Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Berkeley Oakland Tour

G and I headed to Berkeley and Oakland for an afternoon of food. The goal was to visit some old stomping grounds, have fun, not explode, and be back to the City in time for dinner.

Vik’sHyderabadi Fish was the daily special, we enjoyed the fish and the mild buttery sauce. I love the pickled achar and papam that comes standard with the specials. We also had the pane puri which is the mini puris with potato, chickpea and mint. I prefer the giant puri’s and liked the look of the dosas being consumed around us, but felt that would be far too filling to start off our day. We also had the Dahi Pakori a lentil dumpling topped with yogurt, which I did not like because of its sweetness. This is not a negative reflection upon Vik’s preparation. I’ve had this dish at other restaurants and didn’t like it. I just keep forgetting that I don’t like it and for some reason the description always attracts me. Note to self no more Dahi Pakori. The last time I was at Vik’s was about six years ago and the furnishings were far different. Good to see the place doing well with real seating and nice new counters.

Acme – picked up an Epi loaf, Pain Levain and an almond croissant for later. I was disappointed by the almond croissant. The Epi loaf was good, but I still prefer the walnut bread at Tartine (as well as Tartine’s Frangipane Croissant).

Then headed to the Cheeseboard for pizza. The pizza du jour was Asparagus, Prima Donna Gouda, Mozzarella, Olive Oil, Lemon Zest, Garlic and Parsley. Beautiful pizza, thin with the right amount of cheese, the lemon and parsley really stood out. The bottom was wonderfully crisp and supported the softer layer of crust above. Hooray, a place with good crust!

Café Rouge. I wanted to buy some sausages and decided on a few of their house made Merguez and Seville sausages. The seville was made of pork, proscuitto, all spice, and Seville oranges. At home I found it very tasty, salty from the proscuitto, red and slightly citrus from the orange, the flavor profile reminded me of a milder version of Calabrese sausage. We also picked up some proscuitto for a cheese tray we were putting together. The proscuitto was excellent with the port salute cheese brought by E on Sunday; it was not as intense as the one from Lucca.

Headed to Ici. Tasted the Cardamom and Burnt Caramel. The burnt caramel had a bit too much of the bitter burnt flavor to me, I guess I’ve become accustomed to Bi-Rite’s salted caramel. The cardamom was good, but I settled on a Meyer Lemon with Gingersnap ice cream sandwich. Enjoyed the gingersnap layers very much and liked the Meyer Lemon ice cream, but it is slightly icier and more citrus than the one at Bi-Rite which I prefer. My friend had the Catalan Cream flavor and loved it. It was flavored with Anis, Vanilla and something else. She also loved the cone and commented that the flavors at Ici are fairly pure as if they should be served with something as a dessert. They are still good as stand alone ice cream (she preferred Ici to Bi-Rite), but better with the ice cream sandwich layer or their excellent cones. This made sense to me given that it was started by a former Chez Panisse pastry chef.

Off to Oakland's Chinatown where we had Har Gow at Delicious Foods. The Har Gow were particularly good, better than many of those I’ve had from the Clement take out places. Very good recommendation. A thinnish dumpling skin gently wrapping a soft shrimp filling. The wrapper was soft, not thick or gummy, and held together a substantial amount of shrimp. I will get those again.

Walked around the corner to Napoleon Bakery where we grabbed a couple of sponge cupcakes and custard tarts for later. The guy next to us was loading up on the cupcakes and said ‘these are great aren’t they, like biting into pillows.’ As I bit into one in the car, I found them soft and airy, simple and not too sweet. We consumed the tarts that night, nice egg taste, good crust - they held up well.

Then to Tao Yuen, a couple of doors down where we opted for the tofu skin rolls and a sesame ball. The tofu skin rolls were very crispy on the outside even though they had been sitting around and must have been fried a while ago. The flavorful filling had pork, shrimp, mushrooms, water chestnuts -- better than the soggy style served on Clement. The sesame ball was not good at all. Rice rolls were recommended, but both G and I agreed that we were not in the mood. I then sheepishly admitted I was not a huge fan of mantou or long rice noodles. G exclaimed “me too!” and we agreed that it was odd because many people whom we respect love them. We walked out and enjoyed our tofu skin rolls, happy with the knowledge that two people sharing the same stomach had managed to find each other in this crazy world of ours.

It was starting to rain, so we figured we better get to the taco trucks before it became too wet to eat outside. After cruising past several of them we stopped at Tacos Guadalajara. Both of us had al pastor. The al pastor had the spicy seasoning I expected, but the meat was cut a little more thickly than what I’m used to. I’m on the fence as to whether this was an improvement or not. There have been times I felt that the thin cut al pastor was too overpowering, this cut was thick and juicy and held up to the seasoning. The tortillas were slightly toasted, but still soft.

Made a short stop at Cinco de Maya Nieves shop on Int’l Boulevard where we were disappointed to find some regular ice cream bought wholesale. Of course, we were at the wrong place, not the food stall that we had intended to try. We ordered a hibiscus flavored snow cone. It was the typical kind that you get at a school fund raising carnival, but at least something to refresh us before we headed to Taqueria Sinaloa . The snow cone was too sweet and the ice was coarse (not like shaved ice in Hawaii). We would not come back here.

Finally a stop at Sinaloa where we ordered tacos de carnitas, al pastor and tripitas. The meat on the carnitas and al pastor were very tender and juicy. She particularly liked the soft juicy carnitas meat. The al pastor was tender though the sauce was slightly sweet, which I was not expecting. Tripitas were a bit of a disappointment for me, because the tripe was somewhat soft. I’m used to the Tonayense trucks where they fry the tripitas right before serving so that it gets crisped up to the consistency and taste of crisp bacon. The tortillas were crispy and a bit oily from frying. I’ll get the carnitas next time.

Thanks to the folks on Chowhound who armed us with recommendations and maps for our tour, I was happy with the food sites around Berkeley and Oakland. Even after trying eleven places in one afternoon, I was already thinking of new possibilities for further adventures.

Our day was a success, we had fun, survived without any permanent injury to internal organs and were back in time for dinner. Hopefully G will be up for Part Two on the next visit to SF.

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