Agave Uptown:  I Just Can’t Get Enough

I haven’t been this excited about a new restaurant opening in Oakland in a long time. Serving cuisine from Oaxaca (pronounced WA-HA-KA), Mexico, Agave Uptown is a beautiful place that brings happiness to my soul. Within the month that Agave Uptown has been open, I have eaten there four times. I just can’t get enough! 
Named after the plant used to produce tequila, Agave Uptown has a bar shaking up cocktails centered on the distilled beverage. Mezcal is the smokey cousin to tequila, which is a Oaxacan specialty and one that their bartenders focus on. If you aren’t big into mezcal like me, just ask to substitute tequila.

Having eaten through about a third of the menu at Agave Uptown, I will recommend my highlights. First off, I suggest eating with a group so you can explore more of the menu. 

What is better than a bowl of chips and salsa is an endless bowl of chips and salsa. The light crispy chips and homemade salsas go well with cocktails and gives everyone at the table time to figure out what they want to order.

Go ahead and add guacamole to the mix as you can trust you are getting guacamole made from experts here. It’s always nice to have more things to dip those chips in.

I have tried two of the salads and one just blows the other out of the water. The Agave salad is a mix of petite romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, pumpkin seeds, heirloom tomatoes, red and orange peppers, onions, cilantro, and chipotle vinaigrette. The mix of grilled peppers and onions add a nuttiness that match well with the freshness of everything else.
It’s hard to find a good ceviche, but look no further than Agave Uptown. The fish which has been marinated in lime juice and onion is a classic and simplistic dish that offers a fresh and clean taste. They also provide a generous portion which is perfect for sharing.

Good for a group is the Tlayuda aka Oaxacan pizza. Think of this as a gigantic tostada. The crust is like a tortilla cracker and is covered with so much goodness including chorizo which was the topping of choice.  

I have enjoyed three different types of tacos at Uptown Agave – Rocky’s chicken, shrimp, and fish. All were excellent, so it really is a matter of preference. However, if you want something a little different, the seafood tacos are topped with cabbage, mango, and avocado giving you somewhat of a tropical taste.
I had Cecina for the first time and it was delicious. The pork is marinated in a Oaxacan adobo mixture. The flavor has a familiar taste of vinegar that I am accustomed to in Filipino adobo. The meat is uniquely sliced thin and then grilled to perfection. The specialty comes with rice, black bean paste, and tortillas.  
The domain of Uptown Agave would be the Mole Negro de Oaxaca. I enjoyed the chicken variety and it was to die for. Apparently, Mrs. Diaz, Chef Octavio’s mother makes the famous mole at her shop, Case de Mole in Healdsburg and they use it at Agave Uptown. The mole is slow cooked with Chilhuacle chiles and twenty other secret ingredients.  
I often have trouble leaving room for dessert at restaurants where I want to eat everything. But if you have a small gap left for something sweet, I recommend the tequila ice cream with fresh berries. It’s fairly light and definitely pleasurable.  
On my way out on one visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Diaz. I was not only drawn to the chef behind the fabulous food, but his friendly and down to earth nature. He even sent me and my friends home with a container of mole.  

So what did I do with the mole? I finally cooked some chicken in bacon fat. I then heated the mole and poured it over the chicken. I can pat myself on the back because I was taken back to Oaxaca in my own home. Thanks Chef Diaz and Mrs. Diaz! I’ll be visiting you both soon!

Easy to Make Jerk Chicken Wings

It has been two years since I joined the cooking club “Foodies by the Bay.” The theme last night was Jamaican cuisine. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Jamaican food is jerk chicken. Since I love chicken wings, I decided to make jerk chicken wings.   
I stopped by Minto Jamaican Market in North Oakland this past Friday after work. I was looking for a jerk spice rub and found an imported bottle of Grace Jamaican Jerk Seasoning in a bottle. It is more like a paste and the ingredients include Jamaican scallions, salt, hot peppers, pimento, brown sugar, black pepper, thyme, garlic, vinegar, spices, and vegetable oil. My experience with jerk chicken is that it could be really spicy, so I bought mild.
The instructions on the bottle said to use 1-2 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of chicken. I massaged 6 tablespoons of seasoning into the 4 pounds of chicken wings. I then transferred the chicken into a gallon size Ziploc bag and left it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 
Grilling is probably the ideal way to make jerk chicken, but I used the oven for ease.  When it was time to cook, I spread the wings onto a large pan and baked them in a preheated oven of 400 degrees. After 25 minutes, I turned the wings over and cooked for another 20 minutes. The sauce had caramelized and left golden crispy patches onto the chicken wings.
The party (including our host pictured below) agreed it was one of the top dishes of the evening and wanted to know what sauce I used. I highly recommend Grace Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. I made the right decision to use the mild sauce because it was still quite spicy. This is one of the easiest dishes I have ever made and the results are juicy and mouth watering goodness that packs a punch.  Yeh Mon!

Noodle Theory Provisions: Oodles of Noodles

Noodle Theory Provisions is an Asian fusion noodle shop that opened a few months ago in North Oakland. It borders the City of Emeryville and is a haven for noodle lovers like me. Noodle Theory Provisions is chef/owner Louis Kao’s second restaurant after many years committed to Noodle Theory on Claremont Avenue. I have dined at Noodle Theory Provisions (Provisions) twice since it opened and the food has been impressive both times.
On the appetizer list, I wanted to be healthy and tried the seaweed tofu salad with bean sprouts and mung bean noodles. This cold noodle dish pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed the cold appetizer and found it refreshing especially for a warm day. I may even try replicating this dish this summer.
Provisions has a list of soup noodles as well as saucy and sautéed noodles. The soup noodle bowl I enjoyed was the grilled Niman Ranch spicy pork loin ramen in a peanut lime cilantro broth. For some funny reason, the bowl brought back fond childhood memories of eating Top Ramen at home with leftover pork chop. Of course this tasted a million times better, but the comfort felt the same.

