Mockingbird Moves Me to La La Land.

Over eighty restaurants participated in this year’s Oakland Restaurant Week (ORW). For ten days, various restaurants around the community were offering lunch and dinner menus with special pricing. I find that ORW is a great way to try out a local restaurant that I haven’t tried yet. I was super excited to try Mockingbird for the first time in Downtown Oakland.

I made reservations for a friend of mine to have dinner there last week. The Golden State Warriors were playing so we agreed to meet at 5pm to grab a drink at the bar before dinner. Mockingbird has a nice Happy Hour menu so in addition to drinks, we thought we should order some snacks to munch on as well.

Perfect to have while watching the Warriors game, we ordered the some fancy chips and dip. The House Smoked Trout Dip was made with trout, cream, scallions, and lemon oil. I could not stop eating the thin crispy potato chips.

We also ordered the deviled eggs which were topped with capers, pickled jalapeños and herbs. Deviled eggs are one of my favorite foods and Mockingbird makes me want to eat more.

Joe was our bartender but he ended up taking on the role of waiter because we were really getting into the game and didn’t want to leave the bar! We were still able to order our ORW dinner. The ORW menu was simple and each course except one had two different options so my friend and I pretty much shared everything.

For the first course, we had soup and salad. The soup of the day was a tomato soup with a dab of crème fraiche. It was creamy, tangy, and  smokey. Lucky for me my friend had been souped out from the week before so I got to enjoy most of it.

The salad offered was a winter fruit and baby kale salad with pumpkin seeds, ricotta salata, and a sherry shallot vinaigrette. This salad was dressed perfectly and really defines the season.

The second course included fried Brussels sprouts. My coworkers have been raving about these sprouts so I was pretty excited about trying them. The Brussels sprouts are tossed with a confit garlic aioli, blue cheese, thyme, and an Italian syrup called saba. After eating these, I completely understand where my coworkers were coming from.

Also part of the second course was a charcuterie plate which came with a duck liver mousse, jam, pickled vegetables, olives, and crispy bread. This was a fun dish to pick on.

The third course was the main entree and there were actually three options. Originally we ordered the chicken and pork and had decided to skip the vegetarian option. The Moroccan Spiced chicken came with roasted rainbow carrots, chickpeas, greens, and herbed buttermilk dressing. Every item on the plate was harmonious and complemented each other. The flavors were even more infused the next day when I ate the leftovers for lunch. I had a few colleagues comment on the wonderful aromatics.

We were really looking forward to the overnight pork sugo which came with crispy polenta, arugula, pickled red onion, and sheep’s milk cheese. The pork tasted really salty so we requested for a wedge of lemon to see if we could cut down the saltiness. At that time, Joe asked how everything was and the truth came out about the pork.

Joe was generous and offered us the third entree, the Winter Vegetable Tagine which was cooked in a rich sauce and topped with lemon yogurt, castelvetrano olives, and cilantro. This vegetarian dish was extraordinary and made me forgot all about the pork sugo. The vegetable tagine reminded me of the food of one of my favorite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi.

Our fourth and final course was dessert. The first dessert was the Mockingbird Bread Pudding which is described as a traditional bread pudding with vanilla and nutmeg custard, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. To me, this was nothing but traditional and I absolutely loved it. I had more than my fair share of this one.

The other dessert was a citrus almond flour cake with chocolate ganache and candied almonds. I believe my friend preferred this dessert unless she sensed how much I was fawning over the bread pudding and was being nice. Either way, there was not a trace of sugar left on either dessert plates.

After dinner at ORW, I have decided that Mockingbird is a place that I will be adding to my repertoire. The food and staff are great. Joe even told us that he and the chef tried the pork sugo and agreed with us that it was overly salty. I really appreciated this acknowledgement. All in all, it was a perfect evening – the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and my tummy was in la la land.

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The One and Only Country Bar in Oakland: Overland

The entire Bay Area is cheering on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. After all, it’s been forty years. I’ve been catching the games anywhere I can, but my favorite place to watch has been the new Overland Country Bar and Grill in Jack London Square in Oakland. It’s located in what my BFF calls the “cursed corner” on Broadway and Embarcadero. We have seen numerous places come and go.  

