Spring of Peruvian Delights on College: Puquio!

Oaklavores: it’s been a year and a half since I last posted… The good news: I found a restaurant that knocked me out of my blogging slumber and had to let everyone know!

Ceviche Mix with Yam Chips at Pucquio, Oakland

Ceviche Mix with Yam Chips at Pucquio, Oakland

Confession Time: I was a Peruvian food newbie. I had walked by this place for two years… Two years!!! …and had ever gone in. I’ve now been a number of times and feel like somewhat of a regular and have interacted with the staff enough to know this place is down home, local and damn delicious!

The server will explain the whole menu as the descriptions on the menu use terms not familiar to the Peruvian food newbie types. This makes you want everything and definitely makes it tough to decide what to try. In fact, they encourage you to come back and try everything on the menu! I’m *just* about there at this point.

Octopus over Olive Emulsion at Pucquio, Oakland

Octopus over Olive Emulsion at Pucquio, Oakland

Puquio means “spring of water”, so let’s start with the drinks. They are wine and beer only, no pisco sours, but you can do without that hangover anyway!! They are very quick to refill your wine glass, let that be a warning to you… And now that you are settled in with a drink, let’s get to the eats!

The cebiches are all off the chain delicious. Tart and citrusy, the use of aleppo peppers here is the star. One evening the chef, Carlos, showed me the fish that I would soon be eating, holding it up by the tail to admire it, then breaking it down for chow time.

Ahem: People, this is not a place you go to rush through a meal on your way somewhere. It is like a vacation in town, the chefs making food from scratch, mixing sauces for each dish to order. Settle in, have some fried plantains and tuck in to an evening of fresh food that is lovingly prepared.

Chicken Deliciousness at Pucquio, Oakland

Chicken Deliciousness at Pucquio, Oakland

The menu is well split between seafood and meat, with a veggie dish or two thrown in there for lighter diners. Each dish had amazing qualities and Carlos wanted to hear feedback, giving a ch-ching type gesture when he hit a home run with a dish, which is damn close to always.

It’s really great to see a chef so invested and interested in his work. He treats this kitchen like a lab of sorts, sometimes trying new things or a new direction to see how it is taken.

Lamb Two Ways over Yucca at Pucquio, Oakland

Lamb Two Ways over Yucca at Pucquio, Oakland

The lamb seco is mind blowing. Not normally a lamb fan, my man absolutely adores this dish. The yucca underneath the lamb loin slices is like carb crack, savory and oniony yet not super oppressively heavy. Truly delightful to not only try new things that I would never make at home, but such thoughtful and balanced preparations of staple ingredients from another part of the world.

Now, my man makes sauces- cioppino that is to die for- and when he tasted the Shrimp in bisque, he was stunned. It’s the closest anyone has ever come to creating a stock so rich and flavorful, he had to give the chefs serious complements.

Pork Belly Brulee over Purple Potato Puree at Pucquio, Oakland

Pork Belly Brulee over Purple Potato Puree at Pucquio, Oakland

My best friend and I go in there to check in about once every two weeks and see how the place is doing and snag a killer meal, I never regret it.

The pork belly is rich and well sauced with some veg to cut the richness, and some purple potato to catch that rich sauce. Im telling ya, we seriously wiped our plates clean on a number of occasions at this place!

There are rotations on the menu but there are some long standbys like the lamb, pork belly and cebiches.

Shrimp Bisque with Egg at Pucquio, Oakland

Shrimp Bisque with Egg at Pucquio, Oakland

The desserts range from sorbets to filled doughnuts that just punctuate the fact that you have had a truly full dining experience. Whether you go light or go sweet, you can’t go wrong. It shocks me that I can still get in and sit at the bar most weeknights.

The music selections vary from classic alternative to brass band to chill downtempo, but it is always a fun place to be, and I happily saw some kids dancing with the staff at one of my last visits! Down home good time. Come, eat, relax and remember how to truly live here!

Mockingbird Rocks, Quietly!

Dear Readers, Happy New Year!! I was clearing out my drafts folder and found this outdated gem which still stands up:

On a clear Saturday night the warmly lit windows of Mockingbird beckoned a friend and I in for dinner and some girl chat. I arrived early and was seated immediately along the wall of windows that faces the patio of the venue next door.

A server came by and asked for my drink order and I tried a taste of what is offered as their lightest red, the Grenache. It was exactly what I was looking for, not too bold and went with the mini cheeseburgers I had my eye on.

My friend arrived and she opted for the Sauvignon Blanc, which she was pleased with and went with her raviolis perfectly.

