Chez Panisse

I remember my first time seeing the little house that is  Chez Panisse and how much I wanted to go there, and thinking that when I graduate that is where my family will go to dine. And then there was a fire and it shut down for several months. So much for that.

However, anniversaries being the celebratory occasions that they are, there was no better place to celebrate.

Chez Panisse opened in 1971, with the philosophy that the best food comes from the best ingredients. This was before everyone was talking about local, organic, sustainable food and so Alice Waters can be thought of as a pioneer in the ever growing “food movement” (defined however you see fit). From the beginning the restaurant served a set menu, changing daily based upon the seasons. The upstairs cafe however, offers an a la carte menu, where diners are welcome to pick from a few assorted dishes. It was in the upstairs cafe which we dined.

I have never been treated so well in a restaurant, but again, I am not one to frequent fine dining establishments. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, and I was not talked down to or made to feel ignorant when I asked questions about the wine (and which one I should get since I had absolutely no idea). The vegetarian main option for the night was a Comte Souffle with wild mushrooms, spinach, and celery root. Using this as the springboard of the night, I settled on a grapefruit, fennel and butter lettuce salad as an appetizer since the bright citrus would compliment the rich, creamy souffle.

The three ingredients in the salad, tasted as they should, drizzled in a light olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. The thin shavings of fennel were not to overpowering, and I don’t think I’ve ever had grapefruit quite as sweet and aromatic. Once appetizers were cleared, along came the main course. I’ve never eaten souffle before, and I am generally not one to opt for rich, creamy dishes. But this…was light and airy, cheesy, and slightly browned on top. There was only a touch of cream on the rim of the plate, and under the pile of spinach were a few pieces of celery root, which I think I am now obsessed with. Sweet and earthy. Of course I ate all of it.

Despite my increasing fullness, I naturally had to have some dessert. After our main course was cleared, and the crumbs swept off our table (seriously), I contemplated the dessert menu. I was to full for chocolate cake, but what caught my eye was persimmon pudding with bourbon caramel and creme chantilly. Thats right. I was so sad a few weeks ago thinking I would have to wait until next year for something persimmon-esque to come my way, but here was something! And with bourbon caramel, what could go wrong? Nothing. It was delicious and sponge-y and sweet. The slight bitterness and bite from the bourbon caramel was cooled with a dabble of creme chantilly.

It was worth every penny. Not only the delicious food, but also knowing that I was supporting a place that sources well and pays living wages. Hobbling down the stairs, belly full and happy, I wanted to turn right around and do it all over again.

*unfortunately I have no pictures. I was not about to bust out my phone mid meal. Um, rude. But instead, I offer you a picture of dinner that I made.

not chez panisse

not chez panisse

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The Cheese Board

I’m not a frequent consumer of pizza or cheese because of its generally suspicious place of origin. However, on occasion, I do like to spend some $$ on a hunk of cheese from a reliable source. I was probably a little to excited for the adventure to the Cheese Board Collective in the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley. I have been to Cheese Board before, yes. It was to indulge in soft chewy rolls, or sweet and succulent muffins of sorts. I have also bought small bits of cheese from the bin of rejects that are to small and sad looking to sell at a full price. But being in Berkeley for 2 years and not ever having the pizza is not the least bit acceptable.

The pizza collective rotates between different pizza’s everyday, and the weekly menu is posted on-line, well, each week. Pizzas are always vegetarian (win!) with ingredients coming from places nearby, so its seasonal too. Only having one type of pizza means that when you get your slices, they are extraordinarily oven fresh. Like, you have to wait a moment to take that first bite, which can be torturous. But never fear, since mini pieces line your plate, and these mini pieces are from an older pie which is at good eating temperature.

Being very excited, I took out the surprise factor and looked up the flavor online. It just increased my anticipation because it included 2 types of mushrooms, and mushrooms are one of my favorite things. Here was the daily flavor:

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We got there relatively early (5PM on a Saturday) which meant that the line was short. Not that a long line would have detracted this excursion. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people go somewhere expecting to wait in line, and then complain about the line. Solution: don’t go there? Waiting in line for places like Ici or Cheese Board, or a select Food Truck is part of the experience. You get to people watch and you might make a friend or two while you wait. The Cheese Board also has live music more often than not, which makes waiting in line a pleasurable experience. Within 10 minutes we were at the register ordering 1/2 a pizza with the intention to have leftovers for the next day. Yeah right…

It was delicious. The crust was chewy enough, yet not to bread-y and thick, which tends to ball up in your throat as you swallow it. The mushrooms and 2 types of cheese were complimentary to each other. The asparagus was a reminder of spring. My one gripe however, was the excessive oil that seemed to emanate from the pizza. Not so much the natural oils that come from the cheese, but the excess garlic oil that was drizzled on top. In addition to pizza, they’ve also got beer, bubbly drinks, cookies, and some sauces. As you can see, beer was purchased, but cookies were not.

