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Berkeley Group Eats Around the Bay Part 2: Powderface

In by Amy, The Traveling Foodie, This is Why John's Fat. on February 13 at 6:17 pm

Alas, school + recruiting for summer internships have consumed most of my time lately, but I’m back!

Cindy and I had breakfast at Powderface on our second day of interviews. The shop is located in a shopping center right off the Fruitvale BART station, and looks like a fairly ordinary semi-modern cafe, with high tables and chairs, black furniture, free wi-fi, the like.

We originally intended to just grab a pastry to go. While the cafe’s menu seemed pretty standard, a quick look to the walls, adorned with pictures of people with powdered sugar smothered around their mouths, revealed the store’s true signature product: New Orleans-style beignets.

While I am Californian through and through, I have to admit there is something irresistible about a piece of fried dough covered in sugar.

I got one order (comes in a pack of 3), and about 5-8 minutes later, received…

Powderface's New Orleans-style beignets, served with powdered sugar on top.

This monstrosity.

The only other place I’ve had beignets at is Angeline’s Kitchen, a Foodie Friday favorite that, like Gregoire, Cheeseboard, and Wood Tavern, has yet to be blogged about.

Angeline’s beignets are pillow-like and almost always served with 2+ cups powdered sugar on top. In contrast, Powderface’s beignets are served with much less sugar. The beignets were more fresh and crunchy here than Angeline’s. I wasn’t used to the crunchiness, but the little time it took to consume these morsels attests to my approval.

I’ll have to have Angeline’s again to more directly compare, but Powderface was a pleasant surprise in a most unexpected place. I’ll have to look for some place to have lunch/dinner in Fruitvale to justify the amount of time it takes to get there, but this place is definitely worth checking out.

A warning: Cindy and I had some trouble eating these cleanly. Best to not attempt eating these in dark business clothes, like we did. We had to adopt some weird eating scheme where we had to eat with arms outstretched as far away as possible from our bodies.


Berkeley Group Eats Around the Bay Part 1: Outerlands

In by Amy, The Traveling Foodie, This is Why John's Fat. on January 22 at 1:21 am

Last week, I came back to Berkeley early to conduct interviews for The Berkeley Group with Cindy and Michael C. (of FF Iron Chef fame). Our interviews spanned 4 days, with 2 days dedicated to San Francisco. We stopped for quick meals and uncovered quite a few hidden gems. This is part one of our food adventures.

A perfect lunch: Michael's hot open-face pastrami sandwich with a dark beer.

By the time lunch rolled around on the first day of interviews, we were in the Sunset district with access to a car. We originally planned to go to Chou Chou, a reasonably priced French bistro, but to our disappointment it was not open. I opted to phone-a-friend and call my trusty pal Chuck, a Yelp Elite, who in turn recommended we check out a sandwich place closer to Golden Gate Park.

Outerlands is delicious, reasonably-priced ($4-12) “new American” cuisine in the most random neighborhood. It reminds me a bit of Gregoire in Berkeley, although the food is far from “gourmet.” Located on the corner Judah Street at 45th Avenue, it is hidden in a three-block stretch of Chinese restaurants; we actually drove past it twice before finding it.  Its exterior is unassuming, but a step inside (past the tricky door) offers an entirely different experience that somewhat recalls the style of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain.

I’d never had an open-faced sandwich before, but a few tips from the friendly girl behind the counter helped make our order decisions. Michael ordered a pastrami sandwich; Cindy ordered a honey ham sandwich with cheddar and dates which had been soaked in red white; I ordered a grilled cheese with a side of their soup of the day, a carrot soup. Michael also bought a darker beer, after another staff member recommended which beers to pair with the pastrami.

When the food arrived, we were pleased by the size of the portions and quality of the food. Outerlands bakes its own sandwich bread; it is very thick, similar to the brioche/French toast served seat La Note. Consequently, the sandwiches were much more hearty and filling than expected, and all of us ended up boxing half our sandwiches for later.

Michael’s pastrami, pictured earlier, was a solid order. Michael said that the beer, which came with a hefty price tag of $6 a bottle, complemented the dish very well. He remarked that he would return in the future if in the area.

My grilled cheese was described on the menu as “brushed with garlic butter” and “seared on a cast-iron skillet.” This was the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever had, hands down. The bread was much thicker than anticipated, but the inside was still wonderfully fluffy despite a crunchy crust; the cooks used a blend of swiss and cheddar in the center.

Grilled cheese sandwich brushed with garlic butter and seared on a cast iron skillet; side of spiced carrot soup. Dip to achieve optimal taste.

