NIDO Kitchen & Bar: Nestling in at Abuela’s Table

Ceviche

Aguachile Verde de Pescado

When I set out to dine at a new restaurant, particularly one in Oakland, I’m always looking for that restaurant’s point of view. What is the experience intended for the diner? What’s my takeaway other than a satisfied appetite? In the case of Nido, it’s the easy comfort of dining in your grandmother’s kitchen.

Nido’s interior is what I can only describe as “inviting industrial.” The ceiling and walls are color-blocked with various shades of gray and bear the texture of rough-hewn cement, the starkness of these surfaces thoughtfully broken up with brightly-colored frescoes celebrating the spirit of Mexican culture. Birdcage chandeliers dot the ceiling, casually offset with delicate strings of golden bulbs that break up the space above its guests like sstars in the evening sky. It is an eclectic and inviting interior, one that appears to have been arranged with the random abandon of a bird feathering her nest. Yet the sense of deliberate thought for detail comes through loud and clear. The space is successfully organic, and the vibe it creates enhances beautifully the experience of dining within its walls.

We’ve been to Nido several times now, each meal more rewarding than the last. On this most recent visit, we began with cocktails, the mixologist at Nido being a master craftsman. Nothing is quite as delightful as beginning the weekend with a salute to the accomplishments of the past week, and a perfectly mixed cocktail is a great way to salute anything. The Vuelve a la Vida, with its smoky mescal base, accented with blood orange and absinthe, was subtly complex and rewardingly delicious. My companions had the Isla de Sangre and Tres Rojas. A sip of the Isla de Sangre revealed it to be herbacious, not too sweet, allowing the flavor of the aged rum to be highlighted on the palate. The Tres Rojas by contrast, was deliberately on the sweet side, the pomegranate and hibiscus taking center stage with every sip. Depending on your preference, all three drinks served up a great balance of flavors.

Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo

Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo

We began our meal with a selection of the appetizers. One has to try the guacamole and chips in any Mexican restaurant, and Nido’s take on the classic was spot on. The Aguachile Verde de Pescado arrived right behind the guac & chips, and was as pretty as it was delicious. I’ve developed an obsession with all forms of ceviche, but the bright flavor-forward taste of the Mexican version, if done well, always resounds. Ceviche is a simple dish, but one that must be executed perfectly to succeed, as it fails if it isn’t balanced. At Nido, every bite of citrus-bathed fish was appropriately tender, it’s soft, briny texture countered beautifully with the addition of watermelon radish and shredded carrot to keep each mouthful appropriately toothsome. Finished with a nice kick of the roasted serrano chile at the back of the throat, the lasting impression is one that any seafood lover will enjoy.

These tasty appetite-whetting bites led us nicely into the Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo. If you’ve never experienced a good Pozole then it’s time you did. In my grandfather’s kitchen, the equivalent would have been a peasant minestrone, but in Abuela’s kitchen, it’s a Pozole. In Nido’s offering, each hearty, melt-in-your-mouth spoonful of chicken, steeped in flavorful golden brown broth, is laced with the same level of love in the preparation as the peasant minestrone my grandfather would serve me as a child. “Cooking with love” has become such an over-used term in culinary circles, and is such an obvious “go-to” phrase, but it resounds in a well-done bowl of soup nonetheless. Soup is the food that reminds us of mothers bearing gently warmed bowls of chicken-broth to a sickbed, or piping hot cups of tomato goodness to the kitchen table to greet us when we’re still rosy-cheeked from a day of outdoor chill. It simply is love in a bowl. If that ingredient is missing, it fails. Fortunately for the patrons of Nido, somebody in the kitchen loves you. A lot.

We followed the Pozole with a trio of soft-shelled taco selections: the Barbacoa de Res a mouth-watering little flavor bomb of slow-braised beef and peppers; the Puerco Adobado chock full of tender pork meat with the bright, refreshing balance added by citrus-y fruit salsa; and the Muslito de Pollo Asado a blend of glazed and grilled chicken, topped with a bit of the delectable fruit salsa mentioned above. Each one had that blissful marriage of meat and acid, that takes full advantage of the naturally rich characteristics of the meat protein, successfully offset by either the acid in the peppers or the tang of chopped fresh fruit.

