Haven: More Like Heaven

20120226-213019.jpg

My expectations were quite low going into the restaurant Haven, the latest restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square. It’s been open for two months and it was a food club pick. My colleague had dined there a few weeks prior and indicated she was served one and a half scallops and went home to have a Lean Cuisine. I had eaten at Plum which is the same owner as Haven and I felt the portions were small. After my meal at Haven last week, I am pretty excited to write about it because it was an awesome experience.

When we arrived, our table was not ready so we were offered a sincere apology and our cocktails were complimentary by Kyle, the manager for the evening. On other nights, Kyle waits tables.

Our waitress was Dana who was pretty informative. To start I ordered the clams. These were amazing especially the brothy sauce. We asked for some extra bread to dip in it. Dinner rolls came out in a skillet.

20120226-213603.jpg
One friend had the braised bacon. This dish is essentially a piece of pork belly atop a salad. It was a nice way to lighten up the dish.

20120226-213514.jpg
My other friend had the bone marrow. It was no surprise to me that she would order this because it’s one of her favorite things. The surprise is that it is a signature dish that I saw served frequently. It is a beautiful dish and my friend enjoyed it.

20120226-213430.jpg
My entree was the Arctic char which came with king trumpet mushrooms and pear. A sauce was poured table side. It had a crispy skin but a flakey interior. I typically enjoy this much more than salmon because of its lightness.

20120226-213348.jpg
My friend ordered the shepherd’s pie. This came in a bowl and included foam over the potatoes and mystery meat. It was a dish full of flavor and texture. The small amount I had was enough because it was hearty and decadent. A very good dish that should be shared.

20120226-213303.jpg
Although the smoked pasta was an appetizer, my friend ordered this as her entree. The raw egg yolk was broken table side and mixed into the pasta. The smokiness of the pasta, the caviar, the fish eggs, etc. gave the pasta the taste of eating bagels and lox. This was one of the best dishes.

20120226-213219.jpg
We ordered two desserts. One was the baked California which is their twist on the baked Alaska where ice cream is inside a meringue topping. You won’t find a orange gel or avocado puree in Alaska. This was my pick and was great, but it was the other dessert that knocked our socks off.

20120226-213144.jpg
The Whiskey and rye was a plate of sweet yumminess. Whiskey can make anything taste better. Atop the creamy bars and ice cream were caramelized bananas.

20120226-213100.jpg
The food and service was exceptional. I confidently say Haven is the best restaurant in Oakland and possibly my best meal ever.

Commis: A Celebratory Experience

20120219-212426.jpg

I’m celebrating my two year anniversary. It’s a two year anniversary of a relationship I have with food and writing. I’ve been writing a weekly food blog for two years. To celebrate, I was going all out. I dined with my BFF at the only Michelin star rated restaurant in the entire East Bay and it’s located here in Oakland and it’s called Commis.

The chef/owner is thirty-two year old James Syhabout who grew up in West Oakland. His family immigrated from Thailand when he was two years old. Aside from Commis, he owns Hawker Fare, the Southeast Asian street food restaurant that I previously wrote about. Remember the pork belly rice bowl?

Commis serves a pre-fixed menu where art and creativity is apparent. The first thing to arrive was a bowl of rocks. We were instructed to find the two edible items. I was a bit confused. My friend with her geocaching experience was able to find them easily. We bit into what tasted like a whopper of a crispy cheesy cracker. What a fun way to start the meal.

20120219-212645.jpg
The next item to appear was the Pacific oyster, sunchoke and green anise in sea foam. I didn’t like this dish. It was like putting spoonfuls of ocean in your mouth.

20120219-214956.jpg
Although at the time we didn’t realize it, Chef Syhabout brought out the next dish which was the farm egg with alliums, smoked dates and malt. He explained to us to get a bite of egg yolk in each spoonful. The only thing I could identify was the egg yolk but it was a tasty dish.

20120219-221009.jpg
Sweet shrimp with avocado and chrysanthemum was the next plate. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish as well.

20120219-214145.jpg
Next to arrive was the red beetroot with cauliflower and blood orange with a pumpernickel bread crust. For a moment, I thought I was having dessert. This was one of my favorites.

20120219-214128.jpg
Chef Syhabout came out again to bring us the hake confit in olive oil, black and green garlic with wilted coastal chicory. I’ve never had hake before, but it is from the same family as cod. After further thought, I think this was my favorite.

