I Dream of Sushi

I recently met my BFF at Angel Fish in Alameda for dinner. Sushi is always a good choice on a hot day and Alameda is usually a bit cooler as well. My BFF has been a regular at Angel Fish for almost two decades. Every time I have dined at Angel Fish, I have enjoyed it very much. Come to think of it, it is one of my favorite neighborhood sushi restaurants, even though it is not my neighborhood. The fish is always fresh and the prices are reasonable.

So first I have to admit I was late for dinner. My BFF had already gotten us seats at the sushi bar and ordered some nigiri at happy hour prices. From 5pm- 6pm, there are some specials, so she ordered the hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), and maguro (red tuna). I was so delayed that she had to eat my portion. It was fine by me as I wouldn’t want raw fish sitting too long. When I arrived, I ordered my own serving of salmon. It was fresh and delicious as expected.
It was my first time having agemono. I loved everything about these deep fried tempura lobster bites. With a splash of lemon, I’m in heaven. One of the best things about Angel Fish is that it doesn’t always have to be about the raw items. They have a nice variety of cooked items that are unique and creative.
We ordered amaebi which I did not photograph. It’s not my favorite item, but I do like consuming the crispy fried shrimp head. Toro is one of the most expensive fish. When this fatty tuna belly is available at Angel Fish, you really should get it. It was so buttery, it melted in my mouth.  
Some other patrons ordered the cha soba so we decided we would share this as well. Cold noodles are a perfect choice on a hot evening. To enjoy this dish, you would dip soba noodles and seaweed into a sauce where you would first mix in minced daikon, green onions, and a quail egg.
One of my favorite things to eat is an unagi hand roll. With the added texture of cucumber and avocado, this is the perfect bite to me.  
Although Chef Taka still had a few pieces of uni out, he purposefully opened up a brand new box of uni for us. The opening of this box of imported uni from Japan really made our day.  
The uni was elegantly placed on top of a shiso leaf and rice and came with crispy roasted seaweed on the side.
In front of me in the sushi case was tamago that I had been eyeing throughout the course of the evening. I was relaying my limited experience and enjoyment of tamago. Typically, not a favorite of my BFF, we decided we would try it. We learned that Chef Taka makes this deliciousness every other day.

It was a great light dinner and we decided we would start dining at Angel Fish together once a month. I’m already dreaming about it.

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Gio’s Pizza: A Revival of Giovanni’s

People may recall Giovanni’s as an old school Italian restaurant that had been in business in Downtown Berkeley since 1961. In 2015, it closed its doors after a major fire caused serious damage. Today the restaurant has reopened as Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, playing homage to the former restaurant.  
As you enter the front of Gio’s, the fun begins. The open bar space is to the left and an indoor bocce ball court is to the right. The dining area and kitchen are located towards the back half of the restaurant.  I was invited along with my friends to Gio’s to try out their new food and cocktail menu. The first item to come out was fried calamari with lemon aioli, fried parsley, and citrus slices. I thought it had a nice light batter. I liked the fact that it had both the rings as well as the tentacles because our party each had our preference.  

The mushroom bruschetta arrived next. The toasts were topped with lemon ricotta, wild mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. As much as I love mushrooms, it was the mushrooms that brought this dish down for me. The texture of the mushrooms were tough. It tasted as if dried mushrooms were used and not soaked long enough. I am hoping that this was a fluke.
Karen’s Cucumber Salad was brought to the table. I don’t know who Karen is, but I wouldn’t mind attaching my name to this salad. The freshness of the farmer’s market cucumbers was apparent in the crunch. The salad included a variety of cucumbers, roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and a champagne vinaigrette.
My friends and I really enjoyed the mushroom and squash ziti that we were presented with. The pasta dish was cooked in butter, thyme, and white wine. Soft and delicate, these mushrooms had no resemblance to the ones on the bruschetta.  
Gio’s also includes two pizzas on their menu and you can order them New York style or Sicilian style. We got to try the sausage and mushroom pizza and the Margherita pizzas as single Sicilian style. I normally prefer red pizza over white pizza, but in this case, I preferred the sausage and mushrooms toppings. To me Sicilian pizza resembles a focaccia bread. I enjoyed the occasional crispiness from the bubbles that form in the dough.

Dessert is a polenta cake with ricotta creme, summer fruit, and kettle corn. To offer one dessert is a huge risk. I found it to be worth going “all in” because it was a highlight for me.  
Another area of focus at Gio’s is their cocktail menu highlighting Italian amaro and vermouth. The bar manager, Nick Stolte, spent time in Italy immersed in the culture and building relationships with vermouth and amaro purveyors. He designed and created a cocktail menu that highlights Italy’s best.  
The most interesting aspect of Gio’s is the secret back room. Behind the olive oil can door, is a private dining space that hasn’t changed since it was Giovanni’s. It is a cool space that makes your imagination of who would hang out here go wild. 
With a short menu and simple Italian food in a playful setting, I think Gio’s Pizza & Bocce will bring in a UC Berkeley crowd looking for some fun. However, I found meat offerings at Gio’s hard to come by so carnivores might be challenged.  

