Eating Vicariously at Ippudo Berkeley

Ippudo is the name of an International Japanese ramen chain. With two ramen shops in New York City, Ippudo opened its third U.S. location on Friday in Berkeley. My friend dined there on Saturday and gave me a play by play in real time so I figured I would share the details.

She strategically arrived at Ippudo at 3:50pm for a meal (not sure whether to call it a late lunch or an early dinner).  There were close to forty people waiting in line in front of her and she waited 45 minutes to get seated. This was not bad as other patrons had waited up to three hours to be one of the first people to eat at Ippudo.She started with the Ippudo chicken wings. They were well seasoned and had the perfect fried crispy skin. The black pepper honey glaze made them finger licking good. She claims them to be the best chicken wings she has ever eaten.
While she was thoroughly enjoying her wings, her bowl of ramen came out. She had let the bowl sit there and after seven minutes, the manager came over to take it away because he felt the quality was compromised. It wasn’t until she finished her chicken wings that her new bowl of ramen came out. The Shiromaru special was ramen noodles with a tasty pork belly cha sui, a soft boiled egg, and a rich and delicious Tonkotsu, pork based broth. She thought the egg was a little over done. 
She ended her meal with a double scoop of creamy black sesame ice cream.  
All in all, she enjoyed her meal. She does want to return at some point to try some other items, including the spicy ramen. Maybe at that time, I will be done with my thirty day no carb, no sugar diet and will join her. I love me a good bowl of ramen.

Plaj: Scandanavian Food at its Best

My friends and I bought our tickets to see the musical Hamilton last December. The seven month wait was finally over and we went to see Hamilton at the SHN Orpheum Theater in San Francisco last Saturday. It was such an amazing show of talent. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius to be able to tell a story of history in a relevant and entertaining way.  
About half a mile away from the Orpheum Theater is a Scandinavian restaurant where my friends and I dined before the show. Plaj is located inside the Inn at the Opera, a boutique hotel in Hayes Valley. We chose Plaj because one of my friends had eaten there a week prior before attending the opera. She enjoyed it very much and was willing to go again so reservations were made.
We were a party of four and decided we would share everything. We started out with some fresh baked bread with caramelized butter. It was a bit disappointing as it wasn’t warm like it had been last week. The bread is dense which I believe is typical of Northern Europe. For me though, the butter was the star.  
We ordered an oyster for each of us which was topped with pickled elderberry and smoked grapeseed oil. The acid from the pickled elderberry truly enhanced the flavor of the oyster.
My friend raved about the tomato and burrata salad she had last week, so we went ahead and ordered two of them. Additionally, the fresh salad came with pea shoots, padrone peppers, and dressed with a delicious olive oil.
I was intrigued by the Raraka & Caviar. Essentially, they are bite sized hash browns served on an iron skillet topped with sour cream, chives, red onion, and anchovies. A tube of whitefish caviar is on the side for you to squeeze on top. The whitefish caviar is orange and filled in plastic and shaped like a carrot which I thought was the cutest thing. This dish was amazing. I was happy we ordered it.  
We would be remiss not to order Swedish meatballs. We actually ordered two of these entrees since we each wanted to enjoy at least one meatball. It came with potato puree, pan gravy, lingonberry, and pickled cucumber. This was pure comfort on a plate. Everything melded well together and the potatoes were the creamiest potatoes ever.  
Another entree we ordered was the grilled pork chop with broccolini, torpedo onion, yellow peach, and cognac. This dish was full of deliciousness and felt like summer on a plate.
There was some debate over the halibut. One of my friends didn’t like it at all. While it was probably unanimous that it was the least favorite of the entrees, I still thought it was a pretty good dish. The halibut came with chanterelles, watercress, fennel, and coriander flowers. I especially loved the sauce and drowned my fish in it.    
We shared two beautiful desserts. The first was called Northern Lights, which was a meringue filled with passion fruit sorbet and chocolate. If you like the combination of sweet chocolate and tart fruit, this is for you. 
The Princess Cake at Plaj is more like a deconstructed Princess Cake. Chiffon cake, raspberry jam, and pastry cream are set in a jar with a layer of marzipan tied on top with a string. It is the cutest thing and tasty, but my friend turned me into a snob. It was love at first bite with her homemade Princess Cake.
Overall, Plaj Scandinavian restaurant is worth a visit and a return visit. I highly recommend it especially if you are attending an event near the Civic Center.

Farley’s East: Growing with the Community

Farley’s East, a cafe located in Uptown Oakland has been around for eight years. Since it is close to work, I occasionally stop by for an espresso beverage. They recently expanded and took over the space next door that used to be Subway. Doubling in size and having an actual kitchen is allowing Farley’s to do a whole lot more.
I attended a media event a few weeks ago at Farley’s to check out the renovation and try some of their menu items, including a few new ones. The extended space has a beautiful new counter where you not only can order a latte, but can grab a local beer or wine on tap.  

