Agave Uptown:  I Just Can’t Get Enough

I haven’t been this excited about a new restaurant opening in Oakland in a long time. Serving cuisine from Oaxaca (pronounced WA-HA-KA), Mexico, Agave Uptown is a beautiful place that brings happiness to my soul. Within the month that Agave Uptown has been open, I have eaten there four times. I just can’t get enough! 
Named after the plant used to produce tequila, Agave Uptown has a bar shaking up cocktails centered on the distilled beverage. Mezcal is the smokey cousin to tequila, which is a Oaxacan specialty and one that their bartenders focus on. If you aren’t big into mezcal like me, just ask to substitute tequila.

Having eaten through about a third of the menu at Agave Uptown, I will recommend my highlights. First off, I suggest eating with a group so you can explore more of the menu. 

What is better than a bowl of chips and salsa is an endless bowl of chips and salsa. The light crispy chips and homemade salsas go well with cocktails and gives everyone at the table time to figure out what they want to order.

Go ahead and add guacamole to the mix as you can trust you are getting guacamole made from experts here. It’s always nice to have more things to dip those chips in.

I have tried two of the salads and one just blows the other out of the water. The Agave salad is a mix of petite romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, pumpkin seeds, heirloom tomatoes, red and orange peppers, onions, cilantro, and chipotle vinaigrette. The mix of grilled peppers and onions add a nuttiness that match well with the freshness of everything else.
It’s hard to find a good ceviche, but look no further than Agave Uptown. The fish which has been marinated in lime juice and onion is a classic and simplistic dish that offers a fresh and clean taste. They also provide a generous portion which is perfect for sharing.

Good for a group is the Tlayuda aka Oaxacan pizza. Think of this as a gigantic tostada. The crust is like a tortilla cracker and is covered with so much goodness including chorizo which was the topping of choice.  

I have enjoyed three different types of tacos at Uptown Agave – Rocky’s chicken, shrimp, and fish. All were excellent, so it really is a matter of preference. However, if you want something a little different, the seafood tacos are topped with cabbage, mango, and avocado giving you somewhat of a tropical taste.
I had Cecina for the first time and it was delicious. The pork is marinated in a Oaxacan adobo mixture. The flavor has a familiar taste of vinegar that I am accustomed to in Filipino adobo. The meat is uniquely sliced thin and then grilled to perfection. The specialty comes with rice, black bean paste, and tortillas.  
The domain of Uptown Agave would be the Mole Negro de Oaxaca. I enjoyed the chicken variety and it was to die for. Apparently, Mrs. Diaz, Chef Octavio’s mother makes the famous mole at her shop, Case de Mole in Healdsburg and they use it at Agave Uptown. The mole is slow cooked with Chilhuacle chiles and twenty other secret ingredients.  
I often have trouble leaving room for dessert at restaurants where I want to eat everything. But if you have a small gap left for something sweet, I recommend the tequila ice cream with fresh berries. It’s fairly light and definitely pleasurable.  
On my way out on one visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Diaz. I was not only drawn to the chef behind the fabulous food, but his friendly and down to earth nature. He even sent me and my friends home with a container of mole.  

So what did I do with the mole? I finally cooked some chicken in bacon fat. I then heated the mole and poured it over the chicken. I can pat myself on the back because I was taken back to Oaxaca in my own home. Thanks Chef Diaz and Mrs. Diaz! I’ll be visiting you both soon!

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Hike, Lunch, Hike, Ice Cream: My Kind of Day

One of my favorite things to do is hike and I feel fortunate to live where I do and have access to the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD). EBRPD operates 65 parks that cover more than 120K acres and includes over 1,250 miles of trails that run through Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  

courtesy of EBRPD

On Saturday, my friend and I hiked a portion of the 7.65 mile one way Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. Starting from Moraga Commons, a local park, we hiked northeast toward Downtown Lafayette which was about 5.5 miles. It was a warm and beautiful day and we were ready to have lunch. With lots of restaurants with outdoor seating in Lafayette, we agreed on Chow.  

