New Pub on the Block: Aisle 5

Aisle 5 is a newly opened pub located in Oakland’s Grand/Lakeshore District. They serve twenty craft beers on tap and have a food menu focused on cooking from a wood fired oven and grill. Aisle 5 is Tina Wadhwa’s first business venture and she is likely the first East Indian woman to open up a pub in the area.  
I stopped by a couple weeks after they opened and had some trouble navigating through the business. The way things work is that you order at the counter, get a number, claim a seat, and your food comes to you. This might work well in a food court, but for me it didn’t at Aisle 5. My friend and I ordered drinks first. I got a refreshing local cider from Healdsburg and my friend had a glass of wine. We sat down and took a menu with us. When we decided on what to eat, I had to get back in line at the counter to order and it was five or six people deep. I can say it was partly my fault since I didn’t know what I wanted to eat from the start and wasn’t prepared for the “food court system.”

Nonetheless, our food came and I was happy. Chef Mark Scott is behind the pub menu. The first item that arrived by number was the chimichurri shrimp and it was wonderful. It was grilled to perfection and included a tomato and cucumber salad that was a nice companion piece. It was my favorite dish of the evening.

We also shared the smoking duo which is both chicken wings and baby back ribs. You get to select the sauces for both meats. I went with buffalo wings and habanero baby back ribs. The chicken wings fell flat for me because it was not crispy leaving a very soft rubbery skin. The ribs however was a redemption as they were cooked well and packed a lot of flavor. I really enjoyed the apple jicama slaw. If that is a definition of slaw, this would be my favorite preparation. At one point, Chef Mark stopped by to say hello, so I took the opportunity to inquire about the slaw. He revealed that he added a little honey to sweeten this side dish. 


With Boot and Shoe Service next door and The Star on Grand across the street, I was a bit wary about ordering pizza from Aisle 5. But they had the wood fired oven and an extensive pizza menu, So I wanted to give it a try. I got the smoked sausage and mushroom pizza. Sure the toppings were good, but I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the pizza crust. I even ate some of my friend’s leftover pizza crust (she is watching her carbs). I wouldn’t say that the pizza is better than Boot & Shoe Service, but it is an excellent alternative in the neighborhood.


I’m really hoping that Aisle 5 considers the feedback and hire some excellent wait staff to pull everything together. They’ve got a lot going for it- great food and drinks, perfect location, and a nice space.  
*Disclosure- this meal was comped, but writer has made every effort to remain objective.

La Estacion: Awesome First Meal in Puerto Rico

I’m trying to end 2016 with a bang. My friend and I decided that we both needed some fun and relaxation so we planned a trip to warm Puerto Rico. This would be my second time to Puerto Rico, but it’s been almost a decade since my last visit. I have never been to Fajardo, which is the small city we would be staying at. It’s located where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet. We spent the afternoon having a pina colada and a snack and trying to get acclimated around El Conquistador, the large resort we were staying at.   
It was time to find a place to have dinner so it was a good thing that I struck up a conversation with an employee while riding up on the funicular from the beach to the hotel. We wanted local food so he suggested an offsite restaurant across the resort called La Estacion. Not only is the resort large, but it isn’t well lit so we would have to pay a driver $10 each way to take us. As my BFF always says “YOLO,” (You Only Live Once).  

The menu at La Estacion had a good variety of appetizers and entrees and meats and seafood. It seemed to specialize in BBQ, but not quite the same definition as what we are used to in the mainland. We had outdoor seating and we could smell the lovely scent of grillIng meats and seafood. After discussing the menu with my friend, we decided on ordering a few things. We would get the ceviche which is mahi mahi marinated in local citrus, onions, chilies, and fresh herbs. It came with arepa de coco, which is Puerto Rican bread with a hint of coconut flavor. The ceviche was fresh and delicious and a good match for the tasty fry bread.
My friend and I both like chicken wings so we ordered the Caribbean chicken wings. I think we were expecting something more like jerked chicken, but these were great. The chicken wings had a nice honey glaze with a subtle coconut flavor. It was paired with three sauces – tabasco-like, spicy passion fruit, and ranch. My favorite was the spicy ranch which was a mix and spicy and sweet.
I was eyeing the churrasco for an entree which is a sofrito marinated skirt steak, grilled with a guava BBQ sauce, and topped with a cilantro lime chimichurri. It came with a cole slaw and sweet corn bread. The meat was tender and flavorful. Every bite blew me away. This was also a generous portion so we were glad we only ordered one entree.
We were quite full but shared the tembleque for dessert. Tembleque is a coconut based dessert resembling a pudding topped with toasted coconut and a hint of chili flakes. We were able to scoop clean this light dessert.  
The meal at La Estacion was wonderful and it was just the first stop. I am looking forward to eating my way through Puerto Rico.  

