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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Our waitress helped debone it and did a wonderful job.
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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.
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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
Ginger
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Cilantro
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.
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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.
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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.
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You can also use winter melon or chayote. Slice into equal sized strips.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

A Small Glimpse into Shakewell

Shakewell Kitchen & Bar on Lakeshore Avenue is one of the hottest new restaurants that have recently opened in Oakland. It gets a lot of buzz because the owners are famous for being competitors on cooking shows. The Executive Chef, Jen Biesty was on Top Chef Season 4 and the Pastry Chef/General Manager, Tim Nugent, was on Top Chef: Just Desserts. It’s pretty cool that these two partners were funded by the community using the fundraising website kickstarter.com.

Shakewell serves dinner and weekend brunch with a Mediterranean twist. After a leisurely walk around the lake today, my friend and I stopped by for brunch. We bypassed waiting for the hostess since there was open space at the bar. I love eating at the bar whether drinking is involved or not. I “checked in” using the yelp app which entitled me to a free pastry. The choices were coffee cake, danish, or financiers. IMG_1349.JPG
The financiers were a little on the dry side. It did come with a dab of kadota fig preserves. I think I would’ve been better off with the coffee cake as it seemed to be popular. We got this free so I really can’t complain. At least we ordered cafe lattes to go with our pastries.
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With a little help from our bartender we decided on sharing two dishes. The first was the tortilla espanola, which is a Spanish style quiche made of a mixture of egg and sliced potatoes. Shakewell’s version was cooked in duck fat and topped with crispy duck and an aioli sauce. I love potatoes, duck, and fat so I really enjoyed this. The layering reminded me of scalloped potatoes.
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Our second dish was the “skakshuka” or Moroccan baked eggs with roasted peppers, chick peas, feta cheese, and herbs. This came with toast to help soak up the yumminess of the eggs. Based on the complex flavors of this dish, I would give it a slight edge over the first one.
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Brunch today was a tease. I definitely want to try more on my next visit to Shakewell, after all their menu offers food meant to be shared. Chefs Jen and Tim were both there today. Jen came out to greet friends and Tim was around and about with a friendly smile on his face.

Come All to Comal

A comal defined by Wikipedia is a smooth, flat griddle typically used in Mexico and Central America to cook tortillas, toast spices, sear meat, and generally prepare food. Comal is also the name of a Mexican restaurant located in downtown Berkeley. I met some friends at Comal for dinner last week. The space is beautiful with two dining areas that lead to a third space for drinks.

We started with some house margaritas while we perused the menu. There were four of us and although we had a few different things in mind, we easily agreed to share a bunch of items. The appetizers and sides were much more appealing to us which is great for sharing.

If I see chicharrones on the menu, I gotta have them. I just love the lightness and crispiness of pork rinds. These house-made ones met my expectations as I added hot sauce and salsa to them. And yes, I did share.
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The “chips” we ordered came guacamole and three different salsas and they all had great flavor. The freshly made tortilla chips were also crisp and light and disappeared pretty quickly.
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Originally I thought it was a mistake to order the chips and salsa when we also ordered the sikil pak because it also came with chips and salsa. This was my first time having sikil pak which is a dip made of toasted pumpkin seeds, grilled eggplant, and habanero. I enjoyed this especially with more delicious chips. It didn’t seem to be a mistake after all, since we ate up all the chips. Let’s just say one order of chips feeds no more than two.
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We ordered a salad made of bitter greens, persimmons, pomegranates, spiced pepitas, and Manchego cheese. Welcome Fall! I’m always thinking of what could go into a Fall salad so now I have some ideas.
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We got an order of beef & pork albóndigas en adobo. This was pretty amazing with the tenderness of the meatball and the smokiness of the adobo sauce. The meatballs come with fresh hand made tortillas made on-site. Reminds me of Old Town San Diego. This was my favorite plate.
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The enchiladas of the day were duck. The plate comes with two enchiladas so we had two orders. We also got a side of black beans de olla. I enjoyed these as well and they were perfect for sharing.
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Another side we ordered were the Brussels sprouts and autumn squash with pequin chiles and pepitas. This side was good, but my least favorite item. The flavors just couldn’t match up to everything else.
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Comal also does family style plates of meats and vegetables cooked in their wood fired oven and comes with traditional sides of beans, rice, and tortillas. We didn’t try it this time, but I am pretty sure I would enjoy it.

We shared two desserts. The first was arroz con leche or rice pudding with plums and toasted pistachios. I really liked it especially with the additional texture that the pistachios added.
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Our second dessert was flan with raspberries. It was really creamy and tasted more like a creme brûlée. Still delicious, but if you are looking for more density and caramelization in a traditional flan, that wasn’t there.
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Overall, Comal was a great dining experience. Living in California especially the Bay Area, I feel fortunate to have access to such amazing Mexican cuisine.

Spooning Up Korean Brunch in Berkeley

Every time I make my way to Berkeley Bowl West to go grocery shopping, I pass by a restaurant called Spoon Korean Bistro. Each time I pass it, I become intrigued. Today I asked my sister and BFF if they wanted to have brunch at Spoon and then go grocery shopping. They both agreed.

The menu at Spoon was interesting because it had items that I had never experienced at other Korean restaurants. For instance, I have never had Korean porridge. Spoon’s version is made with rice, quinoa, mung bean, and milk. If you order porridge, you get the side dishes or banchan and you get a choice of an add-on that gets cooked into the porridge. We chose mushrooms. The porridge was thick and creamy, a cross between jook or Chinese rice porridge and oatmeal. It felt very comforting to eat and the mushrooms added a distinct flavor and texture.
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Another “new to me” dish were the kimchi pancakes. They were mild in spice and crispy. I thought these were really good and a great choice for a brunch item.
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My BFF requested we get the glazed potatoes which were deep fried potatoes in a sweet glaze. If you order these potatoes, you are warned there is a 7 minute wait. These came out piping hot and were both crisp and sweet on the outside. It almost felt like I was having a dessert.
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We also ordered the appetizer size veggie jhap chae. Jhap chae is a dish made up of sweet potato glass noodles stir fried with vegetables including mushrooms, carrots, onions, and sesame oil. I always enjoy eating jhap chae and this one was not any different.
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We didn’t order anything with meat, so decided to go with the Korean BBQ beef short ribs. We devoured these as well. The BBQ flavor was tasty and they were grilled well.
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We enjoyed Spoon very much. We got to eat outside and enjoy the nice weather, the service was great, and the food was authentic and delicious.

At the end of our meal, I learned from our waiter that Spoon has several sister restaurants including Ohgane in Oakland. Ohgane is actually my favorite Korean restaurant so it was nice to discover this little bistro where I could enjoy brunch and then do some grocery shopping. It’s always best to not go grocery shopping when you are hungry.