My vegetable platter was a beautiful vibrant hodgepodge of a plate. It came with sautéed mushrooms, grilled zucchini and tomato, corn salad, avocado, tomato purée, and tzatziki sauce. I made it even more of a hodgepodge by substituting polenta for mashed potatoes. I consumed all of this delicious summer plate, except for most of the mashed potatoes. I didn’t want to consume so many Weight Watcher points. It was my bad to have made the substitution.  

After lunch we had to return to the trail and hike back the 5.5 miles to return to the car. I am not intending to make this sound like it is a difficult hike at all. It is completely flat, but long. The only reason to call it a hike is because it’s on a trail. It is more like a walk. I did it in tennis shoes. Actually, this is a better trail for biking or running.  

So after our eleven mile walk on the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail in the heat, we needed to get a snack to cool us off.

Thanks to Yelp, I discovered Guanatos Ice Cream in Walnut Creek. This family owned business makes fresh ice cream and other treats with a Latin flare. They have traditional ice cream flavors, but I was more excited about the unique flavors like rose petals, Mexican hot chocolate, and chongos zamoranos. I got a scoop of tequila ice cream on a waffle cone. It was super creamy and had a light hint of tequila flavor. Mentally, I was thinking I was enjoying tequila. It was a novel idea.

My friend ordered a scoop of horchata in a cup. The ingredients of rice, cinnamon, and milk make for a good flavored ice cream.


Guanatos was an awesome find and I look forward to trying the other flavors that they offer. They have shops in Bay Point, Concord, and Oakley as well.  

El Techo de Lolinda: San Francisco Rooftop

A group of five friends met last week at a rooftop restaurant/bar I discovered recently in the Mission district of San Francisco. To get there, you have to pass a “bouncer” on the street, walk through the hallway of a building, and take an elevator to the “PH” aka Penthouse. El Techo de Lolinda is a popular spot for food and drinks. Many a time, there is a line to get up there, but luckily for us we got there early and didn’t have to wait.

The food is set up as tapas where you can share. We enjoyed ordering our food a little at a time throughout the evening. Aside from our cocktails, the first things we ordered were the chips and guacamole and the pollo frito. The servers were really nice and when one noticed that we were out of chips and still had guacamole, he brought us more chips without us requesting it. The pollo frito is fried chicken thigh pieces with jalapeño. They were temperature hot, crispy, juicy, and had a little hint of sweetness and spicy kick. Later on, we ordered a second helping because it was that good.
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El Techo has chicharrones on their menu that you can order as a half pound, full pound, or one and a half pounds. We ordered a full pound of roasted and fried chunks of pork shoulder. It also came with tortillas, black beans, and other condiments. The chicharrones were delicious. It was extremely tender and many of the pieces included some fat which made it all the better.
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We ordered some elote or grilled corn with sour cream, chili, and lime. It always feels like summer when you get to eat fresh corn. It’s also worth having kernels stuck in your teeth when it comes to Mexican corn.
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We were not done with the grill. El Techo allows you to order a mix and match of various skewers in different amounts. We ordered two shrimp skewers and one chorizo. These were really nice to share. The shrimp was cooked well and the homemade chorizo had great flavor.
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We shared two desserts. The first one was the dulce de leche flan with passion fruit jelly and almond streusel. Our party had a nut allergy so had to have the streusel on the side. I was quite full and just had a taste. The flan was a bit dense and I have had better. Maybe if it was better I would have had another bite.
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The second dessert we ordered was the chocolate ganache. It was topped with graham cracker crumbs and strawberries. The chocolate had added flavors of cinnamon and cayenne which was nice. I thought this dessert was much better. I was full, but managed to have two bites.
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I really enjoyed our evening at El Techo. It’s a great place to hang out with friends especially on a nice day. The views from the rooftop are amazing as well.

Rumbo Al Sur: Latin Flavor in Glenview

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One of my favorite places for food and drinks is a restaurant just one block from me in the Glenview neighborhood. Rumbo Al Sur means “heading south” and brings the vibrant flavors of Latin America to Oakland. I remember the anticipation I had when Rumbo opened its doors in my neighborhood almost two years ago. At the time, I had reason to be excited because the guy responsible for this new restaurant was Jack Knowles. Jack also owns A Cote, another one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland.