The sandwich cost $4, and I paired it with a side of their soup de jour, spiced carrot soup. I normally hate cooked carrots, but the flavor of this soup was very good; rich, spicy, and only carrot-y at the end. To make my dining experience especially tasty, the staff advised me to dip the grilled cheese into the soup. All I can say is that I’ve come to appreciate what a difference garlic and pepper can make! This was my personal favorite of the three meals, and I will definitely be coming back for more.

The best sandwich that was most unique was Cindy’s; it was a unique taste that was pleasantly surprising.

Cindy's open-face sandwich: honey ham with cheddar and dates soaked in red wine.

Normally, I’m not a fan of honey ham–I find it too sickly  sweet for my taste. However, the dates helped cut through the heaviness of the meat, making for a delightful sandwich.

One thing that I didn’t like as much was the cheese; I felt that they could have cut back to make a more balanced sandwich. Aside from this easily alterable note, Outerlands was the perfect place for a quick lunch. If you’re heading towards the Sunset, I definitely recommend you give this place a try.

Fenton’s Creamery, or: How Amy, John, and Eric Got Owned by Ice Cream

In by Amy, Foodies on the Town, This is Why John's Fat. on January 16 at 7:32 pm

There are a lot of Foodie Friday and Friends’ favorites around Berkeley that we are so used to going to, we never post about (Cheeseboard, Gregoire, and Ici are classic Foodie picks that have yet to be reviewed, for example). Fenton’s Creamery is one of them.

Fenton’s gained some attention last May when it was mentioned in Pixar’s animated feature Up:

Fenton's Creamery is also near and dear to the Pixarians of Emeryville.

That may have gained Fenton’s more recognition, but it was already a local favorite for decades. At 115 years old, you know that they’ve got to be doing something right.

If you like rich, creamy, old-fashioned ice cream, Fenton’s is the place to go. Nestled in North Oakland near Piedmont (a small village in Oakland), Fenton’s can often be identified by its bright awnings and the long lines snaking out of the door. Wait times can be long, but the place has large capacity and takes reservations for parties of 12+,  so it’s not too bad. It’s also well-known among Berkeley students for “the dive” special: finish a gigantic banana split in 15 minutes and receive an “I Survived the Dive” t-shirt and accolades from all your friends (the time limit used to be 20, but I guess it was too easy).

John, Eric, and I were bored after dinner yesterday and decided to drive out to Fenton’s. Eric had never gone before, and I haven’t personally been here since we went with a large group of friends in freshman year (via public transportation, take the 51 down Broadway and 42nd and walk for about 10 minutes), and had a craving.

Here’s the thing about Fenton’s: DO NOT BE FOOLED INTO THINKING THAT YOU CAN FINISH ONE BY YOURSELF. It is possible, but not advisable, as it will induce a considerable food coma after (not recommended). The scoops are enormous, and a single scoop should actually count for 2-3 normal-sized scoops. For some reason, John and I forgot that we couldn’t even finish a giant goblet of ice cream the first time we went to Fenton’s, and thus were overly ambitious and ordered one ice cream special per person.

John and Eric with their ice cream treats: John's "black and tan" has a scoop of toasted almond ice cream, a layer of fudge, vanilla ice cream, and caramel. Eric had a classic root beer float.

John's Black and Tan: Almond ice cream, hot fudge, vanilla, and caramel.

My dish: Fenton's "Hot Toppers": two scoops of vanilla, a banana, hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

That, combined with the fact that John, Eric, and I all have a smaller stomach capacity than before, and that we had just finished dinner, spelled our demise.

They look small I realize in the pictures, but believe me, these things were massive.

We tried to eat as much as we could, but ultimately only Eric could succeed in finishing (he had to break through the mound of ice cream before he could reach his root beer). In my defense, I thought mine came in a cup, not a dish. Nevertheless, while the ice cream did own us, we still love Fenton’s. Just be sure to order what you can actually eat.

Note to Apt 205: we need to get legit ice cream dishes like these.

Light Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes

In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, The Everyday Foodie on January 16 at 6:57 pm

Cooking time: 20 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 1/16/2010

A new year means it’s time to get off my lazy butt and post at least 1 of the 8 topics I have to write about. My dear brother gave me a couple of Alton Brown Good Eats DVDs for Christmas, and one particularly helpful set is on cooking from things already in your pantry. This recipe is from an episode on cooking pasta, as is a great one for beginner chefs.

Spaghetti tossed in extra virgin olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, olives, and smoked oysters.

