Categories
Northern California Oakland reviews sandwiches

Eating Downtown Oakland – Cam Huong and Battambang

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I could offer any number of excuses for my hiatus, but I’ll go with this one…

After more than five years of working in the sleepy suburban town of Livermore, CA, I started a new job in downtown Oakland last month, and this change of scenery has led to several adjustments to my daily life. I no longer drive my car to work and am happily commuting via BART. This requires both my wife and I, who are notoriously late risers, to wake up a lot earlier than we’re used to so that I can catch the train every morning. While the drastic reduction of our overall fuel consumption has been good for the soul, my new office has been excellent for my stomach. It’s location at Oakland’s 12th Street City Center puts me blocks away from dozens of great lunch options, a world away from the limited options available to me in Livermore.

Before my first day of work, I began compiling a list of recommendations from friends who knew the area well and I combined them into this Google map.

I was most excited to be near Oakland Chinatown, which is smaller but generally better than the larger “tourist trap” Chinatown in San Francisco. Ironically, my two favorite places in Oakland Chinatown aren’t Chinese.

Cam Huong

Cam Huong is a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese deli that serves up a variety of hot and cold Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, but I go there for the bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) and fresh spring rolls. I went back the other day and got the #1, which is a cold cut combo with pate (hold the cilantro because I can’t stand the stuff). With the fresh bread, delicious meats and the pickled veggies inside, this is a perfect sandwich.

#1Cam Huong’s #1 is aptly named.

I always supplement my sandwiches with a three-pack spring rolls, and I really like the variety pack with goi cuon, bo bia and bi cuon (summer roll, sausage roll, shredded pork roll).

Spring Rolls - Cam HuongA spring roll three pack.

The sandwiches are all under $3, and when you include the spring rolls, I get out of there for just under $6. This makes the Subway $5 Footlong look like a bad deal. Next on the agenda is the grilled pork and cha gio bun, one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes. I hope there’s a table open next time I’m there.

Cam Huong Cafe
920 Webster Street
Oakland, CA
510.444.8800

Battambang

Battambang is a Cambodian restaurant just a few blocks down the street, and it’s already one of my favorite lunch spots. This is the dish that got me hooked…

Grilled Chicken Skewers - BattambangMoarn Aing – grilled chicken skewers.

…and this is what I ordered on my return:

Grilled Combo - BattambangLunch Combo – grilled chicken, beef, and shrimp skewers with fried rice.

I haven’t had a lot of Cambodian food, and I’m sure there’s more to the cuisine than grilled meat, but I’d seriously consider forsaking all other skewered meats to settle down with either of these dishes. If I had to choose, I’d stick with the combo for variety and the fried rice, but the spicy lime sauce it’s served with really pulls both of these dishes together. When I first saw it, I thought it was going to be similar to Vietnamese nuoc mam, which is one of my favorite things, but I really like the spicy lime sauce a whole lot more.

Looking over their menu, there’s a lot of other dishes I want to try, but the grilled meats keep me happy for now.

Battambang
850 Broadway
Oakland, CA
510.839.8815
Web site

I’m thinking of making Eating Downtown Oakland a running series, and there are a bunch other places around here that are worth discussion. Cam Huong and Battambang were fast favorites, and I can’t wait to see what else I can find in my new urban playground.

Categories
Northern California pork

The Porky Delights of PigEat Fest 2009

Pigtail!

Last Saturday, I attended the fundraiser known as PigEat Fest at San Fransisco’s Lake Merced. Benefiting the SF Food Bank, PigEat Fest is the brainchild of my friend Euge and is the fourth fundraiser he’s organized for the SF Food Bank over the years. Every dollar raised equals $9 worth of food, and PigEat Fest raised more than $2,500 ($24,500 in food). In total, Euge’s fundraisers have raised $11,500 for a whopping $103,500 of food. Good job, Euge!

*drool**DROOL*

Of course, the stars of the day were two Clark Summit Farm pigs that were alive two days before the event, so they were extremely fresh. They were cooked in La Caja Chinas by AJ, who had previous experience roasting pigs in the Chinese boxes, including a stint in the kitchen at Ad Hoc for their Swine & Wine dinner in March. You’re in good hands when AJ is in charge.

The pigs took around five hours to cook and were definitely worth the wait. I’ll just let the pictures roll by now. :)

Open-face PigWhen we arrived at around 12noon, the pigs were well on their way.
Scored Skin (before)When the pig reaches temperature, it’s flipped over and the skin is scored.
Scored Skin (after)Look how pretty the pig is when the skin crisps up.
A little piece of brain...Brains…
The Bootyand booty!
Puffy EarsThe puffy ears were prized delicacies.
Beautiful SkinGimme that skin!