In order to be a good place to watch sports, there has got to be plenty of televisions. Overland has got that and an area in the back with a large projector screen. Another requirement is a full bar with drink specials. Overland has got bartenders in cowboy hats with plenty of drink specials. I’ve seen $4 Jack Daniels and they’ve got a frozen margarita machine pouring out $6 cocktails. When you are watching a game for roughly three hours, you have got to have good bar food. So here I am to review their food.
I’ve been to Overland twice and here are some of the various items I have eaten with friends. Hank style fries are french fries topped with pulled pork and ghost pepper jack cheese. I was a bit intimidated by these fries, but then pleasantly surprised. The flavor of the barbecue pulled pork, the french fries, and the cheese was well balanced with sweet, salty, and a kick of spicy. I was amazed how the fries remained crispy even with the pile of goodies on top. This is a great appetizer to share.
 I enjoyed some fried pickles which are cut, battered, and fried. I had these on my last visit to Texas and wanted to give them a shot. These were not quite as good as the ones in Texas. I think a lot of it has to do with the cut of the pickle. The ones in Texas were sliced about an inch thick. These were cut lengthwise in spears.  
 Overland serves a few different pizzas. They are made in the style of St. Louis which means it is cracker thin. We shared a pepperoni pizza. Personally I was not a big fan. To me it tasted like cardboard.  
 New on the menu are their stuffed burgers. One of my friends had one on the last visit, but preferred the regular cheeseburger he had the time before. I really enjoyed the regular cheeseburger I had. It was moist, juicy, and comes with delicious fries.  
 The second time I was at Overland it was Game 1 of the finals and the place was packed. I ordered a sausage sandwich which is a beef hot link served on a sweet corn hoagie. The link had been sliced in half and grilled. It came out completely burnt on the inside, but was turned over. I don’t know why I didn’t send it back. Maybe because it was so busy. I put some ketchup on it and it was definitely crispy, but surprisingly it was really tasty. I gave my BFF a bite without telling her and she really liked it.  
 I mentioned that Overland has a frozen margarita maker. It wasn’t functioning on my first visit, but I tried some on my second visit. They are served in cute mason jars and were delicious. 
 So when there are no sports to watch, Overland is a real country western bar and even has line dancing. My understanding is that on Wednesdays, it’s “wingo night” which is the night they serve chicken wings and customers can play bingo. Sounds like a good match for me. I hope Overland can stick around. If they continue improving and developing their menu, I am hopeful it might finally do away with the curse.  

Parlour: More than Pizza

The opening of Parlour has been a long anticipated wait for me.  It’s located in Uptown Oakland a block and a half from where I work.  Imagine the suspense of knowing a new restaurant is going to open up in your neighborhood and they are remodeling the space.  The entire front entry is made of glass and wood from top to bottom.  For well over a year, those windows were covered with paper and I was intrigued about what was going on in there.  

Parlour finally opened on March 25.  I tried to walk in two days after the opening and couldn’t get in earlier than 9:45pm.  The restaurant pretty much encourages reservations.  Now that I know you can make reservations on Open Table, it works for me.  I made an early and same day reservation last week for me and two friends.   
We started with cocktails, after all it was really 6pm our time!  I had a drink called a Foxtail which is made up of rye, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and mint.  It was delicious.
 

Our first starter was purple asparagus with pancetta, farm egg, sherry gastrique, and parmesan.  My friends were wondering why the asparagus was green.  I thought maybe if you cooked the purple asparagus, it would turn green. We asked the waitress and she told us that they actually ran out of purple asparagus.  We still enjoyed these tremendously.  Each ingredient was cooked beautifully and complimented each other.  
 

We also ordered the meatball appetizer which is made of pork, veal, and beef.  The tender flavorful protein was outstanding.  They came with some crostini which I was happily dipping into the sauce.
 

What came out next was a plate that was compliments of the chef.  It was the vitelli tonnato which is pastrami tongue, crispy capers, celery hearts, and tuna aioli.  It was definitely not something I would order.  It was actually pretty tasty, but something I didn’t have to have.  We think the chef brought it to us because of the asparagus incident.  The purple asparagus appetizer did have a $15 price tag on it which I thought was pretty outrageous.  
 Funny thing about purple asparagus is that I saw it at the Farmer’s Market yesterday and it is pretty pricey. I did some further research and learned that purple asparagus tends to lose its color after cooking and can turn green.

 Parlour has a wood fired oven so we ordered a couple of pizzas.  The first one was a pepperoni and castelvetrano olives.  These are my favorite olives and I think it’s genius to out them on this particular pizza.  The pepperoni was cooked crispy just like I like them.  Yum and it looked like Christmas.  

The other pizza was the basic margherita pizza.  It was good but it was slightly unbalanced as far as the mozarella is concerned.  The crust on the pizzas were more on the crispy side.  

 I was with some big eaters so we also ordered the duck egg chitarra.  Chitarra is a pasta similar to a spaghetti.  This pasta came with cured kumquat, slow cooked duck ragout, and pecorino.  I was getting quite full so just had a small amount.   The flavors and textures were excellent.  

 

There is always room for dessert.  I picked the olive oil cake with blackberry preserves and vanilla chantilly cream.  The cake had a springy texture different from other olive oil cakes I’ve eaten.  I thought the blend of slightly tart preserves and creamy sweetness added to the cake was delicious.  
 

