LA COSTANERA – “On the Waterfront”

Succulent Yucca Balls

Succulent Yucca Balls

One of the glorious things about living in California, and more specifically, the Bay Area, is one’s ability to spend the day in virtually any climate by driving only a few hours in any direction. Whether one is craving the chill of a snowy hillside, yearning to be sheltered by the protective arms of towering redwoods, or seeking the warming comfort of sun and sandy beaches, California provides it all. My favorite escapes have always been the landscapes where the sand gives quickly away to the height and expanse of rocky cliffs found along our north coast, where the massive waves that can be found there, carry only the bravest and most skilled of surfers across the face of the oceans deeps.

Located on just such a beach, La Costanera is itself an escape worthy of being sought on its own. The first feature to capture one’s attention upon entering, are the huge glass windows that gracefully overlook a flame-heated patio abutting the very edge of the seashore. The interior of the aptly named La Costanera – a title that translates from the Spanish to “the waterfront” – recalls both a subterranean grotto and a sleekly modern house of light and glass. This magical cave, is a light infused, modern expanse of glass, light and ocean, where the sea vista is can be viewed beautifully from each and every table. It’s an otherworldly setting in which to partake of a meal.

And the meals here are unique, as Chef Carlos Altimirano definitely has a gift for exploring the roots of his culture through the food of his native Peru.

Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado

If you’ve never experienced Peruvian cuisine done properly, then you’ve missed out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. I discovered the joys of these flavor profiles a number of years ago when a co-worker from Lima insisted we accompany him to a spectacular little place in Oakland. He guided us through the menu, providing insider tips on just what to order. Thus, on the occasion of our visit to La Costanera with two dear old friends, I knew just what dishes they might enjoy, and was able to pass on his advice to a vastly successful conclusion.

My favorite dining option is shared plates, whether the menu is geared to tapas or not. Sharing food with a table of any size, creates a bonded experience like none other. After a quick vote, my party and I opted to share everything we were about to order, so that each of us in turn could experience completely every dish ordered. So the fun began.

Two of our party declined to drink, as driving those beach roads after dark requires a sober head. This presented the Better Half and I suggested they try a Chicha Morada — a Peruvian mainstay — which is a drink comprised of purple corn, sugar cane and spices. A deep, royal, purple in color, it is as pretty as it is delicious. Success.

Calamari Chicharrones

Calamari Chicharrones

After taking a quick survey as to what dishes might appeal to whom, and fighting my natural instincts to simply order the menu, we began with a sampler plate of Causa. Causa is a savory confection of creamy whipped potato that can be augmented with any combination of stuffings. The sampler is a trio of offerings diners can choose according to what suits them. Ours were stuffed with buttery lobster, another comprised of mushrooms and cheeses, and the last was topped off with a beautifully seared scallop. To accompany the pillowy luxury of the Causas, we also ordered some Calamari Chicharonnes. Traditionally, chicharrones are a dish that originated, in true peasant style, as a means to keep any part of the animal from going to waste. It calls for frying up offal, such as pork skin or odd cuts of meat and turning them into delicious, bite-sized bits of heaven. Ours were a combination of calamari rings and whole baby octopus, a lovely golden brown platter of delicious snacks. The last dish we ordered from the appetizer menu was a platter of golden, crispy Yucca Balls. Yucca balls have the shape and crunch of a tater tot, but are so much cleaner in flavor. This version of fried yucca balls were succulent, moist and laden with cheese, chorizo sausage and plump little raisins.

Once we’d finished our smaller plates of appetizers, our mains began to arrive. The first was a platter of seasoned Pork Belly accompanied by a slab of potato covered in traditional spicy yellow sauce, or Papas a la Huancaina. Papas is one of the first things I’d ever sampled from Peruvian cuisine, and it’s spectacular in its simplicity. Something about the bite of the potato against the teeth, and a delicate cream sauce that looks like egg yolk, but is instead a combination of feta cheese and egg, laced with Peruvian spices, resulting in a consistency almost identical to yolk, but a bit more complex in flavor. Chef Altimirano’s Pork Belly was a completely new experience, meatier than most I’ve been served recently, bright red with seasoning and looking more like a rack of baby back ribs than traditional pork belly. Fantastic.