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Perhaps next time cookies will be purchased, since there will definitely be a next time. I want to try some of the more unique varieties of pizza they concoct, I’ve heard rumors about sweet potatoes and squash and corn, amongst other toppings.

New Fave Food. Kinda

DSCN3044This.

I have never been a fan of the boxed variety of mac and cheese, and I was not subject to it as a small child. Mac and cheese is not generally a food that my parents made or were drawn to, since they are not from here. I vaguely remember tasting the boxed variety at a friends house and thinking it was gross, and since then, I “didn’t like mac and cheese”. But no one doesn’t not like mac and cheese. Rather, one might not like the boxed variety.

My first positive mac and cheese memory was also at my friends house. I was a little suspicious and scared when she told me her mom was making mac and cheese for dinner and that it was “so good!”. I was expecting another meal from a box. But alas, I was very wrong. Her mom made baked mac and cheese, from scratch, with crunchy bread crumbs on top and ooey gooey creamy-ness inside. Since then, I liked mac and cheese, but only real mac and cheese.

Its not a food I make often because the ingredients are rather expensive and I wont buy a 2 lb block of generic cheese. When making it at home, I had been experimenting with vegan versions made of nutritional yeast, silken tofu, and an assortment of spices. I have had some successes. And now, living in the bay area, it is rather easy to obtain vegan mac and cheese that makes my heart sing. Both Homeroom and Souley Vegan have versions of the dish, and the Souley Vegan kind can also be found in the ready to go refrigerator at several grocery stores.

When I found this vegan boxed version on the shelf, my curiosity got the better of me. I had used “chreese” sauce before and I knew it tasted good. So why would this not taste good? Chrees-y sauce AND whole wheat macaroni? Sold! (they also have a gluten free version and a mac and shells kind which is not whole wheat)

Its really easy to make: Boil water, Add pasta, Drain. Make sauce: water +powder+1-3T oil. Combine. I generally add some extra nutritional yeast, and I only use 1T olive oil.

Last night I had the genius idea of making this mac and cheese and throwing in the extra cup of pumpkin puree I had in my refrigerator from earlier this week. I omitted the oil from the cheesy sauce and simply used water+powder+pumpkin+extra nutritional yeast. It was FANTASTIC. The pumpkin made the mac and cheese extraordinarily creamy, and it also had the added benefit of some extra nutrition. And, it turned a brilliant shade of orange, reminiscent of fake cheddar cheese. I like the whole wheat macaroni because of the slightly nutty taste that it adds, and the grainy texture. So, if you are on a quest for a great boxed version of mac and cheese, yet suspicious what exactly powdered cheese contains, I would highly recommend this vegan version (+pumpkin). None of the ingredients are strange, its mostly a combination of spices, nutritional yeast, and cornstarch.

things that are supposed to be eaten out of bowls always taste better when eaten out of cups.

things that are supposed to be eaten out of bowls always taste better when eaten out of cups.

 

 

Sketch Ice Cream

Since the weather has been so lovely the past few days, and my work load has not been to crazy, I have been getting on my bike quite frequently. I generally go down to the marina and bike along the trail (I saw a snake yesterday!). A few weeks ago, I notice a new ice cream place opened up, and I kept making mental notes to look it up online and maybe pop in for a taste, depending on what it was all about. The place is called Sketch Ice Cream, just incase you couldn’t tell by the title of this blog.