The other dessert we had was the smoked pear crostata with a brown butter caramel and a bay leaf semifreddo.  The operative word is smoked.  I couldn’t get passed the smokey flavor.  It was eaten up so I figure someone enjoyed it.  It was definitely interesting and probably innovative.
 Overall, Parlour is great!  I guess I can say it was worth the long wait it took to open.  Right now they serve dinner only, but I heard they will be opening for lunch in a few weeks.  Being so close to work, I’ll be back.  Remember to make your reservation at Open Table.

Restaurant Week: Exploring Hutch Bar & Kitchen

Running for ten days, Oakland Restaurant Week ended tonight. It was the opportunity to experience Oakland restaurants offering pre-fix lunches and dinners at special pricing.

My friend chose Hutch Bar & Kitchen in Uptown and she made a last minute reservation for three of us. The focus of Hutch is Southern food.

The special pre-fix menu for Restaurant Week was a 3 course meal and a drink for $40. I thought that was a bit too much food so I ordered off the regular menu. I started with a snack of bourbon chicken liver. This really seemed more like a large appetizer that can be shared with a large group rather than a snack. I enjoyed this smooth, flavorful spread on top of my crostini. It’s fairly rich so even after sharing, I had to pack this in a doggie bag.2015/01/img_1483.jpg
For my entree, I selected the fried chicken which came with rice and sherry herb gravy and bacon braised collard greens. The fried chicken was juicy and crispy, but didn’t stand out to me flavor wise. I really liked the rice and gravy, and the greens were good too.
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My friend and my sister both ordered the pre-fix menu which included a choice of house wine or a house bourbon cocktail. Since my friend doesn’t drink, she gave me hers. I asked her to order me the Kentucky Mule which is bourbon and ginger beer. I was happy.
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The 1st course of the pre-fix menu was an oyster, turkey & black eyed pea gumbo. It came with a scoop of rice in the center. They both enjoyed this very much. I had a taste and also liked it a lot. The flavor of the oysters made this gumbo shine.
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The 2nd course was catfish with a spicy creole sauce and cheddar cheese grits. The catfish itself was delicious. It was tender and flakey but still held a nice crispy batter. The creamy grits complimented the catfish well. I didn’t feel the sauce was required.
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The 3rd course a warm bread pudding a la mode. The dessert was humongous and we had two of them to share. I liked the texture of the bread pudding which were made with large chunks of bread that were dense and chewy. It was not overly sweet and was a good ending to the meal.
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Thanks to Restaurant Week, I was able to explore Hutch Bar & Kitchen. The staff are friendly, the portions are generous, and the food is pretty good. Next time you have a show at the Paramount Theater, you may want to consider Hutch for a pre-show dinner.

El Techo de Lolinda: San Francisco Rooftop

A group of five friends met last week at a rooftop restaurant/bar I discovered recently in the Mission district of San Francisco. To get there, you have to pass a “bouncer” on the street, walk through the hallway of a building, and take an elevator to the “PH” aka Penthouse. El Techo de Lolinda is a popular spot for food and drinks. Many a time, there is a line to get up there, but luckily for us we got there early and didn’t have to wait.

The food is set up as tapas where you can share. We enjoyed ordering our food a little at a time throughout the evening. Aside from our cocktails, the first things we ordered were the chips and guacamole and the pollo frito. The servers were really nice and when one noticed that we were out of chips and still had guacamole, he brought us more chips without us requesting it. The pollo frito is fried chicken thigh pieces with jalapeño. They were temperature hot, crispy, juicy, and had a little hint of sweetness and spicy kick. Later on, we ordered a second helping because it was that good.
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El Techo has chicharrones on their menu that you can order as a half pound, full pound, or one and a half pounds. We ordered a full pound of roasted and fried chunks of pork shoulder. It also came with tortillas, black beans, and other condiments. The chicharrones were delicious. It was extremely tender and many of the pieces included some fat which made it all the better.
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We ordered some elote or grilled corn with sour cream, chili, and lime. It always feels like summer when you get to eat fresh corn. It’s also worth having kernels stuck in your teeth when it comes to Mexican corn.
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We were not done with the grill. El Techo allows you to order a mix and match of various skewers in different amounts. We ordered two shrimp skewers and one chorizo. These were really nice to share. The shrimp was cooked well and the homemade chorizo had great flavor.
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We shared two desserts. The first one was the dulce de leche flan with passion fruit jelly and almond streusel. Our party had a nut allergy so had to have the streusel on the side. I was quite full and just had a taste. The flan was a bit dense and I have had better. Maybe if it was better I would have had another bite.
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The second dessert we ordered was the chocolate ganache. It was topped with graham cracker crumbs and strawberries. The chocolate had added flavors of cinnamon and cayenne which was nice. I thought this dessert was much better. I was full, but managed to have two bites.
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I really enjoyed our evening at El Techo. It’s a great place to hang out with friends especially on a nice day. The views from the rooftop are amazing as well.

