Chef Reem Assil Highlights Arab Food in Oakland 

If you haven’t heard of Chef Reem Assil, you really should as she is successfully putting Arab food on the map in Oakland. Her Arab street food started in the farmers markets before she opened her bakery, Reem’s in the Fruitvale Public Market over a year ago. She recently opened her second outpost, Dyafa, a full service restaurant in Jack London Square.

Chef Assil specializes in mana’eesh which is a middle eastern flatbread. My favorite is having it topped with oil and za’atar, a herb and spice mixture of wild thyme, sesame, sumac, and salt. I’ve noticed the growing popularity of za’atar all around the country. You can get the mana’eesh at either the bakery or the restaurant. The bread is more like pizza than pita, but much thinner and crispier. The brushed on oil keeps the herbs, spices, and flavors intact.

Reem’s offers a nice mezze combination platter which come with four spreads to dip the freshly baked pita bread. My top dips were the labneh, a thick tangy yogurt that tastes like the most delicious cream cheese and the muhammara, which is made with roasted red peppers and walnuts.  
Brunch is available on weekends at Reem’s and that provided me with the opportunity to try their shakshuka, eggs poached in spiced red pepper tomato sauce, topped with feta and parsley. The sauce was rich and smokey and I was happy it was served with pita bread.
Another special item they offer is cardamom ice coffee. I just love the flavor of cardamom. This is the perfect summer morning beverage that I should consider worthy of a short detour on my way to work.
I was really excited about the opening of Dyafa. I was a bit nervous about dining there because I was taking my best friend there for her birthday and I got some mixed reviews. Nonetheless I knew we had to form our own opinions.

We ordered some dips to go with our order of mana’eesh. The cold one was the muttabbal which is charred eggplant, lemon, and tahini. It was a nice simple starter.
The warm dip we selected was the hummus kawarma which is hummus with spiced lamb, dried lime, and cured sumac. The unique flavors and the warmth of it made this hummus stand out.
We also shared a fresh salad of arugula, little gem lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and radish. This tasted fine, but we probably could have done without it.
We shared the maklouba as our main course which was layered rice, roasted eggplant, cauliflower, charred tomato, and topped with potato chips. I enjoyed this vegetarian dish very much. Each ingredient is formed and packed tightly and together the components offered wonderful rich bites.  
For dessert, we wanted something light so we shared the booza, which is an orange blossom ice cream with crispy phyllo and candied orange. The orange flavor was nice to end a meal with and the phyllo nest provided a fun crispy texture.  
My opinion is that Chef Reem Assil makes Oakland a better place by bringing delicious Arab food to the community. I would recommend Reem’s for a casual lunch and Dyafa if you are looking to enjoy a nice dinner. 

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Soba Ichi: The Soba Experience

If ramen, udon, and soba noodles were siblings, soba would be the middle child. Soba noodles don’t get a lot of attention in the United States. I can’t count the number of bowls of ramen and udon that I have consumed in my lifetime because it is too many. I can count with one hand the number of times I have eaten soba and it was probably dried soba produced in Japan. Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and there are no restaurants in the Bay Area that specializes in fresh soba until now. Soba Ichi recently opened in West Oakland giving “The Town” another thing to brag about.  

Chef Koichi Ishii is the man behind the soba. The soba is freshly prepared everyday from scratch in house, by hand by grinding buckwheat flour in a stone mill. They get their supply of buckwheat from Kitawase in Washington State. The demand has been exceeding the soba production as it seems they are consistency selling out before lunch ends.

My colleague and I went to Soba Ichi last week and we arrived twenty five minutes before they opened to ensure we were part of the first seating. I wanted to start with one of their small plates and chose the nameko oroshi-ae which was a mushroom and daikon dish. It was definitely small, but size was not an indication of flavor. The mushrooms were rich and earthy and combined well with the finely grated daikon.
Soba Ichi offers both hot and cold soba. My colleague and I both opted for the Jyuwari soba which is 100% buckwheat versus the Nihachi soba which is 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flour. Our noodles are available cold and we ordered it with tempura. I was excited when my tray came out as it instantly transplanted me to Japan. (I haven’t been but this is what I imagine it to be like).  

