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Best Place in the Bay Area to buy Spices?

The Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland (530 Grand Ave.) is new and seemed to have a very complete collection of spices on my visit today-- 3 kinds of vanilla bean, 5 kinds of cinnamon, many black peppers and salts, all sorts of ground spices and mixes, conveniently packaged (bulk, bags, jars) and accessible.

Bowl'd restaurant coming to Solano Ave. in Albany; 6 Degrees gone?

In a meander down Solano Ave. in Albany this morning I noted that the departed Tsing Tao restaurant is being replaced by Bowl'd, as stated in the placard on the window. I'd guess a noodle shop by the name, but we'll see.

Farther down Solano 6 Degrees restaurant had no signs of life. Friday night it was dark when we drove by. The woman in Zand's next door said it had closed.

1479 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

Sushi 29?

Passed by Sushi 29 this Saturday morning and a fellow moving furniture in said the restaurant should open "in a few weeks."

"a kangaroo has more impact than a cru"

In our house it's, "Drink the 'roo, think the cru." Seems to work, too.

Dec 20, 2008
santoku45 in Food Media & News

Tea Fragrance House, Berkeley

If signage were sustenance, I'd eat there every day. Way too much awning and promotional copy for specials on the small facade. The place always reminds me of a billboard with a door.

I would almost say that this is an "impossible" location because of the corner spot, the traffic, and the passersby who don't look too Chowhoundish. That said, it's the same kind of corner location that Bakesale Betty's has, and her business is booming. If they opened the place up with more glass and made it more inviting (like BB's) maybe more people would stop by. After all, all that "traffic" is made up of potential customers.

If they specialized in good quality spicy Chinese take out they would get my business. I pass by there a lot.

Steve Carlin's commodification model: Ferry Building v. Oxbow Market. Railroad Square?

There is an outdoor green market at Oxbow. It's on the east wall that faces the parking lot, an orderly line of nicely finished concrete stalls, each with water as I recall. It's "back" is to the Market. I wish it could have been the centerpiece.

Jul 06, 2008
santoku45 in Not About Food

Steve Carlin's commodification model: Ferry Building v. Oxbow Market. Railroad Square?

I totally agree with your point, though I might argue that Oxbow represents more of a formulaic "marketing mix" than a "commodification," since the shops are branded identities, At any rate, it sure seems to me that Oxbow is a mall approach to upscale food merchandising.

The danger in such an approach is that the formula of the venue can take precedence over the shops. When that happens, the shops never gain the creative breathing room to flourish organically, as might happen if they were part of a real street in a real community. It can become a mall experience rather than a food experience.

On our visit to Oxbow we had a great lunch lunch at Taylor's and bought some things at Fatted Calf and the Model Bakery, three local brands independent of the Oxbow enclosure. Inside the Oxbow building we were fairly bored with the offerings. Too much formula, too little authenticity. Hopefully that can change in time.

Jul 05, 2008
santoku45 in Not About Food

Corso (Berkeley)

It's good to hear that Corso carries on right up to closing. On our visit, which was early in the evening (6-7:30), the ambiance seemed a bit flat and tentative, with not much of a Dopo vibe. But that was in week 2, when the staff seemed preoccupied with not making mistakes, rather than projecting a robust Corso character. Maybe the more relaxed 9-10 hour reveals more of what Corso will be. (It can't be "Rivoli south," and it doesn't need to be "Dopo north.")

Our dinner at Corso

On our visit I don't recall that they did. From previous Corso posts I gather they are working on getting one. A full bar would help shape their identity. Lots of wine tasting options on the current menu, though.

Our dinner at Corso

On second thought, I should delete my comparison between the bollito at Corso with what I recalled as braised beef shank at Oliveto some years ago. I'm pretty sure what I had at Oliveto was the braised short rib (with bone in), which would give a very different taste experience because it's a fundamentally different dish (not to mention cut), and the bone in does add a significant measure of flavor. So, this was not a valid comparison on my part.

Our dinner at Corso

My wife and I went to Corso for dinner on a warm Berkeley evening, one week after the restaurant opened. We're long-time patrons of Rivoli, and have been looking forward to Corso ever since the Rivoli team announced they would open a trattoria-like place in the ex-Misto spot. Our hopes were for a North Berkeley Italian place that could, on its own merits, rival Dopo or Pizzaiolo in terms of tasty food and dining experience.

Our impression from our first visit is that Corso might take a while to find its identity, "personality" and cuisine. We're not sure what it really wants to be. To us, it seemed rather laid back where we thought it might be bold and assertive. At this (very) early juncture, nothing stood out in the food, or in the dining experience. In general, we thought the food we had was somewhat under-seasoned. Where we hoped for forward flavors and bursts of tastes we found well-executed but fairly ho-hum dishes. Nothing we ate was anything we could really rave about. (We've had much tastier food, consistently, at Rivoli, Pizzaiolo and Dopo.)