The pigs were served with three delicious sauces, all courtesy of AJ: a mojo made from the roasted pig’s juices, a rich Filipino lechon sauce, and a North Carolina-style vinegar sauce. One pig was more than enough to feed the approximately 100 people in attendance, which meant that many of us took some of the second pig home with us. A lot of us, myself included, hovered around the table like vultures as the smaller more delectable pieces of meat (i.e. cheeks) and crispy pig skin were made available to us. (I should note that there was plenty of other food available since attendees were encouraged to bring food and drink to share with the group.)

To say that PigEat Fest was a success for both the eaters present and the SF Food Bank is a mild understatement. Can’t wait to do it again soon!

Categories
Northern California reviews The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The French Laundry

It’s pretty obvious from the content of this site that I’m a big fan of Thomas Keller, and up until this week, we had enjoyed every level of the Keller empire (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and cookbooks) except for his crown jewel—The French Laundry.

The French Laundry

Despite all the cooking and eating that I chronicle on this blog, I hardly see myself as an authority on food. If anything, I have a lot to learn about food, especially on the higher end of the spectrum, so each dining experience is an opportunity to glean some knowledge about what I’m eating and how it was prepared. This made my approach to this meal simple—trust the chef and enjoy the experience.

Categories
Ad Hoc beef Northern California reviews Thomas Keller

Ad Hoc Sunday Brunch 11.09.08

We went to Ad Hoc for brunch today with some friends (and Ad Hoc virgins). I think brunch is a great way to introduce Ad Hoc to the unitiated. The menu follows the pictures.


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SUNDAY BRUNCH

Deviled Eggs
bibb lettuce salad, fra’mani salami, sweet carrots
shaved fennel, marinated cucumbers, palladin toast

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Rustichella Rigatoncini
with Prime Ribeye Beef

garbanzo beans, baby arugula, shaved parmesean
chanterelle mushrooms

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Blood Orange Granité
sugar cookie
toasted almonds

I’m not really sure if I can pinpoint the real highlight of this meal, but the Blood Orange Granité is a strong contender. Those are strong sentiments when you consider the main course included prime ribeye with chanterelles and pasta and was one of the best entrees I’ve eaten at Ad Hoc.

Categories
beef dessert Northern California reviews steak

Birthday Dinner @ Alexander’s Steakhouse

I’ve raved about Alexander’s Steakhouse before and have been trying to manufacture excuses to go back. My birthday was as good a reason as any to make my return. My previous post has all the background info on Alexander’s, so let’s cut to the chase.

We were greeted with a nice amuse of cold sunchoke soup with crouton.


Amuse - Cold Sunchoke Coup

I started off with my usual Hamachi Shot of Grade 5 hamachi, red chili, frizzled ginger, avocado, truffled ponzu, which was a great way to get your head in the game and start off the meal. It’s $4 for one and a six pack is $20.

Hamachi Shot

Next up were our appetizers. I ordered the “Steak and Eggs,” which was carpaccio, quail egg, deviled egg, and vegetable salpicon. The presentation was a little fussy, and I really wasn’t sure how I was supposed to eat it. In the end, it was really good, but I don’t think I’d order it again.

"Steak and Eggs"

My wife ordered the Smoked Salmon Pastrami served with Boursin cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and toasted rye bread. She made these into open-face sandwiches that were delicious, although I found the sauerkraut a little subtle. Still, if this is on the menu next time we go back, I think we’d have to get this again.

Smoked Salmon Pastrami

Before our entrees came out, we had an intermezzo—a watermelon shooter with cucumber foam. I normally hate cucumbers (it’s a texture thing), but as a foam, I thought it was great and complemented the watermelon really well.

Intermezzo-Watermelon Shooter with Cucumber Foam

I was really torn about what to order for the main course. I knew it was going to be steak, but there’s so many options on the menu. Do I go with the 10 oz. filet mignon with shiitakes, scallions and candied bacon? Or how about the 2 lb. bone-in ribeye with barbecue demi glace and roasted tomatoes? The Melange had been reconfigured since my last visit and featured a filet steak with green olives and bleu cheese and a Kobe patty melt panini to go with the braised shortrib and brie en cocotte. In the end, I decided on the 28 oz. dry-aged porterhouse with black truffle mousseline. (I requested the mousseline on the side and it got cropped out of the picture.)

28oz Porterhouse

It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (as it should be), and I really loved the filet section of the porterhouse.

My wife ordered the pan-roasted halibut with beurre noisette of porcini, butternut squash, chestnuts, and brussels sprouts. Alexander’s might be a steakhouse, but their seafood is also excellent.


Pan Roasted Halibut

We both ordered dessert, but I also received a complimentary peanut butter chocolate mousse cake, so the table got a bit crowded. Every knows that peanut butter and chocolate are two great tastes that go great together, and this little birthday cake was no exception.

