We were in Santa Cruz visiting our college-student, and I decided to check out Malabar for the simple reason that I couldn’t ever recall having had Sri Lankan food. That turned out to not be true, I did cook Ceylonese food a couple of decades ago as part of my international food project, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an actual Sri Lankan restaurant.
Malabar’s menu is pretty short – though that may be as a result of the COVID pandemic and the current labor shortage (they’re hiring, btw) -, and features a few dishes from India and Malaysia/Singapore, in addition to Sri Lankan ones. Mains tend to average about $20. The restaurant seems to have a nice, if generic, dining room but also has a couple of tables on the sidewalk, and that’s where we ate.
We started by sharing an appetizer of vegetable roti ($9.50). This was similar to a stuffed dosa, with a filling made from leeks, potatoes and cabbage. It was pretty tasty, even if the curry sauce it came with was not as delicious as the yellow curries you often get with rotis at Thai restaurants. It also came with a spicy tomato sauce that carried a lot of heat.
For our mains, my daughter had the mixed vegetable curry (“Mixed vegetables in a Sri Lankan style coconut curry”, $17.50) and I had the Sri Lankan Yellow Curry ($19.50). Both dishes turned out to be the same yellow curry. While my daughter’s was served with large pieces of broccoli, carrots, peppers, cabbage and kale, mine had a snapper filet as the base (you can substitute for chicken or salmon at an extra cost). Unlike other curries I’ve had in the US, the filet was served whole, rather than in chunks. The curry itself was very thin (a feature it shared with the Ceylonese curry I made myself), with a pretty mild flavor. It was tasty but it lacked both the consistency and layers of flavor you get in a Thai curry, for example. Perhaps it’s best to see it as a curry soup. I’m not 100% sure that it worked that well with the snapper, but it was a pleasant enough dish to eat, even if not one I’d rush to order again. My daughter felt pretty much the same. Both dishes were served with rice, which seemed like a medium grain type, a little on the sticky side. I don’t know that I loved it.
My husband ordered the Devil Lanka with snapper ($21.50), a dish consisting of fish cooked with “cardamom, cinnamon, clove, Anaheim papers, cucumber, pineapple, curry leaves, carrots, tomato, red onion” and “served in a sweet sour and spicy tomato sauce”. He was quite happy with his dish. It wasn’t like anything he’d had before, and he liked the flavors.
Service was very good, our servers were very attentive and friendly. They do ask you to use your phone to scan a QR code to look at the menu (which is also posted outside), but when I mentioned that I didn’t have a smart phone, they brought us a paper menu. My daughter who did have a smart phone with her felt looking at the menu on the small phone screen was very difficult, so she used the paper one instead.
In all we had a very nice time, the street wasn’t very busy (though there was a fair amount of people coming in and out of the restaurant, it’s obviously popular for take out) and we felt safe eating there.
I didn't take any pictures, however (that lack of smart phone and all).
514 Front St
Santa Cruz, CA
(831) 201 4438
T-Th 5pm - 9:00 pm, F 5pm - 9:30 pm, Sa-Su 12 pm - 2:30 pm and 5pm - 9:30 pm
I’ve eaten tacos for years, decades really. Not too many tacos, though, because I never quite got the point of them. Often, I wasn’t fond of the toppings, or the taco sauce and the tortilla-to-meat ratio never seemed to make sense to me. Plus I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas in the first place. So, for me, it’s been all about burritos. Until a few nights ago, that is, when my daughter had a taco hankering herself and decided to drive to Tacos Los Amigos in East Oakland to get some. I asked her to bring a single beef taco and boy!, it was love at first bite. I finally get tacos.
I can’t tell you what it actually is, but the combination of beef, diced onion, cilantro and whatever else was on those tiny tortillas just did it for me. I don’think it was the sauce because when I got them again, they had a white sauce (it was a more orange one that first night). But both sauces worked. The tacos just tasted fresh and authentic (though I think I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten tacos in Mexico, my travel adventures there are limited to the Yucatan, the land of salbutes and panuchos, which are delicious, but not really tacos). I actually appreciated, for once, the flavor of the corn tortilla. They were tiny, mind you, but they were gooood.