The last dish was the Ollita de Pobre, another standout dish with peasant origins. Have you ever wondered why so many of our best current dishes came from the humble tables of our past? Because when you have simple ingredients, and often very few of them, the cook must be creative to make it palatable. When a cook in that environment stumbles upon a rewarding dish that can be recreated on a meager budget, that cook remembers the recipe. This dish clearly originated in the mind of a clever cook making magic in a pot with rice, beans and meat. A little pico de gallo and the right spices, and you’ve made yourself some magic. Here it’s served in a happy little blue pot. One knows when you pop that lid, you’re in for some good grub.

Puerco Adobado - Muslito de Pollo Asado - Barbacoa de Res

Puerco Adobado – Muslito de Pollo Asado – Barbacoa de Res

Somehow, over centuries the best dishes held, and these have been passed on in various cultures to bring us the flavor combinations we rave about in this age of accessibility. You no longer have to know someone with a Mexican Abuela to taste the dishes of a different culture’s family table. In this case, you can head to Nido and taste them for yourself. So grab a friend, break some bread and make a memory of your own. Mangia!

Nido Kitchen & Bar
444 Oak Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-6436
http://www.nidooakland.com

FUN TIMES @ FLEMING’S STEAKHOUSE, Palo Alto (Or, Dinner with Two Carin(a)’s & a Sean)

Quartet of Appis!



Who knew food blogging could be this much fun? A little over a year after the launch of my blog, I find myself realizing a place in an extended community— a family of foodies — and the welcome is heartwarming. Human connection is a powerful thing, and the many new friends with whom I have connected are a joy. Hanging with those who share my love of food and gatherings has been a bonus, an unexpected gift for which I find myself very grateful at this point in my life. The most recent of these food-bliss related experiences was a food blogger dinner hosted by Fleming’s Steakhouse at their Palo Alto location and organized by the talented Public Relations team of Social Media experts at San Francisco’s Ink Foundry, the lovelies Carin Galletta and Carina Ost.

The BH and had I arrived early, as we often do. We asked the host at the front of house if Carina Ost had arrived (Carina and I had bonded over Twitter and the recent Jewish Holydays.  It was she who had so thoughtfully extended me this invitation).  Because their names are similar when spoken, we were directed to Carin Galletta, who had arrived when we did.  Fortunately, Carin was indeed with our group, as Ms. Galletta is President and Founder of Ink Foundry.  She took charge, greeted us warmly, graciously provided us with drinks and generally took us under her wing. We were off to find Carina, and were introduced in short order to Ms. Ost and the various other bloggers who were there to share in the event.  Among the other guests were bloggers HeatherinSF, Merrijane, and Sluuggo all of whom had arrived ready to share a collectively enjoyable repast, united by our passion for food and the written word.



Crab Cakes Exraordinairre~



The manager, Sean Stangl, came over immediately to settle us in and wasted no time in pouring a lovely white wine. In addition to his management skills, Sean is an accomplished Sommelier who guided us through a bounty of deliciously varied wines over the course of the evening. The first bottle he brought us to try was a delightfully crisp Sauvignon blanc. I found it fruit forward and reminiscent of an Italian Frascati, a wine that was an early favorite of mine. Another delicious wine he shared with us was a Pinot Noir fron Sonoma, (MacMurray Ranch ‘08, named after Fred MacMurray, actor and former owner of the property). This wine was earthy and rich, and oddly enough, I swear it had notes of bacon. How can anything that tastes of bacon not be perfection? There is nothing like the flow of good wine(s) to stimulate conversation and this evening was no exception. The wines were all spectacular, and Sean was a master at the art of discussing fine differences in wine. Every glass was different, unique and really paired well with what was being served at the time.  Though I am not an expert, for those of you who appreciate wine in its many iterations and qualities, and who enjoy getting together to share such discussions and tastings, Sean would definitely be the guy you’d want at the party.

Even the bread served at Flemings was unique. It was similar to foccaccia, a nice light bread with enough substance to hold the spreads that accompanied it. One was a savory garlic butter concoction, the other a creamy champagne and feta affair. Both were eminently spreadable, gliding over the bread, the flavors of the spreads working together to compliment it nicely.

