Farley’s East: Growing with the Community

Farley’s East, a cafe located in Uptown Oakland has been around for eight years. Since it is close to work, I occasionally stop by for an espresso beverage. They recently expanded and took over the space next door that used to be Subway. Doubling in size and having an actual kitchen is allowing Farley’s to do a whole lot more.
I attended a media event a few weeks ago at Farley’s to check out the renovation and try some of their menu items, including a few new ones. The extended space has a beautiful new counter where you not only can order a latte, but can grab a local beer or wine on tap.  

Avocado toast is a new breakfast item at Farley’s. Everyone’s doing avocado toast, right?  What’s different about their version is a little olive oil, a sprinkling of Japanese 7 spice (from Oaktown Spice Shop) and micro greens. On top of a perfectly crusty slice of Acme levain, my satisfaction has been met.  
I had the opportunity to sample some salads that I personally would never order for myself. Replacing croutons with chickpeas on both the Whole Health Protein Bowl and the Uptown Caesar, the healthy factor has increased. For the health conscious, these vegan salads have a great assortment of fresh vegetables and the variety of textures are reasons these salads stand out.
Another favorite for me was the chipotle mac and cheese which is a new menu item. The smokiness adds another dimension to the Gruyere cheese. This might be a dish you share with a friend as I found it to be quite heavy.  
For those that go to Farley’s for their panini, don’t fret because the panini press is still around. Actually, the sandwich menu has many options that are either grilled on the panini press, toasted in the oven, or meant to be eaten cold.  They’ve also added a new refrigerator section where you can “Grab & Go” pre-made items. I think this is great idea and will work well for the lunch crowd.  

I really like the expansion and improvements at Farley’s East.  It is clear this coffee shop has a strong sense of community. They support and partner with local food suppliers, they display the work of local artists, and the coolest thing is they set up the first urban parklet in Oakland.  

Goodnight Hawker Fare Oakland

The East Bay community is saying goodbye to Hawker Fare in Uptown Oakland, which closed its doors last night after almost six years. Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s Southeast Asian street food focused restaurant. I was able to dine at Hawker Fare on one of its final nights last week with a friend and her daughter.

One of the favorite dishes of the evening was the fried chicken. Similar to Japanese chicken karaage, these crispy nuggets of chicken thighs were well marinated, breaded, and deep fried to a golden perfection. It was served with a chili jam and went especially well with sticky rice. It was a hit for my friend’s daughter as well.

In the last several years I have been obsessed with the Laotian dish, Nam Khao, fried rice ball salad. I have been in search of the best fried rice ball salad in Oakland. I just love the mix of savory, tart, and spicy flavors and then the awesome crunch you get with this dish. Unfortunately, the fried rice ball salad at Hawker Fare fell flat for me. One huge factor was likely that it didn’t include pork meat. I also felt that the texture was chunkier than I have had at other neighborhood Laotian restaurants.

Similar to how I must order fried rice ball salad, my friend must order the Laotian style papaya salad. Some might call it umami and others might call it funky because of the flavors of fermented fish and crab that are very prominent. In general, this dish was fine, but my friend thought it was too saucy.

We also shared the mussels steamed in coconut milk. The fresh mussels from Washington are cooked in a coconut broth made with unique spices including fresh galangal, Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, and fish sauce. The broth was so good, I envision dreams about it.

We ended the evening with condensed milk soft serve. I’m really gonna miss their soft serve machine. It was always a refreshing way to end a meal here.

The closing of Hawker Fare is sad for me, but likely bittersweet for Chef Syhabout. I still remember how cool it was that he opened up the restaurant in the exact location of the Thai restaurant his mother once opened. The saving grace is that there still remains a Hawker Fare, but you’ll have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. He opened up a second Hawker Fare in San Francisco about two years ago.  

Genji: Grilling up Lunch

I have never been to Japan, but I would imagine that there would be a lot of eateries like Genji Japanese Restaurant that service busy office workers. Apparently, the restaurant recently moved from Downtown Oakland to Uptown Oakland, making it really easy for me to get to Monday through Friday. There are some food items already prepared that you can grab and go, but they also have a menu of items that are made to order.  You can choose to eat at one of their tables or take away.

 On my first visit, I picked up a side of seaweed salad and a side of cucumber wedges from the refrigerator. I brought it up to the friendly cashier and placed an order for an una-q which were five pieces of unagi (eel) sushi roll. It was a light and enjoyable lunch. I would skip the cucumber wedges in the future as it was bland even with the sauce.  

My coworkers got the unagi teriyaki from the grill which equates to two pieces of eel over rice.  All their teriyaki grill plates come with a side of edamame and a slaw. The charbroiled eel was delicate and flavorful and the rice was cooked to perfection.  
On another visit, I ordered the chicken teriyaki. I have been in search of a good chicken teriyaki for a long time and have found it here at Genji. They grill up Mary’s free range chicken and coats it with a delicious teriyaki sauce.  

One of my colleagues splurged and got the Angus rib eye teriyaki. She ordered it medium well. It was cooked through which I normally do not like. I like my beef cooked medium rare. I had a piece of her steak and was shocked how good it was. The flavor of the teriyaki sauce just disguised how cooked it was. She absolutely loved her plate.