I was just as happy with the two al pastor tacos I got during my second visit (or rather, the second time I sent my daughter to get them). The slightly sweet pork was tasty and went very well with the other standard toppings. I might have even liked them more than the carne asada ones.
There are several problems with Los Amigos, however. One is that as it’s located in East Oakland, I don’t feel very safe sending my teen daughter to get me some (though she does), plus the truck is not really close to my house. Second, they are not cheap – at around $3.50 for pretty small tacos (think 4 tacos for a normal dinner). Third, Los Amigos seems to have eclectic hours – they weren’t there last Sunday evening when I sent my daughter to get more tacos (but they were Monday night). But the biggest problem is that I’ve been left wanting more tacos now.
Los Amigos Taco Truck
5401 International Blvd
I started my Birthday Weekend Extravaganza (TM) last Thursday by getting Taco Bell for dinner. Yes, Taco Bell. No, I’m not kidding and yes, I think it’s worth blogging about it. Defensive much? (I ask myself, of course).
Despite living in California for over 40 years now, I don’t think I’ve had Taco Bell before. It’s not like I’m against fast food, I’ve tried all the burger chains (or almost), but Taco Bell just never appealed to me. I’m not a fan of crunch, and their crunchy tacos always seemed unwieldy. Plus, really, their meat looked nasty (and then there was the whole scandal about whether it was even meat) and their tacos seemed to be mostly lettuce anyway. So I’ve never been tempted to try them.
Until Thursday night. My daughter was home from college, none of us could figure out what we wanted for dinner, and then she suddenly mentioned she wanted to try Taco Bell’s Black Bean Crunchwrap. I had no idea of what that was, but ordering Taco Bell solved the problem of what to get for dinner, so I jumped at the idea – much to my husband’s surprise (“Taco Bell? Really?”).
For my first incursion into Taco Bell cuisine, I ordered a Steak White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito with extra guacamole ($4.4) and a Steak Quesadilla also with extra guacamole ($6.2). Neither were as bad as I feared. For one, by ordering “steak” items, I was able to avoid the dreaded “seasoned beef”, and while the steak was just low quality meat, it wasn’t actually offensive. Indeed, the steak quesadilla tasted like something I would make at home (which, btw, is why I don’t make quesadillas at home, and instead get them from Taquería Los Pericos). It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad, it just was. But it wasn’t was a particular great value. At that price, I might as well get one from Los Pericos. The burrito was pretty similar except that it had french fries inside. I had french fries in souvlaky pitas in Greece in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of french fries in a burrito. Alas, I’d forgotten that I no longer like french fries and I didn’t like them inside a burrito either. Still, it was perfectly acceptable. Both items were too much for a single meal – I didn’t have a good sense of how big they would be -, one will be enough next time.
I also ordered the cinnabon delights (12 for $5), which are cinnamon roll balls filled with glaze cream. They are deadly. Super, super sweet and I’m surprised I didn’t die of a diabetic coma. But they were very tasty and one goes a long away.
My daughter tried the black bean crunchwrap supreme ($4.4). This is supposed to be a crunchy tostada wrapped in a flour tortilla but it lacked the promised crunch. Instead it was soggy and yet it tasted dry and would have benefitted from a sauce. She wouldn’t order it again. She also didn’t like the spicy potato soft taco. This was just potato, cheese and lettuce in a tortilla, with no sauce or anything to bring it together. IT’s just $1, but not worth the calories. Fortunately, she did like her veggie White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito ($3.3), so at least she didn’t go hungry. The Cinnabon twists ($1) were also good, but not as good as the delights.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised that Taco Bell didn’t suck, which is good to know for road trips and if I’m ever hungry and with nothing to eat at 2 AM – which has yet to happen.
