Cholita Linda at Jack London Square

What is Cholita Linda?  If my name were Webster, I would define Cholita Linda as the vendor at the Jack London Square farmer’s market serving up the best fish tacos. 

Jack London Square (JLS) is one of the coolest places in Oakland.   You can enjoy Jazz Music, catch a movie, have a good meal, shop for furniture, have a beer where the famous writer hung out, enjoy the waterfront, and take a ferry into the City.  I am confident that the recent developments of new restaurants, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Miette Patisserie and more to come will make this area boom.  The farmer’s market on Sunday is the best one in Oakland.  I like it because it has great vendors like Cholita Linda and Beckman’s Bakery.  I always feel relaxed coming here on a Sunday.  I think it’s due to the free parking and the fact that it’s spacious and not crowded. 

I discovered Cholita Linda through Yelp as it often would pop up on the “best of” lists.  I was curious to learn about it.  After reading the reviews, I knew I had to try this place. 

It was a warm Sunday and I arrived at JLS.  I did a little perusing and shopping before stopping at Cholita Linda for a snack.  I was shocked that there were only a few people in line because the reviews mentioned a very long wait.  I ordered their cantaloupe agua fresca and a fish taco.  Agua fresca is Spanish for fresh waters.  It is typically made from fruit, sugar, and water.  The agua fresca was amazingly refreshing and yummy.  A cold beverage on a hot day is bound to be good, but the taste brought refreshing to another level. 

My one fish taco was quite pricey at $4.  The fried tilapia on the corn tortilla was topped with cabbage and cream.  It came with a few chips topped with salsa and cheese.  The food is made to order, so it was temperature hot.  As I bit into the taco, I was in a state of bliss.  The texture of the fish was crunchy on the outside, yet very soft and delicate on the inside, and the toppings blended together wonderfully.  The chips were also excellent.  I could just taste the freshness in every bite at Cholita Linda.  Thanks Yelp!  I will be back and next time I will come for a full meal and order three fish tacos.

I also discovered that Cholita Linda is working on opening up a bistro and I can’t wait!

Point Reyes/Tomales Bay, California

Earlier this month, Michael Bauer posted his Top 100 Best Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Osteria Stellina (opened in November 2008) in Point Reyes Station made the list and forced another restaurant Nick’s Cove in Tomales Bay about 2 miles North off the list.

I spent the weekend in the beautiful Point Reyes area and visited both restaurants. This was not my first time at either restaurant. I have gone to Osteria Stellina earlier this year and have been to Nick’s Cove two times previously and both restaurants serve great food. I appreciate that most of the restaurants in this area support Marin Organics, an association of organic producers in Marin County committed to promoting and supporting sustainable foods. My friend and I decided to each order a starter and share a pizza.

The starter I chose was “Beans & Greens” — simmered rosemary cannellini beans with braised greens. This dish came out with the beans on one side and the greens on the other. I mixed them together and enjoyed. The beans were nice and creamy and the greens were cooked down and left a light bitter flavor that went well together.  My friend enjoyed the “Acini di Pepe en Brodo” — tiny pasta in chicken broth with parmigiano & parsley. (Sorry no photo) I tried the soup and it was light and comforting. I grew up on the brothy type soups and prefer them over thick and creamy ones.

The hostess/waitress came out to tell us that she could not serve us our oyster pizza because between the oysters and the leeks, it came out soggy. This was the first time I ever had someone tell me they couldn’t serve something and reminded me of Hell’s Kitchen when the chef would always remind the contestants that they couldn’t serve something that was not of the caliber expected. This was also interesting to hear because this is one of their specialty items. I would think that this should have been perfected by now. She didn’t offer to remake the pizza, she suggested a different pizza.

We changed our pizza order to the prosciutto pizza with nettles. I could taste the great quality of the toppings, but it isn’t my favorite type of texture for the dough. The crust is thin, but tasted more like bread. I prefer my crust to be a bit more crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. If you want good pizza from Marin, I highly recommend Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur.

We ordered the rice pudding with strawberries for dessert. This was actually very delicious and beautifully presented coming out in a canning jar. The sweet strawberries and mint complimented the creamy pudding very well. It was topped with cute star shaped shortbread cookies that were light and crispy.

