Treat Yourself to Gott’s Roadside Walnut Creek

This past Thursday was the grand opening of Gott’s Roadside in Downtown Walnut Creek. The opening marked Gott’s sixth location in the Bay Area, but the first to move into the East Bay. I had a special invite on Tuesday to check it all out. 

I was already familiar with Gott’s. I actually remember it as Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena. It was always a part of “Treat Yourself” day with friends. We would drive to Napa Valley and pick up a cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake at Taylor’s before enjoying some spa services. I’ve also enjoyed a few cheeseburgers at the Gott’s location in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
The new space is very bright. I was most impressed with their installation of garage doors made of glass that can be opened up when weather permits, perfect for warm Walnut Creek.  
I would dare say most people go to Gott’s for some kind of burger. After all, they have high quality burgers with patties made from Niman Ranch beef. Depending on your tastes, there is probably one you would like. You can order a simple hamburger or cheeseburger or have something more complex like a California Burger or a Kimchi Burger.  
It was really nice to be able to explore more of the menu, since I don’t remember straying away from my typical cheeseburger at Gott’s. It was my first time trying the Ahi Poke Crispy Tacos. The crispy taco shell is filled with marinated ahi, cabbage, cilantro, avocado, green onions, and sesame seeds. Every ingredient was fresh and flavorful and was well balanced. These tacos are now on my radar and I would go there just for them.
I enjoyed the Crispy Teriyaki Chicken sandwich very much. This tasted like a Fried Chicken Sandwich that married a Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich. The fried chicken went well with the pickled carrots and daikon radishes. 
Gott’s prepares a very good Avocado, Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato (ABLT) sandwich. The key to this sandwich is fresh ingredients and it’s got that plus a charred jalapeño mayo that makes it shine even brighter. The simplicity of this sandwich makes it a great alternative when you don’t feel like a burger.  
Have you heard of the Impossible Burger? I recently heard of it and I didn’t really give a care because I simply have never been a fan of a veggie burger. I was told that this is a veggie burger like no other —The Impossible Burger smells, sizzles, bleeds, and tastes like a beef patty. I was here to try stuff out, so I took a bite, and another bite. I was amazed and could not believe that I was not eating meat. This was a great burger with all the accoutrements. Eating the Impossible Burger made me pause and think. This is a burger that is going to save the world one day, but right now, it’s a big step in protecting our environment.   
Seasonal ingredients allow Gott’s the opportunity to put some specials on the menu. Right now, you can order a Dungeness Crab Sandwich, a Dungeness Crab and Bay Shrimp Louie Salad, and Fried Brussels Sprouts. I had a taste of all of these, and they were quite special.
For something sweet, there is the option for a milkshake during your meal or a soft serve after your meal. Three Twins Ice Cream is used to make the milk shakes and Straus Creamery to make the soft serve. How can you go wrong with either choice?
Gott’s Roadside is a great addition to the Downtown Walnut Creek. After a day of shopping at Broadway Plaza or after hiking Mt. Diablo, stop by Gott’s and Treat Yourself! The Walnut Creek location also has a bar and lounge area serving local wine and beer.  

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Nico’s: A Memorable Feast

I had the pleasure of having dinner at Nico’s 1508 in Berkeley a few months ago. With competing priorities, I hadn’t gotten a chance to write about that experience until now. However, I think it speaks volumes about a meal when many of the dishes I had a while back are still memorable. 

We started with a couple of appetizers including the Steamed Mediterranean Mussels that were cooked in a lovely red curry kaffir lime broth. The Asian flavors struck a perfect balance to the shellfish. It was a generous portion of mussels and we ate every mussel and soaked up every drop of broth. I remember it well because it was one of the best prepared mussels I have ever had.
My friend and I decided to order a combination surf and turf and some sides. When the food came out it was like eating family style, except it was just two of us. 

Our sides included the roasted root vegetables, the pork belly chipotle mac and cheese, and the maple glazed butternut squash. I would say the root vegetables were the least memorable. The mac and cheese was a bit overkill, in that the pasta was overdone and it was just way too heavy for my taste. Hands down the butternut squash was the star. We were like children in a candy store eating all the glazed goodness.
The fish was a roasted Hawaiian Walu which was complemented with braised fennel and potatoes, a Meyer lemon and thyme butter sauce and a balsamic reduction. I wonder if I should praise the chef or the saucier on this one.
Nico’s offers three cuts of steak – the filet mignon, a New York steak, or a bone-in rib eye. We selected the filet mignon cooked in a bourbon demi glaze. It was cooked a perfect medium rare providing a tender and buttery texture.  
With full tummies, we shared one dessert. After all, who could turn down warm bourbon pecan bread pudding with a dark chocolate sauce and a Grand Marnier cream. It was the perfect match to the end a fantastic meal. 
With the holiday season here, Nico’s is a great place to share a nice meal with friends or family. I also hear they offer an excellent brunch.  They are even open on Christmas and New Year’s Day!

