Touring Oakland’s Rockridge Neighborhood

Last Thursday I attended the Rockridge Food Tour. It was a tour for “media only.” There were a couple of us that have non-media related jobs and do this on the side for fun. I was in awe that most of these people get paid to eat, but I was happy to be able to participate and eat for free.

The Rockridge Food Tour is run by a woman named Lauren who has a very bubbly personality and is passionate about this Oakland neighborhood. Our first stop on the tour was A16 which I dined at last year on my birthday. A16 is best known for their Neopolitan style pizza from their wood fired oven. The Executive Chef Rocky was there to tell us about the restaurant. The wood fired oven was imported from Naples, Italy and burns almond wood. The pizza crust is simply made with 00 flour, water, salt, and yeast.
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Isaiah made us a potato and onion pizza with smoked mozzarella. To me it doesn’t matter what toppings are on the pizza, it’s the crust that matters most. Taking ninety seconds to make, this one was perfectly crisp and chewy. A16 is beginning a brunch menu that includes a potato leek frittata we also tasted.
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Our next stop was Market Hall. I learned that this market was built in 1986 by the Wilson Family from New Zealand. Juliana gave us a little history including her personal story. She was one of the first employees and started working there after graduating high school.
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Now she is a cheese monger and gets to travel the world to find the best foods. We tried two things. I most enjoyed a burrata with Seka Hills olive oil.
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We continued our tour to Ver Brugge Foods which is a meat market. I actually never have stepped foot in there, but I have seen lines out the door on big holidays. They recently began to sell prepared foods and we tried a sample of a salmon with fennel dish. It was very moist and tasty. If you brought this sous-vide dish home, it can be prepared in 6 – 10 minutes.
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Right next door, we walked into La Farine where we enjoyed a mini morning bun. I’m not sure if the quality failed for me because it was the afternoon and had been sitting around or whether it was the size of the bun. Either way, I recommend the regular sized morning bun because they are always consistently delicious.
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Our fifth stop was Zachary’s Chicago Pizza. In 1983, a Wisconsin couple opened up this original pizzeria. After twenty years in business, they sold the pizzeria to their employees to best preserve their vision. We tried the spinach and mushroom stuffed pizza, the customer favorite and the pizza blanca, a thin style pizza with a garlic, fresh herb and olive oil base topped with mozzarella and ricotta de latte cheeses, garnished with fresh lemon. For us Bay Area natives, we all know Zachary’s is authentic Chicago style pizza and not surprised when it wins numerous awards year after year.
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We ended the tour on a sweet note, at Dreyer’s Ice Cream. I was not disappointed that we didn’t go to a gourmet or artisan ice cream shop. I learned a lot. I didn’t know this was the only retail shop. I didn’t know Dreyer’s invented Rocky Road ice cream. We were fortunate to be one of the first people to try their new line of frozen custards. My favorite was the salted caramel pretzel flavor.
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Although I knew Rockridge pretty well, I never really considered going on this tour. I was pleasantly surprised with the history, the personal stories, and the linkages with the community. I highly recommend the Rockridge Food Tour for visitors or locals.

Time for Breakfast: Cock-a-Doodle

On Washington Street in Old Oakland, there used to be a restaurant that served authentic french crepes like the ones made in Brittany, France. I really miss the savory crepes that they used to make. For a while now, the location has been home to Cock-a-Doodle Cafe serving traditional American breakfast/brunch. I never really considered going there for weekend brunch until one of my friends suggested it. I agreed since it would be new to me and I really had to get over the loss of the crepe place.

