Tag: oakland (Page 1 of 2)

Ready Meal Services Reviews: Locale

Locale is a new-to-me meal delivery service operating in several areas in California. Their hook is that the meals come from well known restaurants in the area and that at $11 each, plus $5 delivery fee, they are more affordable than actually getting take out. They are priced, however, to compete with other similar services like CookUnity and Shef. They only deliver on Mondays, but you are able to order up to the Friday before, which is nice. I subscribed to Locale with a discount offer I found on Facebook and later got a discount for a second week.

Like the other services, meals come in an insulated bag, this one with cooling packs, and they will pick them up when they deliver your next order. They are very diligent about texting you with updates on delivery.

Each meal comes in a cardboard tray, sealed with a transparent plastic film. The meals are usually good for 5 to 6 days, which gives you some flexibility on when to eat them. Most can be microwaved, but some need more laborious heating.

You can’t really see how many restaurants Locale has available to you until you sign up, but I was disappointed both on how few there were for me in the East Bay – and how few dishes each restaurant offered. In all, they only had 29 restaurants available and several only offered 1 to 3 different dishes. Those who had more often presented different variations of the same dish (e.g. a chicken or a beef dish, otherwise identical). I don’t know that I could order a third time without repeating some dishes, though some dishes are worth repeating. Still, there is simply not enough variety to stay subscribed long term.

I got discounts for my first two deliveries, but future ones will have to be at full price. My meal reviews, however, assume that I’d paid full price for the meals (around $12+tax).

These are the restaurants I ordered from and the dishes I got. Those that I’d order again have a checkmark.

Asian Box, Bay Area

Asian Box is a small chain with seven restaurants in SF and Silicon Valley, including one at the airport, and one in LA. They specialize in “choose your ingredients” bowls (but in rectangular containers, thus called “boxes”), where you choose a base (e.g. rice or salad), a protein, toppers (e.g. peanuts or pickles) and a sauce. Boxes start at $14 and go up depending on your protein, they also have some “signature boxes” at varying prices. Locale offers 4 boxes from Asian box.

Chicken Curry Bowl with Potatoes and Jasmine Rice ✔

This dish was described as having comes rice, six-spice chicken, potatoes, carrots and yellow coconut curry and being topped with herbs, scallion oil, peanuts and shallots but instead of the “herbs and scallion oil” it came with a spicy red sauce which might have been the “fiery red curry”. The bowl was very good. The star of the show was the six-spice chicken, which did remind me of five-spice but also had a nice acidic flavor and tasted grilled. It was just very good. The yellow curry was a standard coconut curry, a bit on the spicy side and competent but not great. The portion give was just enough to moisten the chicken, rice and potato – so make sure to scrape it all off. The peanuts were chopped too finely to add much texture, but the occasional piece of shallot gave it a nice crunch. The portion made for a filling dinner. I’d certainly have it again. This same dish sells at the restaurant for $15.50

Burritos La Palma, Southern California

La Palma is a small restaurant chain in Southern California which gained famed when the Michelin guide gave it its “Bibi Gourmand” designation in recognition of its Zacatecan style burritos, which seem to be tortillas rolled around meat and salsa, with no other additions. They’ve become famous enough to sell their burritos frozen through Goldbelly.

3 Birria y Queso Burritos

burritos
Two of the three burritos – delicious!

Quesobirria tacos are all the rage in California these days, and I can see why this burrito version has become so popular. I loved the softness and elasticity of the tortilla after microwaving it. The filling was tasty, and the cheese worked well to mellow the strong flavors of the birria. My daughter also really liked them. I can see ordering this time and again. The burritos are $5 each at the restaurants, so you get a small discount ordering through here (plus you don’t have to go to LA to get them).

Comal, Oakland

Comal is a well known Mexican restaurant with locations in both Oakland and Berkeley. It’s a favorite place for events, and we’ve gone to a few there. I’ve very much enjoyed their tacos in the past.

Carnitas Burrito with Pinquito Beans, Rice and Salsa Verde

My daughter enjoyed this burrito. The carnitas were flavorful and the whole combination worked well. It was a pretty substantial meal, which my daughter couldn’t finish. Burritos retail for $13.75 at Comal, but they didn’t list this particular one, so it might be a cheaper version than their normal semi-gourmet offerings.

Dumpling Time, Bay Area

Dumpling Time has five locations in the Bay Area. They specialize in Chinese dumplings. They only offer two dishes through Locale. The one we got is no longer available.

Dim Sum and Garlicky Green Beans with Wakame Seaweed Salad

This dish consisted of one pork bao (aka pork bun), 2 shrimp & pork siu mai and 2 shrimp har gow served with green beans and sea weed salad. Unfortunately, it’s no longer being offered by Locale (nor is this combo in he menu at Dumpling Time). My husband really liked this offering and would have liked it again but it’s no longer available.

El Farolito, San Francisco

El Farolito is a run of the mill taqueria in San Francisco, best known (in Yelp, at least) for its cheap burritos.

Mission Style Chicken Quesadilla with Crema and Salsa

This was an overall good quesadilla. It had a nice taste and it was more flavorful than I expected. The portion was probably the right size for lunch. However, I wouldn’t order it again. The first issue was the heating. It requires that you take out a pan, melt a tablespoon of butter and then heat up the quesadilla for a minute on both sides. This gives you a crispy tortilla, but the heat doesn’t go through enough to melt the cheese. I fixed this by microwaving for an extra 30 seconds. I didn’t like, however, that I had to dirty a saucepan to heat this up. I do take responsibility for not reading the heating instructions before I ordered it, they were right there on the page. I also didn’t like that it came with a green sauce instead of guacamole. Price was, it was a tad cheaper than what I can get at my local taquería for a similar size quesadilla, but I can choose steak and get guacamole if I order it there, which I prefer.

