Gunther’s: Good Old Fashioned Ice Cream

It’s so hot today that I don’t feel like doing much and all I feel like eating is ice cream. Actually, I had Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia for dinner. It was perfectly refreshing. Having this flavor reminded me of the recent road trip home from Reno with my nieces and nephew. We stopped in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Sacramento to an ice cream parlor that has been open since 1940. The long line out the door and into the streets speaks to the goodness of Gunther’s Ice Cream.
The website describes the technique they use to make their ice cream. Gunther’s Ice Cream uses a slow, hand-controlled “Batch Freezer Method” to process their ice cream. This method is similar to the hand cranked ice cream machines used in the early 1900’s. They also use a higher percentage of butterfat cream which produces a rich and creamier ice cream.
With over forty flavors to choose from, I ordered Bing cherry on a cone and was happy to bite into chunks of cherries. The kids each got something different. There was Swiss orange chip, chocolate chip, and mint chip. I ordered some additional vanilla bon bons that were a hit. I had to explain that a bon bon is a chocolate shell that covers a bite of ice cream. They understood as I told them it was a giant Nestle Dib.
Gunther’s is a great neighborhood spot for good old fashioned ice cream. I will remember to go back when I’m in the Sacramento area.

Strawberry Heaven: Davenport, California

I have a good friend who is probably the biggest fruit lover in the world. My weekly consumption of fruit can be eaten by her in one sitting. Growing up in Salinas, California, she is also very cognizant of the farming community. Farmers are some of the most hard working people. While wages are low, exposure to health hazards are high. As an individual consumer, it is difficult to make an impact but my friend wanted to do something. She decided to give up one of her favorite fruits, strawberries, unless they were fair wage strawberries. The employer would need to provide living wages, health benefits, and paid time off to farmers.
The only strawberry farm that I am aware of that provides their farmers with this level of protection is Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California, a few miles north of Santa Cruz.  I took a trip out there with a friend last weekend to check it out.  
When we first arrived, we walked into the storefront. You can buy strawberries that have already been picked or grab a box and go out to the field to pick them yourself.  
We arrived in the early afternoon and went out with a box to attempt picking our own strawberries. Unfortunately, we didn’t see too many ripe strawberries. We would find a nice ripe one here and there. It seemed that much of the strawberry patches had already been picked through.  
I was okay with this because the berries we saw earlier that the farmers had already picked looked bright and beautiful. So we headed back to the shop to take a closer look at all of the other offerings. There was a shelf filled with jars of jam for sale which had sampling. Sweet and luxurious, I definitely needed to take some home.
I was most excited by what was in the refrigerator. They had homemade strawberry shortcake and strawberry cheesecake. My friend and I decided to share one of each. These desserts were delicious and the perfect treat to make the trip down to the farm worthwhile.
Another great thing about Swanton Berry Farm is that they trust their customers. There is no cashier, but a cash box to make your own change. A business that provides honest wages and implements an honor system is something I can appreciate.  
The trip to Swanton Berry Farm was a fun experience. Next time I would arrive early to do some strawberry picking, pack a picnic, and eat more of their awesome strawberry desserts. If you don’t want to travel to Davenport, you can still purchase their fair wage strawberries at Northern California Whole Foods Markets, Monterey Market in Berkeley, and various Farmers Markets. You might have to pay a little more for your strawberries, but you are contributing to a good cause.

Ribfest: Finger Licking Good

I went to Reno, Nevada with my family this past weekend for Labor Day. Reno is known as “The Biggest Little City in the World.” A little less known neighboring city a few miles from Downtown Reno is Sparks, Nevada. Sparks has a population of about 90,000 people. Each year during Labor Day weekend, 500,000 visitors come to Sparks to attend the annual “Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off” aka “Ribfest.” This is a competition that has been happening at the Nugget Casino Resort since 1989 to find out who cooks the best barbecue pork ribs in the Country. The top winners receive prize money, a trophy, and bragging rights. Visitors can buy barbecue ribs from any of the competitors. I’ve heard about “Ribfest” for many years, but this was my first time attending.  

