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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.


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!

Chez Panisse: The Best of Berkeley

In by John, Foodies on the Town, This is Why John's Fat. on October 5 at 4:43 pm
The front of Chez Panisse. Courtesy of

The front of Chez Panisse. Courtesy of

Ah… Where do I begin. I guess it all started freshman year when Katherine, Amy, and I were talking about this little gem. It’s relatively expensive pricing does not cater to the students of the area but it never fails to attract the locals. We made a pact to save up enough money to go downstairs and eat at this world-famous restaurant before we graduate. Well… I broke my promise with Katherine and reserved a table for two a couple of weeks back. For the upstairs cafe, or restaurant downstairs, it is almost necessary to book a reservation at least a week in advance. Their menus for the coming week are posted online the weekend before so we didn’t even know what to expect.

Their downstairs restaurant has a fixed-price menu that varies in price, with Monday being the cheapest and Friday/Saturday with the more elaborate (and pricier) menu. There is no strict dress-code but one Yelper describes it as “Berkeley-chic”, whatever that means. We went on Thursday so our meal consisted of:

  1. Salmon carpaccio with mustard and  capers
  2. Pasta e fagioli with fresh shell beans and pancetta
  3. Grilled Sonoma Liberty duck breast with wild huckleberries and fried polenta
  4. Cardamom Pavlova with Middleton Gardens raspberry ice cream

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Sandra’s Cake Mix Cookies

In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, Dessert First, This is Why John's Fat. on September 28 at 8:51 am

Cooking time: <15 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 9/28/2009

Cake mix cookies, yum! (This picture is from another blog, found on Google images.)

Cake mix cookies, yum! (This picture is from another blog, found on Google images.)

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up in < 15 minutes, look no further. Sandra, 205’s baking wizard, introduced us to the loveliness of Cake Mix Cookies during a late-night study session.

Combine 1 box cake mix with 2 eggs, 1/3 cup of oil (you can use 1/2 cup if you’d like), and a handful of chocolate chips.

Mix, spoon onto a cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Keep watch for cookie monsters that may be lurking around.

Sandra’s Personal Cheesecakes

In by Amy, Dessert First, This is Why John's Fat. on September 14 at 7:00 am

Cooking time: ~20-25 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 9/13/2009

Personal cheesecake with a ginger snap crust, topped with a nectarine slice.

Personal cheesecake with a ginger snap crust, topped with a nectarine slice.

Sandra’s return + rainy day = baking extravaganza!

These little beauties were whipped up by our housemate Sandra, master baker.  You can find the recipe on her blog here, or from the original site, Cooking for Engineers.

The cooking time is actually quite short, since almost all ingredients are just mixed together in one bowl. We also substituted the usual Oreo cookie/Nilla wafer crust with Trader Joe ginger snaps.

Our version of the F–k-it Bucket: Ice Cream Sundaes

In by Amy, The Everyday Foodie, This is Why John's Fat. on August 21 at 10:10 am

Cooking time: 35 minutes for the brownie, 5 minutes to assemble | Originally enjoyed on: 8/6/2009

What’s the best way to end a crazy day at school (for Amy and guest foodie Charmaine, it was an 8 page paper, 20 minute group presentation, quiz, AND 2 page paper on Philip Morris)?

Ice cream sundaes, of course!


Ice cream sundaes, our version of the "f--k it bucket."

Tired of school and not wanting to think about work the next day, John, Charmaine, and I went down to Safeway (24 hours, yipee!) to collect our materials:

  • Brownie mix
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Oreos (we had to go with Safeway’s organic generic…these were terrible. If you’re going to go generic, go for Trader Joe’s brand, which is far superior)
  • Smucker’s Dark Chocolate Fudge
  • Whipped Cream
  • Frozen berries

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