If I were a Vegetarian…Encuentro

I started my food blog about five and a half years ago and my very first post was a recipe for farro salad. It was influenced by a dish I had at the vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Encuentro in Jack London Square. A lot has changed since then, including the restaurant moving to a new location less than a mile away from the old location. I was super excited to try Encuentro again because of their social media presence, particularly Instagram followers posting and raving about dishes there.

I met a friend on a weekday evening after work. It was after 5pm, so we started with some hard cider. I had apple and my friend had pear. It was light and refreshing for this warm summer night.  
There were a lot of dishes that were recommended to me, but unfortunately with only two of us we were somewhat limited. We started with a vegan appetizer of marinated mushroom and smoked pecan pate which came with crostini, cornichon, house made fig chutney, and mustard. This dish was spectacular. The flavor of the vegan pate was wonderful and very satisfying to my palette. 
 The macadamia ricotta with heirloom tomato, summer herbs, grilled corn, and balsamic was highly recommended to me. The ricotta is a vegan option, so I chose to replace it with burrata cheese so I could get a little fat. The dish amazed me with its beautiful color. My mind is actually blown because I am now realizing the balsamic on top was freeze dried. I don’t recall a crunch from the balsamic, but I also don’t remember dressing spilling on my hand while eating this. How interesting! This appetizer is served on a toasted baguette and was fresh and delicious. I felt like I was eating pizza bread.  
 We were getting quite full already so we shared one entree. I was curious to try the Korean BBQ tempeh. It came with sautéed bok choy, sesame roasted white turnips, kimchee, and rice. Tempeh is a soy product that is used as a meat substitute. This dish reinforced to me that I don’t like meat substitutes. I really enjoyed the flavors of the dish and all the vegetables that came with it. Instead of tempeh, I would have preferred the use of tofu. Another idea I would present to Encuentro would be a vegetarian bibimbap.  

 We couldn’t leave Encuentro without trying a vegan dessert. Our waiter told us that people in the surrounding Bay Area come to Encuentro specifically for their desserts. We were both intrigued by the chocolate zucchini brownie with vanilla and chocolate coconut ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauce, coconut whipped cream, and candied walnuts. The brownie was delicious, but it was everything else on top that I could not get enough of. This was a light version of a brownie sundae that was rich in flavor.  
 I left Encuentro very pleased. The kitchen does a great job using vegetables to create unique and innovative dishes that make you feel happy and satisfied. One of the best vegetarian meals I have had, I highly recommend Encuentro.  

 

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DIY: Dirty Rice

Exactly one year ago today, I was invited to attend an Ottolenghi dinner party. At this party, attendees cooked recipes from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi. We have been meeting regularly ever since. For me, it has evolved into a type of exclusive club where I feel honored to be able to participate. I have met great friends here and feel I have challenged myself by cooking foods that I have never made before. As of now, we are called Foodies by the Bay.
I am about a month behind as this post is about the party last month where we gorged on Cajun/Southern food. I made two dishes, but one is worth writing about and sharing the recipe.  
I found a recipe for Dirty Rice on a website called simplyrecipes.com. At the first moment that I saw the picture of the recipe, I was sold on it. It looked that delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup chicken livers, chopped
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Instructions:

Wash the rice a few times through. Cook the rice as you normally do with 1 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1 1/2 cup of water. While the rice is cooking, chop everything including the bacon, chicken livers, onions, celery, jalapeños, and green onions.

Heat up a large pan or wok at medium heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crispy. Add the ground pork and increase the heat to medium high. 

 Mix in the celery, jalapeños, and onions.

 Add the minced liver (I know this looks weird, but trust me) and cook for a few minutes more. Flavor with the Cajun seasoning.  

 Combine the cooked rice and mix thoroughly.

   

Remove from heat, add the green onions, and serve.

 This version of dirty rice tastes fantastic. It is like a fried rice with bold Cajun flavors. Although it’s been about a month since I made it, I’m still thinking about it. It’s also quite easy to make so I can’t wait to make it again. I think this dish can be served as a side or even stand alone.
Here’s a collage of other dishes we had that evening.

  
Happy Anniversary , Foodies by the Bay!

British Invasion: The Growler’s Arm

The Growler’s Arm opened in October 2014 serving British fare in the Glenview neighborhood in Oakland. I have had two dinners at the Growler’s Arm in the past couple of months, getting a good sampling of the food from their daily changing menu.

