Welcome Burger Lounge to the Bay Area

I was recently invited to dine at the newly opened Burger Lounge in Walnut Creek. My friend and I made a special trip out there to see what they had to offer. Burger Lounge is not your typical fast food joint. It is apparent that the focus of Burger Lounge is on quality, sustainable food. The hand crafted burgers are made with grass-fed beef, free range turkey, cage free chicken, and organic vegetables. The service was excellent.  The cashiers and servers were a young and energetic bunch that looked genuinely happy to be there. 
Looking at the posted menu, my friend and I decided to try a bunch of things and share. The most popular burger is the Lounge Burger, which is a 100% American grass fed beef patty with organic American cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and house thousand island dressing. Burger Lounge makes their own organic American cheese which does not taste fake like the American cheese from Kraft. We added the optional bacon and had our onions grilled. The Lounge Burger had the qualities I look for in a great burger – a fresh toasted bun, a juicy high quality well seasoned beef patty, and cheese that oozes.

The Classic Burger is similar to the Lounge Burger except it has organic ketchup, mustard, and pickles in lieu of the house made thousand island dressing.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a fried chicken breast with house made slaw, tomatoes, pickles, and herb mayonnaise. It’s hard to believe I could get this from a fast food establishment. For those based in Oakland, this doesn’t have the same star quality as the perfect Bake Sale Betty Fried Chicken Sandwich. If you never had Bake Sale Betty, this might meet your fancy. The chicken patty was nicely flavored and crispy, while the slaw was fresh and tangy.
Burger Lounge also offers Little Burgers for a few of their burger options for a buck less. This is a great idea for kids or if you are into portion control. The manager brought out a “Little,” “Classic” Cage Free Turkey Burger to try. This was her favorite burger and was the reason she decided to work for Burger Lounge. The turkey burger was juicy and seasoned with a good amount of basil. I thought it was delicious, even with the layer of mustard which I’m not a fan of.
You can’t have a burger without french fries. In the case of Burger Lounge, you can’t have a burger without their 1/2 and 1/2 which is a half order of onion rings and a half order of french fries. They make the best onion rings I have ever had and the French fries are pretty tasty too.
To wash all the food down, they serve some unique house-made lemonades at Burger Lounge. I typically don’t drink sugary beverages, but my friend does. She preferred the hibiscus lemonade over the lavender mint lemonade. I actually liked the latter because it was very light and subtle in flavor. For my preference, I would skip these in the future.
At the end of the meal, I realized I had eaten lunch at the original Burger Lounge in La Jolla almost seven years ago. I can recount the exact date because it was a milestone birthday. After all this time, Burger Lounge has made its way up to the Bay Area which I think is a great thing. If you happen to be in Walnut Creek and want a great burger, check out Burger Lounge.

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Burger Month at Belcampo

August is burger month for Belcampo, a 5 year old meat company based in Oakland and run by Anya Fernald. Belcampo is a corporation that includes a farm, a processing plant, butcher shops, and restaurants that together supply sustainable and organic meat. The Belcampo farm is located up North in Gazelle, California and the butcher shops and restaurants are located in Larkspur, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.  
There was a period of time in my past where I only ate grass fed beef. Generally, I enjoyed the taste of corn fed beef more because it was more fatty and flavorful. I think when beef is grounded for burgers, grass fed beef tastes better so I was excited about burger month at Belcampo.

During burger month, Belcampo has been offering promotions to bring in more customers and create awareness. I introduced a friend in Los Angeles to the BOGO week where if you bought one burger, you would get the second one free. My friends participated in the offer and enjoyed their burgers. One review I received was “moovelous!” Another review was “freaking delicious!”  

Photo by Christy Smith

For a company based in Oakland, it’s unfortunate that there is no Belcampo butcher shop and restaurant very close to me. I didn’t want the month of August to go by and not get a chance to get a burger deal. Today was the last day for a 100 Day Dry-Aged Burger, Fries, and a Drink for $15 deal. They were marketing the special for burger connoisseurs so I went for the challenge. 

I drove out to Larkspur with a friend. My 1/2 lb burger was a blend of Wagyu and Angus meat with Raclette cheese, watercress, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun. My medium rare burger was served to me on a wooden platter with French fries. It was then spritzed with 100-proof whiskey in front of my eyes. This burger was definitely well thought out, including the use of watercress that provides a peppery bite. The burger was rich, juicy, and full of flavor.  

