Herb & Wood: Top Choice

I ran the Rock ‘n Roll San Diego Half Marathon last Sunday. I participated in the same race for the first time last year and wrote about my delicious post-race meal at Juniper & Ivy (J & I) in Little Italy. This year I am writing about my pre-race meal at Herb & Wood because it was pretty spectacular. Located a block from J & I, Little Italy is a thriving hub of great food.

I started to look up San Diego restaurants before making the trip to Southern California and made the reservation after reading that Herb & Wood is the new restaurant of Chef Brian Malarkey, a past Top Chef finalist.

What used to be an old warehouse has become a chic new restaurant. The beautiful open space and the sophisticated modern decor offered an inviting welcome that my friends and I were ready for. We were a party of six and were given a table with plush blue grey velvet seating.   


Our attentive waiter gave us a rundown of the menu and essentially went from lighter to heavier plates. I partnered with one of my friends to share some dishes and then we did some more overall sharing.  

We ordered the grilled King Trumpets with tarragon butter and lemon. The trumpets were playing music in my mouth. The flavors were wonderful and may have been the best mushroom dish I have ever had.  


We also got the grilled asparagus with blue cheese fondue, poached egg, and herb bread crumbs. Another lovely dish that was cooked in the wood fired oven. I get a happy feeling inside when I eat deliciously prepared vegetables.


Friends ordered the avocado on country wheat bread with tomato, candied jalapeño, and cilantro. Avocado toast has been a popular breakfast item in California for awhile, but this one was elevated with the candied jalapeño. I think I will try making this at home.

  
In order to adequately “carb load,” our table ordered three of the bucatini pomodoro with basil, oregano, parmesan, and chili flakes. We probably could’ve ordered six of these plates because it was that good. My friend tried to get the recipe, but we did learn that they add some anchovies to the pasta sauce. I think I might try making this one at home too!


I got a taste of the chitarra pasta with Dungeness crab, preserved lemon, Sauvignon Blanc and black pepper so I could compare it to the bucatini. The chitarra pasta was rich and delicious, but I’m a big red sauce fan so I enjoyed the bucatini better. My friend who ordered the chitarra pasta would beg to differ as she was singing praises all weekend about it.


One of my friends found out that Herb & Wood serves homemade Parker House rolls. This item is off their menu, so I am sharing a real secret here. I highly recommend these warm, buttery, crispy on the outside, soft of the inside bites of goodness.  


I ate so many of the Parker House rolls that when our pork sausage and broccoli rabe pizza with garlic confit, mozzarella, and Asiago cheese came out, I could only eat a slice. By the time we got the pizza, it just couldn’t live up to the rest of the menu.  


It was great we had six people, so we could at least taste a couple of desserts. I had seen pictures of some exotic fruit flavored soufflés, but it was chocolate soufflé on the menu this evening. It came with Irish whipped cream, expresso chocolate ganache, and mint chip gelato. It was a damn good soufflé and the accouterments were a perfect match.


The second dessert we ordered was a vanilla cream torte with house made ricotta, huckleberries, and pistachio gelato. I was fascinated by the torte with its 24 layers. It was both creamy and dreamy.


More than a week later, I am still thinking about dinner at Herb & Wood. If you are in San Diego or plan to visit San Diego, you must go.  

Check Please Bay Area Viewing Party

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have likely seen or heard of the PBS show “Check Please, Bay Area.” This is the television show where three Bay Area residents review their favorite restaurant. Each of the three people have the opportunity to dine at the restaurants that the other two choose. They come together on the show to talk about the three restaurants. “Check Please, Bay Area” is now in its twelfth season. The original show was launched in Chicago. One episode even featured Barack Obama, as one of the diners, when he was just a State Senator.

Season 12, episode 7 aired this past Thursday and featured two East Bay restaurants. The first was Monkey King Pub and Grub in Alameda. They describe the restaurant as Asian fusion food. From the food pictures, it looks more like Chinese American party food. Either way, the food looks awesome and I can’t wait to give it a try.

The second restaurant featured on the show was Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in Saint Helena.  The farm to table restaurant has an array of fresh and comfort food that has me wanting to make the drive up to Napa County.

