Iyasare: Modern Japanese Comfort Food

“Fourth Street” is a commercial district in Berkeley bustling with shops and restaurants. I have always considered it to be a cool and hidden shopping area in the East Bay. One of the restaurants located on Fourth Street is Iyasare serving modern Japanese comfort food. Although its been around for over five years, I recently dined there for the first time.

A friend and I had early reservations on a Friday at Iyasare. It was the first time for both of us so we spent some time thoroughly reviewing the menu. We ordered the bacon mochi, one of restaurant recommendations. The mochi is grilled and wrapped with smoked bacon and seasoned with housemade teriyaki sauce and served on crispy nori seaweed. It was four to an order so it was perfect for sharing. The texture of mochi softens as it’s grilled and offers a chewy texture that I find fun to eat. In addition, the sweetness of the mochi and the saltiness of the bacon is a winning flavor combination.  
For my main, I ordered the housemade squid ink pasta with a sea urchin or uni cream sauce. The plate was colorful and beautiful with the squid ink pasta drenched in uni cream with chanterelle mushrooms and topped with squid and uni. My friend who doesn’t like uni tried a bite and really enjoyed it. It was rich and delicious and gave me the feeling of a guilty pleasure.
My friend ordered the wagyu bavette steak cooked with a Japanese spice rub and chanterelle mushrooms. I had a bite of the steak and the Japanese flavoring was truly present and the texture was “like butter.” This dish was another home run.
For dessert, we shared the choco-peanut which is chocolate ice cream, shortbread cookies, peanut butter caramel, and brown butter milk powder. If you like chocolate and peanut butter like we do, you would enjoy this dessert that I can’t believe is influenced by the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Dining at Iyasare was a treat and although there was something very comforting about the food, it had a modern twist. I do plan to return to Iyasare for lunch where I can try their take on Japanese comfort food that I’m more accustomed to like ramen and karaage. 

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Inside OMCA: Blue Oak Cafe

I spent the morning at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), a museum dedicated to California art, history, and natural sciences. As a child, I have had many memories and field trips to OMCA to view the large collection of California art. As an adult, I have visited OMCA to attend private events, Friday Nights at OMCA, and special exhibits.
Today I was there to catch the exhibit Respect: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom before it closes in another week, on August 12. From music, dance, fashion, and graffiti art, the exhibit explores the many facets of Hip-Hop culture. It was cool to see that the exhibit attracted an ethnically diverse group as well as young and old.  

I stopped to have an early lunch at the Blue Oak Cafe, OMCA’s dining option. Today, the cafe is run by Grace Street Catering. Blue Oak Cafe offers a variety of options including soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches.  
I decided to order the BLT which is prepared with Niman Ranch Applewood smoked bacon, butter lettuce, tomato, harissa aioli on sliced sourdough bread. I was impressed by the generous sized BLT that also came with an organic mixed green salad topped with pickled vegetables. The harissa aioli spread elevated the sandwich and gave it a California twist. It was all very fresh as well.  
The Blue Oak Cafe appeared to be pretty popular. As I was heading out, the tables were filling up and the line to order was quite long. The cafe has some outdoor seating with umbrellas, so it’s definitely a nice place to enjoy lunch, an afternoon snack, or a glass of vino. The Blue Oak Cafe is open on museum days (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) and admission to OMCA is not required to eat there.

You Don’t Have to Be a Crazy Rich Asian to Eat at Dragon Beaux

I just got back from a very nice dinner in the City for my book club meeting. We read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan and our meeting place was appropriately held at the fancy Chinese restaurant Dragon Beaux in the outer Richmond district of San Francisco.

Dim Sum is usually eaten during brunch, but with its popularity it seems that some high end Chinese restaurants have begun to offer it in the evenings.

We decided to start with a couple of dim sum plates as appetizers. I’ve been wanting to try out the basket of colorful xiao long bao or soup dumplings. Each order comprises of five dumplings made with different colored skin or wrappers. The green wrapper is made with spinach and has kale, the black wrapper is made with squid ink and has black truffle, the bright yellow wrapper is made with tumeric and has crab roe, the red wrapper is made and filled with beets, and the beige colored wrapper is the traditional one made with juicy pork. I tried the tumeric and squid ink ones. They were innovative and fun to try once. I would probably stick to tradition in the future.

