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Great China (Berkeley) still great

I went today for the first time since they re-opened. I got there at 11:22 and they open for lunch at 11:30. There were still lots of seats available at 12:15 when I finished.
In short: disappointing.
I ordered the lunch special (I know, hard to get a good judgement of a place this way). But I ordered one that was marked "house special" Shredded Pork with Hot Garlic Sauce $8.49.
Soup came first, Hot and Sour Soup, excellent (no meat). Perfect balance of flavor. The main dish was too sweet, too gloppy, not spicy, not much garlic. There was a nice bowl of micro-green salad. The egg roll was doughy and I could not eat it. Serving size was fine, service was very good -- lots of servers and busboys.

Apr 07, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Ong/Ung Choy or Gai Lan on the Menu?

Had superb ong choy in garlic sauce at Mandarin Garden (Berkeley) last Saturday. Very tender and tiny pieces. Best I've ever had. It is usually a summer green, but maybe global warming has changed that.

Also very good asparagus in black bean sauce at Ancient Szechuan (El Cerrito) last week; the sauce was very delicate, asparagus tender and crunchy.

Mar 31, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Lime shortage, who knew?

Many years ago I planted a Bearss lime tree in my backyard (SF Bay Area). It produces hundreds of limes every year. Now (March) the big season is ending; I got six limes yesterday. When ripe they are yellow. They are juicy, seedless, and thin-skinned. This year, despite the drought, we got a huge crop. There are still at least a hundred limes on the tree and if previous years are any guide we will get at least one lime a day year-round. As an additional bonus the limes drop to the ground when they are ripe.
Others in this area have had similar success with this variety.

Mar 29, 2014
Joel in General Topics

best cheap eats in the Berkeley / Oakland area

Big Dish
339 9th St
Oakland, CA 94607
b/t Harrison St & Webster St in Oakland Chinatown
Phone number (510) 839-3188
I've never tried this -- thanks for the tip.

Also, 8th Street Cafe
337 8th St
Oakland, CA 94607
b/t Webster St & Harrison St in Oakland Chinatown

I've been here several times for the extremely cheap 3PM to 6PM specials.
Now you are getting the cheapest food, with questionable service and scary sanitary issues.
I like it, my wife is appalled.

Mar 22, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

BBQ Hut at 6400 Shattuck. [Oakland]

The item I received ("rib sandwich") consisted of three pieces, each about 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. They were very meaty.

Mar 19, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

BBQ Hut at 6400 Shattuck. [Oakland]

DISCLAIMER: I am not a connoisseur of BBQ; I eat it only a few times a year. But this was very pleasing.
I got the rib "sandwich" minus the bread, with a side of greens, for $10.75.

The ribs were tender and meaty. I tried both the "mild" and "hot" sauces; I preferred the "hot". The greens were flavorful but the juice was very salty.

It's a short distance from my house, and a huge improvement over the seedy liquor store that preceded it in this location (corner of Shattuck and Alcatraz). The young staff were cheerful and efficient -- quite a change from the people at Flint's (a few blocks away, closed now).

They had a sign up "no Brisket today" but it looked like the sign might have been there a while. I guess you could call to check: (510) 285-6628
Closed Mondays.

Mar 18, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Citrus bulletin

I'm a big fan of Mineola tangelos at this time of year; earlier in the season they are rather tart. B Bowl has them for $0.99 per pound -- several different kinds at this price, including organic. They have good acidity and lots of flavor.
As I recall the Sumo's do not come down in price as the season progresses. I find them too low in acid, but that's a selling point for some people.
Also Star Ruby grapefruit from Texas are at their peak.

Mar 18, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Cheapo SF Rice Plates

Is there any such place nowadays, where you can sit at the counter and observe the wok-meister cooking behind the counter? When he was done cooking he just turned around and gave you the plate.
I recall this happening at Little Joe's on Columbus and also when they moved to Broadway.

Mar 13, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Cheapo SF Rice Plates

Oh yes...
Economy Cafe on the corner of Franklin and 8th Street.
Shrimp with "Lobster Sauce" was my late afternoon lunch, prepared on the spot. About forty years ago. Brings back great memories.
It is now "China Star Express" but I've never been in.
There are many "steam table" places, Chinese or Vietnam style.

Mar 08, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Best price for Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Whole Foods has a sale this week -- $14.99 per pound.
March 5 - 11th (the year is now 2014).

Mar 07, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Grocery Outlet -- March 2014

Berkeley:
Cascadian "O" dry cereal 99 cents a box.
Newmans Peanut Butter cups (six-pack) 49 cents.

Mar 03, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Any chance of a range hood in this kitchen?

We installed a hood by Best (Italian company) about 19 years ago. It is a pull-out "hood" (pulls out above the stove) and vents out the side of the house -- a few feet above the level of the hood. Works pretty well. I did not want a permanent hood because I am tall and tend to bang my head on a regular hood.
But we do not do much frying or stove-top grilling. It does a good job of exhausting steam.