At 797 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
Dine In M-Su 7 AM - 10 PM
Drive Through Su-Th 7 AM - 3 AM, F-Sa 7 AM - 4 AM
Review of the Jack London Sq restaurant in Oakland
For the third day of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) I decided to go shopping at Cost Plus and then grab lunch somewhere in Jack London Sq. We came across Plank and it seemed like the perfect place for a relaxed and yet fun lunch. I’m happy to say it was. Indeed, I wish the place had been around (or I had known about it) when the kids were younger, as it seems like the perfect place for a family day. In addition to an outdoor bar with food and an indoor restaurant, Plank offers bowling, boche and an arcade. Alas, not my thing now that the kids are grown, so we didn’t check them out.
The outdoor patio/deck at Plank overlooks a little bit of the marina as well as Jack London Sq in general. There is a roofed area with a large bar, tables and chairs and then a larger patio with more tables/chairs/umbrellas and some sofa-height seats with coffee tables. They have music blasting – but not loud enough that you can’t talk to each other, at least from the further away tables -, there are birds visiting the nearby water fountain and it feels convivial but still relaxing. This is an informal space, as you’d expect.
You seat yourself in the patio and hope a server sees you – it happened pretty immediately for us. It doesn’t seem like they have paper menus – at least we didn’t see any – so you need to pull it out on your smart phone. You might as well do that as you wait for the server to come by. You then place your order with the server who brings you the food. Our server asked us for a credit card when we placed the order, but as my husband was taking it out he told her he would rather pay cash and she then brought the bill at the end of the meal without requiring pre-payment (it might have helped that the cash was visible in his wallet). I hope they haven’t had to implement this practice because they have too many eat-and-flee people, with an open space as that it certainly would be easy to do.
The menu is standard pub fare at pretty standard prices – what passes for low/affordable now that inflation has hit us so hard (I finally know what it means to be an old woman, shocked at the price of everything). They have burgers and sandwiches, pizzas and salads, some appetizers and a few others things. I decided on the baby back ribs ($21 half slab/$27 full slab), and given how little more a full slab is than half, I convinced Mike to share a full slab with me. They come with 3 sides, but they only have 4 to chose from (fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots and salad).
The ribs were perfectly fine, perfectly acceptable it not something to write home about. They were tender and meaty without being falling-off-the-bone (a good thing when you are eating in public), and they were pretty tasty. We enjoyed them both there and as left overs. The sides were also fine but unremarkable. I actually enjoyed the tater tots, I don’t think I’d had them in decades (I don’t remember them being something I served my kids) and as I’ve lost my taste for French fries, these were a good substitution. The sweet potato fries were on the thin side and therefore also on the dry side, but they were nicely spiced. The Caesar salad was also unremarkably good. All the sides were a really good size, plenty to share.
My daughter had the veggie burger ($17) which came with a beyond burger patty, pepperjack, baby arugula, tomatoes, grilled onions and pesto aioli in a whole wheat bun and French fries on the side.
Service was competent, but in such a loud environment it’s hard to ask for more.
In all, I’d return to Plank for lunch if I was in the area.
M-Th 11:30 AM - 10 PM, F-Sa 11:30 AM - 11 PM, Su 10 AM - 9 PM
Capacity limited, 21+ after 8 PM
The first time I went to Zachary’s – at its Solano Ave. location, I was a freshman in college. I think my college friend Gina took me, she was an upper classman and had a car, pretty rare for Cal students. I fell in love. I’d never been to Chicago and had never experienced deep-dish pizza, much less stuffed pizza. I fell in love – and I’ve been in love ever since.
Zachary’s, for my husband and I, has been a place for special occasion dinners. We lived fairly close to the Solano location when we were first married, but we couldn’t afford the expensive pizzas very often. Later, the Rockridge location became the closest one to our house, but finding parking anywhere near was a pain. The San Ramon location, which came with a larger dining room and the ability to make reservations, opened up around the time our kids started to eat pizza, and we have gone there many times over the years – but it’s 20 miles from our house, so it’s not an every-week sort of thing. This is all to say, that Zachary’s continues to be a special occasion place for us, which is why I chose it to celebrate the start of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM).