Ambiance: as others have noted, the place gets noisy in a hurry. We arrived at 5:45 and by 6:15 we could barely hear each other at our table. The piped in music didn't make conversation any easier, but it did seem to cease (thankfully) around 7 pm. That's also when the overhead fans wound up to higher rpm's, sending down a refreshing breeze. Corso is small and loud, but not lively (like, say, Wood Tavern is lively). It might need a band of mirrored glass on the walls to add some dimensionality to the space, which (to me) felt narrow, not well integrated, and slightly cramped. But that can come in time, along with some sort of decibel mitigation.

On being seated they offer you a stylish carafe of tap water and keep it filled during your meal. The wait staff asks if you want bread; they don't deliver it automatically. Stunningly, though, our bread tasted old, as if it had been cut in the morning and had sat around all day. We each took one bite and left the rest on the bread plate.

We ordered Calamari fritti to start, followed by Tagliatelle al sugo, Bollito de manzo (braised beef), with sides of Fagioli all'uccelletto (corona and Pope's beans) and Polenta al forno con mascarpone (baked polenta with mascarpone cheese.)

The calamari was less than expected. The batter on the squid was nicely crunchy, but kept falling off, so every time you picked up a piece with your fork parts of it would fall back to the platter, leaving a sea of crumbs. The yellow aioli was not acidic enough for our taste. It was timid and recessive when it should have been assertive, since the squid themselves, while wonderfully fresh, didn't seem very spiced. The dish also comes with battered and deep fried sweet onions, which my wife preferred to the calamari. They're on the small side, and well-executed. As a bonus there were a few pieces of thinly sliced deep-fried lemon.

The tagliatelle was served in a huge bowl about 1/3 the size of the table top. The serving itself occupied just the center of the bowl. My wife liked it, but I found it short on character. It seemed as if it were trying to be "well prepared" rather then expressive of a culinary truth. It sure seemed lonely in the middle of that huge bowl.

My braised beef was nicely done, but the spirit seemed braised out of it. It seemed rather texture-less and bland to me, and to my wife. It might have tasted better had there been a starch and a vegetable on the same plate, adding visual and taste counterpoints. As it was, the beef was isolated on a large oval platter, with much more plate then portion. Maybe this visual isolation had an effect on how I tasted the dish. I dunno. But it sure seemed like a one-dimensional dish that I would probably not order again. (About eight years ago I had a fantastic braised beef shank at Oliveto that I can still taste today; the Corso version seemed lame by comparison.)

The beans were delicious. We had never had them before and enjoyed every bite. The baked polenta with mascarpone was rich and and creamy--really too rich for us.

At the end of the meal we were too full for dessert and settled for a caffe latte and espresso. Wait service was fine throughout.

We'll return to Corso in a month or so. At this point it seems to me that they are still working on their culinary identity. For that the kitchen will have to develop its own character, hopefully something bolder and more declarative that what we experienced on our first, early visit.

My $10 Cuppa -- (Un)biased review of Blue Bottle Cafe

I thought Ritual Roasters in the Mission had a Clover machine. That might make a local brew-off possible.

rivoli on shattuck?

Totally agree. That dreary and darkish interior of Misto was as off-putting as the food. Time to raise the bar.

Visiting CIA Greystone, need help

You can walk in to Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc in Yountville and eat at the bar, ordering only what you want (not the whole prix fixe). That could be a self-guided tasting menu right there. Last time I was there the bar (about 6-8 seats) was pretty empty around 8:30.

Gourmet Ghetto: not so much any more?

Very interesting thread. Having been in North Berkeley since the days of Lenny's and Pig by the Tail, etc., it was always my impression that the true gourmet ghetto designation stemmed from a combination of exceptional places to eat and exceptional places to buy high quality ingredients, within a compact, sustaining culture. For me, it was all the small shops and their individual character(s) that made the area what it was. At the time, it was also fairly unique: the gourmet ghetto was pioneering new taste adventures, at least in the US. It was a "destination" largely because there were no equivalent destinations.

There certainly was a "diaspora" of sorts, but food culture also grew up, and outgrew that narrow corner of Berkeley. I also like to think that the original gourmet ghetto succeeded in teaching people to appreciate good food, and to cook, so that now everyone's gourmet ghetto is their own kitchen, fueled by their culinary imagination. The gourmet ghetto did its job as a catalyst, and we are all the richer for it.

If there is a real "gourmet ghetto" candidate today it might be Washington St. in Yountville. Call it a world-class gourmet ghetto, but where else can one walk to four top-tier restaurants on a single street? (And I'm not counting Bistro Jeanty.) Michael Chiarello is building a new 150 seat bistro in the redeveloped Vintage marketplace, with a cooking school. All this newness makes Shattuck St. look rather run down by comparison, especially when you throw in the new Yountville resorts and Spa's going up. If Alice Waters ever wants to build a new restaurant it will be there, not here.

Of course, the issue in Yountville is that most of the new development is for well-heeled tourists, not locals, but all that $$$ does support truly great restaurants.

