The Best of Silicon Valley 2011
Best Corporate Cafeteria
Googleplex, Mountain View. The level of detail and range of options here is pretty much off the hook. Cheesy thin crust pizza (red card) to colorful salad bars (green card=healthy), cheese plates served on polished carrera marble, exotic superfruits and world cuisine — well, we could go on, but this is a short list. Tip: if you're invited to Google for a meeting, tell them the only opening in your busy schedule is 11:45.
Best Children's Bookstore
Linden Tree Books
170 State St., Los Altos; 650.949.3390. This three-decade-old local independent children's bookstore was saved from extinction in 2009 when Jill Curcio and Dianne Edmonds bought it from longtime owners Linda and Dennis Ronberg. Their stated mission is to "help your child fall in love with books!" That's enough to win us over too. Linden Tree Books stocks hardcover editions of such classics as Heidi, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Peter Rabbit. They also sell puppets.
Best Hardware Store
Palo Alto Hardware
875 Alma St., Palo Alto; 650.327.0115. One of Silicon Valley's last small hardware stores, this well-stocked retailer is legendary for its friendly, helpful service. Clerks provide patient, old-fashioned customer doting, whether cutting keys or giving detailed instructions for a home improvement or repair project. In addition to the basic nuts, bolts and light bulbs, Palo Alto Hardware carries many household items, such as countertop appliances and kitchen tools.
Best Shuk Shop
793 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.964.3000. The mystical culture of Morocco carries much allure, but these days, travel to North Africa depends on the day's news. Luckily, Casablanca Market stocks a well-selected array of lighting, fabrics, tapestries, cooking tagines, tea sets and Moroccan and Spanish food products and cookbooks. The only thing that's not authentic is the pricing philosophy, so you won't have anyone chase you to your car asking, "How much do you want to give me?" if you just want to have a look.
Best Bookstore for Spiritual Enlightenment
East West Bookstore
24 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.988.9800. This specialty bookstore supports spiritual growth for the "soul's journey" inspired by Indian master Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple Swami Kriyananda. In addition to books about healing, enlightenment and wisdom, East West vends meditation aids, calming drops, scented candles, Sutra statues, foot stimulating acupressure pads and other must-have items for a well-stocked spiritual journey.
Best Dutch Treats
Cheese House Village
855 El Camino Real #157, Palo Alto; 650.326.9251. This small Palo Alto sandwich shop, a half-century old, is revered for its oversize sandwiches and deli meats and cheeses, as well as Dutch specialties such as hagel, stroopwafel and Dutch Crunch bread.
Best Place to Find a Seven-fold Tie
Robert Talbott Outlet
681 Leavesley Road, Ste. 250, Gilroy; 408.847.5111. Not that anyone wears them much anymore, but if you do need some knotted silk around your neck, it's worth the trip to the Robert Talbott outlet in Gilroy, unless you are planning to be on the Monterey Peninsula or in Manhattan. The Carmel Valley clothier's Seven Fold Ties are unlined and constructed completely out of single piece of folded silk, folded seven times in true 19th-century fashion. They also sell hand-stitched American-made suits for as low as $500.
Best Place to Alter
a Suit or Dress
2469 Forest Ave., San Jose; 408.244.4288. We found out a few years back that the suit departments of Valley Fair department stores took clothing here for alternations. The service is quick, the prices excellent, and expensive clothing can be left here with confidence.
316 Barber Court, Milpitas. 408.383.9868; 10821 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino, 408.861.0988. An established, owner-operated watch and jewelry retailer, Jade Galore prides itself on personalized customer service and carries a stock of marquee brands, including Vacheron Constantin, Chopard, Jaeger Le Coultre and Cartier, along with many Asian and European jewelry pieces in sapphire, ruby, emerald, pearls, diamonds and, as the name suggests, jade.
378 Santana Row #1025, San Jose; 408.261.1010. The Rolls Royce of local eyewear boutiques, Optical Illusions stocks a wide selection of hard-to-find frames from designers like Prada, Oliver Peoples and Roberto Cavalli. The combination of high-tech equipment, such as a hand-held device that checks for blind spots, experienced opticians and stylish brands keeps clients seeing—and looking—better.
