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Category Archives: Bike Date

Bike Date: Time Stands Still at Vahl’s in Alviso

Rolling up to it, the flickering old neon sign looked like it came straight out of 1952. Walking in, I felt like I was in a Scorsese film. Seriously. It was like time capsule where you have a big dining area, some old décor and well, pretty much a mixture of old charm ambiance and glossy-pink and baby-blue cake frosting painted walls.

I think the bar is the only reason why this place is still open. There are always a handful of locals in here, which accounts for about 75% of the Alviso population. If you read all the reviews, you’ll find they all say the exact same thing. But depending on the kind of person you are, it will either be a 1-star or a 5-star. For me, a 5-star.

Truthfully, the reviews on Yelp are where I stole everything I wrote above (including the title) from five different reviewers. Call me a plagiarist. The reviews and the retro building have intrigued me for so long that Vahl’s has been on our Bike Date Friday bucket list since I worked in Palo Alto, about 12 miles north on the Bay Trail.

After I moved to my new job just six mile south on the Guadalupe River Trail, it moved up on the list. But it took an upcoming 10 month closure to pave the trail to get us down there last Friday. It was well worth the sketchy gravel ride on our touring bikes with overfilled tires. Why did we fill them to 90+ psi?

Along the way to Alviso we crossed the river to see the James Lick Mill and Mansion. Built in 1855, when there were few settlers in the area, it’s now surrounded by suburbia, smack dab in the middle of an apartment complex. I correct myself, a luxury gated apartment community. Since we arrived just past the official 9am-6pm visiting hours, a helpful resident let us through the gate to see the mansion and the mill.

The story of James Lick has the makings of a Gabriel García Márquez novel: an unplanned pregnancy, a father refusing his daughter’s hand to a man of no means, the young man escaping to Argentina, Peru and then San Francisco to make his fortune in a lifelong battle to win his bride. Monetary success, romantic failure, and a legacy that lives today. I can’t do the story justice here. I encourage you to read about his amazing life.

Fast forward a few miles and a century later and we’re at Vahl’s in Alviso drinking Manhattans and eating what was considered upscale Italian in the 1950s in a dining room of mixed vintage–none of it currently in fashion. Meanwhile, the real soul of Vahl’s is carrying on in the bar, where a packed house of 80-somethings were belting out the hits of another generation, karaoke style, and shuffling along cheek to cheek.

“Anything that’s older than my parents has longevity for a reason,” one of the Yelp reviewers wrote. How true. Another wrote: “The fact that a place like Vahl’s still exists and is not overrun with people under the age of 30 is empirical evidence that Hipsters do not exist in the South Bay.” I don’t think that’s true, they just haven’t followed the Guadalupe River down to Alviso yet. I’m hoping the hipsters don’t find Vahl’s before we make it back there.

Is there a place near you that’s stuck in a time warp? Would you be sad if it went away–or worse, remodeled?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Bike Date, Local History

 

Bike Date Friday: Under the Big Top

When I accepted my new job based in San Jose, over 10 miles from home, I didn’t know whether our Friday night bike dates would work. There are some good restaurants in downtown San Jose, but most of the routes home cross suburban style office parks and industrial areas with higher speed traffic. Hardly romantic. But after I shifted my commute to a combined bike + train ride, the opportunities opened right up. By putting the Caltrain in the mix, Dick and I can go out anywhere between San Jose and San Francisco.

I got the idea for our first San Jose bike date as I rode up the Guadalupe River Trail on my way to work. The big blue and yellow tents under the Taylor Street Bridge could only mean one thing: Cirque du Soliel was back in town! A couple of mouse clicks later back at my desk and we were set for the 8 o’clock Friday night show.

On show night I met Dick at the train station and we rode to San Pedro Square to grab a bite before the show. Vaguely reminiscent of Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale, San Pedro Square is a one-block historic district that was spared from urban development and now is primarily a restaurant row.

We made a quick decision, locked the bikes on a nearby bike rack, and got a table at San Pedro Bistro & Wine just in time to beat the crowd that soon developed in this relatively small restaurant. The food was better than average and we enjoyed a leisurely meal, neither rushed by the clock nor our server. Then it was back on the bikes and up the Guadalupe River Trail a couple of miles to the Cirque du Soliel big top.

We rolled past the expected line of cars waiting for parking and up to the gate, where I asked the attendant how to get to the bike rack I had seen when we rode past. “That bike rack is for employees only. We don’t have bike parking for attendees,” he said. “Then where can we park?,” we asked. He radioed in to ask the manager, then said we could lock up on the fence outside the gate. He assured us he would be standing nearby all night and would keep an eye on them. A kind gesture.