I prepared my dipping sauce by adding the daikon and green onions to the soy based sauce. I opted out of the wasabi but added some chili powder instead. Using my chopsticks, I picked up a few noodles and plunged them into the sauce. The soba was light, clean, earthy, and slightly chewy. 

The shrimp and vegetable tempura came with what looked like a matcha salt to season. This was the best tempura I have ever had, especially the shrimp. I kept alternating between the soba and the tempura. It was a perfect match.  
When we were done, the server brought out a teapot filled with broth that we were supposed to add to the remaining dipping sauce to drink. It was warm and good for the soul. This actually helped fill me up.
I didn’t want my lunch to end so I ordered the dessert which was sobacha mousse. The tea flavor was nice and it had both jelly and custard topped with rice crispies.  
What appears and tastes like a simple meal at Soba Ichi is quite complicated. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the experience. Although I was treating myself to a pretty expensive lunch, I knew I was paying for a labor of love.  

Gangnam Tofu in El Cerrito has lots of Style

I just got back from a fabulous dinner. I had Korean food with my BFF in El Cerrito. She was introducing me to Gangnam Tofu for the first time. We went for an early dinner after spending the day hiking and geocaching in the area.

We were lucky that we didn’t have a wait since there was room for the two of us at the counter. I consider my BFF my food twin as we typically like the same things and can easily agree on menu items.

Like other Korean restaurants, we received a series of banchan. Unlike other Korean restaurants, I’ve never had one with eggplant. It was also the most delicious one! If we didn’t order so much food, I would’ve requested another serving of the eggplant.

We ordered the Soon-Doo-Boo which is the soft tofu stew. This dish comes in nine varieties. We ordered the original Soon-Doo-Boo with pork. It comes with a raw egg to crack into the bubbling stew. I enjoyed the medium spiced tofu stew and consider it one of the Korean dishes that defines comfort especially when you add a little white rice.


I can never resist fried chicken and wanted to give it a shot. They have nine types of fried chicken and we agreed to have the original which is the dry kind. It was crispy and finger licking good. Our half order was cut up into seven similarly sized pieces. This makes perfect sense so the fry time is the same and makes for juicy pieces including the white meat.

We also ordered the Beef Dol Sop Bop which is marinated beef and vegetables over rice that is cooked in a hot stone bowl. The veggies included carrots, spinach, zucchini, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and green onions. It was also topped with a fried egg. As I mixed everything together, I could hear the sizzling. I was impressed by the cook of the rice in the stone bowl as it left a full even layer of crispy rice on the bottom.

I was also impressed with the customer service at Gangnam Tofu. The staff are extremely friendly and we were asked on several occasions whether we needed anything, a first time for me at any Asian restaurant. Even with all the Korean food options in Oakland, I left the restaurant thinking about my next meal here.

Three Notable Dishes in New York City

My trip last month to the East Coast ended with a weekend in New York City. Food was my focus and I ended up dining by myself a lot of the time. I was excited to try Miznon, an International restaurant serving Israeli street food located in Chelsea Market. This is the only location in the United States and they just opened this year so I felt lucky to have the opportunity to eat here. The other Miznon locations are in Tel Aviv, Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne.  

Miznon is known for their pita stuffed with fresh and seasonally inspired ingredients. I ordered pita with rib eye minute steak with tahini, tomato salsa, and pickles. I was in heaven as it was pure harmony, one bite after another. If I still lived in New York City, this would be a regular stop for me.