Plaj: Scandanavian Food at its Best

My friends and I bought our tickets to see the musical Hamilton last December. The seven month wait was finally over and we went to see Hamilton at the SHN Orpheum Theater in San Francisco last Saturday. It was such an amazing show of talent. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius to be able to tell a story of history in a relevant and entertaining way.  
About half a mile away from the Orpheum Theater is a Scandinavian restaurant where my friends and I dined before the show. Plaj is located inside the Inn at the Opera, a boutique hotel in Hayes Valley. We chose Plaj because one of my friends had eaten there a week prior before attending the opera. She enjoyed it very much and was willing to go again so reservations were made.
We were a party of four and decided we would share everything. We started out with some fresh baked bread with caramelized butter. It was a bit disappointing as it wasn’t warm like it had been last week. The bread is dense which I believe is typical of Northern Europe. For me though, the butter was the star.  
We ordered an oyster for each of us which was topped with pickled elderberry and smoked grapeseed oil. The acid from the pickled elderberry truly enhanced the flavor of the oyster.
My friend raved about the tomato and burrata salad she had last week, so we went ahead and ordered two of them. Additionally, the fresh salad came with pea shoots, padrone peppers, and dressed with a delicious olive oil.
I was intrigued by the Raraka & Caviar. Essentially, they are bite sized hash browns served on an iron skillet topped with sour cream, chives, red onion, and anchovies. A tube of whitefish caviar is on the side for you to squeeze on top. The whitefish caviar is orange and filled in plastic and shaped like a carrot which I thought was the cutest thing. This dish was amazing. I was happy we ordered it.  
We would be remiss not to order Swedish meatballs. We actually ordered two of these entrees since we each wanted to enjoy at least one meatball. It came with potato puree, pan gravy, lingonberry, and pickled cucumber. This was pure comfort on a plate. Everything melded well together and the potatoes were the creamiest potatoes ever.  
Another entree we ordered was the grilled pork chop with broccolini, torpedo onion, yellow peach, and cognac. This dish was full of deliciousness and felt like summer on a plate.
There was some debate over the halibut. One of my friends didn’t like it at all. While it was probably unanimous that it was the least favorite of the entrees, I still thought it was a pretty good dish. The halibut came with chanterelles, watercress, fennel, and coriander flowers. I especially loved the sauce and drowned my fish in it.    
We shared two beautiful desserts. The first was called Northern Lights, which was a meringue filled with passion fruit sorbet and chocolate. If you like the combination of sweet chocolate and tart fruit, this is for you. 
The Princess Cake at Plaj is more like a deconstructed Princess Cake. Chiffon cake, raspberry jam, and pastry cream are set in a jar with a layer of marzipan tied on top with a string. It is the cutest thing and tasty, but my friend turned me into a snob. It was love at first bite with her homemade Princess Cake.
Overall, Plaj Scandinavian restaurant is worth a visit and a return visit. I highly recommend it especially if you are attending an event near the Civic Center.

My Bo 7 Mon Experience

Beef Seven Ways or Bo 7 Mon is a traditional Vietnamese tasting menu of beef. I’ve seen it available at a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area, but have never been inclined to try it. Don’t get me wrong, I love beef, but seven dishes of beef seems like overkill.  

While on my recent visit to Seattle to run another half marathon, I was in search of somewhere to have a delicious post race meal. My friend and I were thinking steak. I started my internet research and ran across Seven Beef. This Steak Shop is focused on grass fed, dry aged, Washington grown beef. They also have a wood fire oven to cook up their meat. My favorite cut is rib eye, but for some reason I became drawn to the beef seven ways. After running a second half marathon in two weeks, I would deserve seven servings of beef. I made our reservations for last Sunday.

After a celebratory glass of sparkling wine at our hotel, we took Lyft to Seven Beef located in the Central District. We were happy to be seated on a corner where we both had bench seating, but it felt a little removed from the rest of the diners. It was located facing the bar which didn’t have much activity on this evening.  

