Monday, September 26, 2016

Oakland: Powderface

T and I were both stuffed to the brim, but my sister insisted we had enough space for one more stop.  We didn't think so, but we followed her anyway to Powderface:
















While my sister went to the counter to place her order, T and I sat hunched in pain at one of the little tables:
















We cried silent tears when my sister brought back a box of beignets (3 for $4.95):






















We could only stare in awe as my sister scarfed one down.  Awe shifted into horror when she calmly devoured a second (T and I insisted on sharing one).

I honestly don't remember if the beignet was good or not.  I just remember thinking that it was a whole lot of dough that I didn't need in my stomach.  To be fair to Powderface, I really should go back again when I have the stomach space for it.

We chilled at Powderface for a while...just long enough for T and I to have digested and created sufficient space for tacos from Taqueria Sinaloa, which ended up being the true final, final stop of our Fruitvale food tour.

We're disgusting, I know.


Powderface
3411 East 12th St
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 536-3223
http://www.powderfacecafe.com/

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oakland: Fruitvale Public Market

Even though we were stuffed with birria and pupusas, we powered through and made our way to the Fruitvale Public Market.  We made a beeline for the churro stand:
















A churro costs $2 and you can choose what you want to fill it with.  We went with chocolate and vanilla:
















Personally, I prefer the vanilla.  It's a bit less sweet and the creamy texture contrasts better with the crunchy exterior.

Right inside the market is Nieves Cinco de Mayo:
















You can find all sorts of interesting ice cream flavors there, such as corn and curdled milk.  (Curdled milk?!)  We weren't there for the ice cream though.  We were there for the mangonada ($8 for a large): 






















This was my first time trying mangonada.  I definitely expected the mango chunks, the scoop of mango sorbet, and the mango flavored ice.  What I didn't expect was the chamoy sauce, which was salty, sweet, and sour, all at the same time.  The tamarind-y flavor was a bit too much for me, so I stuck mostly to the mango bits.

The Fruitvale Public Market may be small, but just the churros and Nieves Cinco de Mayo alone make a trip oh-so worthwhile.


Churros Mexicanos
3340 E 12th St, Ste 17
Oakland, CA 94601

Nieves Cinco de Mayo
3340 E 12th St, Ste 2
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 533-6296
http://nievescincodemayo.com/

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oakland: Los Cocos

Stop two on our Fruitvale food tour after El Portillo was Los Cocos:
















We took our sweet time walking there because we were still struggling to digest all the birria we had for breakfast.  Before we were entirely ready, we were inside:
















We started out with a glass of horchata ($2.25):






















And because we're gluttons for punishment, we also ordered a plate of plantanos fritos or fried plantains ($3.75):
















The real reason why we were at Los Cocos was the pupusas.  Tortilla pockets packed with cheese and other goodies?  Woo, baby!

The menu said the minimum order for pupusas was two.  We though we would be safe ordering three to share between the three of us.  But when we placed our order with our server, we found out that the minimum is actually per person.  PER PERSON.  If you get less than the minimum, you have to pay an additional fee per pupusa.  Just the thought of eating six pupusas was daunting.  Almost too daunting.  And then it occurred to us to ask how much the additional fee was. 

50 cents.

...

Well then.  Three pupusas it was.

We ordered the pupusa with cheese and vine flower ($2.70): 
















Can't really see the filling, but here is the obligatory cross section photo anyway:
















For our second pupusa, we went with the cheese and squash ($2.70):
















Yet another cross section shot:
















And finally, a chicharron, cheese, and beans ($2.70):
















The last cross section:
















Gotta top every bite with curtido or fermented cabbage slaw for that tangy kick:
















So simple, yet so delicious.  And freshly made!  The pupusas at Los Cocos are made to order.  You can watch all the magic happen in the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. 

Don't expect any fancy trimmings.  Bring cash.  And most importantly, bring your appetite.  Don't make the mistake we made.  Go there ready to meet your two pupusa minimum. 

Heck, why limit yourself?  Be an overachiever and get four!


Los Cocos
1449 Fruitvale Ave
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 992-4768

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Oakland: El Portillo Restaurant & Bar

Before I started my housesitting gig, my coworker told me something monumental.  Once I found out that the best birrieria in the East Bay was going to be down the street from me, it was game over.  Nothing else mattered except getting myself over there.

