Vallejo’s Good Day Cafe

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Aroma in Benicia – John Gamboa

If you know me, I’m not a big Indian (Asia, not Native American) cuisine aficionado. I don’t eat Indian food but once every 5 years. That’s how little I eat Indian food. Not that I hate it but I don’t crave Indian food very much.

However, a friend of mine wanted to celebrate a big occasion with a meal at an Indian restaurant and their choice for the celebratory meal was Aroma’s in Benicia. Benicia, California is a small town in Solano County near the Napa Valley and is a sister city to Vallejo, California. A little fun fact – Benicia used to be the state capitol of California and it was for 13 months in the 1800’s according to

Aroma is located in the historic part of Benicia on First Street. First Street is filled with local shops and eateries. It’s a nice place to take a stroll on a sunny afternoon and if you walk all the way at the end, you end up at Benicia Point which juts into the Carquinez Strait.

Back to Aroma. We went during lunch on a Saturday and it was not busy at all. I was a little worried because that usually means the food isn’t good but my friend recommended it so I trusted their judgment. The interior decor is pretty nice and clean. Tibetan and Indian artwork is scattered around the restaurant. A statue of the Hindu god Ganesha has its own spot perched in its shrine, too.

Aroma Buffet Line

Buffet counter at Aroma Indian Restaurant in Benicia

The service at Aroma was pretty good and that’s to be expected being that we were the only group dining at the time. For appetizers we ordered the assorted naan and chutney. Naan and chutney is pretty much flatbread and sauces. The garlic and plain naan were very good with the chutney. Mango and tamarind chutney are the sweet ones of the three. I forgot what the 3rd chutney was, but it was herby and green. The third type of naan in the assortment was the onion which to me was ok. Not bad, but not great tasting.

We also tried the Chicken Biryani for an appetizer and that was a delightful surprise. All of us said that we could have just had that and some naan and we’d be sated for the afternoon. It’s just the right size for a single serving that one could just have that for their meal. It’s flavorful and pretty hearty. We got it in MILD spicyness.

Aroma Appetizers

Chutney (top left) Chicken Biryani (middle) Assorted Naan (right)

For my main dish, I had the Chicken Tikka Masala and the level of spice – HOT. There’s one more level above that – EXTRA HOT. I love spicy. I put Sriracha in my pho until the soup is bright red and for those of you who know, even light orange is spicy for a lot of people. HOT at Aroma is probably the top of my spicy tolerance meter but it was excellent with the side of long grain rice. It came with some white sauce – I don’t remember what it was but it added a subtle creamy taste to the Masala. It was pretty good. I still rank the Chicken Biryani higher than the Masala but I would eat them both now that I’ve had them.

Rice Chicken Masala Chicken Biryani

Rice, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Tikka Masala, Some White Sauce

Personally, I would come back if I ever craved Indian or if someone were to ask me to go there. My wife has developed a palate for Indian food so I would definitely come here if she were to develop a sudden desire to chow down on good Indian cooking. Check it out iif you’re in the Benicia-Vallejo area. The stroll down First Street will be a nice addition to your visit.

OH! They have a buffet for around $10 if you ever come during those times. I certainly will try to make it in one day and try all that Aroma’s buffet has to offer and maybe I, too, will develop a taste for Indian food!

Don’t know much Pieology…

My lady and I were in Fairfield, CA craving some food one day so she went onto her Yelp app on her Lumia 830 Windows phone to see what’s good to eat near where we were. Scrolling through the list of places to eat for one dollar and 2 dollar pricing, she found this place called Pieology Pizzeria. It had good ratings so we decided to check it out.

Woah, it felt like I was in a Chipotle but instead of burritos, I’m looking at pizza. Interesting. That’s basically what it is, you choose how you want your pizza to be topped and they make it for you. The selection of toppings is pretty vast (no anchovies as my wife found out). Different cheeses, meats, veggies, and sauces. The pizzas are thin crust from what I was able to see based on some orders that went through as we were selecting our toppings. I let my wife build up our pizza while I snapped a few photos.

