A Small Glimpse into Shakewell

Shakewell Kitchen & Bar on Lakeshore Avenue is one of the hottest new restaurants that have recently opened in Oakland. It gets a lot of buzz because the owners are famous for being competitors on cooking shows. The Executive Chef, Jen Biesty was on Top Chef Season 4 and the Pastry Chef/General Manager, Tim Nugent, was on Top Chef: Just Desserts. It’s pretty cool that these two partners were funded by the community using the fundraising website kickstarter.com.

Shakewell serves dinner and weekend brunch with a Mediterranean twist. After a leisurely walk around the lake today, my friend and I stopped by for brunch. We bypassed waiting for the hostess since there was open space at the bar. I love eating at the bar whether drinking is involved or not. I “checked in” using the yelp app which entitled me to a free pastry. The choices were coffee cake, danish, or financiers. IMG_1349.JPG
The financiers were a little on the dry side. It did come with a dab of kadota fig preserves. I think I would’ve been better off with the coffee cake as it seemed to be popular. We got this free so I really can’t complain. At least we ordered cafe lattes to go with our pastries.
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With a little help from our bartender we decided on sharing two dishes. The first was the tortilla espanola, which is a Spanish style quiche made of a mixture of egg and sliced potatoes. Shakewell’s version was cooked in duck fat and topped with crispy duck and an aioli sauce. I love potatoes, duck, and fat so I really enjoyed this. The layering reminded me of scalloped potatoes.
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Our second dish was the “skakshuka” or Moroccan baked eggs with roasted peppers, chick peas, feta cheese, and herbs. This came with toast to help soak up the yumminess of the eggs. Based on the complex flavors of this dish, I would give it a slight edge over the first one.
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Brunch today was a tease. I definitely want to try more on my next visit to Shakewell, after all their menu offers food meant to be shared. Chefs Jen and Tim were both there today. Jen came out to greet friends and Tim was around and about with a friendly smile on his face.

Come All to Comal

A comal defined by Wikipedia is a smooth, flat griddle typically used in Mexico and Central America to cook tortillas, toast spices, sear meat, and generally prepare food. Comal is also the name of a Mexican restaurant located in downtown Berkeley. I met some friends at Comal for dinner last week. The space is beautiful with two dining areas that lead to a third space for drinks.

We started with some house margaritas while we perused the menu. There were four of us and although we had a few different things in mind, we easily agreed to share a bunch of items. The appetizers and sides were much more appealing to us which is great for sharing.

If I see chicharrones on the menu, I gotta have them. I just love the lightness and crispiness of pork rinds. These house-made ones met my expectations as I added hot sauce and salsa to them. And yes, I did share.
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The “chips” we ordered came guacamole and three different salsas and they all had great flavor. The freshly made tortilla chips were also crisp and light and disappeared pretty quickly.
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Originally I thought it was a mistake to order the chips and salsa when we also ordered the sikil pak because it also came with chips and salsa. This was my first time having sikil pak which is a dip made of toasted pumpkin seeds, grilled eggplant, and habanero. I enjoyed this especially with more delicious chips. It didn’t seem to be a mistake after all, since we ate up all the chips. Let’s just say one order of chips feeds no more than two.
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We ordered a salad made of bitter greens, persimmons, pomegranates, spiced pepitas, and Manchego cheese. Welcome Fall! I’m always thinking of what could go into a Fall salad so now I have some ideas.
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We got an order of beef & pork albóndigas en adobo. This was pretty amazing with the tenderness of the meatball and the smokiness of the adobo sauce. The meatballs come with fresh hand made tortillas made on-site. Reminds me of Old Town San Diego. This was my favorite plate.
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The enchiladas of the day were duck. The plate comes with two enchiladas so we had two orders. We also got a side of black beans de olla. I enjoyed these as well and they were perfect for sharing.
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Another side we ordered were the Brussels sprouts and autumn squash with pequin chiles and pepitas. This side was good, but my least favorite item. The flavors just couldn’t match up to everything else.
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Comal also does family style plates of meats and vegetables cooked in their wood fired oven and comes with traditional sides of beans, rice, and tortillas. We didn’t try it this time, but I am pretty sure I would enjoy it.

