Okonomi Yaki: Popping Up in Temescal

Last month, I went to check out Temescal Brewing on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. I can’t say that I was there for the beer; I was there to try “okonomi yaki,” a popular street food from Japan. I met up with a group of friends at Temescal Brewery for the Okkon pop-up. Every other Wednesday, Satoshi and Sochi Kamimae sets up a table and a grill in the Temescal Brewing beer garden to make the Japanese specialty.  
“Okonomi yaki” is described as a Japanese pancake. I was excited to try it for the first time. I had never even heard of it before. I placed my order for the “buta tama” which is the classic “okonomi yaki” with pork. Additional toppings of mochi, mentaiko roe, wild shrimp, and mushrooms could be added. I added mochi to mine.

It is a pretty interesting scene to watch Chef Satoshi make the pancakes. I watched as he made them individually with love and care. Chef Satoshi would toss shredded yam, cabbage, tempura bits and green onions in a bowl and combine it together with an egg and flour batter. After a thorough mix, he would then slowly pour the mixture onto a heated grill. On top of the mixture, he would add two thin strips of pork belly. Once cooked part way through, Chef Satoshi would turn over the golden brown pancake to cook the other side.  
I think the pancake gets turned a number of times and a lid is placed on it to ensure it cooks thoroughly and evenly. It’s not a quick cook, so its genius to set up this pop-up in a beer garden where you can enjoy a nice cold beer and have a place to sit while you wait.
Since we ordered separately, my friends and I just shared them as our orders came out. The “okonomi yaki” were dressed with a sweet and savory sauce and an avocado oil mayonnaise. They were fantastic. I enjoyed the exterior, especially what was brought out by the crispy pork belly. The vegetables were abundant, fresh, and delicious. I would describe the “okonomi yaki” more as a crispy omelette rather than a pancake. The additional topping of shrimp on one and the chewy texture of mochi on another were great.  They were excellent to wash down with beer as well.
Most people that come to Temescal Brewing are here for the local craft beer. I’m not like most people. I am one who definitely needs good food to enjoy a good beer. I am lucky to have had both in one place. Temescal Brewing has a nice selection of homemade brews on tap. Their website currently list nine varieties. I enjoyed one of the lighter beers. Temescal Brewing celebrated their one year anniversary last month. Congratulations and best wishes for many more years to come and many more “okonomi yaki”!

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Juhu Beach Club: Indian Street Food With A Twist

The Temescal neighborhood has become one of the new “It” neighborhoods in Oakland. Growing up, all I knew about the neighborhood was going to the DMV to take my driving test. These days a lot more is happening in Temescal. They have a very successful weekly farmer’s market, more and more hipsters are moving in, and businesses are opening up and booming.

Juhu Beach Club (JBC) has been open for over a year on Telegraph Avenue in Temescal and could be called the “It” restauarant. JBC serves Indian street food with a twist and the Chef is Preeti Mistry, famous for being a contestant on Top Chef Season 6.
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Last month I dined at JBC twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. I feel like after two meals, I have a good sense of their food now. Both times, Chef Mistry was behind the counter focused and calm. The first time I dined at JBC, it was dinner with my BFF. After reviewing the menu, we decided on having an assortment of appetizers to share.

