Authentic French in Oakland: Michel Bistro

I have passed the French restaurant Michel Bistro (MB) on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland many times. I remember stopping once and looking at the dinner menu and continuing to walk on by. The menu was short and had maybe one or two things I would consider ordering. Today we had book club to discuss The Hundred Foot Journey. My BFF suggested the meeting to be held at MB for brunch, after all, much of the book takes place in France. After looking at the brunch menu online, I was much more excited.

We started with coffee and a complimentary sack of bread. Cute, huh?
My BFF and I had previously discussed sharing a couple of items, one sweet and one savory. We ordered the Pain Perdu which is French for French toast. Their version had pear, house made mascarpone, and a pistachio brittle. It was very moist and eggy on the inside, but still had some crispness in the crust. It had the perfect amount of sweetness and was delicious. I found the pistachio brittle to be an extra nice addition.
MB’s version of Eggs Benedict was the savory dish we chose and it was quite unique. Instead of the typical English muffin on the bottom, they used a crispy potato nest. On top was a poached egg with hollandaise sauce and capers. Instead of salmon, they used cured trout. This dish was light as well as delightful.
Another friend ordered the Duck Confit Hash which came with duck egg, apple butter, duck jus, and mustard greens. I had a bite and thought it was a good choice as well. She enjoyed her dish very much.
A nice thing about MB is that they have a child’s menu at Brunch. There are only a few options, but it gave one of my friend’s kid the opportunity to order a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Can you tell he was pretty excited?
Her other son ordered the Ouef a la Coque, which were two boiled eggs, serrano ham, and brioche. Eating out of egg holders always gives me fond memories of my time in Paris.
Having finally given Michel Bistro a try, I am very happy I did. I realize that this is really the only French restaurant in Oakland. It has a nice vibe, the staff are friendly, and the food is great. I definitely recommend Michel Bistro.

Popping up in Oakland: Pop Sandwich

Pop Sandwich is a one man shop creating sandwiches in the back of a convenience store in the Uptown district of Oakland. The man, Ian opened up this little business a few months ago and he’s getting rave reviews for his sandwiches especially the pork adobo sandwich. My colleague mentioned how she stumbled upon this place a couple of blocks from our workplace.
We went to pay a visit to Pop Sandwich last week and ordered a few sandwiches to examine more closely. I asked Ian how he got to making sandwiches. He worked at restaurants around the Bay Area including Range and Ame and even traveled around Asia before he decided on giving this a try.
I first tried the pork adobo sandwich which is soy and vinegar braised pork shoulder, lettuce, sambal, aioli, carrot, and crispy onion. The delicious French bread first got my attention which Ian gets fresh from a local Vietnamese bakery. On first bite I felt like I was missing some vinegar and pepper flavor that is so present in adobo. As I continued on, I got more of the adobo flavor. By the last bite, the juices appeared like the au jus in a roast beef sandwich and was so good. Here is a quote from one of my colleagues “the Adobo Pork was the best Adobo Pork Sandwich I’ve had. So good. I would go for that over most things at Stags.” (Stag’s Lunchette is an amazing sandwich shop a few doors over.)
Another sandwich we got was the curry squash which was one of the vegetarian options. It’s made of squash, tofu, coconut milk, sambal, aioli, lettuce, basil, cilantro, lime, carrot, and crispy onion. I really liked the flavor profile of the curry sandwich but felt there was something missing – maybe it was meat or fat. Vegetarians would love it.
The mahi mahi sandwich was another sandwich we tried. Filled with confit mahi loin, lettuce, tomato, brown mustard, aioli, carrots, red onion, and cornichon, this was a really hearty sandwich. I enjoyed this one a lot for its uniqueness. Every ingredient appeared important to this sandwich and was really fresh tasting.
It was fun trying the different sandwiches from Pop Sandwich. I would definitely go back to Pop Sandwich when I need to get my adobo fix. It’s great to support small business and someone’s dream.

DIY: Fall Pumpkin Cupcakes

About 50 million pumpkin pies are eaten every Thanksgiving. I am never part of that statistic because I don’t like the texture of pumpkin pie. I wanted to bake something with my niece for Thanksgiving and still celebrate pumpkin. It’s been awhile since my niece and I made cupcakes together and I found a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes. I would still get the flavor of pumpkin, but avoid the texture I dislike in pumpkin pie. These came out so good that I made another batch so I could document the experience and here it is:

Ingredients for Cupcake Batter:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned organic pumpkin
1 tablespoon fresh and finely grated ginger

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 Heath Milk Chocolate English Toffee Bar, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix your dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, and salt.
In a separate bowl, using a mixer or hand blender, blend the room temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract.
Mix in one third of the flour mixture and half the pumpkin.
Add the second third of the flour mixture and the rest of the pumpkin until well blended. Add the final third of the flour mixture and blend well. Mix in the fresh ginger.
Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners. Fill the cups about 3/4 full of batter.
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Place in the oven and bake for about 18 – 20 minutes. You can also use the clean toothpick test. Place on a wire rack to cool.
While the cupcakes are baking, you have time to make the frosting. Using a mixer or in my case a hand blender, mix the softened cream cheese, the room temperature butter, and vanilla. Add the confectioners sugar and blend until smooth.
When the cupcakes are cool, spread the frosting and sprinkle with chopped Heath candy bar.
These are hands down the best cupcakes I have ever made, probably because they were made from scratch. No more boxed cake mix for me! Enjoy pumpkin cupcakes with your favorite coffee beverage. Tis the season for pumpkin cupcakes!