Hard Knox Cafe, San Francisco

This is a soul food restaurant with two locations in San Francisco which seems to get mostly good reviews. Locale only offers this dish and mac & cheese from this restaurant.

Southern Style BBQ Pork Rib with Collard Greens and Mac and Cheese

This consisted of just one spare rib with BBQ sauce, mac & cheese and collard drinks. My daughter enjoyed both the rib and the mac & cheese, she felt they were very good – she didn’t try the greens. It was enough food for her, but she is a girl who can never finish any meal – it really should be two ribs to satisfy a normal appetite. She wouldn’t have it again, however, because most of the meal was the mac & cheese and it wasn’t good enough to be a whole meal. The dish is $21 at the restaurant, but it looks like they serve at least 3 ribs.

Hawaiian Drive Inn, Bay Area

Hawaiian Drive Inn seems to be a 5-location Hawaiian BBQ chain in the Bay Area, serving standard Hawaiian BBQ fare.

Hawaiian Chicken Katsu with Steamed Rice and Green Beans

This was a pretty average Hawaiian BBQ chicken katsu, and there is nothing wrong with that. The green beans, however, lacked all seasoning. The heating instructions also had us using the oven for the chicken and the microwave for the beans which is too much trouble – we just heated the whole thing (minus the sauce) in the microwave. The portion size was similar to the mini-meal size at my local Hawaiian joint which is $12, so this is not a great deal.

Mela Bistro, Oakland

Mela Bistro prides itself on serving “Modern Ethiopian Food”. From its website, I can see that the restaurant forgoes the traditional art and trappings from many local Ethiopian restaurants and it has more sleek surroundings. The menu is short and filled with traditional items. That said, this is the one restaurant we are happy Locale introduced us to and the one we re-ordered from our second week.

Ethiopian Style Beef Tibs with Brown Rice and Green Split Peas ✔

This was a very good version of beef tibs. Flavor wise, it was pretty much on point for beef tibs but it felt less greasy than usual – quite an achievement for a dish cooked in ghee. It was medium spicy. It’s served with turmeric rice. This dish is $18 at the restaurant, so it’s actually quite a bargain to get it through Locale. The portion was enough for one meal without leftovers.

Ethiopian Beef Stir Fry with Spiced Turmeric Rice ✔

These seem to be just beef tibs, but served with turmeric rice instead of brown rice and split peas. Once again, they were very tasty, only a bit spicy, and less greasy that beef tibs usually are. Once again my husband was happy. It was a good sized portion. He thought the rice was fine, but would probably get it with the brown rice and peas next time for a somewhat healthier option.

Peaches Patties, San Francisco

Peaches Patties is a Jamaican restaurant operating from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The owner previously ran a catering business. It specializes in Jamaican patties, which is their version of empanadas. They get great reviews from these, but they are not available on Locale. They have a few other dishes, including two new ones that don’t appear on their menu. Locale has four dishes from this restaurant.

Ginger Tamarind Chicken with Fried Plantains, Kidney Beans and Jasmine Rice

This dish was described as featuring “tender chicken infused with bold ginger and tangy tamarind, served alongside crispy fried plantains and fragrant jasmine rice.” I can’t say it was a success. The chicken was tender, but the thigh meat felt dry. I usually like sweet-savory flavors, but the sweetness here felt out place, it fought, rather than blended with, the spiciness and the smokiness. My favorite part were the pieces of the chicken that tasted charred, unfortunately there were few of them. I usually don’t mind soggy chicken skins, but I felt this one could be crispier. The plantains were definitely not crispy either and they needed more sweetness. I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me and I wouldn’t order it again. While this dish is not on Peaches Patties current menu, a similar jerk chicken meal that also includes veggies sells for $20.

Perilla, San Francisco

Perilla is a casual Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. It offers three dishes through Locale, each consisting of garlic noodles, broccoli and either pork, crab or five spice chicken. At the restaurant, these dishes are priced at $14.

Five Spice Chicken with Garlic Noodles and Broccoli ✔

This dish was pretty good, the boneless chicken was was sweet and savory with light soy sauce overtones, and the noodles were quite good, not too garlicky. My daughter, who had it, enjoyed it and would have it again. The portion was more than sufficient for dinner, though not quite enough to have much in the way of leftovers.

Sumac, San Francisco

Sumac describes itself as a “modern Mediterranean street food” restaurant and has locations in both LA and SF. They serve wraps, salads, rice bowls and hummus bowls with your choice of grilled chicken, meatballs, red lentil balls or felafel. Seven of these combinations are available at Locale.

Turkish Kofte Bowl with Basmati Rice and Chickpea Salad ✔

These are lamb and beef shoulder meatballs served with rice, chickpea salad and a labneh sauce. The same bowl sells for $18 at the restaurant. This was a good, filling and satisfying meal. The meatballs had that chewy texture of kibbeh – I think it’s achieved by over grinding the meat -, which I’m not super fond of, but they were well seasoned and very tasty. The buttered basmati rice reminded me just how nice buttered basmati rice is on its own. The chickpea salad was fresh and piquant, and I enjoyed it even though I’m not a fan of chickpeas. And the yogurt sauce was thick and refreshing. Everything was slightly spicy, however, But overall a very good meal that I’d have again.