The show was everything I had come to expect from many years of Cirque du Soliel shows: athleticism, grace, drama and lyricism. What I didn’t expect was that the show ran over 2 1/2 hours with a 30 minute intermission. Their “Love” show we saw in Las Vegas ran only 90 minutes. With the last train leaving San Jose at 10:30 we had a tough decision: stay for the whole show or ride the 13 miles home late at night.

We wavered. Dick was tired from a hilly 50+ mile ride earlier that day, so we should take the train. But we’d miss the grand finale and the ride home is flat, so we should ride. When time came to leave for the train, Dick whispered: “Let’s ride.” So we did, rolling out past the pedicabs ferrying people back to their cars, over the Taylor Street Bridge, and into the dark.

The most direct route home was El Camino Real, a six lane road that serves as the commercial and retail backbone of the Peninsula. Definitely not a route to take during business hours. But after everything is closed and the wide parking lane is empty, it was surprisingly mellow. So mellow that we ended up taking El Camino the whole way up to Mountain View even after we could have turned off and ridden neighborhood streets. An hour later we were home, warm and safe in our beds just before midnight.

Have you ever been completely surprised how safe a seemingly scary bike route can be? Is there a route that you take only on the off-off hours?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Bike Date

 

Bike Date Friday: Dining with the Queen

The good news came while we were in Southern California–I got an offer for a full-time job! The company is top notch, the people I’d met were cool, the compensation outstanding and their location in San Jose is within biking distance from home. I didn’t have to think long before I accepted.

To celebrate, Dick and I splurged on dinner at Sir Winston’s on the Queen Mary. Restaurants in tourist destinations usually don’t have the best in food and are often pricey, but Sir Winston’s got great ratings on Yelp. Plus we wanted to tour the ship anyway. So I made dinner reservations on OpenTable and rushed down to the Queen Mary ticket office and booked passage on the Twilight Tour later that evening.

As darkness fell, we slapped lights on our rental bikes and cruised a short half mile down the waterfront path. The air and water were surprisingly still–all the better for reflecting the lights from the city. We found the well-hidden bike rack and took the elevator up to the promenade deck to start our tour.

With her maiden voyage at the height of the Great Depression, the Queen Mary symbolized the grand life and sleek sophistication at a time when few could afford such luxury. During World War II she served her country ferrying troops across the ocean to fight for the Allied forces, carrying to up to 16,000 people in a trip–more than six times greater capacity than in her peacetime voyages.

After oohing and aahing the beautiful wood paneling, furniture and fixtures and watching children’s eyes grow wide during the ghost stories, we headed up a metal flight of stairs to an upper deck for dinner at Sir Winston’s. It was old school elegant with a glorious view and utterly divine. The perfect way to celebrate.

How do you like to celebrate the big days and happy occasions in your life? A fancy dinner, an expensive trip, a big party or simply a quiet evening with friends?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Bike Date, Travel

 

Bike Date Frugal: Sweet Deals About Town

I’ve never been one to clip coupons, even back in the day when I lived in a studio apartment and had to save for three months to buy my first microwave oven. Ditto for waking up early for day after Thanksgiving sales and being the seventh caller to radio stations for concert tickets. And when my friends and co-workers would swap stories about the daily deals they had bought on Groupon, I had no interest in signing up.

But when I saw that Dine About Town was returning this year, my mouth started watering. During the two short weeks of Dine About Town, the finest San Francisco restaurants offer prix fixe meals at a bargain $17.95 for a two-course lunch and $34.95 for a three-course dinner. Over 100 restaurants are participating this year, including Michelin-starred Campton Place, a personal favorite. It was worth the train ride to the city.

I love top-tier restaurants for their service. Our waiter Paul was a “dining concierge” with insider information for a customized dining experience. “Don’t get the salad, you can have that at home. The soup is divine,” he said. “If you’re allergic to mushrooms, you can still have the soup since they go in at the end. But skip the short ribs; the glacé is made with mushrooms. Have the sea bass.” He also selected the wine flight we split: a white with a crisp crabapple nose for the soup course, and a somewhat oaky chardonnay for the sea bass.

Dick didn’t need any help selecting dessert, a chocolate cake with a scoop of raspberry sorbet. I was lucky to get a spoonful. Total bill was $73 before tip, which was a fat one per Paul’s excellent guidance. Not a cheap meal, but significantly less than what we’ve spent on bike dates at restaurants of a lower caliber.