Penrose: A Triple Threat

First he brought us Pizzaiola, next he brought us Boot and Shoe Service, and then Charlie Hallowell brought Penrose to Oakland. The latter restaurant and the non pizza restaurant is where I celebrated my birthday on Tuesday, November 4, also Election Day. I spent the day in Sonoma and got home in time to vote and then have dinner with my BFF. We walked a short distance from her place to Penrose located on Grand Avenue. I had been looking forward to trying this restaurant and as I walked in, I became more excited. The combination of brick walls and wood furniture in the open space provided a warm inviting environment. For a Tuesday night, Penrose was bustling.

With a pretty extensive drink menu, I opted for a Pimm’s Cup to celebrate the occasion. Happy Birthday to me!
Hog Island sweetwater oysters on the half shell were on the menu. The Miyagi oysters came with a rose mignonette sauce and were really nice.
We shared a salad mix of arugula, frisée, beets, toasted almonds, and ricotta salata. It was fresh and light, simply what a salad should be.
Grilled Monterey bay squid served with avocado, peppers, chili, lime, and cilantro came next. This dish had a Mexican flare. I enjoyed the flavor very much and the avocado was super smooth and delicious.
I wanted to try their flatbread so ordered the version with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. It was actually really good. I liked the grill marks, the crisp and chewiness, and the simple flavors.
They were out of the grilled whole trout, but replaced it with a whole grilled black cod. It came with a yellow pepper yogurt sauce and green beans. It was quite tasty. I really enjoy the concept of eating whole fish.
Our waitress helped debone it and did a wonderful job.
After careful consideration, we ordered two desserts. My best friend wanted the sugar pie pumpkin flan with smoky pimenton candied pepitas. This seasonal flan was smooth and delicious. I only had a bite because I was so full.
I love ginger and ordered the ginger molasses cake with roasted apples & crème fraîche. It was dynamic! The cake was deliciously moist, the apples were a nice compliment, and the creme added that sweetness that goes so well. IMG_1383.JPG
It was an awesome birthday meal! Thanks, Jwo!

DIY: Khao Man Gai

Khao man gai is a Thai dish that my sister in law introduced me to. It’s similar to the Hainanese chicken and rice dish which I have always loved. It’s simple and I place it in the comfort food category. With some careful time management, this meal can be done from start to finish in under 90 minutes.

Here are the ingredients you need:
Whole chicken (organic preferred)
2 cups Jasmine rice
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 moqua (foo gwa)

In a large pot, bring about 12 cups of water and 1 tbsp of salt to a boil. Add your whole chicken (I used a chicken slightly larger than 3 lbs.) When the chicken boils, turn the flame down to a low heat and cook for another 35 minutes.
While the chicken in cooking, you can begin getting the rice ready. Rinse the rice through a few times and have it ready in your rice cooker. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic until golden brown. Peel the ginger and cut about 5 pieces of ginger into 1/4 inch slices. Place the ginger and garlic (don’t use the oil) on top of the uncooked rice.
The chicken will still be cooking, so you can prep the soup. Peel the moqua. This hairy looking squash is one of my favorites in soup.
You can also use winter melon or chayote. Slice into equal sized strips.
As soon as the chicken is ready, remove from liquid. Skim off any excess fat from the top of the broth. The remaining broth will be used for both the rice and the soup. Measure 3 cups of broth and pour over the rice cooker and turn on the rice cooker.

While the rice is cooking, time can be spent cutting up the chicken. I cut the chicken into eight pieces using kitchen shears. I still had time to remove the bones from the breast and thighs.

With the rice almost ready, I started the soup. Using the same pot that the chicken was cooked in, add the same amount of water as there is broth. Bring to a boil and then add the sliced moqua. Once the soup reboils, turn it down to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.

Measure out some cooked rice, slice some chicken, and top with cilantro. Sliced cucumbers are typically eaten with this dish which I forgot to slice. Ladle out some moqua soup to compliment the meal. The sauce used for khao man gai is a brown soybean based sauce. I found it available at the local Thai grocery store Sontepheap in Oakland.
I have eaten a lot of khao man gai but it was my first time making it. The chicken was nice and tender. The rice was really tasty. The added garlic brought this already fragrant rice to a new realm. The moqua was good, but the soup could’ve used some salt. Making this dish gave me some added confidence in my cooking as well as being able to quickly cut up a chicken.

