Ordinaire: Oakland’s Latest Wine Shop

After dinner last night in the Grandlake area of Oakland, my BFF and I were walking around contemplating dessert options. We walked into the newly opened Ordinaire, Oakland’s newest wine shop. Ordinaire had just officially opened two days ago, on Thursday. We reviewed the menu on the chalkboard, checked out the selection of wine bottles on the walls, and chatted a bit with the employees before we decided we would stay for wine and cheese in place of dessert.
Although the shop didn’t have any dessert wines, they recommended the Alfaro Chardonnay. It was the sweetest wine that was available by the glass and it would go well with the Seastack triple cream, the cheese we were eyeing. The cheese was complimented with thin slices of baguette, toasted almonds, and chopped dried apricots.
As we were nibbling on our snack and enjoying the wine at the counter, my BFF was inquiring about a wine we had never heard of that she was considering purchasing. Bradford, the owner spent some time with us providing information about the California blend. He then offered to give us a taste since he had an open bottle from the previous night.
Although we had eaten dinner, we were pretty intrigued by the cured meat that was being sliced and served to other customers. I had never heard of speck. To me it looked like prosciutto. One of the staff gave us a slice to try. This finely sliced piece of salt flavored meat was so good. It was the best thing I had eaten all day.
The owner and staff were all super nice and friendly. We learned the story about how the shop’s name was going to be Red Whale, but they ran into some problems. Red Whale was copyrighted by a guy who sells coffee in Canada. They were trying to work it out with the coffee guy, but he refused. He sounded like an ass to me.

I get really excited when good people open up small businesses in Oakland. I had a fun evening at Ordinaire and hope Oaklanders will support this new shop. I trust that my next visit to Ordinaire will include a bottle of wine and a meat plate of speck.


SPQR: Food to Appreciate

One of my girlfriends invited me to celebrate her birthday at SPQR in San Francisco. I had not heard much about SPQR, but I was excited because my friend enjoys good food. Sometimes the less you know about something the better because you aren’t setting yourself up for disappointment when your expectations are too high. I didn’t even know we were having Italian food until I was on my way to the restaurant. I started looking at photos on yelp on the drive over to the City and my excitement was reinvigorated.

We had reservations for four. It was my first time meeting one of my friend’s invited guests who has a lot of food allergies and everything had to be gluten free. This really left her to order her own food and the other three of us would order a bunch of items to share.

The first appetizer that came out was the “tomato and burrata,” which was a dish of fresh tomatoes, fried green cherry tomatoes, and burrata cheese dressed with opal basil vinegar. It came with a savory brioche. This dish was simplistic and delicious. Although I thought the fried green cherry tomatoes was a nice concept, there was a consensus that it didn’t really compliment the dish by flavor or texture. All else was lovely.
Another antipasti that we ordered was a lamb dish that came with ground lamb stuffed in savoy cabbage, lamb sausage, chanterelle mushrooms, and cocoa sauce. Our table had two versions of this, one of which was made gluten free. The birthday girl enjoyed the dish, but didn’t like the stuffed cabbage as much as the rest of the dish. I actually preferred the stuffed cabbage over the sausage. That worked out as far as sharing.
The menu had a heading called Piccolo which means small in Italian. The one item we ordered off this part of the menu was the chicken liver mousse with strawberry marmalade and balsamic gelatin. The mousse was in a cute glass jar and came with sliced toast that were about two inches thick. I made sure to spread the ingredients evenly to get all the flavor combinations. The sourdough baguette was tasty, but we all thought that two inch was too thick. We would have enjoyed something more like a crostini.
The primi or first course was the pasta dishes. After seeing a picture of the fettuccini on yelp.com and showing it to my friends, we went ahead and got two orders of it. The smoked fettuccini came with sea urchin, smoked bacon, and a soft quail egg. This dish was quite delicate. The saltiness and smokiness came through perfectly and was so good. We did the right thing by ordering two of these.
The other pasta dish we had was the white corn ravioli with alba mushrooms, butter, smoked goat cheese, and chive. Unlike the fettuccini, the raviolis were hearty. The flavors were quite nice and tasty.
We ordered three main dishes. The sea scallop dish was made gluten free. It came with a purple cauliflower creme, abalone mushrooms, and swiss chard chips. It was thoroughly enjoyed by our friend.
One of the two entrees that I participated in was a king salmon that came with summer squash and cherry tomatoes. The salmon was a bit overcooked and the dish altogether was a little boring.
The final entree was aged squab with plum and onions. I don’t tend to eat squab often because it tends to be a bit gamey. Although it was cooked nicely it still came up short. I think both mains were non climactic after the delicious pasta dishes.
Desserts were next and we decided on two. One was the spiced bombolini, milk caramel, elderberry marmellata, and brown butter gelato. With the desserts, we were back to awesomeness.
My vote was for the albion strawberry, warm marsala zabaglione, marscapone gelato, and ladyfingers. The combinations of fruit, cake, and cream was light and hit the spot for me. I cleaned this one up.
Overall, I would recommend SPQR. The dishes were creative and beautiful. It was a great evening with good food, fun, and friends.
Finally, homemade marshmallows were presented to the table. We were already full, but when the kitchen brings out something complimentary, that makes a person feel special.

