Grand Lake Kitchen: French Toast Battle

IMG_1063.JPGThis morning my friend and I went to breakfast at the Grand Lake Kitchen (GLK) on Grand Avenue in Oakland. My BFF posted a mouthwatering photo of the French toast she had at GLK a couple of weeks ago which prompted us to go.

GLK is a small neighborhood restaurant with counter bar seating and a couple of tables inside and several tables outside. We arrived shortly after 9:00am and already had to wait. The waiting wasn’t bad because they will offer you a mug to get your self service coffee while you wait. We were second on the waitlist so it took about fifteen minutes for us to be seated outside.
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My friend came to GLK already knowing she would order the French toast with seasonal fruit. Today the fruit was peaches. After reviewing the menu, I thought I would get the savory French toast and we could do a taste test.

The sweet French toast was served with Vermont maple syrup. The texture of the toast was crispy on the outside and custard-like on the inside. The fresh peaches were roasted to a soft, sweet consistency that was delightful. This French toast was amazing. This was going to be hard to beat.
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I have never heard of a savory French toast but I was intrigued by the creativity of the elements going into this dish. My French toast came with rye bread, poached eggs, wild mushrooms, parmesan, arugula, and herb oil. I had the added Prosciutto Di Parma. The eggs were perfectly poached with runny yolks spilling out as you cut into them. I loved the sautéed mushrooms. The arugula, herb oil, and grated Parmesan added freshness and flavor. I enjoyed the additional level of sophistication from the prosciutto.
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My friend was quite clear that her sweet French toast won the battle. I, who would take a bag of potato chips over a cookie, was on the fence. I liked them equally the same. I would like to enjoy both. There was a couple next to us that were each having their own plate of savory French toast. About halfway through their meal, one order of sweet French toast came for them to share. That is what I’m talking about.

I asked one of the employees whether it was the sweet or savory French toast that has the most sales. She indicated it was the savory, but it was definitely close. It’s worth visiting GLK to make your own decision. In the meantime, I’ll be deciding when’s my next visit to GLK and what I’ll try next. They are open everyday except Tuesday from 9am-9:30pm.

Ice Cream Filled Donut: The New Craze?

Last weekend, my friends and I spent the weekend in Lake Tahoe. On our drive home, we stopped in Sacramento to a shop called The Parlor for what could possibly be the newest craze. The Parlor calls the snack an Ice Cream Puff, which is basically a donut that is split open and stuffed with ice cream with the option of adding toppings.
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The Parlor doesn’t bake their own donuts nor do they make their own ice cream. They have relationships with vendors who make the products for them. I thought the donut was ok, but the ice cream was better than average. They had unique flavors as well.

Another shop that makes a similar product is Baker’s Donuts in South Sacramento and they call them “Ice Glazers.” Makes you wonder if this will be the new craze and whether the shops have trademarked the names.

The choice of donuts when we were at the Parlor was either the glazed donut or the apple fritter. My friends and I all chose the glazed donut, but chose different ice cream flavors.
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One of my friends and I decided we would each get a different flavor and split them. My Ice Cream Puff was the sea salt caramel which is caramel ice cream with a pinch of sea salt. Unfortunately my ice cream filling was melting really quickly and the donut was barely warm.
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My friend whom I was sharing with ordered the Green Machine which was mint ice cream with crushed Oreo cookies. The results of her Ice Cream Puff was better. The donut was a little warmer and the ice cream stayed firm.
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My other two friends ordered the best flavor we tried. Midnight in Paris is coffee ice cream with Nutella chocolate chips. They added toasted almonds as a topping which gave it additional texture. It was not attractive looking because it looked like a pate’ sandwich.
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The ice cream was so tasty, that one of my friends ordered an additional cone. Personally, I don’t think the craze should be about an ice cream filled donut, but about the coffee ice cream with Nutella chocolate chips.
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Juhu Beach Club: Indian Street Food With A Twist

The Temescal neighborhood has become one of the new “It” neighborhoods in Oakland. Growing up, all I knew about the neighborhood was going to the DMV to take my driving test. These days a lot more is happening in Temescal. They have a very successful weekly farmer’s market, more and more hipsters are moving in, and businesses are opening up and booming.