Pieology view from the entrance. Fairfield, CA

Pieology view from the entrance.
Fairfield, CA

Pieology at the counter

Pieology at the counter

This Pieology has modern decor as you can see from the above photos. Industrial ceiling above with exposed ventilation ducts. The use of tiles, metal, wood throughout as well as sharp corners add to the modern feel. The stainless steel oven is center stage behind the counter. It’s very nicely designed and I have a feeling all the other Pieology franchises look like this. A nice unique feature is the mural wall of inspirational quotes.

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall - John Gamboa

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

Quotes from different sources are spread out all over the wall and as you wait in line to place your order, it provides nice uplifting thoughts adding to the positive experience of your visit. At least it did for me.

When you get to the counter you are greeted by a host/pizza preparer with an ingredient bar in between you and them organized in the order you would normally place toppings onto a pizza. Sauces, then toppings. Not much to it.

Pieology choices - John Gamboa

Pieology choices

I don’t know about you, but at first this can seem daunting if you’re used to ordering pre-determined pizzas like pepperoni and mushrooms. You assume tomato sauce is the sauce and you get exactly that. At Pieology, having to choose a sauce puts a little delay in the though process. I’m sure a few times here, you’ll get used to it. BUT, if you get all flustered and bogged down by having to make decisions, they do provide a menu of pizzas you can choose from. Thank God my wife was there to build up our custom pizza otherwise I would have gone with one of their pizzas with predetermined ingredients. I think the “Mad to Meat You” pizza looks enticing.

Pielogy Menu

For those who just don’t feel like thinking too hard, there’s this menu.

Our pizza was excellent. I like thin crust to begin with and the toppings my wife picked were excellent. And for the sauce – pesto. What? No red sauce?!

Not this time.

My wife's Pieology creation

My wife’s Pieology creation

Only 2 slices left - Pieology - John Gamboa

Only 2 slices left – Pieology

Pieology in Fairfield is located at the Gateway Couryard shopping center within 20 minutes of Vallejo, Napa, and American Canyon in Solano County. Being a franchise, there are many Pieology Pizzerias throughout California as well as some scattered throughout the country.

Black Bear Diner in Vallejo

In the northern part of Vallejo close to Discovery Kingdom is shopping area where a lot Vallejoans get their wears and grub on. A few years ago a long time eating establishment by the name of Lyons closed their doors. Lyons died a slow death and unfortunately (or fortunately) saw its demise in early 2011 but out of its remains rose the Black Bear Diner which opened its doors in the summer that same year.

The first time I ever ate at a Black Bear Diner was in Suisun and to me it seemed like a super suburban type of place – almost country – that served good food and had good service. There’s a lot of wood used in the decor. Of course a Black Bear statue or several of them stand guard inside and out of the restaurant. The one in Vallejo even has a log toy train with little bears on them and my kids didn’t hesitate climbing atop and pretending to ride it and acted like they were friends with these cub statues. Adding to the ambiance, the menu looks like a old time newspaper from small town. You get the idea. It’s like you’re out in the country where black bears may join you for dinner.

Newspaper Menu

Newspaper Menu

The decor does make the restaurant feel livelier compared to Lyon’s during its last months. Where Lyons felt a little drab and depressing, Black Bear Diner is bright and cozy. I’ve been to Black Bear Diner four times in the last year and each time it was busy enough that I’ve had to wait. It’s a good sign. A busy restaurant (no matter the Yelp ratings) is a good thing to me. It means that people like the food enough to pay for it. The food is somewhat fresh because of turnover. As more people eat, the more food has to be brought in. And the service is decent enough that it doesn’t turn away customers.

newspaper menu

Black Bear Diner newspaper menu

Prices at Black Bear are right where a restaurant in a bedroom town like Vallejo should be – affordable. For a family like mine with 5 kids – 4 with restaurantable appetites – affordable is important. A burger, fries, and a shake with extra tin cup for the extra for under $15 bucks is welcome. Steak dinners for under $20 – pretty good.

