Get Yourself to Shinmai While You Still Can

Happy New Year! I will begin my first blog of 2018 writing about one of the hippest restaurants in Oakland today. Shinmai opened about six months ago by partners Yingji Huang and Andy Liu. This is their second project together after Kakui, a sushi restaurant in Montclair. Shinmai is touted as bringing the Izakaya experience to the area. Izakaya is the Japanese version of an Irish pub or tapas bar where you go for food and drinks. Sound good already, doesn’t it?

I dined at Shinmai twice last year and have enjoyed the experience both times. My love for Japanese food is a good match at Shinmai because the menu allows me to sample a variety of differently prepared foods.

Their are five categories to their menu — raw, izakaya, robota, ramen, and sweets. The menu itself only changed slightly from my first visit in August to my latest visit last month.

The Raw category appears to stay consistent with two options —ocean trout or hamachi. I had the ocean trout which came with arima sansho, piquillo, and shiso. It was a beautifully presented dish and was quite tasty, but when it comes to raw fish, I may have to consider myself a purist. All I need is a little soy.

The Izakaya options were more extensive. The items on this list are like small plates meant to be shared. We were accidentally served the hand cut potato chips flavored with furikake, hon-dashi, and umami and I was so happy for the mistake. If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for potato chips and these were definitely umami.

The chicken karaage came with two sauces, but again the purist in me just needed a squirt of lemon to balance the crispy delicious fried chicken pieces.

The ebi okura is simply translated as shrimp with okra. It was prepared with brown butter ponzu, onion, and paprika oil. The ebi okura was in many ways a fusion of flavors.

We also ordered the PEI mussels which was prepared in a Thai coconut curry and red peppercorns. This curry was so amazing that my friend didn’t ask for more bread, but requested a side of noodles to soak up every last drop of sauce.

I tried a few options on the Robata or grill menu. Although not available at this time of year, I was able to try the corn with yuzu, dashi honey-butter, and bonito. This is like the Japanese version of elote or Mexican street corn. Note to self to come back to Shinmai in the summer for more corn.

The king trumpet mushrooms were prepared with house-made ponzu and peppercorns. This came on top of a bed of arugula and could have been classified as a warm mushroom salad. This was a hearty dish that I would rank as one of my favorites.

I was not that impressed with the beef ribeye which was grilled with ginger, black garlic, and charred leek. I felt like it was missing something. Maybe this could have been placed on a bed of arugula as well.

Shinmai also serves ramen which is a nice option to have. Typically when you eat ramen it is at a ramen shop and you have your own bowl of ramen and maybe you share an appetizer with it. At Shinmai you can share a bowl of warm deliciousness and still have room for much more interesting food. I shared a bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen with pork chashu, shoyu egg, wood ear mushrooms, onions, and bamboo shoots at both visits and each time it brought me comfort and a smile.
There is a limited Sweet menu. I didn’t have dessert on my first visit, but I did try the panna cotta with vanilla-green tea and candied lotus root on my second visit. It had a perfectly creamy consistency and the flavor profile was wonderful.  

Shinmai has everything going for it. The food is both creative and delicious, the space is hip and trendy, and they carry my favorite Japanese beer with the cat on it. Located in the neighborhood called San Pablo Gateway, Shinmai is West of Downtown Oakland near the Oakland Ice Center. It’s actually hard to find. Make sure you have the address, 1825-3 San Pablo Avenue, and look for an unmarked black door.

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Say Aloha to Hawaiian Shaved Ice

Last weekend I suggested a hike at Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond, California. My friends were skeptical at first, but gave in after a combination of the forecast for heat wave temperatures in the Bay Area (way cooler than hiking Mt. Diablo) and my offer to drive (they all have nice cars and wouldn’t want to risk having it broken into or stolen). We hiked 7.2 miles and afterwards were ready for something refreshing. My friend had read about a place that served shaved ice in the neighboring City of San Pablo.

I haven’t actually stopped in the City of San Pablo since I was a little girl. I used to go with my dad to his bowling tournaments at a place called Lucky Lanes. Last Sunday when we drove through San Pablo Avenue I saw what has taken over Lucky Lanes, Casino San Pablo. It’s kinda sad as I had fond memories of Lucky Lanes. It’s also where I learned to bowl as a kid.

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Aloha Pure Water + Shaved Ice is an interesting concept. You can purchase purified water by the gallons and get your Hawaiian style shaved ice. Many yelpers have compared their shaved ice to the famous Matsumoto’s in Oahu. When I was in Oahu, the lines at Matsumoto’s were too long for me so I never got a chance to try it.

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Hawaiian shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice. The process of shaving the ice produces a very fine ice that causes the fruit flavored syrups added to it to be absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding it. Hawaiian shave ice is traditionally served with a scoop of ice cream on the bottom and sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top. These choices are all available at Aloha Pure Water Shaved Ice.

I ordered a blackberry flavored shaved ice with vanilla ice cream and condensed milk. The texture of the ice was excellent and the ice cream was good, but there was a little bit of a cough syrup taste to this. Maybe blackberry was not the right choice.

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One of my friends had the li hing mui (salty dried plum) flavored ice with condensed milk. Although I was a little hesitant, it was a delicious flavor. I think I know what flavor I will have next time around.

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My other two friends shared a larger cup of ice. They had the works with three different flavors. They had lychee, melon, and POG (a blend of passion fruit, orange, and guava).

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What can I say? It was the perfect treat and hit the spot after our long hike. There aren’t too many places on the mainland that serve Hawaiian shaved ice. It’s nice to have Aloha Pure Water + Shaved Ice in the 510, but glad it’s still at least twenty minutes away. A quick tip for those near San Mateo: The Produce Stand, a family owned grocer has been offering Hawaiian shaved ice almost weekly this summer. Check them out!