Watching this episode made me remember that while I love sun-dried tomatoes, I had yet to cook with them. I resolved to remedy this once I returned to Berkeley.

This pasta is pretty much as easy as you can get, short of mixing pasta with pre-made sauce. After you cook the pasta, drain it and put aside. Pour some olive oil into a bowl or plate (only a couple of tablespoons); place about a teaspoon of garlic in the center. Mix thoroughly into pasta (tongs, chopsticks, or a fork and spoon may be helpful here)–since the pasta is still very hot, it’ll cook the garlic without burning it. Lastly, add whatever other ingredients you’d like: in the original episode, Alton used cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and nuts. We didn’t have any nuts, but we did toss in cheese (leftover packets from the Costco 3-cheese ravioli), sliced sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and smoked oysters.

Some suggestions to get you started on ingredients: parsley, pine nuts, chopped basil, sautéed mushrooms, grilled chicken.

And there you go, tasty pasta that took little to no skill to make.

P.S. According to Alton Brown, don’t rinse your pasta after draining; your sauce will stick to your pasta better.

Put an Egg on It

In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, The Everyday Foodie on December 14 at 12:47 am

Chicks and ducks better scurry

When I put an egg on my curry

When I eat a hearty meal with an egg on top!

Finals week has prevented me from going grocery shopping, wreaking havoc on my diet. Suddenly I’m  much more content to eat instant, quick-to-prepare foods. I’ve already had fried rice (3 times), ramen (2 times), microwavable mac and cheese (3 times), and frozen dumplings (5 times) on several occasions in the past week and a half.

I’ve still been cooking from scratch! Just on much rarer occasions.

At any rate, in an attempt to clean the fridge, I’ve also been reminded of one of my favorite foods: eggs.

Generally, I try not to use eggs too often because of their high cholesterol content, but I’ve made an exception this week. I just polished off a classic finals week dish (ramen–mee goreng, in particular) that I made 5 times more awesome with an addition of a fried egg.

Instant mee goreng made instantly better: ramen noodles with an egg on top. Ah, what a difference a single egg can make!

Midway through my meal, I realized just how much I love eggs. They make EVERYTHING taste better, especially the most n00bish of meals. (Katherine was not too impressed and dryly remarked, “You know Forrest Gump? You sound like-” Me: “Yes. I know. *sigh*.”) At any rate, I think I also like them because they look so smiley and happy. Example:

  • Fried egg on top of fried rice
  • Egg mixed into ramen soup
  • Fried egg with steak or even better, Vietnamese pork chops
  • Runny eggs in a Vietnamese sandwich (so messy but so tasty)

Not to mention the wonderful dishes based on eggs: poached eggs, soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce/sesame oil, eggs in a basket (a great snack), soy sauce eggs, and my personal favorite, EGG TARTS. (For those of you in the SF Bay Area, you NEED to head over to Golden Gate Bakery and taste the best egg tarts in America.)

So next time you make a meal, try enhancing it with an egg. You’ll be converted for life.

Oh man, this post makes me realize that I could never be a vegan.


In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, Dessert First, This is Why John's Fat. on December 12 at 12:39 am

Cooking time: 35 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 12/9/2009

A couple of days ago, Katherine and I took a study break from Dead Week to make dozens and dozens of cookies. We used a recipe from Katherine’s mom, who allegedly got it from an Australian family. After, we delivered them to friends, teachers, and neighbors.

Dip shortbread into melted semi-sweet chocolate for an extra-tasty treat.

I’ve never made shortbread, but this recipe was easy and tasty enough, mostly due to copious amounts of BUTTER.

Ingredients (yields 36 cookies):

  • 1 lb plain flour, or about 2 3/4 cup
  • 1 lb butter (4 sticks)
  • 1/2 lb corn starch, or about 1 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 lb icing sugar, or about 1 3/4 cup

You can also vary the amount of ingredients; Katherine’s mom has baked with less butter with successful results.

Mix dry ingredients (flour and corn starch). In a separate bowl, mix together butter and sugar until crumbly. Combine mixtures.

Roll dough into balls and press onto a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Tip: place a pan with some water on a rack underneath the cookie sheet, to prevent burning the bottoms of the cookie.

Afterward, we dipped the cookies into melted chocolate and put them out on the balcony in the freezing cold to let everything set in. You can also roll the cookies in nuts or sprinkles. Make sure you let the cookies cool first, or they might break when you’re decorating them.

Another tip: use a double boiler so the chocolate won’t burn. You can use an actual double boiler, or an improvised one out of two stacked pots–just make sure the top pot with the chocolate doesn’t touch the water; the chocolate should melt by steam alone. Due to a temporary shortage of pots, I used this “fancy contraption”:

Improvised double boiler: one rice cooker, another smaller rice pot, and a netted strainer.