I was happy to see that there were a few different options than what is on their website. The dining room was full all evening but thankfully each table has space to talk and be in their own realm. I appreciate when people aren’t right next to me in a more hushed space. I can see why this place is touted as a great date spot but could also see just pulling up a bar stool and enjoying a solo dinner as well.

Friends had the Brussels Sprouts and were absolutely loving them- next time!!

Ok- dessert. Apparently the pastry chef is from Oakland but comes in twice a week or so to manage the sweets menu. The bread pudding with caramel is so buttery, crunchy, creamy eggy and delicious we almost ordered another one on the spot but were too full. It’s been a while since dessert eclipsed dinner but wow, this dessert did.

Slacker’s Guide to New Year’s Eve in Oakland

Yesterday I noticed that a couple of friends were surprised that today is the last day of the year, so in salute to procrastinators, slackers, nose-down workers and non-noticers of the area, let’s round up whats going on in Oakland tonight! As of this posting (8am Oakland Standard Time):

Bocanova: “TIERRA Y MAR” / $58 In addition to the regular dinner menu, there is a 4-course Surf & Turf menu, including a complimentary glass of bubbly. The main course: Roast Dungeness Crab with garlic, chile flakes & olive oil and Dry Aged Featherbone Steak with spiced salt & anchovy butter. Menu

Camino – Still some early reservations left! Read about it and reserve here: Choucroute Royale!

District$75 prix fix still has reservations!

Haven$85 prix fix still has reservations!

Lungomare – Two seatings available, choices in three courses $50, $65, Info here!

Plum – Gatsby New Year: $90-95 PER PERSON : OYSTERS with “poor mans caviar”: squid ink, saffron granita, CONSOMME smoked egg yolk, herbs, “WALDORF SALAD” chicken terrine, pickled grapes, walnuts, greens, SOUFFLE CRAB butter, LAMB braised greens, jus, “BAKED ALASKA” vanilla cake, citrus salad, blood orange ice cream, honey meringue Reservations available!

Ramen ShopParty! Get tix here!!

Spice Monkey – Oysters on offer for lunch and dinner!

Tribune Tavern – Two seatings available $45, $65 More info here!

As well, all your favorite local watering holes will be open for a midnight toast: Check out the scene at Ruby Room, 355, Radio, Merchant’s Saloon, The Layover, Penelope, The Trappist, Cafe Van Kleef, Luka’s, Heinolds First and Last, Dogwood, Bench and Bar, Make Westing, Mua, Toast, Ben and Nicks, Ye Old Hut, George and Walts, McNalleys, Baggys by the Lake, Conga Lounge, The Graduate, Barclay’s, Kona Club, Cato’s, The White Horse, Kerry House and Somar are just a start…

Happy New Year, Oaklavores!!!

Brotzeit Loakal : Seaworthy!

Ahoy! On a slightly chilly evening this week, I was on the strip between 880 and the Oakland marina and had a hankering for something other than Speisekammer or Quinn’s Lighthouse. “Oh yeah!! Brotzeit! I’ve been trying to get there one of these nights! Oh there it is, by the north end of that corporate looking hotel.” Parking is easy. We were greeted before we got to the door and were given seating options: outside “fend for yourself” or inside “be seated by staff”. We opted for the outdoor deck with its long tables and two heaters. We sat down and immediately had menus and a friendly server ask for our drink order. We took a look at the beer specials menu, each gave our usual beer names to the server and she translated them into a beer selection and was on her way.

Our beers arrived and were both cold and tasty. The Linden Street “house” beer shows a darker color than its taste belies. The Kolsch was a total girl beer and right up my alley- sweet and not too tangy or hoppy. This place would do well to have a taxi stand nearby with adult beverages this good! The mellow crowd on the deck was a mix of possible first dates, a business meeting, and friend groups. We had a nice view of some yachts and other boats along the water. There are showers in the restrooms in case you need to get your land legs washed!

Ooo, yay! It’s time to order food! The sausage list is expansive. Like the beer list, it is written out on a window and I chose the Bratwurst and my dining companion had the Wienerschnitzel. We continued to enjoy our bevvies and the view. We noticed food coming out of the kitchen in groups- not sure why. Nothing then everything- may have just been the rhythm of the evening. Our dishes were brought out at the end of a grouping that covered the majority of the deck.

The plate of schnitzel looked sizable but not huge. Brussel sprouts, halved and roasted joined the sides and contrasted the bright purple cabbage with the tan spaetzle in the middle. Snacking away on the applesauce and lemon topped pork, we didn’t know the star of the show was yet to come. The purple cabbage that comes with the schnitzel is a-freaking-mazing. Sweet and just a little tangy but not how you are expecting- it’ll say hello to you! The brat was good, I inhaled it. It came with fennel studded blond sauerkraut pickled onions and jalapeños that blasted our tongues with heat. We sorted out that the habanero sauce was actually not the culprit and that the jalapeño rounds could have stood some more pickling or some de-seeding. The onion rings we ordered were ok. one was not entirely fried on the bottom side but it saved me some calories! They were extra good with the habanero sauce!