We’ve also found deals closer to home, like a Groupon-style deal for Taverna Bistro that popped up when I was looking for a restaurant on Yelp last week: $12 for a $20 credit at the restaurant. The restaurant looked interesting anyway and I like Murphy Avenue, a quaint single block that Sunnyvale preserved when the city replaced its historic downtown with a shopping mall in the 1970s.

As the Yelp reviews indicated, the meal was quite good. And the deal was easy to redeem by giving the waitress the code from the Yelp app on my iPhone. So easy, if fact, that I’m now signed up for Groupon and LivingSocial. We’ll see where that takes us next.

Are you a deal hound or is it too much to deal with? Is there a particular type of deal you just can’t pass up?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Bike Date

 

Bike Date Friday: Shokolaat and Christmas Lights

When the going gets tough, the tough reach for chocolate. So when an unexpected announcement at work late last week signaled a BIG UNKNOWN, it was only natural that our dinner choice for Bike Date Friday be Shokolaat, a restaurant known more for their desserts than their meals.

If you haven’t sounded out the name yet, Shokolaat is phonetic spelling for chocolate in French. We had a nice dinner followed by much nicer chocolate desserts and waited for the endorphins to kick in.

The endorphins did kick in, but I think it was more due to the relaxing ambiance of the intimate restaurant than the chocolate. Or maybe it was due to our cruise on our way home through the Old Palo Alto neighborhoods all lit up for Christmas. Outdoor lights are one of my favorite things about the holidays, more special to me than Christmas sweets and gifts.

This year, Christmas Tree Lane on Fulton Street was a disappointment since their official opening was Saturday, but their neighbors on surrounding streets made up for it with a good show. And yet, my favorites of the night were around the corner from our home in Mountain View, as Dorothy would say, in our very own backyard.

At the end of our little tour, I rolled into the garage with a small smile on my face, peace in my heart, and a feeling that everything would work out just fine.

When you’ve heard some unsettling news, what do you do to pick your mood up?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Bike Date

 

Bike Date Blasé at Kabul Restaurant

Last Friday’s bike date was nothing to write home about. Not that the food wasn’t tasty or unique: our authentic Afghan meal of lamb and chicken kabobs and a vegetable platter of pumpkin, spinach and spicy cauliflower was exceptional, worthy of the long waiting list that formed as we ate.

The bike route to the restaurant wasn’t bad either. We took the Stevens Creek Trail, cut through two bike-only access points into Sunnyvale and then traversed the grid of an older neighborhood, approaching the restaurant from the rear. Very important since the restaurant is located in a strip mall on the bike-unfriendly El Camino Real. Given its location, I didn’t expect a bike rack, but there weren’t even any sign posts to lock up to. Just an inhospitable “no bikes on sidewalk” sign on a brick pillar. Sigh.

After the date, we wondered: why was this date so dull? After a year of weekly bike dates, has it become stale? Have we run out of places to go? Has Bike Date Friday become passé, or have we just become blasé? We’ve had other dates that didn’t turn out as expected. Where we couldn’t get a table without a long wait, where the food wasn’t that great, where we faced a rude driver on the way to the restaurant. But the date was always fun, never dull.

I think the difference is that we usually choose restaurants in walking districts, not strip malls, so there’s a lot more going on. If we don’t like the looks of the restaurant we have planned, we walk on to another. If the food is so-so, at least there was something entertaining we saw on the street. Or we could duck into another place for dessert or coffee.

I’m not going to say I won’t go back to Kabul since the food was really good and it was cool to see large extended Afghan families gather for a meal. But I will say it won’t be a bike date, and it may only be take-out.

How important is ambiance when you choose a restaurant? Or is it just about the food?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Bike Date

 

Bike Date Friday: Paris on the Peninsula

For the past three years I’ve worked at a company with a headquarters in Paris. It sounds much more romantic than it is. I’ve only visited the Paris office once and due to company politics it was a miserable experience. But next month I’ll be headed back under much better circumstances, especially since Dick will join me at the end of the trip for some vacation time.

What better way to get excited about our trip than sampling French cuisine on a bike date? On Friday night, we pedaled through the old neighborhoods of Palo Alto up to Left Bank in Menlo Park. Left Bank has a small bar that’s very popular with the after work crowd, but I prefer the spacious dining room that manages to feel calm even when the restaurant is busy. And you can still get all the tasty vintage cocktails.

After the cocktails we shared a pâté de foie gras plate and green salad, then moved on to the main course. Dick ordered a Couscous with Lamb Stew that was artfully served up at the table. I went for the Canard aux Pommes, duck breast with apples. For dessert: chocolate mousse and coffee. All very tasty, making us glad we chose Left Bank for an elegant dinner to help us unwind after a busy work week.

