Mockingbird Moves Me to La La Land.

Over eighty restaurants participated in this year’s Oakland Restaurant Week (ORW). For ten days, various restaurants around the community were offering lunch and dinner menus with special pricing. I find that ORW is a great way to try out a local restaurant that I haven’t tried yet. I was super excited to try Mockingbird for the first time in Downtown Oakland.

I made reservations for a friend of mine to have dinner there last week. The Golden State Warriors were playing so we agreed to meet at 5pm to grab a drink at the bar before dinner. Mockingbird has a nice Happy Hour menu so in addition to drinks, we thought we should order some snacks to munch on as well.

Perfect to have while watching the Warriors game, we ordered the some fancy chips and dip. The House Smoked Trout Dip was made with trout, cream, scallions, and lemon oil. I could not stop eating the thin crispy potato chips.

We also ordered the deviled eggs which were topped with capers, pickled jalapeños and herbs. Deviled eggs are one of my favorite foods and Mockingbird makes me want to eat more.

Joe was our bartender but he ended up taking on the role of waiter because we were really getting into the game and didn’t want to leave the bar! We were still able to order our ORW dinner. The ORW menu was simple and each course except one had two different options so my friend and I pretty much shared everything.

For the first course, we had soup and salad. The soup of the day was a tomato soup with a dab of crème fraiche. It was creamy, tangy, and  smokey. Lucky for me my friend had been souped out from the week before so I got to enjoy most of it.

The salad offered was a winter fruit and baby kale salad with pumpkin seeds, ricotta salata, and a sherry shallot vinaigrette. This salad was dressed perfectly and really defines the season.

The second course included fried Brussels sprouts. My coworkers have been raving about these sprouts so I was pretty excited about trying them. The Brussels sprouts are tossed with a confit garlic aioli, blue cheese, thyme, and an Italian syrup called saba. After eating these, I completely understand where my coworkers were coming from.

Also part of the second course was a charcuterie plate which came with a duck liver mousse, jam, pickled vegetables, olives, and crispy bread. This was a fun dish to pick on.

The third course was the main entree and there were actually three options. Originally we ordered the chicken and pork and had decided to skip the vegetarian option. The Moroccan Spiced chicken came with roasted rainbow carrots, chickpeas, greens, and herbed buttermilk dressing. Every item on the plate was harmonious and complemented each other. The flavors were even more infused the next day when I ate the leftovers for lunch. I had a few colleagues comment on the wonderful aromatics.

We were really looking forward to the overnight pork sugo which came with crispy polenta, arugula, pickled red onion, and sheep’s milk cheese. The pork tasted really salty so we requested for a wedge of lemon to see if we could cut down the saltiness. At that time, Joe asked how everything was and the truth came out about the pork.

Joe was generous and offered us the third entree, the Winter Vegetable Tagine which was cooked in a rich sauce and topped with lemon yogurt, castelvetrano olives, and cilantro. This vegetarian dish was extraordinary and made me forgot all about the pork sugo. The vegetable tagine reminded me of the food of one of my favorite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi.

Our fourth and final course was dessert. The first dessert was the Mockingbird Bread Pudding which is described as a traditional bread pudding with vanilla and nutmeg custard, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. To me, this was nothing but traditional and I absolutely loved it. I had more than my fair share of this one.

The other dessert was a citrus almond flour cake with chocolate ganache and candied almonds. I believe my friend preferred this dessert unless she sensed how much I was fawning over the bread pudding and was being nice. Either way, there was not a trace of sugar left on either dessert plates.

After dinner at ORW, I have decided that Mockingbird is a place that I will be adding to my repertoire. The food and staff are great. Joe even told us that he and the chef tried the pork sugo and agreed with us that it was overly salty. I really appreciated this acknowledgement. All in all, it was a perfect evening – the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and my tummy was in la la land.

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Venga Paella for Oakland Restaurant Week

Today wraps up the sixth annual Oakland Restaurant Week (ORW). For the past ten days, restaurants throughout Oakland encouraged people to dine in our foodie town by offering special menus at fixed prices. I think it’s a great opportunity to try a new restaurant that you have been wanting to try. With close to 75 restaurants participating, it is likely there is something for everyone.  

A group of four of us decided on a weeknight dinner at Venga Paella in West Oakland. For $30, you got a choice of a beverage, appetizers, an entree, and a dessert which is a great deal. Most restaurants don’t include a drink in the fixed price menu, but Venga Paella smartly does. They give you a choice of a beer, glass of wine, sangria, or soda. I opted for sangria to go with the Spanish theme. They make both red and white. I was pleasantly surprised by the generous glass full. While both sangria are fun and refreshing, the white sangria tends to be slightly sweeter than the red. 

 We each got our own plate of four different tapas consisting of prawns in a sherry garlic reduction; a potato, egg, and onion frittata; a goat cheese, onion, and olive stuffed piquillo pepper; and toasted bread with a tomato, garlic, and olive oil rub. I enjoyed the sampling very much. When I return next time, there’s a good chance I would order the sleeper toasted bread which I would never have if I didn’t experience the sampling.  
 Venga Paella makes five different types of paella and they were all offered for ORW. There is the traditional paella which comes with prawns, calamari, mussels, clams, and pork chorizo. I went with the traditional one since it was my first visit. Based on flavor, texture, and freshness, the chef at Venga nailed it. I also enjoyed the side salad to help balance the plate.   
 The other paella options offered included a black squid ink paella, a vegetarian option, and a chicken paella. My BFF ordered the fideua, which is made with short strands of pasta instead of rice. It was kind of like eating Rice-A-Roni, but in a good way. I actually liked the soft noodles.    

  For dessert, we also had a choice between three items: Manchego cheese, chocolate mousse, and flan. I went ahead and ordered the chocolate mousse since everyone wanted to get the flan. This dark chocolate dome was quite rich with at least two layers of variation. If you are a chocolate lover, this dessert is for you.   
 The flan was a bit on the dense side, but still quite good. It’s always nice to end with something sweet and even better when it’s included in the price of the meal. 
 The ORW menu at Venga Paella is a good representation of what you would get if you dined there at any given time, which is not always the case with all restaurants. Now that I have had a diverse sampling of their food and enjoyed it, I would definitely come back.