We had no room for dessert and it took so long for our bill to come that we pondered ditching. We never would. Ever. But it took that long. Everything else had been so sharp and attentive that it was a surprise. I hate being held captive at a table, we looked ready to go and once we gave our card over it was quickly returned so it appears our message made it through. I’d like to try sitting inside as well as more sausages. Up next: The sausage plate, so I can try two meat treats and play roulette with the beer menu! Get on board at Brotzeit!

Ramen Tomo: YUCK-itori!

It’s pretty rare that bad service hits my radar. Having worked at restaurants, I can see when a server is particularly busy or overtaxed by one table or another. When inactive service combines with cold and mediocre food, it deserves to be talked about. On the second visit to Ramen Tomo on Telegraph, Yakitori was our mission. We ordered Asahi beer and sake, eight or so stick sets and got excited for dinner. I was excited because the last time I went with a group of four, we were served quickly and the service was attentive.

The beer never came, and the small sake was gone in about 10 minutes never to be refilled or asked about, sadly. The sticks started to arrive, first the bacon and enoki and pork belly/chestnut. The pork belly came first(YES!). It was cold(NO!). Not room temperature, but intentionally cold(AUGH!). I was thinking maybe this was a special weird preparation that only they knew about? Trying to stay positive, I asked about it:

Me: So the pork belly sticks, are they meant to be cold?

Server: (Wide eyed) NO. What?

Me: Yeah they were cold, like refrigerator cold. Is it supposed to be like that? I thought maybe it was a new way of making it?

Server: (Still wide eyed) NO. It’s supposed to be hot, cooked.

He then brought us sticks that were slightly more caramel colored than the first, saying “This is how they are supposed to be.” Luke warm with no char. Hmm, not sold on that one. In fact, the only things we got any slight char on were the bacon with enoki and scallops and jalapeno which were sadly dry. It literally looked like someone had taken a lighter to one side of them, a dotted black edge on one side of the scallops.

We were tempted to walk out after no one would come to the table after 15 minutes of inactivity and pleading eye contact, also 30 minutes without drinks. Standing around the kitchen talking about vacation hours, none of the service staff looked around to check anyone’s dinner.

When one of us got up to leave, the waitress came over. She didn’t seem to notice when we said the food was not good.

The last time I went I had the spicy ramen and some sticks. Adding grated garlic at the table was a nice touch, but they don’t do that anymore- they came around with a container of pre-grated garlic. Who knows when that was prepared?

There’s just too much good food in Oakland to come back here.  We also tried to hit B-Dama on Piedmont for a corrective sticks bite and found that they no longer serve yakitori!! Nooooo! After two letdowns, we went to Ippuku  in Berkeley for corrective, blazing hot, smoky sticks and velvety unfiltered sake- ending the night on a high note.

Dear readers, what are your favorite smoky meat and veg sticks in Oakland??

Dinner Down at The Forge

This dinner was so overdue… A while back when they had first opened, I had a quick chat with the “Pizza Hacker” about domain names and such, but hadn’t made it over for a full meal. It’s been months! So inspiration struck- and I’m glad it did. The Jack London promenade on a sunny Summer evening is a beautiful place. The fog hadn’t rolled in and there was no chill to the air! In case it gets there (and it usually does), there are cocktails, fire pits and a wine list ready to warm you and yours.

We ordered a beer and a bottle of wine to split, and perused the menu. We settled on fried cheese curds, smoked chicken wings and two pizzas: a margherita with arugula and a farm egg, and a mushroom pizza that had sausage as a welcome addition.

 curds                  wings

The crispy cheese curds were all we wanted them to be – light then chewy but not heavy in the least. We tried the marinara and also the blue cheese sauce from the wings for a full cheese-on-cheese experience. Like tissue paper on a campfire, they were gone instantly. The smoked wings were a less messy departure from “wings” in general. The smokiness of the meat was there but not blowing out any taste buds and the fat had been rendered out well to keep the grease factor down. These may be the perfect wings!

The pizzas were lovely- so thin, so thin. A friend and I just debated about how thin crust pizzas get soggy and my take on that was that it is physically impossible for the crust to stay crisp, given the sauce and ingredients… So if you want to complain about “soggy” pizza, don’t order thin crust! My crust edges were dipped into the Forge’s dilly version of ranch for a decadent end to the feast.

