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Bay Area Cook-Offs & Food Festivals

The Berkeley International Food Festival is coming up next week on Sunday June 29th. If last year is any indication, I remember snacks served streetside from all the little restauarants and food stores on this drab commercial strip around the coners of San Pablo and University Avenues. Kabobs, samosas, jerk chicken, tacos and a raft of other tidbits at low prices. Free stuff included a paella tasting at Spanish Table, the food demo stage with lots of samples and music at Freight and Salvage. It was crowded but fun.

Falanghina- Pizza Napolitana is coming to West Berkeley

Chowhound loves pizza so here is some grist for the mill.
A new pizzeria from the owners of Lalimes/T-Rex/Seasalt/Fonda/Jimmy Beans has been approved by the Berkeley zoning adjustments board. "Falanghina" (the name of an Italian white grape variety, in case you are wondering) will soon occupy the empty storefront directly adjacent to Seasalt on San Pablo Avenue near Dwight Way. The plans submitted to the city (and approved last week) include a big wood burning pizza oven.
As a neighborhood resident I was thrilled when Seasalt moved in. Needless to say, I am all aquiver at the thought of wood oven pizza a short walk from my front door. The permit paperwork also mentions a full bar, retail wine shop and valet parking. The neighborhood is certainly looking up!
Photos, blueprints and more can be found here:

Halibut cheek sandwich at Sea Salt in Berkeley

forgot the link for those needing directions

Sea Salt
2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

Halibut cheek sandwich at Sea Salt in Berkeley

Stopped in to Sea Salt for fish and chips but got totally sidetracked by the new halibut cheek sandwich. It was the best part of an excellent meal which also included fried smelts, steamed clams with italian sausage and potatoes as well as a plate of grilled asparagus with pancetta. Everything was fresh and well prepared but the sandwich was revelatory. Served on the same small soft roll that they use for the eel banh mi and the lobster roll, this simple sandwich was full of hot, batter fried chunks of halibut cheek with a squeeze of tartar sauce and lettuce inside and cole slaw, house made potato chips and house made pickles on the side. Like a diminutive po'boy but much juicier from the fresh halibut cheeks. Clean, bright, well balanced flavors at a pricey (for a sandwich) $13 but worth it.
Anticipated crowds due to the recent Chron re-review were nonexistant at 8pm on a wednesday, though the staff reports much slammage since the review came out.
Don't know how long this menu item will last so go soon if you are feeling cheeky.

Mediocrity at Downtown Restaurant (Berkeley)

We go there before the Berkeley Rep on a regular basis. I was never really excited about the menu but the last few times we were there the food was much better than on previous visits. The grilled sardines were excellent. The Frito misto less so. The signature fried anchoy olives are always tasty and prove that they can fry something right. The place gets slammed by theater goers (just watch the exodus at 10 minutes till showtime) which has got to make service difficult, but still they seem a bit undertrained/unmotivated in this department. The wine list is usually well thought out though the constant rotation can be frustrating when a favorite wine goes off the list. We've had hits and misses at Downtown but the good still outweighs the bad for us. We shall return. (FYI, off topic,but Zabu Zabu is another fun pre-theater spot just down the street from Berkeley Rep.)

RE: "Vichy Catalan" Mineral Water?

The Spanish Table sells it. Mmmm, salty goodness.

Looking for Lunch in Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen Area

I second the La Salette suggestion. They are a bit hard to find tucked away as they are on the back side of the central square, and the front of the menu will look boring (or at least un-Portruguese in a chicken caesar salad and sandwiches kind of way) but delve deeper and you will find excellent home made cheese, grilled linguica sausage and an excellent if not too appealing sounding sardine paté. Pork with clam stew and other traditional Portuguese items are well worth the effort. The outdoor patio and the interesting wine list add further interest

Spanish whites

Spanish whites can be hard to find if you aren't as fortunate as those who live near a Spanish Table store (our closest one is Berkeley, but there are others).
They sold me a white wine called Vi d'agulla that has become my new favorite summer wine. Super dry (like grapefruit peel) with big muscat aroma (it says 'made from petit grain muscat'...doesn't sound Spanish, but...) that seems kind of weird at first, but the spritzy bubbles bring it all together. Odd for sure, but super refreshing in the hot summer weather.

