Shanghai Dumplings: A Mouthful of Delight

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Shanghai dumplings or xiao long bao are one of my favorite things to eat. As you bite into these delicate dumplings, you get a burst of flavorful goodness. What is it about these dumplings that make them so unique? It’s not the soft delicate pork that makes it special. Xiao long bao are yummy because you get a splash of delicious soup that explodes from the dumpling and into your mouth.

I still have regrets when I traveled to China in 2004 with a tour group. Lodging, travel, and food was all inclusive. We always ate family style with the tour group. At one of the restaurants in Shanghai, we were given a plate of xiao long bao. There was just enough for each of us to have one. I remember it being one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. I kept thinking, “what a tease!” My regret is that I didn’t do anything about it. I should have ordered my own plate.

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Where do you find xiao lung bao when you aren’t in Shanghai? Luckily, there are places in the Bay Area where you can find them. Many high end dim sum places will serve them, but it really is a tease because an order might only have three dumplings. I like to get my fill of xiao lung bao at Shanghai Dumpling King in the Richmond District of San Francisco. One order comes with ten dumplings. For six of us, we requested three orders which equals thirty xiao lung bao.

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The dumplings are cooked over cabbage in bamboo steamers. The tricky thing about xiao lung bao is not tearing the dumpling skin, otherwise the soup spills out leaving you a dry dumpling. Carefully using chopsticks, pick the dumpling from the top and place it on a Chinese soup spoon. Pour over some of the ginger and black vinegar that comes with it. Bite into the dumpling from the spoon that way you save any soup that may spill out. They are delicious!

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Shanghai Dumpling King is a hole in the wall. The food is very homey and generally pretty tasty. In addition to all the xiao long bao, we also had a wide variety of other food with highlights that included the pork and preserved vegetable fried rice cakes, soy braised lion head meatballs, and pan fried pork buns. Dessert is not typically something I care for at Chinese restaurants, but I always look forward to it here. They make sugar egg puffs, which is a cross between a beignet and a popover. They come out piping hot with sugar poured on top.

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The Basque Experience: JT In Gardnerville

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I’ve never been to Basque Country which is the coastal area between Spain and France, but last night had an interesting and fun experience with Basque food. We were only thirty minutes away from Gardnerville, Nevada where a few Basque restaurants are located. We planned to go to JT Basque Bar and Dining Room. Walking through the doors of JT was interesting. You enter into the bar which is lined with cowboy hats and a ceiling surrounded with one dollar bills. Not surprising to see were three slot machines, given we are in Nevada.

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We got a table of four in the dining room where food is served family style. The traditional drink is a picon punch which is a pre or post dinner drink made of amer picon, brandy, grenadine, club soda, and a twist of lemon. Although the taste was a bit strong for me, it was fun to participate in the tradition.

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Their are no food menus at JT. The waitress came by to give us our entree choices which were steak, sweetbreads, lamb chops, chicken, and tripe and pig’s feet. Everything else is set and would come out in well paced courses. And if you wanted more, you could just ask. A tureen of vegetable soup came out first and then a green leaf salad for the table. House wine is also part of the unlimited items they serve.

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The next course was a plate of beans and a dish of beef stew with potatoes. Our waitress then brought out our entree, and to go with it a large plate of delicious french fries. One of my friends and I decided to split the chicken entree. It was moist and cooked in a traditional tomato, onion, and red pepper sauce. The other two dishes ordered at the table were sweetbreads and lamb chops. I tried a bit of everything. Although this is no gourmet meal, it was actually good down-home cooking. The best entree was definitely the lamb chops. We ended with a sweet note, a choice of strawberry cheesecake or vanilla ice cream.

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If I haven’t made it clear, dinner is an abundance of food. JT to me was about the experience and trying something new.

Luka’s: A Great Pre-Show Meal

One of my favorite places to eat is Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. Although there is a room set up for music and dancing, I am more interested in the bar and restaurant. I have been eating at Luka’s for many years which includes many lunches since it is close to work. The food is always great. Their Belgian fries are addicting.

Earlier last week a group of four of us were going to see a show at the historic Paramount Theater. We had pre-show dinner reservations at Luka’s which was a good thing because it was packed.

