Bluefin: When you can’t decide between Japanese and Thai food

Last week my family decided they wanted to go out to dinner. There was a lot of debate over what to eat. My mom had been in the mood for Japanese food lately and hadn’t gotten her fix. I was thinking Laotian or Thai food. My sister in law had suggested a restaurant in Alameda called Bluefin that serves both Japanese and Thai food. We all agreed to give it a try.
We ordered the fried chicken wings to share. They were cooked to a beautiful golden color and were crispy and flavorful. I enjoyed the fried herb that complemented it.  
I ordered the sake sashimi appetizer. When it came out there were some oohs and ahhs. It was very fresh and presentation was on point. I think I ate all five pieces in under sixty seconds.  
My brother and mother like cooked sushi, so they ordered a four sushi rolls: 1) The Dancing Roll is a California roll topped with BBQ eel. 2) The Lion King Roll is a California roll topped with salmon and baked with a special sauce. 3) The Bluefin Bomb has tuna, salmon, avocado, asparagus, scallions topped with a spicy sauce. 4) The Lobster Tempura roll has crusty fried lobster with avocado, masago, asparagus, and special sauce. These all were presented in a bamboo sushi boat.  
My sister in law wanted Thai food and ordered the Papaya Salad which has green papaya with prawns, tomatoes, peanuts, and a spicy lime dressing. I thought this was really fresh tasting.
I ordered the Tom Kha which is a Thai soup with coconut milk. My “bowl” runneth over with chicken, mushrooms, tomato, onion, lime leaves me galangal, and lemongrass. It was a large bowl that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. I ended up having it for lunch the next day and it was still delicious.  
One of my nieces ordered the Teriyaki Beef dinner. Bluefin knows their teriyaki. The beef was cooked a perfect medium rare and the flavor had the right amount of sweetness. It was laid on top of cabbage, carrots, and broccoli.  
My other niece wanted udon. We got her the tempura udon with the tempura on the side so that everyone could indulge in the fried goodness.
I definitely had a good overall experience at Bluefin. It’s easy to find parking, the staff are really nice, presentation is awesome, and their was a great variety of food that was quite enjoyable. I don’t know why the Yelp reviews are mediocre.  I would add an additional star.  I thought the chefs were able to conquer Japanese and Thai cuisines very well. I personally would go back to Bluefin to try more of both cuisines.  

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Daughter Thai: Celebrating Thai Cuisine

Daughter Thai opened up about four months ago in Montclair Village in Oakland. I dined there once in December shortly after they opened and was pleasantly surprised by the space, the food, and the ambience. I found it to be a typical Montclair crowd, which is family friendly. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since and yesterday was the perfect evening to go as the restaurant was celebrating the Thai New Year.

Daughter Thai was decorated with multi colored pennant flags on the inside and outside of the restaurant. They also had carnival games, music, and dancing. Even the staff was festive wearing costumes and makeup in celebration of the New Year.  

