DOUKKALA – the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Morocco is a land of mystery. It has been the setting of a multitude of films, perhaps the most famous of which is the unforgettably iconic Casablanca. Casablanca was story of adventure,

Lovely Ahi Tartare & Quail Egg

Ahi Tartare & Quail Egg

lost love and heroism, set against the perfect backdrop, a mysterious and intriguing city on the North African coast, Casablanca, Morocco. The city remains a curiosity in the American imagination, as evidenced by the many film makers and song writers that have made it the subject of their artistry. It’s no wonder. Colonized by the French at the turn of the 20th century, the two cultures mingled and cuisines blended to produce a unique result, a compelling marriage of African and French flavors and techniques. The first time I experienced Moroccan food was back in the seventies, in a restaurant whose name I have long forgotten. I remember only that we sat on pillows and ate with our hands, quite literally, immersed in a bit of Moroccan culture. My first little trip on the “Marrakech Express.”

I haven’t really been afforded an opportunity to fully experience the flavors since then, but as our global community grows ever smaller, the cuisines of other lands seem to be more and more readily available to the consumer. Such opportunities are a gift, and we should take advantage of such gifts when they present themselves. So when I was recently invited to sample the menu at the newly renovated and rebranded Doukkala located in Oakland’s Temescal District, I decided to take my own advice and check it out.

Oysters in the Shell

Oysters in the Shell

THE BEGINNING

The restaurant has chosen the terms “California Moroccan” to describe the cuisine provided within. With all the variations on descriptive terminology used to entice us, one can have some difficulty translating the terms into our expectations of the food offerings within. Doukkala is aptly named. It is a blending of the style of California and the flavors of Morocco.

Chef Eric Lanvert presented us a masterful Tasting Menu. The opening salvo was a delightful chilled Gazpacho, ripe with the blush of summer tomatoes and Mediterranean spices. Richly seasoned, the soup carried the mysteries of the locale along the tastebuds, a thrilling little adventure in flavors that was just the right temperature to awaken the palate.

The next course, a special “off-menu” preparation from Chef Lanvert, was a beautiful little mountain of Albacore Tartare. The delicate combination of the buttery fish on the tongue as it blended with the subtle kick of spice, made the dish irresistible to this seafood fanatic. No sooner had we devoured our Tartare than we were presented with a glorious Pacific Dayboat Scallop, nestled beautifully in a pillowy bed of jerusalem artichoke velouté. The velouté itself was a lovely consistency, akin to that of perfectly creamy grits, and a stellar companion to each delicate bite of the perfectly seared morsel of seafood atop it. Sublime.

THE MAINS

The next dish, a Grilled Spanish Mackerel was a bit heartier than those that had preceded it. Mackerel is an oily fish, its flesh is rich and tangy, rather like an overgrown sardine. It is the sort of fish that really holds up to the hearty tomato and olive-based preparations Chef had chosen to accompany this dish. The fish was crisped beautifully, and the blissful Morroccan

Day Boat Scallop on Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute

Day Boat Scallop on Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute

tapenade alongside it was tempered perfectly by the delicate sauce of mint and green peas drizzled along the plate, allowing a hint of the sauce with every bite. By the addition of the olives, the dish was pushed right up to edges of salty, but the oils and hint of mint pulled it right back to an execution of excellence that all but transported the diner to the streets of Marrakesh. With each bite I could imagine myself shoulder to shoulder with other travelers, making my way along a crowded street in the heart of the bustling city, the smells of the street food wafting along in the air, as eager vendors shouted the superiority of their wares in a foreign tongue.

The Mendocino Quail Pastilla was the final offering of the savory courses, and it was an imaginative bridge to the sweet side of the meal, arriving at the table in the form of a puff pastry of filo dough filled to the brim with savory, succulent quail meat. The top of the pastry was sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar, lending a hint of sweet to an otherwise savory filling. The filo dough wrapped each tender bite of dark, spicy quail, with a toothsome crunch, the filling of anjou pears, honey and spices, keeping the bird meat itself from any hint of gaminess. The dish bridged the road to sweet from savory from a uniquely new and appealing perspective. It was decadent, rich and incredibly satisfying.

