Juhu Beach Club Revisited

I typically don’t write about the same place twice, but since I’ve been writing for six years, I can see from time to time the need to revisit. Today I went to the Indian restaurant Juhu Beach Club (JBC) in Oakland for weekend brunch. (Read my previous post about Juhu Beach Club.)

I convinced a friend to share two items with me. One of the items was the “Hangover Cure Bacon Fried Rice.” Using basmati rice, this dish was stir fried with bell peppers, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, mango, cured bacon, hot sauce, and topped with a fried egg. The additional spices of chili, mustard seeds, and curry leaves gave it the JBC punch that made it special.   

 We also shared the Winter Chicory Salad, which included mixed greens, dried cranberries, blood oranges, beets, and pistachio nuts in a vinaigrette. This was very fresh and light and I thought it matched well with our fried rice perfectly. 

 
Another friend ordered the “Croque Memsahib,” which is JBC’s adaptation of the Croque Madame. It had two fried eggs with chai spiced brown sugar bacon, spicy melted Jack cheese on buttery white bread. It came with a familiar and delicious tamarind ketchup and a side salad to balance the dish. My friend was really drawn to the interesting bacon. How could anyone not be? She really enjoyed the dish in its entirety. 

 
Lastly, JBC creates a version of Fried Chicken and Waffles called “Fried Chicken-N-Doswaffle.” that another friend had. The green chili fried chicken is fried with a thick cornmeal crust. The light colored Belgian style waffle is made of dosa which tasted kind of like grits. The dish is complimented with a black pepper butter and sweet and spicy syrup.   

 
I have always considered the food at JBC to be very creative and the brunch menu supports that notion.

Aztecali: My Latest Addiction

It was Chef Dominica Rice of Cosecha posting a picture of three tacos on Instagram that brought me to Aztecali, a new Mexican restaurant in Oakland. If it’s good enough for Chez Panisse trained Chef Dominica, it’s definitely good enough for me. The owners Juana and Claudia opened up this small neighborhood establishment close to Adam’s Point in January.  

  
My first visit there was technically a pre-visit. I had already made a plan to go the next day, but was checking out the location on my way home from work. Driving up north on Oakland Avenue from Lake Merritt is a usual route I take and I never noticed a business on the left, let alone a restaurant. With a parking spot in front, I pulled over and walked into Aztecali.  

Claudia greeted me and went through their menu printed on brown paper on the wall. It was too early for dinner, but I could use a late afternoon snack. I ordered the chicken tinga tostada and ate it there. It was love at first bite. The sweet, bold aromatics of the chicken tinga braised in a chipotle sauce was a match to the creamy black beans, the fresh cabbage, and the crispy delicious tortilla that held it all together.   

 I had let Claudia and Juana know that I would be back the next day when they opened at 10:30am. Chef Juana asked me if I liked eggs. I answered yes. She asked me if I liked chilaquiles. I answered that I loved chilaquiles. Chef Juana said if I came back tomorrow, she would make me some.

As promised I returned for a late breakfast the next morning with a friend. We hadn’t had our coffee yet, so we ordered the iced High Wire coffee with horchata. It was a refreshing beverage and a nice treat.  

  
The chilaquiles that were specially being made for me were cooked in a lovely green sauce and came with a side of black beans, avocado, crema, and topped with a runny egg. Using both my fingers and my fork, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every crisp and delicious chip on the plate. 

  
My friend ordered the three tacos so she could try each of the three meats – beef, chicken, and pork. She especially enjoyed the barbacoa, beef marinated and braised in an adobo sauce, so much that she ordered a beef burrito “togo” for her lunch she would eat later in the day. 
 About a week later, I convinced another friend to split a barbacoa torta with me. She actually is from Mexico City and was excited to see this style of cooking at Aztecali. Using Acme bread as the vessel to the juicy and flavorful filling of the beef with refried black beans, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and crema was perfect. 
 The fresh ingredients and homestyle cooking at Aztecali has gotten me hooked. Three visits within a week is evidence enough.  

Look No Further to Find a Gem in Berkeley

 UC Berkeley students are pretty lucky because they are only a few blocks away from Little Gem Belgian Waffles. I heard about this place when it opened up last November for a soft opening, but only recently paid a visit. I took a friend with me who I consider my “Belgian Waffle” expert because she has spent time in Belgium. The type of waffle that Little Gem makes is from the City of Liege. The Liege waffle is unique because it uses a brioche-based dough and pearl sugar. The young owners learned to make the Liege waffles right outside of Brussels.  
Together my friend and I ended up eating six waffles, but we ordered them two at a time so we could enjoy them while they were fresh out of the waffle iron. My friend was adamant about ordering the LG Signature Belgian Liege Waffle, which is the plain one. I agreed because with this waffle, you could really examine the taste and consistency. We also had the Nutella waffle that was topped with the hazelnut spread. I wanted the latter waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but they ran out so I got a scoop of strawberry ice cream on the side. Little Gem carries Three Twins and Strauss ice cream which are local ice creams and some of my favorites.    

Our second set of waffles were the TCHO organic milk chocolate and the Churroffles. TCHO is a Berkeley based award winning chocolate maker. The Churroffles, a mashup of a churro and a waffle, is their #1 best seller. After the waffle is cooked, it is drowned in cinnamon sugar.    

We went savory for our last set of waffles. We ordered the bacon with organic maple glaze and the garlic cheese. The flavors were good, but they were my least favorite. The bacon bits tasted a little faux and I didn’t like how the cheese didn’t melt.  

My Belgian waffle expert thought they were the best Liege waffles she has had outside Belgium. I agreed that the waffles were great. They had a nice glaze on the surface and the texture was crispy on the outside with a chewy center. It’s a matter of preference as far as toppings. I prefer the simple signature waffle. Once strawberries are in season, I would definitely order the signature waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strawberries on top to create a wonderful dessert.

Great China: Celebrating the End of a Year

My friends invited me to their family Chinese New Year celebration on Friday to close out the lunar year. I was available to attend as my family was not celebrating until Sunday. I gladly accepted and was excited about dining at Great China in Berkeley as it was on my list to try. They have a reputation for serving one of the best Peking ducks around.
 
From reviewing the menu, I assessed that the majority of the cuisine was mostly from the Northern region of China. With a large menu to choose from, we narrowed it down to eleven dishes for our table of seven adults and two children.  
All in all, I thought the food was pretty good. There were definitely some highlights. Of course, we ordered the Peking duck. The kitchen delicately cuts the skin and meat from the bone and removes the fat before presenting it on a platter with thin pancakes, scallions, and plum sauce. It was light and lovely. 
 There were a few dishes we ordered that were new to me. One was called Double Skin which has mung bean noodles, carrots, cucumber, egg crepe, calamari, shrimp, sea cucumber, onions, mushroom, and pork. The waiter mixed everything together table side. It was a very interesting dish with loads of ingredients and flavors. I enjoyed Double Skin very much. 
 Ant Climbed the Tree is not the name of a story or poem, but a dish categorized as a seafood plate at Great China. It includes glass noodles (like the ones used in the Korean dish jaepchae), shrimp, green peppers, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Even with its funny name, you can’t ignore its deliciousness.  

  
We ordered the potstickers for the kids, but I did try one. I thought it was plump, juicy, and one of the best I’ve ever had.  

  
One final dish I’ll highlight is the garlic fried rice. It was simple, but I absolutely loved the flavor and the perfect consistency of the rice.
  I really enjoyed about half the dishes and the rest were okay. I would return to Great China with a large party and probably order the items above and some additional new dishes to try.