Double Belly is Double Trouble

First came Belly and then came Sweet Belly. In Uptown Oakland, you can find this pair of playful eateries to fill your belly.
Belly is located at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 19th Street and serves up what I consider a fusion grill. There is a focus on Mexican, Korean, and Japanese cuisine. With an ordinary menu of items like tacos, burritos, burgers, salads, and sides, it’s what they do with it that makes them interesting.  

So I grabbed lunch “to go” with a friend recently. I ordered the popular steak and egg taco which is filled with house marinated sirloin steak, French fries, chipotle aioli, garlic aioli, and topped with a fried egg. Yes, I said French fries and a fried egg. You might call this fusion on steroids. I actually found it to be quite simplistic and enjoyed the flavors and textures.
I also ordered a side of classic fries with chipotle ketchup. These fries were shoestring fries, thin and crisp. They stayed crispy even with the ten minute ride back to the office, so it passed that test. The chipotle ketchup was a great complement to the fries.  
My friend ordered the Korean fried chicken bowl which is a rice bowl topped with spicy fried chicken, slaw, pickled cucumbers, red onions, jalapeños, and of course a fried egg. The chicken had a thick gooey batter, but was somewhat soggy in texture. To me it felt like an unsuccessful bibimbap. Neither of us would recommend this dish.
I went back to Belly with another friend last week to try something else. We both wanted burgers. I ordered the Belly Burger which is a house marinated patty, red onion tempura, sautéed mushrooms, house pickled cucumbers, cheddar cheese, garlic and kimchi aioli, on a brioche bun. The burger was super juicy and tasted amazing. Every ingredient was on point and melded together perfectly. The tempura onion made my burger sing.
My friend got the West Coast Burger combo which came with fries and a drink. Her burger had bacon, avocado, tomato, cheddar cheese, mixed field greens, garlic aioli, and chipotle ketchup. She enjoyed her burger just as much as I did. No doubt Belly knows how to grill up burgers and fries. I am now tempted to try their Belly Cali Fries or their Korean Cali Fries. I’ll let you look that up yourself. 
If you travel about three blocks east on 19th Street, you can find dessert at the recently opened Sweet Belly by the same owners of Belly.  I am sure lots of people were unhappy when Lanas, a long time operating fast food Chinese take out closed, but the opening of Sweet Belly in its place is sure to fill some void.  

On my first visit, the soft serve flavor being served was strawberry. I topped my strawberry soft serve with fruity crunch cereal and an earl grey Valrhona dark chocolate fudge donut. All three items were great. The soft serve was thick like custard and had a subtle strawberry flavor. The cereal was a homemade version of Fruity Pebbles and was light and crispy. The donut was warm and texturally tasted like an old fashioned.  
On another visit, Sweet Belly was serving Matcha green tea flavored soft serve. This time I chose chocolate drizzled popcorn as my topping and a Matcha green tea donut. I actually enjoyed the strawberry soft serve slightly better, but would order either of them again or some variation of them. About a five minute walk from my office, I feel an addiction coming on.

Genji: Grilling up Lunch

I have never been to Japan, but I would imagine that there would be a lot of eateries like Genji Japanese Restaurant that service busy office workers. Apparently, the restaurant recently moved from Downtown Oakland to Uptown Oakland, making it really easy for me to get to Monday through Friday. There are some food items already prepared that you can grab and go, but they also have a menu of items that are made to order.  You can choose to eat at one of their tables or take away.

 On my first visit, I picked up a side of seaweed salad and a side of cucumber wedges from the refrigerator. I brought it up to the friendly cashier and placed an order for an una-q which were five pieces of unagi (eel) sushi roll. It was a light and enjoyable lunch. I would skip the cucumber wedges in the future as it was bland even with the sauce.  

My coworkers got the unagi teriyaki from the grill which equates to two pieces of eel over rice.  All their teriyaki grill plates come with a side of edamame and a slaw. The charbroiled eel was delicate and flavorful and the rice was cooked to perfection.  
On another visit, I ordered the chicken teriyaki. I have been in search of a good chicken teriyaki for a long time and have found it here at Genji. They grill up Mary’s free range chicken and coats it with a delicious teriyaki sauce.  

