Come All to Comal

A comal defined by Wikipedia is a smooth, flat griddle typically used in Mexico and Central America to cook tortillas, toast spices, sear meat, and generally prepare food. Comal is also the name of a Mexican restaurant located in downtown Berkeley. I met some friends at Comal for dinner last week. The space is beautiful with two dining areas that lead to a third space for drinks.

We started with some house margaritas while we perused the menu. There were four of us and although we had a few different things in mind, we easily agreed to share a bunch of items. The appetizers and sides were much more appealing to us which is great for sharing.

If I see chicharrones on the menu, I gotta have them. I just love the lightness and crispiness of pork rinds. These house-made ones met my expectations as I added hot sauce and salsa to them. And yes, I did share.
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The “chips” we ordered came guacamole and three different salsas and they all had great flavor. The freshly made tortilla chips were also crisp and light and disappeared pretty quickly.
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Originally I thought it was a mistake to order the chips and salsa when we also ordered the sikil pak because it also came with chips and salsa. This was my first time having sikil pak which is a dip made of toasted pumpkin seeds, grilled eggplant, and habanero. I enjoyed this especially with more delicious chips. It didn’t seem to be a mistake after all, since we ate up all the chips. Let’s just say one order of chips feeds no more than two.
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We ordered a salad made of bitter greens, persimmons, pomegranates, spiced pepitas, and Manchego cheese. Welcome Fall! I’m always thinking of what could go into a Fall salad so now I have some ideas.
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We got an order of beef & pork albóndigas en adobo. This was pretty amazing with the tenderness of the meatball and the smokiness of the adobo sauce. The meatballs come with fresh hand made tortillas made on-site. Reminds me of Old Town San Diego. This was my favorite plate.
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The enchiladas of the day were duck. The plate comes with two enchiladas so we had two orders. We also got a side of black beans de olla. I enjoyed these as well and they were perfect for sharing.
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Another side we ordered were the Brussels sprouts and autumn squash with pequin chiles and pepitas. This side was good, but my least favorite item. The flavors just couldn’t match up to everything else.
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Comal also does family style plates of meats and vegetables cooked in their wood fired oven and comes with traditional sides of beans, rice, and tortillas. We didn’t try it this time, but I am pretty sure I would enjoy it.

We shared two desserts. The first was arroz con leche or rice pudding with plums and toasted pistachios. I really liked it especially with the additional texture that the pistachios added.
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Our second dessert was flan with raspberries. It was really creamy and tasted more like a creme brûlée. Still delicious, but if you are looking for more density and caramelization in a traditional flan, that wasn’t there.
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Overall, Comal was a great dining experience. Living in California especially the Bay Area, I feel fortunate to have access to such amazing Mexican cuisine.

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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.

Pike Place Picks

I am at Sea-Tac Airport waiting for my flight home. Seattle is becoming one of my favorite Cities to visit. It is a lush and beautiful place with great food all around. I didn’t think I wanted to write another Seattle based food blog before I arrived, but I enjoyed some new things I wanted to share.
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All three items I am writing about are local, homemade, and can be found at Pike Place Market. A small Latin grocer called El Mercado Latino sells mostly imported products, but they also sell homemade empanadas and chicharrones. It was the sign for hot ‘n crunchy chicharrones that caught my eye.
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No one had to twist my arm to purchase a bag of salted chicharrones. I left the store snacking on the chicharrones on Post Alley. What was in this bag had all the features I look for in chicharrones-crispiness, lightness, and the perfect amount of salt. They were the best chicharrones I have ever had.
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I immediately went back to the grocer to get the other flavor, chili lime. The flavor was also very good, but I think the regular salted one was better. In this instance, regular is better. Next time I think I will have to try the empanadas.
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RGB stands for Rachel’s Ginger Beer. I love ginger beer and to find a shop that brews their own ginger beer in various favors must be tried in my book. My friend and I got samples of the white peach and the blood orange. I asked the guy at the counter what his favorite flavor was and he replied white peach. I liked it more than the blood orange, so I got a cup of white peach flavored ginger beer.
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I admit that RGB is not spicy like other ginger beers I am used to enjoying. It’s more like a refreshing spritzer with a hint of ginger flavor. I could also get a real beer (with alcohol) for $5 almost anywhere, but I don’t know where else I can get a homemade flavored ginger beer at any price. RGB is more for the experience and on a nice day in Seattle, it could hit the spot.
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My third and last pick is my favorite new discovery. I say it’s my favorite because I was completely surprised by it. My friend was telling me about wanting to get Greek yogurt at a place called Ellenos at Pike’s Place. Seriously? With all the great food in Seattle, she wanted Greek yogurt? I am not even a fan of Greek yogurt.
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I did not plan to purchase any Ellenos Greek yogurt, except they sold me when they gave me a sample in front of their store. It was deliciously creamy with a lot of sweet and a slight hint of tang. They have a variety of toppings, but the mixed berry compote completed it for me. It was so good, that I had it for breakfast yesterday, and I bought one in a mason jar to bring home.
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Cultivate Festival: Golden Gate Park

It was a warm day in Oakland yesterday. Around noon it was in the mid-70’s. Further east, it was going to hit triple digits. My friend asked if I wanted to go to the Cultivate Festival in San Francisco. “Sure!” I responded.

