Weekend in Yosemite

I just returned from a weekend in Yosemite National Park, a crown jewel of California. Just a four hour drive from the Bay Area, it’s another reason I love where I live.  On Thursday, my friend and I both entered the lottery to get a permit to hike Half Dome on Saturday. At midnight, I received an email indicating that I won a permit. We left Oakland before sunrise on Friday morning to head to Yosemite. We wanted to ensure we would miss traffic and be able to get in a good hike before dinner at the Majestic Hotel, formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel.  
At the visitor center, we got a recommendation to hike Upper Yosemite Falls to help us get acclimated to the elevation before we set off to conquer Half Dome the next morning. 
It was a pretty intense hike to get to the beautiful Yosemite Falls. We got back barely with enough time to check in to the Half Dome Village tents and make our dinner reservation.

It was actually my friend’s birthday so I treated her to dinner at the Majestic Hotel. She started her meal with the soup of the day which was a salmon and bacon chowder. The bacon infused the soup quite well and gave it a smokey flavor.
I had the Caesar salad which was probably the best prepared dish of the evening. I loved the addition of boiled egg, croutons, and anchovies to the romaine lettuce. The salad was perfectly dressed as well.
My friend ordered the prime rib which came with mashed potatoes, corn polenta, and green beans. The meat was a bit tough and came with a gelatinous gravy. We both agreed it would’ve been better with an au jus. However, the corn polenta was delicious, creamy and fluffy providing a custard like texture.  
I ordered the rack of lamb. This lamb was roasted with a garlic crust. The flavor was great but was not cooked to my liking. I asked for medium rare, but it came out almost medium well. 
I was disappointed in the meal compared to my last visit at the Ahwahnee several years ago.  
With an early start the next morning, my friend and I got set on the trails for Half Dome at 5:30am. We reached Vernal Falls within a short time after, which was an awesome site to see. 

 After about six and a half hours of treacherous hiking and climbing, we finally made it to the base of Half Dome. Already fatigue, I put on my gloves to endure the steel cable climb. It actually was a lot easier than I expected. But while climbing we began to hear thunderstorms and feel some sprinkles. My friend was encouraging me to just hurry up and get it done, so we trekked up a little further. Other hikers ahead of us began to get nervous and started making their descent. We finally agreed to play it safe and climb down as well. We expected a storm that was going to be worse than the night before that included a hailstorm. Hurrying down the granite dome without a proper break to avoid the forecasted storm, I wore myself out by the time we reached Half Dome Village. I have never endured such a rigorous and physical activity. I felt like my feet were going to break at any moment. 

When we got back to Half Dome Village, we were ready for dinner at Pizza Patio. We ordered the Tressider pizza which had pepperoni, sausage, bell pepper, mushrooms, olives, and tomato. The hand tossed pizza was perfect after such a long day. The pizza reminded me of Round Table Pizza, but better. I had three slices. The dough had a nice thick and chewy texture and the ingredients tasted very fresh. I would say I preferred the pizza dinner over the previous night’s dinner at The Majestic Hotel.

We slept well the second night in the tents. I’m surprised I was able to walk today, although my thighs and calves are a bit sore when I walk up or down stairs. Although I didn’t quite make it all the way to the top of the dome, I feel very accomplished. I know in my heart that if weather permitted, we would have made it to the granite peak. Nonetheless, it was an awesome experience and I can check it off my bucket list.
P.S.  I forgot to mention that we also encountered a baby bear on the hike to Half Dome!

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Bluefin: When you can’t decide between Japanese and Thai food