Enjoy! Beware: this cookie crumbles VERY easily — eat in a safe area!

Roast Chicken

In by Amy, Foodie Fridays, Foodie's Choice, This is Why John's Fat. on November 27 at 6:20 pm

A.k.a, “The First Foodie Friday,” “John’s Fat Chicken,” “John’s Signature Dish,” and “The Chicken Yang Yang and Mark Finished to the Bone”

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: Some Friday in September 2008

To supplement my family’s Thanksgiving turkey, I made the classic foodie favorite: roast chicken.

Nothing flavors chicken like thyme and hard work.

This recipe is near and dear to our hearts because it was the first dish that started the Foodie Friday tradition. John and Katherine were talking one day, and John suggested that he roast a chicken for dinner for a few friends. Katherine agreed and invited Yang Yang, and John called Mark and Paul. The rest is history.

I myself have made the chicken twice for the past two Thanksgivings. We use this recipe, with a few modifications. When John makes it, he remains faithful to the full-fledged butter and bacon strips; I am terrified of the high fat content these things carry, however, and thus omit the bacon and substitute in Smart Balance for the butter. I should mention that this is the dish that showcased John’s predilection for fat: upon my asking how he cooked the mushrooms, he famously  replied, “Chicken fat, bacon fat, and butter.”

The key to moist meat is to basting; make sure you baste every 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

My favorite part of the dish is the vegetables. You can also include potatoes in the same pan. There’s no need to use olive oil or butter, just season with salt, pepper, and herbs and let the chicken drippings do their magic. I use a roasting pan with a rack at home, which makes room for a lot more tasty vegetables.

If you’re looking for a simple way to venture into the roasting world, this recipe is an excellent choice. Happy roasting!

Cranberry Almond Spinach Salad

In by Amy, Foodie Fridays, The Everyday Foodie on November 25 at 10:57 pm

Cooking Time: 20 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 11/22/2009

This past Sunday, the Foodies gathered for one of the most epic Foodie Fridays ever: Thanksgiving Pre-Party. With over seventeen guests in attendance, we approached this one differently by making it a potluck. We had a ball stuffing ourselves full of delicious food and enjoying the fantastic view from Paul/Mark/Neil’s fantastic apartment.

The courses had an approximate $10 budget and included: dinner rolls, chips and dip, sautéed mushrooms, green bean casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, salad, baked spaghetti with olives and cilantro, ham, turkey, salmon, vegetable stir-fry, home-made cranberry sauce, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, ice cream, and roasted squash.

View from the apartment of our wonderful hosts, Mark, Paul, and Neil. True story.

Oh, and for the over 21 crowd, “Indian beer” and wine.

In honor of remembering that dinner and the holidays, I’m posting one of the dishes I made for the potluck: cranberry almond salad with a sweet cider and vinegar dressing.

Cranberry almond salad with sweet dressing; picture from

I first had this salad one year ago when I attended a smaller pre-Thanksgiving gathering with Anna S. and friends. It was the best homemade salad I had ever tasted, and  I’ve reproduced that dish several times after. You can find the recipe at the original site.

The recipe is very simple, but the ingredients tend to add up. I recommend buying the poppy seeds and sesame in bulk (a la Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl). You can also find dried cranberries and pre-roasted almonds at Trader Joe’s for an extremely reasonable price. Lastly, I usually use more cranberries and almonds in my salad than the recipe calls for, so don’t be afraid to vary the proportion of dry ingredients to salad to match your taste.

Beef Chili

In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, The Everyday Foodie on November 21 at 6:24 pm

Cooking Time: 30 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 11/20/2009

On a rainy day, nothing combats the weather like the taste of hot soup.

Beef Chili: the meat-flavored cousin of Vikram's Three Bean Chili.

John, Sandra, and I returned from a Safeway run only to be met with pouring rain. I immediately switched our lunch plans to making chili. This recipe is a modification of Vikram S.’s three bean chili, which I originally made for a Foodie Friday last October. While Vikram’s recipe has a more sophisticated flavor that contains multiple bell peppers, a tomato base, and no meat, I just threw in the “right” ingredients until I was satisfied with how it tasted.

