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.

Baking Chouquettes

About two months ago, I wrote about a small neighborhood bakery on Grand Avenue in Oakland called La Parisienne. This was the bakery that introduced me to chouquettes. I thought to myself, if I could get a hold of pearl sugar, I would consider making these.  
My colleague and I were talking about pearl sugar for Belgium waffles and when she decided to order some from Amazon, I asked her to order a box for me as well.  

My niece came over and I gathered all the ingredients to make chouquettes. We would use a recipe from David Lebowitz.  The cool thing is that aside from the pearl sugar, you can probably find all other ingredients in your pantry or fridge.  


Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 oz of unsweetened butter
  • 4 eggs (save 1 yolk for glaze)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp milk (for glaze)
  • Pearl sugar (for topping)

In a saucepan, melt the butter, water, salt, and granulated sugar over medium. Once melted, remove from heat and add the flour to the pan. Place the pan back over medium heat and stir until it is smooth and forms a soft dough.  
Place the dough into a large bowl and wait a few minutes before beating the eggs in one at a time. The fourth egg should be separated. Add the egg white into the mixture and place the one egg yolk into a small bowl for later use. Mix thoroughly for about five minutes.  
Pour dough into a Ziploc bag. Cut about a quarter inch off the corner of the bag and start piping 1 1/2 inch dollops onto a parchment lined sheet.
Now it’s time to make the glaze. Add a tablespoon of half and half to the egg yolk that you saved earlier. Brush the top of each pastry dollop with the glaze and then top generously with pearl sugar.
Place the sheet in an oven that has already been preheated to 425 degrees. They take about 25 minutes to cook, but check your oven after the first fifteen minutes and then every five minutes thereafter. If it is already getting dark, turn the oven down to 375 degrees. I turned my oven down at 20 minutes.
That’s it! Pretty simple, right? They make great snacks. For a dessert, I would recommend piping in some fresh whipped cream with a side of sliced strawberries. Yum!

Best Xiao Long Bao in East Bay

I am super excited to share a recent discovery of delicious xiao long bao in the East Bay. Din Ding Dumpling House is located in the City of Fremont. It is still a bit of a trek, but at least for me, I don’t have to cross a bridge to get there. I have made three trips to Din Ding Dumpling House in the past few months and I’ll share the highlights.

Of course the driving factor of every visit is the xiao long bao, soup dumplings. When I say soup dumplings, I literally mean soup inside the dumplings. Din Ding offers two types, one with pork and the other with pork and crab. I feel like a purist as each time I have only ordered the pork variety. Each order comes with eight dumplings on a bamboo steamer. The dumplings are dipped in ginger and vinegar before the pork and soup explodes in your mouth.The wontons with spicy sauce are some of my favorites. I believe in quality over quantity and that is the case here. These wontons in chili oil are topped with egg, wood ear, and carrots providing for some extra textures.  

I found the beef brisket noodle soup to be simple and comforting. It comes with baby bok choy which balances the bowl.  
Din Ding usually offers a few different stir fried vegetable options. I have noticed that their veggies always looks fresh, bright, and glistening. I enjoyed their pea sprouts with garlic very much.
 I had the qishan minced meat noodle dish. They call it a dry noodle dish, but that is completely inaccurate as it’s not dry at all. The noodles are drenched with loads of goodies such as beef, egg, potato bits, green onions, and carrots that are bound by gravy that is meant to be mixed together.
Ham fried rice is more like spam fried rice. There’s something nostalgic about this plate. It would make a great after school snack. The canned meat provides such great flavor to the dish.  

The deep fried rice cake is a great choice for dessert to end a meal at Din Ding. It’s warm, crispy, chewy and filled with red bean.  

Goodnight Hawker Fare Oakland

The East Bay community is saying goodbye to Hawker Fare in Uptown Oakland, which closed its doors last night after almost six years. Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s Southeast Asian street food focused restaurant. I was able to dine at Hawker Fare on one of its final nights last week with a friend and her daughter.

One of the favorite dishes of the evening was the fried chicken. Similar to Japanese chicken karaage, these crispy nuggets of chicken thighs were well marinated, breaded, and deep fried to a golden perfection. It was served with a chili jam and went especially well with sticky rice. It was a hit for my friend’s daughter as well.

In the last several years I have been obsessed with the Laotian dish, Nam Khao, fried rice ball salad. I have been in search of the best fried rice ball salad in Oakland. I just love the mix of savory, tart, and spicy flavors and then the awesome crunch you get with this dish. Unfortunately, the fried rice ball salad at Hawker Fare fell flat for me. One huge factor was likely that it didn’t include pork meat. I also felt that the texture was chunkier than I have had at other neighborhood Laotian restaurants.

Similar to how I must order fried rice ball salad, my friend must order the Laotian style papaya salad. Some might call it umami and others might call it funky because of the flavors of fermented fish and crab that are very prominent. In general, this dish was fine, but my friend thought it was too saucy.

We also shared the mussels steamed in coconut milk. The fresh mussels from Washington are cooked in a coconut broth made with unique spices including fresh galangal, Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, and fish sauce. The broth was so good, I envision dreams about it.

We ended the evening with condensed milk soft serve. I’m really gonna miss their soft serve machine. It was always a refreshing way to end a meal here.

The closing of Hawker Fare is sad for me, but likely bittersweet for Chef Syhabout. I still remember how cool it was that he opened up the restaurant in the exact location of the Thai restaurant his mother once opened. The saving grace is that there still remains a Hawker Fare, but you’ll have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. He opened up a second Hawker Fare in San Francisco about two years ago.