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.



San Antonio: First Meal, Last Meal, and Coffee In-between

I am writing on the airplane ride back from Austin, Texas.  My BFF and I spent a few days in San Antonio and Austin, my two favorite cities in Texas.  Our first meal upon arrival in San Antonio was the best meal of the entire trip at a restaurant called Cured located in the Pearl District.  Cured got its name not only because of their housemade chauchuterie, but because the Chef who opened up the restaurant was thankfully cured of cancer.   



Our server first brought us an amuse bouche of lamb chili.  I’ve never had chili made with lamb meat.  The chili flavors were really nice, but I felt it was a little gamey.  I was thinking that if this chili was made with pork, it would be off the hook.  



We couldn’t dine at a restaurant named Cured without having their cured meats which have been cured anywhere from 30 days to 12 months.   We selected three items — chicken liver pate, jalapeño sausage, and lamb citrus terrine.  The generous plate was complimented with pickled carrots and cucumbers, mustards, and delicious crackers.  

The menu at Cured is listed in categories and each category has items of various sized proportions.  We each selected two of the smaller dishes.  My first dish was the beet, avocado, and citrus salad which came with a citrus vinaigrette and was topped with a beet crackling.  I was not feeling like I was in Texas.  It was an excellent salad and I not only loved the idea of the beet crackling, but it worked really well.




I also chose the smoked pork gumbo which came with Heritage hog, andouille sausage, and okra.  This was topped on fluffy white rice.  The gumbo overall was a little on the salty side.



My BFF ordered the fried chicken livers.  These were perfectly crispy and laid on top of a lemon pepper jelly.  The savory fried livers with the sweet tangy jelly was superb.



She also ordered one of her favorite things, the bone marrow soup.  The server poured the soup which also had caramelized Brussels sprouts and root vegetables.  I tried a taste and thought it had great flavor.  



We were both intrigued with the pork butter and corn bread and decided on ordering this side dish as well.  This may sound a little over the top, but it was so good.  I sort of felt like I was eating a mini savory cupcake.  My kinda cupcake!



For dessert we shared the chocolate tarragon ganache with hazelnut mousse with bitter orange ice cream.  This was quite rich and we got through about half of it.  Although beautifully presented, I was not impressed with this particular dessert.  I may have selected the wrong one.



Our last meal was lunch at Boudro’s.  This Tex-Mex restaurant is located on the Riverwalk.  We both have fond memories of eating there a few years ago when our friend took us there.  The waiters all prepare delicious guacamole table side.  



But it’s really the prickly pear margaritas that we were coming back for.  The fuchsia color of the prickly pear is pretty and the drink is delightful.  If I wasn’t driving to Austin, I would’ve liked another.  



We both were looking for something on the lighter side so we each ordered the chicken and tortilla caldo.  This comforting chicken soup was topped with tortilla chips, avocado,  queso fresco, and cilantro.  This soup really hit the spot for me. 



I was happy to have found the local coffee shop in San Antonio called Local Coffee. They recently began to roast their own beans as well.  For me, the key to good coffee is fresh roasted beans, a good espresso machine, and a barista that cares about each cup.  I found that at Local Coffee.  It was not close to where we were staying, but we made an effort to go there twice.  



Those were my highlights of San Antonio.  Stay tuned next week to see what I ate in Austin.

Tian Jin Dumplings: A Special Hole in the Wall

A “hole in the wall” is a small and unpretentious place often used to describe restaurants.  Tian Jin Dumplings in Oakland Chinatown is literally a hole in the wall.  You stick your face in front of a window (hole) and order your food for take out.  My coworker and I have been meaning to go there for awhile and finally went last week.  



There are only six cooked items on the Tian Jin Dumplings menu, and we attempted to get all six.  Unfortunately two of the six items had already sold out so we could only get four.  We had to wait about fifteen minutes for our food to be ready.  One could potentially eat in one of the two small tables on the sidewalk.  On this particular day, it was very windy, so we took our food to the Oakland City Center to eat.  

We started our lunch with the savory Tianjin crepe which is an egg based crepe with black sesame seeds filled with Chinese donut and preserved vegetables.  I thought it was quite unique in both flavor profile and texture.  It is actually one large crepe that is cut into two.  This alone could be a meal in itself.  My coworker and I only got through half the order.  



Next we tried the biscuit.  The biscuit was very boring and really a waste of carbohydrates.  I don’t recommend this at all.



The first dumplings we ate were the chive dumplings.  These pieces of wonderful are generously filled with pork and chives.  



The alternate dumplings were the cabbage dumplings, which I liked best.  They were moist, juicy, and some of the best dumplings I have had.  