THE DESSERTS

The final course was a lovely tasting trio of dessert offerings: a succulent Panna Cotta, a delicate Spiced Chocolate Cake topped with crème fraîche and the classic Middle Eastern dessert, the Baklava. The Panna Cotta was creamy and light; the chocolate cake rich and moist and the Baklava was laden with honey, but not overly sweet, which I found refreshing. All three were delightful. The perfect end to a really splendid meal.

Dessert Trio

Dessert Trio

THE WRAPUP

When I arrived at Doukkala, I was expecting a family-style meal of plentiful bowls, containing casually ladled out couscous and kefta. I was both surprised and impressed to taste the bounty of dishes that were actually presented to us there, each having both a delightfully artistic classic French appearance in the plating, while containing a variety of vibrant flavors and textures expertly representing the best of Moroccan cuisine. If you are a fan of adventure, or even if you are not, I believe a visit to Doukkala is in order. I found it sublime. As always, check it out, break some bread, and make a memory of your own.

DOUKKALA
4905 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 653-8691
info@doukkalarestaurant.com

TRIBUNE TAVERN – Who says you can’t go home again?

Guilty Fries anyone?

Guilty Fries anyone?

All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. THOMAS WOLFE

I have a thing for the Tribune Tower. Its history fascinates me. The “Trib” as I’ve always called it, where my grandfather once hung out with his buddy, Joe Knowland. Knowland, who purchased the paper in 1915 was a character right out of a black and white movie. I used to imagine the two of them sitting together in a walnut paneled his office, pouring scotch from a delicate crystal decanter and surveying the City from a perch far above. There they remain, in my mind’s eye, discussing politics or the day’s current headline, making decisions that would change history. It is always a scene cut straight from Citizen Kane. The Tribune Tower is a repository of much of Oakland’s history, and by a twist of fate, my own as well.

It was while working there as a legal secretary that I first met my husband. He interviewed me when I answered an ad in the Inter-City Express. I got the job. We worked there together for almost ten years, until the building was felled by the Quake of ‘89. While it didn’t quite come down, but it was uninhabitable for some time afterwards. I was devastated to leave it behind.
So naturally, I was thrilled to see it rise like a phoenix, after being restored. When the Tribune Tavern opened at the site of the former Oakland Tribune offices, I was elated. Ownership has reinvented the space into something new and modern, while managing to faithfully retain the spirit of its origins.

I’ve recently moved my own office back to the heart of Oakland’s 14th Street, only a block from our spot in the Trib. So recently, I grabbed my camera and headed out on a mission, accompanied by most of my family for a festive occasion, my mother’s “18th” birthday. My heart-to-food conversation with the Tribune Tavern felt long overdue.

THE FOOD

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

We all arrived on time, which for my family is a feat in itself. The evening started with cocktails, of course. I had my favorite of their talented mixologist’s concoctions, the Stolen Afternoon. A lovely blend of Hibiscus tequila and Earl Gray, with a hint of lemon. Cool and refreshing, its flavors hide quite a punch My kind of drink.

Absolutely starving, we ordered almost every appetizer on the menu. The staff was on it, and we were shortly presented with a lovely assortment of appetizers. The house made chips were light as air, and crisp which is not often the case with a house chip. They don’t add all the “stuff” that keeps chips crispy, which is good, but it often results in a slightly soggy chip. No so these. Whatever the chef is doing, it is being done to perfection. (The bacon in the dip wasn’t bad either.)
We shared a cheese plate, which though a bit on the small side as cheese plates go, was a lovely blend of flavors. The charcuterie plate, on the other hand, was abundant and really tasty. A nice selection of sliced cured meats, and a country paté. Delectable. My party devoured it all.