El Portillo was number one on my list to hit when my sister and T came to visit me.  The original plan was to go there for dinner Saturday night, but my coworker warned me that birria is more of a breakfast/lunch thing and that I should get there early instead.

Of course I listened to the expert.  Change of plans it was. 

The three of us headed to El Portillo first thing Sunday morning:
















Apparently El Portillo doesn't have little Asian girls come in often because when we walked in the door, there was a slight pause as everyone stopped to do a double take at us.

The birria menu was entirely in Spanish:






















Our server was a young girl who spoke English, but she wasn't much help.  We gave up on asking for guidance and just winged it.

While waiting for our birria, we nibbled on the complimentary bean tacos:
















Free bean tacos >>> free bread.  That's just a fact.

Then came the moment of truth.  We thought we'd ordered one large plate of birria de chivo ($11) and one large dry birria with rice and beans ($12).  But we were brought two plates of what looked like the same thing. 

Plate #1:
















Plate #2:
















No rice and beans in sight.  When we asked our server about it, she told us we had to order the rice and beans separately. 

Eh?  Obviously we'd missed something or made a mistake somewhere.

She did bring us some rice and beans though:
















We also got a basket of hot tortillas:
















In the end, we had no idea what exactly we ordered, but the birria was so freakin' good that we didn't care.  The goat stew was super goat-y, which I love.  The meat was tender and the soup so flavorful. 

I loved El Portillo so much that when I went housesitting the second time in July, I took my parents there so that they could share in the love.

My mom isn't a big goat person, so we ordered a plate of nachos for her:
















We got a small menudo rojo ($9) just to give it a try:
















It was just alright.

The real star of the show was still the birria.  This time around, our server was more experienced and incredibly helpful.  Thanks to her, we were able to get a deep large bowl of birria ($12):
















And a shallow large plate of dry birria ($11):
















And this.  This is everything.  Consommé on the side in mugs:






















Even though it was very, very salty, I couldn't stop sipping it like coffee.  Not sure if I was supposed to drink it directly from the mug like that, but the tiny spoon was taking too long.  Ain't nobody got time for that.

After two visits and some trial and error, I can say with complete confidence that I prefer my birria wet rather than dry.  However, I have by no means mastered the birria menu at El Portillo.  I know you can order it by the pound.  I also know that it's possible to choose what cut of meat you want.  What I haven't figured out is what cut is best.  My goal is to one day get a bowl like the ones a lot of the older men in the restaurant had that came with giant bones sticking out of the broth. 

El Portillo is a hidden gem.  One that I selfishly hope can remain hidden.  I love the dive-y feel.  I love that it's a family restaurant by day and a bar by night.  But most of all, I love their birria. 

While it would certainly be much easier to go to El Portillo with a Spanish-speaking friend, I am proof that you can go without.  Be strong!  Be courageous!  Be prepared to wing it and for heaven's sake, go on a weekend because they don't serve birria during the week.


El Portillo Restaurant & Bar
400 29th Ave
Oakland, CA 94620

Friday, September 16, 2016

Alameda: Tucker's Ice Cream

Heaven have mercy on those who get between T and her ice cream.  Instead of going to Walgreens to get some allergy medication for her, we instead walked over to Tucker's Ice Cream after dinner: 
















There were quite a few people inside and the line for ice cream stretched all the way to the back of the ice cream parlor:
















My sister and I got a double scoop ($5.75) waffle cone (+$0.75) with mint chip and salted butter caramel:






















T asked for a cake cone with a single scoop of raspberry marble ($3.85):






















There are a lot of flavors to choose from at Tucker's.  The flavors tend to be a bit more on the traditional side than the innovative, but they're done well. 

While the ice cream was certainly good and the scoops generous, I still thought it was a bit pricey.  Call me cheap, but for $5.75, I can get TWO whole cartons of ice cream from the grocery store.


Tucker's Ice Cream
1349 Park St
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 522-4960
http://tuckersicecream.com/

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alameda: Speisekammer

T came up to join my sister and I for our housesitting weekend adventure Saturday evening.  Since Alameda was just a bridge away, we decided to walk and explore for a bit.  We started off with dinner at Speisekammer:
















We didn't have any reservations, but luckily there were tables open outside and the weather was pretty mild.