  On one evening, my friends and I arrived early and previewed a few items from their happy hour menu. Above their bar, sits a line of beautiful vegetables that are in the process of being canned. For this reason alone, we had to order the pot of house pickles. I would say the pickles are fun to eat and can hold a conversation on its own.  
 The cheese board came with a selection of three cheeses – a hard cheddar, a firm goat gouda, and the Vermont Creamery Coupole, a soft aged goat cheese. They were well complimented with raw honeycomb and nuts.
 Fish and chips are also available on their bar menu so we decided to give it a try. What I look for in a good fish and chip is a crispy coating, a soft tender piece of fresh fish, and not greasy. These passed the test. I especially enjoyed the fries. Sharing this was a bit of a tease. (Note to self, come back for a pint and fish and chips.)
 We made our way to the dinner menu and shared the pan fried bubble and squeak, a traditional English dish made from leftover potatoes and vegetables. With the added smoked bacon, broad beans, and creme fraiche, this dish had elevated itself.
 I was less impressed with the warm potato salad with cracklings and soft boiled egg. Between having too many potato dishes and tasting mustard, I could forgo this dish.

 A favorite of ours was the house corned beef with Savoy cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and horseradish sauce. I scraped off most of the sauce. So if you don’t already know, I am not a fan of the mustard seed family which includes wasabi and horseradish. I’ve never had corned beef in a broth and it was excellent. The meat was moist and the flavor was well balanced.  

 We shared two deserts. One was the Growler’s Mess which is their take on the Eton Mess. I did not like the consistency of the meringue. It was hard and crunchy. For this dessert, I prefer a chewy meringue to go with the textures of the ice cream and berries.
 Our second dessert was the chocolate fondant with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It was nice to end the meal with some chocolate, but it was nothing to write home about.

  I went back to The Growler’s Arm and tried some different things with a side of chips. Did I mention they serve yummy fries?  This time we ordered the house cured meats and terrines. It came with pork liver, potted duck and fig jam, pork head terrine, and air dry-cured sausages with pickles. I may have enjoyed these more than my friends so it was plentiful. If I had a choice of these or the cheese platter, I would probably pick the cheese.

 We ordered a salad of grilled peach, blue cheese, honey, and sweet lettuces that was delicious. Although everything was placed separately, it came together in a harmonious way.

 It happened to be Tasty Tuesday so we ordered their 3 course meal. We started with a sweet corn soup. With some of the best corn in the world from Brentwood, California, I can’t imagine a tastier version of this soup anywhere.
 The main entrée was a flat iron steak with corn fritters, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. It was perfectly cooked to a medium rare in their wood fire oven.  
 The dessert was a summer berry trifle. Again, their desserts could use some improvement.  
 The additional entree we ordered that I enjoyed was the wood oven roasted half chicken with a frisée salad, roasted spring onions, cucumbers, and a pickled cucumber dressing. This was a fantastic chicken dish and great for sharing. It was moist and flavorful.  
 The Growler’s Arm is described as charming pub meets elegant restaurant. I agree that it is somewhere in between. If you are looking to try something different, I would recommend The Growler’s Arm. They serve quality food in a friendly environment.  The restaurant gives you different opportunities to try them out. (i.e. Happy hour, Tasty Tuesday)  And for your convenience, you can make a reservation through Open Table.

Post Backpacking Meal: The Farm Table in Placerville

I just got back from a four day backpacking trip on a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starting from Sonora Pass to Ebbetts Pass, which is roughly 31 miles. My fitbit tells me I hiked about 40 miles!  

  
This was a daunting experience as I am coming back super tired. This time my injuries included a lot more mosquito bites including one above my eyelid and a blister on my hand from using tree branches as hiking sticks. It was totally worth the blister and I am now considering getting some real poles. I had three sleepless nights. I realize I am just not used to sleeping in a tent in the great outdoors. On day two, we endured a thunderstorm that included hail. It lasted roughly three hours where we had to hide under trees. Much of my items got soaked which meant a really rough night of sogginess. 

So what’s great about backpacking? Well, I do like a challenge! I love hiking in general and got to see such amazing scenery which some of would be impossible to reach in half a day. I got to see the mountains change colors in front of my eyes according to the sun. I enjoyed waking up in the mornings to breathtaking views with a cup of coffee in hand and having the warm sun beam down on me. 
 We counted nearly 100 varietals of wildflowers this time around.  
 We didn’t have gourmet food on this backpacking trip, but our first meal back absolutely was. On our drive home, we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at The Farm Table in the town of Placerville.  The Farm Table is a restaurant and a market that specializes in house-made sausages and charcuterie. The lunch menu mostly consists of sandwiches. We each ordered a sandwich and a side.

 There is a daily sausage sandwich and today’s was an Andouille sausage with roasted peppers with their homemade ketchup and bun. My friend ordered it with a side of potato salad.  
 Another friend had a caprese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. She added a cup of cold cucumber soup.
 I got a BLT which came with their homemade dry cured bacon. In addition, I requested a side of roasted vegetables with romesco sauce.  
 We shared a slice of almond torte which came with an apricot jam.  
 Everything at The Farm Table was fresh and delicious. We each thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I even bought some of their packaged items – bacon and duck confit. 

 Their dinner menu makes my mouth water.  If you have to drive through Placerville, take the opportunity to stop at The Farm Table for some awesome food.