The next act of our evening raised the curtain on a quartet of appetizers that had been hand-selected and prepared for us by Chef Partner, Christopher Bennett. His selections included Fleming’s Seared Ahi Tuna — perfectly prepared slices of rare fatty tuna with a nicely blackened crust and a lovely spicy mustard sauce; Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes — the plump, juicy sweet crabmeat was flavored nicely with a sauce of lime butter & roasted red peppers; a Sweet Chile Calamari which I somehow didn’t manage to try, and Fleming’s Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp which were my favorite. The shrimp were hearty with an authentic southern BBQ shrimp marinade. If you’ve never tasted BBQ Shrimp in the South, then you won’t get it. So, my advice is to get right on that.


Heavenly Pork Chop!



For our main course we were given free reign, allowed to choose whatever protein we wanted — so we did! I can’t speak for all the others, but the BH had a Prime Bone-in Ribeye, rare. 




Sean told him this cut was especially good at Flemings, because they begin with a well-marbled cut of meat, and use an extremely high heat to essentially liquify that fat into the meat, reducing it to an au jus that reveals itself when the meat is cut into. The BH said his steak was beyond flavorful. So good, in fact, that he never wants any other cut of meat. Yeah, you heard him, Flemings!



At Sean’s suggestion I ordered the Double Thick Pork Rib Chop, which was a moist double cut slab of perfectly prepared pork. It was really stellar. Nicely layered over the chop were these super thin slices of julienned apples and jicama that had been cooked tender in apple cider. They were just short of caramelized and mingled with the creole mustard glaze on the pork chop nicely.



Mac n’ Cheeeezey~



With our mains we also received a bounty reminiscent of Thanksgiving abundance in Fleming’s side dishes to sample. All of the sides had been hand-selected by Chef Bennett as well. Chef came out of the kitchen several times during the meal to oversee our dining experience. Highlights of the sides we received were the Chipotle Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese — a creamy delight of cheeses puddled tenderly in and around a nice, chewy pasta. The blend of cheeses itself was well-balanced, the toasted jalapeno pepper within releasing a steady little jet-burst of heat in the eating of it. I love heat in a dish. Luckily for me, the next dish – Flemings Creamed Sweet Corn, also had a hint of heat to it. What I like even more is that happy place my mouth goes to when I get a sugary heat, like what I found in Fleming’s near pudding of a corn dish. Just delicious. – I didn’t try the green vegetables, but they all looked beautiful. We were offered a Creamed Spinach, Sauteed Mushrooms and some Grilled Asparagus. At the rate we were all grabbing for the dishes, I’d say they were all very well received.
The entire evening was a resounding success. Ink Foundry is a savvy company with great staff. It is not often that strangers who are brought together for business manage to come together so readily as we all did, but our two Carin/a’s made falling easily into conversation and companionship seem like child’s play. We all really enjoyed ourselves and were still happily chatting away when the desserts arrived.

Walnut Turtle Pie~



The New York style cheesecake was true to it’s classic expectations— the blueberry sauce with the white chocolate cheesecake eminently tasty. Fleming’s Chocolate Lava Cake was a solidly good molten chocolate cake, taking full advantage of the intentional flush of hot and cold with the use of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, which although it is one of the few things not made in-house, is still delicious. Fleming’s Walnut Turtle Pie, was my idea of heaven. A marvelously toothsome jambalaya of walnuts and chocolate dripping in gooey homemade caramel — a mouth-watering candy bar inside of a pie crust. Two hours in the gym minimum, my kind of dessert! But the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée was perhaps my favorite. I am a sucker for a good crème brûlée, and this fulfilled my every expectation. Beneath it’s crust of burnt sugar, the creamy payoff was definitely there — nothing is quite as satisfying as skating a spoon across the hard sugar pond that is the crust of a cream brulee, until the brown ice cracks and the goodness beneath comes bubbling up in sweet release. This is one dessert that may be more about ritual than taste, but both were superior.



It was a memorable night, attended by memorable people. Ink Foundry is a first -rate PR firm, and Fleming’s Steakhouse is a first-rate restaurant. But more importantly, both are run by people you want to spend time with. Sean, Chef Bennett, Carina and Carin all held up their end of the bargain and gave us all a night to remember with serious good eats. What else is there?
I happened to be at the Palo Alto location, but if you are elsewhere and they have a Flemings, my guess is that quality follows. Check it out for yourself. Bon Appetit!



Creme Brulee



Flemings Prime Steakhouse &Wine – Palo Alto

180 El Camino Real Ste #G2

Palo Alto, CA 94304
(650) 329-8457