Jul 04, 2007
Food_Dude in Wine

Lagosia - Nigerian in Berkeley

We tried it last week after seeing the notice in the Chronicle.
This is no hole-in-the-wall-cheapo-ethnic place. They are located in a new building, on the ground floor. The space is simple, with muted earth tones and a few art pieces on the walls. Kind of un-lived in so far, but this wide modern space has big windows, a small bar and booths along the window wall looking out onto scenic University Avenue. The wait staff are mostly young and new to the business. The kitchen staff seemed quite professional.
We had pepper soup with beef that was delicious and (as requested) spicy. Cumin and chili pepper flavored a dark beef broth with chunks of slow cooked and tender beef adding flavor and texture.
A mixed salad came formed into a round of stacked raw vegetables and a criss cross drizzling of slightly sweet mayonaise based dressing. Nice presentation on a simple dish.
Groundnut stew with chicken was a thick tomato and peanut stew with poached chicken breast cut into pieces in the stew. A milder version than I am used to but tasty none-the-less, with moist, perfectly cooked chicken. The side of 'Iyan' was tastless and gummy, which is pretty standard for what I am guessing is powdered (not freshly pounded) yam.
Jolof rice with chicken was simple broiled chicken with some mild spices and a generous helping of herby/spicy rice and a few fried plantains.
Puf-Puf was 4 giant tennis ball sized beignets rolled in powdered sugar on top of squeeze bottle criss cross of rasberry coulis and chocolate syrup (come in chocolate flavored too, but we didn't try these).
Everything is served on white china plates, with cloth napkins and real utensils. The ring molds and squeeze bottle garnishes also add familiarity to the presentations.
A handful of standard beers and a few wines (sorry, no palm wine or Star beer for you Nigeria-philes).
They are still on a limited menu as they figure out what goes where. I had hoped for my favorite, Akara (chick pea fritters), but they were not available last time we went. They said that the menu will expand as they ramp up.
Overall, not a bad experience. The space is comforatble, the people are nice, the prices are reasonable and the kitchen has talent. Hopefully they will find a niche in the Bay Area food scene.

Berkeley Int'l Food Fest- Schedule?

I know the Berkeley International Food Festival is this Sunday afternoon, but I can't seem to find a schedule for the cooking demonstrations. Has anyone come across this? I've searched high and low with no luck.
The Kitchen On Fire guys are supposedly doing 5 hours of demos with local chefs and what not.
The Spanish Table is cooking a giant paella at noon, but that is in their store.
Last year was a lot of fun. I just wish I knew when to show up. Guess I'll just have to hang out all afternoon, nibbling and shopping.

In-N-Out Burger near SFO

Let us not forget the INO at:
820 Imola Ave.
Napa, California 94559

(corner of Imola and Soscol)

The story I heard, and it may be apocryphal, was that Julia Child requested to be taken there for a burger after she made a big appearance at Copia (the food/wine museum in Napa that has Julia's old copper cookware on display in the permenant collection, as well as a restaurant called Julia's Kitchen).
Its identical to all the other iterations of this fast food reataurant that prints bible citations on its cups and wrappers.
Is it better than the big chains? Yeah, I think so, a bit, if you don't count the fries which do suck, but at least they are real. not some extruded compound coated in chemical flavor enhancers.
I get the double double (their double cheeseburger) with iceburg lettuce wrap instead of the bun. Its the healthy way to eat a double double.
Best of luck on your search. Let us know how it goes.

Can somone slice my Bone In Jamon Serrano?

You lucky person! A "jamon entero" is one of life's great treasures. And you have the "jamonera" stand to hold it?
I say get a good sharp knife and do as the Spanish do. Cut slivers off the bone, cutting with the grain as opposed to cross cutting like a deli slicer would do.
They say that you can keep a jamon for months if properly cared for and that the traditional cutting method tastes better, but that might be 'slicing it a bit thin', if you know what I mean.
There is a kind of cheesy but very helpful video called "Como cortar un jamon" on youtube.
Her is the link.
It is in Spanish, but is clear enough even for guys like me who are lame in the language department.
Please, before you get someone to slice your precious jamon like a hunk of bologna, check out the hand sliced method.

Question about Ryowa Ramen (Berkeley)

Ryowa's 'special fried chicken' is a dish I get random cravings for. When it is good, it is spectacular. Sometimes it is just okay (tough and greasy).
But, regarding nuts, the dipping sauce is quite 'nutty'. This could be sesame seeds or peanuts. I'm just guessing. I've never asked. Those with nut allergies should stay away, I imagine.
I've never eaten any fried nuts or seem other nut products in the food at Ryowa (beyond the sauce in question).
Also, the regular gyoza are great ut the special shrimp gyoza are even better...and they have an entire wall of manga (japanese comic books) that are just perfect for kids...especially if they read japanese.

Bi-Rite Creamery almost ready for business - oh boy!

Bi-Rite Creamery, the sweet addition to the Bi-Rite grocery on 18th St. is almost ready to open. They have a website
and the clerks at the grocery say that it should be open Dec. 3rd (website says Nov. 25th, but either way...soon).
The website lists ice cream flavors like Salted caramel, Goat yogurt, Honey Lavender and Chai spiced milk chocolate as well as all the stellar baked goods currently available at the store.
Another great addition to the 18th street renaissance.