Juhu Beach Club (JBC) has been open for over a year on Telegraph Avenue in Temescal and could be called the “It” restauarant. JBC serves Indian street food with a twist and the Chef is Preeti Mistry, famous for being a contestant on Top Chef Season 6.
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Last month I dined at JBC twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. I feel like after two meals, I have a good sense of their food now. Both times, Chef Mistry was behind the counter focused and calm. The first time I dined at JBC, it was dinner with my BFF. After reviewing the menu, we decided on having an assortment of appetizers to share.

The masala papadum are thin, cracker like crisps made of lentil and spices that came with four different toppings and chutneys. It was a fun appetizer to share and to munch on.
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The bhel salad was a layered mixture of green garbanzo beans, cucumbers, grapes with puffed rice and sev (crunchy chickpea noodles) served in a mason jar. It had to be poured out and mixed in the bowl. I really liked the presentation of the dish and I enjoyed the texture and the flavors.
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The masala fries are potato wedges with Indian spices and came with a trio of sauces. The fries were cooked nicely and my favorite of the three sauces was the tamarind ketchup which I kept going back to.
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The manchurian cauliflower was cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. It was crispy and carmelized to a point where you would not know you were eating a vegetable. It was like eating candy.
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The vindaloo chicken wings were prepared in a Point Reyes blue cheese raita. I was looking forward to having this version of a buffalo wing. I was a bit disappointed because it was difficult to get the meat off the bone.
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We also ordered a medley of vegetables made up of corn, green beans, and onions. It was like a succotash. I felt like it needed to be eaten with rice because of the amount of butter or oil that it was cooked in. I ended up taking it home and eating it for lunch the next day and it was quite tasty.
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Speaking of lunch, my lunch at JBC was with a coworker. It’s pretty clear that the item that most people eat at JBC is their pavs or sliders. The three pavs we shared were the vada pav which had fried potato puff, the holy cow which had cardamom braised short rib, and the pork vindalated, which had barbecue pulled pork. The pavs were in soft delicious rolls reminiscent of a Hawaiian roll. Surprisingly, my favorite slider was the vegetarian potato puff.
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We also shared the navi Mumbai chicken salad which was made up of seasonal greens, roasted root vegetables, grilled chicken, and topped with sev. The chicken had great flavor and was delicious. This salad would hit the spot almost any day for lunch.
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JBC also makes a delicious chai which my coworker ordered. I got to try it and it is the best chai I have ever tasted. If you order a chai, you get one free refill.
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Overall, JBC presents Indian food with a lot of creativity. After watching “The Hundred Foot Journey,” JBC would be a great place to eat afterwards. There seems to be a similar sense of the importance of Indian spices.
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Best of Paris

One of the first things my friends and I did almost every morning in Paris was to walk and explore a new boulangerie to try their croissants. By Day 3, we already found the best croissant and the best baguette, not without help. One of my friends put together a five page document with recommendations she received.

Our favorite place for croissants was at Du Pain et des Idees. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think there is a bad croissant in Paris, but these were exceptionally buttery, light, and flakey. We actually shared a number of delicious pastries and it was actually nice to enjoy them on a bench outside.

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Du Pain et des Idees
34 rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris

The favorite boulangerie for baguettes was at Au Levain du Marais. It was here when I noticed that everyone in line was getting baguettes. I returned to the line to get one. It was warm, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. For less than one euro, the Parisian baguette is the best deal in all of France.
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Au Levain du Marais
28 bd Beaumachais, 75011 Paris

We were staying in a lovely apartment in the Left Bank. On our first night, we walked to one of the neighborhood restaurants recommended by the owner of the apartment, Le Buisson Ardent. We ordered a three course meal. Each course was great, but the appetizers that one of my friends had, as well as mine were amazing. My friend ordered the tomato salad. The tomatoes were deliciously sweet, but it was what was on top that really elevated the dish. A round ball of basil leek sorbet. It was not just a surprise when you had a dab of it, but the combination of flavor and texture really worked well.
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I had eyed the tomato salad myself, but since my friend ordered it, I got the beef tartar instead. I have always been afraid of this dish, but figured that it was a great opportunity to overcome my fear. I was glad I did because it was delicious. It was delicate, smooth, and nicely flavored.
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Le Buisson Ardent
25 rue Jussieu, 75005 Paris