But you don’t have to go high-end to experience French food on the Peninsula, there are several small cafés and bistros serving more modest fare. Like Bistro Maxine, a crêperie where we ate before a dinner-and-a-movie bike date last month. To say that Bistro Maxine is petite would be an understatement. Inside, there are four tables seating a dozen people and two cafe tables on the sidewalk serving four. So don’t try to book a table there for a rehearsal dinner or a going away luncheon.

The menu is simple: sweet and savory crêpes, soup, salad and house wines. After soup, crêpes and people-watching from our sidewalk table, we were fully satisfied.

Afterward, we walked over to the Aquarius Theater to see “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen. Now that got us excited for Paris. The romantic one, not the work one.

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Bike Date

 

Walk Date: Up 5th Avenue for New York Steaks

For our last night in New York City, my boss told me “treat yourself and your husband to a nice dinner on the company.” So there was no guilt when I made reservations at Uncle Jack’s, where the steaks are thick, juicy, and quite expensive, and the side dishes are a la carte. Since I had been trapped inside at a conference all day, I convinced Dick to walk the 22 short blocks and 3 long blocks to the restaurant (1.6 miles).

Fifth Avenue is literally the heart of Manhattan and it was thumping on this warm night. The sidewalks were so crowded, what should have been a leisurely stroll past some of New York’s most notable landmarks and famous stores felt like rush hour on a freeway. By the time we got to Uncle Jack’s, Dick was hot and cranky and my feet were starting to complain in my strappy heels. But all was forgotten when our cocktails arrived, and we enjoyed our thick and juicy steaks, steamed asparagus and mashed potatoes, and the requisite New York cheesecake.

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Not wanting to spoil the mood with another long walk back, we hailed a pedicab to take us back to the hotel. With the wind in our faces, a cushy bench seat, and unobstructed views upward, we had the best seats on Broadway for our ride home. Pull over, yellow cabs. Trot aside, horse drawn carriages through Central Park. Pedicabs rides are the best way to see the Big Apple.

Have you ever taken a pedicab ride? Was it a fun ride or a stupid tourist trap?

About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Bike Date, Travel

 

Bike Date Friday: Amsterdam After Dark

With three days of Amsterdam cycling under our belts, we were ready to venture out after dark. Understanding the traffic rules was only part of the difficulty, it was also hard to navigate. For example, we couldn’t find a direct route to the Leidseplein, a popular eating and shopping district about a kilometer from our hotel. We kept riding in circles up and down canals trying to converge on our target.

But Friday night was Bike Date Friday night, so we had to risk it. We found the elusive direct route to the Leidesplein where we walked the square, had a tasty Dutch dinner, did a little window shopping, and pedaled back to the hotel through the Vondelpark with the unmistakable scent of marijuana in the air.

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Around Town, Bike Date, Travel

 

Bike Date Friday: Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

Are bike dates becoming a phenomenon? For the second week in a row, we were not the only couple out for dinner on our bikes.

With a big ride to the coast planned for Saturday, we decided to keep it local at Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Town & Country Plaza. As we rolled across town, we realized that we were really early, so we took a quick tour through Professorville. The neighborhood, built around the turn of the century by Stanford professors, features some of the oldest and most interesting homes in our area.

We were so engrossed we had to hurry to make our 7:00 reservation. Town & Country Plaza re-landscaped the parking lot a while back, adding some great bike racks. Still, we noticed two old school road bikes leaned up against the patio seating planters. Another bike date, perhaps? One bore the Peter Johnson name, a local bike builder that Dick knows. We each glanced into the patio for the owners, but couldn’t guess who they were.

The restaurant was busy, we took a table inside rather than wait for a patio table. Like Flea Street Cafe, Mayfield Bakery features on locally grown or raised ingredients, with a focused, regularly changing menu. I chose the lamb shank with figs and fried okra, while Dick went for a pork chop with polenta. Both tasty. I particularly liked the okra and figs and wished they had given me more of then and a smaller shank.

While we were eating, I saw two people get up from the patio. The man’s classic wool jersey gave them away as the owners of the bikes. It was Peter Johnson himself and his wife Jan. As they pedaled off, I wondered where they were headed and whether they are bike date regulars too.

We finished our meal with dessert, received a complimentary loaf of challah bread, and headed home. Our route took us past Palo Alto High School where they were hosting their first football game of the season. We stopped for a bit and watched the players running, the cheerleaders jumping and the students and parents enjoying the warm night out. Then we pedaled off into the darkness.

Are you noticing more couples out for the evening on bike dates? If not, do you ever notice any?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Bike Date

 
 
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