Last week my family decided they wanted to go out to dinner. There was a lot of debate over what to eat. My mom had been in the mood for Japanese food lately and hadn’t gotten her fix. I was thinking Laotian or Thai food. My sister in law had suggested a restaurant in Alameda called Bluefin that serves both Japanese and Thai food. We all agreed to give it a try.
We ordered the fried chicken wings to share. They were cooked to a beautiful golden color and were crispy and flavorful. I enjoyed the fried herb that complemented it.  
I ordered the sake sashimi appetizer. When it came out there were some oohs and ahhs. It was very fresh and presentation was on point. I think I ate all five pieces in under sixty seconds.  
My brother and mother like cooked sushi, so they ordered a four sushi rolls: 1) The Dancing Roll is a California roll topped with BBQ eel. 2) The Lion King Roll is a California roll topped with salmon and baked with a special sauce. 3) The Bluefin Bomb has tuna, salmon, avocado, asparagus, scallions topped with a spicy sauce. 4) The Lobster Tempura roll has crusty fried lobster with avocado, masago, asparagus, and special sauce. These all were presented in a bamboo sushi boat.  
My sister in law wanted Thai food and ordered the Papaya Salad which has green papaya with prawns, tomatoes, peanuts, and a spicy lime dressing. I thought this was really fresh tasting.
I ordered the Tom Kha which is a Thai soup with coconut milk. My “bowl” runneth over with chicken, mushrooms, tomato, onion, lime leaves me galangal, and lemongrass. It was a large bowl that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. I ended up having it for lunch the next day and it was still delicious.  
One of my nieces ordered the Teriyaki Beef dinner. Bluefin knows their teriyaki. The beef was cooked a perfect medium rare and the flavor had the right amount of sweetness. It was laid on top of cabbage, carrots, and broccoli.  
My other niece wanted udon. We got her the tempura udon with the tempura on the side so that everyone could indulge in the fried goodness.
I definitely had a good overall experience at Bluefin. It’s easy to find parking, the staff are really nice, presentation is awesome, and their was a great variety of food that was quite enjoyable. I don’t know why the Yelp reviews are mediocre.  I would add an additional star.  I thought the chefs were able to conquer Japanese and Thai cuisines very well. I personally would go back to Bluefin to try more of both cuisines.  

King of Kebabs: The Kebabery

After hiking nearly thirteen miles today from the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Beach along the Bay Ridge Trail, my friend and I were hungry. Since I have another week of my diet of not eating carbohydrates and sugar, my options are somewhat limited. I have friends who dined at The Kebabery on Friday evening with a positive review and since kebabs are a great choice for me, I suggested we have dinner there.

The folks behind The Kebabery are the same people behind the very successful Camino. This casual joint is located in North Oakland, bordering Emeryville. Unlike Camino where the focus is cooking from a wood fire oven, The Kebabery celebrates the grill.

We tried to order as much variety as we could for the two of us. We started with their soup which was a vegetarian soup with garbanzo beans, celery, tomato, Swiss chard, and mushrooms. A dollop of Greek yogurt and some infused oil was placed on top. After blending it with my spoon, the soup thickened up. It was comforting and tasted delightful.  Another side dish to consider are the spiced fries. The other night, my friends ordered and polished off every last piece of the shoestring potatoes.  
We each ordered a Kebab Plate which includes a choice of one kebab, two side dishes, yogurt, herbs, spicy picked chiles, and either flatbread or red lentils. My friend’s plate had the lamb kebab, spiced carrots, mashed beets, and the flatbread.  
I ordered an extra kebab on my plate so we could try all three varieties. The two kebabs I ordered were the marinated chicken and the spiced king trumpet mushrooms. My sides were the mashed eggplant salad and the homemade pickles. In lieu of flatbread, I ordered the red lentils.  
All the side dishes are purposely cold. It reminds me of eating a mezze platter. My favorite sides were the mashed eggplant salad and mashed beets. The homemade pickles were kind of fun because it had an assortment that included carrots, cauliflower, fennel, and celery.  The lentils were mild in flavor and a creamy texture that I liked. My friend enjoyed the grilled flatbread. I am a sucker for flatbread and really wanted to taste it so I sampled a piece the size of a quarter. It was warm, fresh, and chewy. 

Of course the real star of The Kebabery are the kebabs. The lamb, the chicken, and the mushroom kebabs were all marinated with delicious spices that lend to a great grill. The lamb kebab was particularly flavorful. The chicken kebab was ever so moist and the pieces with chicken skin were crispy and amazing. The king trumpet mushrooms were also quite delicious. This option really gives vegetarians the opportunity to enjoy a full meal.
Every ingredient used at The Kebabery is organic. With that said, I think the prices are very reasonable. A sandwich goes for $12 and a kebab plate runs $15. Another thing to note is that there is no tipping at The Kebabery. This tells me that the staff at The Kebabery are paid a fair wage and the prices you pay go towards that. I like this innovative approach and I’ll be back when I don’t feel like cooking. 

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”!