Clay with Your Food – Jered’s Pottery Challenge 2016

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Chef’s Mis en Place

On Sunday, June 5, I was fortunate to be the guest of a good friend and fellow food enthusiast, Donovan Unks, better known on Twitter as The Dapper Diner. He’d been invited to judge the annual cook off contest held at Jered’s Pottery, which includes a trio of challenges designed to produce a victor in the kitchen. The challenges themselves are unorthodox, and the results were entertaining. Dapper’s fellow judges included Sara Paloma, a local ceramic artist, and Owen Rogers, a designer and partner from IDEO.org, a non-profit design and innovation organization focused on designing products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.

The Chef-testants featured Kelsey Kerr from Standard Fare in Berkeley, Mark Liberman from AQ in San Francisco, and Galen Vasquez from Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. All were great sports, rising fearlessly to the various challenges, as guests watched while enjoying the wine and cheese provided by our host during the event.

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Whole Rabbit wrapped in guanciale, ready for the kiln

In the first of three events, the chefs were tasked with preparing a dish in the kiln, which was heated to an intimidating 800 degrees. Chef Kerr prepared a simple dish of anchovies, and I was selected to be the taste tester from the audience. I found the sardines cooked to perfection, despite the unorthodox preparation method, giving the dish a thumbs up. Chef Vasquez’ attempt to defeat the blast furnace temperatures was a whole boned rabbit, seasoned with fresh picked herbs, and wrapped in guanciale to keep it moist, but it was the offering from Chef Liberman, a black cod steeped in miso, resulting in a buttery soft flesh imbued with stellar aromatics, that took the first round of judging. Fortunately, I was allowed a taste of all three, and while I found the rabbit delectable, I can’t find fault with their selection. The cod was spectacular, made all the more impressive in that it was cooked at 800 degrees, in a kiln no less.

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Pottery Challenge – Pictured: (L-R) Jered Nelson; Mark Liberman; Kelsey Kerr; Galen Vasquez 

 

The next challenge was for each cheftestant to create their own serving dish out of clay. After a brief lesson from master “Clayboy” Jered Nelson, each bravely took to the pottery wheel. Results produced varied degrees of success, but they gave it their all and did pretty well considering the amount of time they had to acquaint themselves with the process and their lack of experience. The event was a rousing success with the crowd as the cheering and hollering from all present would attest. It was delightfully orchestrated chaos.

As a final challenge, each chef was given one of Jered’s creations on which to plate the perfectly presented dish. The products of this effort were mind-bendingly beautiful. The sleek and surreal shapes of Jered’s imaginative creations, upon which were placed delicate morsels of food in artistic shapes and designs, were sublime.

The winner was declared at the conclusion of the plating portion, with Chef Mark Liberman taking the prize.  Guests and judges finished off the afternoon with a buffet of okonomiyaki (a Korean pancake), kimchi fried rice and refreshing soba salad, all furnished by Namu (the folks behind both the food truck and Namu Gaji), it was the perfect end to an enchanting day. If you haven’t yet eaten at the restaurants represented, you should. If you’ve never checked out Jered’s incredible creations, that’s a must as well. I know I’ll do both.

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The winning plaing entry, by Chef Galen Vasquez

Jered’s Pottery
867 S 19th Street
Richmond, CA 94804
http://www.jeredspottery.com

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone:(415) 431-6268

JUHU BEACH CLUB: Bollywood Bliss in Oakland’s Temescal District

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

When I was a kid, my babysitter, Carol Neill, would tell us that if we behaved all morning, we would get a special treat. We all knew what that meant, a trip to Lake Temescal. Once there, we knew we would spend that summer day in a delirium of fun as we swam and cavorted on it’s tiny beach, burning off that youthful energy that children seem to amass in droves, with hours and hours of waterplay. In my young mind, it was a far off destination, and these outings an incomparable adventure. We would wade in with her three children, our steadfast playmates, and challenge the beckoning waters that lapped at the edge of its beachfront. I haven’t been back there in years, and imagine it would seem very small now indeed to my grownup self. But when I was a child, this was our private retreat, an oasis nestled in the heart of Oakland. It was indeed a magical place. Beaches hold a beckoning sort of vastness at their edges, the shore is a promise of explorations to be, and as children the thrill of picturing the imaginary creatures who might populate the waters off the shore never grew old.

