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.

Featuring Lithuanian Cuisine in Alameda

Mama Papa Lithuania claims to be the only restaurant serving Lithuanian food on the West Coast. If this is true, I am feeling very fortunate that it happens to be located in the 510. Located on Park Street in Alameda, Mama Papa Lithuania is a destination to explore Northern European cuisine.  

I had lunch there with a group of friends so we sampled quite a few dishes. We started the meal with some fried Lithuanian rye bread. This black bread is fried in oil and rubbed with a garlicky paste. Apparently it is a best selling snack in Lithuania. The rye bread is very dense and it was the flavor of the garlic that made it shine for me.
  
I really enjoyed the cucumber salad which is mixed in a yogurt dill sauce and tossed with green onions. I found it to be very refreshing and loved the dill flavor.
 We each had our own soup. Some of us got the cream of mushroom soup and others got the borscht with mushroom. The mushroom soup was the perfect balance of broth and cream. The flavors brought on by the mushrooms and onions made it heavenly and I loved it.

 The borscht was a mix of beet and chicken broth and contained vegetables. This soup was topped with a dollop of sour cream. I have had Russian borscht before and thought this version was superior. 
 We ordered some potato pancakes with and without meat. These were probably my least favorite items which was a surprise since I really like potato pancakes in general. I didn’t like the consistency of the potatoes and it felt a little greasy.  
 The flour dumplings were pretty awesome. These traditional Lithuanian dumplings are handmade and stuffed with various fillings. We got the flour dumplings with potato and cheese filling which were soft pillows of goodness.  
Our waitress recommended their best seller, the stuffed cabbage rolls. The outside of the roll is cabbage and the inside is stuffed with seasoned ground pork and rice. The dish is served with boiled potatoes and dill pickles and made complete with their homemade sauce. It was nice to include this in our variety so we could have some additional protein.
  The flavors of Lithuanian cuisine is fairly mild. Some commonalities in the dishes I found are potatoes, dill, and sour cream. I pretty much enjoy those ingredients so I will be back. Next time it should be dinner so I can wash the food down with some Lithuanian beer.

Watching MLB Around Oakland

It’s been a fun month of baseball in the Bay Area. Watching the Oakland Athletics win the American League West Division and the San Francisco Giants one game away from the World Series has been truly exciting. What makes baseball fun to watch is having people around you to help cheer on your team with food and drinks. My friends and I have been checking out places in Oakland to watch games and having a good time.

The Warehouse (Bar & Grill) in Jack London Square is a dive bar where you can easily find a spot at the bar and have inexpensive food and drinks. Their chicken wings are something to talk about as they sell them by the pound.

If you are looking for something bigger with a sports bar feel, the Grand Oaks Restaurant & Sports Lounge in the Lakeshore Area is a place to consider. There is an upstairs and downstairs with plenty of big screen televisions.

Quinn’s Lighthouse is a historic landmark in Oakland. Not only can you watch the game in the upper deck pub upstairs, but you can eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor.

When my BFF asked me to happy hour and watch the Giants play on Friday at the Vietnamese restaurant Vo’s in Uptown Oakland, I was intrigued. Happy hour runs from 3pm-7pm daily and their bar bites menu looked good with lots of fun finger foods.

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We shared several items. The crispy harvest rolls are basically fried egg rolls with shrimp and chicken with Vietnamese fish sauce. They were delicious even without pork.

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The chicken lettuce wraps are iceberg lettuce that you use as a cup for their filling of chicken, mushroom, water chestnuts, and peanuts. They have Sriracha sauce on the side.

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We also ordered the shrimp spring rolls which are the healthy version of egg rolls. Rice paper is used to wrap around the shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce, and cucumber and dipped into a ginger peanut sauce. This is a typical Vietnamese appetizer, but it was quite fresh.

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I have never heard of basil onion rings, but they were really good. Onions as well as basil pieces are deep fried. I really thought the fried basil was amazing. It came with a house made tomato-mustard and basil sauce to dip.

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My absolute favorite thing was the spicy chicken wings. This bar bite proves that you don’t need a batter to fry good chicken. It came with a pepper lime sauce.

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It wasn’t my first time at Vo’s, but it was the first time it made a good impression. Of course it did as the margarita and the bar food was good, and the Giants won!

