Crispy Ginger Shrimp @ Huong Tra Restaurant, San Pablo Avenue, Richmond

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

There are lots of Vietnamese restaurants around the Bay Area, and quite frankly, finding a decent bowl of pho is far less daunting than trying to find a decent bowl of ramen. I’d also say that there is also a fair amount of banh mi to be had. But what about something beyond soup and sandwiches? For me, Huong Tra in Richmond is one of my favorite places to explore the other facets of Vietnamese cuisine.


Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany


Steamy goodness: The Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany

The photo for this entry may not do the size of the dish any justice: The five-spice pork shoulder at China Village is a massive chunk of flesh meant for at least two people (priced at $18.95), and the spoon at the upper right is actually the large serving variety. Alas, I consider the “serves two” caveat as a dare, especially when it comes to pork shoulder. I entered China Village on a mission to check this signature dish off of my Bay Area bucket list, and I was not disappointed.

China Village specializes in Szechuan cuisine and its other signature dish is probably the West Style Spicy Fish soup, which brings quite a bit more heat than Five-Spice Pork Shoulder (at China Village, the intensity of any dish can be increased upon request, so I’m basing this comparison on [… read more …]

The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s Japanese Curry, Berkeley


The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s: Panko-crusted pork cutlet, steamed rice, plenty of curry sauce, and of course, a sunny side egg added on.

When I used to live in West Los Angeles, I learned to take full advantage of the wonderful Japanese eateries that dotted Sawtelle Boulevard. Since I’ve left Southern California, the scene along Sawtelle only seems to have improved over the last 10 years, with some killer ramen shops now in the mix. I wish Tsujita and Daikokuya had been there during my post-collegiate years.

Back in the late 1990s, my favorite restaurants included Hide Sushi and Hurry Curry of Tokyo, the latter of which offered a terrific pork cutlet that became a weekly staple throughout my early 20s. I was thrilled to find something similar when I discovered Muracci’s in San Francisco several years back. The only problem was that Muracci’s was deep in the Financial District, which is probably [… read more …]

Al’s Chop Suey, Oakland Fruitvale, 1950s


In Oakland, East Fourteenth Street became known as International Boulevard in 1996, so the former home of Al’s Chop Suey is currently occupied by Canchola’s Restaurant.

I discovered an old menu for Al’s Chop Suey while visiting an antique shop in Berkeley this afternoon. I dig this sort of thing, especially since the idea of “chop suey” denotes a very specific period in American food culture, namely the mid-20th century. Several myths surround the origins of chop suey, which has been referenced in the United States as early as the 1880s. However, despite the many stories regarding the genesis of this dish, chop suey was most likely inspired by the Cantonese dish “tsap seui” (meaning miscellaneous leftovers, according to Wikipedia). These days, it’s easy to dismiss chop suey as a Chinese-American bastardization, but I still regard this dish as an important gateway to Chinese cuisine. We had to start somewhere.

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Spätzle with Herbed Walnut Sauce @ Gaumankitzel, Berkeley


Spätzle with Herbed Walnut Sauce @ Gaumankitzel, Berkeley. Before…

I was at a wedding on Sunday, and my lovely date was surprised to hear me mention that I wanted a cold beer. I realize that she’s only known me to drink wine thus far (which is always how it is in the beginning), but I do enjoy a cold beer, especially on a warm afternoon.

The groom at the wedding was a good friend of mine from our Martini House days. Back in 2007, the kitchen staff would habitually drink “Tecate Tea” after work: That’s a one-quart plastic deli filled with ice, a liberal squeeze of lemon and lime juice, and Tecate poured to the brim. It’s impossibly refreshing after a night in a sweltering kitchen.

A beer aficionado may criticize this whimsical concoction, perhaps the same way that a wine aficionado may sneer at sangria. But I don’t [… read more …]

The Kubideh @ Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House, Oakland Chinatown


The Kubideh @ Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House, Oakland Chinatown.

I might argue that the best restaurant in Oakland Chinatown isn’t actually Chinese, but is in fact, Afghan. I suppose that Afghan cuisine might be a tough sell in this political climate, especially since Afghanistan has been portrayed rather (shall we say) negatively in the Western media. Of course, the same exact thing can be said for Syria, or just about any other country in the Greater Middle East. It’s a shame that this region has become the epicenter of so much upheaval, although it’s hardly anything new. Religious wars have been waged in this area since the Crusades.

From a culinary standpoint, the Greater Middle East boasts tremendous historical importance as the site of the Silk Road, the earliest commercial link between Europe and Asia. Cities such as Kanduhar and Kabul occupied key positions on the Silk Road’s [… read more …]

“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland


“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland.

“The Deal” Burger at Marrow is quaint, like its price tag of $9.17, which includes beef-fat fries and a drink. However, if you’re accustomed to half- or third-pound burger patties, you’ll want to supplement your lunch with dessert, a milkshake, or at the very least, a salad. The frail and the elderly could probably get by on “The Deal” alone, and I’m not necessarily saying that as a criticism. I only mention this caveat as a heads-up to the hungry, and a word to the wise: If you’re anything like me, you might just view “The Deal” as a snack.

The Brisket @ Brick Pig’s House, Oakland


Brisket, creamy potato salad, and cornbread muffins @ Brick Pig’s House, North Oakland.

I visited Everett & Jones for the very last time a few months ago. I promised myself that I’d never go back after I’d suffered through the driest brisket of all time. I usually try to avoid negative reviews in this blog, since I much prefer to compile a list of recommendations. I cook for a living, so I don’t have time to visit every single restaurant in the Bay Area, much less write reviews for all of these restaurants. Therefore, if I have a bad meal, I simply move on, and I don’t mention it. From an aesthetic standpoint, I don’t want to publish pictures of lousy food, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time by rehashing a bogus meal.

But Everett & Jones really let me down this last time. Honestly, I [… read more …]

Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland


Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland. Crab meatballs, pork blood, fish tofu and plenty of rice noodles. One step beyond pho.

Hey there. I’ve been absent from these virtual pages quite for a long time, and I’ve missed writing about food. Well, I’m back. If you’ve been wondering, there are several reasons for my lack of updates lately: (1) I’ve changed jobs during the last two months. I’m a pastry chef now, adjusting to the new schedule and routine; (2) I’ve been preparing to teach a class in culinary history this summer. Reading books and composing course materials have monopolized most of my creative energy; and lastly, (3) I’ve been posting most of my updates on Facebook via Instagram. It’s like social media shorthand. If you don’t follow me already, please check me out.

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As a chef, I’m always craving new [… read more …]

The Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley


Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley. Ahi, Hamachi, Salmon, Mackerel, Scallop, Octopus, Squid, Monkfish Liver, and Tomago. All served over sushi rice.

My iPhone said the temperature in Berkeley was 63F today, but I’m sure it had to have been pushing 80F. This weather report may sound a bit like bragging, but I’m actually complaining; California is in the midst of a megadrought, with the prospect of dead lawns and raging forest fires in our near future. At the restaurant where I cook, one of our produce purveyors already has asparagus on the radar, which is absurd for mid-February. At this pace, we could be enjoying heirloom tomato BLTs by May.

Although I did manage to eat some cassoulet at Bistro Jeanty while it rained last week, our otherwise warm weather this winter has deprived me of the opportunity to eat the braises and the [… read more …]