Working My Way Through Sweet

It’s been an extremely busy Fall for me where I decided on a short hiatus from blogging. I began feeling like it was more of a chore than it was enjoyable. Last week, I took a week off of work believing I needed to recharge. What would reenergize me besides a vacation? I wanted to be productive as well. I bought Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s cookbook “Sweet” when it came out in the States on October 3 and have yet to make anything from it. I was so excited about the cookbook launch that I even attended two events for it. I had been anticipating the new cookbook for many months seeing pictures on Instagram of photo shoots and test kitchens. I was intrigued with the beautiful desserts and the exotic flavors and spices that went in many of them. It’s stuff I wanted to eat.

I challenged myself to make a new recipe from Sweet each day for 7 days and here are the results:

Day 1

I made a version of the Custard Yo-Yos with roasted rhubarb icing at my friend’s house. As I shopped for ingredients, I realized that rhubarb was not in season. Something that I remembered distinctly from the interview that I attended with Ottolenghi and Goh at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco was that you can substitute different fruit and choose according to the season. I contemplated what could be a good replacement for rhubarb. Rhubarb is sour when cooked so I thought cranberry would be a good alternative. There was no shortage of cranberry being that it was Thanksgiving week.  

The cookies came out looking pretty good. With a shortbread consistency, I thought two cookies glued together with the icing was a bit much. The cookies were tasty and so was the icing. I would prefer to frost one cookie instead of having them as a sandwich. 


Day 2

I really wanted to make the saffron, orange and honey madeleines, but I didn’t have a madeleine pan. I figured I could also interchange the pan and used a decorative mini cake pan that I borrowed from a friend. I had to guess the bake time since my cakes were quite a bit larger. I did pretty well as I got a good bake on them. I enjoyed the flavors of saffron, vanilla, and honey that came through in each bite. 


Day 3

I made kaffir lime leaf posset with fresh raspberries instead of papaya. There was no baking involved here, but you had to cook the cream and chill it overnight. This was perfect for me to bring to Thanksgiving Dinner since there would be plenty of other things to be preparing for. It’s also a day to splurge on calories so no one would mind an extra dessert. I loved the tart flavor of the kaffir lime with the cream. I also made enough to share with a few friends and they provided high praises.  


Day 4

On Thanksgiving, we were also celebrating my niece’s birthday and she likes cupcakes, so I decided to make lemon and raspberry cupcakes. The recipe calls for lemon curd, which I prepared a day ahead. Fresh raspberries are mixed into the batter which gave it a beautiful color. I was most impressed with the frosting. It took one minute of mixing lemon curd and mascarpone to create this beautiful marriage. This frosting is life changing as I will use this recipe forever.  


Day 5

The strawberry and vanilla mini-cake recipe recommends using a popover pan which I actually own. I was excited about being able to use it for something other than popovers. Unfortunately after baking them, the tops broke off. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode about Elaine’s idea to open up a bakery that only sold the muffin tops, the best part of the muffin. The icing on these cakes were a bit too sweet for my taste. The cake which uses some corn meal was delicious and I would definitely make this again without the icing.  


Day 6

Yesterday, I attempted the saffron and pistachio brittle. For this recipe, you need to heat the ingredients at the right temperature and then pour it in a pan to cool. It was still quite gooey even after letting it sit for twice the amount of time asked so I put it in the refrigerator for another 45 minutes. This gave it the right crunch. The brittle is very malleable so it has the tendency to soften up again. So nutty, this makes a great snack and can also be a nice thing to package up for holiday gifts. 


Day 7

I thought of how nice it would be to have Sunday doughnuts today. I stayed up late last night preparing the dough and the custard for doughnuts with saffron custard cream. This definitely took the most time to make as there is a lot of waiting time for the dough to rise. It was cool to see the science involved in every aspect of this recipe. The doughnuts are dusted into a cardamom sugar mix that brings another flavor dimension.  


I feel proud of myself for completing my seven day challenge. Everything also looked and tasted great giving me a sense of accomplishment. I will continue to work my way through Sweet. With 120 recipes, I got a ways to go. 