Service was quick, and they let us linger over our wine after the bill had come. They were doing a great business that evening, and it should continue.


Three of us got out of there stuffed and with a decent buzz for $35 plus tip!! Dinner was economical and totally worthwhile. Oaklavores, go have a seat and watch the world pass by. It’s like a weeknight summer stay-cation…

A16 Rockridge: Preview Dinner

My friend Matt is such a rock star. Not only did he just start his own business (shameless plug for Adeline Motors) but he could have taken any number of food loving friends to this bonanza… but lucky me! I got the chance to go with him.

His lovely lady is the General Manager of A16. Entering the lofty and skylit space, everyone was bubbly and congenial, introduced themselves and Generally Awesome Manager didn’t even seem that stressed! A sign of good things to come- or a calm before the storm?

Let’s get to the good stuff: dranks!

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The Catch-22, Plum Swizzle and the Negroni(not pictured) were all dangerously good. So good, in fact, that the bar ran out of Plum Swizzle makings! The Italian wines offered were chosen well and described eloquently- I took a mental daydream vacation to Italy while listening to the descriptions. Ahhh…

Next up: Foods!

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The Marin Miyagis were pretty briny(Hello, ocean! Not a bad thing, but not a neutral flavor), the Bacalao sublime, the Geoduck crudo was briny as well(Hi again, ocean!), and a trio of Chef’s offerings for the evening: morel bruschetta, mussels and garlic (Not as briny as its cousins up above, unsure of the prep as they were off the menu, dangit! Really fell in love with these) and finally- head cheese sliced thin(how can you go wrong with that plate??)
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We also ordered the Burrata with dragoncello. (GM taught me: Dragoncello is Italian for Tarragon. Such a fun word to say~!) Your face makes an “ah” happen twice just saying Burrata! This is a good thing.

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Crawfish, canellini beans, chili flakes and some bouncy cavatelli pasta curls: from the sea- but well grounded.

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Matt and his awesome lady used to live in Portland, where they saw some place used scissors to cut up pizza, and here we are with scissors for the fried pizza. Good idea- interactive food fun! The crust was a bit thicker than Matt had experienced in tastes past, but the smoked tomato sauce and bel fiore mozz kept us digging in for more bites.

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The potatoes pictured above spawned a new addiction for me. Holy: salt and vinegar chips in smashed fried potato form! You can almost count them as health food as they come along with fried garbonzos/ceccis/chick peas – get your legumes, right Mr. Pollan? Just kidding (but not about the addiction.)

At this part of the meal I feel just right, full but not too full, and I had forgotten about the next tier of yums coming our way… The rabbit! The rabbit served over toast slathered with liver, surrounded by leeks, olives, orange peel and cooked to the softest texture… Each bite like savory little bunny pillows in your mouth- the orange peel was distracting at first bite as it wasn’t listed on the menu. I was looking for grapes or some other “sweet” and then honed in on it with a bite or two more. It doesn’t look like much (until the iPhone merges with Canon my photos will never do food justice) but boy-howdy, that texture is golden.

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Everything has been so interesting (palate-wise or other) so I get introspective and I space out and check out the kitchen. The team are elbow deep in tickets and those ovens are both kickin. For first night madness, there were only a few appropriately stern words uttered on the line, which were heeded, and service sailed on. The staff seem to get along and respect one another which was a pleasure to see at an opening.

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Looking around at the other dishes, I snapped a pic of the fennel and salmon, thanks neighbors! I missed a photo of the asparagus over toasted bread with a gently handled poached egg and some wacky looking orange cheese zested over the top- next time I’ll be trying that one!

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Oh, my old nemesis: Dessert. I always want a hit of sweet, but fill up so wonderfully on dinner… Dammit- this is a preview dinner, and sacrifice I must:

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Gratinata with the best cherries I’ve had this season: huge and pitless. Summer lovin’!

The zeppoli were a sweet sweet surprise!

3 words: Fernet Branca Gelato. OK?

Then: the budino. Since my roommate a zillion years ago worked in this space when it was Garibaldis, at each incarnation there has been a budino on the menu. Sadly this one was cold-  I was hoping for a warm bowl brownie, soft in the center with cream thoughtfully dolloped for counterbalance. This was more cakey, the nib brittle was smoky, mellow and awesome and the ganache gave me enough rich tasty chocolate flavor to last the next couple months. Not a light dessert, but it will knock off the craving if you have one!

Thanks to Matt and his lovely lady for a sweet intro to this new Rockridge eatery.

Fellow Oaklavores: Andiamo- have a seat, eat and enjoy!!