Hops & Hominy: A Hidden Gem

I had dinner with two of my coworkers in the City on Friday night at a restaurant called Hops & Hominy. It was my first visit to Hops & Hominy (H & H) so I was excited to try another restaurant serving Southern food. Although the restaurant is located in the popular Union Square, it’s not easy to find as it’s hidden at the end of a pedestrian alley.
We started with some drinks. I ordered the Lola, which is a cocktail made with whiskey and cherry cola bitters. The bartender at H & H makes the bitters. It was so good I had a second and my coworker switched drinks.  

The waitress brought out complimentary cast iron pan cornbread and whipped butter. I thought it was a bit bland, but dousing it with butter helped. If I were to make a recommendation, I would ask the Chef to add jalapeños to the recipe.
We ordered two appetizers to share. The first one was black-eyed pea fritters. Black eyed peas are blended and mashed with peppers, leeks, onions, and celery and then deep fried. They were crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy inside. The fritters had great flavor on its own, so I did not think it needed the guacamole it came with. My coworker would probably disagree since she ate up the guacamole.
Our waitress recommended the spicy chicken wings. This is no ordinary chicken because it’s cooked in duck fat. The sauce was similar to what you would find in a spicy buffalo wing. These were so delicious, I ate more than my share of them.  
One of my coworkers ordered the fried chicken which came with garlic mashed potatoes and a buttermilk biscuit. It came with three pieces of chicken, so I was offered the fried chicken drumstick. It was good, but turned into great very quickly after dipping it in H & H’s homemade hot sauce.  
My other coworker ordered the summer squash ravioli that was served in a tomato cream sauce. I didn’t try it, but she left her plate clean so I’m pretty sure she thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
I ordered the country fried steak which came with garlic mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots, mustard greens, and alligator gravy. A thin flat iron steak was used and coated in a batter like fried chicken. It was the best dish of the evening.  
We each selected a dessert. I ordered the French vanilla ice cream with olive oil, toasted almonds, and sea salt. This is one of my favorite flavor combinations. One of my coworkers also chose an ice cream. Her chocolate ice cream came with dulce de leche and pecans. These both felt like mini sundaes. I was happy.

The final dessert was the chocolate mousse crunch which came with hazelnuts, brandied cherry, and cherry coulis. I took a small bite since I wanted to eat all my ice cream. I liked the variety of textures and the focus on cherries in this dessert.
Hops & Hominy is pretty awesome. It’s a hidden gem that is worth finding in San Francisco. I look forward to coming back.

Goodnight Hawker Fare Oakland

The East Bay community is saying goodbye to Hawker Fare in Uptown Oakland, which closed its doors last night after almost six years. Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s Southeast Asian street food focused restaurant. I was able to dine at Hawker Fare on one of its final nights last week with a friend and her daughter.

One of the favorite dishes of the evening was the fried chicken. Similar to Japanese chicken karaage, these crispy nuggets of chicken thighs were well marinated, breaded, and deep fried to a golden perfection. It was served with a chili jam and went especially well with sticky rice. It was a hit for my friend’s daughter as well.

In the last several years I have been obsessed with the Laotian dish, Nam Khao, fried rice ball salad. I have been in search of the best fried rice ball salad in Oakland. I just love the mix of savory, tart, and spicy flavors and then the awesome crunch you get with this dish. Unfortunately, the fried rice ball salad at Hawker Fare fell flat for me. One huge factor was likely that it didn’t include pork meat. I also felt that the texture was chunkier than I have had at other neighborhood Laotian restaurants.

Similar to how I must order fried rice ball salad, my friend must order the Laotian style papaya salad. Some might call it umami and others might call it funky because of the flavors of fermented fish and crab that are very prominent. In general, this dish was fine, but my friend thought it was too saucy.

We also shared the mussels steamed in coconut milk. The fresh mussels from Washington are cooked in a coconut broth made with unique spices including fresh galangal, Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, and fish sauce. The broth was so good, I envision dreams about it.