You’ll need:

  • About 1/2 pound of ground meat (I used beef I had in the freezer)
  • 1 bell pepper (I used red)
  • 2 cans beans (I used chili beans and drained garbanzo beans)
  • Green beans
  • Half an onion, diced
  • Corn (can be frozen, canned, or fresh, depending on your time constraints)
  • Cumin, fennel, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika, salt and pepper to taste

I love making chili because it’s so easy: just prep your food and cook it in one pan. For prep, dice the onion, cut the bell pepper into strips (or squares, whatever you prefer); and chop the green beans into one-inch pieces. Defrost the corn, and open the cans of beans. Drain the beans if they’re not chili flavored–otherwise, your soup will be too watery.

Brown the beef thoroughly on medium heat; season with salt and pepper. Then, saute the onions until slightly translucent. Add in the red peppers and the canned beans. Cook for about three minutes. Then, add in the corn and the green beans.

Let the chili simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softer. Then, season with spices to taste. Serve with bread, cheese, or over rice.

Iron Chef: Chef Chen vs. Chef Balibalos

In by Amy, by Katherine, Foodie Fridays on November 15 at 1:11 pm

This is the liveblog of Sunday’s Iron Chef Berkeley: Battle Ginger, consolidated and listed in reverse chronological order.  Check back throughout the week for the photos, recipes, and scores of each dish. 

Final scoring! — 9:48 P.M.

Nish: “When these two titans clash, we all win.”

With some sort of Excel contraption cooked up by JueYan, the judges’ scores have been all tallied up. Again, the dishes were scored on a scale of 10 in taste, originality, and presentation.

Appetizer: Michael’s scallop and stuffed mushroom rode originality and presentation to beat out John’s tom ka gai soup with an average score of 8.67 to 7.33.

Entree: John’s salmon was clearly dragged down by his bland choice of sides, as he suffered a competition-worst score of 6.67. Michael’s salmon scores another victory, averaging 7.78.

Dessert: John’s signature dish carries him through here, with his flan outscoring Michael’s cake 7.56 to 7.34.

Final decision: Although the night was filled with excellent treats at all stages, Michael takes the (metaphorical) trophy, beating out John with an overall average of 7.93 to 7.19.

I am feeling very fat and full. Good night.

– Jack

Balibalos’ flan — 9:00 P.M.

John presents the final dish of the night, a coconut milk flan with candied ginger and orange peels. The toppings are held in a Hello Kitty bowl.

Nish: “There’s a bit of a kick to it.”

Paul: “I think I put too much ginger and orange at the same time.”

Katherine: “This is a strong contender.”

Nish and Katherine comment that they likely have been rating too generously tonight.

Paul says it’s smooth, as all of John’s dishes have been. He really enjoyed the candied orange with the ginger, and appreciated the “little fight to it.”

Katherine was pleased that John brought his signature dish to the table. She gives high marks for the homemade candied ginger, but she would’ve liked if the ginger had been incorporated in more ways, such as a sauce or an infusion into the flan itself.

Nish is similarly satisfied with the flan, and was glad that the ginger wasn’t overly spicy. The taste and texture paired very well with the flan.

– Jack

Balibalos’ salmon — 8:47 P.M.

John has brought out salmon baked with a soy and ginger glaze, as well as a little brown sugar for sweetness. He warns to watch out for bones, as he forgot to take them out. Boiled bokchoy with rice lines the side of the dish.

Katherine says that the centerpiece is clearly the salmon, and it has succeeded there. She likes the complexity of the sauce, but thought a better job could have been done with the side dishes. The bokchoy and the rice fill out the meal, but don’t complement the flavors of the salmon.

Nish agrees with Katherine on the complexity of the salmon marinade and on how well baked the salmon was. The rice did not have enough water, but that was the fault of the sous chef. Overall, it was very enjoyable for him.

Paul describes the salmon as a “nice smooth, ride” that ended in “fireworks” in the back of his throat. Unfortunately, he felt like the rest of the dish was boring, with the boiled bokchoy and plain white rice.

Nish comments that this would be a difficult dish to judge.

– Jack

Balibalos’ soup — 8:37 P.M.

At this point, the food is already cold, but the judges say they will account for that in their scoring.

John has brought out a tom ka gai, a Thai coconut soup with tomatoes, mushrooms and shrimp.

Katherine is coughing as she is overwhelmed by the spiciness of the dish. She asks for water.

Nish is a fan of the spiciness, as well as the coconut milk flavor. He appreciates the Thai-Asian taste of the dish.

Paul: “Wow, I like it so much.” He is not usually a fan of spicy things, but the richness covers the spiciness for him. He follows up with a mixed metaphor. He has just learned that coconut milk is white rather than clear.