Five years ago when I was in Paris the first time, I set out to go to the famous Berthillon for ice cream, but it was closed the day I went. I made it a mission to go there on this trip. It pretty much rained every day we were in Paris, so we only ended up going twice. Between the three of us, we tried a dozen flavors. If I were to pick one flavor to have right now, it would probably be the almond. Delish!
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Berthillon
29-31 rue St Louis en l’Ile, 75004 Paris

Pierre Hermé is known for his macarons which we bought to try and to give as gifts. Luckily I saw a sign showing that they had ice cream sandwiches. I had to have one of the varieties. I chose the pistachio macaron and strawberry ice cream. It made me very happy.
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Pierre Hermé (One of several shops)
185 rue de Vaugirard, 75015 Paris

Paris is a gastronomic paradise. I enjoyed some very expensive dinners (including a two star Michelin restaurant) that were amazing, but also quite overwhelming. The experience reinforced the fact that I don’t need to have a three to ten course meal to have a great meal. Our final dinner in Paris was at La Fontaine De Mars, a simple bistro where my friends and I each got a plate of food and shared a bottle of house wine. It was perfect.

La Fontaine De Mars
129 rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris

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Best of London

I realized that I didn’t document my food experience in London or Paris very well on my blog. Borrough Market in London was great and so was that dinner at Le Comptoir in Paris. This week’s blog will focus on my best eats in London and next week will be my favorites in Paris.

I’ll start out with my favorite coffee shop in London. I was lucky to find Tapped and Packed one block away from my hotel. I was at T&P every morning which enabled me to redeem a frequent drink card on my last day for a free beverage. Sometimes I ordered a skinny latte and other times I got a flat white. Lots of customers were there for their drip coffee. I enjoyed the vibe there and even tried their delicious homemade sandwiches.
20140727-224736-82056594.jpgTapped and Packed
193 Wardour Street
Soho

I sat down for an actual English breakfast once during my time in London and it was at Regency Cafe. I ordered the set breakfast which came with an egg, bacon, sausage, baked beans or tomatoes, bread and butter, and coffee. I asked for both the beans and the tomatoes and an extra side of hash browns. Hey, I wasn’t coming back, at least not on this trip. My favorite things were the baked beans, the tomatoes, and the hash browns so I am glad I ordered the extras.

20140727-224946-82186212.jpgRegency Cafe
17-19 Regency Street
Westminster

My friend and I actually had Afternoon Tea twice in London. The better of the two was at The Wolseley. It is a fancy restaurant with servers that are very formal and attentive. I have had High Tea at plenty of nice places with good tea, sandwiches, scones, and desserts. But in no other place besides London can you get such amazing scones with clotted cream and jam. The whole experience of people having their nose up in the air and their pinky pointing up is worth it for the scones, clotted cream and jam.
20140727-225727-82647486.jpgThe Wolseley
160 Picadilly
Mayfair

I actually had scouted out a restaurant serving dim sum a couple of months before my holiday started. Coming from San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine wanting to have dim sum while in London. Let’s just say A. Wong puts dim sum to a whole new level of sophistication. Imagine a siu mai (steamed pork dumpling) with a crispy chicharrones on top. Imagine a har gow (steamed shrimp dumpling) with a citrus foam on top. That is what I am talking about!
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20140727-225442-82482763.jpgA Wong
70-71 Wilton Road
Victoria

My favorite dinner was at Nopi. I discovered Chef Yotam Ottolenghi about six months ago and when I found out he had restaurants in London, I knew I had to go. Nopi serves Mediterranean food. My friend and I shared quite a few dishes. My favorites was an appetizer of Burratta cheese and peaches and the dessert called Pomegranate Mess. It’s a take on the dessert Eton Mess with meringue, cream, and strawberries. Our version had mascarpone and sorbet.
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20140727-230229-82949208.jpgNopi
21-21 Warwick Street
Soho

There goes my London picks. Check back next week for my Paris picks!