My first visit had been flawless and I was excited to let my friend experience this new restaurant. Although the food was mostly good, I think the experience was a little disappointing. Partly because we could not have the oyster pizza, but also because the service was inconsistent. It was slow at times and I could tell that the people at the table next to us were unhappy that they didn’t get bread and had to walk up to get their beverages. They also never brought out our doggie bag (we had ½ a pizza left) and forgot about it until after we had left the vicinity.

Nick’s Cove overlooks Tomales Bay and offers great views and the restaurant offers wonderful fresh and local food. This restaurant reopened in 2007 and the brain behind it was Pat Kuleto, restaurant designer of famous restaurants in San Francisco such as Farallon, Boulevard, and Jardiniere. The restaurant itself is casual, warm, and inviting.

I started with a fun cocktail.  Their bellini was  made up of champagne and a white peach puree.  It was a refreshing beverage on a beautiful day and was going to go with with the oysters that we were about to order.

What kind of oysters would we get?  Oysters on the half shell, bbq, or oysters rockerfeller?  I remembered previously having the bbq ones and remembered them to be very good so we ordered those to start. The bbq flavor of the oyster comes from the cooking method, but they are also topped with a nice sweet and smokey bbq sauce.

My entrée was a skirt steak with a mango salsa and plantain chips. This was cooked perfectly as requested and went very well with the cooked down parsley that it was topped with. The steak offered a Tex Mex flavor when you mixed in the salsa and I enjoyed it very much. The plantain chips were crisp, light, and yummy. I wish I could buy a bag of these.

My friend ordered the pork shoulder that came with cannellini beans.  The pork was very tender and must’ve been cooked for hours.  The flavor of the pork was quite sweet and wasn’t what either of us expected. 

We shared a side of roasted cauliflower. We were impressed with the great flavor and texture that the roasting offered. The cauliflower was sliced which seems like a nice trick to cook more evenly.

For dessert we had the warm dark chocolate espresso cake with strauss coffee ice cream, topped with toasted hazelnuts and chocolate sauce. To be honest, we started off sharing one. It looked so good that I rushed to take a bite without taking a photo. I just had to order another just so I could capture the photo! Well, since it was ordered, I couldn’t let that go to waste. Every bite was perfect as long as it had a little cake, a little ice cream, a little bit of nuts, and a dab of sauce.

Although a little bit spendy, I always have a great overall experience at Nick’s Cove. The food and service is always good and the location is priceless. This area of Point Reyes/Tomales Bay is worth the drive any weekend to come to a scenic place to enjoy nature. The drive itself is very pretty. I was lucky to come for a work conference, but I recommend the area as a destination location. I haven’t given up on Osteria Stellina, but I do hope they make some improvements in the area of service.

Best of Sacramento: Biba Restaurant

On my way to Lake Tahoe, my friend and I stopped off at Biba Restaurant in Sacramento.  This is my third time dining at Biba, but my first time having lunch there.  Biba is rated the best Italian restaurant in the area and receives lots of praise from various food magazines.  They have been running inexpensive two course pre-fixed lunch menus and three course pre-fixed dinner menus.  I was looking forward to the pre-fixed lunch, but with the days special a Panini, the regular menu was more attractive. 

We started with a wonderful salad of string bean and cherry tomatoes served with EVOO and balsamic vinegar.  They used french green beans which I love and it was blanched perfectly.  It’s nice when you order a salad to share, and they split the salad onto two plates before bringing it out.  I would really like to know what kind of EVOO and balsamic vinegar they use because I can never make such a tasty oil and vinegar dressing on my own.  The oil is sort of buttery and the vinegar is not too strong.  I would consider duplicating this particular simple salad.  It’s light, healthy, and tasty. 

 

My friend ordered the gnocchi.  It changes daily.  I remember that I ordered it once and loved it.  In her words, “the gnocchi was very delicate, billowy clouds of potato goodness.”

 

I was immediately drawn to the pollo when I reviewed the menu.  I am a fan of chicken especially if done correctly.  This one was a free range baby chicken with paprika and rosemary and grilled under a brick and served with roasted potatoes and fresh asparagus.  They had me at brick.  The chicken was tender and oh so flavorful.  I really enjoyed the smoky flavor that the brick provided.  The skin was crispy and generated joy in my mouth.  Even my friend who does not like chicken said she would order it.  The potatoes and vegetables (bonus were the fresh peas and carrots that I didn’t expect) were great compliments to the chicken. 