Chicken Hummus Bowl with Roasted Veggies ✔

Both my husband and I loved this bowl of grilled chicken, roasted veggies and hummus. – so much that we had it a second time. The chicken was tender and well seasoned, and worked well both by itself or dipped in the hummus. It was a little weird to eat warm hummus, though. Next time I might scoop it out before reheating. My husband was actually surprised at how much he liked the veggies, but we both skipped the pickled beets. The restaurant version sells for $21, but it also comes with an arugula salad.

Tenderleaf (Ghost Kitchen)

Tenderleaf is described as a “a beloved Bay Area gem, is a cozy, locally-owned restaurant” located in San Francisco. As far as I can tell, that is a lie. A google search failed to find any restaurant with that name anywhere in the Bay Area, much less a “beloved one”. Instead, it seems that Tenderleaf is a ghost kitchen operated by the owners of Locale. To me, this seems extremely deceitful. I don’t have a problem with ghost kitchens myself, but I do have a problem with dishonesty.

The address that Google has for Tenderleaf is in the San Leandro industrial area, and I’ll probably drive by and check it out some time.

Tenderleaf offers 9 dishes through Locale, the most of any restaurants.

Mom’s Meatballs in Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage and Parmesan

This dish consisted of four medium-size meatballs and 2 sausages, topped with tomato sauce and a little Parmesan cheese. I warmed it in the microwave. There was definitely plenty of food. I liked the meatballs. They tasted very much like the meatballs you can get at your average pizzeria – I’m thinking of Porky’s Pizza Palace in particular. They had a good texture, they weren’t too soft and not too gritty, and a nice flavor. I would imagine that these are not “homemade”, but it’s not like I can get meatballs that taste like that at the supermarket. The sauce was pretty standard marinara, a little on the acidic side. A bit more cheese would have been better, but you can always add your own. I also liked the sausages, which were pretty dense, and smooth, and tasted primarily – but mildly – of fennel. Obviously this would have been better over some pasta, and next time I might just boil some myself.

Vik’s Chaat, Berkeley

Vik’s Chaat is a very well known Berkeley Indian restaurant. It’s a casual eatery, meant for college students. It’s been there for decades and has always been very popular. I went there once, over a decade ago, and I don’t remember loving it, but I didn’t write a review. Locale offers 3 dishes from Vik’s Chaat.

Tandoori Chicken with Spiced Chickpeas and Basmati Rice

This dish consisted of a chicken leg – separated into thigh and drumstick – served with basmati rice and spiced chickpeas. I wasn’t super fond of it. It tasted like the sort of tandoori chicken you can make it at home, in your own over, with tandoori masala. The masala sauce, which was a bit spicy, clung to the chicken, which I don’t particularly like. I much prefer the tandoori chicken found at most restaurants where the chicken skin has been died and the flavor has been absorbed by the meat, rather than resting on a marinade outside. Still, it wasn’t bad, just not as good as the Americanized versions of tandoori chicken you usually get at restaurants. It did remind me of why I didn’t like Vik’s when I went. A similar tandoor chicken dish at the restaurant which is served with dal, instead of chickpeas, and with naan and raita, costs $18.

Zareen’s, Silicon Valley

Zareen’s, along with Burma Superstar, are the only restaurants Locale mentions on their Facebook ads and comments. This seems to be because they were listed in the 2020 Michelin guide. It’s an Indian/Pakistani restaurant with locations in Palo Alto, Redwood City and Mountain View. Locale offers 7 dishes from this restaurant, though two are tikka masalas and three spinach curries.

Chicken Tikka Masala with Basmati Rice

I was underwhelmed by this dish. It consisted of shredded chicken tikka in a masala curry and yellow rice. The chicken was tender and had a nice smoky flavor but was otherwise very underseasoned. The sauce lacked the complexity you look for in a tikka masala sauce. It wasn’t bad, but it was underdeveloped. The portion was adequate for a single meal. In all, I think I rather pay more at my local Indian restaurant but have a better curry and leftovers for a second meal. This curry is $16.25 at the Zareen’s restaurant, though I’m not sure if the portion is the same size.


Oakland Eats: 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen

An Argentine opines!

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen could be described as the epitome of cultural appropriation. This Oakland restaurant is named after the Avenida 9 de Julio, the main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires and the widest avenue in the world, and serves Latin American styled empanadas. Owned by an American couple who fell in love with empanadas while studying in Costa Rica, the restaurant feels more like an ode than a theft. Plus, as someone who loves to cook all sorts of cuisines, I’m not a believer in cultural appropriation in the first place.

Empanadas seem to be having a moment in the US right now. They are basically round pastries filled with savory or sweet filling, folded in half and either fried or baked. They are a cousin to South Asian samosas, Central Asian samsas, Middle Eastern/East African sambusas and a sibling to Levantine fatay. Andalusians introduced them to Latin America and the rest of the Spanish empire, and you now can find them as far away as Guam. No country, however, is as fond of empanadas as Argentina, and most Argentinians would consider them – along with asado and milanesas – to be our national dish. You can find them at practically every bakery in Argentina – and there are bakeries in almost every block – and in specialty empanada stores. The latter are also showing up in the US. The Bay Area has long had several Argentine empanada shops.