Avocado toast is a new breakfast item at Farley’s. Everyone’s doing avocado toast, right?  What’s different about their version is a little olive oil, a sprinkling of Japanese 7 spice (from Oaktown Spice Shop) and micro greens. On top of a perfectly crusty slice of Acme levain, my satisfaction has been met.  
I had the opportunity to sample some salads that I personally would never order for myself. Replacing croutons with chickpeas on both the Whole Health Protein Bowl and the Uptown Caesar, the healthy factor has increased. For the health conscious, these vegan salads have a great assortment of fresh vegetables and the variety of textures are reasons these salads stand out.
Another favorite for me was the chipotle mac and cheese which is a new menu item. The smokiness adds another dimension to the Gruyere cheese. This might be a dish you share with a friend as I found it to be quite heavy.  
For those that go to Farley’s for their panini, don’t fret because the panini press is still around. Actually, the sandwich menu has many options that are either grilled on the panini press, toasted in the oven, or meant to be eaten cold.  They’ve also added a new refrigerator section where you can “Grab & Go” pre-made items. I think this is great idea and will work well for the lunch crowd.  

I really like the expansion and improvements at Farley’s East.  It is clear this coffee shop has a strong sense of community. They support and partner with local food suppliers, they display the work of local artists, and the coolest thing is they set up the first urban parklet in Oakland.  

Okonomi Yaki: Popping Up in Temescal

Last month, I went to check out Temescal Brewing on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. I can’t say that I was there for the beer; I was there to try “okonomi yaki,” a popular street food from Japan. I met up with a group of friends at Temescal Brewery for the Okkon pop-up. Every other Wednesday, Satoshi and Sochi Kamimae sets up a table and a grill in the Temescal Brewing beer garden to make the Japanese specialty.  
“Okonomi yaki” is described as a Japanese pancake. I was excited to try it for the first time. I had never even heard of it before. I placed my order for the “buta tama” which is the classic “okonomi yaki” with pork. Additional toppings of mochi, mentaiko roe, wild shrimp, and mushrooms could be added. I added mochi to mine.

It is a pretty interesting scene to watch Chef Satoshi make the pancakes. I watched as he made them individually with love and care. Chef Satoshi would toss shredded yam, cabbage, tempura bits and green onions in a bowl and combine it together with an egg and flour batter. After a thorough mix, he would then slowly pour the mixture onto a heated grill. On top of the mixture, he would add two thin strips of pork belly. Once cooked part way through, Chef Satoshi would turn over the golden brown pancake to cook the other side.  
I think the pancake gets turned a number of times and a lid is placed on it to ensure it cooks thoroughly and evenly. It’s not a quick cook, so its genius to set up this pop-up in a beer garden where you can enjoy a nice cold beer and have a place to sit while you wait.
Since we ordered separately, my friends and I just shared them as our orders came out. The “okonomi yaki” were dressed with a sweet and savory sauce and an avocado oil mayonnaise. They were fantastic. I enjoyed the exterior, especially what was brought out by the crispy pork belly. The vegetables were abundant, fresh, and delicious. I would describe the “okonomi yaki” more as a crispy omelette rather than a pancake. The additional topping of shrimp on one and the chewy texture of mochi on another were great.  They were excellent to wash down with beer as well.
Most people that come to Temescal Brewing are here for the local craft beer. I’m not like most people. I am one who definitely needs good food to enjoy a good beer. I am lucky to have had both in one place. Temescal Brewing has a nice selection of homemade brews on tap. Their website currently list nine varieties. I enjoyed one of the lighter beers. Temescal Brewing celebrated their one year anniversary last month. Congratulations and best wishes for many more years to come and many more “okonomi yaki”!

Lucia’s: A Pizzeria with Heart

It’s hard to imagine life without Neopolitan pizza. Lucky for me, this style of pizza is popular all over the Bay Area so I don’t have to travel to Naples, Italy to enjoy it. In my eyes, to master this pizza you would need a wood burning oven, authentic flour to produce a light chewy dough, and fresh ingredients including a high quality tomato sauce.  
Lucia’s Pizzeria in Downtown Berkeley opened late last year and serves Neopolitan pizza. I was invited to dine there a couple of months ago with a friend. We met with co-owner Alessandro Uccelli and his wife Elizabetha who were friendly and hospitable as soon as we walked through the door.  

We started with the Vegetarian Fritto Misto with lemon mint aioli. Fritto misto translates to mixed fry and is essentially the Italian version of Japanese tempura. Lucia’s version includes zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potato, red pepper, and sage leaves. The batter was coated well to keep a solid crisp on the vegetables. The assortment of vegetables provided a fun way to start the meal.
My friend and I agreed to share the Kale Salad which had very few ingredients – kale, walnuts, and pecorino cheese. It was dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and a hint of sriracha. I thought the salad was a nice companion with the fried vegetables. I enjoyed the simplicity and the nutty flavor.
The pasta of the day was Gnocchi Bolognese. Elizabetha made the pasta and Alessandro made the sauce bringing together a rich and hearty combination. These handmade potato dumplings were truly a family affair.  
Of course we had to order a pizza. We ordered the Lips of Fire, which is a basic Margherita pizza with added toppings of hot soppressata, ghost peppers, and maple syrup. Taking about 70 seconds to cook in the wood burning oven imported from Naples, the pizza came out with signature blistering bubbles. The flour and tomatoes they use are from Compania, Italy.  Biting into a slice, I enjoyed the flavors and heat. As I the neared the end of the slice, I was delighted with the soft chewy texture. That’s amore!
For dessert we got the housemade cannoli with ricotta and chocolate chips. It came out room temperature and I think if the filling was colder I would’ve enjoyed it much more.
Lucia’s offers Double 8 Dairy, a local buffalo milk gelato made in Petaluma. I asked if I could have a small taste of it and it was absolutely delicious. I visited their website and am impressed by their list of restaurants that serve their gelato.
Lucia’s is a pizzeria with heart. The owners are genuine and that shows in the food, service, and the overall experience.