This was my first visit to the Pleasanton location, which has replaced the now-closed San Ramon location. It’s located in the middle of downtown, and has a large parking lot in the back so parking is easy. In addition to the indoors dining room, this Zachary’s has a fenced-in sidewalk patio at the front (but you enter the restaurant through a side door), with a view of other downtown businesses and restaurants and, of course, the street. This was nice, except for one particularly super-loud car which decided to cruise back and forth and annoy everyone.
Servers wore masks and though the tables are fairly close together, the entire patio is outdoors so it felt quite safe.
The menu is pretty much the same as all other Zachary’s, consisting of stuffed pizzas, thin pizzas and salads. The stuffed pizzas are just as great as ever – I have to give it to Zachary’s, they’ve been wonderfully consistent since my first visit almost 35 years ago. In all of these years I’ve never had their thin pizza, so I can’t comment on those ones. Stuffed pizzas have abundant cheese and the toppings of your choice stuffed between two layers of pizza dough, the top layer melts into the cheese when cooked and it’s topped with stewed tomatoes. The results are just incredible. I, personally, prefer a plain pizza (with extra cheese, but my kids don’t like that) and we usually get one of these for the kids (and me, as leftovers), but my husband likes toppings. We have both found the carne pizza (sausage, pepperoni, salami & bacon) to be too salty (though he still likes it), but we are both big fans of the chorizo pizza (chorizo, green chilies & Monterey Jack), though at some locations – Pleasanton included – this is a special rather than a regular part of the menu. This time, as often, we went for the Zachary’s special (sausage, green pepper, onion & mushroom), which was very good. There was a time when the San Ramon location added very thick slices of green pepper which I didn’t like, but this wasn’t the case this time.
The Pleasanton location serves “signature cocktails” and I had a Rico Rico (aka piña colada). It was quite good, as piña coladas usually are. Nothing exceptional.
Service was efficient and friendly and we had a great time.
I’m celebrating my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) and this time my friend Elektra took me out to dinner to Pacific Catch in Dublin. Pacific Catch is a Bay Area chain of restaurants (with one location in La Jolla) serving seafood dishes inspired by the cultures surrounding the Pacific ocean. It feels like an updated version of a tiki restaurant, though their drinks are more plebeian. Presentation and the fusion of Asian flavors and cuisine does seem to be the point here, however. And seafood.
The Dublin restaurant is located at a supermarket-centered shopping center, so in the middle of suburbia. It has a fairly large dining room with a bar, a covered patio enclosed with plastic sheet walls and several roofed, walled but open to the air tiki booths set on the sidewalk (to call it that), between the restaurant and the parking lot. These are made from canes and are quite attractive, save for the fact that your view is of the parking lot and the big block stores beyond it. Some plants might have improved the look. But still, you get a whole booth to yourself and there is plenty of open air, so you can feel quite safe COVID-wise. Unfortunately, neither servers nor managers wore masks – and while they didn’t get close enough that I felt this was an issue for our sake, I didn’t feel they were safe spending time indoors maskless.
The restaurant also seems to have some free standing tables outside, though I didn’t see them well, and they do have heat lamps for them. For the booths, they have firepits that they put at the entrance. I don’t know how well these work, but there wasn’t one in front of ours and it did get a bit chilly as the evening progressed – fortunately I’d come prepared with a shawl for this eventuality.
We started our dinner with drinks – my third one this week and probably my last one until my next birthday. I’m just not much of a drinker. I had a caramelized piña colada ($15), which was sweeter than usual but otherwise not particularly remarkable. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but few piña coladas aren’t good – that’s why I order them. Elektra was happier with her island mule ($12), which she thought was very good
Next, we shared the pupu platter ($29), which came with three coconut shrimp, a small macaroni salad, two each ahi tataki bombs, chicken katsu musubis and bbq pork skewers, some pickled ginger and little bowls of a very sweet & sour sauce and a tangy chimichurri.