There were about 24 competitors this year so how does one go about deciding which ones to try? A friend of mine gave me some recommendations and they were similar to my brother’s friends recommendations, so that was what we went with. We got a full rack of ribs from three vendors for our family of nine.  
The first one we tried was from Aussom Aussie’s, originally from Down Under. I was in rib heaven after my first bite. It had a nice taste of honey and really reminds me of “char siu” or Chinese BBQ pork. The pork was tender, juicy, and easily came off the bone. Aussom Aussie’s won best barbecue sauce in 2015.
The second one we tried was from Michigan’s Bone Daddy’s BBQ, which was quite different from Aussom Aussie’s. I definitely felt like I was a part of barbecue perfection. These ribs had a kick and a smoke to them which was very enjoyable. Bone Daddy’s won first place last year.
The final rack came from the local BJ’s BBQ from Sparks. These ribs had a hint of sweetness and spiciness. I thought to myself, if Aussom Aussie and Bone Daddy’s got married and had a baby, they could name it BJ. The last prize BJ received was 4th place in 2010.
The unanimous favorite of the Lau family was Aussom Aussie’s, which didn’t win any awards this year. This year the winners included: 

1st – Rasta Joe’s BBQ
2nd – Bone Daddy’s BBQ
3rd – Texas Thunder BBQ

All the BBQ rib cookers at “Ribfest” are masters in their art of barbecuing and I think they are all winners. I hope to be back to attend a future “Ribfest.”

Dashe Cellars: Urban Winery

Where there is good food, there is good wine. I can honestly say that about Oakland, a City that doesn’t get enough recognition for its urban wineries. Our perfectly moderate temperature in Oakland doesn’t allow for the growing of grapes here, but grapes can be harvested from some of the best vineyards within 100 miles distance and then transported here to produce some fine wine.  

One of the oldest winemakers in Oakland and my favorite is Dashe Cellars, which is celebrating 20 years. A good friend of mine and a long time supporter of Dashe introduced me to their single vineyard wines about ten years ago. Dashe specializes in Zinfandels.
The owners, Michael and Anne Dashe started their winemaking venture in 2006 with the production of a Dry Creek Zinfandel and has carried on a successful Oakland business to be proud of.  
I was lucky enough to be a plus one to attend the 20 year anniversary party at the Dashe Cellars in Jack London Square last weekend, an evening of food and wine. The highlights were drinking wine, meeting many of the Dashe team members, drinking wine, eating BBQ, and drinking wine.

Me and a Jeroboam aka Double Magnum

Here are some photo highlights:

My favorite wine of the evening was the Dashe Cellars’ 2007 Zinfandel Florence Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley. It had intense fruity flavors and was very smooth. It’s hard to believe the first grapes planted on this vineyard by Jack Florence was in 2002.

I counted at least a dozen wineries in Oakland. The City of Oakland offers an urban wine trail map to visit many of them. Enjoy!

Genji: Grilling up Lunch

I have never been to Japan, but I would imagine that there would be a lot of eateries like Genji Japanese Restaurant that service busy office workers. Apparently, the restaurant recently moved from Downtown Oakland to Uptown Oakland, making it really easy for me to get to Monday through Friday. There are some food items already prepared that you can grab and go, but they also have a menu of items that are made to order.  You can choose to eat at one of their tables or take away.

 On my first visit, I picked up a side of seaweed salad and a side of cucumber wedges from the refrigerator. I brought it up to the friendly cashier and placed an order for an una-q which were five pieces of unagi (eel) sushi roll. It was a light and enjoyable lunch. I would skip the cucumber wedges in the future as it was bland even with the sauce.  

My coworkers got the unagi teriyaki from the grill which equates to two pieces of eel over rice.  All their teriyaki grill plates come with a side of edamame and a slaw. The charbroiled eel was delicate and flavorful and the rice was cooked to perfection.  
On another visit, I ordered the chicken teriyaki. I have been in search of a good chicken teriyaki for a long time and have found it here at Genji. They grill up Mary’s free range chicken and coats it with a delicious teriyaki sauce.  

