Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Berkeley and Oakland, California Restaurant Experiences

Berkeley, California
Chez Panisse Restaurant Cafe 

Chez Panisse restaurant has been around for a very long time. I chose to eat at the cafe upstairs, a less formal establishment that has a very special interest in comfort food. 

I began with the wood fired oven cooked pizzetta, a wonderfully thin, well done, blister crusted, crispy pizza with such flavourful toppings as wild nettles, slow cooked slices of red onion, garlic and pecorino cheese. 

I then enjoyed buttercup squash ravioline that were perfectly cooked and also had a very delicate texture. The combined the sweetness of the squash, fresh peas with brown butter and and the slightly bitter, savoury sage, was remarkable.

The next course was Tomales bay clams baked in the wood fired oven with chopped tomato and garlic aioli side with crispy toast.

Dessert was Comice pear tart, blissfully caramelized in the wood burning oven, with a flakey crusted pastry, topped with sliced toasted almonds and sided with a lovely vanilla bean ice cream. We also had an amaro bitter chocolate ganache tartlet  sided with a dense luscious caramel cream.

Chez Panisse has been around a long time, but still remains quite fabulous!

Bakesale Betty's, Oakland, California

Bakesale Betty's is a very small room with no seats inside and a big lineup outside if you come during the prime times. They are particularly known for their southern fried chicken sandwich and it is known throughout the area, hence the long lines. Seating is outside the shop at old restored ironing board tables and one perches on stools.

The sandwich is stuffed with a mildly vinegary slaw of lettuce, jalapenos, cabbage and parsley. The crunchy, punchy slaw provides a nice kick of contrasting taste and texture with the very crispy fried chicken. All in a small crispy boule. A really good sandwich!

I also tried a sloppy joe that was offered. A decent joe but not worth the trip. The fried chicken sandwich was worth it.

We also enjoyed breakfast or lunch at Cafe Fanny, a very small take out with very limited seating, owned by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. It has a very small menu with sandwiches, salads, desserts and great coffee. Everything of a very high quality. It is located between Acme Bakery, perhaps the best bakery in the San Francisco area, and Kermitt Lynch, the very well known and highly regarded wine purveyor, in a very small plaza.

Saul's Restaurant and Delicatessen, Berkeley

Saul's is mentioned in many guidebooks and in David Sax's book, Save the Deli. So, I decided to try it out. 
The Corned beef which is a bit tough and rubbery, could do with thinner slicing and I found too salty. Pancer's in Toronto, is a much better corned beef experience. 

Niman ranch pastrami is cured in brine then rubbed with garlic, paprika, coriander and cloves then long smoked and finally steamed till tender. The pastrami is very tender and but lacks the attractive and mouth pleasing smokyness of Caplanski's Deli in Toronto, which at it's best is so much better, but has been so inconsistent since Zane Caplansky moved out of the kitchen. Remarkably, here at Saul's, the outside of bread is lightly toasted and very lightly brushed with butter. This novelty is not a Jewish Tradition! The rye is closer to levain and is a pale brown colour, possessing a wonderful crust. Of course it was made by one of the best bakeries in the United States, the local Acme Bakery.

Tacos Sinaloa, Oakland

This tacos truck was a trek and probably not worth it, but once I received my food, I enjoyed it for what it was, good local real food. The 2 tacos were pork and braised beef tongue. The tacos were home made. The pork was covered with an onion cilantro sauce spiced with jalapeno pepper onto which I squeezed fresh lemon juice. The tongue was topped with a tomato onion based sauce. The tacos were accompanied by crunchy radish slices, that went well.

A dish of bbq'd pulled pork, beans and creamy cole slaw accompanied the tacos, but was a    modest effort of taste.

Everett and Jones BBQ, Oakland
Everett and Jones is a well known highly regarded local bbq resto that uses white oak for smoking. I ordered the combo plate, consisting of sausage, brisket, ribs and chicken. The sausage had a nice coarse texture, was pleasantly spicy and had a nice smoke. The brisket was a bit tough and dry and only mildly smokey. The chicken was over cooked, being barely moist with an overly smokey flavour. In fact, the chicken had little taste and must have been very commercial bird. We pronounced the bbq sauce "good" and made some of the food tolerable. The ribs were a bit too much "fall of the bone" and we found the meat a bit dry and a bit too stringy. We also tried the bbq beans and found the taste to be overwhelmed by the spice, especially the flavour of cumin. Collard greens were also ordered and were very tasty with bits of of bbq'd pork adding a dimension to the flavours. I found the use of white oak overwhelming for the flavours of the food. In my opinion, apple, or pecan wood would have been an improvement. 

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