A March 2001 trip
to San Jose by Cheryl Morgan
Quote: I spend getting on for half the year in the San José area so I know the area quite well. What is more I have had to make a study of tourist attractions as part of my involvement in staging the 2002 World Science Fiction Convention (ConJosé) in the city.
In the food line I particularly like Mongo's. This is Mongolian Barbecue with a difference. You can really get inventive with your meal here. I also highly recommend Inca Gardens for something really different.
Finally, a quick word about the Plaza De Cesar Chavez. First, having a statue of an Aztec god is seriously cool. And second the fountains are really useful on a hot summer's day.
I will be adding to this journal piecemeal as Kevin and I get to try out more of San José's attractions.
Unlike nearby San Francisco, which is unrelentingly mild most of the year, San José can get very hot. If you are visiting in the summer, don't forget a hat and the sunscreen.
The idea behind fusion cuisine is that you get to pick and choose from a range of different cultural influences. Consequently Mongos offers you just about anything you could want to put on a stir fry. It has Thai spices, Mexican ingredients, even good old American barbecue sauce. You can have a lot of fun here. It takes a bit of practice to get good at mixing your meal, but that's all part of the experience.
One small problem with Mongos is that, unlike most Mongolian Barbecue restaurants, the price quoted is not for "all you can eat". Additional trips to the barbecue cost less than your first trip, but they do cost. This is a shame, as it discourages experimentation. You get best value for money from one trip and a very full bowl. Drinks are, as usual, extra.
I find Mongolian Barbecue an excellent option for large parties. Because you serve yourself there is no trouble with waiters who can't cope with a crowd, or with food only coming when the last meal is ready. Because you choose your own food there is generally no problem with people who can't eat certain things (though be warned that all meals are cooked on the one big hot plate, which might make people with serious allergies nervous). Even sorting out the bill afterwards isn't that hard because everyone is paying about the same. The only real problem occurs if some people have ordered beer and others haven't.
Finally a word about the name. Mongo's is, of course, named after Planet Mongo, the home of the Emperor Ming of Flash Gordon fame. The décor is appropriate. I'm not sure what native Mongolians will make of this, but for California it is a seriously cute concept.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 9, 2001
83 S. Second Street
San Jose, California
Restaurant | "The City Grill & Bar"
The City Grill & Bar is a classic American style restaurant serving burgers, pasta, sandwiches and a variety of mainly Italian-inspired other main courses. As you might expect from a major hotel restaurant, the surroundings are very pleasant and comfortable. The menu is extensive, and quite a few of us found it hard to decide what to choose. Out of the 10 of us I think we ordered 8 different dishes.
Few restaurants enjoy serving large parties, though considering some of the mobs I have eaten with 10 people should not have stretched the staff too much. One of our number whose legs had given out during the morning and had been waiting in the hotel said that service had been very swift prior to our arrival. Sadly that was not continued. Although we pointed out that some of us had to be on our way after an hour it took more than half an hour between our ordering and the food arriving. In fact we asked where the food was, at which point it appeared immediately suggesting that it had been ready for a while.
There was also a bit of confusion over who had ordered what, which should not really happen with only 10 people. When an incorrect main course is served, but is replaced by the right meal immediately and there's no sign of any other diners for whom the wrong meal might have been intended you start to wonder how much the meals are pre-prepared, and therefore why it took so long to serve us.
The food, when it arrived, was OK, but not spectacular. Maybe we had been expecting too much after the posh surroundings and interesting menu, but what we got was the sort of food you could get in any number of similar, but lower-priced, establishments. No one had any serious complaints about what they were served, but most of us felt vaguely disappointed.
