Love Our Lake Day

My wifi is down so I have no choice but to write this blog post directly from my iPhone 4S. Boy, I can’t wait for the iPhone 6 to come out! The City of Oakland was all about walking and biking today. Love Our Lake Day is an event sponsored by WOBO (Walk Oakland Bike Oakland) which took over many streets down Lakeshore Avenue of Lake Merritt and through Downtown Oakland. My friend and I started on foot from Glenview through Trestle Glen until we got to the Lake. It was still early where the festivities were still being set up so we decided to walk on the Grand Avenue side of Lake Merritt and start from Downtown. Latham Square was the location of one end of the event. To be honest there wasn’t a lot going on there. There was a band playing, one food truck (Docs of the Bay) an ice cream cart, and a table set up by Oaklandish. I got my temporary tattoo and moved on.
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We walked down 17th Street to get to Latham Square so we took 14th Street to get back to the Lake. The part of the lake with the footbridge was another area with festivities. There were a handful of food trucks and vendors, tables promoting different mayoral candidates, and a very cool stage completely powered by bikes. The best thing in this area was seeing the completion of an art installment located under the bridge. “Undercurrent” is 20 steel columns of light and movement.
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We made our way up Lakeshore Avenue to El Embarcadero for the end of the festivities. There was another stage powered by bikes, ethnic dancers, and more food trucks and vendors. We were quite hungry now having walked six miles already. I noticed that the food vendor/caterer Marus Kitchen was frying up empanadas to order. I ordered one of the combination plates which had a chicken empanada, beef empanada, and arroz con gandules (a Puerto Rican style rice). It was actually quite good and reasonable for $10 which includes a drink.
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Today was a beautiful day with perfect Oakland weather. I didn’t feel like it was a crowded event and I’m not sure it was because there truly wasn’t a lot of people or because the event covered so much distance and people were moving. It was great to have the streets closed off for pedestrians on foot and bicyclists young and old. I was pleasantly surprised by the bands as well. I had a nice time at Love Our Lake Day. My only recommendation is to have a lot more food trucks and food vendors at this event in the future. After all this walking or biking, people need sustenance.

Taro Root Ice Cream: Western Flare to an Eastern Celebration

Tonight my family had a traditional Chinese dinner to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Taro, a root vegetable grown in various parts of the world is a typical ingredient that is eaten for this occasion.
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Taro is said to bring good luck and wealth. I can always use both luck and fortune so I decided to make something with taro. My friend let me borrow me her ice cream maker a couple of months ago. I was unsuccessful in trying to make a basil sorbet so here was my opportunity to redeem myself. I looked up a recipe for taro ice cream.

Ingredients
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups grated taro
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 can coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
salt to taste
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Directions
Melt butter in a medium saucepan under low heat. Add taro and blend, stirring for a few minutes. Next add whipping cream, coconut milk, and sugar. Turn up heat to medium high. Stir continuously. When the mixture has a low boil, turn the heat down to low. Cover pan and continue to cook the taro down, stirring occasionally for approximately 20 minutes. Turn off heat and add some salt to taste.
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Pour contents into a blender and turn on high speed until smooth, about a minute.
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Transfer contents into a container and put into fridge for a few hours. I was under time constraints so I put mine in the freezer for about 90 minutes.

Pour into an ice cream machine and follow directions of the machine. (You would have needed to freeze your ice cream cylinder the night before.)
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I transferred my ice cream back into a container and placed it back into the freezer for another 90 minutes to harden.

I also whipped up some taro chips. I thinly sliced some taro.
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When my deep fryer (another borrowed appliance) reached 375 degrees, I placed a handful of taro in the hot oil. They are ready when they turn translucent, approximately 2-3 minutes.
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Pour over paper towels to soak oil and then salt them.
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So how’d it all turn out?
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My family enjoyed it. For me, the chips came out awesome and it was so easy. The flavor of my ice cream was delicious, but it was too thick for my taste. Well, I can say my ice cream skills are improving. Maybe it’s time to try a more traditional flavor – like strawberry. But what’s the fun in that?

Plumed Horse: For Special Celebrations

Earlier this month, I was invited to celebrate the birthdays of some of my close friends who were born in August. We celebrated fancy by dining at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga, a Michelin star restaurant.
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We all agreed to order the Chef Tasting Menu so here goes…

Cannoli with Salmon Mousse
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Tuna Carpaccio with Toybox Tomatoes
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Australian King Prawn with spaghetti squash, zucchini blossom, and crisp basil
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Black Pepper and Parmesan soufflé (My personal favorite)
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Alaskan Halibut with gooseberry, toybox tomatoes, and bacon vinaigrette
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Maine Lobster Risotto with shaved black Australian truffle (they were generous with the shavings)
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Semolina gnocchi with duck egg, Surryano ham, and Parmesan broth
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Sonoma Lamb with potato gratin, chanterelle mushrooms, and roasted lamb jus
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Coconut semifreddo with pickled green strawberry, micro basil, and strawberry consommé
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Valrhona Chocolate Neapolitan with raspberry and white chocolate mousse
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Outside the tasting menu, we ordered the white peach soufflé to share
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One of the waiters brought us each a truffle on a stick
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Another bonus birthday dessert
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This dinner was quite an event as plate after plate after plate was presented to us. The plating was picture perfect. ( Unfortunately the lighting didn’t allow me to capture it well.). It reminded me that food is art. Everything we ate was delicious. I can understand why they are Michelin rated.

The dining experience was very special because you feel privileged to be enjoying the meal. If you have a special occasion, the Plumed Horse might very well be a good choice to celebrate. Or if your name is Chelsea Handler and you happen to have a performance, you may want to dine here as well. (Celeb sighting as she was sitting at the table next to us.)

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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