We also ordered the wild mushroom and chicken buns. These soft bao are colored to appear to look like giant shiitake mushrooms. They were light, delicious, and so cute! I would definitely order these again.
The Peking duck was quite tasty, but I was a little disappointed that the skin was not crispy. It was nice that the plate included twelve buns so we could each make two sandwiches of duck skin, cucumber, scallion, and hoisin sauce.  
The pea sprouts with garlic was our vegetable of choice. If you have never tried the large ones, they taste a lot like spinach. This is always a safe vegetable to order.
The mapo tofu is a spicy dish made with soft tofu and ground pork. This was one of the best prepared versions of this dish that I have ever had. The gravy makes it go well with white rice.
The last dish we ordered were the spot prawns in rice noodles. It was nice that our waiter evenly plated this dish for us. Everything about this dish was fresh and I’m glad we noticed this on the special’s menu.
Finally, we selected the crispy organic milk roll. I didn’t plan to eat one of these because I was quite full, but it came with six. I would describe it as fried dough filled with milk pudding. It was much better than I expected.  
They provided us with a couple of complimentary desserts. One was the sesame mochi made with raspberry and the other were almond cookies. I enjoyed the mochi, but the cookies were a bit dry.
I was very satisfied with my meal at Dragon Beaux. Coming from Oakland, it is a bit of a trek to get there, but I would definitely come back.  The six of us paid $35 each including tip and two of us had beer. You don’t have to be a Crazy Rich Asian to eat here!

Chef Reem Assil Highlights Arab Food in Oakland 

If you haven’t heard of Chef Reem Assil, you really should as she is successfully putting Arab food on the map in Oakland. Her Arab street food started in the farmers markets before she opened her bakery, Reem’s in the Fruitvale Public Market over a year ago. She recently opened her second outpost, Dyafa, a full service restaurant in Jack London Square.

Chef Assil specializes in mana’eesh which is a middle eastern flatbread. My favorite is having it topped with oil and za’atar, a herb and spice mixture of wild thyme, sesame, sumac, and salt. I’ve noticed the growing popularity of za’atar all around the country. You can get the mana’eesh at either the bakery or the restaurant. The bread is more like pizza than pita, but much thinner and crispier. The brushed on oil keeps the herbs, spices, and flavors intact.

Reem’s offers a nice mezze combination platter which come with four spreads to dip the freshly baked pita bread. My top dips were the labneh, a thick tangy yogurt that tastes like the most delicious cream cheese and the muhammara, which is made with roasted red peppers and walnuts.  
Brunch is available on weekends at Reem’s and that provided me with the opportunity to try their shakshuka, eggs poached in spiced red pepper tomato sauce, topped with feta and parsley. The sauce was rich and smokey and I was happy it was served with pita bread.
Another special item they offer is cardamom ice coffee. I just love the flavor of cardamom. This is the perfect summer morning beverage that I should consider worthy of a short detour on my way to work.
I was really excited about the opening of Dyafa. I was a bit nervous about dining there because I was taking my best friend there for her birthday and I got some mixed reviews. Nonetheless I knew we had to form our own opinions.

We ordered some dips to go with our order of mana’eesh. The cold one was the muttabbal which is charred eggplant, lemon, and tahini. It was a nice simple starter.
The warm dip we selected was the hummus kawarma which is hummus with spiced lamb, dried lime, and cured sumac. The unique flavors and the warmth of it made this hummus stand out.
We also shared a fresh salad of arugula, little gem lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and radish. This tasted fine, but we probably could have done without it.
We shared the maklouba as our main course which was layered rice, roasted eggplant, cauliflower, charred tomato, and topped with potato chips. I enjoyed this vegetarian dish very much. Each ingredient is formed and packed tightly and together the components offered wonderful rich bites.  
For dessert, we wanted something light so we shared the booza, which is an orange blossom ice cream with crispy phyllo and candied orange. The orange flavor was nice to end a meal with and the phyllo nest provided a fun crispy texture.  
My opinion is that Chef Reem Assil makes Oakland a better place by bringing delicious Arab food to the community. I would recommend Reem’s for a casual lunch and Dyafa if you are looking to enjoy a nice dinner. 

Gangnam Tofu in El Cerrito has lots of Style

I just got back from a fabulous dinner. I had Korean food with my BFF in El Cerrito. She was introducing me to Gangnam Tofu for the first time. We went for an early dinner after spending the day hiking and geocaching in the area.

