When I reflect back on the lunch I had on Friday, I realize how much has changed since my college cafeteria days. I intentionally made a point to visit UC Berkeley’s student union dining room for What’s Poppin’, A Pop-Up Dining Adventure. For the month of March, three female and minority chefs from San Francisco’s incubator kitchen, La Cocina each have a space to showcase cuisine from their diverse backgrounds. I went to campus with some friends and tried food from each spot.
Chef Binita Pradhan runs Bini’s Kitchen specializing in food from Nepal. Fans seek out her fresh made momos or dumplings. We sampled the vegetarian combo which included kwati, jeera rice pulao, and momos. Kwati is a traditional Nepalese soup mixed with nine different beans. It was thick like a stew and very comforting. The jeera rice pulao is a cumin flavored basmati rice that was cooked perfectly. My favorite part of the combination meal were the plump, fresh, and juicy momos topped with a spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Check out the Bini’s Kitchen website for more ways to access those momos.
Mixiote is a style of Mexican cooking where meats and vegetables are traditionally marinated, wrapped, and slow cooked. It’s also the name of Chef Alma Rodriguez’s business. I was lucky to have attended a wedding last year where she and her team catered some delicious food. To see her have a spot in the dining room was a happy sight. Their pop up menu allows for a choice of pork, chicken, or veggies served on hand made tortillas or rice bowls. We had the pork tacos which were topped with a roasted pumpkin seed sauce. These were hearty, tender, and very flavorful. Our luck was upon us because they specially made taquitos that day. These fried tacos were stuffed with potatoes and were delicious. Stay tuned and follow @MixioteSF on Instagram because word on the street is she’s raising funds for her first brick and mortar.
I have been following Chef Aileen Suzara’s journey for awhile, since she was a Public Health student at UC Berkeley. Sariwa means fresh in Tagalog and Chef Suzara’s mission is to bring healthy Filipino food to the forefront.
We tried a variety of food at Sariwa including the amazing homemade vegetarian lumpias filled with sweet potato and vegetables. The lunch bowls allow for a choice of mains including chicken adobo and coconut tofu and pumpkin and choice of vegetable side dishes. I was bummed the coconut tofu and pumpkin entree was sold out as it is the menu item that characterizes Sariwa most. At the same time, it’s proving that Chef Suzara is making a difference in the way people perceive Filipino food and it’s all coming full circle. Read more about her story in a recent interview by Bon Appetit.
This month’s What’s Poppin’ is not only a great opportunity for rising female and minority chefs, but it’s a great way for students to explore new, diverse, and healthy cuisines. These three pop-ups are serving lunch M-F. Contact the MLK Jr Student Union for more information and their hours. Address: 2495 Bancroft Way Berkeley, CA. Phone: 510-664-7976.
Tonight I had a craving for Filipino food. I have been thinking about a recent lunch that my best friend and I had in Santa Ana, California. I had bookmarked Irenia when I was doing my research on places to eat near Disneyland. Los Angeles food critic Jonathon Gold had included Irenia on a list of Best Restaurants in Los Angeles. Irenia was only a handful of restaurants located in Orange County so my curiousity was piqued.
We were on holiday, so cocktails during lunch was a no brainer. My BFF got the Purple Drank which was made with gin, coconut rum, ube, and pineapple. Although it wasn’t on the menu, I was able to get a Petite Colada. There is definitely something about drinking from a coconut that sends warm vacation vibes.
Our waiter recommended the Dilis, baby anchovies. I don’t know why I was surprised when a bowl of hundreds of tiny fried anchovies were set in front of us. How bad could it be if they are fried right? Right, because I actually really enjoyed these delicacies. It came with some vinegar to dip them in, which I didn’t really need. It was a fun snack that I kept munching on.
I ordered the Chicken Inasal rice bowl. The pan roasted chicken thigh came with sautéed Chinese broccoli and zucchini. The grilled chicken had a nice crispness and the flavor was out of this world. I definitely could taste a mix of vinegar and soy, like you would find in adobo.
My BFF ordered the pancit which was described as egg noodles with a soft boiled egg, chicken skin chiccharron, fried garlic, and scallion. It didn’t taste like pancit that we are accustomed to. I think it was the sauce that was problematic. The flavors were one dimensional and fell flat. She let the waiter know it wasn’t what she expected and did not like it. He explained that there were different varieties of pancit, but offered to have the kitchen make her something else. Since we had some time constraints, she declined.
To make up for the dish, our waiter brought us a dessert on the house. The ube brown sugar pie was a nice way to end the meal. Ube is a purple yam. The pie offered a nice caramelization and the fresh whipped cream lightened up the sweetness.
Irenia offers some very traditional Filipino dishes with a modern twist. Minus the pancit, I thought Irenia was excellent. Looking at the full menu, it’s very clear that they aren’t afraid to use vegetables which I can appreciate from a restaurant serving Filipino cuisine. If you are near Santa Ana, I would recommend a visit to Irenia.
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.
F.O.B. Kitchen has been popping up in a couple of locations in the Mission District of San Francisco. I crossed the Bay Bridge yesterday to have brunch at this pop up. F.O.B. Kitchen serves quality Filipino food. My understanding is that they do regular dinner service on Wednesdays and have had a few of these weekend brunches.
Yesterday’s brunch location was at a bar called Cease and Desist. My friend and I were ready to eat. I had run four miles and she completed a long bike ride. We shared several items. We ordered the hot buttered bun, aka pan de sal which came with a house-made strawberry jam. What’s not to like about a warm buttered bun? The jam was not too sweet and offered a hint of tartness that I enjoyed.
The meat lumpia at F.O.B. kitchen were filled with ground pork and water chestnuts. They were complimented with a Thai chili sauce. The lumpia came out hot and crispy and was a great starter. They also offer a vegetarian eggroll, but we didn’t go that route.
The Tapsilog plate included thinly sliced marinated grass-fed beef, garlic fried rice, a sunny side egg, purple cabbage slaw, and fresh pineapple. The marinade on the beef had nice flavors, but the meat was missing a juiciness. Everything else on the plate was spot on.
The Torta Talong is a charred eggplant omelette topped with shallots and tomatoes served with the same items as the other plate. It came with Jufran, a banana ketchup. I have a memory of eating this dish before many years ago, but this one was pretty awesome. Rarely do I think a vegetarian plate is better than a meat dish. This is one of those cases.
The dessert that was being served was a sweet lumpia filled with banana and nectarine. It came with macapuno, or coconut ice cream. This warm glazed crisp dessert had great texture and the flavors melded together perfectly.
You can interpret F.O.B. to mean what you want. I’m confident the F is for fresh because I clearly saw and tasted the freshness in all the dishes. This kitchen uses organic ingredients whenever possible. I might call it Fresh off Bon Vivant! Make sure you stay connected to F.O.B. Kitchen so you can hear about where they’ll be popping next!