9 Julio, however, is going for more of a fusion concept. They use the wheat flour, saucer-sized empanada shells most common in Argentina but with fillings inspired by the cuisines of the other Latin American countries. Their selection of empanadas is rather limited – they had six savory and two sweet when we visited -, but they do have a couple of other entrees as well. The empanadas are baked, rather than fry, and you can buy them uncooked and bake them yourself. If you do, I recommend that you brush them with egg wash and sprinkle some sugar on them. Empanadas are $4 each, $2 for the small dessert ones. I think 3 empanadas make a meal, but my friends all ordered just 2 each.

9 Julio is a smallish, very casual place. You order at the counter, get your sodas from a machine and wait for your name to be called. Most people seem to get their empanadas to go, so it’s easy to find seating, at least for dinner. Counter service was very friendly, and the owner checked on us at some point. Of note: 9 Julio doesn’t accept cash – you must pay with a credit or debit card. I’m personally bothered by businesses that don’t take cash, as I feel they discriminate against people who don’t have credit or debit cards , a group that includes younger people, low income people, immigrants and the unhoused. Given that they sell a rather low-priced product that would likely be popular with those of lower income, I can only think that they are purposely trying to limit who shops at their shop.

The shells

9 Julio has pretty standard white flour empanada shells, which they say the make in house. The shells are fine, but I think they need a tad more salt. I found them to not be as flavorful as I prefer them. Consistency wise they are pretty typical; I personally prefer the more phyllo dough one which La Salteña introduced now decades ago.

It tried the following empanadas – in addition to the ones I ate at the restaurant, I got a few to take home. Empanada shells lose their flakiness when microwaved, but these ones held up pretty well.

Cuban Picadillo

Cuban picadillo is very similar to the traditional Argentine ground beef empanada filling but is more flavorful. It’s indeed very similar to the filling I use myself for empanadas. 9 Julio’s Cuban picadillo empanadas were described as having “ground beef, tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, green olives, golden raisins, & capers.” They were quite good – even if not as good as mine. I felt the filling was missing some umami, perhaps they need more tomatoes? Still, they’re perfectly acceptable empanadas – which is quite a lot for me to say as an Argentine.

Jamaican Beef

This empanada had “ground beef, onions, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, & yellow curry.” I didn’t feel it was very different to the Cuban one, but it was spicier. My husband particularly liked it as he dislikes both olives and raisins and appreciates spice. He thought it was very tasty.

Chicken Rojo

This was described as having “braised chicken, onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, & guajillo chili sauce.” I was quite good but I also felt the filling was missing something, perhaps as simple as more time to rest or a bit more reduction time. Or who knows? Maybe just a tad more salt. The umami component was almost there, I could feel it on the back of my tongue but not quite making it to the forefront. Still, it was perfectly acceptable.

Mushroom & Onion

I liked this “wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, & fresh herbs” empanada, but I felt it needed more caramelized onions. The mushrooms were quite good and only a little rubbery. It’s a great option for vegetarians.

Apples & Dulce de Leche

The sweet empanadas are about half the size of regular empanadas and cost half as much. I didn’t have much hopes for the apples and dulce de leche empanada, but it was recommended by the cashier. Alas, I was right. Apples and dulce de leche don’t work well together. The flavors don’t combine at all. To make it worse, the apples had cinnamon in them, a flavor that definitely doesn’t work with dulce de leche.

Pineapple Rum

I liked this empanada better. The pineapple wasn’t too sweet and it was overall a tasty bite. Still, I didn’t like it enough to order it again.

Most of us just had water or soda with dinner, but my friend Elektra ordered the Guava Beer and she liked it. I thought it tasted like beer mixed with guava juice, and it definitely wasn’t my thing.

In all, we had a really nice experience. The empanadas are not mind blowing, but they are competent and I’d have them again. That said, 9 Julio’s anti-cash policy lives a very bitter taste in my mouth and that alone might prevent me from returning.

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen
5239 Claremont Ave, Suite A
Oakland, CA

Oakland Eats: Jo’s Modern Thai

It turns out you can make Thai food even better.

Let’s be honest, Thai food is absolutely delicious. Mind blowing yummy. With its expert combination of sweet, sour and spicy flavorings, and a complete mastering of umami, Thai cuisine ranks among the best in the world. Take your average strip mall Thai joint in Los Angeles and compare it to a three star Michelin star restaurant, and on flavors alone, the Thai joint might very well win. Indeed, one of the most amazing things about Thai food, is how consistently good it is (at least in California). Sure, you can find some duds once in a while, but those seem to be the exception.

So, I was very curious to find out how the very well reviewed and quite expensive Jo’s Modern Thai could elevate Thai food even further. Was it possible to “modernize it,” whatever that meant, in a way that it would improve it rather than just bastardize it? Was there anything new to be done to dishes that achieved perfection after hundreds of years of evolution? It turns out, the answer is a resounding yes. Thai cuisine can be modernized and elevated, and Jo’s Modern Thai is at the forefront of this movement.

I went to Modern Thai with a group of girlfriends for a busy and loud (middle aged) girls’ night out. Thus I didn’t take any photos of the food, nor do I have detailed recollections of every dish – beyond saying that my mind was blown. I will, of course, return to Modern Thai again for a more careful review. But meanwhile, here is what I recall us having.

Coconut Cakes ($22 for 4). These come with “Tom Kha scallops and shrimp ceviche, trout roe, makrut, bird’s eye chili, cilantro.” I’m not a huge fan of seafood, and I do hate shrimp, but I loved these. The combination of flavors was really on point, with the cakes adding very nice hints of coconuts.