My friend ordered the Belcampo burger which is their standard 1/2 lb grass-fed beef patty, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, butter lettuce, house-made sauce. Cooked a perfect medium rare, she ate every bite as well.  
There are still ten days left for burger month and I’m excited to hear what specials Belcampo will offer next. You’ll have to follow them on Facebook to find out. Rumor has it that Belcampo will open a shop in Jack London Square in Oakland, but no date has been identified.

Lin Jia Kitchen: Quality Chinese Food

Growing up in a Chinese American home, I eat a lot of Chinese food. My mom regularly cooks it and I sometimes cook it. Often, we go out to eat Chinese food. Most Chinese restaurants in Chinatowns have delicious, cheap food. Most of the time you don’t know where the food is coming from which is not always a good thing. If that worries you, you definitely want to know about Lin Jia Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland.  
Lin Jia Kitchen recently celebrated five years in the neighborhood! Their niche is cooking with organic and sustainable ingredients. They use Mary’s chicken, a local producer of free range chicken as well as grass fed beef. Their vegetables are always fresh and seasonal. The prices are quite a bit higher than what you can get in Chinatown, but you pay for what you get. The food at Lin Jia Kitchen remains authentic as you can hear the chefs speak Cantonese in the back.  
The menu is diverse and actually really great for vegetarians. I especially like the Tamago Tofu which is delicate egg tofu and eggplant braised in a house-made xo sauce with eggplant and snap peas.   
 After multiple visits to Lin Jia Kitchen, I have never had a bad plate. The chefs are also good about presentation as represented in some of these dishes.   
 So if you are looking for a healthier option for Chinese food, Lin Jia Kitchen is the place to go. They are open everyday of the year except Thanksgiving. So if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you might want to check out Lin Jia Kitchen.  They also have a great online ordering system if you want to do a pick-up.

Long Island’s Lunch Truck

I was in Long Island, New York visiting my friend two weeks ago. The beach, the house, corn on the cob, etc were all great and memorable. But there was a gourmet food truck that stood out for me. It’s actually called the Lunch Truck at North Fork Table & Inn. The North Fork Table & Inn is likely the best restaurant in Long Island serving American and comfort cuisine focused on organic and seasonal foods. The restaurant is only open for dinner, so in their backyard they have a food truck parked there serving lunch.
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The Lunch Truck has a variety of foods. My friend and I decided to share a couple of items. I could not go to the East Coast without a “Lobsta” Roll so I ordered one here. The lobster roll was delicious. It had the nice buttered and grilled bun with a simple fresh lobster filling. I kinda wished I had more than half.
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It went well with the local North Fork Potato Chips. These kettle cooked chips are now my favorite potato chips. They are thin and crispy. I discovered I can order them online and have them shipped to my home. This could be dangerous as potato chips are one of my weaknesses.
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We also shared the spicy chicken posole with hominy, tomato, cilantro, and lime. The posole was complimented with a bag of blue tortilla chips. This soup was very flavorful and comforting. Since I typically only get posole once a year, it was a treat. It was also nice to try one that had a tomato base.
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Two weeks later and I’m still thinking about the Lunch Truck. The food is excellent and the space they utilize is great for picnics. I can’t imagine a trip to Long Island or the North Fork without a stop here.

Nopalito: Fresh Mexican Comfort

I really like the restaurant Nopa in San Francisco and have been wanting to try Nopalito, their sister restaurant serving Mexican fare. Nopalito is special, it is “a Mexican kitchen, celebrating the traditional cookery of Mexico and utilizing the philosophy of purchasing local, organic and sustainable ingredients.”

I had lunch at Nopalito recently with a friend. I started with ice tea which came in a jug and with a little bottle of agave nectar. It was really nice. My friend had the ginger lemonade. All their beverages are made in house. Our waitress also brought out some spicy roasted garbanzo beans. They were a delicious snack while we reviewed the menu.

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With just two of us, we decided to share a few items so we could try more things. We ordered the taquitos de camote. These crispy rolled tacos were especially great as they were plated with a very generous amount of fresh accoutrements – guacamole, queso fresco, and salsa.