Feb 23, 2014
Joel in Cookware

Trattoria Siciliana [Berkeley]

We had a very nice meal here. I first ate here about ten years ago and was very pleased, but since then, every time I passed by at dinnertime, there was a large crowd of people waiting outside. So I never returned. Last Friday at dinnertime there were tables open! So the three of us went in. They were doing a very good business -- almost full. During our dinner I saw a few people waiting outside.

Short story: good food, good service, very noisy upstairs, cash only, huge menu.

We ordered mostly off the "February Specials" menu (not on line) which had about 25 items. We ordered starters from the "specials" menu: fried smelt ($9); perfectly fried, piping hot (the servers scamper up and down the stairs), accompanied by a tangy aioli. We also had butternut squash agrodolce (sweet and sour), a cold dish, very tasty, and a cheese-stuffed Portobello mushroom that was very rich.

For mains we had seafood risotto, bucatini with sardines (from the main menu) and the ragu special. All very good; my two companions could only finish half their mains and we skipped dessert.

The bread is accompanied by an amazing dipping sauce of oil, chopped raw garlic, parsley, hot pepper and coarse salt. I put the remains of it on my ragu which was a bit subdued.

Corkage is $15. They have a huge wine list but I did not look at it.

I am a cheapskate, so for me it was a splurge. But others might find the prices reasonable. Portions are generous. Mains on the regular menu are about $15, on the special menu $16-$18.

http://www.trattorialasiciliana.com/

2993 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 704-1474

Feb 23, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area
1

Dried mushrooms? What's the point?

When I reconstitute dried porcini, I save the water -- but then carefully decant it before adding it to a sauce. The 'shrooms have sand or some other grit in them, which sinks to the bottom of the water. For that reason I also rinse them after removing them from the water. As I understand it, other mushrooms are not grown in soil, rather in compost (or on logs) so grit might not be an issue.
My local store sells dry porcini for about $70 per pound and porcini powder for about $60. I've never tried the powder.

Often times dried items will taste quite different from fresh -- think grapes versus raisins.

Feb 12, 2014
Joel in General Topics
1

Hachiya persimmons?

Last month the Bowl was selling hoshigake (dried Hachiya persimmons), a traditional Japanese New Year item -- they might still have them. They were also selling Fuyu persimmons from someplace in the Southern hemisphere -- I don't recall where.

Feb 10, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Brown Rice

Be sure you store your raw rice properly. Brown rice will get rancid quickly.
We keep ours in the freezer. It will even go rancid in the refrigerator. Of course keep it away from light and air.

Feb 10, 2014
Joel in General Topics

Crown Prince or similar canned anchovies 5/10/12-pack cheap?

About a year ago I bought a pack of canned anchovies from Costco. Most of them were fine but one of them exploded when I opened it (I did not eat it).
Maybe quality control was the problem.

Feb 05, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Solo Dining in Chinese Restaurants

Another idea is to order some cold dishes for takeout after you've finished your meal. Many good Chinese places have cold dishes on the menu. Such dishes are traditional for the beginning of a large meal.

Feb 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Chengdu (Szechuan restaurant) near UC Berkeley

I've been here twice more.

First, for a solo weekday lunch at 1 PM: The place was busy, with many people getting the two- or three-item lunch (about $6-$7) from the steam table (you bus your own dishes). But I opted for table service. I got #99 "Chengdu Style Beef Soup Noodle" ($7.95) and it was a disappointment. The beef was OK, some pieces fatty or gristly. Noodles were fine. But the broth had too much MSG and not enough flavor; I'm not physiologically sensitive to MSG so I finished it with no ill effects. It was not very spicy, in contradiction to the menu icon. There were no little pots of condiments available so I could not spice it up.
But for dinner I took home two cold dishes which were excellent.
#1 "Beef and Ox Shanks in Hot Chile Oil" ($7.95) consisted of lean slices of tender beef and crunchy strips of beef tripe. The sauce was spicy and flavorful.
#17 "Chengdu Style Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce" did not have the "spicy" icon on the menu but packed a powerful punch. It was a perfect blend of hot pepper, Szechuan pepper, garlic, and sesame (or maybe peanut). Just superb.
All the noodles in all the dishes were linguini style.