Lunch and a tasting at the winery

Robert Sinskey winery has culinary tours with flights of selected wines. Food is mostly cheeses and charcuterie. The kitchen in the winery is fabulous. (Sinskey's wife is a noted cookbook author.)

Cafe M is open at 4th St. in Berkeley

Stopped in for a late breakfast today around 11 am. Yes, the address is 1799 Fourth St, and you might even find a free spot to park on Fifth St, right next to the restaurant. We lucked out and got a space in the parking lot right across from the front door.

We had a 1) a combo plate that consisted of two eggs any way and 4 strips of bacon, plus two largish pancakes (buckwheat in our case); 2) housemade corned beef hash with two poached eggs and fried potatoes. Both were quite good, certainly for a kitchen in its second day. From this first visit, Cafe M would seem to compare well with Bette's. It doesn't have Bette's cloistered diner vibe, but the food was fine and the airy ambiance was relaxing.

Service was friendly and attentive.

Bill for these two dishes plus cafe latte and tea (both Peets) was $26.

Cafe M is open at 4th St. in Berkeley

Had to go down to the Pasta Shop at Berkeley's Fourth St. for some cheese tonight, and noticed that a new Fourth St. eatery is open: Cafe M. Cafe M is at the end of the small parking lot on the east side of Fourth St, in a somewhat vexed location that previously housed a Sugar Bowl Cafe and some other place whose name escapes me. Cafe M has a striped awning that you can't miss. It had been under construction/permit approval for ages, after Sugar Bowl closed.

The M is for the owner's last name.

We went over to check it out and it was closed, but the owner let us in to look around. Today (Monday) had been its first day. It closes at 4:30 I think, and we were there around 5. It looks great on the inside, spacious and comfortable, tables and banquettes, and the California style menu seems to be fairly complete for breakfast, lunch and brunch. They serve Peet's coffee and also make milkshakes. There are also 8 tables outside. Prices seemed reasonable.

The owner said their first day had been hectic, with way more take out orders than they had expected, so they have to figure out a way to speed that up. If they can deliver on their menu, Cafe M looks promising at this point as a well-designed place for decent casual food.

My wife and I made a note to check them out later this week for lunch.

Cafe M is just past the small shops fronting that small parking lot, right where that lot connects to Fifth St. I don't have their address but their phone number is 510.526.4429.

Baking Supplies in the Bay Area

The Costco business center in Hayward has commercial restaurant supplies in larger than life quantities, and they also deliver if you have a commercial address (not zoned residential.) Any Costco member can shop there. Not sure if they have the brands that you seek, but they might be worth checking out. Take the A St. exit off of 880.

22330 Hathaway Ave.
Hayward, CA

rivoli on shattuck?

"By the way, there was surprise that Chowhound was already reporting the new location. Apparently, the sign had gone up only the day before."

Truth be told, the "liquor license transfer placard" has a distinctive look. A Chowhounder driving by is obligated to slam on the brakes, flip on the flashers, leap out and see who the new owner will be, then feed us the news. Especially good news like this.

rivoli on shattuck?

Rivoli's current spot is a superior location, and must be a solid money maker. Every time I drive by it at night the front room is crowded. Maybe this new location will be an offshoot, less posh, more bistro-y.

Question about Dopo and Pizzaiolo in Oakland

Plan to eat very early or very late, even if you can get a reservation at Pizzaiolo (which will probably be quite crowded and noisy--and you may have to wait a bit even with a res).

Lump Crab Meat

Our local Costco (Richmond) stopped carrying the Phillips lump crab meat (which we loved) a while ago. Now it has "super lump" crab meat from Chicken of the Sea. In the same refrigerator case, but in a well-sealed cardboard pack, not in a real tin. It's OK but not as good as Phillips, says my crab-cake-making wife.

Fra'Mani Spicy Italian @ Costco!

Amen. The sausage marketers have displaced the sausage makers. Now we get pineapple teriyaki meatballs.

Saigon still Gone?

Drove by today (July 11, 2007) and the place looked more desolate and forlorn than ever, the parking lot now overgrown with weeds and the facade weathered and worn. It really seems abandoned.

T-Rex: pleasant surprise

The outside stand is located in the gravel-surfaced area that used to be the nursery for Smith and Hawken. It's now fairly sparse. When we passed through last week the cooking area was fairly primitive--not much more than a backyard grill.

High-Tech Burrito

Where is the HTB Berkeley store? The one on Solano Ave. in Albany closed a few years ago, and I thought they were gone for good. I liked their burritos, but they probably had a million calories each.

Knife Sharpening in East Bay?

My experience with knife sharpening at Sur la Table in Berkeley is that they do mediocre work. Ask to speak to their sharpener first, so you'll know who will be grinding away at your valuable tools.

Looking for instant espresso powder in SF

Just bought some at Andronicos

Will there be a Koi Palace in Dublin? -

Thanks. That mall is taking its own sweet time.