Welcome Burger Lounge to the Bay Area

I was recently invited to dine at the newly opened Burger Lounge in Walnut Creek. My friend and I made a special trip out there to see what they had to offer. Burger Lounge is not your typical fast food joint. It is apparent that the focus of Burger Lounge is on quality, sustainable food. The hand crafted burgers are made with grass-fed beef, free range turkey, cage free chicken, and organic vegetables. The service was excellent.  The cashiers and servers were a young and energetic bunch that looked genuinely happy to be there. 
Looking at the posted menu, my friend and I decided to try a bunch of things and share. The most popular burger is the Lounge Burger, which is a 100% American grass fed beef patty with organic American cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and house thousand island dressing. Burger Lounge makes their own organic American cheese which does not taste fake like the American cheese from Kraft. We added the optional bacon and had our onions grilled. The Lounge Burger had the qualities I look for in a great burger – a fresh toasted bun, a juicy high quality well seasoned beef patty, and cheese that oozes.

The Classic Burger is similar to the Lounge Burger except it has organic ketchup, mustard, and pickles in lieu of the house made thousand island dressing.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a fried chicken breast with house made slaw, tomatoes, pickles, and herb mayonnaise. It’s hard to believe I could get this from a fast food establishment. For those based in Oakland, this doesn’t have the same star quality as the perfect Bake Sale Betty Fried Chicken Sandwich. If you never had Bake Sale Betty, this might meet your fancy. The chicken patty was nicely flavored and crispy, while the slaw was fresh and tangy.
Burger Lounge also offers Little Burgers for a few of their burger options for a buck less. This is a great idea for kids or if you are into portion control. The manager brought out a “Little,” “Classic” Cage Free Turkey Burger to try. This was her favorite burger and was the reason she decided to work for Burger Lounge. The turkey burger was juicy and seasoned with a good amount of basil. I thought it was delicious, even with the layer of mustard which I’m not a fan of.
You can’t have a burger without french fries. In the case of Burger Lounge, you can’t have a burger without their 1/2 and 1/2 which is a half order of onion rings and a half order of french fries. They make the best onion rings I have ever had and the French fries are pretty tasty too.
To wash all the food down, they serve some unique house-made lemonades at Burger Lounge. I typically don’t drink sugary beverages, but my friend does. She preferred the hibiscus lemonade over the lavender mint lemonade. I actually liked the latter because it was very light and subtle in flavor. For my preference, I would skip these in the future.
At the end of the meal, I realized I had eaten lunch at the original Burger Lounge in La Jolla almost seven years ago. I can recount the exact date because it was a milestone birthday. After all this time, Burger Lounge has made its way up to the Bay Area which I think is a great thing. If you happen to be in Walnut Creek and want a great burger, check out Burger Lounge.

Daughter Thai: Celebrating Thai Cuisine

Daughter Thai opened up about four months ago in Montclair Village in Oakland. I dined there once in December shortly after they opened and was pleasantly surprised by the space, the food, and the ambience. I found it to be a typical Montclair crowd, which is family friendly. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since and yesterday was the perfect evening to go as the restaurant was celebrating the Thai New Year.

Daughter Thai was decorated with multi colored pennant flags on the inside and outside of the restaurant. They also had carnival games, music, and dancing. Even the staff was festive wearing costumes and makeup in celebration of the New Year.  