We ended the evening with condensed milk soft serve. I’m really gonna miss their soft serve machine. It was always a refreshing way to end a meal here.

The closing of Hawker Fare is sad for me, but likely bittersweet for Chef Syhabout. I still remember how cool it was that he opened up the restaurant in the exact location of the Thai restaurant his mother once opened. The saving grace is that there still remains a Hawker Fare, but you’ll have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. He opened up a second Hawker Fare in San Francisco about two years ago.  

Soul Food in Vallejo

My best friend planned a fun day yesterday. She took a group of four of us to eat at a soul food restaurant she recently discovered in the City of Vallejo called House of Soul. Read more on her blog. We went for lunch after hiking nearby.   
In anticipation for this lunch, I had read through Yelp reviews and looked at pictures for the past week. My BFF claimed that House of Soul serves the best fried chicken. I wouldn’t doubt her because it’s one of her favorite foods as well as mine. One year for her birthday, she had a fried chicken cook off where I came in second place.
Although we were there for lunch, we ordered off the dinner menu. This gave us the opportunity to have a main course plus two sides and cornbread. We each ordered our own dish and for the most part it was a good variety, so we could taste from each other’s plates. 
It has probably been thirty years plus since I last drank Kool Aid. For nostalgia, I ordered it and it was so damn good that I have no regrets over digesting however many tablespoons of sugar I did.
For my lunch, I ended up with the smothered pork chop. After the pork is breaded and deep fried, a generous amount of brown gravy is poured over it. I chose rice and gravy and collard greens as my sides. I loved my plate. I actually thought it was a well balanced plate. I had my protein, starch, and vegetables! It felt very comforting to eat, perfect for the rainy day we had.  
So we were there for fried chicken right? Two of my friends ordered the fried chicken dinner. In addition to my plate, I asked for a piece of fried chicken on the side, specifically a leg. Our waitress came back with a leg and a wing because she said it was small. I was excited because those are my favorite pieces of a chicken to eat. This fried chicken is very traditional and incorporates the perfect coating that leaves you with a crispy crunchy batter that is flawless. I think it’s one of the best of its kind. I might say I enjoy the flavor of the fried chicken more at Ad Hoc or at Miss Ollie’s where the herbs are injected in the center of the chicken meat.  
Another friend ordered the beef short ribs in gravy and added rice and chose macaroni and cheese and collard greens as her sides. I am quite sure the short ribs were cooked for a long time as the beef easily fell off the bone. I enjoyed it from the small taste I had. It was well flavored and moist like a long cooked stew. The macaroni and cheese was also delicious and one of my favorites of all the sides. Having licked her plate clean, I have no doubt my friend was very happy with her choices.
Another side I had the pleasure of tasting were the green beans. They were cooked with ham hocks which enhanced the taste. The homemade corn bread came out piping hot. I added butter and it was all smiles.
Eating at House of Soul gives you the sense of being in the South, where the cooks prepare your food with love. One thing I want to point out is that service is extremely slow. You will be disappointed if you go in not knowing that. We were there for two hours and it was worth it.

Time for Breakfast: Cock-a-Doodle

On Washington Street in Old Oakland, there used to be a restaurant that served authentic french crepes like the ones made in Brittany, France. I really miss the savory crepes that they used to make. For a while now, the location has been home to Cock-a-Doodle Cafe serving traditional American breakfast/brunch. I never really considered going there for weekend brunch until one of my friends suggested it. I agreed since it would be new to me and I really had to get over the loss of the crepe place.

After careful review of the menu, I decided to be bad and get the fried chicken and graham cracker crusted french toast. There was not much of a coating on the fried chicken, but the flavor was nice and it was good use of herbs on the chicken. Although the fried chicken wasn’t anything to write home about, the french toast was excellent. I believe the graham cracker coating on the french toast not only adds a unique flavor, but helps keep its texture. The ends were crispy, but overall dense and chewy.
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My sister ordered the strawberry ricotta stuffed french toast which was even better! It added a little tartness and a lot of creaminess. Who says you can’t have dessert for breakfast?
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Although I just had coffee, the waitress was promoting their mexican hot chocolate and their mexican mocha. It seemed to be customer favorites.
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Our table enjoyed these drink selections.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Cock-a-Doodle Cafe enough to come back and try their lemon ricotta pancakes and their belgian waffle.

