Bay Area buffet
IHere’s food that pulls Silicon Valley technophiles away from their computers. T TAKES us a while to find one of those famous food trucks that often have queues of 50 people or more, but we finally track one down.
Lucky us, we find one of the most well-known ones in the San Francisco Bay Area and it would be serving in Silicon Valley that day. The bright red Sam’s Chowdermobile parked in front of the grey Cisco Webex offices in Santa Clara looks as out of place as the three-year-old girl and baby in a stroller amid the tech geeks lining up for their lunch.
Service is quick. A guy in the truck takes your order and your name, and calls out on a megaphone when it’s ready for pick-up. The most expensive thing on the short menu is Sam’s Lobster Roll. I try not to make the conversion into ringgit as I pay for the large French roll filled with the meat of half a small lobster and a whole claw, but when I taste it, I know the US$16.50 (RM50.75) is worth it. The Baja fish tacos and the clam chowder are also good.
A no-name nondescript food truck comes by a little later and stops 50m away in front of the Mcafee building next door. Affectionately, if unflatteringly, called a roach coach, it draws the junk food snackers with its deep-fried burritos, corn dogs and candy. Next to it, people are stepping up into a truck for mixed rice. It’s self-service and after choosing their dishes, the customers come outside to have the box of food weighed. There was a strong smell of gas coming from the truck when we were there but the vendor didn’t seem bothered when we mentioned it to him. Since there was nothing about a food truck explosion on the local news the next day, Chowboy must still be pootling around Silicon Valley.
Catering trucks have been around for a long time, servicing office workers in locations that did not have restaurants nearby. But it was partners Mark Manguera and chef Roy Choi who took these roving food providers to a new level when they set up The Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck in November 2008 in Los Angeles. They used Twitter to get the word out and it drew 300 to 800 customers everywhere it parked.
With Kogi-mania firmly in place, more and more trucks started rolling in, and this form of food service became an LA phenomenon. The trend then went national and nowadaysadays even established restaurants have set up their own food trucks to serve haute cuisine in styrofoam boxes amid less stuffy settings.
If you don’t catch one of these mobile food vendors, there’s plenty to whet your appetite at stationary food outlets as well. Driftwood Deli & Market in Palo Alto is frequented by cops, construction workers and college students (Stanford University is nearby). It serves a long list of hefty gourmet sandwiches in many combinations and you can even build your own. I had read that when you go to Driftwood, you’d better know what you want before you get to the counter because like the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld, owner Steve doesn’t tolerate dawdlers. But when I asked for a Pastrami Melt and a turkey sandwich, he pleasantly asked me my bread, cheese and garnish preferences and wasn’t at all impatient or hostile. My sister and I had the sandwiches in a toasted Dutch crunch roll. Also called Tiger bread for its striped crust, it is widely known as a Northern Californian/ Bay Area sandwich bread and has been around since the early 1900s or the 1960s depending on which source you read. Whatever the date, I’m glad I got to try it because its flavourful crust and texture are really special.
Another Californian specialty by way of Santa Maria is tri-tip steak. The central coast town was originally settled by Mexican cowboys called vaqueros, who invented a unique grill to cook the steak and a clever way of carving it to make it tender.
What used to be a cheap cut of beef that was only good for long, slow cooking because of its chewiness became popular – as with many foods, ingredients and kitchen tools – after big-name chefs started serving it in their restaurants, consequently boosting its popularity – and price. On Tri-tip Tuesdays, St John’s Bar & Grill in Sunnyvale serves sandwiches with slices of this grilled meat for almost US$10 (RM31.20) each!
Mexican food at its best is also found at La Bamba in Mountain View. Not to be confused with the sit-down restaurant chain with the same name, this taqueria has more of a “shack” appeal with just one table inside and a bar where you eat standing up. Most people come for a takeaway and the fellow at the burrito and taco station deftly makes two at a time, each with just one hand. The burritos are huge: stuffed into a large flour tortilla are