I have yet to travel to Japan, but this meal is one I would suspect would be a traditional one and why I think I would love traveling through Japan. I enjoyed brunch at Bessou on Bleecker Street. I ordered the Japanese breakfast set which came with sea bass, veggies, assorted pickles, a cold poached egg in soy, miso soup, and rice. It was fun to have a variety of food especially when I was eating by myself. I enjoyed the lightness and simplicity of my meal. Sitting at the bar, I watched a lot of food come out of the kitchen and next time I might go with steak and eggs or bananas foster pancakes!
After almost a week away from home, I was craving Chinese food. One place I had bookmarked was King’s Kitchen in Chinatown. I had lunch with my cousins who live a few blocks away. I ordered clay pot rice with preserved meats, which is a dish that always brings me comfort. It came with the usual Chinese bacon and Chinese sausage, but had the addition of taro which was nice. But honestly, you always find the best part at the bottom of the clay pot, the extra crispy rice.
I would say it wasn’t a bad way to spend a weekend!

When in Philly, Eat at Zahav

Last month I traveled to Philadelphia for a couple of days and I ate some amazing food. The most noteworthy was dinner at Zahav, a modern Israeli restaurant from Chef Michael Solomonov. I had made my reservation weeks in advance, but the earliest time I could get was 9:30pm. I figured it wouldn’t be too bad on my first evening there since I would still be adjusting from West Coast time.  

We were a party of three which I thought was the perfect number of people to share plates with. We ordered the tasting menu which allowed us to try almost everything on the menu. The restaurant is known for their laffa bread and hummus. It was my first time trying laffa bread, which is a middle eastern bread cooked in a wood fire taboon oven. To me it was crisper and had a lot more character than pita bread. The hummus at Zahav was out of this world. It was creamy and nutty with an abundance of flavor.  

Our meal came with six vegetable salads and felt like an Israeli version of banchan. They were all really good and similarly when I eat Korean food, it’s fun to have a variety to pick on.  
We each got to choose two small plates so that ended up being six different ones for us to share. I’ll share my top three mezze plates. I really enjoyed the quinoa salad with fresh peas. I loved the textures and the herbs.  
Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables and the fried variety at Zahav should not be missed.
I was excited about the haloumi as soon as I saw it on the menu. The combination of crispiness and saltiness of the cheese puts me in a happy state. 
We each got to choose a main plate which are all grilled over coals. They were all amazing as well. We ordered the lamb, the hanger steak, and the Branzino.   
The desserts were creative and quite exotic. We ordered the coconut cream konafi, the chocolate olive oil cake, and the malabi custard which had orange, walnut, and saffron.  
This meal at Zahav was all around amazing and an experience for the palette.  I can’t wait for my next trip to Philly!

Dosa by Dosa in Oakland

It excites me to write about Dosa by Dosa, a hip new South Indian restaurant located in Uptown Oakland. The restaurant is owned by the husband and wife team, Anjan and Emily Mitra who already run two popular and successful restaurants in San Francisco by the name of Dosa. The Mitras bring a more casual menu to their Oakland location that I am loving.Let me start with the adult slushies. Dosa by Dosa have two frozen drink machines that are continuously running so that you and I can enjoy a boozie drink at the drop of a hat or rather a pull of a nozzle. One flavor is the monchichi which is made with vodka, coconut, pineapple, lime, green cardamom, and nutmeg. I’m not sure if it’s named after the toy I grew up with, but it was definitely delicious. It tasted creamy and gave me the feel of a beach.  The other flavor was shoeflower cooler which is made with rum, passionfruit, ginger, orange, lime, and lo-fi gentian amaro. This one was fruitier and sweeter. At $5 a glass during happy hour, I am elated.  If boozie slushies are not your thing, Dosa by Dosa offers a number of other innovative Indian spiced cocktails.
I never knew there was such a thing as an Indian french fry until I came to Dosa by Dosa. Called Idli fries, they are made from rice and lentil patties that are cut up into wedges and deep fried. They are served with a roasted chili garlic chutney. For some reason, eating these made me think about the Cream of Wheat that my grandmother used to make me as a child. I enjoyed these so much the first time that I ordered them again on my next visit. The serving is pretty large so it’s a dish that is easy to share.  