I think that if you are staying in the Hilton and do not want to have to go out and look for food you will find The City Grill & Bar adequate. Certainly there will be no lack of variety if you end up eating there several days. However, San José can offer better eating than this so do experiment if you can. I got the impression that the staff regarded us as a nuisance. I will take the hint and not go back.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on April 9, 2001
The City Grill & Bar
300 Almaden Blvd
San Jose, California 95110
Restaurant | "The Coffee Garden - DoubleTree Hotel"
Some of the others in the party ordered salads and were surprised at the quantity of food they were presented with: very big bowls indeed. Most of the sandwiches came with very big piles of cutely cut fries. When it came down to protein, however, the restaurant was surprisingly stingy. My piece of salmon was very small. It was small for a British restaurant, let alone an American one. Given the piles of fries, I don't think that the restaurant can be accused of trying to be healthy, so it must have been being cheap.
Probably the best use of the Coffee Garden is just that, a place to hang out and have a coffee and a pastry. The restaurant has what the DoubleTree calls an "al fresco" style. It isn't actually outside, but it is not walled off from the rest of the hotel. Thus it is a very easy place to find people during a busy convention. If you want a good meal, there are better places in San José, and indeed in the DoubleTree, to get one.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 9, 2001
2050 Gateway pl
San Jose, California 95110
Restaurant | "Trials"
Trials is a British pub in the heart of San José. It is close to the law courts (hence the name) and is therefore a couple of blocks away from the city centre. It is, however, right on the light rail line, and that runs all night, so you can get home regardless of how many pints you have had. The owners, who are Brits themselves, probably chose the location because it got them an old, Victorian building with exactly the right atmosphere for a pub. If it wasn't for the fact that the bar staff has American accents rather than Australian you could easily believe that you were in London. The look of the place says that, the beer selection says that, and so does the menu.
Fanaticism about warm beer is one of those facets of the British character that I have somehow managed to avoid. I like a good pint of Guinness, but that is served cold, as are most Australian and American microbrews. I am thus poorly qualified to pronounce on the quality of the beer that Trials serves. I did, however, note that they had Boddingtons, Tetleys and Fullers ESB on tap. There was also a fine selection of bottled beers from Youngs, Sam Smiths and even Bellhaven. This is in marked contrast to other supposed British pubs in the Bay Area, all of which seem to serve mainly Harp, Bass and (yeuch!) Newcastle Brown.
Kevin and I visited Trials after going to Peggy Sue's for dinner so we were not in need of food. However, the menu looked strangely familiar: bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, fish & chips. Trials serves all those things that you used to get in British pubs before they discovered the convenience of badly microwaved pots of rubbery lasagne.
I very much liked this place, and I'm sure I will be back many times. For British tourists in the USA it is a small reminder of home. For Americans is an authentic taste of London without having to go there, and without the smog of traffic and cigarette fumes that would permeate a real city pub. Thank you again, cls223.
265 N 1st Street
San Jose, California 95113
408 947 0497
Ok, let me elaborate on that. Peggy Sue's is a traditional American burger bar located in San José's San Pedro Square restaurant district. The type of food it serves would be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever eaten at that place with the big yellow M. You get burgers with a variety of fillings; you get fries in a variety of shapes; you get milk shakes and coffee. You even get to order at the counter, just like you do in any fast food outlet.
So what is the difference? Firstly what you get is food, not processed organic produce that has been scientifically optimised to provide the maximum speed of delivery at minimum cost. There is much more variety too. Peggy Sue's has a wide range of different burgers on offer, and you have to love a place that calls one of its offerings the "Ed Sullivan" because "it is the most boring thing we sell".
The décor is different too. Whereas a McDonalds is clinically low maintenance and inoffensive, Peggy Sue's is overflowing with American culture. About half of the walls are covered in movie posters and photos of movie stars. The rest are covered in pictures of sporting heroes. Given San Pedro Square's proximity to the Shark Tank, most of the sport emphasis is on ice hockey. There are signed hockey sticks hanging everywhere.