They make soft serve–different flavors every day–and they use Strauss Organic Milk. Thats a +1. And it made me really excited because I have not had soft serve in ages since it often seems to come from suspicious milk sources. They’ve also got homemade candies and caramels, and a small assortment of minuscule sized baked goods. They’ve also got “3 Buck Pucks” which is frozen yogurt in a cup that is frozen overnight to make a harder version of ice cream. When I walked in, I was taken aback by the lack of decor. I suppose I was expecting something more playful after reading the playful description on the playful website:

Reminiscent of childhood memories, candied treats, and dripping ice cream, we hope to provide you with a sensory experience… one that begins at the door with a warm “hello”

I was not really greeted with a warm hello, rather my interchange with the buddy at the counter was kind of awkward. I felt like he was distracted by something, and just not willing to help. The soft serve flavors they had on hand yesterday were: Rose Geranium, lavender, vanilla, and chocolate sorbet. I really wanted the Rose Geranium with the Chocolate Sorbet, but because those did not come out of the same soft serve dispenser, I couldn’t mix those together unless I got a large. Um, lame. I was a little disappointed by this, because I wanted chocolate pretty badly. I settled on a Small Rose Geranium because the flavor is slightly more unique then chocolate.

How was it? It was delicious. The rose flavor was just the right amount of sweet, and very aromatic. And the consistency was creamy and smooth, not at all icy. It was not tainted pink with artificial colors, so it looked like it could have been vanilla ice cream. It came served in a little paper cup with a metal spoon. I was surprised by the paper cup–I was expecting a “for here” reusable container. Below is a rather crappy cell phone generated photograph.

 

 

130504_0000After consuming the above portion in 15 minutes, I hopped back on my bike. After 2 minutes I had a very odd aftertaste in my mouth, which might have a few explanations. 1) I have not had dairy ice cream for a while and so it could have been the cream/fat content leaving a sheen on my tongue 2) the flavor itself might have left the aftertaste

Would I go back? hmmm…if I am in the area and really wanting ice cream, then yes of course. But will I go out of my way to get soft serve from there? hmmm…probably not. In a word, my experience was just…”meh”. For the fancy-ness it touts, it was just average and nothing really stood out.

 

Beauty’s Bagel Shop

or is is shoppe?

Anyways, a new place has been discovered! I was skimming through Sunset Magazine and stumbled upon a snippet about good jewish deli food on the west coast, and they highlighted a few places, Beauty’s being one of them. When I saw they were in Oakland only a bike ride away, I had to find out what the brouhaha was all about. And so Breakfast was had there this morning.

Beauty’s boils their bagels in honey water before baking making them “Montreal Style”. Montreal Style bagels are also smaller, denser and slightly sweeter than your typical NY bagel which is puffy and fluffy. Furthermore, they’ve got a real hole in the middle that you can actually see through, its rather big, instead of the remnants of a hole. They bake them in a wood fired oven.

These bagels were delicious. Had I not known what I was in for (that is, had I not known about the different types of bagels) I might have been disappointed to see a smaller than usual bagel. But I was not disappointed. I loved the sweeter flavor and because the bagels are denser, the flavors of the flour really stand out. It was delicious.

I got a wheat bagel with cream cheese, tomato, salt and pepper, along with a giant pickle because who can go do a Jew type deli without getting a massive dill pickle? I also was curious about the “vegetarian pate” on the menu which is made from mushrooms, caramelized onions, and a bunch of spices. I tasted it, and although it was good, the texture was not to my liking…to airy?

They use Sierra Nevada Cream Cheese which is made in Northern California from small scale dairy producers. It is organic, hormone free, and all that good stuff. Furthermore, the Cornucopia Institute has rated them with a “4” (out of 5) which is excellent. The tomatoes on my bagel were the most amazing things ever. Extraordinarily sweet and with a slightly tough skin they tasted like dry harvested tomatoes one would expect mid summer. I wonder where they were from? The S&P on top complimented them quite well.

Breakfast of champions*

My only qualm however, was that the bagel was toasted. In my opinion, toasting freshly baked anything is a terrible thing to do. If something was just made, it needs to be enjoyed and tasted in that form because the flavors are still there and the texture is still chewy, moist, crumbly, or whatever. Toasting is a way to salvage bread that is either a) not delicious or b) a little stale. When I head there next time for a bagel, I will request it not to be toasted. That being said, it is obviously worth paying Beauty’s Bagel Shop another visit

My friends open faced bagel with cream cheese, lox, onions, tomatoes, capers and a pickled carrot.  Apparently it was some of the best lox he has had for a long time, they tasted like ocean and not like fish. There was a giant fish-thing in the display case where I presume they cut the lox from*
*phallic looking photos. 