Moving on to the mains, several of us had the Ahi Tuna, which arrived on a bed of pureed greens. The fish was cooked beautifully, with a nice sear and a buttery pink interior. My eldest had the Burger, and it came with a fried egg on top. Did you hear the part about the fried egg? I’m as crazy for fried eggs as I am for the Tribune Tower. Yum.

Hubs had the Fish & Chips, which appeared as tender pillows of fish filet as puffy and light as a wispy spring cloud, on a bed of piping hot fries, both cooked to a golden perfection. The potato slices were likewise . My youngest had the Veggie Risotto, a dish I had opted to skip in favor of something with a bit more animal protein. Big mistake. I think it was the most flavorful dish of the evening. The tender bits of rice were rich and masterfully seasoned, each bite so good I wanted to eat her entire bowl. I think she sensed my predatory air, because she snatched it back before I could. Spectacularly successful dish.

Veggie Risotto bliss

Veggie Risotto bliss

TIME FOR DESSERT

We completed our feast by ordering three of the four desserts (with share plates and loads of spoons and forks, cause I’m nothing if not a sharer). The first of our desserts was a simple confection featuring the first Strawberries of the season atop a creamy house made ice cream. We also ordered the Bread Pudding & Caramel which presented as a creamy and toothsome pudding served with mango ice cream. The last dessert was essentially a piping fresh Turnover, chock full of blueberries and accompanied by a lovely serving of house made dulce de leche ice cream. All were delicious, but the pie, hot from the oven, with the cream melting into every nook and cranny was my favorite. Anything consisting of a flaky, buttery crust, berries and cream is pretty much heaven in my book.

The Tribune Tavern is a splendid jewel in the Oakland dining crown. The chef used simple, fresh ingredients, to produce complicated bursts of flavor, each dish was well executed; our service was attentive while remaining inobtrusive as we carried on with our festivities. In short, mom had a swell birthday party, and we left very happy indeed.

Places like the Tribune Tavern remind me that I no longer have to cross that beautiful sparkly bridge into Oz to experience a special evening out. If you’re looking to celebrate something in Oakland, then check it out. Break some bread, make a memory of your own.

Tribune Tavern
401 13th St, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 452-8742

http://tribunetavern.com/

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream

The FORGE (Pizza) – Childhood Comforts with an Artisan Twist

Margherita Pizza, bundles of burrata atop a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce!

Margherita Pizza, bundles of burrata atop a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce!

I grew up in a pizza parlor. Literally. My father’s best friend, with whom we spent at least one night of every weekend he had my sister and I, owned Granata’s Pizzeria in Berkeley. Dad would take us into the restaurant for dinner at least twice a week. I was so at home in the restaurant, I spent most of my time in the kitchen, where I would hang out and watch Carlo and Mike punch mounds of dough, billowy clouds of flour forming in the air around their hands, as they caressed the snowy dunes into submission. When it was flexible enough, they would begin to spin the dough. My Uncle Frank would sit me up on the counter, so I could get a better look at the guys as they proceeded to turn those powdery orbs of fresh made dough into beautiful, whirling spaceships, no wires attached. Transfixed by their skills, I watched as they stretched the mounds into spheres, first rolling and then kneading the dough over their clenched fists, picking up speed as they went. Soon the discs would be spinning in the air, suspended above their heads, flying up so high they would almost touch the ceiling. After ten or so minutes, they would judge them done, and lay them out for toppings. Handing me container after container, I was allowed to build my own pie. Only the toppings I wanted. I felt like a princess. It was magical.

To this day, I’m fascinated by the process of making a pie. Always excited when a new pizza joint opens up, the first thing I like to check out is their oven. After all, a great pie is all about the oven. It’s there that they transform the soft lifeless dough into that which drives us back for more — the crust. Whether it’s brick, tile, or steel, the heat has to be just right to transform the raw dough into that chewy, crunchy goodness that makes the dish. Whatever your favorite form, thick or thin, good crust is essential to good pizza. The art of crafting the perfect pizza is a ritual that takes skill and patience, one that is handed down through generations. It’s at least a thousand years old, and though no one knows exactly where the dish originated, it is, in my mind, uniquely and forever, Italian.

