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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Surprisingly, there is some good food to be found in Grapevine/Dallas!

Camber: Bringing Exotic Flavors to Uptown and Montclair

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

DIY: Hawaiian Twist on Chex Mix

This is the second year that I made handmade gifts for the holidays. Previously, I gifted a delicious granola. This year, I decided on a furikake chex mix. Furikake is a bottled Japanese seasoning. I like the one made of roasted seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt. My sister in law has made it for parties. I have even purchased some at Jimbo’s, an ice cream shop in San Jose.

The traditional Chex mix is a savory mix of various snacks, but I love the furikake version which offers a sweet and savory mix of flavors. When you make it yourself, you get to put the snacks you like and avoid those snacks you don’t enjoy as much.

Here’s the list of ingredients needed:

1 box Rice Chex cereal
1 box Corn Chex cereal
1 box Kix cereal
1 bag of pretzel sticks
2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 bottle Furikake
Additional roasted seaweed
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil
I started by blending all the snacks I wanted to include and dividing it into two large tin foil pans.
In a small saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup, soy sauce, and oil over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat.
Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
Pour wet mixture over the snacks and mix well so that coating is evenly distributed.
Season with furikake and roasted seaweed.
Bake at 250°F for 1 hour. Mix and turn every 15 minutes.

After an hour, the coating should have hardened. Remove from oven and let cool before putting snacks in airtight containers.

Stateside Bakery: For Nostalgia Sake

Stateside Bakery recently opened in Berkeley reinventing old school cookies and snack cakes using quality ingredients and cutting out anything artificial. The innovator behind this bakery is Kate of CupKates, the first mobile truck serving up delicious cupcakes in the East Bay.
I decided to get a variety of goodies to serve at Christmas dinner. When I arrived to Stateside Bakery on Christmas Eve morning, I was lucky enough to get some “Twinkies,” “Nutter Butters,” “Oreo’s,” and “MoonPies.” I wasn’t familiar with Little Debbie “Oatmeal Cream Pies” so I skipped them and didn’t think “Pop Tarts” served as a dessert.
I first noticed that these treats were pricey, but figured Christmas was a reason to splurge on calories and the pocketbook.

The gourmet “Twinkies” known at Stateside as “Twinkles” is a soft vanilla bean cake filled with whipped cream. The cake and cream were delicious and lighter than the original. They do come in pairs just like the famous Hostess snack.
I got miniature “Peanut Butter Nutter Cookies” to try and they were tasty. These crispy peanut butter cookies sandwiched with a peanut butter filling, didn’t give me the nostalgia of the original. I was also missing the peanut shape famous in the Nabisco cookie.
The “Valrhona Oreoh!” were hands down my favorite. Stateside does a great job of reinventing the cookie but making it much more upscale by using fine chocolate. The giant cookie and filling brought me back to a good place. However, I didn’t eat them like I remember eating them as a kid, twisting the cookies open and eating the cream filling first.
The “Original Marshmallow Sandwich MoonPie” is made up of two graham cracker cookies filled with marshmallow cream and coated with chocolate. Stateside’s “Moon Pies” are dipped in dark chocolate. These were probably my least favorite because I’m not a fan of the texture of marshmallow.
I had a lot of fun sampling all the different treats. The bakery is continuing to reinvent new treats as well. I’m waiting for their version of the “Ding Dong.” If you are looking for some nostalgia and a delicious treat, Stateside Bakery is calling.

Epic Roasthouse: Not Quite Epic, But Certainly Worth A Visit

Last week I had my holiday luncheon for work. It really is the highlight of the year as we venture out to the City and have a great meal. Every year we are fortunate and get to go somewhere really nice. This is actually the third year we have gone to Epic Roasthouse, probably because the food is always excellent and the location along the Embarcadero is beautiful.

The luncheon started with wine or cocktails and some lovely passed hors d’oeuvres. It gives us time to mingle and celebrate with everyone in our department.

For the first course, we had a choice of Butternut Squash Tortellini or the Gathered Greens. I split the appetizer with one of my colleagues so that we could experience both. The tortellini came with cauliflower purée, maitake mushrooms, and a brown butter sauce. This was really amazing. It was a mouthful of deliciousness. Did I really agree to share?
The greens were topped with grilled grapes, sunflower seeds, and a white cheese and champagne vinaigrette. It was a simple salad and paled in comparison to the tortellini. I was actually glad to have half the salad so that I could lighten up my meal.
The choice of second courses were beef, fish, or vegetarian. I couldn’t share the beef with my colleague because she likes her beef well done and I don’t. My Grilled Filet of Beef came prepared close to rare as requested with potato wedges and broccoli rabe. It was a solid dish.
My coworker who was sitting on the other side of me ordered the Wild Striped Bass with butterball potatoes, caramelized onions, basil pesto, and chorizo. I had a small taste of her fish which melted in my mouth. It was moist and buttery and made me think I made the wrong choice for appetizer.
No one at my table ordered the Winter Vegetable Medley which came with roasted acorn squash, wild mushrooms, baby carrots, and beet greens. I’m sure the vegetarians would have enjoyed that nice variety. It definitely sounds like it would make for a nice side dish.

There were two choices for the dessert course so I was back to sharing. The Apple Turnover came with two turnovers so it was easy to split. It came with homemade vanilla ice cream, almonds, and caramel. The warm turnover was light and perfect and had my name all over it.
The Chocolate Pecan Tart was presented with cinnamon ice cream and a pecan tuille. This was much richer than the turnover so again I was glad to split both for better balance. If you enjoy chocolate, you might want to call this one dreamy.
Epic Roasthouse is a nice place to enjoy a great meal while spending time in the City.

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.