One of my colleagues splurged and got the Angus rib eye teriyaki. She ordered it medium well. It was cooked through which I normally do not like. I like my beef cooked medium rare. I had a piece of her steak and was shocked how good it was. The flavor of the teriyaki sauce just disguised how cooked it was. She absolutely loved her plate.

My other colleague was looking for a lighter plate so she got shrimp teriyaki. The shrimps were fresh and plump. It is great that Genji has the variety of grill options so you can order what you are in the mood for. Now that I have done my taste test, I would likely alternate between the unagi teriyaki and the chicken teriyaki in the future.

Burger Month at Belcampo

August is burger month for Belcampo, a 5 year old meat company based in Oakland and run by Anya Fernald. Belcampo is a corporation that includes a farm, a processing plant, butcher shops, and restaurants that together supply sustainable and organic meat. The Belcampo farm is located up North in Gazelle, California and the butcher shops and restaurants are located in Larkspur, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.  
There was a period of time in my past where I only ate grass fed beef. Generally, I enjoyed the taste of corn fed beef more because it was more fatty and flavorful. I think when beef is grounded for burgers, grass fed beef tastes better so I was excited about burger month at Belcampo.

During burger month, Belcampo has been offering promotions to bring in more customers and create awareness. I introduced a friend in Los Angeles to the BOGO week where if you bought one burger, you would get the second one free. My friends participated in the offer and enjoyed their burgers. One review I received was “moovelous!” Another review was “freaking delicious!”  

Photo by Christy Smith

For a company based in Oakland, it’s unfortunate that there is no Belcampo butcher shop and restaurant very close to me. I didn’t want the month of August to go by and not get a chance to get a burger deal. Today was the last day for a 100 Day Dry-Aged Burger, Fries, and a Drink for $15 deal. They were marketing the special for burger connoisseurs so I went for the challenge. 

I drove out to Larkspur with a friend. My 1/2 lb burger was a blend of Wagyu and Angus meat with Raclette cheese, watercress, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun. My medium rare burger was served to me on a wooden platter with French fries. It was then spritzed with 100-proof whiskey in front of my eyes. This burger was definitely well thought out, including the use of watercress that provides a peppery bite. The burger was rich, juicy, and full of flavor.  

My friend ordered the Belcampo burger which is their standard 1/2 lb grass-fed beef patty, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, butter lettuce, house-made sauce. Cooked a perfect medium rare, she ate every bite as well.  
There are still ten days left for burger month and I’m excited to hear what specials Belcampo will offer next. You’ll have to follow them on Facebook to find out. Rumor has it that Belcampo will open a shop in Jack London Square in Oakland, but no date has been identified.

Dumpling Empire: A Taste of Shanghai

photo by Donna Hui

It was this photo from my friend @cwpiequeen that lured me to try Dumpling Empire, located in South San Francisco. This is a dish of green onion pancake, a popular savory snack from Shanghai. When the batter is cooked, it turns into thin flakey layers filled with a depth of onion flavor. I don’t get to eat them often, but the green onion pancake here was cooked to a perfect crispy golden brown that could conquer any empire.  
The small restaurant is called Dumpling Empire, so of course I had to have some dumplings. Shanghai soup dumplings or xiao lung bao are filled with pork and soup and are my favorite kind of dumplings in the whole wide world. These were pretty solid as only one was missing soup. Having experienced making these before, there is a high level of difficulty in cooking xiao lung bao. The burst of broth always gives me a heavenly feeling.

The second dumplings I tried were the Shanghai pan fried soup dumplings. They had the similar meat and soup filling of the xiao lung bao, but the outer layer was a doughy bun that was pan fried. I thought the inside of the dough was slightly undercooked and it was not crisp enough on the outside. I would likely skip these next time, but there is a list of 21 additional dumplings on their menu.  

I also ordered the mustard green noodle soup which includes hand made noodles with thinly chopped mustard greens and pork. I enjoyed the fresh chewy noodles and the subtle infusion of the mustard greens in the entire bowl. The simplicity and the flavors of this bowl brought back memories of when I visited Shanghai.

I made a special trip out to Dumpling Empire and thought it was worth it. If you happen to be near the San Francisco Airport (SFO), I highly recommend making your way to Dumpling Empire for a taste of Shanghai.