Naming an urban restaurant after a beach resort, then, is high promise indeed, conjuring up the images of abandon and pleasure that one might expect from a seaside escape. Fortunately for her patrons, Priti Mistri’s Juhu Beach Club delivers on that promise. On a recent visit to Juhu Beach Club, itself perched unassumingly in a tiny strip mall, rather than on an oceanfront pier, we embarked on a journey of exploration of our own. We arrived on a particularly chill and rainy day, so one of the first dishes that caught our eye was the Bombay Sandwich, a lovely medley of pressed cheese, cilantro chutney, and beets played against a spicy chaat masala. The optional cup of Tomato Shorba seemed a must in the gloomy weather, and the warm tomato-ey spices were just the ticket. We ended up using it as a “dip” for almost all the other goodies that we sampled.
We’d have ordered more, but it’s only available separately as a dinner menu item. Definitely an incentive to return for dinner.

There were many appealing choices, so we were forced to “man up” and attempted to do our best at sampling as many variations as we could

master in one sitting. The sandwich choices allow for mixing and matching in reasonably priced combos, so we got two sets of three sandwiches to be split among the four of us, in addition to the Bombay. They are a nice sized sandwich here, just a bit bigger than a slider, but with that lovely polished finish one expects from this modern “bite on a bun.” This presentation is almost a “hamburger tapas” and it makes me happy. Like mini cupcakes, they are small enough to allow the diner to really get in there and try a variety of flavors, yet large enough to fill one up if you only want one or two.

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

The promised heat of the Vaga Pav appealed, with its potato and ghost pepper blend. We found it enjoyable, but not particularly spicy, which was a surprise. It had a kick, but nothing jarring, as my non-spice-eating spouse was able to enjoy it with us. I’m not sure this is typical, as I didn’t get a chance to chat with the chef to ask about the intended heat levels. The Chowpatty Chicken with its blend of green chillies, chicken and tangy slaw was a refreshing bite. We also tried the Holy Cow, which features the lovely melted beef of a brisket-texture to its meat, the fat of the toothsome beef offset well by the nicely acidic cucumber raita. My favorite sandwich bite may have been the Pork Vindaloo, an Indian take on pulled pork, gently slathered in a vindaloo barbeque sauce and finished with a nice yoghurt sauce.

Each sandwich was sufficiently different that we were continually bouncing between the flavors. I’ve never had anything but the classic Indian fare found in hot buttery naam or a nice bowl of tikka masala, so I really loved experiencing a lighter hand and more subtle take on all the flavors of South Asian cuisine offered here. The dishes were solid, and even though sampling so many in one sitting was a whirlwind, it was a dining experience we thoroughly enjoyed. The was indeed an adventure, and one I intend to repeat, and soon.

If you’d like to try something out of the box, but with all the love and attention of simple street food, with a touch of culinary genius, then Juhu Beach Club would be a great option to try in your own very near future.

Go on. Check it out for yourself, and make some new memories of your own. You know you want to.

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Juhu Beach Club
5179 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
b/t Claremont Ave & 52nd St in Rockridge, North Oakland
(510) 652-7350
juhubeachclub.com

SOBO RAMEN: Mystery loves company

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Sobo Ramen – Mystery Loves Company

Mystery. We’re drawn to it. The unknown calls us like moths to a flame. The human spirit finds a mystery irresistible. Mystery is a puzzle to be solved, and it stokes the imagination in all of us.

When I was a kid, there was an old, dilapidated house that sat on the lot next door to my friend Susan’s home. It sat on an isolated corner of that otherwise familiar street, its large, dusty windows barely visible behind the spiraled fence of twisted trees that obscured the sunlight. They covered the old house protectively, the gnarled hands of a crone shielding her face from unwanted attention. The shrubbery only served to enhance the gloom that encased the old mansion. We could see curtains behind the dust— thin, shredded veils further adding to its mystery, like the partially closed, paper-thin eyelids of a corpse, hiding the spirit of the person who once inhabited it. What fascinating scenes had been played out within its dark and ominous exterior? Did it hold monsters or history? Did any living thing linger there, in its shadowy depths? Such are the musings that captivate the imaginations of children. I’m certain there was a story there, but it was not for us to know.

