Head to Alameda for Authentic Italian 

My BFF and I took my sister out last night to celebrate her birthday.  The birthday girl wanted Italian food and suggested Trabocco Kitchen and Cocktails located at Alameda South Shore Center.  It was my first time here and honestly my expectations were pretty low.

The service was really good.  We were immediately given warm bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and were asked what we wanted to drink.  We each ordered cocktails.  I really enjoyed my “Milano Mule” which is their twist on a Moscow Mule.  It had Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom vodka, saffron, and ginger beer and it was delicious.  
We started with a Caesar salad that wasn’t actually on the menu but it caught our eye when another table ordered it.  It was simple, but tasty.  We really liked the boiled egg that was included.   

 We had two antipasti.  One was the carpaccio which is raw, grass fed beef tenderloin with lemon, olive oil, shaved parmesan, and arugula.  Another very simple and delicious dish.  The meat was so tender that it melted in my mouth.  

 The other antipasti appeared much more complicated.  We had the polipo e patate which is grilled octopus with two kinds of potatoes, celery, lemon, and olive oil.  This was probably my favorite dish of the evening.  I loved the meaty char on the octopus.  
 My BFF picked the special rotisserie of the day which was duck.  It came with polenta and spinach.  The skin wasn’t crispy like Peking duck, rather fattier like a roast duck.  It had a deep rich flavor that was enjoyable.
 My sister ordered the agnolotti di zucca which is house-made pasta filled with butternut squash, walnuts, brown butter sage sauce, and parmesan.  I was pretty excited about it because you can see through a window where fresh pasta is being made.  I loved the texture of the pasta on the agnolotti, but the filling and sauce was a bit heavy and boring.  This was probably my least favorite dish, but I would still consider trying other pasta dishes here in the future.

 I ordered the pollo alla contadina, the wood-fire chicken with an herb and chili flake marinade.  It came with potatoes and root vegetables.  I asked to substitute the root vegetables with the green beans, but they accidentally substituted spinach.  I was ok with that.  The chicken had crispy skin and tender juicy meat that made me happy.   

 I would be remiss not to mention the wine we had that complimented our dinner.  My BFF did a great job selecting the montepulciano and it was a perfect pairing for our meal.  

 For dessert, they brought out a free tiramisu for the birthday girl.  It was exceptional and I can’t remember ever having a better one.  

 We also had the zabaglione, an Italian custard cream with fresh fruit.  I personally thought it was a bit on the thin side and didn’t enjoy it as much as the others at the table.  I would’ve liked more tiramisu.  

 In summary, we had a great experience at Trabocco.   I think we had a pretty good sampling of foods, but I did watch pizzas coming out to tables that looked amazing.  I’ll definitely be back for more as this was just an introduction to delicious authentic Italian food in Alameda.

DIY: Homemade Potstickers

I have been attending these fabulous themed cooking parties and last night we had a Shanghai dinner.  I wanted to make potstickers from scratch which I have never done before.  Potstickers are a form of Chinese dumplings.  I have made wontons, a different kind of dumpling, so I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult.  I found an old recipe that I had photocopied many years ago from a Chinese cookbook.  

Ingredients to make about 50 potstickers:

  • Potsticker wrappers (My packages came in 25 so I used 2 packs)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 cups of chopped Napa cabbage
  • 1/4 cup of chopped yellow onion
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • Vegetable or other high heat oil for frying
  • Chicken stock

Place pork in a large bowl.  Add salt, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, corn starch, and ginger and mix thoroughly.  Now blend in the cabbage and the two types of onions evenly.  Your filling is complete.   

 

Place about 1 1/2 tbsp of filling in the center of each wrapper.  Wet around the entire edge of the wrapper.  Fold dumpling over in half and make pleats from left to right while sealing.  Once sealed, stand the dumpling up to shape the bottom flat so it becomes three sided.   

   

Repeat until you run out of wrappers or filling.  If you don’t want to cook them all, these freeze very well. Place them on parchment paper and don’t let them touch each other for the initial freeze.  

To cook the first batch of dumplings, heat a non stick skillet over medium high heat.  Pour about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the skillet.  Once the oil heats, brown each side of the potstickers.  