Rumbo brings hip and cool to Glenview. The space is beautiful, the music is fun, food is exciting, and the bartenders are awesome. I may just have to call Rumbo my watering hole as the bar is my favorite spot to have food and drinks. I have spent many evenings there starting early with happy hour. Rumbo carries a large array of tequilas and the bartenders make delicious margaritas as well as other cocktails. The bartenders are all friendly and knowledgeable, but I have to point out that Ali is my favorite!
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The menu has evolved since it first opened its doors, but there are a few staples that have remained. One of my favorite dishes is the baby back ribs. These fall off the bone smoked ribs have a tamarind guava glaze that is a little sweet, tangy, and spicy. When in doubt this is my “go to” dish as it never disappoints.
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The salads at Rumbo constantly change according to what is in season so this gives me faith that I will enjoy it. It usually involves fruit, greens, seeds, cheese, and a light vinaigrette. Here are a couple of examples.
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Ceviche is not always on their menu, but Rumbo does it well and adds another level of sophistication by including root vegetable chips. They make incredibly tasty homemade sweet potato, taro, and lotus root chips.
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Tuesday’s can get a bit crowded because they offer Taco Tuesdays. You have a choice of four tacos and usually involves a seafood, a vegetarian, a white meat, and a beef. I personally don’t discriminate.
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Some of the heartier plates seems to rotate on and off the menu more often. I have enjoyed their enchiladas with rice and beans. Their rice is always fluffy and delicious.
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Another rotator is the flat iron steak. Cooked well and complimented with rice and beans, it is a solid dish that I have enjoyed in the past.
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The desserts are excellent as well. The dessert menu usually has the regular items of churros, ice cream sundae, and flan which I enjoy, but my favorite is the margarita pie. They use a Cointreau cream, pretzel crust, & tequila-lime caramel and I love the mix of sweet and tart.
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The desserts have also evolved. Being a fan of Rumbo on Facebook keeps me updated on what is new with their menu including some recent posts about their desserts. One item that intrigued me was the frozen strawberry soufflé which was amazing.
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A more recent post was about a peach and plum galette and I am crossing my fingers that it will still be available the next time I am there! (Hint! Hint!)

New Year’s Day

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Happy New Years! I’ve been attending the same New Years Party that my friends host for the past several years. I’ve also been coming to the house a day early to help with the festivities. This party is known as the pozole party because amongst other things, pozole is served. It’s always a great Mexican themed party with fantastic food. Here are my top five food and drink photos from the party.

5. The host is a tequila connoisseur. There were six options of tequila to choose. I enjoyed two shots of tequila, the Tonala Añejo and Tequila Ocho Añejo. I liked the latter the best. The tequilas were great especially with the delicious sangrita chaser.

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4. Homemade Chips and guacamole. I helped make the homemade chips on New Years Eve. It’s very important to use the right corn tortilla. Mi Rancho makes the best. I think people come to the party because of the chips and guacamole.

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3. Empanadas. This was new this year. We also made these the day before. We made meat empanadas and vegetarian empanadas. The meat empanadas had grass fed London broil, onions, jalapeños, various quality chili powders and spices, hard boiled egg, and green olives. The vegetarian empanadas were filled with butternut squash, onion, garlic, shitake mushrooms, goat cheese, pecans, and sage.

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2. Desserts. This annual party serves the best of desserts. The host also puts his hands into baking homemade desserts. He makes a wonderful lemon cake, Mexican chocolate cake, and flan. You really can’t ask for more but then he purchases some of the best cookies around from Miette bakery.

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1. You don’t call this the pozole party for nothing. Hours of love go into this comfort food. Pozole is a Mexican stew made of chicken stock, nixtamal, pork, chicken, and other seasonings. Once you fill your bowl, you add oregano, red onions, avocado, and lime juice.

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Thank you P&B for a wonderful party. Cheers to 2012! May good food and drinks be with you!