Plus, a new Indian eatery arrives in Los Altos and warm cookies are headed to Palo Alto.
The Six Fifty’s Restaurant Roundup series is a monthly collection of the latest in breaking food news curated by food reporter and Peninsula Foodist author Elena Kadvany.
In this issue:
- MoDo Hawaii donuts come to Santa Clara
- Khao Kan Thai Kitchen opens in Mountain View
- Antoine’s Cookie Shop to launch mid-January in Palo Alto
- Former August 1 Five chef offers Indian cuisine in Los Altos
- Steins Beer Garden in Mountain View temporarily closes
- Palo Alto’s The Fish Market temporarily closes
MoDo Hawaii’s wildly popular mochi donuts arrive to the Bay Area
In 2018, a very long line of people snaked though the parking lot of Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose. They were waiting — some as long as five hours — to try MoDo Hawaii’s mochi donuts.
The immense popularity of the pop-up prompted the Honolulu donut shop to shift its focus to California. After two years of sold-out pop-ups and location scouting, MoDo Hawaii opened a store in Santa Clara in December.
MoDo’s first Bay Area location is at 2000 El Camino Real Suite 11, the former home of Psycho Donuts. It will join two MoDo Hawaii outposts in Southern California.
MoDo was born in a Mitsuwa Marketplace in Waikiki in 2017. The owners were inspired by Mister Donut, a fast food chain in Japan known for its “pon-de-ring” mochi donut.
MoDo’s donuts are made from a combination of rice and wheat flours, “the rice flour lending a soft-yet-chewy interior after biting through the thin, crisp exterior,” said co-owner Daniel Furumura. They’re fried and dipped in flavored glazes like coconut, matcha, black sesame and cookies and cream. You can eat them whole or pull apart the eight donut holes each donut is made from and eat them individually.
The Santa Clara menu will initially function the same way the pop-ups did, Furumura said, with three flavors that change daily (plus hot and cold coffee). The menu will eventually expand to include regularly available staple flavors and seasonal donuts.
Mochi donuts have been popularized in the Bay Area by Third Culture Bakery in Berkeley and Mochill Mochidonut in San Francisco. On the Peninsula, you can get mochi donuts at TeAmo Boba in Palo Alto and Binka Bites in South San Francisco.
Mountain View’s newest restaurant specializes in Thai street food
Pad Thai and green curry are on the menu at Khao Kang Thai Kitchen, but you’ll also find nam tok khor mhoo yang, a grilled pork salad from northeast Thailand, and som tum Laos, a Laos-style papaya salad amped up with anchovies and chili.
The restaurant opened in late November at 225 E. Middlefield Road in Mountain View. The owners, a husband and wife team from Thailand, want to bring “real” Thai food to the Peninsula, said manager Yanisa Thian.
The wife, who declined to use her name in this article, hails from a suburb close to Bangkok and has worked in the local restaurant industry for years. She’s a passionate cook, Thian said, and is heading the kitchen at Khao Kang. Her husband, Watcharin Chokchaitaweefup, is from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and runs Sawadee Thai Massage in the same Mountain View strip mall as the restaurant.
Every person working at Khao Kang is also from Thailand, Thian said.
“We are mainly concerned with real Thai food,” she said. “We don’t serve fusion or anything like that.”
Khao Kang is named for a type of Thai street food served over rice, Thian said. They make several versions, including kow ka pow (pork with basil, chili, garlic and onion over rice, topped with a fried egg) and kow kana (crispy pork belly with Chinese broccoli and garlic over rice and a fried egg). You can adjust the spice levels, from no spice to the hottest “Thai spice,” and also swap pork for chicken, tofu, prawns or beef.
The restaurant also serves esan dishes from northeast Thailand, where the food shows influences of the neighboring Laos, Thian said. There’s hor mok pla, or fish curry steamed in banana leaves, and kai jiaw moo sub, a crispy omelette with pork.
And that papaya salad with anchovies and chili is more flavorful and spice-packed than the versions local diners might be used to, Thian said.
“Most Thai restaurants here would serve Thai style (papaya salad) — only sweet and sour and nothing much going on. This is a lot more complex and a lot of flavor,” she said.
Other dishes on the menu include pineapple fried rice, tom yum soup, larb salad and grilled chicken.