Katherine likes the flavor, but she again cannot taste the ginger. She did not like the shrimp, saying it was a little bit overcooked. This will be reflected in her scoring. She does love the creativity in John’s recycling of the fish stock from his salmon dish. She adds that the dish would not have been the same without the mushrooms.

– Jack

Chen’s dessert — 8:26 P.M.

Michael brings out a chocolate cupcake topped with raspberries.

Katherine: “Wow, that’s beautiful.”

It has bits of caramelized ginger inside, and should be eaten with the strawberries and candied ginger on the side, as well as drinking milk to combat the dryness of the cake (a result of it being left slightly too long in the oven.)

Katherine really likes this chocolate cake, bringing her back to the lava cakes of her youth. She’s having a little “Ratatouille” moment here. She doesn’t think that it’s too dry, but could not taste the ginger in the dish. Still, she says that the flavors complement each other well in this “classic.”

Nish also could not taste the ginger inside the cake, only the candied ginger bits on the side.

Paul comments that the raspberries do complement the chocolate, as “they always will.” However, he is disappointed that he could not taste the ginger and missed out on what could have been the meeting of two conflicting flavors.

All the judges agree that it is very delicious when eaten with the candied ginger.

– Jack

Chen’s appetizer — 8:15 P.M.

Katherine just mocked Paul’s ability to judge, comparing him to the guest judge that isn’t usually on the show. The joke was received with light laughter.

Michael is now presenting a two-part appetizer based on two things that are round. On the left: stuffed mushrooms with bacon and other exciting things. Right side: Scallop with a passionfruit ginger sauce.

Paul has dropped some of the food. Tsk tsk. We are starting at the other end with Nish instead.

Nish liked the pliability of the scallops tempered with the passionfruit, but thinks that more could have done with the scallops lacked flavor.

Katherine was a really big fan of the scallops, saying that they were not really tough. She disputes Nish’s point, saying that the scallop’s role as a “blank canvas” was used well. She will remember this dish as the one which packs in the ginger flavor.

Paul’s mouth was conflicted by the many flavors of the scallops fighting with the sauce. He also felt that the sauce was too sticky, which was due to it being overcooked, commenting that it was “sticky in his mouth,” as the scallops were “smoothly sliding along.”

(Side note: Deanne, a non-paying participant, liked the salmon, but thought it was over-salted. She also thought the ginger flavor was lacking.)

On to the mushroom.

Nish thought bacon and avocado went well together.

Katherine agrees, adding that the caramelized ginger also added to the combination. However, she also didn’t see too much of a tie between the mushroom and the “Battle Ginger” concept.

Paul doesn’t really care about the concept, and is judging purely on taste. He likes the “springy-ness” of the salad, but can barely taste the ginger. He thought the mushroom didn’t have enough filling, but that may be because of the aforementioned spill. He withholds judgment on the dish.

– Jack

Chen’s salmon: initial reactions — 8:05 P.M.

Nish, Katherine, and Paul are lined up along the judges’ row of chairs, each with plates of food in front of them. They are about to taste some sort of salmon dish prepared by Michael, who used a bunch of fancy words to describe it that I didn’t catch.

Katherine has asked for a description of the sauce. I caught that it is white-wine based along with some sort of ginger-y and butter-y stuff. Michael claims that the inspiration for his dish is “fat is good.”

Paul says that it is a smooth taste, and he appreciates the fat.

Nish is surprised by the subtlety of the ginger taste, which does not bite at him.

Katherine is throwing fancy words very quickly, like “lightness.” She is not sure about the roasted vegetables on the side, and said that they distracted from the simplicity of the dish.

– Jack

Eating begins! — 8:04 P.M.

Michael has made the common-sense appeal that everything is getting cold and should be consumed at once. I like his thinking.

– Jack

Laying it out — 7: 56 P.M.

The food is being brought out at this point, with everything being laid out beautifully on fancy-looking rectangular plates. Michael is apparently an expert at presentation, which would explain why I feel like the food was brought in from some expensive restaurant. (Though the illusion is somewhat spoiled by the presence of flower-bordered paper plates.)

What I’m most excited about at this point is the scallops and the stuffed mushroom, both of which I love dearly. It’s been quite a while since I’ve tasted the latter, so my stomach is in quite the state of anticipation at the moment.

The slices of salmon are also being put onto the paper plates as I type this, and Michael is pouring some sort of sauce over each one.

I’m hungry.

– Jack

Food Has Arrived, Plating has Begun — 7:40 pm

With the help of several porters, all of Chef Balibalos’ food has arrived. Unfortunately, he will be deducted for time, as he has arrived late.

The plating process has begun, with each chef hurriedly putting the final touches on his dish.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme???? The burning question will be answered soon!