If a restaurant is to produce great pizza, they have to love making it. They have to care about things like temperature and tradition, or they’ll be handing you a confused and soggy mess. That’s what I love about a great slice. Knowing its origins, what it takes to get all the components to come together. So when a steaming hot platter of melted cheese, herbacious sauces and fresh baked crust arrives in front of me, I show it the respect it deserves and eat it while it’s hot.

Delectably, hot, chewy-crispy pillows of fried cheese curd - delicious!!

Delectably, hot, chewy-crispy pillows of fried cheese curd – delicious!!

On a recent visit to The Forge a new(ish) pizzeria on the waterfront of Oakland’s Jack London Square, I was delighted to discover that they get it. Chef Jeffrey Amber is definitely a kindred spirit, someone to whom pizza matters. Owners Michael Karp and Bob Burke went so far as to hire Jeff Krupman (the Pizza Hacker) and Jeff Hayden (Boot & Shoe Service, another Oakland purveyor of mind-blowingly well-executed pizzas) to craft the perfect American version of this legendary food. They clearly wanted to honor the historical traditions of the pizzeria, while reinventing the toppings to bring it a fresh artisan feel, and they’ve succeeded.

We sampled a few other dishes first, the delectably fascinating Fried Cheese Curds were something I’ve heard much about, but had never yet tried. O.M.G. Right up there with fried Hostess Twinkies. One of those dishes everyone has to try at least once. The outside is hot and crisp, and the interior is creamy, melty, goodness. The Soup of the Day was a mild, delightfully creamy concoction of asparagus and seasonings, drizzled with olive oil and bearing a spot-on consistency. Hubs is a soup fanatic, and he enjoyed it tremendously.

Next up was a lovely bowl of mussels, laden with well-seasoned broth and a heaping pile of perfect french fried pototoes.  All of us enjoyed dipping the hot sticks of crispy potato into the steamy broth.  The creamy aioli drizzled across the mussels made its way slowly to the bottom of the bowl, further enhancing the flavors of the dish.

Glorious Mussels and French Fries!

Glorious Mussels and French Fries!

The pizza itself, when it arrived, was simplicity and perfection on a platter. The dough at The Forge is done from a Tartine country loaf recipe, and the result is a fluffy chew with a crispy edged perfection. We had a Margherita style pie, which has only tomato sauce, basil, and cheese, which in this case was a house made burrata.  These are the perfect ingredients for lovers of crust. The more you add to a pizza, the less you really get a sense of the baked dough itself. We dived into our pie, managing to disappear it faster than David Copperfield vanishes at the end of his Vegas act. I’m assuming that meant my dining companions enjoyed it as much as I did.

Needless to say, everyone has a different favorite style of pizza. Which is the “best” pizza is an argument as old as the dish itself, and has been the source of heated feuds that would make the Hatfields and the McCoys seem like a happy family with minor differences of opinion. I’m not going to get into that here. Thin crust, thick crust, Chicago style, with or without egg, you like what you like. There are just too many variants. For me, good pizza is one that has been crafted with the attention to detail that began somewhere in the villages of Italy a little over a thousand years ago, when some peasant added toppings to the evening’s foccacia bread. How that translates, ultimately, into the final result is up to each participant in the line: from tossing the dough, to ladling it with whatever imaginative toppings inspires the chef, until it is handed off to be artfully paddle tossed into the heat of the chosen oven. Whether the diner finds it enjoyable will depend on what sort of pizza makes that personal connection. But pizza done well, is good pizza, and at The Forge, it is done very well indeed.

So if you want a great time out with family, and are craving the simplicity of a good slice of “pie” by all means stop by The Forge and check it out. Drinks are delicious, and there are a few other fascinating goodies on the menu to round out a meal. Make a memory of your own. Mangia!

The Forge
66 Franklin St., Ste 100
b/t Jack London Sq & W Embarcadero in Jack London Square
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 268-3200

http://www.theforgepizza.com/oakland/