Tsukemen Ramen Ingredients

Tsukemen Ramen Ingredients

Food can also be mysterious. Foreign ingredients. Unusual combinations of flavor. I know many who fear to go beyond the comfort of the food they grew up with. It’s familiar. They know where it will take them and have no urge to venture beyond the scope of that which they understand. They are inextricably compelled to repeat the dining routines of their childhood. Not I. One of my favorite adventures is to sample the cultures of other places and peoples through food. The tastes of travel, the full-Bourdain experience, if you will. Fortunately, my hometown of Oakland is teeming with opportunities to do just that.

My most recent foray into the world of new food exploits has been to dabble in ramen. To examine this science experiment of Eastern sensibilities, to see just how it has been reinvented for a modern palate. Ramen has hit the food scene like a Sharknado, the unexpected and the impossible all rolled into one delicious bowl of magic and adventure.

So when Sobo Ramen was brought up a few weeks ago as a lunch option at the office, I was all over it. The only ramen I’d ever tasted was “Top” and that experience had not left me craving more. Ramen, in my mind, was boring. Then came David Chang, and his re-invention of the dish for an American audience. Many trusted friends had flocked to try these delicious bowls of enigmatic ingredients, insisting that this new breed of ramen was not to be confused with the fast food variety of yore, so I really felt it was time to give this new fad a try. I was not disappointed. Not only is ramen delicious, Sobo Ramen has mastered the art of turning out a complex and mysterious bowl of great food.

Lobster Ramen Bliss

Lobster Ramen Bliss

We’ve been twice, and the second visit held just as much flavor-packed fun as the first. We began by sharing the Soft Shelled Crab Appetizer, which presented itself as four lovely sticks of tempura-battered crab and a lemony bright dipping sauce. The crispy batter combined with the punch of citrus in a blissful balance of splendid flavors. Nice.

Our Partner in Food Crimes and the Hubs both ordered the Lobster Ramen, which is a special right now.  It is extraordinary.  Lobster bathed in a rich, buttery broth, piled high with plenty of trimmings. The spice level was tolerable for the Hubs, who is an admitted “spice lightweight,” though we are bringing him along nicely, as he gets a bit more adventurous with every meal. The lobster is always perfectly cooked, and though it’s a pricy bowl at around $20, the half-tail portion of lobster is generous. The men always leave stuffed, and they are eaters with very healthy appetites. Bottom line, it’s enough food for dudes.

The Peruvian Paralegal had the Tsukemen Ramen, a fantasy platter of noodles, toppings and dipping sauce, leaving the eater to create his or her own dining experience, making for a  “choose your own adventure”  meal. Every bite is different, as one can combine any or all of the ingredients in each spoonful to taste them individually or as a whole. They play off each other symphonically, the pickled ginger on its own, so good as to be an examplary and memorable representative of the concept of umami. The “perfect bite” the PP made for each of us that featured all the components together, was good enough to convince me I must order this dish next time we visit. It’s absolutely delicious, and it’s also a lot of fun. I’m a fun fan.

Soft Shelled Crab in Tempura Batter

Soft Shelled Crab in Tempura Batter

As for me, I had the Black Garlic, again, because I could. Unfamiliar with ramen offerings, I had ordered it on my first visit, because garlic has been a part of my food experience since I was a kid, and it seemed a good jumping off point. Anything with garlic has to be good, I reasoned. On this, my second visit, I ordered it solely because I’d been dreaming about it since the first time. That’s how good food does you, it haunts your dreams like memories of a lost love, until you can repeat the experience for one more stolen kiss. Ecstasy.

If you haven’t been to Sobo, and you are a fan of ramen, check it out. If you have never had ramen, this is a fantastic spot to experience it for the first time. I guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed. Check it out, solve the mystery that is ramen, and make a memory of your own!

Sobo Ramen
988 Franklin St, Ste 186 (between 11th St & 10th St)
Oakland, CA 94607
Neighborhood: Oakland Chinatown
(510) 832-7626
http://www.soboramen.com