Paradise Park Cafe: Welcome to the Neighborhood

There is an up and coming neighborhood in North Oakland called Paradise Park that sits on the borders of Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley. I am familiar with the area because I drive through it twice a week when I take my nephews to school at Oakland Military Institute. A new cafe that shares its name with the urban Paradise Park neighborhood opened up last month and I was invited to a media event to check it out.

Paradise Park Cafe serves coffee from local Equator Coffee & Teas from San Rafael. Two thumbs up for the espressos that I have been making with their coffee beans. With opening hours of 7am on weekdays, I am likely to stop by for a morning latte before work. The cafe also specializes in juices. I sampled a few options and using purely fruits and vegetables, they’ve made something vibrant and delicious.
Vegetarians and vegans have quite a few choices at Paradise Park Cafe. They offer a quinoa burger and plenty of salads. I was impressed with their homemade chickpea tofu which is the protein in their vegan wrap and an option to add to their salads. This works really well for the health conscious.
On the other hand, their grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun and topped with Vermont cheddar cheese, fried onions, and a garlic and pepper aioli. It was juicy and packed full of flavor. The French fries held its own.
My favorite item on the menu is the fried chicken sandwich. The chicken breast is marinated, grilled, and then fried in a light tapioca batter. This photogenic sandwich includes fresh carrots, radish, and kale, pickled onions, and a sriracha aioli. It also includes a side of crispy tasty French fries.  
Having a kids menu really speaks to the neighborhood. I would recommend the creamy homemade mac and cheese. For those that care, it’s also gluten free. 
For dessert you can order an ice cream burrito. Ice cream is wrapped in a flour tortilla and flash fried. I would recommend sharing this one and eating it pretty fast, otherwise you might make a hot mess.
I’m sure those in the Paradise Park neighborhood are happy and excited to find a new cafe in town. I would definitely keep an eye on Paradise Park Cafe as they plan to utilize part of their space for pop-ups.  


San Antonio: First Meal, Last Meal, and Coffee In-between

I am writing on the airplane ride back from Austin, Texas.  My BFF and I spent a few days in San Antonio and Austin, my two favorite cities in Texas.  Our first meal upon arrival in San Antonio was the best meal of the entire trip at a restaurant called Cured located in the Pearl District.  Cured got its name not only because of their housemade chauchuterie, but because the Chef who opened up the restaurant was thankfully cured of cancer.   

Our server first brought us an amuse bouche of lamb chili.  I’ve never had chili made with lamb meat.  The chili flavors were really nice, but I felt it was a little gamey.  I was thinking that if this chili was made with pork, it would be off the hook.  

We couldn’t dine at a restaurant named Cured without having their cured meats which have been cured anywhere from 30 days to 12 months.   We selected three items — chicken liver pate, jalapeño sausage, and lamb citrus terrine.  The generous plate was complimented with pickled carrots and cucumbers, mustards, and delicious crackers.  

The menu at Cured is listed in categories and each category has items of various sized proportions.  We each selected two of the smaller dishes.  My first dish was the beet, avocado, and citrus salad which came with a citrus vinaigrette and was topped with a beet crackling.  I was not feeling like I was in Texas.  It was an excellent salad and I not only loved the idea of the beet crackling, but it worked really well.

I also chose the smoked pork gumbo which came with Heritage hog, andouille sausage, and okra.  This was topped on fluffy white rice.  The gumbo overall was a little on the salty side.

My BFF ordered the fried chicken livers.  These were perfectly crispy and laid on top of a lemon pepper jelly.  The savory fried livers with the sweet tangy jelly was superb.

She also ordered one of her favorite things, the bone marrow soup.  The server poured the soup which also had caramelized Brussels sprouts and root vegetables.  I tried a taste and thought it had great flavor.  

We were both intrigued with the pork butter and corn bread and decided on ordering this side dish as well.  This may sound a little over the top, but it was so good.  I sort of felt like I was eating a mini savory cupcake.  My kinda cupcake!

For dessert we shared the chocolate tarragon ganache with hazelnut mousse with bitter orange ice cream.  This was quite rich and we got through about half of it.  Although beautifully presented, I was not impressed with this particular dessert.  I may have selected the wrong one.

Our last meal was lunch at Boudro’s.  This Tex-Mex restaurant is located on the Riverwalk.  We both have fond memories of eating there a few years ago when our friend took us there.  The waiters all prepare delicious guacamole table side.  

But it’s really the prickly pear margaritas that we were coming back for.  The fuchsia color of the prickly pear is pretty and the drink is delightful.  If I wasn’t driving to Austin, I would’ve liked another.  

We both were looking for something on the lighter side so we each ordered the chicken and tortilla caldo.  This comforting chicken soup was topped with tortilla chips, avocado,  queso fresco, and cilantro.  This soup really hit the spot for me. 

I was happy to have found the local coffee shop in San Antonio called Local Coffee. They recently began to roast their own beans as well.  For me, the key to good coffee is fresh roasted beans, a good espresso machine, and a barista that cares about each cup.  I found that at Local Coffee.  It was not close to where we were staying, but we made an effort to go there twice.  

Those were my highlights of San Antonio.  Stay tuned next week to see what I ate in Austin.

Best of London

I realized that I didn’t document my food experience in London or Paris very well on my blog. Borrough Market in London was great and so was that dinner at Le Comptoir in Paris. This week’s blog will focus on my best eats in London and next week will be my favorites in Paris.