Before we ordered, one of the staff came by with a tray of fried grasshoppers and fried worms, a Thai street food. At first I passed thinking to myself, “I have to pay to eat grasshoppers and worms? Shouldn’t someone pay me?”  
After second thought, I called her back. This is an exotic specialty and an opportunity. I bought the grasshoppers. My friend wasn’t brave enough to try, so I ate all three. I’m not sure how to describe them. They were just crunchy and didn’t really go down easily. It was sort of like eating a pumpkin seed shell. I’m glad I tried it as it will be an unforgettable experience.  
One of the dishes we ordered was the Southern Fish Curry or “Gang Thai Pla.” It is described as a pickled fish stew in tumeric, lemongrass, and exotic herbs with squash, eggplant, and green beans served with crispy pork belly and vermicelli noodles. When I ordered it, the waiter seemed to discourage ordering it by disclosing that this was a very authentic Thai dish that is very spicy and very fishy. We like authentic, spicy, and fishy, so we went with it.  It ended up that my friend liked it and I didn’t. She did prefer eating the stew with rice instead of the noodles that came with it. It had a funk to it and the fermentation was too pungent for my taste.
We also ordered the Chef’s Secret Menu which was Thai Herbed Chicken & Rice or “Khao Mok Gai.” It is something that is not always on their menu. It includes herbed chicken with fragrant yellow rice, potato stuffed roti, and bone broth. This was a perfect dish for my friend and I to share. I thought it was delicious and a great combination platter.  
I also have some recommendations from my first visit to Daughter Thai. I enjoyed the Tom Kha, which is coconut soup with mushrooms, tomato, cabbage, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and green onions. It had an excellent balance of flavors. 
The Ahi Scoops are pan seared sesame crusted Ahi tuna, cucumber, seaweed salad, crispy yam, dill, lemongrass, and chili lime. This is not a Thai dish to me, but it is one you want to make sure you order.
Although I have not eaten everything from the Daughter Thai menu, I already have a favorite. The crab fried rice is bomb. It’s got Dungeness crab meat, twice cooked rice, cage free egg, onion, tomato, and cilantro. It’s a simple dish that I could eat all the time.
If you enjoy Thai food, make your way to Daughter Thai in Montclair Village. They have some of the best and authentic Thai food in the Bay Area.  Happy Thai New Year!

Camber: Bringing Exotic Flavors to Uptown and Montclair

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Camber in Uptown Oakland is a cool hip restaurant serving delicious South East Asian food. It’s located close to where I work and I can’t believe I didn’t learn about it until recently since it’s been around for about two years. The owners are Irfan, who is part Burmese and part Pakistani and Linda who is Mein. Together this couple bring food with a mix of exotic flavors.

My coworker and I went to check it out last week at lunch. We decided on sharing a few items. We ended up ordering a variety of appetizers since I am back on Weight Watchers and didn’t want to eat too many carbohydrates.

The first salad we got was the Tea Leaf Salad which was on their Specials board. The Tea Leaf Salad is a Burmese dish made with fermented tea leaves, dried ground shrimp, cabbage, mixed nuts, onions, garlic, and cilantro. The salad had bold and diverse flavors and a nice crunchy texture mainly brought on from the nuts. It didn’t have the beautiful presentation where you get to mix all the ingredients, but it was just as tasty.
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The Rice Ball Salad or the Nam Kaow is a Laotian dish made of shredded cured pork tossed with fried rice patties, cilantro, mint, green onion, fish sauce, and fresh lime juice. You wrap the filling in lettuce leaves with a piece of dried chili pepper. I love the textures in this dish and it always makes me happy to eat it. The Camber version doesn’t disappoint.
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The Papaya Salad can be prepared Thai style or Laotian style. My coworker wanted the Laotian Style Salad which was a first for me. Crisp green papaya is tossed with tomatoes, garlic, fish sauce, and green beans and served with a side of lettuce, and vermicelli noodles. I consider my coworker the expert in Papaya Salad. She pointed out that long beans are normally used, but she still very much enjoyed this dish, especially the spiciness.
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The Angel Wings are crispy fried chicken wings that are tossed in a sweet and sour sauce. These were finger licking good, both crispy and juicy. I do love my chicken wings.
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My coworker and I started planning our next visit where we’ll move on to entrees and invite more people. The owner Irfan recommended that next time we should try the Eggplant Basil, the Ginger Chicken, and the Bouncing Beef. Camber opened a second location a few months ago in the Montclair district which is close to where I live. Whether I’m at work or home, I’m lucky to have a Camber close to me.

DIY: Khao Man Gai

Khao man gai is a Thai dish that my sister in law introduced me to. It’s similar to the Hainanese chicken and rice dish which I have always loved. It’s simple and I place it in the comfort food category. With some careful time management, this meal can be done from start to finish in under 90 minutes.

