EAT REAL 2012 – Oakland’s Jack London hosts Food-a-Palooza! Sept 21-23, 2012

WHETHER DINING WITH THE “STARS”

I met a reader recently who told me she wished she had my life.  While reading my blog I suppose one could be led to believe that I lead this idyllic existence, blithely roaming from restaurant to restaurant, meal to meal, cocktail to cocktail. It certainly seemed to her that my world was one of constant fine dining and never-empty glasses of champagne.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But since it isn’t the first time I’ve left folks with this impression, I have to assume its something about the way I recite my adventures that convinces others that my life is an effortless one of food and fun times.  That’s not to say I don’t eat out more than most, though my eldest daughter’s recent nuptials have me brown bagging it more often than not.  Not that I’m complaining.  I find a meal of home-cooked succotash or soup as enjoyable (well okay almost) as a meal prepared by an artiste like David Kinch, whose Michelin-starred Manresa provided the backdrop for a recent triple birthday celebration.  (That details of that particular adventure, however, will have to wait for another blog).

I think it’s because I believe in thoughtful eating.  If a meal is experienced and savored, even a meal prepared at home from fresh but simple ingredients has as much opportunity to spread the love as a more formal repast.  Eating well is less about spending money or dining out, than it is about eating attentively.  Be present in the experience.  Take a breath.  Sit down.  Savor each and every bite.  Lastly, share your meals with someone whose company you truly enjoy.  That’s my recipe for great dining.  If I can pass on anything worthwhile, it is that our lives are too short to pine away for whatever it is you think yours may be missing.  Enjoy what you do have with those who love you, be it over a flute of French champagne and a plate of foie gras — or a glass of Two Buck Chuck and a burger.

OR DINING WITH THE MASSES

The perception that dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant is the only way to enjoy a brilliant bite of food is something of a fallacy.  Though I hope I am fortunate enough to continue to dine with the best Chefs this country has to offer, I am no food snob.  One of my readers who owns a food truck once remarked “You eat so well, I’m jealous” I had to laugh a little at this.  I replied to her “But I am eating well because I am eating this” and pointed to the sandwich she had just handed me.  I was actually jealous of her, up in her truck window, handing out the tasty magic.  To me that is a charmed life indeed.  But that’s my point.

Senor Sisig’s magic is well worth
the wait.  In the long, long,
long long line…

The fact is, I like to eat much too much to confine my culinary entertainment to something I can only enjoy three or four times a year.  Fortunately for me, there are many levels of fine food, and not all come at Michelin prices.

ENTER, EAT REAL FESTIVAL, OAKLAND.  September 21, 22, 23, 2012

The staff at Tamarindo will
serve up nothing less than perfection

Held at Jack London Square in Oakland every September Eat Real is a celebration of so much of what it is I enjoy about the Oakland dining scene these days.  All that is vibrant and vital and good about my little home town.  Oakland may be San Francisco’s under-appreciated baby sibling, but these days she’s got as much to offer as her Big Sister City, especially when it comes to less expensive establishments, and that includes the proliferation of food trucks (although she still needs a giant clue when it comes to allowing the trucks a bit more leeway to serve up their wares).

A Chef doesn’t have to have a Michelin-star to rock my world, or even my tastebuds.  All he or she needs is good ingredients, imagination, and most importantly — skills.  Like any other art form, cooking with enough inventiveness to create a point-of-view is a skill that can’t completely be taught, so not every culinary school graduate can make the magic happen.

Eat Real has vetted its participants the best way possible, happy customers.  This food festival is jam-packed with the best-of-the-best of all the aforementioned food trucks, local brewers, as well as representatives from some heavy-hitters in Oakland’s bustling restaurant scene.  Every participant brings their A-game in eats, many offer classes in all manner of food-related curiosities.  Cheese-making, bread-baking, you name it.  This array of talented culinary artisans coupled with California’s gorgeous Indian Summer weather all comes together to create that which is at the heart Eat Real—  a three day journey to a heavenly food-centric Mecca.

I suggest you make time to experience it.  Chop Bar of Oakland will be serving up some (whole roasted) pig; there will be crepes from Brittany Crepes and Galettes, roasted corn and yams by Ear-Good Corn Roast, Indian street food from Curry Up Now! and, if memory serves me right, Little Green Cyclo and Senor Sisig will be serving up the longest lines (and some of the most amazing grub) ever to be experienced.

Admission is free.  Food is inexpensive (though it does add up) and cash is best.

For a full schedule of participants visit http://www.eatrealfest.com

Check it out.  Make a memory, and learn to make a loaf of bread.  Or make a memory about making a loaf of bread with a loved one!

COSECHA – The Truck Stops Here

I wouldn’t have thought that with everything else happening in Oaktown I could get this excited about something new.  But I am, and you know what?  You should be too.

When I began this little adventure in food writing, I was excited about the advent of good eats in Oakland.  Back then it seemed restaurants were opening everywhere.  Uptown, Telegraph, Temescal, Downtown, Jack London.  My city was suddenly alive with upscale eateries, one after another and they came in waves.  Soon even the star chefs from SF were in on the game.  Then there were the trucks.  So many trucks, here, there… everywhere.

