It’s difficult for some to imagine, but the city of Oakland is known for more than just its crime rate. Little of the media attention is paid to the emerging food scene in this city, particularly in the area on the Berkeley/Oakland border known as the Temascal district. This up and coming area’s culinary menu covered a little of everything: cafes and coffee shops, bakeries, even indian food! It was a lot to take in and as I did with my previous tour experiences, I picked my top five so I’ll go ahead and write about those experiences below.
The first of my favorite foods was a pastry unlike any I’ve ever had before called a Kouign Aman. A cross between a flaky croissant and maybe a tart minus the fruit, this pastry is a staple of the Starter Bakery. Each Sunday they sell several of these baked goodies and it was easy to see how. It was buttery, salty due to the use of the bakery’s salted butter and it all came together harmoniously in my mouth; like a croissant I’ve had before but far different and far superior.With the flaky, golden layers of dough and butter coming together to form a salty-sweet combination, it was easily the perfect start to the day’s adventure.
The following two on my favorites of the day were actually served at the same restaurant, Juhu Beach Club, something I never even saw coming. The restaurant is run by a former Top Chef contestant and is a fusion of her Indian heritage as well as adapting Indian street food recipes to suit a brick and mortar restaurant. Not only was the food sampled delicious, but the restaurant and its owner where easily among the greatest and most positive energies I had felt all day. Brightly colored walls and antique bicycles toward the ceiling made me fall in love with the restaurant almost immediately and once I tried the food samples I knew I was hooked.
The first of the two was the Vada Pav sandwich. It was no larger than a burger slider and resembled one almost to a tee; it’s patty made of a potato and chutney mixture. Once I bit into this sandwich I realized immediately that this small sandwich packed a punch of both flavor and spice. Had it not been for the cilantro lemonade (also provided and discussed later) and the small amount of pickled red onions also contained within it, I would be a goner. I do not do well with ultra spicy food generally, but aside from the heat, the flavors present in this small dish were some of the best I had ever eaten. The starch of the potato mixed with the crunch of the onion balanced into something worth remembering.
The third of my top five favorites of the Oakland tour was the cilantro lemonade also found at Juhu Beach Club. This was no ordinary lemonade and tasted almost like a slightly sweetened salt water when drunk by itself. Don’t let its green color fool you, the drink was very delicious, but was a complex taste to categorize as it was such a salty mixture of herbs and lemonade. This was again taking something familiar and twisting it, as the Kouign Aman had done earlier.
About halfway through my Vida Pav I had the brilliant idea of trying to use the lemonade to cut down on the heat of the sandwich. This not only did the trick in preventing myself from having a coughing fit but the vida pav’s spiciness was enough to cut the saltiness of the lemonade down so that I could finally focus on the cilantro taste. I ended up loving the drink even more as it was paired with the sandwich and it seemed like the most authentic Indian food I had eaten in a very long time.
The fourth item was definitely the item that I was so excited to get to eat for the first time, the chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty.
As someone who visits the Temascal area often, I had heard the folklore and talk about this particular spot; Betty is sort of a legend around there. The restaurant was as simple as a restaurant can be, not even setting up tables for their guests but instead old ironing boards just outside of their door.
So what did this famous sandwich taste like?
The breaded texture of the chicken was among the lightest I had ever eaten, the included slaw providing the refreshing texture needed for something this heavy. True, there was a lot of slaw that was included in the small box, but it became sort of a salad after my sandwich had been eaten which also made me feel as though it was worth all of the waiting (there was a line almost down the block when we arrived).
And we even got to meet her which almost never happens. Needless to say, I was more than thrilled to get to finally get my hands on one of these babies and you can be sure that I’ll be headed back there very soon.
And the last stop you may wonder? Well, my last stop in my top five had to be the stop that served a version of my favorite dish in the entire world:
Macaroni and cheese at the Cheese Shop.
My love of this dish has been constant for as long as I can remember and this day in Oakland I was more than happy to try a new variation of it. And this version was interesting, not only because it was lightly glazed with a honey/Siracha sauce over the top, but also because it was seared macaroni and cheese. The chefs had explained that this searing (done in a panini press) is the more effective way of getting each piece just as the corner piece of a home made macaroni and cheese would have in the pan. Along with this, it was also paired with a small cup of tomato soup, providing yet another spicy component to my list that day considering it had a stronger kick than any tomato soup before. Overall it was delicious and I only with that I had more of it!
Overall my Oakland tour was pretty incredible. Not only were the people and owners of each shop more than happy to engage with anyone who walks in. I don’t think that this tour topped the crazy and experimental tour that was Japantown. Even so, all three tours were different and I didn’t think I would really have to choose between all of them to pick a favorite. It was a nice way to end the weeks and celebrate the crazy and very interesting food world we are now a part of.