In lieu of getting a traditional American steak, my friend and I confirmed we would have the Bo 7 Mon. The Goi Bo came out first. It is a beef salad with pickles, fresh lettuce and herbs, and a fish sauce vinaigrette. It was a great start. I loved the mix of fresh vegetables and protein.
The second serving of beef was the Bo Nhung Dam, which is a Vietnamese style carpaccio. The beef is thinly sliced and cooked in a vinegar sauce. I thought it was light and tasty.
The third course included three different types of house ground sausages. It was plated with fresh lettuce and herbs, rice noodles, pickled vegetables, and fresh pineapple. The sausages are meant to be wrapped and enjoyed with all of these goodies. Each sausage was prepared a little differently. The Bo Mo Chai is a house ground beef sausage with pork fat, garlic, and five spice wrapped in caul fat and then grilled over a wood fire. The Bo La Lot is a house ground beef sausage with pork fat and jicama, wrapped in wild betel leaves and then grilled over a wood fire. The Bo Nuong Sa is a grilled house ground beef sausage with pork fat on a lemongrass skewer. All of them were pretty awesome, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Bo La Lot. I really enjoyed the crispy charred betal leaf.  
The final course of beef included Bo Cha Dum, a steamed beef meatball that includes pork fat, woodear mushrooms, and glass noodles and Chao Bo, beef congee with mung beans, green onions, and cilantro. The serving also came with freshly prepared shrimp chips. The congee was a little plain, but once I added the meatball into the congee, it provided me with the right amount of flavor and comfort.  
I was thoroughly impressed by the Bo 7 Mon. I am glad I got to experience this meal in an upscale restaurant. I highly recommend the Bo 7 Mon experience. And if you happen to be in Seattle, try it at Seven Beef.

Herb & Wood: Top Choice

I ran the Rock ‘n Roll San Diego Half Marathon last Sunday. I participated in the same race for the first time last year and wrote about my delicious post-race meal at Juniper & Ivy (J & I) in Little Italy. This year I am writing about my pre-race meal at Herb & Wood because it was pretty spectacular. Located a block from J & I, Little Italy is a thriving hub of great food.

I started to look up San Diego restaurants before making the trip to Southern California and made the reservation after reading that Herb & Wood is the new restaurant of Chef Brian Malarkey, a past Top Chef finalist.

What used to be an old warehouse has become a chic new restaurant. The beautiful open space and the sophisticated modern decor offered an inviting welcome that my friends and I were ready for. We were a party of six and were given a table with plush blue grey velvet seating.   


Our attentive waiter gave us a rundown of the menu and essentially went from lighter to heavier plates. I partnered with one of my friends to share some dishes and then we did some more overall sharing.  

We ordered the grilled King Trumpets with tarragon butter and lemon. The trumpets were playing music in my mouth. The flavors were wonderful and may have been the best mushroom dish I have ever had.  


We also got the grilled asparagus with blue cheese fondue, poached egg, and herb bread crumbs. Another lovely dish that was cooked in the wood fired oven. I get a happy feeling inside when I eat deliciously prepared vegetables.


Friends ordered the avocado on country wheat bread with tomato, candied jalapeño, and cilantro. Avocado toast has been a popular breakfast item in California for awhile, but this one was elevated with the candied jalapeño. I think I will try making this at home.

  
In order to adequately “carb load,” our table ordered three of the bucatini pomodoro with basil, oregano, parmesan, and chili flakes. We probably could’ve ordered six of these plates because it was that good. My friend tried to get the recipe, but we did learn that they add some anchovies to the pasta sauce. I think I might try making this one at home too!


I got a taste of the chitarra pasta with Dungeness crab, preserved lemon, Sauvignon Blanc and black pepper so I could compare it to the bucatini. The chitarra pasta was rich and delicious, but I’m a big red sauce fan so I enjoyed the bucatini better. My friend who ordered the chitarra pasta would beg to differ as she was singing praises all weekend about it.


One of my friends found out that Herb & Wood serves homemade Parker House rolls. This item is off their menu, so I am sharing a real secret here. I highly recommend these warm, buttery, crispy on the outside, soft of the inside bites of goodness.  


I ate so many of the Parker House rolls that when our pork sausage and broccoli rabe pizza with garlic confit, mozzarella, and Asiago cheese came out, I could only eat a slice. By the time we got the pizza, it just couldn’t live up to the rest of the menu.  


It was great we had six people, so we could at least taste a couple of desserts. I had seen pictures of some exotic fruit flavored soufflés, but it was chocolate soufflé on the menu this evening. It came with Irish whipped cream, expresso chocolate ganache, and mint chip gelato. It was a damn good soufflé and the accouterments were a perfect match.


The second dessert we ordered was a vanilla cream torte with house made ricotta, huckleberries, and pistachio gelato. I was fascinated by the torte with its 24 layers. It was both creamy and dreamy.


More than a week later, I am still thinking about dinner at Herb & Wood. If you are in San Diego or plan to visit San Diego, you must go.  

