I lived in the east bay for about nine years. Oakland was my first ‘hood,’ chock full of interesting places to eat and drink with local accents and some great world cuisine. After living back in San Francisco for over a year now, there are some things that I miss about the east bay. The accessibility, the ease of driving around on city streets without feeling like you were going to hear some crunch of a single geared hipsters bike under your front wheels…well maybe that’s not really a bad feeling. The dive bars were fun and were close to your door step. We also lived in a wonderful loft in the industrial section of Berkeley or as we fondly referred to it as “Bizerkely.” Fun, fascist and weirdly left winged and not always in a good way but affordable and some great places to eat and drink were very close to home. Here is a list of some of my favorite places to frequent when I’m in the twin cities of Oakland and Berkeley.

Sea Salt Berkeley

This gem we could actually bike or walk to. On San Pablo between University and Dwight, it features sustainable seafood, very fresh farm to table ingredients and interesting flavors. Focusing mainly on seafood in the past, they have come to grips that in order to keep and lure new customers, fowl and beef had to be available as well as the sustainable fish. They have a wine list that is approachable and signature cocktails. We found that the service was very friendly and non-intrusive. Also take advantage of their outside patio seating

Luka’s TapRoom Oakland

This was a regular eating destination for us when we lived in Oakland as well as Berkeley. Another local sustainable menu that also featured a well thought out beer list which for some reason when I first lived in the area was non-existent. Sierra Nevada and the other usual suspects dominated bar and restaurant menus. It has a great open air feel with high loft like ceilings, plenty of places to eat and the bar is food accessible as well with funky bartenders who know how to make great signature cocktails. The food recently has been hit or miss and I would stick to bar friendly foods like their wonderful burgers. Also, do not plan on eating after 10 p.m. because the place turns into a night club. Hat wearers beware. Dress code enforced.

Drunken Fish Oakland

A must for anyone who likes creative sushi that is super fresh. Located on Auto Row in Oakland aka Broadway Avenue, it is a little store front that can easily be missed by all the glare of car lot lights but once inside, you will experience an authentic sushi bar, replete with personalized sushi glasses for regular customers. Huge sake bottles line the walls and you get that huge “hello!” when you enter the restaurant. They have a very nice semi-covered patio out back that can seat large parties. Some our favorite rolls are the “Shrek” and “Fionna.” Not much as far as beer goes but the typical Japanese beers but complimentary miso soup and salad makes up for it.

Pizzaiolo Restaurant Oakland

This by far is our favorite east bay eatery. Charlie Hallowell, a Chez Panisse veteran opened the place a few years ago in the Temescal District of Oakland and it’s been a raging hit ever since. Reservations are highly recommended and we got caught a couple of times not having one only to end up leaving with empty stomaches! Pizza is their specialty but it’s no Domino’s. It is authentic, it’s farm to table fresh and they have appetizers and entrees as well. Large sections of the menu change daily and their staff is polished, funky and fun. I suggest you try one of their signature cocktails. They have a sister restaurant on Grand Ave called Boot and Shoe Service. Nope, I’m not kidding. Also an outside patio with Bocce ball!

Bar Cesar Berkeley

Tapas are probably the first “other than American” dishes that I got hooked on in the bay area. I love Spanish style cooking and the ingredients that go into the food makes dishes very unique and hard to pin point which I enjoy. I love heat in food that is balanced with acid and this is the type of food I crave when going out for a little dinner and wine. The only drawback is that you end up ordering ten to twelve small plates and the bill can be a definite eye opener. That’s my fault. It’s a great marketing gimmick I hope to have when I open up my own restaurant. (fingers crossed)
I really enjoy their wine by the glass program and their bottle selection has many affordable choices if you want to enjoy wine and not empty your checking account. Last time we were there, Rose wines were highlighted. How can you go wrong with nice summer day and great glass of rose? They also have a location in Piedmont but we really like the Berkeley location more.

Camino Oakland

Another Chez Panisse veteran Russel Moore opened up this great place on Grand Avenue which used to be from what I was told a old furniture store or factory. Exposed brick, open kitchen with cooks in hipster checkered western shirts and fire cooking a plenty. Everything is cooked with wood. The food is amazing. The menu changes daily and is small. About eight to ten items but again and it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse, but the ingredients are super local and all meats sustainable. I don’t care if I sound like a broken record. I care about what I eat and what also goes into the product that I’m eating. They have great home-made sausages and signature cocktails. There was one drink that had absinthe and lime juice. Yum!

T-Rex BBQ Berkeley

If you love fresh BBQ that also includes great products that make the BBQ, T-Rex in Berkeley is your destination. The place is huge, with two levels and a sprawling bar. The menu is set and does not change much. There a plenty of home cooked appetizers like the deviled eggs(get two orders or your significant will eat them all), small fresh salads with great vinaigrettes and very approachable BBQ. Two sauces are available. Hot or mild. Both tangy and delicious. They have a very decent beer list with Belgians and one my favorite “gulping” brews, Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard. Pair that with a glass of absinthe and good night Irene! Service is adequate if not absent-minded. Once the place fills, you may have to motion to find your server but it never kept us from going back.