El Techo de Lolinda: San Francisco Rooftop

A group of five friends met last week at a rooftop restaurant/bar I discovered recently in the Mission district of San Francisco. To get there, you have to pass a “bouncer” on the street, walk through the hallway of a building, and take an elevator to the “PH” aka Penthouse. El Techo de Lolinda is a popular spot for food and drinks. Many a time, there is a line to get up there, but luckily for us we got there early and didn’t have to wait.

The food is set up as tapas where you can share. We enjoyed ordering our food a little at a time throughout the evening. Aside from our cocktails, the first things we ordered were the chips and guacamole and the pollo frito. The servers were really nice and when one noticed that we were out of chips and still had guacamole, he brought us more chips without us requesting it. The pollo frito is fried chicken thigh pieces with jalapeño. They were temperature hot, crispy, juicy, and had a little hint of sweetness and spicy kick. Later on, we ordered a second helping because it was that good.
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El Techo has chicharrones on their menu that you can order as a half pound, full pound, or one and a half pounds. We ordered a full pound of roasted and fried chunks of pork shoulder. It also came with tortillas, black beans, and other condiments. The chicharrones were delicious. It was extremely tender and many of the pieces included some fat which made it all the better.
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We ordered some elote or grilled corn with sour cream, chili, and lime. It always feels like summer when you get to eat fresh corn. It’s also worth having kernels stuck in your teeth when it comes to Mexican corn.
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We were not done with the grill. El Techo allows you to order a mix and match of various skewers in different amounts. We ordered two shrimp skewers and one chorizo. These were really nice to share. The shrimp was cooked well and the homemade chorizo had great flavor.
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We shared two desserts. The first one was the dulce de leche flan with passion fruit jelly and almond streusel. Our party had a nut allergy so had to have the streusel on the side. I was quite full and just had a taste. The flan was a bit dense and I have had better. Maybe if it was better I would have had another bite.
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The second dessert we ordered was the chocolate ganache. It was topped with graham cracker crumbs and strawberries. The chocolate had added flavors of cinnamon and cayenne which was nice. I thought this dessert was much better. I was full, but managed to have two bites.
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I really enjoyed our evening at El Techo. It’s a great place to hang out with friends especially on a nice day. The views from the rooftop are amazing as well.

English Breakfast: Just Can’t Get Enough

A big congratulations goes out to Germany for winning the 2014 World Cup. It was an exciting game to watch as both Germany and Argentina was at its best. I watched the game at Commonwealth Cafe & Pub on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. It was my first visit and it was a packed house. I’m not sure if I was having British pub withdrawals that brought me here, but it was definitely a good time.
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My friend ordered the French Toast which came with mixed berries, clotted cream, and syrup. I love clotted cream and it made for a perfect brunch item for Commonwealth. It wasn’t on their regular menu, but a special item for the day. My friend was really happy with the dish and she shared some of it with me. I liked how the toast was made into strips so you get a lot of the crust which I think is the best part of French toast. The berries were fresh and in season. And did I say I am in love with clotted cream?
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In London, I enjoyed a typical English breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, hash browns, beans, and toast. I highly recommend the Regency Cafe for it. Here is the photo of my recent breakfast in London.
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I noticed the Commonwealth had beans and toast which I ordered. It sounded so comforting and not too heavy. I am sure it’s not the top item on their menu but I enjoyed it and it hit the spot.
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We watched a lot of food being served and it all looked really fresh and good. Commonwealth is a great place for food and to watch sports. The menu seemed quite authentic to British pub fare and I know I’ll be back soon.

I forgot to mention Commonwealth serves a variety of beer on tap as well as bottled, have ciders available and makes a decent Bloody Mary. They also carry beans from Oakland’s RoastCo and have an espresso machine. All your drink needs will be met.