Hurray for Afghan Food in Oakland

My book club recently read Khaled Hosseini’s book “And The Mountains Echoed” which partially takes place in Afghanistan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we didn’t have to travel to get Afghani food for our meeting place. Kamdesh Afghan Kabob House located at 14th Street and Harrison near Oakland Chinatown opened about two years ago. Although I walked by it a lot because it is near my workplace, I didn’t think much of it because it replaced a very mediocre Korean restaurant.

I became really excited about eating at Kamdesh after reading the yelp reviews. Our party shared some mantoo, which are Afghan dumplings filled with ground beef, onions and seasonings, topped with yoghurt sauce and sautéed vegetables. They were fantastic.
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It was fun to watch one of the cooks wrap them with lots of love. It reminded me a lot of how Chinese wontons are made.
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Each of us ordered our own lunch plates. One of my friends and I agreed to split two plates. She ordered the eggplant borani which is eggplant with garlic and onions topped with a zesty yoghurt sauce, which came with basmati rice. The eggplant was completely tender and bursting with flavor.
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I could not go to a “Kabob House” and not have some kabobs, so I ordered the chicken thigh kabobs. They were charbroiled to perfection and came with a grilled tomato and basmati rice. The kabobs were juicy and delicious. I was quite happy.
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To tell the truth, I rarely ever think of eating Afghan food, but I think Kamdesh will soon be added to my repertoire.

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From Hell’s Kitchen to Cook’s County

I flew down to Los Angeles this past weekend to be a diner on the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.” Unfortunately, I can’t blog about it because I signed a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement. I can’t post photos because cameras weren’t allowed. I will however write and post plenty of photos about my favorite meal in Los Angeles this weekend. My BFF and I met up with two of my old friends for brunch at Cook’s County on Beverly Boulevard.
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I was looking forward to eating here because I saw that they serve Intelligentsia Coffee, which I fondly discovered two years ago. Coffee goes well with pastries, so it was an easy decision for us to order the basket of pastries. Essentially it was a plate with four items: a raspberry muffin, a ginger scone that came with cream and lemon curd, a cheddar buttermilk biscuit, and a jelly donut with strawberry-rhubarb jam. I cut each pastry into fours so we could sample them all. They were all quite different, but all delicious. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but if I had to, I would say it was the tops.
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The description of the breakfast items were appealing. The four of us ended up choosing different things and that worked well so we were able to taste each other’s food.

Plate #1: poached eggs, roasted summer squash, white beans & spinach
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Plate #2: ham & cheddar scrambled eggs, warm cheddar buttermilk biscuit
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Plate #3: braised grass fed beef hash, roasted potatoes & sunny-side up egg
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Plate #4: baked pancake with blackberry compote & bourbon-barrel maple syrup
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Side #1: Applewood smoked bacon
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Side #2: organic gaviota strawberries
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There was a lot of food on our table and everything I consumed was wonderful. I would definitely make a point of returning when I am in town. Cooks County is an awesome restaurant with amazing food. The company wasn’t half bad either.

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Long Island’s Lunch Truck

I was in Long Island, New York visiting my friend two weeks ago. The beach, the house, corn on the cob, etc were all great and memorable. But there was a gourmet food truck that stood out for me. It’s actually called the Lunch Truck at North Fork Table & Inn. The North Fork Table & Inn is likely the best restaurant in Long Island serving American and comfort cuisine focused on organic and seasonal foods. The restaurant is only open for dinner, so in their backyard they have a food truck parked there serving lunch.
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The Lunch Truck has a variety of foods. My friend and I decided to share a couple of items. I could not go to the East Coast without a “Lobsta” Roll so I ordered one here. The lobster roll was delicious. It had the nice buttered and grilled bun with a simple fresh lobster filling. I kinda wished I had more than half.
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It went well with the local North Fork Potato Chips. These kettle cooked chips are now my favorite potato chips. They are thin and crispy. I discovered I can order them online and have them shipped to my home. This could be dangerous as potato chips are one of my weaknesses.
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We also shared the spicy chicken posole with hominy, tomato, cilantro, and lime. The posole was complimented with a bag of blue tortilla chips. This soup was very flavorful and comforting. Since I typically only get posole once a year, it was a treat. It was also nice to try one that had a tomato base.
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Two weeks later and I’m still thinking about the Lunch Truck. The food is excellent and the space they utilize is great for picnics. I can’t imagine a trip to Long Island or the North Fork without a stop here.

The Cronut Craze Moves to Oakland

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The Cronut is a half croissant and half donut hybrid that was developed by Chef Dominique Ansel for his bakery in New York City. From my understanding, fans are lining up for four hours to buy a Cronut. It has become so popular that Chef Ansel trademarked the name and knockoffs of this pastry are popping up all over the Country under a different name.