Basically Peggy Sue's is the sort of place that you expect real teenagers to hang out (or at least they might have done in the 50s before they discovered drugs). It has style, it has character, it has a pinball machine and bubble gum dispensers. What is more, you won't find a store exactly like it in every town centre in every country in the world.
Of course this is not the sort of place that you would go for gourmet food. Burgers are burgers, after all. I was particularly disappointed with the milk shakes because, in the American style, they tasted more of sugar than anything else. I wish I had tried the cheesecake instead. But it is cheap, it is convenient, it is fun, and it doesn't make you feel like part of a factory production line.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 9, 2001
29 North San Pedro
San Jose, California 95110
When Kevin and I first looked at the menu we felt absolutely spoiled for choice. There was so much that was different and interesting. For my starter, I tried the Papa Rellena: potato stuffed with meat, raisins and olives. I think what they did was take a ball of the stuffing, wrap it in perfectly cooked mashed potato, and quickly deep-fry it. Whatever they did, the result was stunning. Wow.
Kevin began with a seafood combination, and has a warning for the faint hearted. If you get the jitters at the sight of baby octopus, don't order seafood in a Peruvian restaurant. We ate it though, and both of us went on to have fish for our main course. Kevin decided that was probably a mistake, given the mountain of prawns, squid, etc. that he had just consumed, but I was very happy with my grilled snapper. More importantly, I was stunned by the rice. The menu goes on about the famous Peruvian white rice, but I didn't believe them until I tasted it. Once again, wow.
Now here is something very strange: a restaurant review in which the two things I liked most were potatoes and rice. Which is not to say that the other food was poor, it wasn't. What it says is that even the most humble of ingredients, if well cooked, can provide a delicious meal. If you think that potatoes and rice are boring, come and eat at Inca Gardens and be proved wrong.
Peru doesn't have much of a local wine industry, but other South American countries do. The wine list was exclusively from Chile and Argentina. These countries are increasingly becoming known for producing wine that is just as good as that from Europe, Australia and California, but at a much lower price. If you have the kids with you they must try the Chica Morada, a drink made from purple corn. Yes, really, a purple drink made without food colouring. Kevin says it tastes a bit like iced tea. Some of the fruit juice combinations are wonderful too.
If you have a few days in San José you must try this place. The food is good, and you will have great difficulty finding anything like it outside of Peru (or perhaps Madrid). And while you are there you can browse round the Machu Picchu Gallery of the Americas (see separate entry).
87 E San Fernando Street
San Jose, California 95113
Attraction | "The Tech Museum"
This year being 2001 there was the inevitable space exhibit. Much of it is based around the science fiction art of Robert McCall, but the premise behind the exhibition is to look at how far science has actually come in reproducing what science fiction predicted.
As might be expected, The Tech revels in computer-based exhibits. There is a digital media workshop in which you can make a complete multi-media presentation: audio, video, animation, the lot. You can also create your own web site and publish it on the museum's web site for all the world to see. And, of course, you can take a virtual reality tour of the museum.
Still in the computer vein, there is a section devoted to computer-aided design. You can design your own bicycle. Alternatively, if that is a bit too safe, design your own roller coaster and then sit down to watch a computer-simulated video of what it would be like to ride it.
A large area of the museum is now given over the medical technology. This ranges all the way from how the body works to genetics to the latest surgical techniques. Have you ever fancied trying keyhole surgery? The museum has a very brave mannequin whose job it is to be operated upon by scores of budding surgeons.
And of course there is much more. You can feel what it is like to experience an earthquake, ride in an astronaut's jetpack, and flick through a catalogue of some of the best photographs taken by the Hubble telescope. Just about everything is hands-on, and every opportunity is taken to make use of technology to enhance the museum experience. The Tech isn't that big a museum, but if you stop to play with all of the toys on offer you will be there all day and still not have tried everything. That, of course, means that you will have to come back the next day for the IMax cinema.