Now I’m pretty sure there’s a new phenomenon taking over the streets of Oakland.  There are suddenly springing up venues that resemble what I would call street food “Cafe(s).”  Wonderful land-locked editions of the fabulous floating food on wheels.  The are populated by Chefs who have found enough support to open a store front to bring us their Chef love.  The newest version of this delightful and affordable phenom is Cosecha, helmed by the gifted Chef, Dominica Rice.  Cosecha is in it’s infancy, only about two weeks old today when I paid it my first visit.  But for such a youngun’ she’s already hit her stride.

Carne Asada with Salsa Ranchera

Cosecha serves a very simple menu; a blend of classic Mexican flavors, all executed with fresh local ingredients in a fresh and inviting way.  On arrival at about 11:30, the place was fairly empty and we had a little trouble finding the address.  Though officially located at 907 Washington Street, the door isn’t obvious, and the converted open market area of the former Swan’s meat market around the corner on Ninth Street is ultimately easier to find.  We literally wandered in and hopped up to the counter, starving.

After a quick review of the menu (one orders at the cash register and takes a number to one of the communal tables), we decided on the Pozole soup, and one of each of the soft tacos. Along with lunch we each ordered a glass of the Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca.

Chicken Taco with Achiote 

The food arrived swiftly, along with the rest of the population of Oakland.  By the time we’d cut into our first taco to split it, there was a significant line forming. Good sign.  We ignored those who’d come after for the time being anyway, and sampled the first treat brought us, which was a platter containing one each of their lovely tacos.  First up was the Taco de Carne Asada with Salsa Ranchera.  The meat was moist and so full of flavor that I was blown away.  There is not sufficient description for how simply, perfectly fulfilling this food is.  My next mouthful was of the Taco de Pollo Asada with Achiote and it too, was da bomb.  Tender seasoned chicken meat with this fabulous bit of grilled pepper just melting into each bite.   The last taco, which was a Taco with Beckerlane Braised Pork & Pickled Red Onion.  Another hit.  The house made tortillas are buttery soft and the seasonings just waft across the palate like love songs on a summer night.

Pozole

About halfway through the tacos, our Pozole arrived.  The flavorful broth was chock full of fresh chicken and hominy.  The platter of garnishes was not unlike the platter of jalapenos and bean sprouts that accompany a classic Pho.  Except of course it was a quite different selection.  Radishes, onion, seasonings & fresh slices of jalapeno.  It was at this point that I realized I wanted some of those jalapenos in my soup, and that ordering only one bowl had been an error on my part.  The waitress was patient with me and brought an extra bowl as soon as she got a moment (at this point the line was forming out the doorway and there were no seats at any of the tables).  I knew my husband would not like the heat; but frankly, I think that the Pozole with the added jalapeno was just about the most bestest soup I’ve ever tasted.  Really, really flavorful.  Not to be terribly cliche but it was so obviously a bowl full of love.

Pozole Garnish

And I’m so enraptured with the food here, I’ve forgotten to mention the Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca — easily the best version of this drink I’ve ever tasted.  Hands down.  I was first introduced to this lighter than juice juice at another mexican restaurant in the downtown area.  Theirs is lovely.  This is better.  It’s surprisingly complex.  There is something other than just fresh strawberry and lime, I swear.  Maybe a little magic.  Who knows?

As I let the BH finish the better portion of the hearty (but not heavy) bowl of soup, I felt like treating myself to a tiny sampling of something sweet.  So, I got back in the line, which was still quite long at this point.  I waited patiently.  Tapping.  Anxious.  What if they ran out of those lovely cookies?  They didn’t of course.  I got to the front and looked longingly at the line of sugary treats.  Bisquits with some sort of lovely plum jam, Mexican wedding cookies they were calling “Lime Meltaways” and soft fresh Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Then I saw the flan.  The cashier said it was a “Citrus Flan” and that was all I needed to hear.  I ordered a Lime Meltaway and a Chocolate Chip Cookie for the BH and the Citrus Flan for myself.   I took my number and headed back to my table to anticipate the wonder.

Citrus Flan

I was not disappointed.  Both cookies were perfection, the Meltaway did exactly that, the Chocolate Chip was soft and chewy and toothsome.  But the Flan was just amazing.  Often I hear people say they like the flavor of flan, but “not the consistency.”  Some people just don’t like the bite of an egg custard.  This was something entirely new.  If I can compare it to anything, it would be a molten chocolate lava cake.  The outer “shell” of the flan was firmer, and the inside was this yolk-like pudding that flowed out and onto the fork.  Just firm enough to stay put, but softer and creamier than any version of flan I’ve ever tasted.  The addition of citrus a brilliant touch — kept it from being cloying.  The puddle of caramel it sat in was also perfection.

I can state with certainty that Chef Dominica Rice’s baby will be successful.  Her food is heartfelt and fulfilling, and her prices are so reasonable we got out of there for under $30 including tip.  And we ate like fools.  So I say… Check it out.  Make a memory of your own.  My advice?  Get there early.

COSECHA
907 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
510-452-5900
info@cosechacafe.com

Noise: boisterous, could be hard to hear from time to time
Table size: adequate communal tables
Service: friendly and efficient, but still have some bugs to work out
Cost: Affordable for even the most modest of budgets