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Posts Tagged ‘review’

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.

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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.

Meaty Decadence at Alexander’s Steakhouse

In by Deanne, Foodies on the Town on December 26 at 11:20 pm

So my family decided to be extra-fancy this year and hold our Christmas dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse, located N. Wolfe Rd in Cupertino. And, boy, do they deliver here. It is a $$$$ American/Japanese steakhouse that serves the most luxurious cuts of steak any foodie can imagine: dry-aged porterhouse, rib-eye, and, yes, the one and only Japanese-imported Kobe beef steak. Sold at over $120 per plate at Alexander’s, genuine Kobe beef is from Wagyu cattle, cows that are reportedly fed beer, massaged with sake, and entertained with classical music. The result is a very fatty, well-marbled, tender cut of steak that is absolutely BEAUTIFUL.

Check out that intense fattiness! (image from House of Annie)

Did I order Kobe beef at Alexander’s? Unfortunately no, since the parentals weren’t too keen on busting their wallet on Baby Jesus’s B-day. We still had a fantastic meal, since Alexander’s is solidly luxurious all around. Case in point:

Amuse Bouche: Fancy Crab Bites, compliments of the chef

At Alexander’s, there is always a small bite or shot of a starter, compliments of the chef. This time, the chef served a bit of a crab-salad, with sprouts and a caviar on top. Fancy!

Drinks:

An Old-Fashioned and Mint Julep

My sister and I were inspired by Mad Men, and went for an Old-Fashioned and a Mint Julep.

Intermezzo:

An intense Mango Sorbet with Raspberry

As with all fancy restaurants, Alexander’s also serves a sorbet before they present your main dishes. The mango sorbet was very intense and sour, so it certainly cleansed my taste buds!

Main Dishes:

The Mélange à trois: steak tartare, shortrib canneloni, and filet steak

I ordered the Mélange à trois, because it was decently priced ($41) and had three styles of beef to offer. The best was the filet steak topped with a mushroom ragout. It was perfectly cooked (medium rare), very tender and juicy. The variety of sauteed mushrooms (shiitake, etc) in a creamy sauce added a woody sweetness to the steak. Delicious! However, the two other dishes on my plate were slightly disappointing. The shortrib cannelloni (that’s braised beef rolled in pasta sheets) seemed uninspired, and the steak tartare (that’s raw fresh beef, people) had Japanese influences like soy sauce that just ended up tasting strange and too salty. But overall, the dish was beautifully presented, as you can see above.

Filet Mignon with a tarragon-mustard beurre blanc demi-glace. A whadda wha?

My sister’s filet mignon ($38) was delicious. Again, perfectly cooked at medium rare, very thick and juicy, high quality cut of beef. The sauce is a blend of mustard and a rich butter sauce (white wine, vinegar, butter, and shallots) which was very complex and very creamy. The creaminess got a little overpowering for me, but I still highly recommend this dish.

Mac 'n Cheese with White Truffle Oil, biatches!

This was by far my favorite dish of the evening. Call me a simpleton, but I am just a fool for comfort food with truffle oil drizzled all over it. I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever tasted better mac ‘n cheese in my life. On the first bite, I melted into a puddle of goo at the taste of rich and creamy cheese sauce with strong tones of white truffle wafting through. And then I just couldn’t stop eating it. My sister had to back me away from this flavorful side dish before I inhaled it all. I guess it was my personal Ratatouille moment! Verdict in all caps: YOU MUST ORDER THIS. THIS DISH ALONE MAKES THE TRIP TO ALEXANDER’S WORTHWHILE.

Dessert:

The O2 dessert. Melty goodness!

At the end of the meal, my family settled on the O2 dessert, or Oxygen. The presentation of this sweet treat was surprising and fun. The O2 is a unique concept: the bottom half of the sphere is chocolate cake, the top half is a hollow dark chocolate shell, and the center is a ball of chocolate pudding. The waiter then pours hot raspberry sauce all over the sphere, melting away the chocolate shell to reveal the pudding in the middle. Ingenious! There is also vanilla ice cream with malts on the side. The raspberry sauce was a little too sweet, but I was willing to overlook anything by that point because of the coolness of the experience!

Cotton Candy! Yay!

Just when you think dinner at Alexander’s couldn’t get any better, the waiters come and set up a huge swab of cotton candy as a complimentary after-dinner treat! Who knew such a serious and fancy restaurant had a sense of fun? :)

So, if you ever have a special event you want to celebrate at $$$$ Alexander’s Steakhouse, I highly recommend it! Bring your meat-lover friends and family for a night of all-out, luxurious carnage! This meat-lover was very happy and satisfied.

–Deanne

Good Eats in Boston: Cannoli, Cupcakes and More

In by Amy, Dessert First, The Traveling Foodie on October 14 at 11:28 pm

I recently took a trip to the Boston/Cambridge area, and in addition to witnessing some beautiful scenes of New England foliage, I also made the rounds around the food circuit.

1. L.A. Burdick Chocolate Cafe

Most of my time was spent in eating in the Cambridge area, especially around Harvard Square. If you’re feeling like a hot drink and you’re near Harvard Square, head on over to L.A. Burdick on Brattle Street. It’s a small, narrow shop, with a glass display of delectable chocolates at the front. In the back, you can order an array of drinks. Anna took me here on a particularly blustery day.

Delicious rasberry tart from L.A. Burdick, served with a side of whipped cream.

Delicious raspberry tart from L.A. Burdick, served with a side of whipped cream.

I ordered a dark hot chocolate, and Anna got a chai. The flavor was wonderful–not too sweet. Even the chai wasn’t that bitter, even though Anna steeped it for a while. L.A. Burdick also scores extra points for cute atmosphere and tasty tarts, though its tables are a bit small for proper coffee shop studying/working. A great place for a snack or afternoon coffee/tea.

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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 neilpeterson.com

The front of Chez Panisse. Courtesy of neilpeterson.com

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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