Peanut Butter Mousse Cake

Continuing with the peanut theme, my wife had the Peanut Gallery, which was an assortment of peanut-based desserts, including peanut brittle, peanut butter chocolate mousse, caramel ice cream, and some chocolate popcorn with peanut butter powder, which was the best thing on the plate. The crunchy saltiness of the popcorn combined with the subtle sweetness of the chocolate and the little hit of peanut butter from the powder was pure bliss.

Peanut Gallery

I had the Midnight Train, which was like a deconstructed tiramisu. I forgot to get more exact details about this dessert, but from what I remember it was a tiramisu cheesecake topped with meringue cookies, caramelized sugar strips, whipped cream and lemon zest.

Midnight Train

Overall, it was a great meal to celebrate a late 30s birthday. My wife’s birthday is in a couple months…maybe I can convince her to go back for her birthday, too.

Categories
eggs Italian Neapolitan Northern California pizza reviews

Pizzeria Delfina

Earlier this year, I embarked on a quest to find the best Neapolitan pizza around. L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza is my favorite, but in the Bay Area, that title currently belongs to Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur with Pizzaiolo in Oakland a close second. But after yesterday, Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco’s Mission District just squeezed itself into the number two slot.

I always like to start with the basics, so we ordered the Margherita pizza. The tomato sauce was a little bland, which was disappointing, and my wife said it could have used more fresh basil, as well. However, both the mozzarella and the crispy/chewy/salty crust were great and almost made up for these deficiencies.


Margherita

Our other pizza was one of the daily specials, the Carbonara, which featured pancetta, leeks, Pecorino Romano and two runny eggs. Thanks to Pizzaiolo, I love eggs on pizza, but Delfina was able to ensure that the eggs covered the entire pizza so that there was a little in every bite. This pizza was perfect and sinfully good.

Carbonara

The Carbonara and Delfina’s pizza crust were enough to put Pizzeria Delfina just slightly ahead of Pizzaiolo in the pizza category. (To be fair, Pizzaiolo offers a much more diverse menu that includes fresh burrata, as well as some excellent pastas.)

Pizzeria Delfina’s in a great location about 4 blocks from the 16th Street BART station, which is good because finding parking was a big issue for us. But its 18th Street location means that it’s also sandwiched between the venerable Tartine Bakery and Bi-Rite Creamery, my favorite ice cream in San Francisco. Maybe next time we go to Pizzeria Delfina we’ll try one of their desserts, but with those two options nearby, would you blame us for asking for the check when we were done with our pizzas?

INFORMATION
Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110 map
415.437.6800
Web site
Pizzeria Delfina on Urbanspoon

Categories
Alice Waters Chez Panisse Northern California reviews

Chez Panisse

With all the praise and reverence that is bestowed upon Chez Panisse, it’s easy to become jaded about it before even stepping foot in the restaurant. I admit that I had my share of skepticism, but I also knew that the restaurant known for being the birthplace of California cuisine and an alumni list that reads like a culinary all-star team wouldn’t be around for nearly 40 years if it was merely mediocre.

Normally, Chez Panisse takes reservations a month ahead, but I called two days before our Friday night dinner and secured a late dinner reservation upstairs in the cafe at 9:45pm. Both the upstairs cafe and the downstairs restaurant offer different menus every night, but the cafe offers an a la carte menu with several options, while the restaurant has a set menu. We looked up the menu for the day online, so we pretty much knew what we wanted when we walked in the door.

We ordered a pizzetta of squash and squash blossoms, and it was the perfect starter. The toppings were really good, nice and balanced, although I’m more into eating squash blossoms than actual squash. The crust was perfect—crispy but chewy and salty—exactly how I like my pizza crust. I’d even say that the crust rivals that of some of my favorite pizzas, including Pizzeria Mozza and Pizzeria Picco.


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My wife really liked her wood-oven baked lasagna with tomato, eggplant, basil and Parmesan, a simple, beautiful rustic dish. I ordered lamb with frisee, sausage, fennel, crispy potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The lamb and potatoes were perfectly cooked and delicious. The sausage was a little bland, but when eaten with its natural partner i.e. fennel, it was really nice. I even ate the chanterelles, and I don’t really like mushrooms.

For dessert, my wife ordered a strawberry and raspberry shortcake, which she loved. It’s a simple formula really… take the freshest fruit and combine it with a sweet, biscuit-like shortcake and a little creme chantilly, and you have a perfect dessert.

I ordered the mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sauce, and I was in heaven. Mint chip is one of my favorite flavors and this iteration was one of the best I’ve had. The mint flavor was great, and I loved the dark chocolate chips embedded in each bite. It was served with what our waiter said were called “Killer Cookies,” which were like chocolate, chocolate-chip cookie slivers and lived up to their name.

