Oakland Restaurant Week: Camino

San Francisco has “Dine About Town” where selected restaurants in the City offer 2 course lunches for $17.95 and 3 course dinners for $34.95.  It really encourages people to try out restaurants that they’ve never been to or allows people to save a few bucks at restaurants they enjoy eating at.  Being in its tenth year, I imagine that it is a pretty successful program.  Cross over the Bay Bridge and Oakland celebrated its own exciting food scene with Restaurant Week.  Restaurants offered meals at $20, $30, and $40.

I celebrated Oakland by dining at Camino for dinner.  Camino is located on Grand Avenue in the Lakeshore District.  It’s been over a year since I last dined at Camino so I was looking forward to it.  There are two things that Camino is well known for – their cocktails and their open kitchen fireplace.  The three of us were seated at a table closest to their open kitchen.  I couldn’t help to wonder if my opentable.com reservation got us such a great table.

The cocktail list is pretty unique.  I randomly ordered the pisco drink.  It was served with lemon, gum syrup, and egg white.  I believe it is their version of a pisco sour.  It was very tasty and I can understand why their mixologists get such rave reviews.  Their Oakland Restaurant Week Fixed Menu for $30 offered a fennel, daikon, kohlrabi and chervil salad, half a Dungeness crab grilled in their famous fireplace, and citrus compote with orange sabyon.  I went with the fixed menu.

Before our appetizers came out, they served an amuse-bouche of pickled celery.  This tiny bite was simply tasty.  The salad was beautifully presented with each ingredient shaved very thinly.  I felt a little like a rabbit eating these raw vegetables that were a little bland.  I didn’t feel that the sliced parmesan and olive oil was enough flavor for the salad.

I was excited for my Dungeness crab to come out.  I had seen a batch cooking on the grill next to the burning fireplace when we had arrived.  The crab was accompanied with grilled winter chicories, sunchokes, beets, and chilis.  The crab was absolutely delicious.  I’ve never had it cooked in this method and never had crab so good.  One additional item on the plate that really impressed me was the sunchoke.  It was starchy and looked like wedged potatoes.  I didn’t realize what it was and thought it tasted very much like artichoke.  The waitress told me it was a sunchoke otherwise known as a Jerusalem artichoke, which is in the sunflower family and not actually a type of artichoke.  Note to self to experiment with some sunchokes as they were great.

Dessert was a variety of citrus fruit accompanied by sabyon and lemon tuiles.  This may be my first experience having sabyon.  Sabyon is a light creamy custard and this version was smooth and delightful.  Tuiles, another word I didn’t know refers to thin crisp lace cookies.

Restaurant Week prompted me to dine at Camino again and it makes me feel great to live in a City with such great dining options.

Pican: A Taste of the South

Today my bookclub met at Pican, a beautiful upscale restaurant located in the Uptown district in Oakland for brunch.  Advertised as “A Taste of the South,” it was the perfect location for the eight of us to meet over a meal and to discuss “Beautiful Jim Key” which is a true story about a very smart horse and his trainer that takes place in the South. 

One of the first things our waiter (JL) asked us was whether he could start us off with some beignets.  As we were still waiting on a couple more members of our group, we gladly said yes.  The pillows of fried dough, tossed with cane sugar and cinnamon, came out fresh and hot.    They were crisp, airy and very good; much closer to the real deal (New Orleans) than other restaurants serving them in the area. 

We decided to order another “dis & dat.”  That’s what they call their appetizers.  The fried green tomatoes we ordered came with sheep’s milk feta, tomato salsa and spicy buttermilk dressing.   Most people at the table never had fried green tomatoes and it appeared they enjoyed them, but I had a few criticisms being the expert I am.  (Read my blog about fried green tomatoes.)  I didn’t like the inconsistency of the cut of the tomatoes.  One was too thick making it a bit too hard and there was a thin sliced tomato that ended up a bit mushy.  Although I enjoyed the buttermilk dressing for dipping, I thought the feta and salsa was overkill.  I also didn’t think about it, but tomatoes aren’t in season so should they really be on the menu?

We each ordered our own entrée which they call “Southern Exposure.”  With eight of us, we had a variety of five dishes.  It was a no brainer for me, my eyes went straight to the catfish & grits.  The crispy fried Alabama catfish came with white cheddar grits, sunny-side-up eggs and pickled chilis.  I knew this combination was going to be good.  I loved my dish and I cleaned off my very generous portion of food.  After eating about half of my dish, I noticed the sliced chili peppers on my plate.  I took a small chili with a scoop of fish, grits, and egg and it ended up an ever better bite!  Prior to eating my chilis, I had used my friends Pican hot sauce that came with her food.  I thought their homemade hot sauce was excellent. 

I was able to sample a couple of other things and I think highly of the fried chicken benedict for its taste and creativity.  Fried chicken on an English muffin, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce?  Wow.  Another friend’s meal came with a buttermilk biscuit with butter and an interesting fruit jam mixed with a chili sauce.  The little bite that I had was like a tease, like a child in a candy store with no money. 

I would rate Pican as a great spot for a lovely Southern meal.  And if you are into bourbon, they are well known for having an extensive list and even named their private room the Bourbon room.  This week is restaurant week in Oakland and Pican is one of the participating restaurant.  For $40, you can get a three course dinner that includes some bourbon.

P.S.  If you are looking for a good read, I highly recommend Beautiful Jim Key.