We were lucky that we didn’t have a wait since there was room for the two of us at the counter. I consider my BFF my food twin as we typically like the same things and can easily agree on menu items.

Like other Korean restaurants, we received a series of banchan. Unlike other Korean restaurants, I’ve never had one with eggplant. It was also the most delicious one! If we didn’t order so much food, I would’ve requested another serving of the eggplant.

We ordered the Soon-Doo-Boo which is the soft tofu stew. This dish comes in nine varieties. We ordered the original Soon-Doo-Boo with pork. It comes with a raw egg to crack into the bubbling stew. I enjoyed the medium spiced tofu stew and consider it one of the Korean dishes that defines comfort especially when you add a little white rice.


I can never resist fried chicken and wanted to give it a shot. They have nine types of fried chicken and we agreed to have the original which is the dry kind. It was crispy and finger licking good. Our half order was cut up into seven similarly sized pieces. This makes perfect sense so the fry time is the same and makes for juicy pieces including the white meat.

We also ordered the Beef Dol Sop Bop which is marinated beef and vegetables over rice that is cooked in a hot stone bowl. The veggies included carrots, spinach, zucchini, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and green onions. It was also topped with a fried egg. As I mixed everything together, I could hear the sizzling. I was impressed by the cook of the rice in the stone bowl as it left a full even layer of crispy rice on the bottom.

I was also impressed with the customer service at Gangnam Tofu. The staff are extremely friendly and we were asked on several occasions whether we needed anything, a first time for me at any Asian restaurant. Even with all the Korean food options in Oakland, I left the restaurant thinking about my next meal here.

Dosa by Dosa in Oakland

It excites me to write about Dosa by Dosa, a hip new South Indian restaurant located in Uptown Oakland. The restaurant is owned by the husband and wife team, Anjan and Emily Mitra who already run two popular and successful restaurants in San Francisco by the name of Dosa. The Mitras bring a more casual menu to their Oakland location that I am loving.Let me start with the adult slushies. Dosa by Dosa have two frozen drink machines that are continuously running so that you and I can enjoy a boozie drink at the drop of a hat or rather a pull of a nozzle. One flavor is the monchichi which is made with vodka, coconut, pineapple, lime, green cardamom, and nutmeg. I’m not sure if it’s named after the toy I grew up with, but it was definitely delicious. It tasted creamy and gave me the feel of a beach.  The other flavor was shoeflower cooler which is made with rum, passionfruit, ginger, orange, lime, and lo-fi gentian amaro. This one was fruitier and sweeter. At $5 a glass during happy hour, I am elated.  If boozie slushies are not your thing, Dosa by Dosa offers a number of other innovative Indian spiced cocktails.
I never knew there was such a thing as an Indian french fry until I came to Dosa by Dosa. Called Idli fries, they are made from rice and lentil patties that are cut up into wedges and deep fried. They are served with a roasted chili garlic chutney. For some reason, eating these made me think about the Cream of Wheat that my grandmother used to make me as a child. I enjoyed these so much the first time that I ordered them again on my next visit. The serving is pretty large so it’s a dish that is easy to share.  

I also tried the Chenmai fried chicken during their happy hour. There is nothing not to like about the boneless fried chicken pieces that come out temperature hot. They have a little bit of a kick and served with raita dipping sauce to provide a ying and a yang.
Naan bread is one of my favorite things to eat when fresh. I tried two of their stuffed naan, the chicken and the cheese. For textural reasons, I preferred the cheese as it seems to blend better.  

Dosa by Dosa also includes rice bowls with your choice of Indian curries. They have chicken tikka masala, Tamil lamb, saag paneer, and butternut squash dal. You can also choose coconut, lemon, brown, or white rice. I had the excellent chicken tikka masala bowl with lemon rice.  

I believe there should be a rule that you can’t go to Dosa by Dosa and not have a dosa. A dosa is a beautiful paper thin, golden brown, savory rice and lentil crepe that is usually filled and rolled. I enjoyed both the masala potato and the habanero mango. The fillings are both potato based, but with a variation in flavors. They come with a coconut chutney, a tomato chutney, and sambar, a lentil and vegetable dipping soup. The crispy crepe with the creamy potato is pure harmony and perfection. I think I’ll stick with my rule and keep coming back for dosa!

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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.