Burger, Fries, and a Shake - John Gamboa - Vallejo

Burger, Fries, and a Shake

If you know me, my biggest criteria in deciding whether I’m going to enjoy my visit to a restaurant is the dessert menu. Good thing Black Bear Diner has banana cream pies in the dessert display fridge. Winner! Oh, they have other pies, too, but banana cream is my very favorite.

Another cool thing they have is 24 hour breakfast. So if you’re craving some good ol’ breakfast foods, you’re covered. Eggs, hash browns, sausage – you’re covered.

breakfast Black Bear Diner Vallejo John Gamboa

Eggs, Hash Browns, Sausage

If you’re in the area of Vallejo, American Canyon, and Discovery Kingdom and you want some good affordable food, stop by Vallejo’s Black Bear Diner and bring the family!

Oxbow Public Market in Napa

My family and I went to Gott’s (wrote about it here) one day and decided to check out the Oxbow Public Market and that place is cool. It’s like a little mall with specialty stores and food places. I wanted to get some cupcakes at Kara’s Cupcakes and they were excellent as gourmet cupcakes tend to be. Who would’ve thought cupcakes would ever be a big business? Having just watched my first episode of Cupcake Wars, I guess I can see why.

Located just north of Vallejo and American Canyon and east of Sonoma in the city of Napa, Oxbow Public Market contains a variety of shops and eateries inside a large warehouse. Upon entering the warehouse in which the Oxbow Public Market exists my family and I were pleasantly surprised by what was inside. Although I only had cupcakes from Kara Cupcakes’s which were really good if I haven’t mentioned, I really was drawn to the feel of the place. Bustling with activity and the cacophony of merchants and visitors that you only get from a marketplace with concrete floors and a metal roof, the combination of colors and sounds gives Oxbow a unique appeal. Merchants of different kinds fill the place with tasty goods and confections for those of us with a sweet tooth.

John Gamboa, Napa, Oxbow Public Market

John Gamboa and his wife at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa

There are two butcher shops located in the Oxbow Public Market. One called called The Fatted Calf and the other Five Dot Ranch. At one of them is where we learned what 42-day aged beef was and why it tastes so good and why it’s expensive. The beef is actually left to sit in a room controlled room for 42 days and the reason why it’s expensive is because the water gets drawn out and what’s left is the meat without the water content (or much of it anyway). The carcass actually build a layer of inedible “skin” with mold that gets cut and thrown out hence adding to the per pound cost of the aged beef. Once that is removed you are left with a rich, flavorful, and hearty cut of beef. Maybe one day will pick up a cut and taste test that process and see if it’s worth the premium in price. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a choice, select, or kobe ribeye steak. Honestly. So for me at least it may not be worth the extra cost.

There’s also a fish market and an oyster bar in Oxbow! We’re definitely going back to try Hog Island Oyster Bar out because I’m a big oyster fan. Raw, fried, grilled, bar-b-queued – it’s all good. Another great find is a Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) reviewed joint called Pica Pica Maize Kitchen. I think it has something to do with corn since that’s what maize means. We’ll be eating there some time in the near future hopefully to find out what signature dish drew the Triple D crew to Pica Pica.

Oxbow Public Market has ample parking around the area and with all the different stores you may have to make several trips into Napa to try everything. To learn more visit their website at http://oxbowpublicmarket.com.

Ali’i Sushi and Japanese in Benicia – John Gamboa

Craving Japanese cuisine? How about Hawaiian? How about both? In the Benicia/Vallejo area? Yes you can have both at Ali’i Sushi and BBQ. Just off the 780 freeway and in the city of Benicia, Ali’i offers residents and visitors to Solano County, Benicia, and Vallejo areas a taste of the Hawaiian islands and Japan in one place.

When you walk in you know it’s going to be home cooked good food. We had a chance to try this place out and we were not disappointed. Our big family was hungry and some of us wanted Japanese while some wanted Hawaiian (namely a Loco Moco). It’s a good thing my wife quickly got on her Windows Phone (yes, we have Windows Phones!) and Yelp’ed for some Hawaiian/Japanese food and found Ali’i.