Another Saint Patrick’s Day Blog

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As I started thinking about Saint Patrick’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon Robert’s Corned Meats Co. in San Francisco. They are a family owned and operated business for over 100 years that specialize in corned beef and pastrami. They sell their cured meats to restaurants around the Bay Area including Tommy’s Joynt, Brennan’s Restaurant, and Mel’s Drive-Ins; supermarkets including Andronico’s and Mollie Stones; and hotels including the Marriott, St. Francis, Hyatt, and Hilton. In addition, they have a small retail shop where the general public can buy their meats.

The shop is only open Monday through Friday during the hours of 7am – 3pm with a lunch break between 11:30am – 12:30pm. I have a friend and coworker who loves to cook that I was sure I could convince to spend her lunch break taking a field trip with me to the City from Oakland. There was no arm twisting there. We planned to go last Wednesday and the rain wouldn’t stop us.

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Robert’s is located in SOMA at 1030 Bryant Street. I had heard that close to Saint Patrick’s Day to expect a long line. Because of the rain, the shop was pretty empty of customers. Debbie and Rigo were there to greet us. We were newbies so we learned the corned beef were packed in varied sizes and sold at $3.99 per lb. Rigo helped my friend while Debbie helped me. I ended up purchasing two of the smaller pieces, one 3 lb and one 5 lb. My friend bought several items and had to write a check because she didn’t take enough cash out of the ATM!

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Two years ago, Robert’s celebrated 100 years and the then mayor Gavin Newsome presented a proclamation to Robert’s Corned Meats that on March 17, 2010 and every Saint Patrick’s Day thereafter will be designated as “Robert’s Corned Meats Day” in San Francisco.

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My friend and I have since cooked our corned beef and decided that it is worth the trip to San Francisco even in the pouring rain to get their corned beef. The meat alone had the right balance of fat and meat. Their method of corning as well as the pickling spices provided perfect flavors. The great thing is we no longer have to wait until Saint Patrick’s Day to get good quality corned beef.

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For those wondering, the meat at Robert’s Corned Meats is not grass fed. Although I am still conscious, I have begun making few exceptions. For those wondering what to do with their leftover corned beef, last year I posted my recipe for Gourmet Corned Beef Hash.

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Shanghai Dumplings: A Mouthful of Delight

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Shanghai dumplings or xiao long bao are one of my favorite things to eat. As you bite into these delicate dumplings, you get a burst of flavorful goodness. What is it about these dumplings that make them so unique? It’s not the soft delicate pork that makes it special. Xiao long bao are yummy because you get a splash of delicious soup that explodes from the dumpling and into your mouth.

I still have regrets when I traveled to China in 2004 with a tour group. Lodging, travel, and food was all inclusive. We always ate family style with the tour group. At one of the restaurants in Shanghai, we were given a plate of xiao long bao. There was just enough for each of us to have one. I remember it being one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. I kept thinking, “what a tease!” My regret is that I didn’t do anything about it. I should have ordered my own plate.

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Where do you find xiao lung bao when you aren’t in Shanghai? Luckily, there are places in the Bay Area where you can find them. Many high end dim sum places will serve them, but it really is a tease because an order might only have three dumplings. I like to get my fill of xiao lung bao at Shanghai Dumpling King in the Richmond District of San Francisco. One order comes with ten dumplings. For six of us, we requested three orders which equals thirty xiao lung bao.

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The dumplings are cooked over cabbage in bamboo steamers. The tricky thing about xiao lung bao is not tearing the dumpling skin, otherwise the soup spills out leaving you a dry dumpling. Carefully using chopsticks, pick the dumpling from the top and place it on a Chinese soup spoon. Pour over some of the ginger and black vinegar that comes with it. Bite into the dumpling from the spoon that way you save any soup that may spill out. They are delicious!

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Shanghai Dumpling King is a hole in the wall. The food is very homey and generally pretty tasty. In addition to all the xiao long bao, we also had a wide variety of other food with highlights that included the pork and preserved vegetable fried rice cakes, soy braised lion head meatballs, and pan fried pork buns. Dessert is not typically something I care for at Chinese restaurants, but I always look forward to it here. They make sugar egg puffs, which is a cross between a beignet and a popover. They come out piping hot with sugar poured on top.

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