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650 + 408 Eats: Chocolate, Sichuan Cold Noodles, and Biryani

photo courtesy of Cocoa Bella Chocolates 

New restaurants are popping up in the 650 and neighboring 408, with scores of chocolatey sweet treats at a fancy shopping outpost. In San Mateo, the Sichuan dining scene is definitely heating up while offering a nice way to ease into January’s comfy pants after weeks of holiday schlepping and partying. The chance to find culinary balance via modern Hindustani fare in Sunnyvale sounds both tasty and interesting, which is always ideal for filling fare.   

Dessert first: the upscale eats at the Valley Fair shopping mall in Santa Clara now have some sweet options because Michael Freeman opened a new outpost of CocoaBella Chocolates. This marks the second shop outside of the original San Francisco location, and the worldly confections are from the best chocolate making regions: Switzerland, Canada, the UK, Belgium, France and Italy, in a space that feels much like an upscale jewelry emporium done up in chocolate brown and teal green accents. Look for truffles, confections, bars, caramels and drinking cocoa, and yes there are samples to help tempt and tantalize—fruity, rummy, salty and bitter are among the flavor notes here. Boozy options include Thomas Haas’s Jamaican rum and Michael Mischer’s Kentucky bourbon. Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd, Ste 1040, Santa Clara; (408) 246-1633.

Cold noodles prepared “home style” are a traditional dish in Sichuan / Szechuan cuisine—eaters at a new San Mateo spot should be ready to face mouth-watering and tongue-numbing properties for this regional fare, pronto. At the newly opened Sichuan Chong Qing Cuisine, the able staff serves cold noodles and other home style dishes--it's a pleasing alternative to the Little Sichuan restaurant, which is a few blocks away. The menu also sports dry-fried pork spareribs, which aren’t as traditional yet have a welcome spot at the table for their toothsome tenderness. Along with salted beef tripe, there's kicky vermicelli noodles with minced pork, spicy beef tendon and vegetable offerings that include black and white fungus, which are much beloved for supposed health benefits (all the better for our own traditional of scaling back and contemplating calories in the New Year). The somewhat fiery cumin lamb is a must order, and sharing a plate of the  scallion pancakes adds a civilized note to any meal outing. 211 S San Mateo Dr., San Mateo; (650) 343-1144.

Sunnyvale has an upscale take on modern Indian fare with the opening of Rasam’s, where there are small chaat and large plates to keep things interesting—the menu covers a fair amount of territory that is branded “modern Hindustani” making it a definite one-of-a-kind eatery. Rasam’s is the brainchild of Narender Ramarapu, who also has an outfit called IC Lounge, which specializes in drinks of the crafted cocktail variety and is next door. At Rasam's, Tawa dishes are from the griddle, sigri is prepared via open barbeque, tandoori dishes get the clay oven treatment, kadai is for anything going in the (hot) cast-iron skillet, and there are a fair number of vegetarian and seafood items; the Konkani shrimp already has its share of fans. A new and different item is the Bombay biryani, which is steamed in a bowl and sealed with dough that locks in delectable aroma and flavor. Rasam does have meaning: it is the tamarind based soup that is available daily. Weekend watchers can settle in for Bollywood-style music  if they book a table later into the evening and a happy new year to you and yours. 195 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale. (408) 245-8500.

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