One of my colleagues splurged and got the Angus rib eye teriyaki. She ordered it medium well. It was cooked through which I normally do not like. I like my beef cooked medium rare. I had a piece of her steak and was shocked how good it was. The flavor of the teriyaki sauce just disguised how cooked it was. She absolutely loved her plate.

My other colleague was looking for a lighter plate so she got shrimp teriyaki. The shrimps were fresh and plump. It is great that Genji has the variety of grill options so you can order what you are in the mood for. Now that I have done my taste test, I would likely alternate between the unagi teriyaki and the chicken teriyaki in the future.

Hike, Lunch, Hike, Ice Cream: My Kind of Day

One of my favorite things to do is hike and I feel fortunate to live where I do and have access to the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD). EBRPD operates 65 parks that cover more than 120K acres and includes over 1,250 miles of trails that run through Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  

courtesy of EBRPD

On Saturday, my friend and I hiked a portion of the 7.65 mile one way Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. Starting from Moraga Commons, a local park, we hiked northeast toward Downtown Lafayette which was about 5.5 miles. It was a warm and beautiful day and we were ready to have lunch. With lots of restaurants with outdoor seating in Lafayette, we agreed on Chow.  

My vegetable platter was a beautiful vibrant hodgepodge of a plate. It came with sautéed mushrooms, grilled zucchini and tomato, corn salad, avocado, tomato purée, and tzatziki sauce. I made it even more of a hodgepodge by substituting polenta for mashed potatoes. I consumed all of this delicious summer plate, except for most of the mashed potatoes. I didn’t want to consume so many Weight Watcher points. It was my bad to have made the substitution.  

After lunch we had to return to the trail and hike back the 5.5 miles to return to the car. I am not intending to make this sound like it is a difficult hike at all. It is completely flat, but long. The only reason to call it a hike is because it’s on a trail. It is more like a walk. I did it in tennis shoes. Actually, this is a better trail for biking or running.  

So after our eleven mile walk on the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail in the heat, we needed to get a snack to cool us off.

Thanks to Yelp, I discovered Guanatos Ice Cream in Walnut Creek. This family owned business makes fresh ice cream and other treats with a Latin flare. They have traditional ice cream flavors, but I was more excited about the unique flavors like rose petals, Mexican hot chocolate, and chongos zamoranos. I got a scoop of tequila ice cream on a waffle cone. It was super creamy and had a light hint of tequila flavor. Mentally, I was thinking I was enjoying tequila. It was a novel idea.

My friend ordered a scoop of horchata in a cup. The ingredients of rice, cinnamon, and milk make for a good flavored ice cream.


Guanatos was an awesome find and I look forward to trying the other flavors that they offer. They have shops in Bay Point, Concord, and Oakley as well.  

DIY: Easy, Fresh, Pita Bread

What if I told you that you could make pita bread easily? More than likely, you have everything you need to make it already in your pantry. Not only that, but to eat warm fresh pita bread tastes so much better than what you can buy at the store.  
I recently discovered this recipe from the website Half Baked Harvest and have already made it a few times. The results are wonderful.  
Minimal ingredients are:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the hot water and yeast together in a large bowl and stir so that the yeast can dissolve. 
  Add the flour, salt, and olive oil to the bowl and mix together well with a wooden spoon.   
 Once it is well blended, turn the dough onto a floured work surface.   
 Knead the dough with your hands until it smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Add a small amount of olive oil to a clean bowl and place the dough in the bowl and turn it in order to coat the dough in its entirety.   
 Wrap the bowl with Saran Wrap and let it rest for about an hour. The dough will rise and become springy.   
 Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into eight even pieces and then put them back into the covered bowl. 
 One at a time, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch in thickness. If the dough gets sticky, add more flour as needed.   
 Heat up a flat griddle or an iron skillet to a medium high heat. Brush some olive oil on the heated pan. Place one of the rolled out pieces of dough onto the pan. If you have a large enough griddle, you can cook two at a time. Watch for bubbles to form on the dough, about thirty seconds and then flip over.   
 Grill for about a minute. Shortly after the edges of the pita bread begins rising off the pan, it will have created toasted spots and is ready to flip over again.   
 Grill for a final minute. The pita bread will puff up and you will know it’s ready. Repeat the process to make 8 pita bread.
 You will be amazed at the deliciousness of the pita bread as well as the nice chewy texture. I bought three different types of hummus from Trader Joe’s to dip the pita bread in. Of the garlic hummus, the beet hummus, and the tomato basil hummus, I enjoyed the latter one best.