I’m not a fan of shrimp but Elektra, who does like them, felt these were too sweet. She felt that the chimichurri sauce helped balanced them, and wouldn’t eat them without it. The sauce itself was very tasty, and I finished it off with the French fries from my main dish. I also don’t like macaroni salad and that was a good thing as Elektra found this one very disappointing. We both did enjoy the ahi tataki “bombs”, which consisted of rice with a sweet soy sauce wrapped with a fried wonton skin and topped with a sesame crusted slice of raw lightly seared ahi tuna. The flavor of the tuna was a bit overwhelmed by al the other flavors on the platter – sesame seeds included, but everything in the bombs worked well together. The chicken katsu musbis, meanwhile, were sort of a failure. The chicken katsu and seasoned rice itself was pretty good (though I thought it was pork rather than chicken), but the sweet flavors were completely incongruent with the seaweed wrappers. I think it also had a seasoned mayo inside which Elektra didn’t like, but which didn’t bother me. Finally, the bbq pork skewers were tasty, but one of my two bites was pure gristle – I couldn’t eat any of it. Pork is a fairly cheap meat, this was an expensive plate, and they really should have used a better cut.
We had barely started on our appetizers, when the main dishes were brought to the table – something Pacific Catch might want to work on, as that meant by the end our meal we were eating lukewarm food (in particular, as we were outdoors). I had the 3-pieces of fish & chips ($19), which consisted of fried Alasklan cod, coleslaw and french fries of your choice. The choices included plain fries, sweet potato fries, fries spiced with furikake and fries with some other spice mix, which I don’t recall. I went for the furikake fries. The fish itself was fine, though not terribly remarkable. It probably needed more seasoning (on the fish itself, not the batter), and it definitely benefitted from being bathed in malt vinegar (the single slice of lemon juice wasn’t enough) and being dipped into the tartar sauce. The furikake fries were a tiny spicy but also otherwise unremarkable. I’m not a huge fan of french fries any more, and these ones didn’t convince me to become one.
Pacific Catch’s current special menu features three composite plates of items inspired by the cuisines of Hawaii, Japan or Korea. Some of these items are also available as appetizers or appear in the pupu platter we had as an appetizer. Elektra decided on the Japanese platter ($34) for her main entrée.
Overall, she liked the composition of the plate and the variety of textures and flavors. Like the pupu platter, the Japanese platter came with two ahi tataki bombs, but it also had a piece of grilled salmon served on a bed of Brussels sprouts okonimayki, a seaweed salad, steamed edamame and another veggie salad. Elektra liked the grilled salmon, though I vaguely remember her complaining it was mildly overcooked. It came with a mayo-based dressing she wasn’t a fond of, however, but she did like the pickled ginger. She is a big fan of Brussels sprouts and enjoyed these ones. She was also a fan of the seaweed salad which had a sesame dressing that brightened up its flavor. She found the edamame’s crunchiness to be a nice break from the other dishes and overall liked the salad. It also had a mayo-based dressing that she wasn’t too happy about, but she appreciated that it was lightly applied. She was happy to find tomatoes, not a usual thing on Japanese dishes. Overall, she liked her plate and had more comments that I cannot remember.
Pacific Catch’s weakness is desserts. It seems they feel they have to offer them, but they’re not really into them. Apparently, they used to have more but they realized it took too much time and effort to make them inhouse and now they outsource them. It shows.
They only offer four desserts, including a scoop of ice cream ($5) and a mochi fondue ($9) consisting of 3 small mochi balls to dip in a chocolate sauce. Instead, we shared the other two:
I got the Crispy Dulce de Leche “Spring Roll” ($9), which were basically eggrolls filled with sweetened cream cheese (the description said cheesecake, but I don’t think the filling was baked into a cheesecake first. They were topped with a dulce de leche ice cream that was similar to that from Haagen Daaz, but which is apparently made by a gelato store in Berkeley, and then it was drizzled with a commercial caramel that actually tasted like jarred butterscotch sauce. It really would have been better without it. But all in all I enjoyed the dish and it’s really large enough to share – we did have trouble finishing our desserts.
Elektra got the Hula Brownie Sundae ($9) which consisted of a brownie topped with a coconut gelato and chocolate sauce. It was unremarkable and a bit too sweet.