On one occasion, I had the Panko crusted Cod over warm ginger scallion noodles. Ginger and scallion produce two of my favorite flavors and together it creates the perfect harmony for the noodles to sing in. With that said, the cod was slightly overcooked and left me a little disappointed.  

After eating the grilled Korean marinated short rib over a kimchee chow mein the first time, I ordered it again on my second visit. I will probably have it on every future visit because it’s so good. I mean, who doesn’t love Korean BBQ short ribs? It is a perfect combination with the spicy and tangy kimchee noodles. I often see kimchee fried rice, but kimchee noodles is genius.  

On my second visit, I had dessert which was the Calamansi Lime Icebox Pie. The extreme cold and creaminess gave it the feel of a frozen ice cream, and the citrus flavor and graham cracker crust reminded me of a key lime pie. The blackberry sauce added another dimension. I was amazed at how delicious this was.  

If you are a noodle fan, check out Noodle Theory or Noodle Theory Provisions.  

The Best Corn on the Cob comes from Brentwood

I drove out to Brentwood yesterday afternoon, the city in Northern California, not the Los Angeles neighborhood. It was about a 50 minute drive East of Oakland. There was an event called Brentwood Harvest Time Festival. Brentwood is well known for their agriculture and farming. Summer time is when I think about Brentwood because I crave their crops of cherries and corn.  

The Brentwood Harvest Time Festival is a small community event held in the historic part of town with wine, beer, food booths, and other activities. I searched and searched for cherries, but there was none to be had. Apparently, I was five weeks too late. I guess the window for Brentwood cherries is small and I missed out. Luckily, the cherries from the State of Washington are plentiful and just as sweet.
Corn on the other hand was all over the festival. There were corn shucking competitions as well as corn eating competitions. I knew I had to get my hand on some corn from the food vendors.  

My first corn was from a food truck called Elisa’s Catering – Flavors of Cali. Their special of the day was Mexican southern street corn. This version has a buttermilk mayo herbed dressing smeared on it and then sprinkled with cotija cheese and southern spices.  

I have had plenty of elote asado and have even been successful at making it which I posted on my blog. The fresh and crispness of this Brentwood corn shined through with all the flavors. I ended up cutting it off the cob and enjoying mouthfuls of goodness.
After a very short break, I was on to my second cob. I went to the main vendor selling roasted corn on the cob. It was nonstop roasting happening in a cool mobile roaster.  
There were a couple of varieties of butter to choose from.  Fresh from the roaster and out of its husk, I was excited as the vendor glazed the cilantro lime butter on the corn.  
The aromatics of this corn on the cob filled the air. The cilantro and lime flavor was very subtle which I appreciated because I didn’t want the natural sweetness of the corn to be overpowered. The butter infused the crisp kernels with a creaminess to it. It was hands down the best corn of my life. I look forward to an abundant corn season this summer.

Hike, Lunch, Hike, Ice Cream: My Kind of Day

One of my favorite things to do is hike and I feel fortunate to live where I do and have access to the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD). EBRPD operates 65 parks that cover more than 120K acres and includes over 1,250 miles of trails that run through Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  

courtesy of EBRPD

On Saturday, my friend and I hiked a portion of the 7.65 mile one way Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. Starting from Moraga Commons, a local park, we hiked northeast toward Downtown Lafayette which was about 5.5 miles. It was a warm and beautiful day and we were ready to have lunch. With lots of restaurants with outdoor seating in Lafayette, we agreed on Chow.  

My vegetable platter was a beautiful vibrant hodgepodge of a plate. It came with sautéed mushrooms, grilled zucchini and tomato, corn salad, avocado, tomato purée, and tzatziki sauce. I made it even more of a hodgepodge by substituting polenta for mashed potatoes. I consumed all of this delicious summer plate, except for most of the mashed potatoes. I didn’t want to consume so many Weight Watcher points. It was my bad to have made the substitution.  

After lunch we had to return to the trail and hike back the 5.5 miles to return to the car. I am not intending to make this sound like it is a difficult hike at all. It is completely flat, but long. The only reason to call it a hike is because it’s on a trail. It is more like a walk. I did it in tennis shoes. Actually, this is a better trail for biking or running.  

So after our eleven mile walk on the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail in the heat, we needed to get a snack to cool us off.

Thanks to Yelp, I discovered Guanatos Ice Cream in Walnut Creek. This family owned business makes fresh ice cream and other treats with a Latin flare. They have traditional ice cream flavors, but I was more excited about the unique flavors like rose petals, Mexican hot chocolate, and chongos zamoranos. I got a scoop of tequila ice cream on a waffle cone. It was super creamy and had a light hint of tequila flavor. Mentally, I was thinking I was enjoying tequila. It was a novel idea.

My friend ordered a scoop of horchata in a cup. The ingredients of rice, cinnamon, and milk make for a good flavored ice cream.


Guanatos was an awesome find and I look forward to trying the other flavors that they offer. They have shops in Bay Point, Concord, and Oakley as well.