Ippudo: In My Own Eyes

Ippudo Berkeley opened up in late July and I posted a blog about my friend’s experience on opening day. People waited three hours to get a bowl of ramen at Ippudo. After almost two months since opening, lines can still get quite long especially with school in session. Here’s my account of a recent visit with another friend to Ippudo. After waiting thirty five minutes in line outside, we were led inside and seated.

We started out with Ippudo buns. You can order the soft pillowy buns with either chicken, pork belly, or vegetables. Our buns were spread with mayonnaise and had a thick slice of tender pork belly in a tangy glaze. Biting into these were soft and heavenly.


We were debating whether to get the chicken kara-age or the fried chicken wings. The waitress recommended the chicken kara-age. The flavor was subtle and the chicken did not have much of a coating to give it a textural component. It fell flat and I was disappointed in my waitress.


The ramen came in three flavors and you have a choice of how firm you want your noodles. I was drawn to the description of the Akamaru Modern which is a more bold translation of the original pork broth with thin noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, pork belly chashu, cabbage, and sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. I added a soft boiled egg and requested my noodles to be bari kata, which means firm. The flavors of my ramen broth and noodle texture were very much prepared to my liking.


My friend loves spicy so she ordered the Karaka Spicy which has the original “Tonkotsu” (pork) broth with an added kick, thin noodles with Ippudo’s special blend of hot spices, topped with pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. She ordered hers kata which is al dente. The bowl suited her as well.

In our minds, we still thought we made a bad choice with the chicken kara-age, so we decided we would go ahead and order the fried chicken wings. The chicken wings are glazed in a black pepper sauce. Unfortunately, the wings didn’t meet our expectations either.

  
I would definitely return to Ippudo for the buns and ramen if the wait isn’t too long. The prices are a bit high for a bowl of ramen, but it’s worth it to satisfy a craving now and then.

Paradise Park Cafe: Welcome to the Neighborhood

There is an up and coming neighborhood in North Oakland called Paradise Park that sits on the borders of Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley. I am familiar with the area because I drive through it twice a week when I take my nephews to school at Oakland Military Institute. A new cafe that shares its name with the urban Paradise Park neighborhood opened up last month and I was invited to a media event to check it out.

Paradise Park Cafe serves coffee from local Equator Coffee & Teas from San Rafael. Two thumbs up for the espressos that I have been making with their coffee beans. With opening hours of 7am on weekdays, I am likely to stop by for a morning latte before work. The cafe also specializes in juices. I sampled a few options and using purely fruits and vegetables, they’ve made something vibrant and delicious.
Vegetarians and vegans have quite a few choices at Paradise Park Cafe. They offer a quinoa burger and plenty of salads. I was impressed with their homemade chickpea tofu which is the protein in their vegan wrap and an option to add to their salads. This works really well for the health conscious.
On the other hand, their grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun and topped with Vermont cheddar cheese, fried onions, and a garlic and pepper aioli. It was juicy and packed full of flavor. The French fries held its own.
My favorite item on the menu is the fried chicken sandwich. The chicken breast is marinated, grilled, and then fried in a light tapioca batter. This photogenic sandwich includes fresh carrots, radish, and kale, pickled onions, and a sriracha aioli. It also includes a side of crispy tasty French fries.  
Having a kids menu really speaks to the neighborhood. I would recommend the creamy homemade mac and cheese. For those that care, it’s also gluten free. 
For dessert you can order an ice cream burrito. Ice cream is wrapped in a flour tortilla and flash fried. I would recommend sharing this one and eating it pretty fast, otherwise you might make a hot mess.
I’m sure those in the Paradise Park neighborhood are happy and excited to find a new cafe in town. I would definitely keep an eye on Paradise Park Cafe as they plan to utilize part of their space for pop-ups.  

I Dream of Sushi

I recently met my BFF at Angel Fish in Alameda for dinner. Sushi is always a good choice on a hot day and Alameda is usually a bit cooler as well. My BFF has been a regular at Angel Fish for almost two decades. Every time I have dined at Angel Fish, I have enjoyed it very much. Come to think of it, it is one of my favorite neighborhood sushi restaurants, even though it is not my neighborhood. The fish is always fresh and the prices are reasonable.