Finishing touches — 7:25 P.M.

Katherine here, writing for Amy, who is busy at Chef Balibalos’ kitchen directing the transport of the dishes across College Avenue.  I wish there was a film crew to document the physical transfer; it would share the same suspense as Ace of Cakes.

Update: Chef Balibalos’ dishes have arrived!  After the myriad of helpers from across the street rushed up the stairs and into our apartment laden with platters of hot food, they stared in disbelief at the apparent coolness of JueYan and Danica, who were “helping” Chef Chen by playing Super Smash.

Just moments ago, I was washing dishes in Chef Chen’s kitchen, where chaos is reigning supreme.  There are dishes of food covering every possible horizontal surface, and sous chef Sandra is constantly chopping and preparing ingredients for Chef Chen, who has a pan on every burner.  This multitasking, intended to save time, may have backfired on Chef Chen, who accidentally burnt a pan of walnuts that were caramelizing in sugar.  The mistake is probably not fundamental, as the ginger portion of the dish is still intact, but it seems to have thrown Chef Chen off his balance a bit.

The high point of panic in the kitchen occurred when Chef Chen suddenly turned around and realized that he had started a small fire on one of the burners.  “Ohhh no no no no!” he exclaimed, as he tried desperately to blow the six-inch flame out like a birthday candle.  After the burner caught on fire for the second time, Chef Chen elected not to use that area of the stove for the remainder of the competition, leaving him shorthanded.  How this will affect his ability to complete his dishes remains to be seen.


Arrival of Judges — 6:46 pm

I returned from work to find chaos in Kitchen Stadium #205, where Chef Chen is feverishly preparing his courses.  I hurried past in order to preserve my impartiality, though not before catching the heavy scent of what I believe is cumin in the air.  Curry flavored by ginger, perhaps?

It appears that the time limit of 2 hours is proving quite a challenge for both chefs.   (I just heard Chef Chen wail from his kitchen, “I need more tiiiiimmee!”)  As such, Chairman Amy has approved the reinstatement of the sous chef position.  Seasoned chef Sandra, whose impressive culinary resume includes a position at Berkeley’s Love at First Bite bakery as well as her current position as a food blog researcher for a catering company, is assisting Chef Chen.  The sous chefs on Chef Balibalos’ side of College, meanwhile, make up for a lack of professional experience in sheer number.  At last count, Paul, Danica, and Jack were all lending Chef Balibalos a hand while JueYan put the Maytag Man to shame as the dishwasher.

Those of you reading at home may wonder why there were so many dishes in the Balibalos kitchen, a condition that many are speculating put Chef Balibalos at a time disadvantage under an already-tight two hour limit.  It appears that, in addition to forgetting his grocery list twice, Chef Balibalos also forgot that he had a sinkful of dirty dishes in his apartment before beginning the competition.  This self-sabotage is made even more ironic by the fact that, when I spoke to Chef Balibalos this morning to ask what preparations he was undergoing for tonight’s competition, he responded with a shrug, “I dunno…gaming…napping…whatever.”  I believe the French, who have a rich culinary heritage, refer to he who brings this unnecessary extra obstacle upon himself as teh noob.


Return from Grocery Store — 5:16 P.M.

We have just returned from a three-store grocery run: Berkeley Bowl, Ver Brugge Meat-Fish Poultry, and Safeway. The lines have been much longer than anticipated, so it’s a good thing that we set aside two hours for this ordeal. Given the delay in timing, it looks like service will have to be pushed back to 7:30.

Chef Balibalos is gearing up to what seems to be an Asian-dominating menu,  with several cans of young coconut, some soy sauce, and rice in his grocery basket. Unfortunately, he forgot his planning sheet at home, and had to shop entirely from memory.

Chef Chen’s menu is a bit more ambiguous; he bought plenty of vegetables, some heavy cream, and butter. He has indicated that his menu is a more flexible, and seems to be leaving his final decision to be made during cooking time.

The chefs remain largely on target for the budget, going just a few dollars over. This was largely due to the whole salmon purchased at the butcher’s; the chefs wanted 4 lbs of fish, but the shop would only sell half or whole fish, the smallest fish weighing in at 5 lbs.

Both chefs are exhausted, and the cooking hasn’t even begun.

In other news, judge Nishant will be dropping to watch the cooking in about 15-20 minutes, bringing guest foodies Charles and Margaret along. While the guest list seems to be constantly fluctuating, this blogger hopes that we’ll be able to break even in the end.


Iron Chef America’s Battle Ginger — 4:38 P.M.