Service was quite good and our waitress was very friendly. She didn’t really check on us after we got our main dishes, however, so it took a while before we could order dessert – but not an inordinate amount of time. Really, it’s a minor complain. All in all, service was good and we had a really wonderful time. I need to celebrate birthdays more often.
5251 Martinelli Way
Su-Th 11 AM - 9 PM, F-Sa 11 AM - 10 PM
Last night, my friends Eddie and Aamani took me out to Trabocco to celebrate my fifty-something birthday. I had gone a couple of times before but not since the pandemic, and it was a great experience. The food was good, the service was exceptional, the atmosphere convivial and the overall experience felt as COVID-safe as any dining experience can be. In all, it was the perfect place for a girls night out.
Trabocco is the creation of Italian chef Giuseppe Naccarelli and it offers a menu of pretty traditional Italian (as opposed to Italian-American) dishes, with several salad, pizza and pasta choices in addition to a few main dishes. There is a strong emphasis on the quality of the ingredients and the flavors – at least the ones I experienced – seemed very authentic.
The restaurant has a large dining room with an open kitchen and convivial bar. It offers the casual Even before the pandemic it offered outdoor sitting but it has now expanded it to a larger area with a canvass roof but semi-open sides. Our table was next to one of these sides, and there was a nice, if slight, breeze (which also meant it got a bit chilly, so I was happy I’d brought a cardigan). Perfect for pandemic dining.
One of the thing that makes Trabocco a good place for a girls night out is its selection of cocktails – mostly traditional American ones with a small twist. I had the kaffir lime cosmopolitan (which just substituted kaffir lime juice for regular lime juice, a great idea), and it was quite good. Eddie had the Milano Mule and found it delicious. Aamani was driving so she skipped cocktails.
The meal started with slices of rustic bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I was impressed the waiter asked whether we wanted the vinegar added to the olive oil and then offered pepper on top. A small detail, but made the experience nicer.
We then shared a plate of burrata con prosciutto, which came with some sort of microgreen. It had three big slices of prosciutto, which made it perfect for three to share (though I wonder if they’d given us four smaller slices if we were four) and a large round of very fresh tasting but surprisingly firm burrata. It came with breadsticks but the burrata was actually solid enough that you could pick it up with a fork. I enjoyed it very much, in particularly mixed with the microgreen in question. The prosciutto was delicious.
For my main dish, I had the ravioli con coda , “house-made pasta stuffed with braised oxtail, au jus, pecorino pepato”. The plate was satisfying and tasted utterly authentic. It tasted exactly as I’d expect it to, which was a bit disappointing – as I’m always searching for new flavors – but on the other hand very comforting. I’d order it again when in need of a hug in a plate.
Eddie had the grilled salmon (which, along with a Mediterranean bass and some other fish were the catch of the day), which came with sautéed spinach and arugula salad. She thought the salmon was perfectly cooked and the sides were delicious. Aamani had the risotto, but unfortunately I don’t recall what she thought of it.
For dessert, I opted for the zabaglione with berries. It was, once again, exactly as advertised – a competent zabaglione with fresh berries mixed in. Eddie was disappointed that her affogato had very little ice cream, but she enjoyed the flavor nonetheless. Aamani liked her panna cotta.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the service. Our waiter, who grew up in Italy and had a wonderful Italian accent, was friendly, helpful and efficient. He and other waiters wore well-fitted stylish masks, which as a COVID-phobe I appreciated for their health as much as mine. My dessert was served in a plate with “Happy Birthday” written on it and a candle. The chef and the waiter joined my friends in signing me Happy Birthday, which was nicer and less embarrassing than I had feared when I saw them doing the same to another birthday girl in a nearby table. To top it off, they didn’t charge us for my desert because it was my birthday!
We stayed in the restaurant late, until there were very few guests left, and they didn’t rush us out at all.
In all, it couldn’t have been a nicer birthday dinner.
