Tag Archive for dinner

Afghan Village

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The husband and I ended up at Afghan Village after a quick Yelp search from the freeway when our hunger post-wine-tasting had reached critical levels. So that hunger may have influenced my opinion of the establishment, but honestly, I think Afghan Village just plain has amazing food despite mixed Yelp reviews.

It’s located in a dark strip mall, and the restaurant was just starting to get patrons in the early evening, around 6 pm. Traditional, elaborate decorations adorn the walls. Gold, white, and red were the primary colors of the room.

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It gave of the vibe of a special occasion restaurant, the type where a large family would rent half the room for a birthday or wedding celebration—the two throne chairs in the center of the restaurant definitely contributed to that effect. The décor made the place seem vast when not filled, but it was pleasant to gape at, regardless.

Service was prompt. Because of our hunger, an appetizer was a must.

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Those are potatoes pakora, and I loved them. The spices in the besan flour batter made for an intriguing blend, and the cilantro chutney banished any potential for blandness. It was a healthy helping, too. Despite that glossy sheen, they didn’t taste at all greasy and had a crisp exterior.

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Star Bene

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When I went to school in Santa Cruz, Star Bene was one of the fancier restaurants I heard about but never had the chance to go to because (a) it was outside the range of my college student budget and (b) none of my dates chose it for dinner. Thus, it remained an out-of-reach of restaurant that people went to on dates in my mind’s eye for the last decade. So when my husband and I stayed overnight at the lovely Bella Notte on East Cliff Drive last month, I was delighted to realize Star Bene was right down the street. My chance to live out a college fantasy was in reach.

The atmosphere of Star Bene lived up to that fantasy pretty well.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

It’s standard for an Italian restaurant with moderately dim and warm mood lighting, welcoming staff, dusty bottles of wine on the table, a patio area closed for the season, and an enclosed courtyard out back that looked quite swanky and I wish we’d been sat in—we didn’t notice it until later in the meal.

The cuisine is a typical menu of Italian food with some Spanish influence and a specials menu of Argentinian fare.  I’m not sure the specials menu actually changes, but it was a separate sheet regardless. They offer a wine and beer list as well—I should note that we didn’t particularly enjoy the chianti we ordered, but I can’t remember its name. Sorry! Bad food blogger.

The bread service was notable for the dipping ingredients arranged by color to mimic the Italian flag.

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I’d actually recommend not mixing them up; the tomato, parmesan, and herb flavors were best appreciated separately when dipping.  The bread itself was unremarkable Italian baguette rounds.

We decided to order from both the Argentinian and Italian menus, starting off with a beef empanada.

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It’s made with ground top sirloin, cumin, bell peppers, caramelized onions, green olives, and hard-boiled egg and it was delicious—the star of our meal. Empanada pockets vary greatly, and this one had a hard outer shell with a satisfying crunch while maintaining a nice and moist inner layer. The filling was very flavorful, enough to make me wish I’d stuck with the Argentinian menu for the main course as well.

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Pappo

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Being a relatively young foodie, my taste buds have grown up on Farm to Fork/Farm to Table/Nouveau American/New Californian/Californian or just plain upscale cuisine that uses products from local vendors and a blend of different styles that highlight the ingredients’ natural flavors. As expected, the Bay Area is swimming in options for that particular brand of cooking, but I’ve discovered that a plethora of offerings sometimes means a plethora of mediocre attempts at it. After a string of those, I was thrilled to stumble upon Pappo on a dinner and movie night with my husband.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is understated, just a mix of brick, leather, wood, and brown-gray walls adorned with blown-up pictures of water droplets. It was sleek and cozy at the same time with welcoming, speedy service from the servers and kitchen.

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I don’t have the particulars of my husband’s meal, not having expected to do a review that evening, but it was essentially a duck leg from Liberty Ranch with roasted root vegetables and broccolini.

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Insert my obligatory apology for fuzzy cell phone pictures here. The husband said the duck was good. I tried a bite of the vegetables and they were perfectly roasted, bringing out great flavor in both the starches and the broccolini. Whatever broth was served with them was exquisite.

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