Before we ordered, one of the staff came by with a tray of fried grasshoppers and fried worms, a Thai street food. At first I passed thinking to myself, “I have to pay to eat grasshoppers and worms? Shouldn’t someone pay me?”  
After second thought, I called her back. This is an exotic specialty and an opportunity. I bought the grasshoppers. My friend wasn’t brave enough to try, so I ate all three. I’m not sure how to describe them. They were just crunchy and didn’t really go down easily. It was sort of like eating a pumpkin seed shell. I’m glad I tried it as it will be an unforgettable experience.  
One of the dishes we ordered was the Southern Fish Curry or “Gang Thai Pla.” It is described as a pickled fish stew in tumeric, lemongrass, and exotic herbs with squash, eggplant, and green beans served with crispy pork belly and vermicelli noodles. When I ordered it, the waiter seemed to discourage ordering it by disclosing that this was a very authentic Thai dish that is very spicy and very fishy. We like authentic, spicy, and fishy, so we went with it.  It ended up that my friend liked it and I didn’t. She did prefer eating the stew with rice instead of the noodles that came with it. It had a funk to it and the fermentation was too pungent for my taste.
We also ordered the Chef’s Secret Menu which was Thai Herbed Chicken & Rice or “Khao Mok Gai.” It is something that is not always on their menu. It includes herbed chicken with fragrant yellow rice, potato stuffed roti, and bone broth. This was a perfect dish for my friend and I to share. I thought it was delicious and a great combination platter.  
I also have some recommendations from my first visit to Daughter Thai. I enjoyed the Tom Kha, which is coconut soup with mushrooms, tomato, cabbage, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and green onions. It had an excellent balance of flavors. 
The Ahi Scoops are pan seared sesame crusted Ahi tuna, cucumber, seaweed salad, crispy yam, dill, lemongrass, and chili lime. This is not a Thai dish to me, but it is one you want to make sure you order.
Although I have not eaten everything from the Daughter Thai menu, I already have a favorite. The crab fried rice is bomb. It’s got Dungeness crab meat, twice cooked rice, cage free egg, onion, tomato, and cilantro. It’s a simple dish that I could eat all the time.
If you enjoy Thai food, make your way to Daughter Thai in Montclair Village. They have some of the best and authentic Thai food in the Bay Area.  Happy Thai New Year!

Japanese Cuisine in Pasadena

A couple of weeks ago, I took a road trip with one of my closest friends to Southern California to check out the Super Bloom in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It’s a long drive so we stopped in Los Angeles County to split up the drive both ways. Along with the beautiful wildflowers, there were plenty of cactus and Ocotillo. I even got an opportunity to do some four wheeling from one end of the desert to the other.  If you want to see more desert or dessert photos, follow my Instagram account.


On the return home, we stayed in Pasadena for the night. After a few days of mediocre food in the desert, we were interested in some fresh sushi. With some research, I discovered the recently opened Sushi Enya.  

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so we made our way to Colorado Blvd and were lucky to get seats at the sushi bar. We decided on the omakase dinner which would be a three hour affair and included welcome tea, about twelve pieces of sushi, soup, two appetizers, a hand roll, and homemade dessert.

The meal was very well paced and service was both friendly and impeccable. The waitstaff had eyes like hawks because as soon as you were done with a plate, someone would remove it as quick as lightning. A new cloth napkin would appear if you stepped away. I was getting quite full and made a comment to the sushi chef and he said he would use less rice for my remaining nigiri. I was also impressed to see a female sushi chef, even though she wasn’t ours. I heard women don’t make good sushi chefs because their hands are warmer than mens, which is not good for fresh fish. This was my first encounter with a female sushi chef.  I thought the dinner was excellent. After “slumming it” the past few days, it felt like a worthy occasion.  

Our hotel check out was noon the next day. We both planned to work out in the gym in the morning before check out. We would also have a final meal in Pasadena before the long drive back to the Bay Area. I didn’t really want to work out, but luckily I did. Otherwise, I would never have met San Francisco Giants Catcher Buster Posey! He was pretty cool about taking a photo with me.


After our work out, my friend wanted ramen so I sent a text to another friend, a Pasadena resident for a recommendation. He mentioned a ramen place called Ramen Tatsunoya. It’s special because this is the only Ramen Tatsunoya outside Japan. I was sold. I ordered the favorite Koku Tonkotsu which has rich broth with pork back fat, spicy miso, garlic, and burned onion oil. I added a flavored egg. This bowl was pure comfort. The ramen noodles are a bit thinner than I’m used to, but I thought the consistency lightened it up. This must be how they make ramen in Japan. It tasted different, but felt legit.


We made great choices in Pasadena, Japanese cuisine and hitting the gym!

