Bi-Rite: More than Alright

Located in the Mission District in San Francisco is a food market, a creamery and bakeshop, a catering company, operators of organic farms, and a community education center that make up the Bi-Rite family of businesses. Their mission is to create community through food.

I’ve been visiting Bi-rite creamery for a while and especially love the salted caramel ice cream. I remember taking my niece for the first time and she ordered her favorite flavor, mint chocolate chip. She was shocked that her ice cream was not green. It was also the best mint chocolate chip ice cream she ever had.

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We had an educational program in San Francisco on Friday and we hired Bi-Rite to do the catering. Beginning with the bowl of organic apples as the centerpieces and the local coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters (also in the Mission), I knew I was going to be pleased.

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We had a great variety of food for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack. I won’t go through the details, but their website has their full menu. Some of the highlights I enjoyed were the lunch sides lentil and spicy roasted yams with crumbled chèvre and arugula and the farfalle pasta salad with roasted brussels sprouts.

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Desserts came from the bakeshop where we had an assortment of cookies, brownies, and bars. The cookie I ate was amazing.

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Our afternoon snack included a beautiful platter of artisan cheeses that came with marcona almonds and dried apricots.

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Food plays an important part of any type of program or conference. Ours was a success.

If you live in the City, you should shop Bi-Rite. If I lived in the City, I know I would because they are definitely doing something Rite!

Bay Leaf: A Living Social Experience

I have definitely purchased coupons from Groupon, Living Social, and restaurant.com to get discounts for restaurants.

My friend recently invited me to have dinner at The Bay Leaf Restaurant in Oakland so she could use her Living Social coupon. She paid $26 for the voucher which was redeemable for two non-alcoholic beverages, one appetizer, two entrees with two sides each, and one dessert. I didn’t have dinner plans, so we were off.

Bay Leaf is located in the Diamond/Fruitvale district in Oakland serving up Southern food reminiscent of the Southern Cafe that used to be at this exact location. I don’t know what the yelpers were talking about in regards to service. Our waitress was very nice.

My friend who recently has spent a lot of time in the South loves her some sweet tea. She unfortunately didn’t think it was comparable to the sweet tea in the South. I went with the 50/50 which is their version of the Arnold Palmer. Half lemonade and half sweet tea. I thought it was okay as well. It was nice that it came with our meal.

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We had been debating a bit over the appetizer. The waitress told us the fried okra was very popular, but one of her favorites were some fried red potatoes that were new to the menu. Not being a fan of okra (I find it slimy), we decided we would go with our waitresses’ suggestion. The potatoes had melted cheese and chives and came with ranch dressing. I thought it was pretty good and ate my share.

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My friend ordered the oxtail with rice and chose yams and collard greens as her sides. The meat from the oxtail was quite tender and tasty. The sides were also nice. Both our plates came with corn bread muffins. These were some of the best corn bread I have had.

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I ordered the fried chicken wings for my entree and selected mac and cheese and green beans with bacon as my sides. The chicken was juicy and well seasoned. The texture of the batter was a bit crumbly, which did not allow for the crisp that I like. The mac and cheese was simple. I liked how they used penne pasta. The stand out were the green beans. Cooking it with bacon definitely stepped it up many notches.

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We still had to choose a dessert. I would have a bite, but leave it up to my friend to choose something. She ordered the peach cobbler a la mode. The texture of the crust was soft and moist, a lot different than I’m used to. Again, it was nice that it was included in our meal.

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Overall, I thought the meal was good with several items that stood out as great. The prices are very reasonable, especially with a coupon. The coupon is there so as a new customer, you would give it a try. The restaurant would hope you would return. If I’m in the mood for Southern food, I would definitely return to The Bay Leaf Restaurant. By the way, if you think you have an expired Groupon or Living Social voucher, you may not be able to get the full value of the coupon, but you should be able to get the value that you paid. For instance, if this coupon expired, we could’ve gotten $26 worth of food instead of the over $50 we did get!

Jin Sho: Ode to Steve Jobs

Today is officially Steve Jobs Day in California, but I celebrated yesterday. I picked up my sleek new 16GB white iPhone 4S and I dined at Steve Jobs favorite restaurant in Palo Alto, Jin Sho.

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I spent several hours with my friends at the Stanford Shopping Center including a few hours at the Apple Store. By the time we were ready to leave the mall, I was starved. Where should we have dinner? My friend who lives in Palo Alto presented a few ideas including, Jin Sho. It seemed like the perfect idea that we eat at Jin Sho. When my friend called the restaurant, the host seemed pretty adamant that they couldn’t accommodate us. Our second choice was a Cuban restaurant. We parked and were heading toward the Cuban restaurant when we passed Jin Sho. My friend who doesn’t like no for an answer decided to walk over to Jin Sho and ask again. I don’t know what she did or said but we were “in”. When our waiter found out we didn’t have a reservation, he was very surprised. He said they turn a lot of people away. We were very lucky or it was meant to be or both.

Jin Sho opened in 2007 by two former Nobu Executive Chefs Noriomi Kaneko and Ichiro Takahashi. The menu was quite large and my foodie friends and I decided to order a large variety and share. We ordered one large omakase meal, one prix-fix meal, a sushi dinner special, a couple of additional appetizers, and extra nigiri.

The appetizers we ordered were the corn tempura and the agadashi tofu. Both were excellent.

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The prix-fix dinner comes with miso soup and allows you to select from a list of appetizers, entree, and sushi roll. We ordered the yellowtail with jalapeño, the lamb chop, and the spider roll.