Thursday ‘venture, disappointment, and more venture

Thursday eve was an adventure starting out with coffee roasting and tasting in front of Cafe Med. John of cafe casacurry was doing a roasting demonstration along with a tasting of coffee which he grows in El Salvador. It was interesting to see the beans being roasted, gradually turning from a green to brown due to the heat. Apparently, you can use an old school popcorn maker to roast your own beans.

We tasted the coffee in a french press (it was not the beans just roasted, they have to sit for several days to bring out the flavors). How did it taste? It was pretty rich and heavy on my tongue, a little to dark for my personal preference. But I do tend to like coffees that are lighter and have a slight acidity to them as opposed to that richness. 
Part 2 of Thursday was supposed to include some Monkey Head Ale at Triple Rock. Walking down Shattuck, we noticed a new place called Comal and there was consensus to check it out next time. Upon arrival to Triple Rock, the line was long to even get inside. Apparently, many people come for Monkey Head, especially during the start of the semester when there is time. What to do? Check out Comal of course!!!
Comal is a modern looking restaurant with 2 bars, one inside and one outside. The lighting is dim with rather large bulbs, tables and walls and bars and stools are wooden, and there are some paintings on the wall reminiscent of the inside of tree trunks. There was a crowd, but the high ceilings made it feel spacious. The food is influenced by mexican flavors, but with a modern twist (so a type of fusion I suppose?) Upon informing the hostess we were just interested in drinks, she informed us there was a bar outside as well. We ventured out (yes, there are heaters). 
The drinks on the menu consist of wine, beer, and fancy cocktails. There are also flights of tequila and mescal available. Prices are about average, 4-7 for beer, 5-9 for wine, 9-11 for a cocktail. I ordered a swizzle, which consisted of passionfruit and lime and pineapple. I was able to choose between tequila and mescal, and I opted for the mescal which has a smokier flavor (I was thinking along the lines of grilled pineapple). I was highly satisfied with my drink and the margarita that I tasted was delicious although very sweet after the mescal. We also discovered a tasty new beer: Saison Diego brewed in San Diego. One downside however, was that the tables outside by the heaters were for diners only which left us to the picnic style tables away from the heaters. There is however an outdoor fire pit and we were luck to find some seats right by it. I can see the table/heater predicament becoming a problem but they did just open, so I give them the benefit of the doubt. 

I would most definitely return to try some of the other drinks on the menu and possibly one of the smaller plates. 

frigid bike ride adventure

It was rather cold outside, but after a little persuasion I decided to head out on my bike towards the marina. Possibly not the wisest decision as my throat is somewhat sore and swollen today and I feel a bit on the sickish side. However, upon smelling something quite delicious, we decided to follow our noses and find out what it was.

“that smells good”
“its coming from here!”
“lets find out what it is”
“you wanna?!”
“ok!”
“ok!”

So what was this place? It is called Vik’s Chaat and Market. It is an Indian food store with a cafeteria style restaurant cafe attached serving authentic Indian Street Food. I was please to find both Marmite and Vegemite in the shop in the mini-british foods section which I found rather ironic but not random given British and Indian History. Anyhow, they also had nuts and dried fruit, lots of spices and grains, assortments of chutneys and curries and breads and sweets. And all fairly prices.

Walking through the corridor leads towards the cafeteria looking place where they menu is posted in chalk above the order counter, but there is also a picture menu aka Indian food for Dummies (which yes, I looked at). Its got pictures, descriptions, and also deciphers the Vegan options, of which there are plenty. Around the perimeter of the room is where the cooking stations are and after you order you wait for your name to be called. Of course they have drinks such as chai and lassi, along with a sweets case.

I ordered Paratha, an Indian breakfast type food which was a massive pancake looking type thing with cauliflower filling and lots of spices. It came with a side of spiced/pickled vegetables (called achar, I believe?) Anyhow, it was hot and delicious, slightly crispy on the outside and steaming warm as I pulled it apart with my hands. I needed a tissue as my nose began to water from the spice combination, not because it was hot-spicy but because it was spiced-spicy. My friend got some burrito looking thing with chicken, and some hot chai. Despite being milk based, I tasted the chai and holy guacamole was it tasty. To bad there is no soy option. Anyways, I am eager to go back and try the other delights and delicacies that this place offers and to buy some stuff at the shop.

It is funny how I have passed by this place SO MANY times while riding but never bothered to stop because its just a small door in a warehouse looking building. But now that I know what lies behind the door…nothing will ever be the same.