Overall, we had an excellent meal and were already talking about a return visit as we walked out the door. If I had any regrets, it’s that I wish I had visited this culinary mecca years ago.

INFORMATION
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709 map
510.548.5049 (Cafe)
510.548-5525 (Restaurant)
Web Site
Chez Panisse on Urbanspoon

Categories
Ad Hoc fried chicken Northern California reviews Thomas Keller

Ad Hoc – 9/17/08 (Anniversary Dinner)

It was our third wedding anniversary, Thomas Keller was in the house, and it was fried chicken night at Ad Hoc. Not a bad way to celebrate.


Salad of Petite Romaine Hearts
marinated white anchovies, pickled red onions
torn garlic croutons, creamy anchovy dressing

~

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
tfl garden cucumber salad
country style whipped potatoes

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The Cheese Board
marshall’s farm honey
spiced nuts

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Parfait
house made granola, black mission figs
vanilla cream

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I also found out that our anniversary is the day after Ad Hoc’s anniversary (it was their second) and may explain why Keller was in town. Our waiter, Dan, said Keller was at Ad Hoc three nights in a row, and when I asked why they also served fried chicken last Monday, he said Keller was hosting some friends and they wanted to eat fried chicken. Add that to the normal Wednesday night fried chicken and fried chicken night tomorrow, and that’s three fried chicken nights in eight days. If you’re an Ad Hoc fried chicken junkie…it’s been a good week.

Categories
Ad Hoc Northern California reviews Thomas Keller

Ad Hoc – 8/31/08

You don’t have to go to Slow Food Nation to appreciate some slow food. In fact, one of the best ways to revel in slow food is to head up to Yountville, get some goodies at Bouchon Bakery and have dinner at Ad Hoc. My sister-in-law is in town for the next week, so naturally, we took her to Ad Hoc. In fact, halfway through dinner, we made a reservation for this week’s Sunday brunch. If you still haven’t made your way up to Ad Hoc, Sunday Brunch is a great way to be introduced to the restaurant. But enough about brunch…I’ll post pictures of that next week. :-)

Coincidentally, the first anniversary of the Ad Hoc Menu Archive is on Sep. 1, so this was something else to commemorate (although this wasn’t planned out like our Ad Hoc anniversary.)

Here’s last night’s menu:


Three Bean Salad
rancho gordo heirloom beans, haricots verts, red onions,
tfl garden tomatoes, sherry vinaigrette

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Roasted Pork Tenderloin
brentwood sweet corn, wilted spinach, pine nuts,
roasted marble potatoes, eggplant mustard

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Capriole Dairy’s
Mont St. Francis

glazed peaches
toasted brioche

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Ice Cream Sundaes
california strawberries, crushed pecans,
chocolate and caramel sauces


Check out the corn on the cob. It was definitely the unexpected star of the meal. We even asked for a second helping.

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Categories
musings Northern California reviews

Gluttony at Slow Food Nation ’08

Slow Food Nation '08I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to any of Slow Food Nation this weekend because I had family in town, but I managed to convince my wife and sister-in-law to trek down to the Civic Center on Saturday afternoon to check things out.

Our original mission was to get some ice cream from either Bi-Rite Creamery or the Ici Ice Cream booths since we had already eaten lunch before coming into San Francisco. We couldn’t find Ici’s booth, which bummed us out because we’ve heard so many good things about it, and by the time we got to Bi-Rite’s booth, all they had left were some pluot popsicles. The popsicles were good but weren’t exactly what we were looking for.

What we did find was Three Twins Ice Cream, an organic ice cream company based out of San Rafael, CA. It was late in the afternoon and a lot of the flavors we wanted to try were already sold out. Plus, scoops were $4 and pints were $6, so we ended up buying a pint of their Milk and Cookies and a scoop of orange sherbet.


Three Twins Ice Cream

The orange sherbet wasn’t very sweet, which was great, and it had a light airy texture to it. I loved it. The Milk and Cookies was one of the best versions of cookies and cream I’ve ever had. The three of us were plowing through this so fast that we had to stop ourselves and throw it out before we were too full to try any other food. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures because we were too busy enjoying it to bother. :-)

Three Twins was located in the farmer’s market section of Marketplace, so we ventured over to the other side of the plaza to the Slow on the Go section to visit the food vendors. We tried some really tlacoyos (stuffed masa cakes) from Primavera (left), a nice grilled sausage and peppers sandwich from Fatted Calf. Now we were really full.


Tlacoyos from Primavera (left) and a sausage and pepper sandwich from Fatted Calf.

I’m not a composter, but the Black Gold bricks were pretty cool.

Black Gold Compost