New Pub on the Block: Aisle 5

Aisle 5 is a newly opened pub located in Oakland’s Grand/Lakeshore District. They serve twenty craft beers on tap and have a food menu focused on cooking from a wood fired oven and grill. Aisle 5 is Tina Wadhwa’s first business venture and she is likely the first East Indian woman to open up a pub in the area.  
I stopped by a couple weeks after they opened and had some trouble navigating through the business. The way things work is that you order at the counter, get a number, claim a seat, and your food comes to you. This might work well in a food court, but for me it didn’t at Aisle 5. My friend and I ordered drinks first. I got a refreshing local cider from Healdsburg and my friend had a glass of wine. We sat down and took a menu with us. When we decided on what to eat, I had to get back in line at the counter to order and it was five or six people deep. I can say it was partly my fault since I didn’t know what I wanted to eat from the start and wasn’t prepared for the “food court system.”

Nonetheless, our food came and I was happy. Chef Mark Scott is behind the pub menu. The first item that arrived by number was the chimichurri shrimp and it was wonderful. It was grilled to perfection and included a tomato and cucumber salad that was a nice companion piece. It was my favorite dish of the evening.

We also shared the smoking duo which is both chicken wings and baby back ribs. You get to select the sauces for both meats. I went with buffalo wings and habanero baby back ribs. The chicken wings fell flat for me because it was not crispy leaving a very soft rubbery skin. The ribs however was a redemption as they were cooked well and packed a lot of flavor. I really enjoyed the apple jicama slaw. If that is a definition of slaw, this would be my favorite preparation. At one point, Chef Mark stopped by to say hello, so I took the opportunity to inquire about the slaw. He revealed that he added a little honey to sweeten this side dish. 


With Boot and Shoe Service next door and The Star on Grand across the street, I was a bit wary about ordering pizza from Aisle 5. But they had the wood fired oven and an extensive pizza menu, So I wanted to give it a try. I got the smoked sausage and mushroom pizza. Sure the toppings were good, but I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the pizza crust. I even ate some of my friend’s leftover pizza crust (she is watching her carbs). I wouldn’t say that the pizza is better than Boot & Shoe Service, but it is an excellent alternative in the neighborhood.


I’m really hoping that Aisle 5 considers the feedback and hire some excellent wait staff to pull everything together. They’ve got a lot going for it- great food and drinks, perfect location, and a nice space.  
*Disclosure- this meal was comped, but writer has made every effort to remain objective.

Fatted Calf: Salumi Class

Last weekend I attended a salumi making class at Fatted Calf in Napa. I signed up to take the course last September and have been looking forward to it ever since. This is a class my BFF recommended to me after taking it herself.
The drive to Napa from Oakland took about fifty minutes. The course runs about four hours and includes snacking on a well stocked charcuterie platter, lunch, and bringing goodies home. The class was made up of twelve students and three instructors, led by Taylor who would teach us how to make three items.  

The first item we made was “salame cotto” which means cooked salami. We watched as the pork meat and skin was grounded in a heavy duty machine. We then hand mixed the meat and seasonings before learning how to stuff the casing with the meat. 
We labeled our own “salame cotto” which were taken away to be steamed at a low heat. When it reached its doneness, it was placed in an ice bath. At this point, it is ready to eat. I placed mine in the refrigerator as soon as I got home. After a week, I finally cut it open to make a delicious tasting sandwich.  
The next item we learned about was guanciale, cured pork jowl. I am familiar with this meat having used it in pastas. It is loaded with fat which also means it is loaded with flavor. In this part of the course, we also learned a new skill, trimming glands from the jowl with a boning knife. There is a long timely process to get the pork jowl from its raw form to guanciale. There is a curing process, refrigeration process, and drying out process. Since the class is four hours, we would not be taking home the pork jowl we worked on, but someone else’s. 
Last night I made a simple pasta dish called Pasta alla Gricia, a recipe from Mark Bittman. It was a good way to make my homemade guanciale the star. The ingredients are limited to spaghetti, guanciale, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese. I’ll be exploring other recipes to use my guanciale in the next few months.
The final item we made were “cacciatorini.” These are small, thin salami. After hand mixing the pork and seasonings, we had the opportunity to case three links, tying them together. We would take our own “cacciatorini” home to dry in a dark cool space.
I took my “cacciatorini” home to my tiny apartment in Oakland. I contemplated where I could hang dry it. The only place I could find was my hall closet. Yes, this is the closet that also stores supplies such as extra toilet paper and paper towels, storage boxes with miscellaneous items, and shoes. This photo shows the raw form and then seven days later (halfway through the drying process.)
We also got a tour of their refrigerator that stores much of their cured meats. It was like charcuterie heaven.  
After the class, we all enjoyed a delicious lunch together. We had a cheese platter, a salad, pork loin, and beans. The meal also included wine. 