2213 South Shore Center
Su, T-Th 11:30am – 8:30pm, F-Sa 11:30am – 9:30pm
I have been getting delivery and take out from Flavor of India in San Lorenzo for quite a few years. I discovered them in GrubHub, and it was a the time one of the closest Indian restaurants that delivered in my area. It wasn’t the best restaurant, but it was good enough.
Since then a couple of Indian restaurants opened in San Leandro and we’ve switched to getting take out rather than delivery, so it’d been a couple of years since we last had their food. A couple of nights ago we decided to try it again and I’m so glad we did. The food was absolutely delicious. Apparently, they are under new ownership and the new chef really knows how to cater to American tastes.
We started with fish pakora ($7). The portion was a good size as a shared appetizer, the fish was flaky and had a very flavorful coating and the accompanying cilantro and sweet/sour sauces were particularly tasty and not too pungent. I enjoyed it very much.
I had my usual lamb korma ($14) and this time the sauce had a much more intense, bright flavor than I remember it having. It was the best korma I’ve had for years. The lamb itself was very tender.
We also ordered butter chicken($13) and chicken tikka masala ($14). I didn’t taste the chicken in the former, but the sauces are very similar if not identical. The chicken in the tikka masala was in large cubes and was surprisingly moist – I tend to prefer butter chicken because chicken tikka is often dry. The sauces were, once again, out of this world delicious.
Naan bread ($2) was standard as was the rice. The curries come with rice, so you don’t need to order separately.
It was easy to order on their website (currently through the lokobee app), and the food was ready quickly and hassle free. The prices are lower than at other local Indian restaurants and the portions seem to be about the same size.
Flavor of India now offers outdoor dining in a patio. I haven’t seen it, but it looks very nice in pictures, though set in a parking lot. Still, this seems like a good option for eating out, and I might try it.
A wonderful Christmas Eve Dinner with some help from Luke’s Grill
This year, probably for the third time in two decades, I didn’t cook Christmas Eve dinner. I’m going through one of my anti-cooking spells, and the thought of making course after course of food I’d barely have time to eat before getting up to prepare the next one just wasn’t appealing. Plus, after the fiasco that was Thanksgiving Dinner, I wasn’t eager for a repeat. Moreover, with another COVID wave hitting us, we had decided that once again it would only be us having dinner.
So, I decided on take out – but what? This shouldn’t have been that hard a question, but I wanted something “special”. That meant something that we didn’t usually get for take out, something that I wouldn’t be able to make easily, something that could be eaten family style and something that would satisfy all our individual food issues. Deciding on a specific cuisine, much less a restaurant, was hard.
Ultimately, I decided upon Greek because it’s homey, it’s somewhat Christmasy and it can be served family style. We actually have two pretty good Greek restaurants in town, and rather than decide between them, we tried them both.
We ordered the Zeus Platter ($20) from Luke’s Grill. This appetizer combo came with Greek sausage, meatballs, tiropita, spanakopita, dolmades, tzaziki and abundant pieces of pita. Though it was a bit cold by the time we started eating it, I was quite pleased with both the sausages and the meatballs. The tiropita, phyllo dough cooked with herbed cheese, was also quite delicious, and I enjoyed the pita with the tzaziki. Unfortunately, my vegetarian daughter wasn’t in the mood for dolmades or spanakopita, so those went uneaten.
We got all our mains from Moussaka. I particularly enjoyed the Hunkar Beyendi or Sultan’s Favorite ($28), apparently an Ottoman specialty. The dish consists of a smoked eggplant and mozzarella puree topped with braised lamb and tomato sauce. It’s served with a rice/orzo combination. By the time I transferred it to a serving dish, the whole thing was mixed together but that’s how you are supposed to eat it anyway. It was delicious. I’m not a particular fan of eggplant, but it provided an amazing smokiness to the dish. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the whole dish just came together with homey umami. And it was just perfect for Christmas: it has too many elements for me to easily replicate and it’s too expensive for a regular take out meal, and thus provided the “specialness” I wanted from a Christmas Eve meal.