Limewood’s New Dinner Series: Dining on the Deck

Limewood is the new restaurant located inside the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. The restaurant is introducing a new dinner series called “Dining on the Deck” which features a four course meal with drink pairings. Me and a guest were invited to attend the first of the series which was held last week. A four course meal prepared by Chef Joseph Humphrey would be paired with Pueblo Viejo Tequila, which is produced at San Matias, one of the oldest distilleries in Jalisco, Mexico.
It was a beautiful evening so we were able to dine on the deck. As we entered, we were offered a special cocktail made with tequila. It had a floating piece of jalapeño that represented the kick it would provide. I really enjoyed it. I actually felt like I was attending a party as we were meeting new people and socializing.  

We had a couple of passed hors d’oeuvres before dinner started. Of the two I tried, I really liked the shrimp toast. The flavor running through the shrimp was absorbed onto the buttered toast while remaining crispy. 
As dinner was approaching, I snatched a seat with one of the best sunset views overlooking the Bay Area. Actually there were no bad seats here. Carmen Villarreal, the owner of Pueblo Viejo Tequila was on-site to introduce us to the family tequila which has been around since 1886. Their tequilas are made from 100% Agave and aged in Oak barrels.  
The first course was grass fed lamb tartare with fried Hog Island oysters. This was an amazing start. I loved the complexity of this dish which included the raw minced lamb meat, the fried oysters and the fresh avocado. Course one was perfectly paired with Orgullo Anejo.  
The second course was roasted halibut with toasted pine nut mole and charred sugar snap peas. The halibut was delicious, but I felt overwhelmed by the mole. I thoroughly enjoyed the sugar snap peas which brought some additional lightness and brightness. This course was matched with San Matias Tahona Blanco.  
The third course was smoked duck breast with roasted parsnips in vanilla butter and black licorice. The duck was a perfect medium rare with a nice layer of crispy skin. The parsnips were a little sweet for my taste. This dish was paired with the San Matias Grand Reserve.
The final course was dessert which was a strawberry margarita mousse. We definitely ended on a high note here as I couldn’t get enough of this. Dessert was paired with Rey Sol.
The tequila from Pueblo Viejo were all very smooth and enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised how well tequila could be paired with food.  
Limewood will continue its “Dining on the Deck” dinner series through the end of the year. For a fun evening of food and pairings, check it out. 

To see more of my food adventures, follow me on Instagram @510foodie.

Hops & Hominy: A Hidden Gem

I had dinner with two of my coworkers in the City on Friday night at a restaurant called Hops & Hominy. It was my first visit to Hops & Hominy (H & H) so I was excited to try another restaurant serving Southern food. Although the restaurant is located in the popular Union Square, it’s not easy to find as it’s hidden at the end of a pedestrian alley.
We started with some drinks. I ordered the Lola, which is a cocktail made with whiskey and cherry cola bitters. The bartender at H & H makes the bitters. It was so good I had a second and my coworker switched drinks.  

The waitress brought out complimentary cast iron pan cornbread and whipped butter. I thought it was a bit bland, but dousing it with butter helped. If I were to make a recommendation, I would ask the Chef to add jalapeños to the recipe.
We ordered two appetizers to share. The first one was black-eyed pea fritters. Black eyed peas are blended and mashed with peppers, leeks, onions, and celery and then deep fried. They were crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy inside. The fritters had great flavor on its own, so I did not think it needed the guacamole it came with. My coworker would probably disagree since she ate up the guacamole.
Our waitress recommended the spicy chicken wings. This is no ordinary chicken because it’s cooked in duck fat. The sauce was similar to what you would find in a spicy buffalo wing. These were so delicious, I ate more than my share of them.  
One of my coworkers ordered the fried chicken which came with garlic mashed potatoes and a buttermilk biscuit. It came with three pieces of chicken, so I was offered the fried chicken drumstick. It was good, but turned into great very quickly after dipping it in H & H’s homemade hot sauce.  
My other coworker ordered the summer squash ravioli that was served in a tomato cream sauce. I didn’t try it, but she left her plate clean so I’m pretty sure she thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
I ordered the country fried steak which came with garlic mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots, mustard greens, and alligator gravy. A thin flat iron steak was used and coated in a batter like fried chicken. It was the best dish of the evening.  
We each selected a dessert. I ordered the French vanilla ice cream with olive oil, toasted almonds, and sea salt. This is one of my favorite flavor combinations. One of my coworkers also chose an ice cream. Her chocolate ice cream came with dulce de leche and pecans. These both felt like mini sundaes. I was happy.

The final dessert was the chocolate mousse crunch which came with hazelnuts, brandied cherry, and cherry coulis. I took a small bite since I wanted to eat all my ice cream. I liked the variety of textures and the focus on cherries in this dessert.
Hops & Hominy is pretty awesome. It’s a hidden gem that is worth finding in San Francisco. I look forward to coming back.