We shared two desserts. The first was arroz con leche or rice pudding with plums and toasted pistachios. I really liked it especially with the additional texture that the pistachios added.
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Our second dessert was flan with raspberries. It was really creamy and tasted more like a creme brûlée. Still delicious, but if you are looking for more density and caramelization in a traditional flan, that wasn’t there.
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Overall, Comal was a great dining experience. Living in California especially the Bay Area, I feel fortunate to have access to such amazing Mexican cuisine.

Spooning Up Korean Brunch in Berkeley

Every time I make my way to Berkeley Bowl West to go grocery shopping, I pass by a restaurant called Spoon Korean Bistro. Each time I pass it, I become intrigued. Today I asked my sister and BFF if they wanted to have brunch at Spoon and then go grocery shopping. They both agreed.

The menu at Spoon was interesting because it had items that I had never experienced at other Korean restaurants. For instance, I have never had Korean porridge. Spoon’s version is made with rice, quinoa, mung bean, and milk. If you order porridge, you get the side dishes or banchan and you get a choice of an add-on that gets cooked into the porridge. We chose mushrooms. The porridge was thick and creamy, a cross between jook or Chinese rice porridge and oatmeal. It felt very comforting to eat and the mushrooms added a distinct flavor and texture.
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Another “new to me” dish were the kimchi pancakes. They were mild in spice and crispy. I thought these were really good and a great choice for a brunch item.
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My BFF requested we get the glazed potatoes which were deep fried potatoes in a sweet glaze. If you order these potatoes, you are warned there is a 7 minute wait. These came out piping hot and were both crisp and sweet on the outside. It almost felt like I was having a dessert.
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We also ordered the appetizer size veggie jhap chae. Jhap chae is a dish made up of sweet potato glass noodles stir fried with vegetables including mushrooms, carrots, onions, and sesame oil. I always enjoy eating jhap chae and this one was not any different.
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We didn’t order anything with meat, so decided to go with the Korean BBQ beef short ribs. We devoured these as well. The BBQ flavor was tasty and they were grilled well.
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We enjoyed Spoon very much. We got to eat outside and enjoy the nice weather, the service was great, and the food was authentic and delicious. I recommend brunch at Spoon and then grocery shopping afterwards. Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry!

Chino: Chinese Transformed

The word for Chinese in Spanish is Chino. That may or may not be apropos for the name of a Chinese restaurant located in the Mission district of San Francisco. My BFF and I went there for lunch a few months ago. I got a good energetic vibe as I walked into Chino. It was bright, hip, and not a typical Chinese restaurant (host is not a young Chinese female).

We were seated and I was excited by the decor and the fun environment. I loved the colorful plastic chopsticks. If xiao lung bao, Shanghai soup dumplings are on a menu, there is no question that I have to order them. The ones at Chino were pretty good. The dumpling skin was a little on the thick side, but sometimes they have to be in order to ensure the dumpling doesn’t get punctured and the soup spills out.
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One of my BFF’s favorite type of dumpling are the wontons in chili oil so we ordered them. These were filled with shrimp and they were quite good. The little bit of heat elevates these dumplings immensely. Although I didn’t see any Chinese employees, their dumpling master is a native of Shanghai.
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If you go to a typical dumpling house, you will not find bao de chicharon, aka pork belly sliders with avocado salsa and pickled onions. You will definitely find it on the Chino menu and they were delicious.
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When I saw cold sesame noodles on the menu, I was immediately reminded of the popular dish eaten by New Yorkers. This is not something I have seen on Bay Area menus. This version had cucumber, mushrooms, and summer squash. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I did enjoy the vegetables.
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We shared a matcha green tea soft serve for dessert. The soft serve is made using Straus Cream and was topped with fruity pebbles. The colors defined the restaurant. I actually loved the smoothness of the soft serve and the matcha flavor was awesome. This was my favorite thing at Chino.
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Chino just screams fun and I’d like to go back with a few more people in order to try a larger variety of food. I would also want to make it dinner and see what their cocktail menu is all about.

Chino is located at 3198 – 16th Street (cross street is Guerrero Street) in San Francisco.