20120219-213449.jpg
The final savory dish was the Heritage chicken, artichoke and black trumpets, fresh and dried brassicas. The texture of the chicken was very tender and had a smokey flavor. It was a nice dish and probably the most beautiful.

20120219-213441.jpg
The palette cleanser came to the table which was a winter citrus with laurel bay leaf. It did what it was supposed to.

20120219-214048.jpg
Dessert was an apple sponge cake with vanilla bean, rice and warm spices. Another beautiful dish. I wish I had more of this; I especially liked the rice crisps that looked like bugs.

20120219-213427.jpg
A bonus dessert came out which my BFF remembers being called the potted mint. It reminded me of when I was in elementary school and we planted beans in a styrofoam cup to await a sprig to appear. The dessert was a delicious chocolate that started out grainy, but became creamy in my mouth.

20120219-213103.jpg
Commis was an interesting experience which I am happy to have had. Every item on each plate is carefully placed the way an artist creates their art. The food was mostly enjoyable. It’s definitely worth a try to celebrate a special occasion. And if you are lucky enough, you’ll get to meet the Chef. Our waiter walked us over to the open kitchen at the end of our meal to meet him!

Bay Wolf: A Highlight to Piedmont Avenue

Piedmont Avenue is a bustling neighborhood of trendy restaurants, coffee shops, etc. in Oakland. Piedmont Grocery, a neighborhood grocer has been there for over a hundred years and carries a few items that is hard to find elsewhere. Piedmont Avenue is also the street where Fentons Creamy is located.

It’s been several years since I have eaten at Bay Wolf on Piedmont Avenue. Whether it was a business lunch or a special occasion, I remember when it was thee place to go in the area. Restaurants on Piedmont Avenue have come, others have gone, but Bay Wolf remains. My food club visited a couple of weeks ago. It also happened to be Restaurant Week so there was a deal of three courses for $30 which I participated in.

Amongst the three of us, we decided to share the duck liver flan with grilled Acme bread, cornichons and olives to start. The creamy flan on the crispy bread was delicious. This was a nice appetizer to share because it is not only full of flavor, but I suspect full of calories.

20120212-191935.jpg
The appetizer included in my three course meal was a citrus and celery root salad with ancho cress and tapenade toast. The salad portion of this dish was really nice, but I could’ve cared less for the tapenade toast. Well, maybe if I didn’t eat the duck flan I might’ve enjoyed it more.

20120212-192439.jpg
My entree was the Moroccan-style chicken tagine with spiced couscous, olives and preserved lemon. I enjoyed this dish particularly the chicken, but I think the sauce was a little too salty.

20120212-192229.jpg
The dessert I ordered was the chocolate-caramel tart. This was fantastic! The blend of chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, and crust was delectable. It seems this dessert is on their normal menu and I would order it again.

20120212-192732.jpg
After all these years, Bay Wolf continues to serve good food in a nice atmosphere.

An Accidental Find: Mike’s Pastry, Boston

20120205-224936.jpg
I just returned from a quick trip to Boston. I had some really good food, but this blog post is my story of Mike’s Pastry. Firstly, someone is a marketing genius. I’m not sure if I found them or they found me. I was on the Freedom Trail when I saw someone walk by with a box in hand. The box had “Mike’s Pastry” printed on it and was tied up with long white string. The name looked like it was written with a sharpie.

20120205-224746.jpg
I quickly yelped the shop and it was clear I was close by and I had to try the cannoli. I did. The chocolate chip cannoli was awesome. It had a crisp shell and the ricotta cheese filling was dense and wonderful. The mini chocolate chips on each side gives it great added flavor and texture.

20120205-225029.jpg
I returned the next day for another cannoli. It was Saturday evening and the line was out the door and halfway down the block. Feeling like a regular (yelp called me a regular since I checked in two times), I cut through the line and went straight for a table. I was out of the cold, sitting down, and had my cannoli and cappuccino in front of me within ten minutes. This place was a madhouse. For the thirty minutes that I was enjoying my dessert, well over a hundred customers came through to buy pastries.

20120205-225126.jpg
If you’re in Boston, Mike’s Pastry is a must try. Hey, it’s a great place to stop and take a break while on the Freedom Trail.