The Best Things I Ate: San Diego

I was in San Diego last weekend. A lot has changed since I lived there twenty years ago including the food scene. That’s probably true everywhere. Food has changed a lot in the last twenty years. Another change is that you can easily find the best foods to eat even when you are a visitor.

My trip to San Diego had me searching for some of the bests. The best breakfast/brunch goes to Hash House A Go Go in Hillcrest. People rave about the Sage Fried Chicken and Bacon Waffles. While I thoroughly enjoyed the fried chicken (not so much the waffle), it was the B.L.T. Mary that surprised me and impressed me.
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My Bloody Mary came with bacon, lettuce, tomato, toast, and mayo. I was now able to build half a sandwich as well as have a drink. What a clever and fun concept! Realistically, this was all I needed to call brunch.
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The best place for a bowl of ramen noodles is a hip place called Underbelly in Little Italy. I enjoyed my ramen, but loved the ambiance. At Underbelly, you place your order, pay for your meal, and then take a seat. We were seated at the bar. The walls are made of glass so you feel like you are eating outside.
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I ordered the Belly of the Beasts Ramen which included a soft boiled egg, oxtail dumplings, smoked brisket, and hoisin glazed short rib. When my order arrived, it didn’t come with a soup spoon. The story behind this is that they say that in Japan they don’t use soup spoons for ramen and the soup is meant to be slurped. I followed the rule and after consuming everything in my bowl with chopsticks, I slurped down the remaining broth. Delicious!
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I saved the best thing I ate in San Diego for last. The best thing I had was a donut from the Donut Bar in Downtown. While the Donut Bar also has a version of the donut croissant combination called the crobar, it is not their best offering.
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I tried quite a few donuts and my favorite by far was the strawberry split. They take a deep fluffy sugar donut, cut it in half and stuff it with whipped cream and strawberries. While donuts are typically eaten as a form of breakfast, this one makes for a great dessert. I had the strawberry split twice during my short visit, after all it was the best thing I ate in San Diego.
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Rumbo Al Sur: Latin Flavor in Glenview

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One of my favorite places for food and drinks is a restaurant just one block from me in the Glenview neighborhood. Rumbo Al Sur means “heading south” and brings the vibrant flavors of Latin America to Oakland. I remember the anticipation I had when Rumbo opened its doors in my neighborhood almost two years ago. At the time, I had reason to be excited because the guy responsible for this new restaurant was Jack Knowles. Jack also owns A Cote, another one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland.

Rumbo brings hip and cool to Glenview. The space is beautiful, the music is fun, food is exciting, and the bartenders are awesome. I may just have to call Rumbo my watering hole as the bar is my favorite spot to have food and drinks. I have spent many evenings there starting early with happy hour. Rumbo carries a large array of tequilas and the bartenders make delicious margaritas as well as other cocktails. The bartenders are all friendly and knowledgeable, but I have to point out that Ali is my favorite!
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The menu has evolved since it first opened its doors, but there are a few staples that have remained. One of my favorite dishes is the baby back ribs. These fall off the bone smoked ribs have a tamarind guava glaze that is a little sweet, tangy, and spicy. When in doubt this is my “go to” dish as it never disappoints.
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The salads at Rumbo constantly change according to what is in season so this gives me faith that I will enjoy it. It usually involves fruit, greens, seeds, cheese, and a light vinaigrette. Here are a couple of examples.
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Ceviche is not always on their menu, but Rumbo does it well and adds another level of sophistication by including root vegetable chips. They make incredibly tasty homemade sweet potato, taro, and lotus root chips.
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Tuesday’s can get a bit crowded because they offer Taco Tuesdays. You have a choice of four tacos and usually involves a seafood, a vegetarian, a white meat, and a beef. I personally don’t discriminate.
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Some of the heartier plates seems to rotate on and off the menu more often. I have enjoyed their enchiladas with rice and beans. Their rice is always fluffy and delicious.
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Another rotator is the flat iron steak. Cooked well and complimented with rice and beans, it is a solid dish that I have enjoyed in the past.
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The desserts are excellent as well. The dessert menu usually has the regular items of churros, ice cream sundae, and flan which I enjoy, but my favorite is the margarita pie. They use a Cointreau cream, pretzel crust, & tequila-lime caramel and I love the mix of sweet and tart.
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The desserts have also evolved. Being a fan of Rumbo on Facebook keeps me updated on what is new with their menu including some recent posts about their desserts. One item that intrigued me was the frozen strawberry soufflé which was amazing.
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A more recent post was about a peach and plum galette and I am crossing my fingers that it will still be available the next time I am there! (Hint! Hint!)