Oh, Jeffrey.  (Somebody needs to make this into a .GIF)

Iron Chef Berkeley’s better-known cousin, Iron Chef America, has previously held a Battle Ginger.  Here’s Reality TV Online’s synopsis, with supplementary pictures as close as I could get to the dishes served (usually not close at all):

This week, sushi specialist Chef Tyson Cole decided to challenge Iron Chef Morimoto. The secret ingredient was ginger. Judging the competition was culinary journalist Akiko Katayama, Jeffrey Steingarten, and food blogger Pim.

Chef Cole served up five dishes: black snapper sashimi and ginger ale (which Jeffrey said was “delightful”), wild sea bass with galangal puree and pickled peaches, sugar coated hamachi, grilled salmon belly with sauternes gelee and ginger infused fruit, and brown butter and ginger sorbet with ginger consumme (Pim thought that was “lovely”).

Toshiro’s black snapper sashimi with torched skin.
Black Snapper Sashimi at Toshiro in Lima, Peru via Doctor’s Review
Striped Sea Bass w/White Asparagus, Watermelon, Smoked Yellow Tomato at Aureole in NY via Food Fashionista
Maple Ginger Sorbet
Maple Ginger Sorbet

Iron Chef Morimoto served up six dishes: Japanese sweet melon with east meets west caprese salad (Akiko thought it was too stringy), seared bonito lamb carpaccio and seared Japanese pike, Japanese grouper cooked in ginger water (which Pim said was the epitome of Japanese cooking), duck meatball soup, ginger congee with wagyu, and ginger coconuts with hot chocolate.

Melon Salad with Mint and Buddha's Hand
Melon Salad with Mint and Buddha’s Hand via Tasty Palettes
Steamed grouper crystal fish dumpling
Steamed grouper crystal fish dumpling at Cherry Garden in Singapore via Lady Iron Chef
Beef Congee
Beef Congee via Steamy Kitchen

Morimoto was victorious by a landslide, winning 49 to 43. He took taste (26 to 20) and originality (12 to 9). He lost plating 11 to 14, but Chef Cole learned to never challenge the master!

Iron Chef Morimoto
Iron Chef Morimoto

Katherine’s commentary from work — 3:05 P.M.

Hi everyone; Katherine here.  I’m stuck at work this afternoon, but based on Chairman Amy’s liveblog, it looks like the secret ingredient tonight will be ginger.

My sources (read: Amy) tell me that the chefs are currently running frantically around the Oregon St. Berkeley Bowl gathering fresh ingredients for tonight’s three-course meal.  Shopping at Berkeley Bowl can be very hectic on weekend afternoons even without a time limit; I like to think of Chef Balibalos throwing elbows to grab the best ginger in the bin as Chef Chen leaps over a toddler in a shopping cart on his way to the checkout.

berkeley bowl carries dates, durian, key limes, rambitan, and other fresh produce.
Berkeley Bowl’s fresh produce section via Leah | salome_st_john on Flickr.

Secret Ingredient Announced! / Planning — 2:35 P.M.

The chefs are surprised by the secret ingredient: ginger! Armed with a pad of paper and a pen, each chef has begun his planning process. Chef Chen argues that the ingredient is biased towards Asian food. The blogger respectfully disagrees.

As one judge has unexpectedly dropped out, it looks like Foodie Friday Presents: Iron Chef may need to alter its judging scheme.

The chefs have also agreed to drop the sous chef, so it’ll be one-on-one cooking. Can they do it alone in two hours? That remains to be seen.


Pre-Competition Blog — 1:00 PM

Two kitchens. Two chefs. Only one can be the Iron Chef.

It’s one hour to competition in Kitchen stadium #205, and we’ve decided to track the progress with a live blog. Tonight, resident Iron Chef John Balibalos has been challenged by Chef Michael Chen, of Six-Month Anniversary fame. The chefs will be cooking in separate kitchens.


  • 2:00 p.m. Secret ingredient revealed, recipe lookup on computer for 10 minutes, 15 minutes to plan.
  • 3:00 p.m. Shopping – limited to 45 minutes, not including line or transportation time.
  • 5:00 p.m. Cooking begin.
  • 7:00 pm. Service


  • 3 courses — appetizers, main, and dessert
  • 1 sous chef is allowed
  • $50 budget per chef (judges + audience pays $10 each)
  • 4 judges — Sandra, Nishant, Katherine, and Don
  • 1 commentator/blogger — Amy
  • 1 vote will be the “jury’s choice”
  • Judges will also help wash dishes :)

Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Stay tuned to find out!