My other colleague was looking for a lighter plate so she got shrimp teriyaki. The shrimps were fresh and plump. It is great that Genji has the variety of grill options so you can order what you are in the mood for. Now that I have done my taste test, I would likely alternate between the unagi teriyaki and the chicken teriyaki in the future.

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!

Mashup: Burmese and BBQ

Less than two weeks old, Burma Bear is the latest takeout lunch spot to open in Uptown Oakland. Across the street from my work, my arms are wide open to welcome Burma Bear to the neighborhood. The Chef and Grillmaster is Hubert Lim, aka Burma Bear, who brings a mix of Burmese food and BBQ to our palettes.  

It’s a pretty simple menu. You choose a meat (protein) and a side. I chose baby back ribs and biryani rice. The saucy ribs had been rubbed with loads of aromatic spices and had a spicy kick to it. They were tender and delicious. The rice complemented the ribs very well.  

My colleague chose the kalua pulled pork and the garlic noodles. The shredded pork was moist, but cooked with BBQ sauce it leaves some crispy bits which is nice. 

I really enjoyed the garlic noodles as well. The taste of garlic and butter in the thin noodles are well balanced and light.

Tea leaf salad is a very popular Burmese dish. The one from Burma Bear doesn’t have the same effect I get when I eat it at other Burmese restaurants. All the ingredients are already mixed together and this version comes with iceberg lettuce, rather than cabbage. You can choose a tea leaf salad made with kale if that is your thing. Overall, the tea leaf salad was disappointing compared to others I have eaten.  

I am ecstatic to have Burma Bear around to bring diversity to the Uptown area and a fun mashup of Burmese and BBQ. The small storefront offers a few spots to eat, but I prefer takeout anyways. On a nice day, you can order Burma Bear and eat at Snow Park. Another shop is located in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.

A Happy Hour at Alamar

Alamar is a restaurant located on the first floor of The Grand, a beautiful luxury apartment building in Uptown Oakland. The owner and chef is Nelson German, a transplant from New York City. His food is influenced by his Domincan Republic upbringing as well as inspiration from Mediterranean and Asian cuisines.  

I met up with some friends recently for happy hour at Alamar. The three of us had wine and cocktails and ordered every food item on the happy hour menu.  

We started with a dozen West Coast oysters. At $1.50 per piece, these were a steal. The oysters were shucked cleanly and were small in size which I like. It was complimented with a tasty sambal mignonette sauce.    

I didn’t know what to expect when we ordered the petite chicken wing confit. They were basically sweet and savory chicken wings cooked with a thick bacon and honey glaze. These were not too shabby.  

The golden deep fried goat cheese with a lemon thyme honey drizzle had a picture perfect presentation with the smear of red beet purée. It came with sliced baguette. We each got one and it was too rich for me. I was also not a fan of the sweet drizzle.    

My favorite item was the parmesan truffle tornado crisp. I often see these at fairs, but I have never gotten one. The crisps individually break off as a potato chip and you can dip them in a garlic aioli. These were the best chips and dip I have ever had.     

The final item on the menu were the tostones, which are plantains that have been smashed to become flat and fried to a crisp. Chef Nelson seasons them generously with a tomato garlic salt and let’s us dip it in a sun dried tomato aioli. These bring back great memories of my time in Puerto Rico.   

Like this happy hour? Here is a link to another post I wrote on great places for happy hour in Oakland on localwisejobs.  

Drake’s Dealership: Oakland’s Hip New Place to Be

Drake’s Dealership is a brand new restaurant in an old historic building located on Broadway Auto Row in Uptown Oakland. This is just one of many businesses that have begun development over the space of old car dealerships and a repair shop that together now call themselves “Hive Oakland”.  

  
Drake’s Dealership is actually part of a larger local business that has been around since 1989, Drake’s Brewery in the industrial part of San Leandro. They are one of the early makers of craft beers in Northern California.I have been to the Dealership three times and have enjoyed myself in the beautiful and spacious open air beer garden.  
  My favorite thing about Drake’s Dealership is that you can order 4 oz. tasters of their beers on tap. While most people might order a taster to sample before they order a larger glass, I am ordering multiple tasters as mini sized drinks. This makes it fun for me. I do end up going back for the Oaklander Weisse, a Hefeweizen with a subtle hint of lemon.  
  The food at Drake’s Dealership is quite good. Their specialty is wood fired pizza in the form of New haven style, having a thin oblong shape, slightly charred, and a chewy crust.  
   
 I would highly recommend ordering a basket of French fries while there. You can get regular, garlic, or spicy. I ordered the spicy fries which are sprinkled with spicy seasoning and comes with a Sriracha mayonnaise.  They stayed crispy until the last fry.
 A friend of mine ordered the fish and chips which I got to taste. The inside of the fish was really moist, fresh, and delicious, but the outer batter was overcooked and overwhelming. A lighter batter would really help this menu item.
  Chicharrones are on their menu and is a perfect snack to have with beer. They have great flavor and crunch.  
 If you want dessert, it appears that you need to ask the waiter, as I haven’t seen it on a printed menu. On one occasion, I had a beer infused mousse and biscotti. I matched it with a 4 oz. taster of Nitro Stout which shows off some chocolate and coffee flavors. This was a great combination.
 Drake’s Dealership has only been open for about two months and has already become a hip, relevant place to be. I imagine that Drake’s Dealership will become an Oakland institution in no time.