  

Pour about 1/2 cup of chicken stock into the skillet.  Cover the pan and turn the heat to low so the dumplings can cook thoroughly.  In about 8-10 minutes the liquid should have evaporated.  The dumplings will begin to caramelize on the bottom and stick to the bottom of the pan which is why they are called potstickers.  Remove the cover and the potstickers should get crispy again and come off easily.   

These dumplings taste great dipped in a black vinegar/ginger or a hot chili oil. 

The potstickers were enjoyed by all.  Here are some of the other fantastic creations from last night. Thanks to the hosts and all the “chefs” for another successful dinner!

 

Parlour: More than Pizza

The opening of Parlour has been a long anticipated wait for me.  It’s located in Uptown Oakland a block and a half from where I work.  Imagine the suspense of knowing a new restaurant is going to open up in your neighborhood and they are remodeling the space.  The entire front entry is made of glass and wood from top to bottom.  For well over a year, those windows were covered with paper and I was intrigued about what was going on in there.  

Parlour finally opened on March 25.  I tried to walk in two days after the opening and couldn’t get in earlier than 9:45pm.  The restaurant pretty much encourages reservations.  Now that I know you can make reservations on Open Table, it works for me.  I made an early and same day reservation last week for me and two friends.   

We started with cocktails, after all it was really 6pm our time!  I had a drink called a Foxtail which is made up of rye, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and mint.  It was delicious.

 

Our first starter was purple asparagus with pancetta, farm egg, sherry gastrique, and parmesan.  My friends were wondering why the asparagus was green.  I thought maybe if you cooked the purple asparagus, it would turn green. We asked the waitress and she told us that they actually ran out of purple asparagus.  We still enjoyed these tremendously.  Each ingredient was cooked beautifully and complimented each other.  

 

We also ordered the meatball appetizer which is made of pork, veal, and beef.  The tender flavorful protein was outstanding.  They came with some crostini which I was happily dipping into the sauce.

 

What came out next was a plate that was compliments of the chef.  It was the vitelli tonnato which is pastrami tongue, crispy capers, celery hearts, and tuna aioli.  It was definitely not something I would order.  It was actually pretty tasty, but something I didn’t have to have.  We think the chef brought it to us because of the asparagus incident.  The purple asparagus appetizer did have a $15 price tag on it which I thought was pretty outrageous.  

 Funny thing about purple asparagus is that I saw it at the Farmer’s Market yesterday and it is pretty pricey. I did some further research and learned that purple asparagus tends to lose its color after cooking and can turn green.

 Parlour has a wood fired oven so we ordered a couple of pizzas.  The first one was a pepperoni and castelvetrano olives.  These are my favorite olives and I think it’s genius to out them on this particular pizza.  The pepperoni was cooked crispy just like I like them.  Yum and it looked like Christmas.  

The other pizza was the basic margherita pizza.  It was good but it was slightly unbalanced as far as the mozarella is concerned.  The crust on the pizzas were more on the crispy side.  

 I was with some big eaters so we also ordered the duck egg chitarra.  Chitarra is a pasta similar to a spaghetti.  This pasta came with cured kumquat, slow cooked duck ragout, and pecorino.  I was getting quite full so just had a small amount.   The flavors and textures were excellent.  

 

There is always room for dessert.  I picked the olive oil cake with blackberry preserves and vanilla chantilly cream.  The cake had a springy texture different from other olive oil cakes I’ve eaten.  I thought the blend of slightly tart preserves and creamy sweetness added to the cake was delicious.  

 

The other dessert we had was the smoked pear crostata with a brown butter caramel and a bay leaf semifreddo.  The operative word is smoked.  I couldn’t get passed the smokey flavor.  It was eaten up so I figure someone enjoyed it.  It was definitely interesting and probably innovative.

 Overall, Parlour is great!  I guess I can say it was worth the long wait it took to open.  Right now they serve dinner only, but I heard they will be opening for lunch in a few weeks.  Being so close to work, I’ll be back.

Kiraku: Japanese Tapas in Berkeley

 

My coworker introduced me to Kiraku, a small Japanese tapas restaurant  on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.  She recently had dinner there and was texting me photos as the food was being served.  I was intrigued.  My friend who lives in Palo Alto was happy to make the drive to eat there with me last week.   Here’s what we had in the order that it came out.