Mogobbq: Korean tacos in the Bay Area

The Kogi food trucks can be credited with aligning social media with the food truck.   Born in Los Angeles in late 2008, Kogi serves fusion street food, combining Korean and Mexican cuisines.  Korean barbecue meats are combined with tortillas which become tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.  In addition, they serve sliders using the Hawaiian roll as the bun and hotdogs that are topped with kimchi.  The social media aspect came to be when their original customers would update their status on facebook about the “tacos”.  From there, the owners began to tweet where they would be parked.  Customers would drive across town to find them and wait over an hour to get their food.  Today, they have almost 80,000 followers on twitter.   I consider them marketing geniuses.  I haven’t followed them down to Los Angeles, but recently found a similar food truck parked across the street from my work. 

The MogoBBQ truck is one of several copycats of the original Kogi truck.  I came out of my building at lunch one day to walk around Lake Merritt and passed by a fairly crowded food truck.  I figured if the line was shorter when I got back from my walk, I would try them.  Lucky for me when I got back, there wasn’t much of a line at all.  The meats available were beef short ribs, chicken, and pork.  They also had a meat alternative – tofu.  Their menu mirrored that of Kogi’s.  I decided to get two tacos – one pork and one chicken.  At $2 a piece, that was reasonable.  I ate them at my desk and was pleasantly surprised how good they were. I enjoyed the pork much more because it had more flavor and the chicken was a bit on the dry side.  The vegetables on top were delicious.  The homemade slaw was made of fresh lettuce and cabbage mixed in a tangy vinaigrette.  The sprinkled sesame seeds were a nice touch.  I became of fan of Mogobbq on facebook and await their return to Oakland.

Zuni Cafe: Roasted chicken and more

The San Francisco publication 7 X 7 is an insider’s guide to the best of San Francisco.  A popular list they created was their Big Eat List of 100 Things to Try Before You Die.  Each year the roasted chicken and bread salad at Zuni Café in San Francisco is Number 1 on the list.  The menu item has intrigued me for years and finally I had the opportunity to have dinner there.

Zuni is located on Market Street and Rose Alley in a beautiful flatiron building.  The walls are made of glass which makes the environment very warm and inviting.  We were led upstairs to the second floor to our table.

The roasted chicken takes an hour from the time you order so that as soon as we sat down, we placed one order.  It is a full chicken that typically serves two.  We were a party of four and with one person a vegetarian, we decided one chicken would be plenty and would allow us to try some other things while we waited.

We started with the Zuni Caesar salad, an arugula salad with beets and toasted almonds, and clams with brussels sprouts.  Everything was delicious, but the clams were the standout.  They were sweet and buttery and had me wanting more.

Shortly thereafter, the chicken which had been cooked in a wood fired oven arrived.  The perfectly golden chicken that had been cut into about six pieces which is topped on a bread salad with frisee, currants, and pine nuts. The chicken was juicy, tender, and delicious.  I describe the bread salad as crusty pieces of bread that that has been soaked in the juices of the chicken.  It is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  The chicken and bread complimented each other very well.  Having this dish generally brought good vibes to the table as a lot of sharing and is involved which I find fun.

We were all quite full but had a little room to share a dessert. We decided to have the homemade ice cream sandwiches.  The simple dessert hit the spot.

Everyone should have Zuni’s roasted chicken on their bucket list.  If I get the opportunity to go again, I’m going to try more seafood because I think there is more to Zuni than chicken and bread salad.

Farewell 2010 and Digs Bistro

A friend of mine had been raving about a “neighborhood” restaurant called Digs Bistro in Berkeley for the past few years.  I had been meaning to go and even bought a coupon from the website restaurant.com in March 2010.  I happened to ask about it recently and my friend said “They’re closing.”  I was concerned that I would never get the opportunity to experience this restaurant and also use the coupon I purchased.  My friend made a reservation for us to go before they would permanently close their door on December 31, 2010.

I am a big fan of soup.  We both decided on the crimini mushroom soup with a meyer lemon cream.  I stressed the word “neighborhood” earlier because their customers supply the meyer lemons.  I enjoyed the soup very much with the slight hint of tart.

For my entrée I decided on the Rocky Junior fried chicken.  I could not go wrong with a great quality chicken from Petaluma.  The chicken came with a tasty biscuit, creamy mashed potatoes, and a one of a kind coleslaw.  Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside this was one of the best fried chicken I have had.  Their version of coleslaw was made out of cooked greens which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My friend ordered the stuffed chicken with a root vegetable puree and brown butter brussels sprouts.  The stuffed chicken had a pork filling and it was tender and delicious.  Leaving a clean plate, I assume my friend enjoyed her entrée as well.

Although I was quite full, we managed to each order a dessert.  This would be our last meal at Digs Bistro, so we could not have any regrets.  She ordered the seasonal fruit cobbler (apple) with ice cream.  I thought this was disappointing.  I ordered the black and tan sundae because it caught my eye from the first look at the menu.  I wondered how it would compare to my favorite at Fenton’s ice creamery.  It was quite different, but nonetheless excellent.  It came with vanilla ice cream, caramel and fudge sauces (the black and tan), and chopped praline.  Yum.

So I am sad that there will be no more meals at Digs Bistro and it is a loss for the neighborhood, but I am grateful that I had the opportunity to try it.  I look forward to following Chef Heidi where 2011 brings her.  I say goodbye to Digs  Bistro and all other restaurants that may have closed, but am optimistic I will find new foods and restaurants that I will enjoy in twenty eleven.