Rick's Ice Cream
3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; 650.493.6553. A gourmet micro-creamery in Palo Alto's Charleston Center, Rick's has been scooping its own handcrafted ice creams for 35 years. Flavors range from all-American favorites like Black Raspberry Crunch, Rocky Road and Pumpkin to international fusions like Saffron Pistachio, Rose and White Chocolate Ginger. They also serve the healthy-sounding Carob Honey, the feminine Lemon Lavender and the very macho-sounding Industrial Chocolate.
Best Place to Buy Clay
1775 Russell Ave., Santa Clara; 408.295.3352. Here in Silica Valley, there's really no contest. Clay Planet inventories a huge array of glazes, potter's wheels, tools and firing kilns, and makes its own clay, with names like Grogzilla, Big Sur and San Jose White with which local artisans or weekend hobbyists can keep alive the time-honored California ceramic tradition.
Best Place to Learn What to Do With That Clay
499 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.295.5765. Both a teaching studio and gallery, Higher Fire offers classes in wheel throwing and fabrication of ceramic items, from vases and tea sets to dinnerware. The evening classes are a relaxing social experience as well.
San Jose's BEST Answer to Burning Man
Mark and Ann's Art Party
215 East Alma Ave., San Jose, when it happens; www.artparty2010.com. Just as Burning Man started on San Francisco's Baker Beach, this event started at the Naglee Park manse of Anne Sconberg and Mark Henderson and grew to take over an unoccupied former fruit warehouse the couple owns in the industrial zone south of downtown. A fundraiser for Arts Council Silicon Valley, the eclectic, inexplicable art party melds art displays and installations with experimental music, costumery, fire-breathing, oversize rocking horses and backfiring go carts, among other wacky multi-sensory intrusions.
Best High-Tech Sports Clothing
Pearl Izumi Outlet Store
8555 San Ysidro Ave., Gilroy; 408.846.8123. Stylish, high-end biking and running outfits can help urban athletes stand out from the pack for reasons of vanity or safety. The U.S. branch of the Japanese outfitter, Pearl Izumi's wide variety of high-tech apparel and footwear, while not exactly outlet-cheap, is some of the best around.
217 Jackson Street San Jose; 408.294.4148. Manju is 700-year old Japanese confection with a round rice flour skin and sweet bean paste on the inside. Japantown's Shui-Do has a variety of manju, with lima, azuki and other flavors, in attractive shades of pink, green and white.
Best Baby Boutique
1314 Lincoln Ave #1A, San Jose; 408.885.9870. Combining contemporary aesthetics with classic sensibilities — as modern babies have come to expect — this tiny Willow Glen boutique is a trove of delights for miniature humans and their handlers. Miniature wooden cars and vanilla flavored teething giraffes are the kinds of unexpected gift items that can be found here.
Best Lighting Showroom
1572 Meridian Avenue, San Jose; 408.979.0800. Service separates Wright from its competitors. Whether looking for a modern Tech monorail lighting system or needing to rewire the old six-candle Spanish wrought iron chandelier that's original to the house and now a fire hazard (less than $100!), Wright's can provide a knowledgeable solution for the project at hand. Its showroom displays a mix of traditional, transitional and contemporary lighting
Best Wines & Spirits
Beltramo's Wines & Spirits
1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park.
K&L Wine Merchants
3005 El Camino Real, Redwood City.
Two of best options for wine and spirits in the whole Bay Area are Beltramo's and K&L Liquors, both on the El Camino Real just north of the county line. Either one can supply every spirit and mixer known to humanity. Both have great service and assorted party gifts. If you can't find that one bottle of wine from the thousands that Beltramo's has, drive a few blocks to K&L and you'll find a Parcel 41 Merlot that can't be beat. If you shop by the case, this is the place. The staff is extremely knowledgable and helpful. And you can always find a great pinot.