We got our complimentary basket of bread:






















We enjoyed them with herbed butter and two different kinds of mustard:
















We weren't super hungry (which is what happens when you go to a food festival before dinner).  Thankfully, Speisekammer offers half orders.  We got a half order of gegrillte bratwurst or grilled pork sausage ($9):
















While the full order ($14.50) comes with two sausages, the half order only comes with one.  Which was more than enough for us.  It came with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.

Our server recommended the sauerbraten, so we got a half order of that as well ($14.50):
















The braised beef tri-tip came marinated in red wine and was served with red cabbage and spätzle.

To round out the meal, we got some reibekuchen or potato pancakes, half order, of course ($5.50):
















You can never go wrong with potatoes.  They're always delicious.  Unless they're burnt.  But even then you can just cut off the burnt-y parts and it would still be good.

Speisekammer is a great, causal place to eat and chat with friends.  The food is good, the atmosphere is chill, and the service is attentive.  Portion sizes are generous so you can pay less for a half order and still be full at the end. 

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner there, though I'm not sure T would say the same.  Her allergies were so bad (thanks to the cat that came with the house I was housesitting at) that I wouldn't be surprised if she couldn't taste any of the food.  The poor thing was a miserable, sniffling mess.

Heh.

It was kind of funny though.


Speisekammer
2424 Lincoln Ave
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 522-1300
http://www.speisekammer.com/

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Oakland: Oakland Greek Festival

My sister and I missed a bus, but we still managed to meet up with BB and her partner KM at the Oakland Greek Festival back in May.  Located at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, admission for adults was only $6 per person.  There was live music and dancing, but more importantly, there were food stalls as far as the eye could see:
















We didn't just wander around willy-nilly.  Oh, no.  We walked with PURPOSE.

When we paid for admission, we were each given a booklet that served as a passport of sorts for the festival.  The festival was divided into five regions and if you bought one thing from each region, you could get a free plate of loukoummades.  If you don't know what that is, hang on until the end and I'll show you.

Spoiler alert: we got the free plate.

First things first though.  While BB and KM went for a wine tasting, my sister and I found some non-alcoholic beverages.  I got the lemonade and my sister got the frappe:






















Both were very watered down, but we kind of expected that.

The four of us decided to split all the food so that we could eat as much as possible.  We started with the halloumi:
















The salty white cheese was grilled and served on pita bread.  The best part was the lemon and caper sauce. 

Then it was off to the tiropita/spanakopita stall where we ultimately couldn't choose between the two and ended up getting both:
















The tiropita was essentially a egg and cheese pie made with phyllo dough.  I much preferred the spanakopita with its more flavorful spinach filling:
















We definitely couldn't go to a Greek festival without having lamb.  Unfortunately, the lamb on the spit wouldn't be ready until later in the day, so we made do with the lamb sandwich:






















Less keen to share the lamb (friendship has its limits), we ordered two.

Then it was off to check out the indoor dining area, where we found moussaka:
















Who needs lasagna when you can have moussaka?  Instead of pasta, you get soft, soft, layers of eggplant sandwiching a layer of ground meat and topped with béchamel sauce.  Yum.

While my sister and I were in line for the moussaka, BB and KM went to forage for desserts the next room over.  They came back with a couple different things.  Like this slice of custard pie:
















A piece of kataifi (the cocoon-looking confection on the left) and two pieces of baklava:
















As you probably suspected, the kataifi and the baklava were both supremely sweet.  Both were made of phyllo and soaked in some kind of syrup.  Both contained nuts.  A bite or two was fine, but more than that can cause a toothache.  In comparison, the custard pie was much milder.

Even though we were all stuffed by that point, we felt like we had to cancel out all the sweetness with a gyro:






















Which was probably not the smartest move because we'd completed our mission at least twice over:






















And we still had to finish our free plate of loukoumades:
















Oh my gawd.  So much dough.  The fried puffs were soaked in honey and sprinkled generously with cinnamon.  Again, one is good, but more than that?  When you're already full?  Painful.  So very, very painful.  By the time we left the festival, we were waddling from all the food.

Though we spent more money than we would have liked, we had a great time stuffing our faces and an even better time getting to know KM.  BB is an old friend of mine and I am so happy to see her so happy. 

We definitely need to hang out more, BB and KM!


Oakland Greek Festival
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension
4700 Lincoln Ave
Oakland, CA 94602
(510) 531-3400
http://oaklandgreekfestival.com/
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