I was in NYC last week and I had no desire to stand in line at Dominique Ansel Bakery to try a Cronut. My friend who was traveling with me really wanted one. Luckily, we found out about the copycat Dough’Ssant from Dessert Club ChikaLicious. There was no line. My friend got the creme brûlée flavored Dough’Ssant which I got to try. I was still full from lunch. She really liked the Dough’Ssant. It was fairly light in texture and had the flakiness of a croissant. The top was carmelized and appeared to have been torched like a creme brûlée hence the name of the flavor. It was filled with a small amount of Tahitian vanilla pastry cream like the Cronut.
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Why am I writing about the Cronut? Well, I found out that Stag’s Lunchette in Downtown Oakland was making their version called the Faux nut. This was going to be a Pop-Up and the shop opened at 9am this morning to offer them. My friend and I picked up some coffee beforehand and when we arrived at 9am, the line had already wrapped around the corner with about 60 people in front of us.
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We had no idea how long the line would take. The weather was nice, we had our coffee, and the people in line was pleasant so the 90 minute wait was not uncomfortable. An employee passed complimentary cups of champagne which was nice.

Stag’s was offering the pastry with one of three flavored pastry creams: Tahitian vanilla, clementine orange cream, and bourbon cream. Also on the menu were Faux nut holes by the dozen. Each item was $6, a dollar more than the Cronut. I definitely wanted the bourbon cream and thought I would try the holes. They also have a two item limit per person. When it was my turn to order, they ran out of holes. I asked how long until the next batch and they told me it would be a long time so I just got the bourbon. My friend ordered the other two flavored Faux nuts.
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We sat at the bar near the register and noticed the party behind me got a dozen Faux nut holes. I thought a new batch came out so I went back to the register to request the dozen I wanted. The woman at the register repeated that there were none and I asked how they got theirs when they were after me. She said something about them being saved because they were kids. I didn’t make a big deal about it and went back to my seat. The little girl was so sweet as she came over and offered us a hole. I took one to try and thanked her. Although I didn’t dip it into the side of cream it was supposed to come with, the hole was tasty. It was crispy on the outside and dense on the inside. It gave us a good idea of the dense texture of the Faux nuts we were about to enjoy.
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The pastries are essentially split open and filled with one of the three fillings. My friend and I shared them all. My favorite was the bourbon and my friend’s favorite was the clementine orange. I enjoyed the Faux nut and am glad I tried them, but don’t think I will ever have the urge to pay $6 for one and stand in line for them again. I think I prefer a really good, buttery, flakey croissant and a soft pillowy donut separately. My friend actually preferred the Dough’Ssant over the Faux nut.
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I have a suggestion for Stag’s. Obviously you can’t make enough holes for everyone, so why not offer everyone in line a hole to taste and skip the champagne?

Takashi: A Chicago Find

I had never heard of Chef Takashi before my recent trip to Chicago. My friend and I were looking for places to eat in Chicago and first found “Slurping Turtle,” a restaurant of Takashi’s, which specializes in noodles. The menu didn’t “wow” us, but then we found the restaurant of his namesake. That was enough for me to make an Open Table reservation for this Japanese and French inspired restaurant.
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My friend and I arrived to find a really cute, upscale restaurant. As we reviewed the menu, we decided on sharing two appetizers and two entrees. The appetizers of our choice were the corn chowder and the soy ginger caramel pork belly. The soup came out first and was enjoyable with a nice, sweet flavor and was comforting to the palette.
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The pork belly arrived with a pickled daikon salad and steamed buns that were meant to create open faced sandwiches. The pork belly was incredibly good, cooked with a sweet flavor of hoisin sauce that melted in my mouth. Oh, I wanted more.
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One of our entrees was the sautéed west coast sea bass. The fish came with a ratatouille on a bed of white beans. The fish was cooked very delicately with a crispy skin.
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Our other entree was the seared loin of veal. We got three pieces of veal each prepared on top of something different. We had a gratin of onion and zucchini couscous, asparagus, and bacon preserved lemon-caper brown butter. I haven’t had veal in a long time, but this was likely the best preparation I have had.
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My friend and I were quite full and ended up foregoing dessert. To be honest, we thought the choices were unattractive and slim. It was okay, because we enjoyed everything we ate.

As we were leaving, I saw copies of Chef Takashi’s cookbook, “Noodles”. As I flipped through it, I found that his recipe for the pork belly was in it. I asked the host if they had any autographed copies. The host responded that the Chef was there and could sign it. I ended up being able to meet him and have a photo with him. He was extremely nice and gracious. I am now a huge fan.
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