[Almost] Wordless Wednesday: Rocking Out

Thriving in the waterway between the Oakland International Airport and Alameda for over 40 years, the infamous Watermelon rock remains as bright and juicy as ever. Mysteriously maintained and repainted before the colors can ever fade, this beloved slab of concrete is a fixture of the otherwise anonymous stretch of industrial wasteland.

It didn’t begin life as a melon, though. One fateful summer day in the early 80’s, someone called to complain that the quirky painted rock ruined the natural beauty of the shoreline. The park district’s solution wasn’t to remove it, but paint it black instead.

Setting off a chain reaction alongside outrage among artists, shortly after, it morphed into various citrus fruits, from a lemon to an orange wedge, before returning to it’s previous watermelon glory.

Watermelon Rock
Doolittle Dr.
Oakland, CA 94621

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Rise to Shine Again

Mezze Sampler

Ful Medames

Baba Ganoush

Soup Du Jour

Kofta (meatballs with allspice, cumin, mint, cilantro, onion, and olive oi)

Saha Yellow Curry (aeasonal vegetables, wild mushrooms, tofu,  rice or quinoa)

Bastilla (almonds, onions, parsley, spices wrapped in phyllo and baked with powdered sugar garnish)

Wild Mushroom Knaffe (wild mushrooms, shredded phyllo, vegan cream cheese, coconut-chermoula-chipotle sauce)

Ya Mama (roasted seasonal fruit, date & almond marzipan, and dark chocolate wrapped in phyllo)

From San Francisco to Berkeley and back again, the east bay lost a shining star last spring when the cooks at Saha packed their knives, but the light continues to burn brightly on the other side of the bridge. Originally a destination commanding crowds inside the Hotel Carlton, Chef Mohamed Aboghanem has reignited the flame back where it all started sixteen years ago.

Drawing from a lifetime of Yemeni cookery and family recipes, Chef Aboghanem sources local, seasonal ingredients to lend a contemporary twist to his menu. Boasting a wealth of vegan, gluten-free dishes, his own daughter’s dietary needs inspired the innovative, meatless bill of fare, but rave reviews keep these offerings in heavy rotation. Presented with elegance and finesse, the experience is on par with fine dining, without the typical price tag. Bold spices romance the plate, capturing nuanced, harmonious flavors from start to finish, allowing diners to focus their amorous intentions on their dates.

Separated from the boutique hotel lobby by gently parted curtains, Saha is a world apart from it’s humble roots, but still true to the soul of the cuisine.

Saha
1075 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Meatless Meet-Up

Macadamia stuffed date, pomegranate
Endive, chive walnut cheese, pear
Potato nettle croquette, hedgehog mushrooms

Baby Bloomsdale spinach, broccoli, tahini, nettle gomasio salad

Baby mixed greens, beets, fennel cara cara orange, hazelnuts, macadamia cheese

Black eyed peas, smoked tomato, collard greens

Broccoli soup, panisse, cauliflower, black olive, Meyer lemon

Black trumpet mushroom lasagna, spinach, herbed cashew cheese, spring garlic marinara, rapini

Lemon cloud cake, lemon curd, vanilla custard, lemon coconut whip, cara cara orange, macadamia crunch

Chocolate bread pudding, vanilla anglaise, blood orange caramel

Encuentro; a meeting, a reunion, a match, or place to gather. Encuentro in Oakland, CA is all that and more, providing a place in the heart of the bay area to celebrate plant-based cuisine and carefully curated wines. Previously existing as a daily restaurant, Encuentro now hosts monthly tasting menus where chef Lacey Sher showcases her culinary creativity. Seasonally inspired and locally sourced, no two menus are alike. The exact dishes on offer are almost besides the point, taking the complete experience into account, because the ending is always the same. If you’re lucky enough to snag a ticket for these limited seatings, there’s no doubt you’ll meet enticing bites upon arrival, a rich, flavorful entree that satisfies with substance and style alike, sweet morsels for dessert, and perhaps a new friend along the way.

Encuentro
550 2nd Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Pearls of Wisdom

Some dishes just have no right to be so good. They’re too simple, too ordinary, too easy to yield such spectacular results. No matter how uninspired the ingredients look on paper, a jolt of bold flavor belies such humble components. It’s the kind of dish that makes you wonder what magic has conspired in the kitchen, or perhaps, some secret MSG is spiking the punch.

Such is the case for the curried couscous salad at Mendocino Farms. The creamy, golden yellow pasta pearls don’t even look vegan at a glance, but lo! Clear labels reassure eaters that it’s vegan mayonnaise carrying the torch.

Decadent to a degree that would make the average side salad blush, a large part of me wants to hate it on principle. One should never add sugar to a savory dish, and at such a lethal dose! Mayonnaise should be used sparingly at best, a breezy whisper across a slice of bread, barely detectable by the human eye. Then, to go ahead an add even more oil on top of that fatty spread sounds purely excessive, unnecessary, uncalled for, hedonistic in the worst kind of way…!