Crying Tiger ($17 for 4). These consisted of small slices of grilled short ribs, served on top of sticky rice in some sort of leaf and topped with “tomato jaew sauce, pomegranate, shiso, herbs.” They were quite spicy, thus the name, but also absolutely delicious. A great combination of flavors.

Green Papaya Salad ($16) . I don’t personally remember this salad. We ordered two, and I remember people particularly raving over one of them – but I’m not sure if it was this one or the other one, and I’m not sure what the other one was.

Lobster Pad Thai ($32) I’m not a fan of lobster – though those who were, loved it here -, but I absolutely loved the pad thai itself. You can also order it plain.

Drunken Noodle ($26) I was blown away by the smokiness of these noodles – not just the BBQ brisket. They were absolutely delicious.

Massaman Curry ($25) This is a vegetarian dish, and it was actually quite good. It was, however, spicy.

Pork Belly Curry ($27) & Beef Cheek Green Curry ($33) I can’t remember either of these, though I do know I enjoyed them. They were both medium spicy, but I didn’t have an issue with them.

Pork Laab Burger ($17) I remember this being tastier than I expected, but I only had a bite.

We might have had other food, and I know this is very unhelpful – I really should have written this review right away, but I do know that all in all I was blown away by all the food. There was nothing that I didn’t really like. That is, until it come to dessert.

Pretty much everyone at the table ordered the salted Thai tea panna cotta ($14) and only one person sort of liked it. The dessert wasn’t sweet at all, and it had an off putting taste. It’s dessert, I guess, for people who hate dessert. I had reluctantly ordered the mango sticky rice ($14) and fared much, much, much better. They basically took what is a common Thai dessert, concentrated the flavors, and served it in a small glass. The sticky rice pudding was topped by both mango sorbet and chopped mango, with coconut cream sauce and pandan rice krispies for texture. Absolutely delicious and worth the hefty price.

Pretty much everyone got cocktails and everyone raved about them. I didn’t taste any, so I can’t comment on them.

Service was impecable, very friendly, attentive, informative.

All in all, it was an amazing girl’s night out with incredible food, and I look forward to returning – and writing a more detailed review.

Jo's Modern Thai
3725 MacArthur Blvd.
Oakland, CA
(510) 479-3167
Tuesday - Thursday:5:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Friday - Saturday:5:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Sunday:5:00 pm - 9:30 pm


Oakland Eats: Mägo

An adventure in Colombian cuisine

Colombian cuisine seems to be having a moment in the Bay Area. Parche in Oakland has been getting great reviews as has Macondo in Alameda and MaMo in San Francisco. My experiences with Colombian food, however, are extremely limited. I remember visiting a Colombian restaurant in San Jose over 20 years ago, with my then infant daughter. I don’t remember the food, but I do remember the waitress was wonderful and held my daughter for part of the meal. I did recently try a Colombian empanada in New York City, and I cooked a couple of Colombian dishes years ago as part of my international food project. I thus went to Mägo with few expectations at to what Colombian cuisine would be liked – though I did imagine it might resemble that of Venezuela and Ecuador (so my expectations were limited, but not necessarily high).

Mägo serves a “Colombian inspired” seven-course tasting menu for $98. I love tasting menus, and was eager to introduce my teen daughter to one. As it was my birthday, she had to put aside her reticence about trying new food, and go along. She was a trooper. In all, we liked some dishes, thought less of others, but had a wonderful time. Service was good, the setting was pleasant, and the company great.

Mägo has a pretty elegant dining room, and an informal patio on the back. My daughter said that it felt like we were in someone’s backyard, and it does have that atmosphere. They have some tables set for four, and a very long family table. A family with children was eating at that table, and later a couple was seated at one end. I felt that was weird. It wasn’t as if the two parties were interacting, and there other tables available in the patio. To me, having to share a table with a family would have taken away from the experience, particularly if it was a date night. Our table for three, however, was perfectly pleasant. Tables are distant enough from one another that you don’t hear other people’s conversations (though kids can be loud).

The patio has pretty strong heaters – you can have them turned down or off, but my daughter was cold – and Colombian music was played through a small blue-tooth speaker. The music wasn’t very loud, so we could speak comfortably. Mägo recommends smart casual clothing, though in the patio that’s probably not needed (at least, that’s how other guests seemed to feel).

The menu, as I mentioned, is fixed and there seem to be at last some changes daily. While the courses are small, we were full by the end of the evening. The whole meal takes about 2 1/2 hours – as there is considerable wait between courses – better for digestion and to enjoy the experience to the full.

The meal started with an arepa topped with salsa maró (a Lingurian fava bean pesto) and huacatay, an herb from the Andes. We all enjoyed it. The arepa was served pretty warm, which definitely was a plus as it made it softer and more comforting. The fava bean pesto had a subtle flavor, I think it might have needed a drop of lemon juice, but it was a pleasant start to the meal.

The next course was actually a trio – though as there were three of us, I guess you could say we got a trio of trios of oca and spring potatoes. Oca is a South American tuber that tastes like a somewhat sour potato. The first preparation was, if I remember correctly, boiled and then seared oca served on a bed of sal, chocolate and other spices. It was OK. The oca was too firm, like a raw potato, though I did like the spice mixture it came with. The second, consisted of small balls of pickled oca, served in hollowed raw potatoes. You only ate the inside. I appreciated the novelty of the dish and the presentation, but wasn’t impressed by the dish. The oca, once again, was too firm and it just tasted sour. The final dish was a potato and roasted garlic soup that basically just tasted of over-roasted garlic. It wasn’t bad, but it needed acid. The whole dish improved when I dunked the little oca balls into the soup, though it still wasn’t something I’d order.