If you want in and out fast food, forget it. Not here. You have to remember you’re visiting the islands when you come to Ali’i. That means leisurely pace. That means take your time. Everything is chill. Just like the islands. Some people take that as a negative, but if you’ve ever taken a trip to Hawaii, you will appreciate the non-hectic mood of Ali’i.

The first thing that hit me was the price of the Loco Moco. It as posted on a whiteboard. $9.95! Now if you’ve had a loco moco at another franchised Hawaiian joint, you know that $9.95 is pretty pricey for that meal. For Ali’i though, that price is worth it. You get one huge hand prepared beef patty. I mean huge enough that 3 of our kids were able to share it and not finish! The meat was nicely seasoned and the rice serving was large. My wife and I could’ve shared it and not been able to finish. That’s how big it was. Granted we aren’t big eaters but still.

We also had the Ahi Poke and boy it was good. Just the right amount of flavor and a little kick of spice. Large chunks of ahi too. That went super fast and was gone within a couple minutes. No complaints although the lighting made the fish look a little grayish. Not to worry though, the fish tasted fresh. Not sure if it’s the fluorescent lighting or the ambient color of the restaurant. We also shared a dragon roll. The dragon roll is one of our family’s favorites. We order whenever we go out for sushi and their dragon roll is top notch. The flavor and texture was well-mated and delicious.

I had the chicken kara age with shrimp tempura. It’s one of my go to dishes at Japanese restaurants and it was among the best. The chicken was seasoned just right, crispy, and well made. The shrimp tempura was great, I’d say the best I’ve had in a while. The batter wasn’t too thick and the shrimp was a pretty good size.

My wife had the kara age’s cousin, the tonkatsu and shrimp tempura. My son had the chicken teriyaki and the chicken was chargrilled with the charred corners and edges which my son likes. It didn’t look precooked either. I have to say that I believe all the meals were pretty much made to order. It took a little longer, sure, but the food was well worth it.

I really enjoyed the food and the homey feel of the place and I know we will be going there again. Please support this family run restaurant if your ever in the Benicia-Vallejo area if you’re in the mood for good Hawaiian and Japanese cooking.

Golf at Blue Rock Springs in Vallejo

Blue Rocks Springs Golf Course is a municipal course in Solano County in the city of Vallejo. I’ve played several times there over the last several years. This is also the very first 18 hole golf course I ever played.

Located off of Columbus Parkway on the Benicia side of Vallejo, Blue Rock Springs G.C. offers a decent golfer venue at a reasonable price. Golf carts are available and for the East course, it is highly recommended as it is fairly hilly. There are two courses at Blue Rock simply named the East and West courses and both play very nicely for the recreational and beginner golfer. It’s got some challenging holes on both sides with doglegs and water holes as well so it’s fun enough for more serious golfers. The rough isn’t too crazy as most public courses tend to have them which for me, makes it more fun to play anyway. And most fairways are forgiving that if you slice or hook a little, you’ll still have a playable ball for your next shot.

I’m not a devout golfer and only play maybe 4 to 6 times a year if I’m lucky especially since I’ve got five kids now. A busy family life makes sure I don’t get out to the golf course too often but I am hitting the range more often nowadays though. It’s fun to take the kids along with me to hit some golf balls down the range. So take this post as an amateur’s review of a golf course he’s played maybe a dozen times throughout the last decade.

The West course is a little flatter and if you intend to walk, then this is the easier of the two to walk on. The East course is more difficult with more hills and built an the foothill of a small mountain (or big hill) and offers nice views on some holes. This course gave me my very first birdie on one of the par 3s.

The driving range is nice with plenty of stalls and I never seem to have any trouble finding a stall even on weekends. Sometimes I can find 3 next to each other if the kids are with me. It doesn’t have a sand or a real pitching green though which would make it a pretty top notch municipal golf course. But even with that missing, it’s still a good place to practice and play if your nearby in one of the surrounding cities like American Canyon or Benicia.