Tech Museum of Innovation
201 South Market Street
San Jose, California 95113
Attraction | "The Children's Discovery Museum"
Take, for example, the latest exhibition. It is entitled, "The Science of Oz". What science? I hear you ask. Surely The Wizard of Oz is a fantasy film. And so it is, but it is a film that kids love, and with a bit of imagination they can be taught a lot through thinking about the film. For example, what is a rainbow, and why is it those funny colours? What is this heart thing that the Tin Man wanted, and what does it do? What do you look like if you are bathed in green light, or look through green tinted spectacles? How does a hot air balloon work? And, of course, there is a blue screen set-up so that you can see how the film was made, and see yourself in Oz.
A similar level of imagination has gone into the seeds exhibit. I particularly liked the "warehouse". This was a room full of crates; each marked with the name of a country. The crates had spy-holes in them through which the kids could see artefacts associated with grain farming, each of which came from the country marked on the crate. There was also a map on the wall showing the countries from which the crates came. The whole exhibit had been turned into a game. Plus there was a spice-sniffing area, and a making-music-from-seeds area.
There is a lot of other stuff too. For example there are exhibits on the uses of springs and electricity. There is even a small amateur radio station that is decorated with postcards from hams around the world who have been contacted by kids using the museum. I spotted cards from as far away as Australia and Luxembourg.
Whoever is in charge of this museum has thought long and hard about entertaining kids. I haven't had the chance to test it out with actual kids, but it seems to be that it is very well done.
Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose
180 Woz Way
San Jose, California 95110
Attraction | "The Machu Picchu Gallery of the Americas"
The Machu Picchu Gallery of the Americas shares its home with the Inca Gardens restaurant (see separate entry). Despite what it might seem like from outside, you do not have to eat at the restaurant in order to view the Gallery. Just walk in and ask the restaurant staff if you can look around.
The Gallery is the brainchild of the restaurant's owner, Olga Enciso Smith, and it represents her attempt to preserve the culture of her native Peru in her new home of the USA. Given the way in which American culture seems to be taking over the world, it is a delight to see one brave Peruvian immigrant determined to preserve the memory of her homeland.
The material in the Gallery is highly varied. There are some fabulous examples of that intricate woven work for which Peru is so justly famous. Alongside that you will find what looks suspiciously like tourist a trap, and next to that will be new CDs of work by Peruvian folk musicians, and jewelry made by native craftswomen in Peru. It isn't highly organised, but it is free, and it is the work of someone who cares deeply about what she is doing. If all it does is plant the thought in your mind that you really should visit Peru then Olga will probably be very happy indeed.
Machu Picchu Folk Art Gallery & Books of the Americas
87 East San Fernando Street
San Jose, California
Attraction | "The Adobe and Fallon Houses"
In 1774 an adventurer named Juan Bautista de Anza set off from New Spain (Mexico) with a few soldiers to survey a land route to San Francisco. He made it as far as Monterey, returned home in triumph, and the following year set off again with 245 settlers. The journey took a little longer with such a big train, but the expedition made it safely through and arrived in the Bay Area early in 1776. They probably had no knowledge of the momentous events that were developing on the East Coast of North America that year.
The following year some of the expedition members founded the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. It was the first city to be founded in California. An Apache Indian who traveled with the De Anza Expedition built a house in the adobe style in the new Pueblo. This became the home of Don Luis Maria Peralta, the city's first civil leader. It dates from 1797.
San José remained a Spanish settlement until the Mexican War. On July 14, 1846, the city was captured by US forces under the command of Captain Thomas Fallon. Fallon stayed on in the area, and later became Mayor of the city. In 1855 he built a fine Victorian mansion just across the road from Peralta's adobe house.
Both buildings have been preserved by the City of San José and are open to the public ($6 for one, $10 for both). They might be small, but you won't find much European history in California that is quite so old.
Peralta Adobe & Fallon House
175 West Saint John Street
San Jose, California 95110
San Jose, CA