Our next course was asparagus with fermented pineapple. This was my daughter’s favorite dish. She loved the subtly charred asparagus and appreciated how large they were – it turns out she doesn’t like the baby asparagus I often buy and overcook. The pineapple sauce added some great, salty acidity to the asparagus. Overall, a winning dish.

The next dish consisted of shrimp, avocado, green grapes and burn jalapeños. This was a dish that as a composite did not work for any of us – so we all ate what we liked from it. Mike doesn’t like avocado, so he gave it to me instead. He liked the shrimp – and had mine as well – but particularly enjoyed the mixture of textures in the dish. I appreciated the fresh, tarty flavor of the mashed avocado, with the bright sauce and sweet grapes. They were yummy. My daughter doesn’t eat either seafood nor guacamole, and while she got a vegetarian alternative to this dish, there wasn’t much in it for her. But hey, I loved having her leftover avocado and a couple of grapes she left behind and we all enjoyed eating the flowers.

Our fifth course was a real winner. It consisted of swordfish, artichokes and pumpkin seeds in an incredible peanut sauce. The pumpkin seeds were also made into a sauce, and the two sauces together were dynamite. I could eat them all the time. The swordfish was also great. So much so that my daughter tried a bite and claimed she didn’t hate it (which is quite astounding for her). It was perfectly cooked, flavorful by itself and great with the sauce. I’m not a fan of artichokes, but I liked the sauce so much that I ate them.

Instead of the swordfish, my daughter got a tostón (fried green plantain pancake) with more green grapes and a green sauce. She also liked it quite a bit. I tried the tostón and I liked it better than other versions, it was less dry, somewhat sweeter and more flavorful.

The sixth, main and final savory course was lamb posta negra, black beans and collards. This dish has its origin in Cartagena de las Indias, where it’s usually made with eye of round (posta), though lamb worked very well here. The lamb was braised in a blackened, caramelized sweetish sauce. Mägo served the sauce under mashed black beans, which seemed to mostly have nullified its sweetness. The dish was overall very tasty, and quite substantial – at least it felt so after the previous five courses. We all enjoyed it – though my daughter only had a couple of bites (more than expected, given her aberration to lamb).

Along with the beef, we got pan de coco and whipped plantain butter. This was the second favorite dish for my daughter, and we all enjoyed the fresh buns. I didn’t realize the butter was made of plantains until re-reading the menu to write this review. I looked up plantain butter since, and found that there is a commercial version of it from Jamaica made from plantains and cream, while UCLA serves its own vegan version based on palm oil. There are many recipes online with a variety of ingredients, but if I still had a vegan daughter I might try to experiment and make my own.

Dessert was corn cake with a meyer lemon ice cream and panela bits. It was delicious and my favorite dish of the evening. I just love corn cake, in particular its grittiness and this one was perfect. The flavor combination and the crunchiness of the panela bits was superb. It was also a perfectly sized dessert. Of course I wanted more, I had no room for it.

The final dish of the evening were dulces, served in a dish that said Happy Birthday (it was my 55th!). These consisted of some candy I didn’t even try, as I’m not a fan of candy, but which apparently were good, and tiny alfajores with a tiny portion of dulce de leche. They did need maybe half a spoon more dulce de leche, but they were very tasty and super cute.

Mägo offers a wine pairing for $70 and a non-alcoholic drink pairing for $55, but we no longer drink that much wine nor consume so many sugary drinks. They do offer complimentary tap or sparkling water, and of course, I ordered the latter. That must have been the worst sparkling water I’d ever tasted. I’m not someone that is generally picky about sparkling water. I will drink any of them. I pretty much always order it with my dinner, and have had different brands in different states, countries and continents. This is the first time I find one that I dislike. If they make it themselves, it’s time to change the filter.

I had a glass of the Altos las Hormigas, Valle de Uco, ‘21 Malbec ($20) with dinner, and it was very pleasant though extremely overprice. Mago sells a full bottle of this wine for $80, while it retails for about $16. Usually restaurants mark up their wines to about twice of retail price, five times seems rather excessive. It occurs to me that it’s how Mägo is able to keep their food prices relatively low. In any case, Argentine wine is usually an amazing value, so I’m not complaining about ordering it. My daughter had the passion fruit agua freca ($8), she hadn’t had passion fruit before and really liked it. It’s pretty sweet, however, as you’d expect, so one was enough.

Service was efficient but somewhat distant – there weren’t any tones of friendliness. They didn’t seem to be any more convivial with other tables, so I don’t think it was personal. Different servers bring different courses, and they always explain what they are. Silverware is replaced between courses. We never lacked for water, and they turned up the heat when we asked – but there just wasn’t a friendly vibe. Not that one is necessary.

In all, we had a great time. I’d recommend trying it, for flavors that while not necessarily super successful (to me) are somewhat novel and interesting. Food wise, I feel it’s a very good value for the experience you get.

Mägo
3762 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA
(510) 344-7214
W - Sa 5 - 9 PM

Oakland Eats: Tacos Los Amigos

I finally get the taco obsession

Carne Asada Tacos

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.

Al Pastor Tacos

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
Oakland, CA
(510) 379-0846
Uncertain hours
https://www.restaurantji.com/ca/oakland/tacos-los-amigos-/

Oakland Eats: Plank

Plank is a Fun & Relaxing Place for a Weekend Lunch

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.

