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.  

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Commis: A Celebratory Experience

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I’m celebrating my two year anniversary. It’s a two year anniversary of a relationship I have with food and writing. I’ve been writing a weekly food blog for two years. To celebrate, I was going all out. I dined with my BFF at the only Michelin star rated restaurant in the entire East Bay and it’s located here in Oakland and it’s called Commis.

The chef/owner is thirty-two year old James Syhabout who grew up in West Oakland. His family immigrated from Thailand when he was two years old. Aside from Commis, he owns Hawker Fare, the Southeast Asian street food restaurant that I previously wrote about. Remember the pork belly rice bowl?

Commis serves a pre-fixed menu where art and creativity is apparent. The first thing to arrive was a bowl of rocks. We were instructed to find the two edible items. I was a bit confused. My friend with her geocaching experience was able to find them easily. We bit into what tasted like a whopper of a crispy cheesy cracker. What a fun way to start the meal.

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The next item to appear was the Pacific oyster, sunchoke and green anise in sea foam. I didn’t like this dish. It was like putting spoonfuls of ocean in your mouth.

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Although at the time we didn’t realize it, Chef Syhabout brought out the next dish which was the farm egg with alliums, smoked dates and malt. He explained to us to get a bite of egg yolk in each spoonful. The only thing I could identify was the egg yolk but it was a tasty dish.

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Sweet shrimp with avocado and chrysanthemum was the next plate. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish as well.

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Next to arrive was the red beetroot with cauliflower and blood orange with a pumpernickel bread crust. For a moment, I thought I was having dessert. This was one of my favorites.

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Chef Syhabout came out again to bring us the hake confit in olive oil, black and green garlic with wilted coastal chicory. I’ve never had hake before, but it is from the same family as cod. After further thought, I think this was my favorite.

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The final savory dish was the Heritage chicken, artichoke and black trumpets, fresh and dried brassicas. The texture of the chicken was very tender and had a smokey flavor. It was a nice dish and probably the most beautiful.

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The palette cleanser came to the table which was a winter citrus with laurel bay leaf. It did what it was supposed to.

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Dessert was an apple sponge cake with vanilla bean, rice and warm spices. Another beautiful dish. I wish I had more of this; I especially liked the rice crisps that looked like bugs.

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A bonus dessert came out which my BFF remembers being called the potted mint. It reminded me of when I was in elementary school and we planted beans in a styrofoam cup to await a sprig to appear. The dessert was a delicious chocolate that started out grainy, but became creamy in my mouth.

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Commis was an interesting experience which I am happy to have had. Every item on each plate is carefully placed the way an artist creates their art. The food was mostly enjoyable. It’s definitely worth a try to celebrate a special occasion. And if you are lucky enough, you’ll get to meet the Chef. Our waiter walked us over to the open kitchen at the end of our meal to meet him!

Hawker Fare: More Than Fair

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I finally got a chance to dine at Hawker Fare this weekend. It’s been open for about five months. Hawker Fare is the second Oakland restaurant by Chef James Syhabout. His first restaurant is Commis. I have yet to try the only restaurant in Oakland that earned a Michelin star. I guess I’m waiting for the right occasion to dine there. You don’t need an occasion to dine at Hawker Fare as the cuisine is Southeast Asian street food, predominantly Thai.

Uptown Oakland was bustling on Friday night. My friend and I walked into what I found to be a lively, trendy place. With loud music and a disco ball, I thought I was at a nightclub rather than a restaurant. After about a fifteen minute wait, we were given a nice corner table.

My friend ordered a Thai ice tea while I had a Singha (Thai) beer. The tea came in a cute mason jar mug.

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We decided we were going to eat family style. We ordered two “snacks” and two rice bowls between the two of us.

My friend loves beef larb so it was a must try when we saw it on the menu. Beef larb is a beef salad with red onions, mint, and cilantro. This meaty dish was fresh and flavorful.

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The blistered green beans was cooked with smoked bacon and dried shrimp. It had a hint of spice which was really nice.

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Many yelp reviewers rated the 24hr pork belly rice bowl as one of the best dishes so I had to have it and add a fried farm egg on top. This dish was glistening and beautiful. I had to break the egg yolk and mix it in with the pork and rice. It was OMG good! I would come back for this alone!

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The other rice dish we ordered was their special which was a shrimp curry rice bowl. The large plump shrimp was cooked nicely and the flavor of the curry really popped.

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It’s become trendy for restaurants to make soft serve with Straus dairy. Hawker Fare joins that group, but to make it fusion, they flavor it with condensed milk. I ended my delicious meal with a soft serve on a cone. The condensed milk flavor was very subtle. I admit it was fun to eat.

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Hawker Fare is definitely a winner. Lucky for me, it is close to work. I can see many more meals here for sure.