Tian Jin Dumplings definitely impressed me as well as others.  I brought the leftovers back to the office and shared some of the remaining dumplings with two other coworkers.  After sampling, they both requested that I take them there In the near future, which I agreed.  But next time I’ll get there early so I can try the two sold out items – tea smoked egg and the Tian Jin pork bun.    

Touring Oakland’s Rockridge Neighborhood

Last Thursday I attended the Rockridge Food Tour. It was a tour for “media only.” There were a couple of us that have non-media related jobs and do this on the side for fun. I was in awe that most of these people get paid to eat, but I was happy to be able to participate and eat for free.

The Rockridge Food Tour is run by a woman named Lauren who has a very bubbly personality and is passionate about this Oakland neighborhood. Our first stop on the tour was A16 which I dined at last year on my birthday. A16 is best known for their Neopolitan style pizza from their wood fired oven. The Executive Chef Rocky was there to tell us about the restaurant. The wood fired oven was imported from Naples, Italy and burns almond wood. The pizza crust is simply made with 00 flour, water, salt, and yeast.
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Isaiah made us a potato and onion pizza with smoked mozzarella. To me it doesn’t matter what toppings are on the pizza, it’s the crust that matters most. Taking ninety seconds to make, this one was perfectly crisp and chewy. A16 is beginning a brunch menu that includes a potato leek frittata we also tasted.
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Our next stop was Market Hall. I learned that this market was built in 1986 by the Wilson Family from New Zealand. Juliana gave us a little history including her personal story. She was one of the first employees and started working there after graduating high school.
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Now she is a cheese monger and gets to travel the world to find the best foods. We tried two things. I most enjoyed a burrata with Seka Hills olive oil.
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We continued our tour to Ver Brugge Foods which is a meat market. I actually never have stepped foot in there, but I have seen lines out the door on big holidays. They recently began to sell prepared foods and we tried a sample of a salmon with fennel dish. It was very moist and tasty. If you brought this sous-vide dish home, it can be prepared in 6 – 10 minutes.
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Right next door, we walked into La Farine where we enjoyed a mini morning bun. I’m not sure if the quality failed for me because it was the afternoon and had been sitting around or whether it was the size of the bun. Either way, I recommend the regular sized morning bun because they are always consistently delicious.
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Our fifth stop was Zachary’s Chicago Pizza. In 1983, a Wisconsin couple opened up this original pizzeria. After twenty years in business, they sold the pizzeria to their employees to best preserve their vision. We tried the spinach and mushroom stuffed pizza, the customer favorite and the pizza blanca, a thin style pizza with a garlic, fresh herb and olive oil base topped with mozzarella and ricotta de latte cheeses, garnished with fresh lemon. For us Bay Area natives, we all know Zachary’s is authentic Chicago style pizza and not surprised when it wins numerous awards year after year.
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We ended the tour on a sweet note, at Dreyer’s Ice Cream. I was not disappointed that we didn’t go to a gourmet or artisan ice cream shop. I learned a lot. I didn’t know this was the only retail shop. I didn’t know Dreyer’s invented Rocky Road ice cream. We were fortunate to be one of the first people to try their new line of frozen custards. My favorite was the salted caramel pretzel flavor.
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Although I knew Rockridge pretty well, I never really considered going on this tour. I was pleasantly surprised with the history, the personal stories, and the linkages with the community. I highly recommend the Rockridge Food Tour for visitors or locals.

Time for Breakfast: Cock-a-Doodle

On Washington Street in Old Oakland, there used to be a restaurant that served authentic french crepes like the ones made in Brittany, France. I really miss the savory crepes that they used to make. For a while now, the location has been home to Cock-a-Doodle Cafe serving traditional American breakfast/brunch. I never really considered going there for weekend brunch until one of my friends suggested it. I agreed since it would be new to me and I really had to get over the loss of the crepe place.

After careful review of the menu, I decided to be bad and get the fried chicken and graham cracker crusted french toast. There was not much of a coating on the fried chicken, but the flavor was nice and it was good use of herbs on the chicken. Although the fried chicken wasn’t anything to write home about, the french toast was excellent. I believe the graham cracker coating on the french toast not only adds a unique flavor, but helps keep its texture. The ends were crispy, but overall dense and chewy.
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My sister ordered the strawberry ricotta stuffed french toast which was even better! It added a little tartness and a lot of creaminess. Who says you can’t have dessert for breakfast?
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Although I just had coffee, the waitress was promoting their mexican hot chocolate and their mexican mocha. It seemed to be customer favorites.
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Our table enjoyed these drink selections.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Cock-a-Doodle Cafe enough to come back and try their lemon ricotta pancakes and their belgian waffle.