After careful review of the menu, I decided to be bad and get the fried chicken and graham cracker crusted french toast. There was not much of a coating on the fried chicken, but the flavor was nice and it was good use of herbs on the chicken. Although the fried chicken wasn’t anything to write home about, the french toast was excellent. I believe the graham cracker coating on the french toast not only adds a unique flavor, but helps keep its texture. The ends were crispy, but overall dense and chewy.
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My sister ordered the strawberry ricotta stuffed french toast which was even better! It added a little tartness and a lot of creaminess. Who says you can’t have dessert for breakfast?
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Although I just had coffee, the waitress was promoting their mexican hot chocolate and their mexican mocha. It seemed to be customer favorites.
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Our table enjoyed these drink selections.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Cock-a-Doodle Cafe enough to come back and try their lemon ricotta pancakes and their belgian waffle.

Poutine: The Real Deal in Berkeley

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Yesterday my BFF suggested going to the new place in Berkeley specializing in poutine. Poutine is a snack invented in Canada. It is essentially french fries drenched with gravy and topped with cheese curds. I have had it a few times. Once at a Costco in Canada, a second time at Gross Mountain in Canada, and a third time at a festival in the Bay Area. I probably shouldn’t have had it at any of those places because they weren’t very good.
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Smoke’s Poutinerie is a Canadian chain and recently opened its first U.S. shop here in Berkeley. Surprisingly there was not much of a line. We spent a few minutes reviewing the menu and deciding what we would order. Unlike other times I have had poutine, you can’t just ask for poutine. There are choices to make. First you have to know what size you want. There is a snack size, a meal size, and a wow size. The snack size is only available for the “traditional” poutine which is made of their signature gravy and Wisconsin cheese curd. We got one of those.
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This definitely didn’t taste like other poutine I have had. This was good. The mix of french fries, gravy, and cheese were a perfect harmony. My only complaint was there wasn’t enough cheese curds.

If you aren’t getting the traditional poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie, there are specialty poutine with different protein choices as toppings such as chicken, pork, and steak. There are also vegetarian options. We ordered a meal size “Smoked Meat Peppercorn” which had shaved Montreal smoked meat, mushrooms, peppercorn gravy, and cheese curd.
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I liked this one even more. I think the meat was pastrami. I especially liked the pepper gravy. The cheese curds melted with the hot toppings.
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Will I be back? Yes, I will but not too often…after all, Smoke’s Poutinerie’s motto is “Clogging Arteries since 2008.”

Super Fun with Queso Fundido

I’ve been following the Pioneer Woman on Facebook and she has been giving some great ideas for snacks to eat on Super Bowl Sunday. I was going to make her recipe for chicken nachos but changed my mind when I saw her recipe for queso fundido. I was reminded of the delicious version I had in Texas a couple of weeks ago.

I changed her recipe slightly for the better. Here are the ingredients you will need:

1/2 pound chorizo
2 whole Poblano peppers
1 yellow onion
2 Roma tomatoes
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese
Cilantro
Cayenne pepper
cumin
Tortilla chips

I bought most of my ingredients at Los Mexicanos Market located in the corner of High Street and E. 14th Street in East Oakland. I went there because I wanted fresh chorizo, inexpensive cheese, and La Finca corn chips.

I prepped everything way in advance before going to my friend’s place to watch the game. I removed the casing of the chorizo and browned the chorizo in a pan for about five minutes over medium high heat. It’s best to remove as much of the grease as possible.
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The hardest part of the recipe is roasting the poblano chilies. I did this over my gas range, searing them until they were dark all around. Don’t be afraid when you hear crackling noises. After turning and roasting for about ten minutes, I placed them in an air tight plastic bag. In fifteen minutes, you can remove the chilies from the bag. Using a knife, cut off the top, cut open the chili, deseed the chili, and scrape off the dark skin. The top, the seeds, and the skin can be discarded. Cut the chilies into 1/4 inch slices.
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Dice the onion and sauté in a pan over medium heat for about seven minutes.

That’s all the ingredients that needs to be cooked in advance. I also shredded the cheese, and chopped the tomatoes in advance.