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The signature cocktails at Luka’s are yummy. I ordered a Hemingway Daquiri, which has rum, grapefruit, and lime in a sugar rimmed glass, two of my friends had lemon drops, and one had a Merritt Martini which was described as a dirty martini with lots of stuff in it. Another delicious signature cocktail that they are famous for is the Buddha’s Hand Martini. The vodka is distilled in neighboring Alameda.

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We shared an order of fries to have with our drinks. I don’t think there has been a time that I’ve gone to Luka’s and not had some fries. These Belgian fries are thick and crisp and come with three dipping sauces – chipotle aioli, smoked paprika ketchup, and herbed aioli. Although I have a habit of trying them all, my favorite is always the smoked paprika ketchup.

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One of my friends ordered two appetizers for her meal. Sometimes I like to order this way as well. One dish was a spicy yellowfin tuna tartar. It was topped with a tempura avocado. I thought the star was the second dish, a roasted beet and apricot salad which came with arugula, radicchio, cucumber, goat cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. It was a beautiful palette of colors.

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Another friend ordered the roasted chicken breast with fava beans, baby carrots, and rosemary garlic mashed potatoes. For someone who doesn’t like chicken much, she devoured it. She also said it was the best mashed potatoes she’s ever had. They were very creamy.

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Having checked my “Seafood Watch” app, two of us were happy to order the crispy arctic char which as far as sustainability, was a best choice. It came with beech mushrooms, roasted shallots and fingerling potatoes, with chanterelle broth and watercress salad. I enjoyed this innovative dish very much.

The meal and company were a great start to our evening.

The Ferry Ride to the Ferry Building

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Rain or shine, it is always fun to take the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco. It was a perfect day on the 4th of July in the Bay Area. I had plans to take the ferry into the City with one of my long time friends to have lunch and celebrate her birthday. Parking is easy and it is free for up to 12 hours at the Washington Street Parking lot in Jack London Square.

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It was a clear day and the ride was great. Riding the ferry allows you to soak up the views. When I pass the cranes, I always think of those AT-AT Walkers. I felt like a tourist as the City skyline became more visible as we got closer.

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The Ferry Building is a foodie’s dream. You can eat and shop for artisanal foods. I bought some bread at Acme Bakery and a few fun kitchen supplies from Sur La Table.

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My friend wanted brunch food so the choices were limited. We stumbled upon Market Bar located right off the Embarcadero. Although I have passed by dozens of times, it was my first time eating here. We were lucky to be able to get outdoor seating.

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My order was simple. I had a refreshing ice tea and flatbread with tomatoes, cheese, and basil topped with an egg. It was like having a pizza that was cut up in small pieces.

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My friend had a real breakfast. Coffee and a fluffy omelet that came with toast and home fries. She also enjoyed her food.

I got a great first impression of Market Bar. The food was good and the weather was awesome to thoroughly enjoy sitting along the Embarcadero.

Crossroads Cafe: Straightforward and Delicious

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I love going to Crossroads Cafe by the Waterfront in San Francisco. It’s part restaurant and part bookstore. It’s also part of the Delancey Street Foundation which helps former substance abusers, ex-convicts, and homeless people turn their lives around. All the employees of the cafe are part of the residential self-help organization that are learning key skills in restaurant operations. My BFF introduced me to Crossroads many years ago and I always enjoy going there for their inexpensive and delicious food.

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Three of us decided to head out to Crossroads today. When the weather is hot, it is actually nice to cool down at least 10 degrees by heading out to the City. I was craving a hot fudge sundae, but I guess I needed to have lunch first. At Crossroads, you order at the counter and your food is delivered to your table.

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It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside where there is a really nice garden. I had ordered the BLT with avocado. Perfectly toasted with applewood bacon, it also came with a side salad. At $4.95, it is a total bargain. The sandwich hit the spot.

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One of my friends ordered the tuna melt, which is a sandwich I typically order because it is really good. I have yet to find a better tuna melt anywhere else. The bread is crisp and light and the tuna and cheese has just the right amount of richness (which is not too rich).

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One of my favorite things to get is their tasty hot fudge sundae. I still had room for a single scoop so I went back to the counter. They start out with Mitchell’s ice cream, add chocolate fudge, add some more ice cream, spoon out homemade whipped cream, and toss on toasted pecans. Delicious! It’s well worth the $3.15.

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The items on the Crossroads menu tend to be simple and taste homemade. All the employees are really nice which really shows how awesome the organization is and why they are so successful.