Cultivate is a Festival sponsored by Chipotle that “brings together farmers, chefs, thought leaders, artists, musicians, and participants, on a journey towards a world of more sustainable, wholesome and delicious food.”
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When we got to Golden Gate Park, the temperature dropped to the mid-50’s. Unprepared, my friend and I were freezing our butts off. We walked through Hellman Hollow to check out the scene. There were food stands selling Chipotle items, local food vendors, educational stands, wine and beer tastings, chef demonstrations, and a music stage.
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We were getting hungry, so we decided to divide and conquer. The lines were really long. I went to San Francisco based 4505 Meats to get the smoked beef brisket on white bread. Unfortunately, before I made it to the front of the line, they sold out. I got what was left on the menu, pork and cheddar bratwurst and a bag of chicharrones. The bratwurst was okay, but my friend didn’t like it. The chicharrones from 4505 Meats are very light in texture, melts in your mouth leaving a very strong gamey pork flavor in your mouth. Not for everyone.
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My friend lined up for Chipotle’s esquites, a salad of charred corn, shredded cabbage, and crispy tortillas. Tossed with roasted tomatillos, sour cream, pickled onions, and cotija cheese. Let’s just say it tasted like Chipotle.
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New York based Big Gay Ice Cream had a truck on site. I couldn’t believe the line was about 100 people deep with the weather so cold. If the line was short, I would have likely got some. I hope to be able to try some in the future.
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So far the festival doesn’t sound too promising does it? Well, the highlight for me was watching a food demonstration with Chef Richard Blais. Chef Blais was the winner of Top Chef All Stars. He was so funny and entertaining to watch. He was great. He froze a margarita with liquid nitrogen. It was very cool to watch.
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He later made a fish taco and then smoked it in seconds. We couldn’t take the cold any longer so we left shortly after the demo.
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I was excited to get into the car to defrost and return to the 510.

The Trappist: Beer and More

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The Trappist is a specialty beer cafe located in Old Oakland. They specialize in beers from Belgium. They have been around for awhile, but it has been too long since my last visit. A lot has changed. They’ve expanded to more than twice their size, recently opened a new location in Rockridge, and now serves food. The Trappist was participating in Oakland’s Restaurant Week. For $20 you could get a pre-fixed menu including one of their beers on tap.

My friend and I went straight from work Friday evening and it was already quite busy. After reviewing the three course meal they were offering as part of Restaurant Week, we decided to order a la carte.

I’m not going to pretend to know beer. I can enjoy an ice cold beer on a warm day and I can enjoy a beer that pairs well with food. I would consider the menu at the Trappist to pair well with beer.

I did a little research before going to the Trappist. I asked my colleague to help me pick a beer according to my tastes. He recommended the Allagash White Ale with a 5% ABV for me. It’s one of their lightest beers, but still has character and a good fresh taste. My friend got some help at the bar. The bartender gave her a taste of the St Bernardus Tripel and she liked the flavor and creaminess. She returned with a glass of the St Bernardus Tripel as well as a bag of chicharrones from 4505 Meats. This would be a great snack to hold us over before our food arrived. The chicharrones had a very strong pork taste that surprised me. I wasn’t expecting that strong of a flavor because it came out of a plastic chip bag. The fresh chicharrones also kept sticking to my teeth. The novelty was still fun.

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My friend and I shared a salad and a sandwich. The salad we chose was the Greens, Farro, and Pears. It came with a red wine vinaigrette and sprinkled Point Reyes blue cheese. It was a nice combination and I especially liked how they julienned the pears.

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The Trappist Reuben is a grilled corned beef sandwich with gruyere cheese and sauerkraut. This was a delicious sandwich. It came with a few of their house pickled vegetables that I enjoyed. The pickling spice was a little too hot for my friend.

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I was intrigued by the almond beer brittle for dessert, but maybe next time as my friend is allergic to nuts. We decided to head next door to Tamarindo for something sweet.

If you love beer, the Trappist is a great choice for you. And if you get hungry, there is probably something tasty on the menu that would compliment that beer in your hand.