A new series and homage to the town I call home.
by Alexander Quebec
There’s this one spot in Milpitas that’s pretty insane… a simple, white-colored building that has housed at least three different restaurants. Back in the 80s and early 90s, it used to be a Sizzler. That was a pretty big deal back in the days with their seafood, steak, and all-you-can-eat salad bar. Having AYCE at the tender age of 7 for the first time was a pretty big deal as well. This particular Sizzler housed the epitome of outlandish 80s decor: dark-colored glazed tile on every surface reinforced by brass metalwork everywhere else. If we give it enough time, we should see that decor trend make a comeback.
They still exist as of now, in fact, below is a video from the Late Anthony Bourdain (RIP) being taken to a Sizzler by David Choe. I feel as if the jury is still out on whether or not Mr. Choe was genuine or trolling him on this (I’m leaning towards the former as I cannot confirm if this was truly the case amongst the different ethnic communities in L.A.).
Then they closed down and became a Flames restaurant. In case you’re not super familiar with Flames, they were a chain that had these massively large multi-layered cakes in the pastry case in the lobby area of the restaurants whose sheer size made a mockery of the one we call God and gave one diabetes by merely being in the proximity of one. They also were a hit breakfast spot in the 90s up to the early and mid-00s (if your curious, there’s still one in Downtown San Jose, that’s the only one that is left that I can think of).
In 2021, it’s now Gram Souffle & Shabu House (before that, it was just a shabu-shabu place, it still technically is on one half of the place anyway). For a while, it was a great place for shabu-shabu with friends, I went a few times and had a great time. Later on, a format change took place, adding the gram cafe part to the restaurant. And then, 2020 came through and we all know what happened. Like a lot of restaurants, the team there did their best to weather the storms caused by COVID-19. Coming out on the other side of 2021, it has managed to pull through, now with a new patio area for the outdoor dining that was allowed during the state-sponsored shelter in place and the eventual loosening of restrictions.
One day, due to a combination of curiosity and a desire to do my part in supporting my local dining scene, I decided to check out the place. I went two different times, once for lunch and once for dinner, with both instances trying out the fluffy pancakes as a dessert. I picked two entrees that I figured I’d enjoy, but I have not tried the shabu-shabu as of this writing (although I may be back later for that, who knows).
For my first visit, I gave the Wagyu Beef Curry a try. The Wagyu Beef Curry is your typical Japanese-style curry on top of fluffy, white rice. Pretty good dish and hard to mess up. However, the beef patty was very much on the well-done side of things, kind of hard to chew. Had it not been for the curry, I might have walked out on this dish. This wasn’t something I would’ve asked for, but I wouldn’t turn it away if it was given to me either.
On my 2nd visit, I gave the Gyudon a try. The Gyudon was actually one of the best dishes there. To give you an idea of what it is, it’s a simple dish of beef on top of rice, that’s it, that’s all there is to it. As they say, it’s often the simplest ideas that are usually the best, I got some well-seasoned beef and onions with hot, fluffy rice. When it comes to comfort food, this is one of those dishes that exemplifies it perfectly.
And now, we get to the fluffy pancakes. Japanese fluffy style pancakes are having a moment right now, and that phrase alone can go either way sounding good or bad. People have been obsessed with them since they arrived on our side of the Pacific from Japan a few years ago, although to be honest, I think the hype has finally died down, which in my book, means I need to try them.
So how do Japanese fluffy pancakes come about? Based on the recipes I’ve been reading, it’s a lot of whisking and a lot of science. American pancakes are just dry ingredients, wet ingredients, blended, and pan-fried on a grill (yes, they are considered fried food). Japanese pancakes, on the other hand, require dry ingredients, wet ingredients but are prepared more like a souffle in a special mold than their freeform, American styles, and then fried on a pan. A little bit more work, but then again, anything that delicious is worth the extra effort.
I tried a few flavors: Classic Custard, Strawberry, and Cookies and Cream. I enjoyed the fluffy pancake that sandwiched the creamy custard that seemed to defy all logic and stay put together in my car on the ride home (it was one of those rare, super hot days in April). While all of them were pretty good, I’m always down for cookies and creme flavored anything and this delivered on my cookies and creme fantasy with a more balanced approach to one of the world’s most popular flavors for anything.
Overall, this white building’s third iteration has gone well with me. It’s nice to have a place so close to home that I can check out with relative ease. I also will come back for some more gyudon (since like, Yoshinoya is miles away in Cupertino, it might as well be in Japan at this point). But for the most part, I will be back for the fluffy pancakes in all their puffed-up glory.
Wanna check them out? Gram Souffle Pancakes in Milpitas is located at 1191 E. Calaveras Blvd in Milpitas. See the map below for directions and click here to see the menu.