The final restaurant featured on this episode is the reason behind this blog post.  I was watching the screening of “Check Please, Bay Area” at Grand Lake Kitchen in Oakland. They were hosting a viewing party and my BFF found out about it and bought us tickets. The ticket included entrance, two drink tickets, and light nosh.

As soon as we arrived, we went to the bar to select our first drink. We went with the boozy slushy of the day which was a Grapefruit and Gin cocktail. It was sour, which I am a fan. The umbrella in the drink was a prediction of a fun evening to come.

The waitstaff began passing out appetizers. Fried chicken sliders were the first to come out and when it reached our table there was just one left. I insisted my BFF take it. Another tray of sliders came from another direction and they were all gone right as it reached me. I was thinking I might completely miss out on the sliders. “Light nosh” might be zero nosh for me. I decided to alert one of the waitstaff and she apologized and said she would return with some more.  

There were actually two types of sliders, fried chicken sliders and the burger sliders. They were both delicious and included homemade pickles. 
We also had egg salad on rye toast topped with fried chicken skin. These were mini versions of the popular open faced sandwich they normally serve on the menu.
Pickled shrimp crostini were also passed. I was surprised that the flavors were subtle.
I really enjoyed the flavor and texture of the tempura fried mushrooms, but they were a bit greasy.
There was also a smoked fish display with bagel chips, cream cheese and all the fixings. I suspect this is similar to the “smoked fish tower” that is on their menu.

The food kept coming out and there was never going to be a shortage of sliders. Light nosh was actually heavy nosh. I was full before the show started.  

The owner May Seto Wasem made a speech and introduced Rene, the diner who nominated the restaurant to be on the television show. We all then watched the show together as it aired for the first time.  

It was a great show and a fun evening. I suspect that with the fame of Grand Lake Kitchen being on tv, there might be longer wait times. I would recommend avoiding weekends.

Limewood’s New Dinner Series: Dining on the Deck

Limewood is the new restaurant located inside the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. The restaurant is introducing a new dinner series called “Dining on the Deck” which features a four course meal with drink pairings. Me and a guest were invited to attend the first of the series which was held last week. A four course meal prepared by Chef Joseph Humphrey would be paired with Pueblo Viejo Tequila, which is produced at San Matias, one of the oldest distilleries in Jalisco, Mexico.
It was a beautiful evening so we were able to dine on the deck. As we entered, we were offered a special cocktail made with tequila. It had a floating piece of jalapeño that represented the kick it would provide. I really enjoyed it. I actually felt like I was attending a party as we were meeting new people and socializing.  

We had a couple of passed hors d’oeuvres before dinner started. Of the two I tried, I really liked the shrimp toast. The flavor running through the shrimp was absorbed onto the buttered toast while remaining crispy. 
As dinner was approaching, I snatched a seat with one of the best sunset views overlooking the Bay Area. Actually there were no bad seats here. Carmen Villarreal, the owner of Pueblo Viejo Tequila was on-site to introduce us to the family tequila which has been around since 1886. Their tequilas are made from 100% Agave and aged in Oak barrels.  
The first course was grass fed lamb tartare with fried Hog Island oysters. This was an amazing start. I loved the complexity of this dish which included the raw minced lamb meat, the fried oysters and the fresh avocado. Course one was perfectly paired with Orgullo Anejo.  
The second course was roasted halibut with toasted pine nut mole and charred sugar snap peas. The halibut was delicious, but I felt overwhelmed by the mole. I thoroughly enjoyed the sugar snap peas which brought some additional lightness and brightness. This course was matched with San Matias Tahona Blanco.  
The third course was smoked duck breast with roasted parsnips in vanilla butter and black licorice. The duck was a perfect medium rare with a nice layer of crispy skin. The parsnips were a little sweet for my taste. This dish was paired with the San Matias Grand Reserve.
The final course was dessert which was a strawberry margarita mousse. We definitely ended on a high note here as I couldn’t get enough of this. Dessert was paired with Rey Sol.
The tequila from Pueblo Viejo were all very smooth and enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised how well tequila could be paired with food.  
Limewood will continue its “Dining on the Deck” dinner series through the end of the year. For a fun evening of food and pairings, check it out. 

To see more of my food adventures, follow me on Instagram @510foodie.

