Bocanova: A Second Chance

Last weekend my book club, The Oakland Readers, celebrated our Ten Year Anniversary. We have read eighty-three books during this time. We tend to match our books to a food and/or event theme. For example, we had Chinese food when we discussed “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” we went to Golden Gate Fields when we read “Seabiscuit,” and had Afghani food after we read “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”

To celebrate, we decided to pick a special meeting place for dinner in Oakland. We chose Bocanova in Jack London Square. The restaurant has been open for almost two years and I had eaten lunch there previously. It wasn’t very memorable my first time, but I have heard a lot of great things about Bocanova since.

Bocanova was having happy hour and a few of us were able to enjoy this before our book club dinner. I ordered a Soirée, a specialty crafted cocktail made up of pisco, honey syrup, oranges, mint, and Ginger beer. It was yummy.
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Their bar bites or bocaditos looked good, so we decided to order a couple of items. We had the fried shishito peppers and some dungeness crab deviled eggs. The peppers were an interesting spicy crisp, but the eggs were amazing. I would definitely come back for Happy Hour.
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The menu at Bocanova is pretty unique, as they list items by how they are prepared. We had a large party of ten so we decided the best way to share was probably order some items with a partner and then share amongst our neighbors. It worked out well as I got to enjoy corn chowder with sweet potatoes, bacon, and grilled shrimp, pork ribs with guava BBQ sauce, and sweet potato and chipotle gratin. as the waiter poured the chowder into the bowl, I was confident is was going to be amazing and it was.

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Our neighbors also shared some of their Mexican rice, summer pole beans, and the Pork Special. They cooked an entire pig, the skin was crispy, and it was delicious.

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For dessert, we decided we can all have spoons and share a few things. Four beautiful desserts came out including olive oil cake with vanilla balsamic ice cream with Frog Hollow nectarines, warm chocolate croissant pudding cake with chocolate ice cream, and warm polenta cake with fresh berries and whipped cream. I forgot one of them. I do however remember I liked the polenta cake the best.
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I am very glad I gave Bocanova a second chance. This time the food will be remembered (at least most of it!)

Yummy Honey-Chili Chicken Wings

Last week I was invited to spend a couple of days at the beautiful Carmel Valley Ranch in Carmel, California to celebrate a birthday. They describe the resort as a 500 acre playground. They have a variety of interesting activities. We even got to wear a “Bee Suit” and learn how honey is made. Speaking of honey, one of the memorable things we ate at Carmel Valley Ranch was their Honey-Chili Chicken Wings.

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This recipe by Executive Chef Tim Wood was even published in Food & Wine magazine. I found the recipe and decided to give it a try. This recipe is actually quite easy and I ended up cutting the original recipe in half and made a couple of small adjustments.

Ingredients:

2 pounds chicken wings
1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/8 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Directions:
Preheat the broiler and set a rack in the center of the oven. In a large bowl, toss the chicken wings with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with non stick foil and lay down the chicken wings. Broil for 30 to 35 minutes, turning once or twice, until the wings are cooked through and crisp.

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Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and crushed red pepper and simmer for 1 minute. Let cool, transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the honey and soy sauce.

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Toss the chicken wings into the honey-soy mixture.

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Transfer the wings to a platter, sprinkle with the scallions and serve.

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This came out extremely well. Mine was crispy like the ones from Carmel Valley Ranch, yet more tender and juicy because I cut down the time in the oven. If only Chef Woods would publish his sweet corn bisque recipe!

Festival of India

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The Annual Festival of India in Fremont, California is held each year to celebrate Indian Independence Day. This two day festival occurred this past weekend and celebrated its nineteenth year with a cultural fair, a parade, and a banquet gala. Last year I had the privilege to attend the banquet gala. This past weekend my BFF and I attended the fair which included a kids carnival, a performance stage, vendors of all sorts including food stalls. I love street food in general and that includes Indian street foods or chaat.

The first thing we got to eat was a plate of chicken biryani. This dish made of rice and chicken is typically cooked in huge clay pots and cooked for many hours. Ours came with two hard boiled eggs. We got it from a stall who’s restaurant called Fusion 9 is based in Santa Clara. I really liked the flavors of the chicken and rice, but could have done without the eggs.

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Next we tried a vendor called Peacock that has five restaurants throughout the Bay Area. They had a large booth and with all the cooking activity, we ordered three items from them. First, we got their masala dolsa, a savory crepe filled with a mixture of mashed potato, onion, and spices. We were able to watch the vendor make these to order.

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We also ordered tandoori chicken from Peacock. It was hard not to try this when you are that close to the grill.

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Cholle bhature is a big puffy deep fried bread that is eaten with a bean dish. They had a huge fryer in the back that was making them one at a time, so they warned us that our wait for this item would be ten minutes.

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All three of these dishes from the Peacock stall was fresh and delicious and makes me want to eat at one of their five locations.

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I really enjoyed this festival. It was such a great way to be immersed in Indian culture by the fashion, the dancing, and the food. I can’t wait until next year!

Orenchi Ramen: A Perfect Harmony of Soup and Noodles

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When people think ramen, the first thing that comes to mind is probably an instant bag of noodles that cost pennies. For Asians, it is comparable to Kraft macaroni and cheese as a college staple.

I became introduced to restaurants that exclusively served bowls of ramen noodles living in Los Angeles in the mid 1990s. Being 500 miles from home, a bowl of ramen gave me a sense of comfort. These bowls were much more sophisticated than throwing a bag of dried noodles into a pot of boiling water.

I’ve had a few good bowls of ramen in the Bay Area. If I were on the show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I would be confident to announce ramen at Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara. I’ve never had better.

The two key factors in a good bowl of ramen are the noodles and the soup broth. The noodles used at Orenchi are thick noodles that are springy and neither too soft nor too hard. The broth is made with pork, chicken, seafood, and vegetables and cooked for a minimum of 18 hours.

The menu at Orenchi is fairly simple. You have a choice of three types of ramen which are shoyu (soy base), shio (salt base), and Orenchi (tonkotsu or pork bone base). I cannot get enough of the Orenchi Ramen which comes with pork, green onion, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, sesame, nori seaweed, and a soft boiled seasoned egg. It is pure delight.

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There are also a number of appetizers at Orenchi, but there really is only one reason to go there. The ramen at Orenchi is indeed the perfect harmony of soup and noodles. If only it was closer to me!

Sumika in Los Altos is their sister restaurant that serves grilled meats and things. This year it was included in the Michelin guide and I hope to try it someday soon.