 Unfortunately I couldn’t stay too long and hang out with my classmates. But I absolutely loved everything about the class and enjoyed the experience. Although I am doubtful I would make salame at home, I had a lot of fun. I would recommend anyone who loves pork to take this course. If you just want to buy their products, you can either visit the Fatted Calf butcher shop in San Francisco or Napa.

Drip Line: West Oakland

Last week I attended a dinner with fifteen other Bay Area social media bloggers and influencers at a new coffee shop and restaurant called Drip Line. Drip Line is located in a part of town that I honestly don’t frequent without a purpose, West Oakland. Chef Nora Dunning has created a menu that reflects a fusion of her Singapore roots and her Northern California home. We all got to sample five dishes.
Kaya toast is a popular Singapore breakfast, and at Drip Line, this dish is elevated a few ways. Using house made brioche, it comes with a side of pandan infused coconut butter and a coddled egg with chives and soy sauce. With the recent popularity of adding an egg to any dish and making it sexy, I think coddled eggs may be trending next. And the best part of the Kaya toast is that amazing butter.
Gado Gado is an Indonesian dish that mixes together multiple ingredients with a sauce. We had ours with a variety of fresh, local, seasonal vegetables, red quinoa, root chips, a poached egg, peanut sambal, and lime. I especially enjoyed the textures that the small amount of red quinoa and the homemade root chips provided. 

Shrimp and grits at Drip Line is influenced by Chef Nora and her husband who is originally from the South. The creamy coconut grits are complemented with sambal shrimp, a fried egg, and micro herbs. This was one of my favorite dishes, but too rich not to share.  

It appears that most Asian cultures have some form of chicken and rice plate. This one infuses California to it with a tumeric brown rice and an Asian pear herb and fennel salad. The boneless chicken thighs also cooked with a honey glaze that adds an overall sweetness. The bone broth can be poured on the plate or drank separately.  
Laksa was a treat as this was the first time it was being served at Drip Line. This version of laksa included rice noodles, tofu puffs, tempeh, asparagus, pea sprouts, mint, cilantro, sambal, lime, and curried broth. The depth of flavor runs deep in this bowl of laksa.
Drip Line resides within walking distance to the neighboring Fusebox and Brown Sugar Kitchen which gives new purpose to frequent West Oakland.  They’re open M-F from 7am-5pm.  

Starbread: Queen of “Señorita Bread”

A friend of mine introduced me to a Filipino bun called “señorita bread.” She gave me a sampling of the rolls and my first reaction was “it’s alright.” It wasn’t very memorable. I didn’t understand her excitement about them.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I were at a strip mall in Newark where Starbread Bakery is located. Starbread Bakery specializes in “señorita bread.” My friend wanted to stop in to pick up some. I followed her into the bakery where the aroma of baking aroused me. I could smell the melting of butter and sugar. 

I decided to buy a box to share with my family. For $10, I could get 25 pieces of “señorita bread.” I waited as the Filipino woman went to the back to box them up. She handed me a box filled with piping hot “señorita bread.”
The drive back to Oakland would take a good thirty minutes, so I pulled one roll out of the box to try. I bit into it and happiness quickly entered my body. The pillowy, sweet and buttery rolls are heavenly. Luckily for me, I just ate lunch or I would have easily devoured half a dozen. The rolls will obviously cool down, but the trick is to reheat them in the microwave a few at a time when you are ready to eat them. It is the warmth of the buns that is essential. Ten seconds in the microwave worked for me. The butter and sugar gets infused into the rolls all over again.  
There are several Starbread Bakeries in the Bay Area. Locations include San Pablo, Pleasant Hill, South San Francisco, Newark, Pittsburg, and Vallejo. I’m not sure if Starbread Bakery invented the “señorita bread,” but they are definitely the queen of them.