I was in love at first site with this beautiful spoonful of uni, ikura, and yuba.  It tasted fresh and had a subtle flavor of the sea.  

 

We had the homemade tofu that was topped with seaweed, bonito flakes, and green onions.  Although the presentation was pretty, it was cold and bland and not what either of us expected.  We should’ve had the agedashi tofu instead.

 

The beef tataki was lightly seared on the outside and thinly sliced.  The beef was very tender and was complimented with a citrus flavored sauce.  It was my absolute favorite plate of the evening.

 The corn tempura is clusters of kernel corn that is battered and deep fried and tossed with green tea salt.  This is a very popular dish.  It was good, but I think I expected a wow.

My friend who is obsessed with foie gras ordered the foie gras with daikon.  I remember my last hurrah with foie gras before the California ban in 2012 and decided to keep those memories as my last.  My friend really enjoyed this dish.  I tasted the sauce and the daikon and thought that was lovely.  

 

The roast duck came out next.  It was perfectly sliced with each piece having crispy skin.  However I thought it was a tad over cooked which made it taste boring.

 

The organic chicken karaage was something my coworker had recommended.  I had no problem ordering it because I love fried chicken.  I liked the coating, but thought it fell a bit flat.  

 

We ended our meal with my favorite sashimi, salmon.  This was the perfect ending being that it was fresh and light.  

 My coworker would probably disagree on the perfect ending because one of her favorite things she had at Kiraku was their homemade grapefruit yogurt ice cream.  Me and my friend opted to drive to Ici instead.  There are a lot more items on the Kiraku menu that I am interested in trying so I’m sure I’ll be back soon. 

Cheese Board Pizza: Trying Out New Things

I feel as if the Cheese Board Pizza (CBP) is going through an experimental phase.  I have been over to CBP in Berkeley twice in the past several days and not for pizza.  I went over there on Wednesday morning to get fresh donuts.  They were making donuts every Wednesday morning for the month of March.  I went over again this morning.  They are typically closed on Sunday, but they had a Pop Up and was serving chilaquiles.  Are they experimenting?  That’s actually how CBP got started back in 1985, by experimenting with sourdough, fresh vegetables, and the cheese from the cheese shop.  

 

This past Wednesday was the last Wednesday of the month and my last opportunity to try their donuts.  I bought two donuts, one regular and one filled.   The donuts were made fresh in small batches and dusted with cinnamon and sugar.  My filled donut was injected with a caramel custard sauce.  The outside of the doughnuts had a light crispness and the inside was soft and pillowy.  

I thought CBP did a great job.  However, I felt they could’ve put more custard in the filled one.  It was a very small amount and didn’t reach the other half of the donut.   

 Since Wednesday, I’ve been looking forward to this morning’s Pop Up because I love chilaquiles.  I got there before the 10am start time.  There was pretty much an assembly line to plate the dish.  The ingredients used were organic fried tortilla chips tossed in a red sauce, pinto beans, hen pasteurized eggs, avocado, onion, cilantro, and creme fraiche.  These may have been the best chilaquiles I have ever had.  All the ingredients were so fresh and I loved that the chips remained crispy.  
 

I was able to capture a team photo of the staff behind the chilaquiles Pop Up.  My message to the Cheese Board Pizza is that the experiments have been wonderful and I’m here for you.  Once a month chilaquiles is a pretty good idea too!  

Chilli Padi: Oakland’s One and Only Malaysian Restaurant

I still recall my first experience eating Malaysian food.  It was back in the year 1999 when I lived in New York City.  I made friends who introduced me to Nyonya.  My last visit to New York was less than two years ago, but I still made a point to get take out from Nyonya for the plane ride home.

There aren’t a lot of Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area.  I have even seen a few come and go.  I am happy that one finally opened in Oakland that I can go to when I have a craving.  Chilli Padi Malaysian Cuisine is located in Oakland Chinatown replacing Szechuan Restaurant, a brunch spot I used to frequent.  I’ve eaten at Chilli Padi (CP) twice thus far and here is a summary:

One of my favorite Malaysian foods is roti canai, a kind of bread that is made up of a lot of thin layers and comes with a curry dipping sauce.  It’s a great starter.   