Enrico's RIP

Oh man, that takes me back. Jack the bartender (forgot his last name) was making standard-setting big pint glass sized mojitos at Enrico's back in the early 90's, when they had reopened after a long-ish closure and change of ownership.
Just goes to show that the currently fadish mojito has a long history, and that Enrico's has a habit of dying out and being reborn again.
I look forward to its next incarnation.

Had "A Gourmet Experience" lately?

If Berkeley is not too far, there is a lot of stuff there in a small area. In North Berkeley there is Cheeseboard and Epicurious gardens.
Kermit Lynch, Acme bakery and The Spanish Table are all within a block or two of each other.
Down on 4th Street there is Cafe Rouge meat market and the new Napastyle store. Vik's Indian grocery is near there too.
I'm sure there is more...Scharffenberger Chocolate, Tokyo Fish, Sketch ice cream...but this is all I can think of right now.

Nikki's Chaat Cafe - fabulous Indian food in South Lake Tahoe (long)

My wife and I love the Indian snacks we get from Vik's in Berkeley where we live. On our way there the other day I noticed a car out front with a sign on the door reading "Nikki's Chaat Cafe - South Lake Tahoe".
What luck! We were planning a trip to SLT and had not found anything like this in our chowhound (and elsewhere) web research.
In what I imagine to be a typical chowhound move I knocked on the vehicle window and asked the occupants about Nikki's.
The woman in the passenger seat was very nice considering that a stranger was knocking on the car window and asking questions. She gave me a business card and went next door to buy supplies from the grocery store side of Vik's.
So...we get up to SLT (beautiful area...our first time...but not a topic for this board) and after a few days of cooking meals in our rented cottage we went out in search of some chaat.
Nikki's is an odd place. Located in a bland strip mall ("the bijou center") next to a drug store, this small restaurant looks like a typical hole-in-the-wall diner which it was before Bhupendra and Mita Dave opened Nikki's (named after one of their daughters) two years ago. In keeping with tradition they serve omelettes, pancakes and other breakfast stuff in the morning along with sandwiches, burgers and other diner food for lunch and dinner. I can't comment on these items as we were only interested in the other half of the menu devoted to the food of India.
In addition to a full lineup of Indian restaurant food seen in most Indian restaurants (chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, various curries, etc.) was a page full of chaat (masala dosa, bhatura chole, pani puri, idli, and so on) that would be familiar to anyone who eats at Vik's, Udupi Palace or the other Chaat places in the Bay Area.
We chose a few items and were very happy with what we got.
The masala dosa was crisp and well browned the way we like it and the potato filling was light and well spiced. The accompanying sambar (soup) was deliciously spiced with a bit of chile heat in the mix. Floating bits of okra added texture and flavor. The coconut chutney was drier than we are used to but tasty too.
Pani puri, little fried puri that you fill yourself with a spiced potato and chick pea mixture, spoon on some tamarind sauce and dip in cilantro water before popping the whole thing in your mouth was fresh and fun to eat.
I should point out that this is a sit down restaurant, not counter service like Vik's. Prices are thus higher than we are used to, but the extra care taken with the food and the fact that we could get this in SLT softened the blow. I was not taking detailed notes, just enjoying the food, so I'm relying on memory to approximate prices. The two chaat described above were around $7-$8 each.
Still hungry and interested in trying more, we ordered from the entree side of the Indian menu. Dry sauteed okra with a blend of spices was a good match for some thick lentil dal, cucumber raita, plain Nan and basmati rice. Everything tasted fresh and delicious. The okra was sliced in rounds and fried with spices until browned (no goopy, slimy okra here). The dal was smoky and bright with just enough chile for my taste. The Nan was puffy, hot and fresh from the tandoor (clay oven). The steamed basmati rice had a bit of cilantro in it for added interest.
The experience was very homey and relaxed. We sat outside where they have set up a few tables in the parking lot. The cars were whizzing by on highway 50 but we hardly noticed them, absorbed as we were in the setting sun reflected off the mountains and the snowless (so far) ski runs of Heavenly.
The bill (including two Kingfisher beers and two chai) came to about $50 before tip. A bit steep compared to what we normally pay, but the hospitality of the owners and the unique off-the-beaten-path experience made up for the extra expense.
We look forward to returning to South Lake Tahoe for the gorgeous scenery, azure blue waters and soulful, deeply flavorful Indian cuisine.

The details:
Nikki's Chaat Cafe
3469 Lake Tahoe Blvd
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150-8910
(530) 541-3354

Oct 16, 2006
Food_Dude in California