But, falling prey to the offer of a free sample, I cast all common sense to the wind, letting go of those ingrained notions of decency just long enough to get hooked. I can’t get enough, and I don’t quite know why.

Perhaps the appeal is exactly for all those reasons. It’s because it flies in the face of preconceived boundaries of health and balance, that somehow, it manages to simply WORK.

I can’t claim to understand the compelling appeal of the curried couscous salad, but I can’t deny it, either.

Continue reading “Pearls of Wisdom”

Closing Time

In the final days of the year, it’s natural to look back, taking stock of the previous twelve months, preparing to move forward anew. Rather than unleashing another navel-gazing list of top ten greatest hits, I want to take a moment to remember the dearly departed. 2019 saw the untimely demise of hundreds of restaurants across the nation, fickle business that it is, but it feels particularly poignant when it hits so close to home. The bay area has lost some bright stars this round, which deserve to be properly honored and mourned.

Early in February, while we were still recovering from winter’s torrential rains, Hella Vegan Eats shocked the east bay with a controversial departure from Classic Cars West. After fighting tooth and nail to graduate from their colorful food truck to a static brick and mortar space, it was a huge blow. No more pot sticker burritos, no more mega babe burgers! The same style of ballsy, down home comfort food has resurfaced in the form of Gay4U, revived by partner Sofi Espice at Garden House in downtown Oakland as a regular pop up.

Meanwhile, chef Adina Butler took up the reins in the freshly vacated space left behind by the duo, slinging hearty sandwiches, burgers, and fried delights to compliment the casual outdoor space. Sadly, that too was not long for this world, folding seven months later under unknown circumstances. What remains is a very vegan-unfriendly menu, and many unanswered questions.

Perhaps most devastating to the dining scene at large was the closure of Sanctuary Bistro, one of the very few high-end eateries that offered an entirely plant-based experience, in addition to a completely gluten-free menu. Owners Barry and Jennifer Jones Horton promise that in time, the sanctuary will rise again in Charlotte, NC, to delight diners on the opposite coast anew. Birth announcements have yet to be released.

Longstanding greasy spoon Saturn Cafe seemed indestructible, weathering the ups and downs of Berkeley politics and pricing for over a decade, proving itself beyond the typical short lifespan of the average eatery. It, too, fell to economic pressures, serving up its last plate of scrambled tofu and pancakes in July. The original Santa Cruz location, established in 1979, still soldiers on, but NorCal denizens are left in the dark for their midnight milkshake cravings.

Eatsa launched in San Francisco back in 2015 as an innovative, tech-centric concept centered around one humble grain: quinoa. Served in cubbies reminiscent of the automat experience of yore, without any human interaction, it was slated to be the next big thing. At its height, the company had six locations across multiple states, but soon ran into difficulties. No amount of pricing incentives and recipe reconfiguration could save it. One by one, all outposts quietly turned out the lights, and didn’t return. Supposedly, in addition to the empty retail spaces, they left behind a reported $24,000 in unpaid rent.

In a world already lacking sweetness, the departure of D&H Vegan Ice Cream comes as a particularly devastating blow. Without warning or explanation, the scoop shop was suddenly wiped off the map overnight. The soy based scoops melted away faster than I had time to get in a single lick, sweetening the Lake Merrit area for just a hot minute.

The prize for shortest run goes to Collective Kitchen & Bar, however, surviving on shaky footing for only three months of operation. A spinoff from three members of Juice Bar Collective, the offerings largely reflected their fresh pressed heritage, squeezing out juices, salads, and rice bowls with apparent success. Landlords don’t care about social media reviews, though, and an irreconcilable dispute forced a premature end for the venture.

Not a restaurant per say, but the source of noodle enlightenment to many, Baia Pasta was renowned for its superlative noodles. Selling directly to consumers from its storefront in Jack London Square and restaurants for their comforting carb creations, the cost of doing business became too much for founder Renato Sardo to bear. Unwilling to sell the company at the cost of quality, the legacy of this peerless pasta ends here, while the master returns to Italy for a simpler life.

Finally, some good news to mix in and lighten all the bad; Pizza Moda, purveyors of fine pies with an eye towards seasonal ingredients and vegan alternatives, has turned off the pilot light on their pizza oven, but not for long. Celebrated brother and sister duo Peter Fikaris and Christina Stobing, responsible for The Butcher’s Son, have taken on the project, seeking to revive the fine Italian dining experience in a fully vegan format. With the promise of even greater eats on the horizon, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2020.

Which losses do you feel most acutely, at home or abroad? Restaurants come and go, but their memories (and Yelp pages) live on forever, if the community remains.