*********

Then dinner. Three of us went Friday night and the place was completely full. In a side room there was a private party for a group of Cal students: "Future Business Leaders." They were having a great time in a packed room; apparently our future business leaders will be mostly Chinese women. The main room was full and noisy, but we got a table after a fifteen minute wait. The service was cheerful and efficient despite the huge crowd; we had to wait to get teacups because they were running low, and I had to get up to grab some chopsticks and napkins. But the food came soon enough. Our table consisted of three of the five Caucasians in the crowd, and we were three times the average age of the other customers.
We started with the "Chengdu Style Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce" and I was again impressed with the perfect balance of flavors. We ordered two dishes which were intended for much larger groups: #51 "Boiled fish with green pepper sauce" ($13.99), A large metal wok-shaped tureen containing a lot of tender fish filet, with slices of green jalapeno and many whole Szechuan peppercorns, in a milky and flavorful broth, with very crunchy bean sprouts. Quite delicious and numbing. You could adjust the level of spice by eating or avoiding the slices of green pepper. We took a big container home.
We wanted a green vegetable and were immediately advised that #60 (Water spinach with Garlic, $9.95) and #62 (Stir Fried pea sprouts, $11.95) were not available. The former ("ong choy") is not in season, I believe. So we ordered #61. This is "A-choy" and listed on the menu as "Arden lettuce" ($9.95). It was a large enough portion (given the high price) but although perfectly cooked it was too salty. If the place was not so busy I would have sent it back to the kitchen.

Finally we ordered "Toothpick Lamb" ($15.95). I've never encountered this before. The dish probably contained a pound of lamb, so it was worth the high price -- we took home a lot of leftovers! The lamb was in grape-sized chunks, individually threaded on toothpicks. Although a few pieces were fatty or gristly, most were tender and perfectly cooked. The flavor was amazing, a dry rub of cumin, hot pepper, and Szechuan pepper. It was like lamb candy. I almost could not stop eating it.
As mentioned before they do not have a liquor license and we did not bring wine.
In summary a fun place, not cheap, full of a young student crowd.

Feb 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Trying to find Chinese Honey Mandarins from China in the Bay Area

The Bowl currently has a small variety of mandarin called "kushu" or something like that -- about twice the price of other mandarins. I tried some -- they were mildly sweet; I like more tart fruit myself.
Maybe this caters to the Asian taste for "sub-acid" fruit -- such as the new varieties of white apricots that appear in the Spring, and the "donut" shaped peaches.

Jan 28, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Trying to find Chinese Honey Mandarins from China in the Bay Area

The Bowl carries navel oranges from Australia and tangerines from Peru and Chile -- but not at this time, because California is in full production. Also the first batch of "clementines" (years ago) came from Spain.

Jan 28, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Besides chowhound, is there any other good food blogs/discussion forums you follow?

I just discovered this one:
http://510foodie.com/

Jan 20, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Chengdu (Szechuan restaurant) near UC Berkeley

Actually just across the street from UC, at Bancroft and Bowditch, previously a Vietnamese place (Le Petit Cheval).

The menu is familiar to me from years eating at China Village, Z&Y, and other places serving Szechuan food, However there are quite a few dishes I've never seen before -- "toothpick lamb", duck-blood stew, floured sliced pig's trotters…

The space is large and has an outdoor patio. It's in the YWCA building, so I doubt that they will ever have a liquor license.

It's just opened. I came for Sunday lunch and had the dan dan noodles, which were good, though a small serving ($5.95).

2600 Bancroft Way
(between Bowditch St & College Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 704-8018

Jan 19, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Besides chowhound, is there any other good food blogs/discussion forums you follow?

Jan 18, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area
1

Where'd Tea Garden go? [San Francisco]

Here's a clip from the menu at Bund Shanghai (Jackson Street in SF Chinatown)

46. Chinese Donut Wrapped In Rice
$3.00 Sweet or salty.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ci_fan_tuan

Jan 15, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Fresh Black Cod/Sablefish/Butterfish

I think the implication was that the "Chinese" were the people in China, not the locals. But that's just rumor plus my interpretation.

I saw "whole" Black Cod today in W Foods, $9 per pound -- but they were previously frozen, and were gutted and headless. The whole ones I saw some months ago had the heads on and were labeled "fresh off the boat".

Jan 04, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

The Problem with Mary's Chicken

I bought two Mary's Organic chickens for Xmas dinner. Both were wonderful.

Jan 04, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Fresh Black Cod/Sablefish/Butterfish

We used to buy "black cod" for about $10 per pound (at the Bowl) and it is a favorite for me -- very soft and moist. Then almost overnight the price jumped to $20 per pound (filet) where it's been for some years. When I asked about the price jump, the fish guy said "the Chinese discovered it."
But that price is for the filets.
A few months ago Whole Foods (Berkeley) had the whole fish, about 3 pounds. The sign said "locally caught -- Half Moon Bay". The price varied -- as I recall it was about $6 per pound for the whole fish, but it went on sale from time to time.

Jan 04, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Mandarin Garden in Berkeley

Good detective work.

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/551303

I think the "salt and pepper" pork shoulder was the same as the "Macau crispy ham hock" -- when they returned the dish to the table they included the naked bone. I would have liked a sweet vinegar sauce rather than the oddly sweet greens.

Jan 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Jook - SF Dish of the Month December 2013

I live in Berkeley, so we are required by municipal ordinance to eat only brown rice.
We make jook by adding a lot of water to leftover cooked brown rice and boiling it for a long time, then using a stick blender to whip it into a porridge. As mentioned in other places in this thread, it's great food for days of sickness or uncertain digestive tracts.

Jan 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area