I also tried the Chenmai fried chicken during their happy hour. There is nothing not to like about the boneless fried chicken pieces that come out temperature hot. They have a little bit of a kick and served with raita dipping sauce to provide a ying and a yang.
Naan bread is one of my favorite things to eat when fresh. I tried two of their stuffed naan, the chicken and the cheese. For textural reasons, I preferred the cheese as it seems to blend better.  

Dosa by Dosa also includes rice bowls with your choice of Indian curries. They have chicken tikka masala, Tamil lamb, saag paneer, and butternut squash dal. You can also choose coconut, lemon, brown, or white rice. I had the excellent chicken tikka masala bowl with lemon rice.  

I believe there should be a rule that you can’t go to Dosa by Dosa and not have a dosa. A dosa is a beautiful paper thin, golden brown, savory rice and lentil crepe that is usually filled and rolled. I enjoyed both the masala potato and the habanero mango. The fillings are both potato based, but with a variation in flavors. They come with a coconut chutney, a tomato chutney, and sambar, a lentil and vegetable dipping soup. The crispy crepe with the creamy potato is pure harmony and perfection. I think I’ll stick with my rule and keep coming back for dosa!

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UC Berkeley: Changing the way I think about Cafeteria Food


When I reflect back on the lunch I had on Friday, I realize how much has changed since my college cafeteria days. I intentionally made a point to visit UC Berkeley’s student union dining room for What’s Poppin’, A Pop-Up Dining Adventure. For the month of March, three female and minority chefs from San Francisco’s incubator kitchen, La Cocina each have a space to showcase cuisine from their diverse backgrounds. I went to campus with some friends and tried food from each spot.
Chef Binita Pradhan runs Bini’s Kitchen specializing in food from Nepal. Fans seek out her fresh made momos or dumplings. We sampled the vegetarian combo which included kwati, jeera rice pulao, and momos. Kwati is a traditional Nepalese soup mixed with nine different beans. It was thick like a stew and very comforting. The jeera rice pulao is a cumin flavored basmati rice that was cooked perfectly. My favorite part of the combination meal were the plump, fresh, and juicy momos topped with a spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Check out the Bini’s Kitchen website for more ways to access those momos.
Mixiote is a style of Mexican cooking where meats and vegetables are traditionally marinated, wrapped, and slow cooked. It’s also the name of Chef Alma Rodriguez’s business. I was lucky to have attended a wedding last year where she and her team catered some delicious food. To see her have a spot in the dining room was a happy sight. Their pop up menu allows for a choice of pork, chicken, or veggies served on hand made tortillas or rice bowls. We had the pork tacos which were topped with a roasted pumpkin seed sauce. These were hearty, tender, and very flavorful. Our luck was upon us because they specially made taquitos that day. These fried tacos were stuffed with potatoes and were delicious. Stay tuned and follow @MixioteSF on Instagram because word on the street is she’s raising funds for her first brick and mortar.
I have been following Chef Aileen Suzara’s journey for awhile, since she was a Public Health student at UC Berkeley. Sariwa means fresh in Tagalog and Chef Suzara’s mission is to bring healthy Filipino food to the forefront. 

We tried a variety of food at Sariwa including the amazing homemade vegetarian lumpias filled with sweet potato and vegetables. The lunch bowls allow for a choice of mains including chicken adobo and coconut tofu and pumpkin and choice of vegetable side dishes. I was bummed the coconut tofu and pumpkin entree was sold out as it is the menu item that characterizes Sariwa most. At the same time, it’s proving that Chef Suzara is making a difference in the way people perceive Filipino food and it’s all coming full circle. Read more about her story in a recent interview by Bon Appetit.
This month’s What’s Poppin’ is not only a great opportunity for rising female and minority chefs, but it’s a great way for students to explore new, diverse, and healthy cuisines. These three pop-ups are serving lunch M-F. Contact the MLK Jr Student Union for more information and their hours. Address: 2495 Bancroft Way Berkeley, CA. Phone: 510-664-7976.