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The large omakase came with 3 dishes from the sushi chef, 2 dishes from the kitchen and 1 dessert. The sushi chef prepared a tuna tartar with caviar and a mountain berry, yellowtail with an onion dressing, and halibut with a hot oil. I could taste the wasabe in the tuna tartar so I was not a fan. My friends loved it though. I really liked the other two fish dishes, but the yellowtail probably edged over the halibut especially with the yummy onion dressing.

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The kitchen prepared dishes on the omakase menu were rock shrimp tempura with spicy mayo and black cod with fish liver. Although the tempura looked and has a similar concept to honey walnut prawns, it doesn’t taste like it at all. Still good, it has the flavor of the sauce used in a spicy tuna roll. The black cod was awesome. Claiming to be marinated in miso for 3 days, it is light, full of flavor, and delicious. We had to have some extra bowls of rice to enjoy every speck of sauce.

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The variety of sushi came out next. My top picks are the baby yellowtail, the ocean front, and the toro.

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We did find out from our waiter that Steve Jobs liked to order udon and his sushi choice was saba or mackerel. In Steve’s honor, we were going to try the saba as well. Definitely not my choice in fish, but to show appreciation to Mr. Jobs, I was happy to eat it with a smile on my face.

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I was too full for dessert, but that wasn’t going to stop my friends. They ordered the chocolate dome and the blood orange mascapone mousse. I tasted both and they were pretty good. I was impressed that this Japanese restaurant had such non-Asian desserts that were quite good.

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This is definitely a restaurant I would return to when in the area. We may have slightly over ordered this time, but it was the first time and now I know what I like. And since Jin Sho is good enough for the Honorable Steve Jobs, it’s good enough for me. Happy Steve Jobs Day!

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Hawker Fare: More Than Fair

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I finally got a chance to dine at Hawker Fare this weekend. It’s been open for about five months. Hawker Fare is the second Oakland restaurant by Chef James Syhabout. His first restaurant is Commis. I have yet to try the only restaurant in Oakland that earned a Michelin star. I guess I’m waiting for the right occasion to dine there. You don’t need an occasion to dine at Hawker Fare as the cuisine is Southeast Asian street food, predominantly Thai.

Uptown Oakland was bustling on Friday night. My friend and I walked into what I found to be a lively, trendy place. With loud music and a disco ball, I thought I was at a nightclub rather than a restaurant. After about a fifteen minute wait, we were given a nice corner table.

My friend ordered a Thai ice tea while I had a Singha (Thai) beer. The tea came in a cute mason jar mug.

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We decided we were going to eat family style. We ordered two “snacks” and two rice bowls between the two of us.

My friend loves beef larb so it was a must try when we saw it on the menu. Beef larb is a beef salad with red onions, mint, and cilantro. This meaty dish was fresh and flavorful.

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The blistered green beans was cooked with smoked bacon and dried shrimp. It had a hint of spice which was really nice.

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Many yelp reviewers rated the 24hr pork belly rice bowl as one of the best dishes so I had to have it and add a fried farm egg on top. This dish was glistening and beautiful. I had to break the egg yolk and mix it in with the pork and rice. It was OMG good! I would come back for this alone!

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The other rice dish we ordered was their special which was a shrimp curry rice bowl. The large plump shrimp was cooked nicely and the flavor of the curry really popped.

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It’s become trendy for restaurants to make soft serve with Straus dairy. Hawker Fare joins that group, but to make it fusion, they flavor it with condensed milk. I ended my delicious meal with a soft serve on a cone. The condensed milk flavor was very subtle. I admit it was fun to eat.

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Hawker Fare is definitely a winner. Lucky for me, it is close to work. I can see many more meals here for sure.

Enjoying San Antonio, Texas

I’m currently wrapping up my trip to San Antonio. My BFF and I head back to Austin in the morning. We’ve spent a day and a half touring the area and eating great food. This is my first time to San Antonio and I am surprised by how much I like it. The weather has been great. Highs have been in the low 90’s and it’s so comfortable to eat outside at night. We’ve gone up and down the Riverwalk, toured the Alamo and a few other missions, and had some excellent meals.

My favorite meal was lunch today at Boudro’s on the Riverwalk. We started with two of their specialties, prickly pear margaritas and guacamole made at the table side.
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Prickly pear is the fruit that comes from some cactus. An old friend of mine would make yummy agua fresca with prickly pear which is the only other time I’ve had this fruit. The margaritas were white and fuchsia, rimmed with chili flakes, beautiful and delicious. My BFF and I had two each.

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Our waiter came back with a cart and started to make the guacamole in front of us. It was fun to watch him make fresh guacamole. He used the typical ingredients like lime juice, salt, avocado, red onion, cilantro, diced tomatoes and chili. The one ingredient he added to the guacamole that I was unfamiliar with was the juice from an orange. The chips and guacamole were delicious.

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Between the drinks and the chips and guacamole, I was becoming quite full. I decided to just order the chicken and tortilla caldo. This soup was delicious. It was brothy and the flavors were spot on. I did run out of broth before the rest of the ingredients, so it would have been nice to have more broth to go along with chicken, queso, avocado, squash, and crunchy tortilla strips.

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My BFF also went with something light. She ordered the chili-fried gulf oysters. They were served on yucca chips, with serrano honey aioli, pineapple pico de gallo, and greens. She thought they were very fresh and perfectly fried. Having cleaned off her plate, I know she enjoyed her food as well.

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I would highly recommend San Antonio as a place to visit. This city has a lot of history. And when you visit, a stop at Boudro’s is a must.