Plank
98 Broadway
Oakland, CA
510-817-0980
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

Foodie Oakland: Awazi Kitchen

**This restaurant has closed**

Gored Gored

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.

Kik Alicha

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.

Awazi Kitchen
1009 Clay St
Oakland
(510) 817-4155
https://awazi-kitchen.business.site/

City Center Grill – Oakland – Review

We went to the City Center Grill for lunch a couple of weeks ago when we took place in an Occupy Oakland protest (as you can see, these protests do bring business to nearby eateries, we saw several cops eating around as well).  As it was in the weekend, our choices for lunch were limited.  Unfortunately, City Center Grill wasn’t a good one.

City Center Grill offers breakfast, burgers, sandwiches and salads.  We went for the cheeseburgers, $7.50 with French Fries and a small drink.  The fries were OK, but the burgers left much to be desired.  I don’t think we even finished them, even though they were pretty small for the price.  The fries were good, however.

Service (this is a place where you order at the counter) was very friendly.  Still, I wouldn’t go back.

City Center Grill

1221 Broadway, #105
Oakland, CA
510-452-3100
M – F 6:30 AM – 3:30 PM

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

 

A Muah to Mua (Restaurant Review, Oakland, California)

It’s been a couple of years since our friend Eddie moved away from our dear San Leandro in search of hotter pastures. And in the meantime our monthly mom’s night out dinners sort of stopped – mostly because of logistics. But Eddie was in town for a visit, so we /had to/ get together for another special dinner. This time Natasha had the great idea of going to Mua, a newish, trendy restaurant in downtown Oakland (now called “uptown”). Natasha had been there three times, and couldn’t stop saying good things about the place. No wonder. In terms of food alone, this is probably the best restaurant I ever visited in the Bay Area. All the dishes we had ranged from very good to spectacular – and the majority fell in the latter category. All I can say is “Wow”.

Mua occupies an industrial-style space, with eclectic decorations which range from the cozy (an out of place cupboard) to the post-modern (pseudo graffiti decorated panels). I’m not very good at describing, so you might as well take a look at the picture at the bottom of this review (which I reproduce from their website). The results are quite interesting and surprisingly inviting – though clearly the place is geared towards an audience younger and hipper than 40+ year-old moms. The only real issue for us was that this is a very noisy place, in particular because of the loud music piped into the dining room. The noise made it impossible for the six of us to converse when seated at a regular 6-person table, but they kindly moved us to a smaller table that allowed us to talk to each other without too much trouble.

Service, as you can surmise, was quite efficient and good. Our waitress forgot one of our dishes, but given how much we ordered that did not prove to be a problem. Water was refilled, dishes brought and removed at appropriate times (basically, our 13 dishes were brought in two stages, which worked very well).
Mua doesn’t only serve great food (which I’ll describe below), but it’s well known for its cocktails (all $9). It has quite a variety of unusual mixes, and we found all of them delicious. Aamani had the Pepper Basil Caipirinha (leblon cachaça, black peppercorns, basil and lime), and she was very pleased. It had a small kick but it wasn’t very spicy. Natasha and Eddie both ordered the Min Mojito (oronoco rum, mint, lime, ginger puree and ginger beer), and even though Eddie ordered it with little ginger, she found it too gingery for her taste. Both Natasha and I thought it was perfectly blended, but tastes differ. Parker’s Cucumber Crush (leblon cachaça, cucumber, elderflower liqueur and lime) was incredibly refreshing, definitely a summer drink. It was very popular at our table. My Strawberry Ginger Lemonade (stoli citrus vodka, strawberry, ginger puree and lemon) might have needed just a tad more sugar and didn’t really have much of a ginger flavor, but still was very yummy – quite reminiscent of a strawberry daiquiri. The real winner of the evening, however, was Dolores’ Chamomile Whiskey Sour (chamomile whiskey, lemon, lime and egg white). I, personally, hate whiskey – it’s too strong for me – but this drink was so well balanced, with just the right amount of sweetness and a caramelish creaminess, that I loved it. So did everyone else. I’d definitely recommend you try it (or really, anything else in their cocktail menu).

But as good as the drinks were, it was the food that shined here. If you go, try to do so with a large group so that you can taste more dishes. And really, skip the main entrees, I’m sure they are very good (we only tried the burgers) but you’ll want to have the room for the small dishes.

The first dish I tasted were the Shiitake Mushrooms ($9). The perfectly sauteed mushrooms came on a crostini topped by bright green (I assumed herbed) goat cheese. The combination of the refreshing cheese and the savory mushrooms worked surprisingly well and I was lucky enough to manage to eat a whole slice (I think the dish came with three). The “mac & cheese” ($7) is made with butternut squash pasta and a light cream sauce (I presume) that has no cheese. I was surprised at just how delicious this dish was – if I could find the recipe I could say goodbye to Kraft forever. I hope they publish a cookbook very, very soon.

I didn’t taste the crispy tofu ($7) – it never made it to my side of the table, indeed I’d say that Natasha pretty much monopolized it 🙂 – but I hear it was also a star. Less interesting was the beet salad ($8). It was very nice, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t have the superlative flavors that other dishes showed. It was just a very good salad.
The dish that really won me over to vegetables (in case you are new to my reviews, I’m a complete meaterian, I won’t touch veggies with a 6-foot-pole) was the collard greens. They don’t appear on their menu online, so I don’t know what they were made with, but the sauce they came with was pretty thin and must have had something like bacon. It was very savory and perfectly balanced, and the dish itself was my favorite. I could eat that forever. I’m really going to write and beg them to publish a cookbook.