The masala papadum are thin, cracker like crisps made of lentil and spices that came with four different toppings and chutneys. It was a fun appetizer to share and to munch on.
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The bhel salad was a layered mixture of green garbanzo beans, cucumbers, grapes with puffed rice and sev (crunchy chickpea noodles) served in a mason jar. It had to be poured out and mixed in the bowl. I really liked the presentation of the dish and I enjoyed the texture and the flavors.
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The masala fries are potato wedges with Indian spices and came with a trio of sauces. The fries were cooked nicely and my favorite of the three sauces was the tamarind ketchup which I kept going back to.
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The manchurian cauliflower was cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. It was crispy and carmelized to a point where you would not know you were eating a vegetable. It was like eating candy.
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The vindaloo chicken wings were prepared in a Point Reyes blue cheese raita. I was looking forward to having this version of a buffalo wing. I was a bit disappointed because it was difficult to get the meat off the bone.
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We also ordered a medley of vegetables made up of corn, green beans, and onions. It was like a succotash. I felt like it needed to be eaten with rice because of the amount of butter or oil that it was cooked in. I ended up taking it home and eating it for lunch the next day and it was quite tasty.
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Speaking of lunch, my lunch at JBC was with a coworker. It’s pretty clear that the item that most people eat at JBC is their pavs or sliders. The three pavs we shared were the vada pav which had fried potato puff, the holy cow which had cardamom braised short rib, and the pork vindalated, which had barbecue pulled pork. The pavs were in soft delicious rolls reminiscent of a Hawaiian roll. Surprisingly, my favorite slider was the vegetarian potato puff.
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We also shared the navi Mumbai chicken salad which was made up of seasonal greens, roasted root vegetables, grilled chicken, and topped with sev. The chicken had great flavor and was delicious. This salad would hit the spot almost any day for lunch.
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JBC also makes a delicious chai which my coworker ordered. I got to try it and it is the best chai I have ever tasted. If you order a chai, you get one free refill.
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Overall, JBC presents Indian food with a lot of creativity. After watching “The Hundred Foot Journey,” JBC would be a great place to eat afterwards. There seems to be a similar sense of the importance of Indian spices.
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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Tara’s Ice Cream

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I try not to buy too many Groupons and Living Social Deals, but sometimes it’s too good a deal to pass up. I bought a Living Social Deal for Tara’s Organic Ice Cream last year and noticed the expiration date was coming up quick. Although you can still redeem expired coupons for the value paid, I figured I should redeem it for the full deal. I took my niece with me to Tara’s on Telegraph Avenue in the Temescal area. The other shop is located on College Avenue in Berkeley.
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I suggested we each get our own to eat now and then bring back a couple of pints for the rest of the Lau kids. Although the flavors seem to change daily, they do not offer very many flavors. It is a small shop so the number of selections may be reasonable, but I was a bit disappointed that more than a third of those flavors were running very low.
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I love the cardamom flavor that the brand Three Twins make, but there didn’t seem to even have enough for me to get a small cone. I decided on the classic strawberry. I wasn’t disappointed. It was really good.
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My niece tried a sample of molasses, but didn’t like it. She ended up getting chocolate. Tara’s uses a dark chocolate from Italy. She thought it was the best chocolate ice cream ever.
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As I mentioned the choices were limited especially for the pint size to bring home. I went for the vanilla and the strawberry agave sorbet. The combination was perfect.
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All the kids loved it and didn’t even complain about the small portions they were receiving. There was still plenty of leftovers.
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East Bay Bagels

It has been difficult to find a good bagel in the Bay Area until recently. In the last few months, two great bagel shops have popped up in Oakland.

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Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli on College Avenue in Rockridge serves bagels that taste much like a New York bagel. They boil and then bake their bagels which results in a crusty outside and a chewy inside. I have had their bagels with cream cheese and found them to satisfy my urge. This is my new “Go To” place for a bagel.

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I recently heard about Beauty’s Bagel Shop on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland close to Temescal.

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Beauty’s serve Montreal-style bagels which are boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fired oven.

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Yelp reviews were reporting that there were thirty minute waits and worth waiting for. Thirty minutes for a bagel? I don’t think so. My friend and I were going to do a drive by earlier today. If there was a line outside, we would detour to Old Brooklyn. I think the earlier downpours discouraged people to go to Beauty’s so we had no wait.

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My friend got the breakfast bagel with egg and cheddar on an onion bagel. As a sandwich this was quite tasty, especially the egg and cheese. I’m not sure I was that impressed with the bagel itself. The consistency was dense throughout.

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Maybe I should have just ordered a bagel with cream cheese in order to test taste the bagel, but I was too intrigued by the After School Special. My everything bagel was filled with chopped liver, swiss cheese, iceberg lettuce & pickled onion. I felt the same way about my sandwich that I did for my friends. It was a very tasty sandwich.

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Beauty’s Bagel Shop is a a hip new place and I will be back to try some other items. One day I will have a plain bagel with cream cheese, but I am also curious about the smoked trout bagel sandwich, fried chicken bagel sandwich, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to spread on a bagel, deviled eggs, coffee cake, soups, etc. I see more visits in my future. If there is a wait, I’ll just order to go or make my way back to Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli.