Here are the ingredients you need:
Whole chicken (organic preferred)
2 cups Jasmine rice
Ginger
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Cilantro
1 moqua (foo gwa)

In a large pot, bring about 12 cups of water and 1 tbsp of salt to a boil. Add your whole chicken (I used a chicken slightly larger than 3 lbs.) When the chicken boils, turn the flame down to a low heat and cook for another 35 minutes.
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While the chicken in cooking, you can begin getting the rice ready. Rinse the rice through a few times and have it ready in your rice cooker. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic until golden brown. Peel the ginger and cut about 5 pieces of ginger into 1/4 inch slices. Place the ginger and garlic (don’t use the oil) on top of the uncooked rice.
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The chicken will still be cooking, so you can prep the soup. Peel the moqua. This hairy looking squash is one of my favorites in soup.
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You can also use winter melon or chayote. Slice into equal sized strips.
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As soon as the chicken is ready, remove from liquid. Skim off any excess fat from the top of the broth. The remaining broth will be used for both the rice and the soup. Measure 3 cups of broth and pour over the rice cooker and turn on the rice cooker.

While the rice is cooking, time can be spent cutting up the chicken. I cut the chicken into eight pieces using kitchen shears. I still had time to remove the bones from the breast and thighs.

With the rice almost ready, I started the soup. Using the same pot that the chicken was cooked in, add the same amount of water as there is broth. Bring to a boil and then add the sliced moqua. Once the soup reboils, turn it down to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.

Measure out some cooked rice, slice some chicken, and top with cilantro. Sliced cucumbers are typically eaten with this dish which I forgot to slice. Ladle out some moqua soup to compliment the meal. The sauce used for khao man gai is a brown soybean based sauce. I found it available at the local Thai grocery store Sontepheap in Oakland.
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I have eaten a lot of khao man gai but it was my first time making it. The chicken was nice and tender. The rice was really tasty. The added garlic brought this already fragrant rice to a new realm. The moqua was good, but the soup could’ve used some salt. Making this dish gave me some added confidence in my cooking as well as being able to quickly cut up a chicken.

Hawker Fare: More Than Fair

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I finally got a chance to dine at Hawker Fare this weekend. It’s been open for about five months. Hawker Fare is the second Oakland restaurant by Chef James Syhabout. His first restaurant is Commis. I have yet to try the only restaurant in Oakland that earned a Michelin star. I guess I’m waiting for the right occasion to dine there. You don’t need an occasion to dine at Hawker Fare as the cuisine is Southeast Asian street food, predominantly Thai.

Uptown Oakland was bustling on Friday night. My friend and I walked into what I found to be a lively, trendy place. With loud music and a disco ball, I thought I was at a nightclub rather than a restaurant. After about a fifteen minute wait, we were given a nice corner table.

My friend ordered a Thai ice tea while I had a Singha (Thai) beer. The tea came in a cute mason jar mug.

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We decided we were going to eat family style. We ordered two “snacks” and two rice bowls between the two of us.

My friend loves beef larb so it was a must try when we saw it on the menu. Beef larb is a beef salad with red onions, mint, and cilantro. This meaty dish was fresh and flavorful.

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The blistered green beans was cooked with smoked bacon and dried shrimp. It had a hint of spice which was really nice.

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Many yelp reviewers rated the 24hr pork belly rice bowl as one of the best dishes so I had to have it and add a fried farm egg on top. This dish was glistening and beautiful. I had to break the egg yolk and mix it in with the pork and rice. It was OMG good! I would come back for this alone!

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The other rice dish we ordered was their special which was a shrimp curry rice bowl. The large plump shrimp was cooked nicely and the flavor of the curry really popped.

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It’s become trendy for restaurants to make soft serve with Straus dairy. Hawker Fare joins that group, but to make it fusion, they flavor it with condensed milk. I ended my delicious meal with a soft serve on a cone. The condensed milk flavor was very subtle. I admit it was fun to eat.

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Hawker Fare is definitely a winner. Lucky for me, it is close to work. I can see many more meals here for sure.