Khao Kang replaced fast-casual Asian eatery Srasa Kitchen.
Khao Kang is open for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5–9:30 p.m.
Antoine’s Cookie Shop to bring warm chocolate chip cookies to Palo Alto
Late one night in 2013, Antoine Tang was craving a warm, freshly made cookie.
No bakeries were open at that hour, so he Googled “best chocolate chip cookie recipe” and tried his hand at making them on his own. After that night, he kept baking. He started bringing cookies to his church group, then graduated to selling them online. The business grew organically to the point that he quit his job at the Apple store and spent his days delivering cookies to homes and companies. In 2016, Tang opened Antoine’s Cookie Shop in downtown San Mateo.
He’s now gearing up to open a second location at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto in the new year. Tang is taking over the space where Babka by Ayelet closed earlier this year.
The first cookies Tang ever sold were chocolate chip, oatmeal chip and peanut butter cup. He would wake up at 3 a.m. to bake cookies, put his young daughter into a car seat in his red convertible and deliver throughout the Peninsula. He was obsessed in particular with chocolate chip cookies, constantly trying and comparing different bakeries’ versions.
“I’m the kind of guy that would drive to the mall and find parking just to go to Mrs. Fields and buy three cookies and go home,” Tang said. “I love cookies that much.”
The shop now also sells walnut chip, toffee, dark chocolate chip, white chocolate-macadamia and snickerdoodle cookies. Tang encourages his customers to ask for new cookie flavors. Many customers lobbied for the cookies and cream cookie, which is now his best seller, accounting for 22% of overall sales. (Social media posts also hint at a “secret” menu, including an Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookie.)
The Palo Alto location will sell the same cookies as the original San Mateo shop. Look for an opening in mid-January.
SF’s loss is the Peninsula’s gain: August 1 Five chef opens Indian restaurant in Los Altos
After modern Indian restaurant August 1 Five closed in San Francisco this past December, chef Manish Tyagi was left looking for a new job in the midst of the pandemic.
He ended up teaming up with his partner, Anupam Bhatia, who owns Broadway Masala in Redwood City, to bring a new Indian restaurant to downtown Los Altos. This week they opened Aurum at 132 State St. (the former home of high-end restaurant Ambience) for takeout and delivery only given the current public health restrictions.
Tyagi, who was born and raised in Dehradun, India, brings years of culinary experience at restaurants including the now-closed Amber Dhara in San Francisco and Rasika West End in Washington D.C. He also actually defeated chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” in 2018. (His winning dish? Paneer spinach lasagna.)
While the owners describe Aurum’s food as “modern” and “progressive,” the goal, Tyagi said, is to highlight “forgotten” and lesser-known dishes from throughout India. One example is junglee, a lamb stew that’s cooked over low heat in an enclosed vessel with mustard oil, coriander, cumin, garam masala and other spices for as long as two hours, Tyagi said. There’s also deccan shrimp, head-on shrimp that are grilled and served over a grits-like mixture of lentils and mung beans, he said.
The menu also includes a smoked chili paneer kebab; chicken biryani; pulled pork thepla tacos with fenugreek, cloves, chickpeas, bayleaf and sour cream; spicy lamb skewers with caramelized onion, yogurt, roasted coriander, cumin and fennel seeds; and several kinds of Indian breads. For dessert, there’s tapioca kheer (like rice pudding) with cardamom and saffron and chocolate rasmalai.
“We committed to bring forgotten recipes and the nostalgia of Indian cuisine,” Tyagi said.
The owners thought by the time Aurum opened, the restaurant would be able to at least serve people outdoors if not also indoors at limited capacity. With State Street closed to traffic, Aurum has enough space outdoors to seat 25 to 30 people.
For now, Tyagi is holding off on some dishes that he knows won’t hold up well in takeout boxes, like a shell made from semolina and whole wheat flour that’s stuffed with garbanzo beans, cucumber, yogurt, tamarind, mint and cilantro chutney. But operating as a takeout operation for now is almost like a soft opening that’s allowing Tyagi to tweak and hone dishes.
Aurum is open for takeout and delivery Tuesday-Sunday, 4–9 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Christmas but open on New Year’s Day.