I was far more disappointed in the manti ($18), pasta filled with spiced beef and supposedly served with a garlic yogurt sauce, brown butter and fresh mint. The little dumplings were tasty, but they were very lightly sauced, and therefore way too dry to really enjoy. They quickly became monotonous. I wouldn’t order them from here again.
In order to get a good sampling of their offerings, we ordered the combo kebap ($29), which came with a meat skewer, a chicken skewer, a single kofte, a mixture of beef/lamb gyro meat, rice and a salad. The meat skewer was listed as a lamb skewer, but it was actually beef. It was very tender, very nicely spiced and just delicious – often times kebabs are dry, but this was not the case even when the leftovers were reheated.
The same cannot be said for the chicken kebaps. They were very tasty, but dry. Fortunately, the kofta was delicious.
I’m totally in love with the beef/lamb gyro meat. I couldn’t tell a difference between each slice of meat, so I’m going to guess it was all lamb, but whatever it was was delicious. Also very tender and not dry, and perfectly seasoned.
A dish of chicken shawarma ($20), also served with rice and salad, was equally delicious. Again, they seasoned it perfectly and managed to not make it dry.
Finally, I ordered a felafel wrap ($13) for my vegetarian daughter, and she was happy enough, though wouldn’t elaborate about it.
In all, it was a great meal and I’d order from here again for a special occasion meal.
We had two desserts, though we were too full to eat more than one that night, and then well after the meal. Early in my meal planning, when I still thought I’d actually cook Christmas Eve dinner, I had proposed making Gâteau Basque for dessert. My first trip with Mike after we got married was to Spain, where we spent several days in the Basque country. We had enjoyed an amazing gâteau basque at a restaurant in Aoiz, my great-grandparents’ hometown and the memory has lingered with Mike ever since. However, in the decades since, we’ve been unable to find a cake that matched those memories, either at a restaurant or at home. It’d been many years since our last try, so I was game to do it again.
This time I decided on a well reviewed recipe that I found on the internet. I was quite pleased with the flavor, both of the cake and the pastry filling, but I felt that the dough needed more flour – my daughter preferred the soft texture, however. In all, it was good but not as sublime as our memories of that cake in Aoiz.
I also bought a Tres Leches cake from Safeway, a favorite of all of us. I was lucky to get to eat a slice the next day.
My daughter was home for the weekend from college and she wanted Ethiopian for dinner. I decided to give Awazi Kitchen a try because it was rather new and got great reviews on Yelp. It was fine, though not special enough to make me eager to come back.
The restaurant is located in downtown Oakland, next to what used to be Le Cheval. It has a large square room, with socially distanced tables. It was completely empty at 5 PM on a Saturday. This would be a good place to go with a crowd, as it has the space and at least at that time, you wouldn’t have to worry about sharing air with customers outside your group (I’m writing this review during the pandemic).
Their menu is pretty straightforward and serves the usual Ethiopian dishes you can get at most Ethiopian restaurants. You can order online and you can specify how you want your dishes made – I asked for two to be made mild and they complied.
We ordered the Kik Alicha (yellow split peas in a mild sauce, $13.3), the Gored Gored (beef cubes in sauce – $16.6) and the Meat Combo ($18), which included Doro Wot, Yebeg Alicha & Beef Wot. All the meals came with cooked vegetable sides and plenty of injera. I’d bought another portion of injera just in case, but it was completely unnecessary.
Both my husband and daughter were happy enough with their dishes – which tasted pretty much like you would expect. The wots were far less spicy than at other Ethiopian restaurants, however. The portions were generous and they both had leftovers.
I was less happy with my gored gored. Now, this is usually a raw meat dish, but in the menu description at Awazi Kitchen it said you could have it rare or medium-rare. I chose medium-rare but what I got was raw meat. I don’t necessarily have a problem with raw meat, but the beef cubes were too tough and chewy to be able to be eaten raw. If you are going to do a raw dish, you really need to use very tender meat – this wasn’t it. Fortunately, I was able to solve this problem by transferring the meat to a pot, adding some water and simmering it for about 10 minutes. It was pretty good then, but I would not order this dish again at Awazi Kitchen.