I’ll start out with my favorite coffee shop in London. I was lucky to find Tapped and Packed one block away from my hotel. I was at T&P every morning which enabled me to redeem a frequent drink card on my last day for a free beverage. Sometimes I ordered a skinny latte and other times I got a flat white. Lots of customers were there for their drip coffee. I enjoyed the vibe there and even tried their delicious homemade sandwiches.
20140727-224736-82056594.jpgTapped and Packed
193 Wardour Street

I sat down for an actual English breakfast once during my time in London and it was at Regency Cafe. I ordered the set breakfast which came with an egg, bacon, sausage, baked beans or tomatoes, bread and butter, and coffee. I asked for both the beans and the tomatoes and an extra side of hash browns. Hey, I wasn’t coming back, at least not on this trip. My favorite things were the baked beans, the tomatoes, and the hash browns so I am glad I ordered the extras.

20140727-224946-82186212.jpgRegency Cafe
17-19 Regency Street

My friend and I actually had Afternoon Tea twice in London. The better of the two was at The Wolseley. It is a fancy restaurant with servers that are very formal and attentive. I have had High Tea at plenty of nice places with good tea, sandwiches, scones, and desserts. But in no other place besides London can you get such amazing scones with clotted cream and jam. The whole experience of people having their nose up in the air and their pinky pointing up is worth it for the scones, clotted cream and jam.
20140727-225727-82647486.jpgThe Wolseley
160 Picadilly

I actually had scouted out a restaurant serving dim sum a couple of months before my holiday started. Coming from San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine wanting to have dim sum while in London. Let’s just say A. Wong puts dim sum to a whole new level of sophistication. Imagine a siu mai (steamed pork dumpling) with a crispy chicharrones on top. Imagine a har gow (steamed shrimp dumpling) with a citrus foam on top. That is what I am talking about!
20140727-225442-82482763.jpgA Wong
70-71 Wilton Road

My favorite dinner was at Nopi. I discovered Chef Yotam Ottolenghi about six months ago and when I found out he had restaurants in London, I knew I had to go. Nopi serves Mediterranean food. My friend and I shared quite a few dishes. My favorites was an appetizer of Burratta cheese and peaches and the dessert called Pomegranate Mess. It’s a take on the dessert Eton Mess with meringue, cream, and strawberries. Our version had mascarpone and sorbet.
21-21 Warwick Street

There goes my London picks. Check back next week for my Paris picks!

Washington, D.C. Part I

I just returned from a conference in Washington, D.C., so of course I have to write about the food experience I had there. Every meal I had was great except for the sandwich I bought for my return flight at Reagan National Airport. I will share my most enjoyable experiences.

I love great coffee and consider myself to be very particular about it. My first mission in every City I visit is to know where I will be getting coffee in the morning. I was happy to discover a place called Filter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar that was just three blocks from my hotel in DuPont Circle.
Last year I learned about a “Flat White.” Developed in Australia, the drink is similar to having a double cappuccino. In a “Flat White,” the content of coffee is higher and the milk is velvety smooth. I ordered one on my first morning in DC and let’s just say I had it three days in a row. Filter also serves individually prepared dripped coffee.
Another noteworthy experience was a Thai restaurant called the Regent that I chose to have dinner with my colleagues. The Regent was also within walking distance of our hotel. As we walked in, I noticed an authenticity to the restaurant. The decor and furnishings were lovely.
The four of us who have never had a meal together discussed food allergies and likes and dislikes. Based on our discussion, we would not be having pork, but we would be enjoying spicy food.

Here is what we enjoyed:

Tom Yum Goong. Shrimp and mushrooms are cooked in a hot and sour lemon grass soup
Chicken satay. These grilled skewers were complimented with a peanut sauce and cucumber relish
Sea war salad. This salad included shrimp, scallops, and squid.
Drunken noodles with beef. Wide rice noodles are stir fried with sweet basil leaves in a chili and garlic sauce.
Red Curry with chicken. The curry was combined with coconut milk, Thai eggplant and basil leaves
Everything was quite tasty, but my two favorite things were the drunken noodles and the red curry.

I highly recommend the Regent if you are in Washington, D.C.

I had one more great food experience on this trip, but you will have to wait until next week to read about it.

Coffee Oakland

Coffee in the morning is a ritual that I cannot do without. When I’m not making my own nonfat latte with my espresso maker in the morning or having a cup at work, there are a few shops I like to frequent.  When I’m feeling like an Italian coffee, I go to Cafe 817 in Old Oakland because they use Illy coffee.  I feel like I’m in Italy because it’s creamy and comes in a bowl.   This photo is from having lunch at Cafe 817 with a colleague awhile ago.  There food is also nom nom nom.

A coffee shop that I like to stop by on my way to work is Modern Coffee in Downtown Oakland.  Modern is located in the historic Tribune Building and the owners were former Peet’s Coffee employees.  Robert and Kristen are awesome.  They are friendly and make a point to get to know their customers and remember their usual drinks.  In my case, they also remember that I must have my jalapeño bagel toasted with cream cheese.  It’s as close to a New York bagel you can get on the West Coast.  Nom nom nom. 

Blue Bottle Coffee roasts and serves quality coffee.  I was excited when they moved their plant to Jack London Square in Oakland in October 2009.  Blue Bottle uses organic, pesticide free beans that serves coffee within 48 hours of roasting the beans.  I was pleasantly surprised that they had a coffee cart at the Temescal Farmers Market because I really needed it one Sunday morning.

My favorite coffee shop is Cole Coffee on College Avenue in Oakland.  It’s where I get my fair trade Mexican organic coffee beans.  I learned the importance of Fair Trade Coffee after watching the documentary “Black Gold”.  The film focuses on paying coffee farmers a fair price for their beans.  It’s a shame when Starbucks can charge $4 or $5 for coffee and pay farmers pennies for their beans.  But Cole’s coffee is so fragrant and bold in flavor that it’s difficult to turn elsewhere.  It is the only place I get my beans.  I think I’m spoiled because even my work purchases their beans. 

Got coffee?  Where do you go?