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.

Lunch Time at Hard Knox Cafe

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Last Sunday before watching the San Francisco 49ers lose the NFC Championship game, I had lunch with my sister and two friends in the City. It was our first time trying Hard Knox Cafe. The restaurant has two locations, one in the Richmond district and one in the Dogpatch. We went to the smaller location in the Dogpatch which felt more like a diner because seating was limited to the counter bar and booths.

We waited less then five minutes which was surprising because the Hard Knox Cafe is a very popular place. Maybe most people were home watching the AFC Championship game. I won’t complain about the short wait time. The menu offers a very good variety of Southern food. After a thorough review, we each decided on having different entrees so we could taste an assortment of items.

Each of us received two corn muffins. They were warm and delicious and tasted even better after spreading some butter on it. I wanted to eat a second one, but I had to control myself to leave room for our main course.
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Each entree comes with a choice of two sides. I ordered the beef shortribs with kernel corn and macaroni and cheese. The ribs were oven baked and drenched with brown gravy. They were very tender and easily fell off the bone.
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My sister ordered fried catfish with mashed potatoes and collard greens. The catfish filets were seasoned perfectly and coated with a cornmeal batter. I really enjoyed this one a lot.
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One friend got the BBQ pork ribs with potato salad and collard greens. This was probably the least memorable of all the entrees.
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My other friend ordered the fried chicken and waffles, but their waffle machine was not working. Instead, she ended up with the 3 piece fried chicken meal with candied yams and red beans and rice. The chicken was juicy and had a nice flavor.
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Everything we had at Hard Knox Cafe was pretty good. For me, the highlights were the corn muffins, the fried catfish, and the candied yams. If you are hungry and want excellent value, Hard Knox Cafe should do the trick.

Pass the Chicken, Hold the Service

Last month, a group of us went to Miss Ollie’s for lunch to celebrate our coworker’s birthday. Miss Ollie’s has been open for about a year and is part of the old Housewives Market in Old Oakland. The restaurant serves Caribbean food and it was the first visit for all five of us. We all looked at the sample menu on the website beforehand and was looking forward to the Tuesday protein, fried chicken.
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At Ollie’s, you place your order at the counter and a server brings out your food. There were quite a few patrons already at the restaurant when we arrived before noon. One of my colleagues ordered the Tuesday special which came with three pieces of fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, greens, and a salad with persimmon. I got to sample her macaroni and cheese and thought it was really good.
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The rest of us ordered our fried chicken a la carte and shared some sides. Things started coming out piece meal. First our plantains came out. Although it was meant to be a side, it served more like an appetizer because we finished it before anything else came out. Nonetheless, the plantains were tasty.
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We also ordered a side of rice and beans as well as greens. The sides came out with about a third of the fried chicken we ordered. Those that ordered only drumsticks were screwed for the time being. I ordered one thigh so I was able to eat. The chicken was crispy all around. The flavors were not just on the outside, but the seasoning was in the meat. The sides were okay, but complimented the fried chicken well.
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A beautiful platter of fried chicken drumsticks finally appeared after an inexcusably long time. I was still hungry for chicken and had my second piece. Although the wait was extremely long, I got hot, juicy, and amazing fried chicken.
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I mentioned the great flavors in the chicken, but not how it gets that way. The kitchen injects herbs in the chicken as you can see in this photo.
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Miss Ollie’s may have the best fried chicken in Oakland, but service was so bad that it’s debatable whether it’s worth the wait. I love fried chicken, so I may give Miss Ollie’s a second chance. Maybe I will try dinner service next time around.