So first I have to admit I was late for dinner. My BFF had already gotten us seats at the sushi bar and ordered some nigiri at happy hour prices. From 5pm- 6pm, there are some specials, so she ordered the hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), and maguro (red tuna). I was so delayed that she had to eat my portion. It was fine by me as I wouldn’t want raw fish sitting too long. When I arrived, I ordered my own serving of salmon. It was fresh and delicious as expected.
It was my first time having agemono. I loved everything about these deep fried tempura lobster bites. With a splash of lemon, I’m in heaven. One of the best things about Angel Fish is that it doesn’t always have to be about the raw items. They have a nice variety of cooked items that are unique and creative.
We ordered amaebi which I did not photograph. It’s not my favorite item, but I do like consuming the crispy fried shrimp head. Toro is one of the most expensive fish. When this fatty tuna belly is available at Angel Fish, you really should get it. It was so buttery, it melted in my mouth.  
Some other patrons ordered the cha soba so we decided we would share this as well. Cold noodles are a perfect choice on a hot evening. To enjoy this dish, you would dip soba noodles and seaweed into a sauce where you would first mix in minced daikon, green onions, and a quail egg.
One of my favorite things to eat is an unagi hand roll. With the added texture of cucumber and avocado, this is the perfect bite to me.  
Although Chef Taka still had a few pieces of uni out, he purposefully opened up a brand new box of uni for us. The opening of this box of imported uni from Japan really made our day.  
The uni was elegantly placed on top of a shiso leaf and rice and came with crispy roasted seaweed on the side.
In front of me in the sushi case was tamago that I had been eyeing throughout the course of the evening. I was relaying my limited experience and enjoyment of tamago. Typically, not a favorite of my BFF, we decided we would try it. We learned that Chef Taka makes this deliciousness every other day.

It was a great light dinner and we decided we would start dining at Angel Fish together once a month. I’m already dreaming about it.

Gio’s Pizza: A Revival of Giovanni’s

People may recall Giovanni’s as an old school Italian restaurant that had been in business in Downtown Berkeley since 1961. In 2015, it closed its doors after a major fire caused serious damage. Today the restaurant has reopened as Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, playing homage to the former restaurant.  
As you enter the front of Gio’s, the fun begins. The open bar space is to the left and an indoor bocce ball court is to the right. The dining area and kitchen are located towards the back half of the restaurant.  I was invited along with my friends to Gio’s to try out their new food and cocktail menu. The first item to come out was fried calamari with lemon aioli, fried parsley, and citrus slices. I thought it had a nice light batter. I liked the fact that it had both the rings as well as the tentacles because our party each had our preference.  

The mushroom bruschetta arrived next. The toasts were topped with lemon ricotta, wild mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. As much as I love mushrooms, it was the mushrooms that brought this dish down for me. The texture of the mushrooms were tough. It tasted as if dried mushrooms were used and not soaked long enough. I am hoping that this was a fluke.
Karen’s Cucumber Salad was brought to the table. I don’t know who Karen is, but I wouldn’t mind attaching my name to this salad. The freshness of the farmer’s market cucumbers was apparent in the crunch. The salad included a variety of cucumbers, roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and a champagne vinaigrette.
My friends and I really enjoyed the mushroom and squash ziti that we were presented with. The pasta dish was cooked in butter, thyme, and white wine. Soft and delicate, these mushrooms had no resemblance to the ones on the bruschetta.  
Gio’s also includes two pizzas on their menu and you can order them New York style or Sicilian style. We got to try the sausage and mushroom pizza and the Margherita pizzas as single Sicilian style. I normally prefer red pizza over white pizza, but in this case, I preferred the sausage and mushrooms toppings. To me Sicilian pizza resembles a focaccia bread. I enjoyed the occasional crispiness from the bubbles that form in the dough.

Dessert is a polenta cake with ricotta creme, summer fruit, and kettle corn. To offer one dessert is a huge risk. I found it to be worth going “all in” because it was a highlight for me.  
Another area of focus at Gio’s is their cocktail menu highlighting Italian amaro and vermouth. The bar manager, Nick Stolte, spent time in Italy immersed in the culture and building relationships with vermouth and amaro purveyors. He designed and created a cocktail menu that highlights Italy’s best.  
The most interesting aspect of Gio’s is the secret back room. Behind the olive oil can door, is a private dining space that hasn’t changed since it was Giovanni’s. It is a cool space that makes your imagination of who would hang out here go wild. 
With a short menu and simple Italian food in a playful setting, I think Gio’s Pizza & Bocce will bring in a UC Berkeley crowd looking for some fun. However, I found meat offerings at Gio’s hard to come by so carnivores might be challenged.