Hops & Hominy: A Hidden Gem

I had dinner with two of my coworkers in the City on Friday night at a restaurant called Hops & Hominy. It was my first visit to Hops & Hominy (H & H) so I was excited to try another restaurant serving Southern food. Although the restaurant is located in the popular Union Square, it’s not easy to find as it’s hidden at the end of a pedestrian alley.
We started with some drinks. I ordered the Lola, which is a cocktail made with whiskey and cherry cola bitters. The bartender at H & H makes the bitters. It was so good I had a second and my coworker switched drinks.  

The waitress brought out complimentary cast iron pan cornbread and whipped butter. I thought it was a bit bland, but dousing it with butter helped. If I were to make a recommendation, I would ask the Chef to add jalapeños to the recipe.
We ordered two appetizers to share. The first one was black-eyed pea fritters. Black eyed peas are blended and mashed with peppers, leeks, onions, and celery and then deep fried. They were crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy inside. The fritters had great flavor on its own, so I did not think it needed the guacamole it came with. My coworker would probably disagree since she ate up the guacamole.
Our waitress recommended the spicy chicken wings. This is no ordinary chicken because it’s cooked in duck fat. The sauce was similar to what you would find in a spicy buffalo wing. These were so delicious, I ate more than my share of them.  
One of my coworkers ordered the fried chicken which came with garlic mashed potatoes and a buttermilk biscuit. It came with three pieces of chicken, so I was offered the fried chicken drumstick. It was good, but turned into great very quickly after dipping it in H & H’s homemade hot sauce.  
My other coworker ordered the summer squash ravioli that was served in a tomato cream sauce. I didn’t try it, but she left her plate clean so I’m pretty sure she thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
I ordered the country fried steak which came with garlic mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots, mustard greens, and alligator gravy. A thin flat iron steak was used and coated in a batter like fried chicken. It was the best dish of the evening.  
We each selected a dessert. I ordered the French vanilla ice cream with olive oil, toasted almonds, and sea salt. This is one of my favorite flavor combinations. One of my coworkers also chose an ice cream. Her chocolate ice cream came with dulce de leche and pecans. These both felt like mini sundaes. I was happy.

The final dessert was the chocolate mousse crunch which came with hazelnuts, brandied cherry, and cherry coulis. I took a small bite since I wanted to eat all my ice cream. I liked the variety of textures and the focus on cherries in this dessert.
Hops & Hominy is pretty awesome. It’s a hidden gem that is worth finding in San Francisco. I look forward to coming back.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Cookbook Launch Party

In February, I heard about a new cookbook called Salt Fat Acid Heat (SFAH) that was going to be published in a few months. In this book, the author, Chef Samin Nosrat, another Chez Panisse alumni explains how using these four elements properly can help anyone become a better cook. Chef Nosrat describes how salt enhances flavor, fat carries flavor and provides texture, acid balances flavor, and controlling heat creates texture. I was immediately intrigued because I wanted to learn the simple science of this and be able to rely less on recipes.  
The cookbook has actually taken Chef Nosrat five years to write and it has finally been released. To celebrate, Chef Dominica Rice threw a party at her restaurant Cosecha in Oakland today. Chef Nosrat and artist Wendy MacNaughton were present to sign books. MacNaughton includes tons of illustrations that makes the book fun and appealing. They were both friendly and down to earth people and meeting them was an honor.  
What kind of party doesn’t provide good food? Not this one. Chef Rice not only hosted this event, but she and her crew catered delicious food. They served chicken tamales, as well as nettle and corn tamales.  
They also served duros, the Mexican puffed wagon wheels. With a little lime and chili sauce, I couldn’t stop munching on these.
The one recipe we got to try from the SFAH cookbook was the Green Goddess Dressing which was used as a dip for the fresh jicama. I can’t wait to make this.
To drink, we had delicious horchata and cucumber lime agua fresca. I really wish these were in the cookbook. Chef Rice… When are you writing a cookbook?  
I have browsed the book and am super excited to go through this cookbook page by page from beginning to end and be able to use SFAH properly in my own cooking.  
Today was a great day! Congratulations Chef Nosrat and thank you Chef Rice

DIY: Salt and Pepper Shrimp

I have been telling myself I should eat more seafood and less meat. I have made the Cantonese dish Salt and Pepper Shrimp two times; and each time, it has been outstanding. I hope that by adding this recipe to my repertoire, it will only encourage me to eat more seafood.  
Ingredient list:

  • 1 pound large shrimp
  • 3-4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped, keep seeds from 1 pepper
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • vegetable oil 
  • salt and pepper mix*

*For this dish, the key flavor is salt and pepper and to get the robust flavor needed, I suggest using course sea salt, black and white peppercorns, and Sichuan peppercorns. Place the same amount of each ingredient into a mortar and pestle and grind them. You can always make more and save it for later use.   
I learned about Lucky Seafood on E. 12th Street in East Oakland from my family and it’s where I shop for fresh shrimp with heads on. It takes some work, but when buying the fresh shrimp with heads, you may need to clean them, cut off the sharp edge around the head, trim away the claws, and devein. 

Once you have the shrimp prepped, pat them dry as much as possible. Season the shrimp with some of the salt and pepper mix and coat with the cornstarch.  
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat and sauté the chopped garlic cloves, jalapeños, and scallions. Remove once it is browned, about five minutes.  
In the same pan, pour about 1/2 cup of vegetable oil for shallow frying on medium high heat. When hot, lay the shrimp down and cook for about one minute per side in batches. When the shrimp is orange and no longer translucent, remove them to a paper towel lined plate. While warm, you can season with additional salt and pepper mix.  Add additional oil to the pan as needed and repeat until all your shrimp is cooked. 
Wipe the pan clean using some additional paper towels. Return all the cooked shrimp as well as the garlic, jalapeño, and scallion mixture back in the pan and toss lightly to evenly distribute the spices. It’s ready to plate and enjoy!

Welcome Burger Lounge to the Bay Area

I was recently invited to dine at the newly opened Burger Lounge in Walnut Creek. My friend and I made a special trip out there to see what they had to offer. Burger Lounge is not your typical fast food joint. It is apparent that the focus of Burger Lounge is on quality, sustainable food. The hand crafted burgers are made with grass-fed beef, free range turkey, cage free chicken, and organic vegetables. The service was excellent.  The cashiers and servers were a young and energetic bunch that looked genuinely happy to be there. 
Looking at the posted menu, my friend and I decided to try a bunch of things and share. The most popular burger is the Lounge Burger, which is a 100% American grass fed beef patty with organic American cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and house thousand island dressing. Burger Lounge makes their own organic American cheese which does not taste fake like the American cheese from Kraft. We added the optional bacon and had our onions grilled. The Lounge Burger had the qualities I look for in a great burger – a fresh toasted bun, a juicy high quality well seasoned beef patty, and cheese that oozes.

The Classic Burger is similar to the Lounge Burger except it has organic ketchup, mustard, and pickles in lieu of the house made thousand island dressing.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a fried chicken breast with house made slaw, tomatoes, pickles, and herb mayonnaise. It’s hard to believe I could get this from a fast food establishment. For those based in Oakland, this doesn’t have the same star quality as the perfect Bake Sale Betty Fried Chicken Sandwich. If you never had Bake Sale Betty, this might meet your fancy. The chicken patty was nicely flavored and crispy, while the slaw was fresh and tangy.
Burger Lounge also offers Little Burgers for a few of their burger options for a buck less. This is a great idea for kids or if you are into portion control. The manager brought out a “Little,” “Classic” Cage Free Turkey Burger to try. This was her favorite burger and was the reason she decided to work for Burger Lounge. The turkey burger was juicy and seasoned with a good amount of basil. I thought it was delicious, even with the layer of mustard which I’m not a fan of.
You can’t have a burger without french fries. In the case of Burger Lounge, you can’t have a burger without their 1/2 and 1/2 which is a half order of onion rings and a half order of french fries. They make the best onion rings I have ever had and the French fries are pretty tasty too.
To wash all the food down, they serve some unique house-made lemonades at Burger Lounge. I typically don’t drink sugary beverages, but my friend does. She preferred the hibiscus lemonade over the lavender mint lemonade. I actually liked the latter because it was very light and subtle in flavor. For my preference, I would skip these in the future.
At the end of the meal, I realized I had eaten lunch at the original Burger Lounge in La Jolla almost seven years ago. I can recount the exact date because it was a milestone birthday. After all this time, Burger Lounge has made its way up to the Bay Area which I think is a great thing. If you happen to be in Walnut Creek and want a great burger, check out Burger Lounge.