Oakland Grill

Located smack dab in the middle of the produce warehouse section of Oakland, this long time haunt has been a hangover haven for our much-needed breakfasts and lunches. What appears to be a restored produce warehouse itself, the interior has forty-foot ceilings, garage doors that open when warm outside and some of the most interesting wait staff we’ve experienced in years. We’ve experienced anything from sweet Latina servers who loved regulars like us to OCD insane post-crack head servers who would melt down if you even attempted to move the Tabasco out of its “designated” section on the table. Never a dull moment. The food is what you expect. Burgers and fries, eggs, bacon, yada yada yada. You are in and out in a half hour and the damage to your pocket book is minimal. One word of advice. Stick with the main menu and not the specials unless it’s the cobb salad which is to die for.

Jupiter Berkeley

I don’t care about college students. They don’t faze me. They don’t bother me. I don’t care if I’m up to my eyeballs with them as long as I can still get a double IPA called the “Quasar” at Jupiter. Trust me, there are a lot of college kids that go there. They are just fine. Well mannered and they just sit there lazily drinking beer and munching on pizza which is what Jupiter does well. I highly suggest the mushroom pizza called the “Odysseus” and the shrimp called the “Circe.” Both are outstanding. The beers are solid as well. One word of advice if you snag an outside space. Take your time. If you order apps and any entree, make sure you tell your server to pace out your meal or it will plop all in your lap at once. We had to learn that lesson about the third time this happened. The outside is beautiful with teenage redwoods and plenty of seating space. Sunday is live Bluegrass First come, first serve.

I lived in Cincinnati for twenty eight years before I ventured off of the “Big Muddy” and headed westward. There were things I really missed that were distinctly Cincinnati that you could only get in the tri-state area and were just not available here in San Francisco until recently like frozen boxes of Skyline Chili. You had to live there to really enjoy the products that are offered in The Queen City or as they call it now The Blue Chip City. I never understood why they dropped the old moniker. I really like how The Queen City rolled off my tongue.

What I’m going to attempt to convey to the non-‘Natians and newbs to the cuisine that has helped us get over hangovers as well as contributing to our mid-section growth, is that this stuff is really good. It’s unique and tasty, greasy and spicy sometimes but always satisfying, making you yearn for them if you are not within a stones throw of an outlet that served these delectable morsels of deliciousness.

Chili. It’s just a word to some. To others is a religious experience. Everyone says they have the perfect recipe for chili. Some like it chunky and spicy. A lot of folks love it the way we serve it in Cincinnati. Over spaghetti with beans, onions and of course, Tabasco. The origin of Cincinnati chili is very interesting. Basically Germans sold tons of hot dogs, sausages and bratwursts during the turn of the century. Signs littered the German neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine section of Cincinnati which was named after the Ohio river which reminded them of their home. There were also Macedonian immigrants that sold hot dogs such as the Germans but added chili to their dogs creating the chili cheese dog or as we refer to it as a Coney Island.

Chili jargon also includes the 3 way which is chili, pasta and cheese. The 4 way is with onions and the 5 way is served with everything including beans. My mouth is actually watering just talking about it. Add oyster crackers and you are embarking on a journey through age-old spices and a belly full of goodness. The main ingredients in Cincinnati chili is chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and a strange ingredient that most people don’t know that goes into the chili which is cocoa powder. Yep, we put chocolate in our chili! It has been served in Cincinnati since 1922.

This is the three-way chili spaghetti

Cheese Coney

People always have opinions about potato chips. I’ve actually gotten into arguments with people over what the best potato chip is. I think it has a lot to do with demographics. Some people like Lays, Mike Sells, other “corporate” chips that flood the supermarkets but in Cincinnati, we have two potato chips and then there are those Pringle type chips but most people don’t consider them real potato chips. Husman’s is considered the king of Cincinnati potato chips with Grippo’s closely following in its shadow. I could get punched in the face saying this to some die-hard Grippo fans, but I’m here and they are there and I’m going to say that Husman’s is a far superior to Grippo’s and I think it has to do with greasiness. Human’s are just more greasy which I equate to tasty when it comes to chips. Grippo’s always tore the roof of my mouth to shreds so I didn’t like them. I do love their BBQ style though. Very delicious. If you are every in Cincinnati, I suggest you try the potato chip challenge and decide for yourself.

This is how Husman's used to be sold. I love it!

Classic Grippo BBQ potato chips

Cincinnati beer used to be big business. By 1860, there were over 36 breweries in Cincinnati. This growth trend was basically squashed with the introduction of prohibition and only two breweries existed when I was a kid. Hudepohl and Burger. Both were the epicenters for some of the lousiest beer I ever consumed but gems like Little Kings and Christian Moerlein stood out as local favorites for their punch and flavor. Places like Boston Beer Company have now basically set shop up in Cincinnati gobbling up the competition.

The original Christian Moerlein label

There is only one word that comes to mind when I’m about to order eggs for Breakfast. Goetta. A delicious German pork dish that you fry like breakfast sausages. Made with pin oats and spices, it can be found in all major super markets and diners throughout the Cincinnati area. Originally a peasant dish meant to stretch meat product, today over one million pounds of Goetta is produced annually. The Pennsylvanian Dutch cousin to Goetta is called Scrapple. The ingredients are basically the same except Scrapple is made with corn meal rather than oats which Goetta is made. I love them both and find them both very enjoyable.

A perfectly cook Goetta patty

My wife's favorite Pennsylvania Dutch treat. Scrapple

There is only one ice cream that will ever win people’s favorite in Cincinnati and it’s Graeters Ice Cream. Founded in 1870, you will never find a more creamy and delicious ice cream. I highly recommend the black-raspberry chocolate chip. Stunningly good.

Simply wonderful and decadent

Hello world!

June 27, 2010

This is a test drive of my new blog.  Wish me luck!