Rumbo Al Sur: Latin Flavor in Glenview

One of my favorite places for food and drinks is a restaurant just one block from me in the Glenview neighborhood. Rumbo Al Sur means “heading south” and brings the vibrant flavors of Latin America to Oakland. I remember the anticipation I had when Rumbo opened its doors in my neighborhood almost two years ago. At the time, I had reason to be excited because the guy responsible for this new restaurant was Jack Knowles. Jack also owns A Cote, another one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland.

Rumbo brings hip and cool to Glenview. The space is beautiful, the music is fun, food is exciting, and the bartenders are awesome. I may just have to call Rumbo my watering hole as the bar is my favorite spot to have food and drinks. I have spent many evenings there starting early with happy hour. Rumbo carries a large array of tequilas and the bartenders make delicious margaritas as well as other cocktails. The bartenders are all friendly and knowledgeable, but I have to point out that Ali is my favorite!
The menu has evolved since it first opened its doors, but there are a few staples that have remained. One of my favorite dishes is the baby back ribs. These fall off the bone smoked ribs have a tamarind guava glaze that is a little sweet, tangy, and spicy. When in doubt this is my “go to” dish as it never disappoints.
The salads at Rumbo constantly change according to what is in season so this gives me faith that I will enjoy it. It usually involves fruit, greens, seeds, cheese, and a light vinaigrette. Here are a couple of examples.
Ceviche is not always on their menu, but Rumbo does it well and adds another level of sophistication by including root vegetable chips. They make incredibly tasty homemade sweet potato, taro, and lotus root chips.
Tuesday’s can get a bit crowded because they offer Taco Tuesdays. You have a choice of four tacos and usually involves a seafood, a vegetarian, a white meat, and a beef. I personally don’t discriminate.
Some of the heartier plates seems to rotate on and off the menu more often. I have enjoyed their enchiladas with rice and beans. Their rice is always fluffy and delicious.
Another rotator is the flat iron steak. Cooked well and complimented with rice and beans, it is a solid dish that I have enjoyed in the past.
The desserts are excellent as well. The dessert menu usually has the regular items of churros, ice cream sundae, and flan which I enjoy, but my favorite is the margarita pie. They use a Cointreau cream, pretzel crust, & tequila-lime caramel and I love the mix of sweet and tart.
The desserts have also evolved. Being a fan of Rumbo on Facebook keeps me updated on what is new with their menu including some recent posts about their desserts. One item that intrigued me was the frozen strawberry soufflé which was amazing.
A more recent post was about a peach and plum galette and I am crossing my fingers that it will still be available the next time I am there! (Hint! Hint!)

OMG! I made macaroons!

My niece has been wanting to make French macaroons, or macarons all summer. My first reaction was “no way” because of the intimidation factor. On a recent episode of Master Chef, contestants had one hour to make macaroons. I finally agreed to help her after finding a recipe in my Thomas Keller cookbook. My favorite macaroons are not the ones from Pierre Herme’ in Paris, but the ones from Keller’s Bouchon Bakery.

Macaroons come in all sorts of exciting colors and flavors. The recipe in my cookbook was for vanilla macaroons. I figured that since it was going to be my first attempt at making macaroons, sticking with a basic flavor was probably a good idea.

There are two separate preparations for a macaroon, there are the cookies and the filling. I didn’t have a candy thermometer which was required for the vanilla butter cream filling in TK’s cookbook, so I found a quick vanilla buttercream recipe courtesy of the Food Network.

We mixed 3 cups of confectioners sugar with 1 cup of softened unsalted butter. We then added 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract and 2 tbsp of whipping cream and continued mixing to blend all ingredients. The buttercream was complete and we put it aside.
For the cookie, we prepared a dry mix consisting of 2 1/2 cups of almond flour and slightly less than 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar.

In a separate bowl, we beat the whites of four eggs (must be at room temperature). When it held its form, we added 1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp of granulated sugar. We continued beating until the whites became fluffy and then added a pinch of tar tar. The mixing continued until the whites held stiff peaks. My hand mixer was MIA so when I say “we,” I mean that my niece and I took turns mixing, as it became quite tiring. At this point, we slowly added the dry mix a quarter at a time. I scraped the seeds of a Tahitian vanilla bean into the final mixture.
I put the mix into a plastic Ziploc bag and cut the tip. Earlier my niece traced 2 inch circles on parchment paper. The paper was turned over and placed on a cookie sheet where we piped the mix within the circles. We let the dough sit in room temperature for an hour before baking.
In a 325 degree oven, we baked the cookies for less than twenty minutes, turning the sheet around halfway through. The cookies should be lightly brown. We pulled them off the parchment paper and let them rest on a cooling rack. Once cooled, we piped the bottom of one cookie and matched it with another of similar size and sandwiched them together.
Our macaroons really turned out looking like macaroons. To be honest, they were a little crunchier than we wanted. We did however put them in a sealed Tupperware which changed the texture the next day. There was a slight crunch and a chewy interior to the cookie. For a first attempt, we did great and I was really impressed. I think I would prefer to drive to Napa and buy my macaroons than to make these again. I did enjoy the experience and can check this off my bucket list.