Now that everything is ready, the real fun begins. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. In an iron skillet, spread the first layer of cheese and sprinkle the chorizo.
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Place another layer of cheese, onions, peppers, and a third layer of cheese.
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Sprinkle some chili powder and a dash of cumin.
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Place the skillet in the oven for five minutes. Then turn the heat up to 450 degrees for another two to three minutes. You know it’s ready when the cheese is bubbling.
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Sprinkle generously with the chopped tomatoes and cilantro.
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Time to dig in with chips! Ooey, gooey, deliciousness!
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Restaurant Week: Exploring Hutch Bar & Kitchen

Running for ten days, Oakland Restaurant Week ended tonight. It was the opportunity to experience Oakland restaurants offering pre-fix lunches and dinners at special pricing.

My friend chose Hutch Bar & Kitchen in Uptown and she made a last minute reservation for three of us. The focus of Hutch is Southern food.

The special pre-fix menu for Restaurant Week was a 3 course meal and a drink for $40. I thought that was a bit too much food so I ordered off the regular menu. I started with a snack of bourbon chicken liver. This really seemed more like a large appetizer that can be shared with a large group rather than a snack. I enjoyed this smooth, flavorful spread on top of my crostini. It’s fairly rich so even after sharing, I had to pack this in a doggie bag.2015/01/img_1483.jpg
For my entree, I selected the fried chicken which came with rice and sherry herb gravy and bacon braised collard greens. The fried chicken was juicy and crispy, but didn’t stand out to me flavor wise. I really liked the rice and gravy, and the greens were good too.
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My friend and my sister both ordered the pre-fix menu which included a choice of house wine or a house bourbon cocktail. Since my friend doesn’t drink, she gave me hers. I asked her to order me the Kentucky Mule which is bourbon and ginger beer. I was happy.
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The 1st course of the pre-fix menu was an oyster, turkey & black eyed pea gumbo. It came with a scoop of rice in the center. They both enjoyed this very much. I had a taste and also liked it a lot. The flavor of the oysters made this gumbo shine.
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The 2nd course was catfish with a spicy creole sauce and cheddar cheese grits. The catfish itself was delicious. It was tender and flakey but still held a nice crispy batter. The creamy grits complimented the catfish well. I didn’t feel the sauce was required.
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The 3rd course a warm bread pudding a la mode. The dessert was humongous and we had two of them to share. I liked the texture of the bread pudding which were made with large chunks of bread that were dense and chewy. It was not overly sweet and was a good ending to the meal.
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Thanks to Restaurant Week, I was able to explore Hutch Bar & Kitchen. The staff are friendly, the portions are generous, and the food is pretty good. Next time you have a show at the Paramount Theater, you may want to consider Hutch for a pre-show dinner.

Yee-Haw, Good Food in Texas!

I just got back from a work trip to Grapevine, Texas which is close to Dallas. My last trip there was about seven years ago and I didn’t have any meals worth mentioning. However, this time around there was surprisingly a lot to highlight.

There is a small historical district in Grapevine that runs on North Main Street. This street is cute with lots of restaurants and shops. If you go South about a mile past the railroad track on South Main Street, you will find two really good restaurants.
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I went to Mi Dia From Scratch for dinner twice because it was that good. The menu is pretty broad serving regional Mexican cuisine, Santa Fe inspired dishes, and Tex-Mex. After eating a ton of addictive chips and salsa, my colleagues and I shared the queso fundido, which is melted cheese topped with chorizo & roasted poblano and baked in a cast iron pan. This delicious cheese is eaten with fresh tortillas. I was in love at first bite.
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I chose duck two ways as my entree. The first serving of duck was a breast cooked with a guajillo chili. It came with thinly fried chayote, whipped potatoes, and a pineapple mole. The second serving of duck was a duck carnitas sope. The two preparations of duck were very different which made me feel like I was having not one, but two dishes. The duck breast was cooked to a beautiful medium rare and offered a tender and slightly fruity flavor. The sope topped with the duck carnitas was full of deep smokey flavors. I enjoyed my dish.
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When we came back to Mi Dia two evenings later, I ordered another game bird. The codorniz, grilled quail was served with guajillo rice & charro beans. The butterflied quails were perfectly cooked with crispy skin and tender meat. This dish exceeded my expectations.
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Right next door to Mi Dia is The Winewood Grill which is where we also dined. I felt the need to order barbecue so I got the BBQ pork ribs. The ribs were smothered with a sweet BBQ sauce so I was glad it came with crispy French fries to balance out the sweetness.
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I had a taste of my colleagues Bourbon glazed pork chop. It was really nice and the potatoes au gratin that it came with were super yummy.
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On my last evening, some of us decided to drive out to Dallas for BBQ. Off the Bone is a small BBQ joint in a somewhat industrial part of Dallas. After a forty-five minute drive to get there, I was both hungry and excited. The dining area was reserved for a private party, so we were going to have to eat in the car.