 

For dessert, we shared the tiramisu.  It was light, creamy, and delicious.  It had a good balance of cake and cream.  I especially liked the shaved chocolate that covered it unlike many that uses cocoa powder.  I’ve also had tiramisu in the past that is drenched in too much alcohol and this one did not.  I just learned that tiramisu is made up of ladyfingers that are either dipped in espresso or rum.  My assumption is that the one at Biba is dipped in espresso and that appears to be the way I like it.

 

Overall, we had a great lunch.  But before we left the restaurant, my friend and I were perusing her new book “Biba’s Taste of Italy.”  Along with recipes, this book has lots of good cooking tips.  I asked the host if Biba was around to sign one of her books.  He said yes.  He took down my name for her to personalize it.  I asked if she would also be available to take a photo.  He called her and she agreed to come up and sign the book and take a photo.  All I can say is that it was awesome.  She was very gracious and my friend and I really appreciated the fact that she came out to say hello, sign our books, and take a photo.  I can’t wait to cook up one of Biba’s recipes!

Chicago: Martini, Sushi, and Yakitori

I spent the last several days in the windy city, but boy was it warm.  It was nice to leave the April showers of California to a not so normal temperature of mid to high 70’s in Chicago.  Chicago is a great city.  It’s a beautiful place with tall buildings, interesting architecture, and great food.  I enjoyed a lovely architectural cruise along the Chicago river, I had a two hour foot tour of downtown Chicago, and had many awesome meals.  This blog is dedicated to one particular meal.

Before I left for Chicago, my BFF suggested that I look out for a Japanese restaurant that she recently heard about on NPR that won a competition for their ginger martini.  I was intrigued.  I googled “NPR” and “ginger martini” and found the restaurant.  Mizu Yaikitori was the restaurant.  NPR had a Calling all Chefs ginger contest and they received over 200 recipes from all over the US.   The bartender from Mizu Yakitori submitted her candied ginger martini recipe and won.  Was it worth trying out this place just for the martini?  The online menu looked good and yelp gave the restaurant a pretty good rating.  Yelpers called it the best sushi in Chicago.  Coming from California, I wasn’t sure what the best sushi in Chicago meant.  Oh well, I would give it a try, at least I would get a good tasting martini out of it. 

Mizu is located in Old Town Chicago, not an area that Iwas familiar with.  We arrived just after 6:30 and the restaurant was empty.  It was a beautiful modern restaurant.  We were seated and ordered the famous candied ginger martini from our waitress who actually was also the famous bartender Jessica that won the competition. 

She brought out cloudy bright yellow drinks.  It was delicious!  The fresh ginger was apparent and there was the sweet and lemony flavors that balanced it together.  Wow!  Good call on NPR.  Now what was I going to eat?  I wanted to try it all.  With two other colleagues we were able to order quite a bit of variety.  Here are the photos.

Everything was great.  You could taste the quality of ingredients and the freshness.   I will describe the highlights:

Sake Toro:  I’ve had regular toro which is fatty tuna, but I’ve never had the fatty part of the salmon.  And if you know me, you know salmon sushi is my favorite.  This was incredible.  It was sweet and just melted in my mouth.  I could eat this all day and everyday.  I only ordered one piece (the nigiri on the left) because it was $6.  The regular sake was awesome too.

Chicken wing yakitori:  I enjoyed the yakitori because it was very nicely displayed on skewers and had various dipping sauces and spices.  For the chicken wing, I added some hot pepper spices and then dipped it into teriyaki sauce.  It was also excellent.  I was really starting to enjoy eating these little foods. 

Chicken skin yakitori: Yes, you read that correctly.  Chicken skin on a skewer.  This one took a little longer to come out because it had to get crispy.  I need to thank whoever invented this yakitori.  As I was eating it, I kept having to unravel the crispy fat. Wow!  I wish my BFF could’ve tried this one.  She would’ve been in heaven. 

 

Various sushi rolls:  Mizu has some interesting and unique rolls including the New Mexico roll.  The fish is tuna and yellowtail, but it had a kick to it with the jalapeno, spicy mayo, and chili oil, and a refreshing taste with the avocado, cilantro, and lime.  The cilantro also added a nice crunch.

I really enjoyed Mizu.  It was nice to get a mix of great fresh sushi, small bites, and a yummy libation.  I am glad that I followed the candied ginger martini to find this place.

Chicago is full of great foods and something still on my bucket list is to attend the Taste of Chicago event.