The samosas at CP were also delicious minus having to remove the excess oil with a napkin.  They are a cross between an egg roll and an Indian samosa.  The inside is filled with potatoes and vegetables and wrapped with the similar wrapping for egg rolls.  They are deep fried and comes with a sweet Thai chili sauce.   

On one of my visits, I tried the fried chicken wings.  If I made a list of the best fried chicken wings, these probably wouldn’t make the cut.  However, they had good flavor, no coating, and they were all wing, my favorite part.  There were no drumettes and no wing tips!     

A popular noodle soup at CP is the laksa mee.  It has a curry base that thickens the broth and comes with noodles, chicken, tofu, eggplant, green beans, and okra.  I love the flavor and all the ingredients.     “Kangkung” is a vegetable that was prepared in belacan or shrimp paste. I know it as “ong choy” in Chinese cuisine.  It’s probably not for everyone because of the unique texture and unusual flavor, but I love it. 

The coffee short ribs were finger licking good.  They had a delicious sweet glaze with a hint of coffee flavor.  I am a happy camper if all I had were the coffee short ribs and a bowl of steamed white rice.

The sautéed eggplant was also yummy.  It was cooked perfectly so it had a small crispness at first bite and was tender on the inside.    

After my dinner at CP, my party was given a free dessert and it was huge.  It was a bowl full of shaved ice, beans, and condensed milk.  Not being a big Asian dessert fan, it was pretty good. 

If you are looking for a Malaysian restaurant, look no further, Chilli Padi is here.

Austin Eats

I think this blog post about Austin eats is timely since SXSW is happening right now.  On Food Network’s episode of “Best. Pizza. Ever.,” eleven pizzerias made the list including Bufalina in Austin.  (Note that Oakland’s very own Pizzaiola is also one of the eleven and the only one in the entire Northern California.)



First off this is a popular place so do what me and my friends did to ensure you get in without waiting an hour or more.  We showed up about twenty minutes before they opened.  I was surprised that when the door opened at 5:30pm, we already formed a long line.  

For an appetizer, we chose the burrata cheese with egg yolk and olive oil.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but what came out was lovely.  The presentation of the cheese looked like a boiled egg.  It was soft, salty, and very delicious especially with the olive oil.  



Our first pizza was the margherita.  This is the most simple pizza essential to determine the worthiness of a Neopolitan style pizza.  It passed the test.  It had a nice chewy crust with great flavor.  

Our second pizza was the napoletano which had tomato sauce, sausage, garlic, black olives, chile, and basil.  The waitress was nice to let us know that this pizza doesn’t come with mozzarella cheese, but we could add it.  We added cheese for half at the recommendation of my BFF who wanted to also taste it as it was meant to be.  This pizza had great flavor as well, especially the half with cheese.  The bad part was that the middle of the pie was on the soggy side.  The toppings were unable to hold up to the pizza crust.  


After two pizzas, the three of us still felt like we had some room left.  We went ahead and ordered the meat plate which came with prosciutto, two kinds of salumi, bread, and cornichons.  This plate was good, but there was nothing special about it.



For dessert we ordered the olive oil almond cake with ice cream.  I have to repeat, good but not special.  



Something special in Austin were some beignets I had for brunch.  Our friends took us to Epicerie Cafe & Grocery for brunch.  For the table, we ordered two servings of beignets. 



The warm fried dough was soft and pillowy and had a generous amount of powdered sugar just like it should.   They were yummy and dunking it in my coffee transformed me to New Orleans.



I ordered the shrimp and grits as my main dish.  The jumbo shrimp were delicious and complimented the density in the grits.  The scallions added a nice freshness to the dish.



My BFF ordered the quiche which I tasted and found quite tasty.  The texture was perfect with a soft sponginess.

I had planned to go to Micklethwait Craft Meats for BBQ on my last day, but it ended up raining.  When I got to the airport, I realized it was my last opportunity to get my BBQ fix.  



I ended up at Salt Lick to pick up a  BBQ beef sandwich for the plane ride.  Surprisingly my sandwich held up pretty well.  The beef and the roll was nice and tender.   I put on some extra BBQ sauce that added a nice tang.  



Austin is another city filled with great food.  If you’re visiting Austin, I know you’ll have fun exploring.