Observations on Food in the Bay Area
Tao Cafe 6/05
website - This was my second visit, and as such will be a somewhat shorter review. For more details, check out my first visit from the column on the right.
This time I wanted to try out the $15 prix fixe option. Sunday through Thursday, diners can spend about $15 (some options can adjust it a buck or two up or down) for one of 4 appetizers, one of a number of noodle options, and a dessert. Having not had their noodle dishes before, I thought this a good excuse to try them.
Given that the wine list starts around $24 for anything we felt like drinking, we elected to bring in a bottle of Eroica Riesling, which went marvelously with everything we ate, for their corkage price of $12. Personally, I'd say $12 is a price point which says "we put a reasonable amount of effort into our wine list, so we'd prefer that you order some of ours, but we don't mind too much if you bring your own." In other words, it's a bit on the high side, but not horrible. Their wine list is really pretty good and wide ranging, though, so it's worth looking over as you'll likely find lots of interesting options you haven't had.
You're offered a choice of crispy rolls, either shrimp or vegetarian, or an interesting sounding salad which also had a non-veggie version. We both went with the shrimp rolls, which come out as 3 small rolls, accompanied by some large wrap-sized lettuce leaves, multiple sprigs of fresh mint, some rice noodles, and a delicious dipping sauce that I couldn't stop eating. The rolls were crispy and had the perfect balance of stuffing to wrapping, with neither overpowering the other. And there's really nothing like fresh mint - it added a wonderful crisp flavor to everything.
They offer an impressive selection of noodle dishes, from simple to suprisingly complex, on your choice of 3 types of noodles.
5-spice beef stew over rice noodles - This was not at all what I expected! Not at all what I'd call a stew, it was much closer to a Pho dish. Arriving as a large bowl of broth, noodles, chunks of beef and veggies, it even had the aroma of Pho. Being a pho phan (ha) I didn't complain at all. I'm not quite sure where the 5 spices went, though, as they really weren't terribly noticeable. This was a very tasty dish, but basically Pho with tender chunks of beef and a slightly different flavor and a rich wonderful broth.
Tofu in coconut sauce with chicken - This was tofu and chicken on a pile of noodles (though still in a bowl) with a vast quantity of coconut sauce, but not so much that it became a soup. It was accompanied by a side dish of spicy sauce which you could add to your personal preference. My date, to her slight dismay, dumped in the entire bowl, which resulted in a slightly spicier meal than she'd anticipated. I thought it provided a perfect level of spice to combat the creamy sweetness of the coconut, however. A very rich dish, it was very good, and the tofu was only just barely firm enough to stand up to delicate use of chopsticks - as it should be!
Again, a few options, from which we chose:
Chocolate ice cream - really more like gelato in both flavor and texture, this was dark rich chocolatey goodness!
Fried banana - served in little triangles which may or may not have been wrapped in a light dough (or simply well deep-fried), the banana was hot and tasty, and was accompanied by more chocolate ice cream! As we all know, chocolate and banana are a match made in heaven, so this was just great. I loved how the hot banana chunks would melt the ice cream, and were handy for scooping it out.
A very tasty dinner in a great setting, just across the street from my house, and all for a reasonable price! What more could you ask? Our bill came to a total of a little above $50 after tip.