After reviewing the menu, I decided to get two meats and two sides. I picked the smoked pecan baby back ribs and the sliced beef brisket. I chose honey spiced baked beans and southern potato salad as my sides. The sides were good, but the meats are really something to talk about. I picked up a rib first. They were tender and easily fell “off the bone.” The BBQ flavor was so wonderful you really didn’t have to use the sauce. Off the Bones’s sauce is tangy and delightful so I alternated between using the sauce and not. I was very happy after eating my first rib. It was time to move on to the beef brisket. This melt in your mouth brisket was simply amazing. Best brisket ever! I am salivating just thinking about it.
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Surprisingly, there is some good food to be found in Grapevine/Dallas!

Camber: Bringing Exotic Flavors to Uptown and Montclair

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Camber in Uptown Oakland is a cool hip restaurant serving delicious South East Asian food. It’s located close to where I work and I can’t believe I didn’t learn about it until recently since it’s been around for about two years. The owners are Irfan, who is part Burmese and part Pakistani and Linda who is Mein. Together this couple bring food with a mix of exotic flavors.

My coworker and I went to check it out last week at lunch. We decided on sharing a few items. We ended up ordering a variety of appetizers since I am back on Weight Watchers and didn’t want to eat too many carbohydrates.

The first salad we got was the Tea Leaf Salad which was on their Specials board. The Tea Leaf Salad is a Burmese dish made with fermented tea leaves, dried ground shrimp, cabbage, mixed nuts, onions, garlic, and cilantro. The salad had bold and diverse flavors and a nice crunchy texture mainly brought on from the nuts. It didn’t have the beautiful presentation where you get to mix all the ingredients, but it was just as tasty.
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The Rice Ball Salad or the Nam Kaow is a Laotian dish made of shredded cured pork tossed with fried rice patties, cilantro, mint, green onion, fish sauce, and fresh lime juice. You wrap the filling in lettuce leaves with a piece of dried chili pepper. I love the textures in this dish and it always makes me happy to eat it. The Camber version doesn’t disappoint.
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The Papaya Salad can be prepared Thai style or Laotian style. My coworker wanted the Laotian Style Salad which was a first for me. Crisp green papaya is tossed with tomatoes, garlic, fish sauce, and green beans and served with a side of lettuce, and vermicelli noodles. I consider my coworker the expert in Papaya Salad. She pointed out that long beans are normally used, but she still very much enjoyed this dish, especially the spiciness.
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The Angel Wings are crispy fried chicken wings that are tossed in a sweet and sour sauce. These were finger licking good, both crispy and juicy. I do love my chicken wings.
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My coworker and I started planning our next visit where we’ll move on to entrees and invite more people. The owner Irfan recommended that next time we should try the Eggplant Basil, the Ginger Chicken, and the Bouncing Beef. Camber opened a second location a few months ago in the Montclair district which is close to where I live. Whether I’m at work or home, I’m lucky to have a Camber close to me.