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.


Authentic French in Oakland: Michel Bistro

I have passed the French restaurant Michel Bistro (MB) on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland many times. I remember stopping once and looking at the dinner menu and continuing to walk on by. The menu was short and had maybe one or two things I would consider ordering. Today we had book club to discuss The Hundred Foot Journey. My BFF suggested the meeting to be held at MB for brunch, after all, much of the book takes place in France. After looking at the brunch menu online, I was much more excited.

We started with coffee and a complimentary sack of bread. Cute, huh?
My BFF and I had previously discussed sharing a couple of items, one sweet and one savory. We ordered the Pain Perdu which is French for French toast. Their version had pear, house made mascarpone, and a pistachio brittle. It was very moist and eggy on the inside, but still had some crispness in the crust. It had the perfect amount of sweetness and was delicious. I found the pistachio brittle to be an extra nice addition.
MB’s version of Eggs Benedict was the savory dish we chose and it was quite unique. Instead of the typical English muffin on the bottom, they used a crispy potato nest. On top was a poached egg with hollandaise sauce and capers. Instead of salmon, they used cured trout. This dish was light as well as delightful.
Another friend ordered the Duck Confit Hash which came with duck egg, apple butter, duck jus, and mustard greens. I had a bite and thought it was a good choice as well. She enjoyed her dish very much.
A nice thing about MB is that they have a child’s menu at Brunch. There are only a few options, but it gave one of my friend’s kid the opportunity to order a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Can you tell he was pretty excited?
Her other son ordered the Ouef a la Coque, which were two boiled eggs, serrano ham, and brioche. Eating out of egg holders always gives me fond memories of my time in Paris.
Having finally given Michel Bistro a try, I am very happy I did. I realize that this is really the only French restaurant in Oakland. It has a nice vibe, the staff are friendly, and the food is great. I definitely recommend Michel Bistro.

A Small Glimpse into Shakewell

Shakewell Kitchen & Bar on Lakeshore Avenue is one of the hottest new restaurants that have recently opened in Oakland. It gets a lot of buzz because the owners are famous for being competitors on cooking shows. The Executive Chef, Jen Biesty was on Top Chef Season 4 and the Pastry Chef/General Manager, Tim Nugent, was on Top Chef: Just Desserts. It’s pretty cool that these two partners were funded by the community using the fundraising website

Shakewell serves dinner and weekend brunch with a Mediterranean twist. After a leisurely walk around the lake today, my friend and I stopped by for brunch. We bypassed waiting for the hostess since there was open space at the bar. I love eating at the bar whether drinking is involved or not. I “checked in” using the yelp app which entitled me to a free pastry. The choices were coffee cake, danish, or financiers. IMG_1349.JPG
The financiers were a little on the dry side. It did come with a dab of kadota fig preserves. I think I would’ve been better off with the coffee cake as it seemed to be popular. We got this free so I really can’t complain. At least we ordered cafe lattes to go with our pastries.
With a little help from our bartender we decided on sharing two dishes. The first was the tortilla espanola, which is a Spanish style quiche made of a mixture of egg and sliced potatoes. Shakewell’s version was cooked in duck fat and topped with crispy duck and an aioli sauce. I love potatoes, duck, and fat so I really enjoyed this. The layering reminded me of scalloped potatoes.
Our second dish was the “skakshuka” or Moroccan baked eggs with roasted peppers, chick peas, feta cheese, and herbs. This came with toast to help soak up the yumminess of the eggs. Based on the complex flavors of this dish, I would give it a slight edge over the first one.
Brunch today was a tease. I definitely want to try more on my next visit to Shakewell, after all their menu offers food meant to be shared. Chefs Jen and Tim were both there today. Jen came out to greet friends and Tim was around and about with a friendly smile on his face.

Arizmendi: Great No Matter Which Way You Slice It

Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland is one of six worker owned co-operatives of bakeries that are part of the Arizmendi Association. The other bakeries are located in Berkeley, Emeryville, (two in) San Francisco, and San Rafael. I have been frequenting Arizmendi since I returned to Oakland in 2001. Arizmendi is a place where I can grab quality baked goods such as scones, breads, and cookies.
Most people including myself go to Arizmendi for their pizza. Their gourmet pizzas are thin, have a sourdough crust, and made with fresh seasonal vegetables. Their pizzas change daily, but one thing that doesn’t change is that they are always meatless.
Today’s pizza was a combination of spinach, roasted yellow onions, mozarella, green onion, goat cheese, and olive tapenade. I ordered a slice of pizza and a small soup. The benefit of getting a slice of pizza is that it always comes with an extra sliver. The pizza was crisp and delicious. I especially liked the tartness of the tapenade on the pizza. The soup of the day was a Mediterranean lentil rice stew. This was a rich hearty soup. I enjoyed the flavors of the cumin and the coriander.
I found out that the bakery in Emeryville will be selling King’s Cake this Tuesday for Mardi Gras. They are $20 and if you want one, you should place your order.

Oakland Restaurant Week: Camino

San Francisco has “Dine About Town” where selected restaurants in the City offer 2 course lunches for $17.95 and 3 course dinners for $34.95.  It really encourages people to try out restaurants that they’ve never been to or allows people to save a few bucks at restaurants they enjoy eating at.  Being in its tenth year, I imagine that it is a pretty successful program.  Cross over the Bay Bridge and Oakland celebrated its own exciting food scene with Restaurant Week.  Restaurants offered meals at $20, $30, and $40.

I celebrated Oakland by dining at Camino for dinner.  Camino is located on Grand Avenue in the Lakeshore District.  It’s been over a year since I last dined at Camino so I was looking forward to it.  There are two things that Camino is well known for – their cocktails and their open kitchen fireplace.  The three of us were seated at a table closest to their open kitchen.  I couldn’t help to wonder if my reservation got us such a great table.

The cocktail list is pretty unique.  I randomly ordered the pisco drink.  It was served with lemon, gum syrup, and egg white.  I believe it is their version of a pisco sour.  It was very tasty and I can understand why their mixologists get such rave reviews.  Their Oakland Restaurant Week Fixed Menu for $30 offered a fennel, daikon, kohlrabi and chervil salad, half a Dungeness crab grilled in their famous fireplace, and citrus compote with orange sabyon.  I went with the fixed menu.

Before our appetizers came out, they served an amuse-bouche of pickled celery.  This tiny bite was simply tasty.  The salad was beautifully presented with each ingredient shaved very thinly.  I felt a little like a rabbit eating these raw vegetables that were a little bland.  I didn’t feel that the sliced parmesan and olive oil was enough flavor for the salad.

I was excited for my Dungeness crab to come out.  I had seen a batch cooking on the grill next to the burning fireplace when we had arrived.  The crab was accompanied with grilled winter chicories, sunchokes, beets, and chilis.  The crab was absolutely delicious.  I’ve never had it cooked in this method and never had crab so good.  One additional item on the plate that really impressed me was the sunchoke.  It was starchy and looked like wedged potatoes.  I didn’t realize what it was and thought it tasted very much like artichoke.  The waitress told me it was a sunchoke otherwise known as a Jerusalem artichoke, which is in the sunflower family and not actually a type of artichoke.  Note to self to experiment with some sunchokes as they were great.

Dessert was a variety of citrus fruit accompanied by sabyon and lemon tuiles.  This may be my first experience having sabyon.  Sabyon is a light creamy custard and this version was smooth and delightful.  Tuiles, another word I didn’t know refers to thin crisp lace cookies.

Restaurant Week prompted me to dine at Camino again and it makes me feel great to live in a City with such great dining options.