‘Our best option of survival is to shut everything down.’ Mountain View’s Steins Beer Garden closes until spring
One of downtown Mountain View’s most popular eating and drinking establishments, Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant, has closed until further notice in the face of at least a month without outdoor dining.
Owner Ted Kim said he knew it would be impossible for the Villa Street restaurant to survive on takeout and delivery alone. Santa Clara County preemptively implemented the state’s regional stay-at-home order last month, requiring restaurants to shut down outdoor dining starting Sunday night until at least Jan. 4.
“After careful consideration our best option of survival is to shut everything down now, save as much money as we can and hope to reopen next year when (hopefully) a new stimulus bill is available, the vaccine is more ubiquitous and fear of COVID isn’t as prevalent in the area,” Kim said.
Kim had already closed Steins’ Cupertino location early in the shutdown, reduced his staff by more than half and had to apply for unemployment himself in April. He put plans to expand throughout California on hold.
When Santa Clara County allowed outdoor dining to resume this summer, sales rebounded to about 30% of what Steins usually makes, and even more so when indoor dining briefly resumed in the fall, Kim said. But the numbers started dropping again the last few weeks, to about 15 to 20% of normal sales.
“Even without the stay-at-home order, it was looking really tough. The stay-at-home order was just the nail in the coffin,” Kim said.
As soon as Kim heard the news about the local order taking effect, he rushed to notify his staff.
“For our staff, every paycheck is super vital and to suddenly realize you only have two more days of work and to start preparing for what you’re going to do next is very daunting,” he said. “This is the climate. This is how it’s been since March.”
In interviews since the county’s expedited the stay-at-home order, Kim and other local restaurant owners expressed dejection and frustration at the devastation small businesses are experiencing amidst increasing public health restrictions.
“We’re stuck in the middle of being in a state and county where we feel like there is an overwhelming leaning toward the health aspect of COVID, which we completely get (but) sometimes it feels like businesses are left at the wayside,” Kim said. “We get the restrictions, but send us more help.”
Locally, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved on Tuesday a new small business loan program in partnership with the state’s California Rebuilding Fund. The county hopes to provide an immediate $6 million in low-interest loans to small businesses as a first step in a program they hope will provide as much as $100 million in loans. The initial loans will range from $5,000 to $100,000, have a 4.25% interest rate and
be available for qualifying small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees. Several restaurant owners said relief like grants and tax forgiveness would be more impactful after frustrating experiences with the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and taking on other loans to keep their businesses afloat this year.
Kim hopes to reopen Steins next spring but will have to wait and see what things are like then.
“Not a single person isn’t feeling just really a little hopeless, a little burnt out,” Kim said of small business owners.
Palo Alto’s 44-year-old The Fish Market becomes latest restaurant to close temporarily
The Fish Market, which has served fresh seafood fare at 3150 El Camino Real in Palo Alto since 1976, is the latest local restaurant to shutter temporarily in the hopes that doing so will preserve the business long-term.
The Fish Market decided to close the original Palo Alto restaurant and a Santa Clara outpost this month, seeing the writing on the wall with rising coronavirus case counts and the likelihood of another shutdown, said Dwight Colton, president of Fish Market Restaurants. Soon after came the news that Santa Clara County would be preemptively implementing the state’s regional stay-at-home order, shutting down outdoor dining until at least Jan. 4.
Closing meant about 100 employees across the Palo Alto and Santa Clara Fish Markets were laid off.
“We’ve all lost sleep and have tried to map out any other option other than coming to this point,” Colton said, “but takeout and delivery options are just not sustainable for our buildings.”
The Fish Markets in Palo Alto and Santa Clara reopened this fall after several months of closures, but outdoor dining was “hit or miss,” Colton said. “It was very difficult to get traction and do enough business to make it sustainable.”
Colton is committed to reopening The Fish Markets in Palo Alto and Santa Clara sometime next year, when the COVID-19 vaccine starts to be available, weather improves and limited indoor dining can resume. Even with the previous limits on indoor dining — 25% capacity — being able to serve diners inside remains “the real key to the success of our restaurant,” Colton said.
“I think everybody in the industry initially, when we were talking about limited capacity, we couldn’t fathom how we’d make a go of our business at 25%. Most operators, ourselves included, have made significant changes to try to live in a 25% capacity world,” he added. “We’re not going to thrive at 25% but (would) be able to sustain the businesses.”
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