Thursday, February 17, 2011

Donato Enoteca: Dreamy Italian Dining in Redwood City

“For me, opening Donato Enoteca is a dream. It’s so gratifying to be able to create the kind of restaurant that honors my heritage and welcomes guests to my doors like they are part of my own family,” says Executive Chef Donato Scotti. “I want this to be a place where people will become regular guests and fall in love with the cooking, atmosphere and sense of Italian hospitality.”

Discovering Donato's is the kind of experience I yearn for when trying a new restaurant. My husband and I went to lunch at Donato's on a Friday in suburban downtown Redwood City, just a couple of blocks away from the Century movie theater and a few steps from City Hall.  We came for the food, but the clean, inviting decor and friendly service immediately put us at ease.

We shared a fresh mozzarella di bufala salad, which veered nicely from the description on the menu. With three types of tomatoes colored vibrant red, golden yellow, and watermelon pink, delicate, crisp coins of cucumber and a refreshing olive oil dressing with tiny ribbons of basil bursting with flavor, the star of the salad shone brightly.  I'd never had such soft, fresh mozzarella before, so tender and sparkling white, like a pillow of goodness inviting me into its creamy embrace. It definitely earned a place in my palate as insalate perfetto.

Brad and I each ordered fresh pasta dishes, something to warm and nourish us on this chilly, damp day. He ordered tagliatelle bolognese, a rich and hearty dish dripping with juicy flavor, just right for an Italian take on a meat and potatoes meal. He ate quickly and efficiently, sopping up the red-orange juices with bread from the basket, not leaving a single morsel of meat or pasta. Sometimes it amazes me how quickly Brad can inhale a meal, but this time I could empathize, and maybe I would eat that way too if no one was looking.

I chose the spaghetti carbonara, a dish not on the regular printed menu but one highly recommended on Yelp for its perfectly simple combination of pasta, guanciale (crispy pig's cheek bits) and sauce made from egg yolk and cheese. I admit the idea of pig's cheek sounded a bit off-putting, but one bite and I'm a convert for life. So much more flavorful than the usual bacon, the guanciale definitely made this dish one I can't forget, one I have to have again, and one that makes me want to go to Italy.

We finished off our delicious lunch with a shared tiramisu. It was creamy, lovely, and soothing, its layers holding different flavors and textures. Even though we weren't really hungry at this point, we always make room for this kind of dessert.

There's so much more to explore on the menu: squid ink pasta with calamari, pizza margherita, and chocolate hazelnut cake. Donato's definitely deserves its spot on the Michelin Guide 2010 recommended list. We'll be back for more.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Valerie's Su Hong Next Day Fried Rice

Su Hong Chinese food is like family. Its stir fries, rices, noodles, and dumplings connect me to my roots. The food brings sustenance to the table in the here and now, while at the same time transporting me to another place altogether. Just call it Chinese takeout nirvana.

It's true, we often order our standard favorites because they're what we look forward to and crave. We cannot deny ourselves the pleasure. For starters, a mix of potstickers, spring rolls, and crab cream cheese wontons does the trick. Next it's on to the tried and true elements of our family-style family meal: brown rice, orange peel beef, chicken chow mein, sauteed string beans, and spicy pepper chicken wings. Depending on our moods, we could just as likely order chicken with broccoli, combo chow fun, curry shrimp, or wonton soup.

If we had to pick one favorite, it would have to be the chicken chow mein. My kids could probably live on this dish for weeks. The thick, chewy noodles with the strips of white chicken, vegetables, and wonderful soy sauce concoction make a wonderful dish. My 11-year old daughter Amanda loves to hold up the longest noodle she can find to show us, since long noodles mean long life. This dish more than any other also brings me back to my childhood to a chicken chow mein that my Aunt So used to make at our big family holiday gatherings. She would make a very large metal pot full of chow mein, and it was always the one favorite dish I'd have every time as we made our way around the buffet tables, whether it was Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Chinese New Year's, or my grandmother Popo's birthday.

Everything we've had from Su Hong is good. The service is friendly and efficient, either at their restaurants or from their takeout. There's something for everyone. What little is left over makes a great lunch or ingredients for Valerie's awesome fried rice the next day. It's one of those recipes that requires no measurement or heavy lifting. Just use whatever leftovers you have. 

Some would argue that Su Hong, like many American Chinese restaurants, isn't very authentic. But to this Chinese American, Su Hong authentically rocks.

Valerie's Su Hong Next Day Fried Rice

Heat one to two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan on medium high.  Stir in leftover brown rice and heat through. Add in bite sized pieces of whatever leftovers you have such as meat, green beans, vegetables, and stir fry. Combine and stir with wooden spoon. Add in one beaten egg and stir continuously to cook and blend in. Add soy sauce to taste and serve hot. Easy and delicious.

Happy Year of the Rabbit!