A16 in Rockridge Rocks

Last Sunday was the start of birthday celebrations for me. My close friend, sister, and I had a pretty late reservation for dinner especially considering the time change that just went into effect. We took a chance and arrived two hours earlier to A16 hoping for an earlier seating. The hostess was accommodating and arranged for us to sit at the corner of a bar because a party was about to be seated at their table. Although I have eaten at the original A16 in San Francisco, it was the first time any of us tried this location on College Avenue in the Rockridge district of Oakland.

We were all about sharing plates and I appreciated how perfectly timed our dishes came out one at a time. It was also helpful since we were sitting at the bar and had some space constraints. Since there were three of us, we thought we could enjoy one of A16’s pizza as an appetizer. I wanted the pizza so I chose the Salsiccia pizza which came with pork sausage, sweet pepper, mozarella cheese, oregano, and tomato sauce. The pizzas at A16 are served with scissors so you can cut them however you want. The crust and flavors of the toppings were spot on. The pizza quickly disappeared as we each demolished two slices.
My sister picked the second appetizer which was roasted calamari. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this dish was. It came with fried corona beans which were really crispy. Having the mix of the calamari and beans worked well together.
The Sunday special was sugo alla casa which is a rigatoni with braised beef, tomato, and pecorino. It is definitely a heavy dish. I imagine if I were to run a marathon, I would eat this the night before. I really enjoyed it and it was perfect for us to share. The dish came with an arugula and fennel salad which also lightens the dish up.

We also shared a side of Brussels sprouts. They were roasted with lemon and black pepper and had a nice caramelization. I would say this side dish is as good as it gets.
My friend wanted the Berkshire pork roast which the Chef replaced with a thick cut pork chop. I personally wasn’t disappointed because I love a good pork chop. It came with beet greens. I was pretty stuffed but managed to have the meat around bone as well as about two ounces of the chop. It was delish! The person that took my plate away looked surprised how clean I left the bone.
I was really intrigued by the one of the flavors of ice cream, candy cap. Apparently, they had made this mushroom ice cream in honor of the farmer who supplies their mushrooms. We got a scoop to try. I thought it was pretty interesting, but I can’t say I would ever order it again.
The real dessert we were going to share was the buckwheat cake with poached quince, huckleberry compote, and mascarpone. I took my fork and got a little of each thing to get the perfect bite. If I could have eaten more, I would have. It was the perfect ending to an excellent meal.

Japanese Pop Up: Abura Ya

Garden House is a casual lunch spot serving salads and sandwiches open on weekdays for the business crowd. Located on 14th Street between Franklin and Webster Streets in Oakland, Garden House is pretty close to my work. I have often walked by, but have never stopped in to try it. The restaurant is long and narrow and not very interesting. It’s actually quite easy to just walk by without stopping. The idea of opening up a pop-up restaurant when Garden House is closed is pretty genius, especially as more businesses have opened and improved the area. Abura-Ya opens Wednesdays-Saturdays nights and specializes in Japanese fried chicken.

My friends and I went to the Abura-Ya last night. After walking in, I shortly discovered how it works. You order at the counter, pay cash, and find a seat. It took some time to review the menu so it was good that there were two parties ahead of us so we had time to decide on what to order.

The fried chicken is marinated in shiso-koji and pepper and then battered with corn starch. You have a choice of eight different flavors, three wet and five dry. We chose two of the dry seasonings, Shanso and Japanese Miso. I enjoyed the fried chicken, but wish I could try the other six flavors to make an informed decision.
The deviled avocado was half an avocado stuffed with egg salad and drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce. The avocado was perfectly ripe giving the entire dish a silky smooth texture that was delicious.
We ordered the Japanese chicken curry dish as well. It came with curry sauce over more fried chicken and rice. It seemed a bit repetitive for me since we already had the eight pieces of fried chicken. One of my friends loves curry so she preferred this dish over the other seasoned fried chicken.
I was intrigued by the beef stew as I never had a Japanese version of this dish. The soy braised beef came with potatoes and onions and was served over rice. It looked and tasted similar to other Chinese beef stews I have had. I liked it, but there was a disproportion of sauce to rice. A little too much sauce was poured out. If I had another large scoop of rice, this would have been much better.
The albacore tataki salad special was essentially pieces of seared tuna over a bed of greens. The tuna was nice, but I didn’t really like the salad. By the time I had the salad on the bottom, the flavor of the tuna leaked onto the greens tasting somewhat fishy.
I mostly enjoyed the food and atmosphere of Abura-Ya, but I loved the concept of the Pop Up. Eating from paper trays and compostable utensils was fun and made things pretty easy to clean up as well.