, or one where his friends vote on which of ten women (of varying levels of attractiveness) he would be able to land.  I thought it would be the salary-voter, but the guys at lunch all agreed that the babe-voter would hit home harder.

Day 17: Totoro Korean House (Yishan)

I think it's worth mentioning that the fried chicken was cooked quick unskillfully. When you fry chicken (or any other food), what is happening is that the water inside is boiling outwards, creating an opposing force against the outside oil, which is trying to seep into the food. During this process the food is cooked (by the heat of the boiling water), while the pushing-out water and the pushing-in oil remain roughly at equilibrium.

If you fry the food for too long, the water inside eventually boils off and the oil wins the battle, simultaneously seeping into the food while the food becomes dried out (because the water is gone). So, skillfully-fried food is still juicy and not greasy because it's removed from the fryer after the food is cooked but before the water boils off, which keeps the oil on the outside - most of which also boils off from the residual heat, leaving it not particularly greasy. Unskillfully-fried food is greasy and dry. This fried chicken was unskillfully fried.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 16: Pho To Chau (Yishan)

Today was Pho To Chau. In case you don't know, this is like the cheapest place on the entire street and the food is correspondingly shabby. I haven't been here for years, ever since my wife and I first moved out to California.

Yesterday Jack Dorsey came to visit, and since Niniane was away meeting someone else, I decided to skip Brute Force Lunch Tour. It was only Jack's second time visiting downtown Mountain View, and it seemed uncouth to subject a guest to what I knew was going to be a terrible restaurant. We went to Shabuway instead. Now that I've eaten at Pho To Chau, I'm glad we did.

Today Niniane was up in San Francisco, and no one was in earshot at the office (Andrea and Alex came in after lunch, and Ed Lu met someone else for coffee), so I figured I should take one for the team and go to Pho To Chau alone and just take care of this one for the tour, so that at least only one person would have to suffer.

It was worse than I remembered. I even picked the soup that had the most "legitimate" meats (top round sirloin and flank steak), rather than the crazy stuff like intestines and tripe, but the whole thing was still kinda gross. I ate maybe half of my meal, paid for it (no credit cards accepted for under $10), and quickly got out of there. On the way back I got a yogurt cup at Posh Bagel to try and wash out the taste.

Having just finished the yogurt cup as I write this, I have to say that I highly recommend the delicious yogurt cups at Posh Bagel.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 15: Ryowa (Niniane)

Ryowa is my favorite ramen place in South Bay.  The noodles are chewy in a very satisfying way.

Hang had an idea for people finding carpooling partners.  This was inspired by him wanting to find a carpool to come to Sunfire from SF.

Day 15: Ryowa (Yishan)

Look at that picture there. The lunch today was totally by-Asians, for-Asians. The amount of musical instrument skill and calculus going on there would blow your mind.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 14: Villa 8 Buffet (Yishan)

Today's lunch was a precedent-setting decision for our brute force lunch tour, in that we had to resolve a corner case (literally) regarding whether to go to a restaurant that exists on a corner street within our one-block-deep traversal algorithm. Our decision was that we will go to the restaurant if there exists an entrance onto the property accessible from the street containing the traversal. In this case there was gap in the fence. Niniane was away on some other foreign adventure, so today's lunch included Taher, Alex, and me. The iPhone's front-facing camera is very useful for taking a picture of our lunch group without the introvert-disturbing need to ask a random person on the street to take a picture for us.

I've passed this restaurant many times but never eaten there. The advertised menu is quite intriguing, however, in that it is a pan-asian buffet - and the reality lives up to the hype, at least in quantity and variety if not quality. I was able to combine dim sum, fried chicken, steak, sushi, General Tso's chicken, soups, and soft-serve ice cream all in a single meal. You can see my first plate of food in the picture.

By the second plate, however, the reality of a pan-asian buffet began to set in - namely, that all the food had been cooked in similarly-flavored oils and was thoroughly mediocre in quality. The excitement of the grand variety had began to subside and was replaced with a conversation about McDonalds restaurants in other countries. Incidentally, this restaurant lets you eat free if it's your birthday and your party has five adults, and half-price if your party has three or four adults.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 13: King of Krung Siam (Yishan)

I dare say that I hate Thai food. Luckily, today I was lucky enough to order the "Honey Duck" dish, which was basically roasted and deboned duck, and has the distinction of being the first meal I've ever eaten at a Thai restaurant that wasn't (in my opinion) terribly disappointing. I would have liked more duck though.

Also, I ate a crab.

Day 13: King of Krung Siam (Niniane)

Today's visitor is Linda Avey, cofounder of 23andme.

We talked about health-related software products, and Sasank's medical information project.

I ate pumpkin chicken. It was pretty good, probably as good as Amarin.

Yishan had the honey duck.

As we walked back, we debated whether our brute-force method requires us to eat lunch at bakeries and cafes, such as Hong Kong Bakery, Red Rock Cafe, and Starbucks. Yishan convinced me to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Day 12: Zucca (Niniane)

This is the first time I've eaten at Zucca, despite living in Mountain View for six years. It is a very good restaurant! I definitely plan to eat here again.

Yishan took this photo using his iPhone.

Congrats to Chiu-ki (upper right) on finding a new job through Sunfire! Also congrats to Gogobot who was lucky enough to hire her. This is the first engineering hire made by one of our sponsors' portfolio companies through Sunfire.

We did a new opt-in system where each person orders the food for the person to their right, instead of their own food. It worked pretty well. Elaine was to my right, and gave me such exact specifications that I picked the dish she wanted. I was going to get kobe beef short ribs, but Yishan instead ordered salmon for me, which is probably healthier.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 12: Zucca

None of us had been to this restaurant before, though because it had been long-standing and fancy, I was reasonably sure it was a quality restaurant. I also think I heard that it was run by the same guy who owns Don Giovannis, further down up the street (it'll be a long time until we get to that one...).

The interesting thing today about lunch is that four people (out of the six today) opted in to the "order for someone else" arrangement which, after its backstory had been explained via a lengthy anecdote which I am too weary to repeat here, involved everyone in the opt-in circle having their lunch being ordered by someone else at the table. At first this idea seems foreign (even risky), but after you think about it, it's not that bad, and is a pretty good way to add some adventurism and unpredictability to your eating. The typical fear that someone might order something bad for you (or rather, the fear that you might order something the other person doesn't like) is greatly ameliorated by the fact that once you know only a few facts about the person's dietary restrictions (if any) and general preferences, you can usually narrow down the choices to a few likely options. From there, you don't actually have to get it exactly right - so long as you hit something close, the person will enjoy their meal, and the novelty besides.

Chiu-Ki Chan ordered the day's special for me, which was snapper. It was good. I ordered the grilled salmon for Niniane, who at least pretended to like it, despite trading away some of it to Elaine for some angel hair pasta.