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The ensalada de betabeles y naranja came out next which is a delicious salad of beets, oranges, pickled onion, queso fresco, chili, and lime. This was a unique take on beet salad and I think the flavors are a great match.

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We shared the taco de pescado al pastor. We thought this might be a hard dish to share, but we were able to cut this fish taco in half. It was not a hard taco shell or deep fried fish. It was a healthier dish, but still very good.

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The last thing that came out was actually the first thing that caught my eye, the caldo tialpeno. This Mexican chicken soup came out in a big bowl. It had carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, avocado, garbanzos, chunks of queso fresco and a chipotle chili. Our waitress told us the more we stirred the chili, the more spicier it would get. This soup was pure comfort.

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My only complaint is that Nopalito only serves one dessert- house made popsicles. Since we ended our meal with soup, popsicles weren’t going to suit our palette. Flan would’ve been a perfect pairing.

Nopalito reminds me a lot of Tamarindo in Oakland. For those that can’t get enough of Nopalito, they plan to open a second Nopalito on 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Although it was shooting to open the end of this year, it appears it’s been delayed until March of 2012. I hear the restaurant will be much larger as well.

Bi-Rite: More than Alright

Located in the Mission District in San Francisco is a food market, a creamery and bakeshop, a catering company, operators of organic farms, and a community education center that make up the Bi-Rite family of businesses. Their mission is to create community through food.

I’ve been visiting Bi-rite creamery for a while and especially love the salted caramel ice cream. I remember taking my niece for the first time and she ordered her favorite flavor, mint chocolate chip. She was shocked that her ice cream was not green. It was also the best mint chocolate chip ice cream she ever had.

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We had an educational program in San Francisco on Friday and we hired Bi-Rite to do the catering. Beginning with the bowl of organic apples as the centerpieces and the local coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters (also in the Mission), I knew I was going to be pleased.

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We had a great variety of food for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack. I won’t go through the details, but their website has their full menu. Some of the highlights I enjoyed were the lunch sides lentil and spicy roasted yams with crumbled chèvre and arugula and the farfalle pasta salad with roasted brussels sprouts.

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Desserts came from the bakeshop where we had an assortment of cookies, brownies, and bars. The cookie I ate was amazing.

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Our afternoon snack included a beautiful platter of artisan cheeses that came with marcona almonds and dried apricots.

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Food plays an important part of any type of program or conference. Ours was a success.

If you live in the City, you should shop Bi-Rite. If I lived in the City, I know I would because they are definitely doing something Rite!

Coffee Oakland

Coffee in the morning is a ritual that I cannot do without. When I’m not making my own nonfat latte with my espresso maker in the morning or having a cup at work, there are a few shops I like to frequent.  When I’m feeling like an Italian coffee, I go to Cafe 817 in Old Oakland because they use Illy coffee.  I feel like I’m in Italy because it’s creamy and comes in a bowl.   This photo is from having lunch at Cafe 817 with a colleague awhile ago.  There food is also nom nom nom.

A coffee shop that I like to stop by on my way to work is Modern Coffee in Downtown Oakland.  Modern is located in the historic Tribune Building and the owners were former Peet’s Coffee employees.  Robert and Kristen are awesome.  They are friendly and make a point to get to know their customers and remember their usual drinks.  In my case, they also remember that I must have my jalapeño bagel toasted with cream cheese.  It’s as close to a New York bagel you can get on the West Coast.  Nom nom nom. 

Blue Bottle Coffee roasts and serves quality coffee.  I was excited when they moved their plant to Jack London Square in Oakland in October 2009.  Blue Bottle uses organic, pesticide free beans that serves coffee within 48 hours of roasting the beans.  I was pleasantly surprised that they had a coffee cart at the Temescal Farmers Market because I really needed it one Sunday morning.

My favorite coffee shop is Cole Coffee on College Avenue in Oakland.  It’s where I get my fair trade Mexican organic coffee beans.  I learned the importance of Fair Trade Coffee after watching the documentary “Black Gold”.  The film focuses on paying coffee farmers a fair price for their beans.  It’s a shame when Starbucks can charge $4 or $5 for coffee and pay farmers pennies for their beans.  But Cole’s coffee is so fragrant and bold in flavor that it’s difficult to turn elsewhere.  It is the only place I get my beans.  I think I’m spoiled because even my work purchases their beans. 

Got coffee?  Where do you go?