Outside Lands: Standout Food

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Last week was Outside Lands at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Outside Lands is a three day Music and Art Festival. For short I will refer to it as OSL. The event was in its fifth year and it was my first time. For the most part, I tend to avoid crowds of 60,000. I was lucky to have a friend who hooked me up with an all access pass.

There were over one hundred acts (music and comedy) playing on six stages at OSL. Although I love music, I knew more food vendors than musical acts. I had a great time listening to music, but I was very impressed by the organization of the food vendors. I couldn’t believe Golden Gate Park united about 75 food carts, trucks, and stations. That’s not counting the wine and beer. On my first day there, I spent a lot of time scoping out the food vendors.

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The main stage was located at Polo Fields and restaurants throughout the Bay Area had food stalls on the right and left of the stage. After a lot of debate including whether I should have fried chicken and waffles from Little Skillet, I decided to give Homeroom a try. I’ve heard about this restaurant serving up mac & cheese in the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland, but haven’t had a chance to try it out. They were serving up Gilroy garlic mac & cheese. It had a subtle amount of garlic with rich creamy cheesy flavors. I enjoyed it and it was perfect on this cold summer day in San Francisco. Now I have to remember when I am in the mood for mac & cheese, there is a place close by called Homeroom that can make it perfectly.

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There were additional sections of the park that had food and drinks paving the way to other music stages, a few of them with food trucks. You could get items such as tacos, pizzas, cupcakes, or even fried green tomatoes. I tasted one of my friend’s fried green tomatoes from Those Fabulous Frickle Brothers and they were really good. The wood fired oven pizza offered by Del Popolo were one of the most popular food trucks on site. They have the most beautiful food truck and the pizzas coming out looked amazing. Their twitter feed indicated they planned on serving 1,000 pizzas for each of the 3 days.

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Chef Michael Minna was representing as well. He sponsored an area called Outside Lambs. Pop-ups selling lamb poutine and gyros were available. The name is cute, but pork or cattle would be a little more up my alley.

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Choco Lands was a cutely decorated section in the park where you could find sweets. Among some of the treats were cupcakes, cookies, popcorn, and chocolate bars. I got a bag of chocolate covered caramel corn from the vendor Delessio. It was such a large bag that I put it in a ziplock and I’m still enjoying it. I got mine with peanuts and when I’m eating it, I feel like I am having fancy Cracker Jacks.

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There was also Wine Lands and Beer Lands. Food was definitely highlighted at OSL and not only did they have something for everyone, they had enough for everyone.

“Outside Lands featured an expanded palette of food and beverage options that made eating and drinking at the festival just as much fun as listening and dancing.” – Rolling Stone

Aunt Mary’s Serves Up Breakfast

During the episode of Master Chef when the contestants had to cook up eggs four different ways – poached, soft boiled, sunny side fried, and an omelet, I wanted to be a part of that. I’m pretty good at cooking up breakfast food, so I don’t tend to go out to eat breakfast very often. When I do, I am looking for something special.

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Aunt Mary’s in the Temescal area of Oakland is pretty special. Even Guy Fieri thinks so.
He was at Aunt Mary’s a while back to shoot Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. A friend of mine and I recently paid Aunt Mary a visit. We waited about twenty minutes before we were seated, an unusually short wait according to yelp. The time went by quick as we were able to help ourselves to coffee.

Many things on the menu looked good. My friend and I decided to share a few things. We had the Pain Perdue, which is a Cajun style French toast made with baguettes soaked in a whiskey laced custard served with white wine fresh fruit compote. This dish is baked to order and takes 20 minutes. It seems like it might be a really heavy dish and really sweet. It was soft and light and had the perfect amount of sweetness. It was delicious.

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The other main dish we ordered was the Southern Bubble and Squeak which are potato-Southern greens cakes with pot likker gravy, topped with eggs, with a biscuit, and a side of greens. I liked this a lot more than my friend. It was pure comfort melting in my mouth. They must call it pot likker gravy because you will want to lick it up.

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In addition, we ordered two sides. We had a side of sausage. The added fennel in the pork was nice. My friend liked it a lot and reminded her of eating a Chinese pork dish her mom makes.

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The other side was grits with cheddar cheese. I actually like my grits to be on the runny side with a poached egg next to it. It was tasty, but I’m not convinced that this is something I will ever be a big fan of.

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Aunt Mary’s is a great place for breakfast and I will be back to see her when I don’t feel like cooking up my own.

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