I’m not fond of carpaccio ($8) so I wasn’t overly impressed with this dish, though Parker, who had ordered it, was quite happy. I did like the arugula salad that came with it.

I’m also not a fan of slimy food, so I didn’t try the mussels ($13). The roasted tomato broth that accompanied, however, was also out of this world – nicely acidic and with only a subtle seafood flavor. Everyone was enchanted. I never saw the string beans ($8) which Aamani ordered, though I’m sure they made it to the table, but I don’t recall anyone commenting on them (then again, there was so much food that I may have missed some specific dish discussions).

Eddie ordered the lamb cheeks ($10), which I never would have ordered myself, but given how good everything else was, I had to try them – and I was very happy I did. The lamb was very tender and perfectly cooked, and the wine sauce very tasty. I can’t help but think that it needed just a tad of more seasoning, however. Perhaps the wine should have been reduced more. In any case, I liked it.

I didn’t taste the asparagus, in the “Warm Asparagus-Marble Potato” dish, but did have several of the potatoes. They come with bacon and a mustard sauce and were also amazing.

The vegetarian Burger ($11) that Aamani ordered is made from chickpeas, bulgur, quinoa and walnut and comes with an aioli sauce. The burger was very nice but the sauce really transported it into the “delicious” level. Yum, yum, yum.

Along with the beet salad, the dish that least impressed me was the regular hamburger which I ordered with cheddar, bacon and avocado ($15). Don’t get me wrong, it was very good – but ultimately just a burger and I’ve had others just as good, it not better, elsewhere. I found it just a little dry and just a little salty. At 1/2 lb it was also very big. This is probably the dish I’d skip next time.

The fries which came with the burgers and the mussels also failed to impress. They were thin, unevenly salted and just OK.

We were quite full after that meal, but we still wanted to try the desserts ($7?, I’m not sure). They all seemed quite prosaic – nothing seemed very original or provocative. We decided to split the creme brule and the brownie with caramel ice cream and fudge. They were both good but not great. I liked that the creme brulee was warm and not too sweet – the the brownie went very well with the ice cream, but I found the brownie a bit too dry. This is definitely a place to come for the food, not the desserts.
In all, we had an amazing time, both eating and talking (about our kids, of course) and I will definitely have to come here again (hopefully with another group so we can sample all the dishes we skipped this time). The bill came to $42.50 per person after tax and 18% tip, which was incredibly reasonable given the amount and quality of the food and cocktails.

So take my advise and go to Mua. Make sure to make reservations, however, as the place was full even on a Wednesday night.

Mua
2442a Webster St
Oakland, CA
(510) 238-1100
http://www.muaoakland.com/
Su – Th 4:30 PM – 12 AM
F – Sa 4:30 PM – 2 AM

Marga’s Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Mua Oakland

di bartolo

Last night my friends Eddie, Katrina, Parker and I had a well-deserved Mom’s Night Out. We decided to go to Spettro’s for dinner – and a review of that restaurant will follow soon – but we didn’t want to get there too early, lest the place be full of children. If we’re out without our children, we definitely want to avoid other people’s as well.

So we decided to go to a bar instead. Katrina had one in mind, blocks and blocks away from Spettro’s, but right before we got there we went by di bartolo and it seemed like a really nice place to stop. We were concerned that it was too much of a restaurant, but they have a bar area in the back which was just perfect for us. It’s small, dark, and while it was crowded, it was quite comfortable. The front dining room is also small and dark, and I think it could be a pleasant place for a romantic evening.

di bartolo offers ten interesting mix drink concoctions ($10), products of a very creative bartender. Eddie and I went for El Rojo Obispo: Absolut ruby red, patron citronge, fresh mint, pomegrante juice and lime. It was very good, though a little bit too sweet for me – as the ice melted and the drink diluted that was less of a problem. Both Eddie and I would definitely order it again. Katrina had the grand: vanilla vodka, mission fig puree and fresh lemon, served up. It was delicious, it had a warm fussiness to it, and a caramelish taste. I’d definitely order it. The loser of the evening was Parker’s Madagascar sazerac: Maker’s mark, vanilla sugar, thyme sprig, served on the rocks. The problem was that it tasted very alcoholic, if you are the type of person who drinks your alcohol straight you might like it, but if you are a mixed-drinks type of person, you may want to stay away from it. In any case, Parker couldn’t finish it. Finally, Eddie and Parker shared a mojito. I didn’t try it but they both said they liked it.

In the middle of our drinks we figured it’d be good if we had something to eat (though we’d munched on crackers with goat cheese, nicely provided by Eddie, in the car) so we ordered their garlic fries ($5) and their mushroom pizza with caramelized onions and chevre ($14). The fries were good, though not nearly as good as the fries from A Cote, or even our neighborhood’s Joplin’s (though they were definitely more refined, thinner, than the latter). For $5 I would have expected them to be somewhat better. The same thing can be said about the pizza, it was very good with a very thin crust and a good balance of toppings (though the mushrooms were particularly good), but it was definitely too small for the prize – or too pricey for the size and lack of “awe” element. But you know me, I’m pretty jaded by food and it was a good pizza.

In all we very much enjoyed our time at di bartolo and we are planning to go there for dinner at our next mom’s night out.

di bartolo
3306 Grand Ave
Oakland, CA
510-451-0576

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