We finished off the meal with a giant platter of my favorite Peruvian delicacy, Lomo Saltado. I’m told by those who know these things, that this dish originated as a Latin take on the Asian dish jumping beef, and has evolved over the years to be a standard on most every Peruvian menu. It’s a beautiful pile of moist, saucy beef, with a Latin-Asian flavor profile, served either atop a pile of crispy french fries, or the reverse. In this version, the fries were on top of the beef. It’s a bit like poutine in presentation, and though the sauce is not quite a gravy, it’s plentiful enough for dipping the fries in to get every last drop. It’s certainly just as addictive.

Sharing a meal with friends is rewarding. Sharing an unusual meal with companions who have not yet tasted dishes you hold dear, watching their faces as you sample old favorites together, allows you to relive your own first bite, and is even more rewarding for having been shared.

Pork Belly Skewer

Pork Belly Skewer

Check it out. Make memories of your own. If Half Moon Bay seems too far to travel of an evening, Chef Altimirano has several other restaurants, including the recently opened Parada in Walnut Creek. He aims to please, and don’t forget to order the Lomo Saltado.

La Costanera
8150 Cabrillo Highway
Montara Beach, CA 94037
(888) 997-4078
http://www.lacostanerarestaurant.com/

BROTZEIT LOKAL Oakland- Breadtime Stories on the Water

My chariot to heaven

My chariot to heaven

SUMMER MEMORIES: of Rivers and water-skiing…

When I was a kid, I spent every Wednesday of every summer on the river. My father was an accomplished water skier, and a skilled navigator. I would watch him cover the dining room table of my grandfather’s home with maritime charts, tirelessly mapping out new routes to explore on another of our weekly adventures. He knew where every island and inlet was along the 1,100 or so square miles of the Sacramento River Delta.

Dad kept his boat moored at Frank’s Tract. As soon as we arrived at the slip, my sister and I would race each other to the boat and pace back and forth along the narrow wooden dock to wait for the men to remove the tarp. The moment the familiar yellow of the boat beneath was revealed, we would clamber aboard and be off. My father’s boat was a Donzi, a newer, smaller, more compact and most importantly, even faster version of his last boat, the Cigarette. That craft had been lost to a late evening mishap that had damaged the hull and stranded my father and a group of friends overnight on an island in the Delta, an adventure that my 10-year-old self imagined straight out of Robinson Crusoe.

The Donzi fairly flew, skimming along the surface of the water like a giant hummingbird. The wind would whip our hair against our faces, as we struggled to catch our breath, but we

Sausage and Pickled sides

Sausage and Pickled sides

never slowed, not until we reached a spot far out from the other boats, isolated and removed, where the waters were glassy and still. Perfect for water-skiing. Dad would slow to a stop and kill the engine. Jumping overboard, he’d gesture to his friend Carl for a ski. Moments later he was flying along behind us, riding in and out of the wake of the boat, the sunlight hitting the sheets of water that rose from the edge of his skis in giant plumes of white foam. My father was a magnificent looking man. Handsome and slim, his caramel-colored skin damp and glistening. Cradled in that halo of light and water, he appeared to me like a god possessed of magical powers, spinning and cavorting in the wake of the boat, his acrobatics mesmerizing as he moved on the water with the ease of an athlete.

After a morning of water-skiing, we would always find one of our favorite spots to eat. Moore’s Riverboat, with its toasted bread and butter-drenched abalone sandwiches, was a particular favorite. I will never forget those carefree days, nor the peaceful meals we shared together as we watched the water from our tables along the windows. Everything tastes better when one can smell the water while taking a bite. Magic.

THE RESTAURANT: Dining on the water…

Brotzeit.Lokal (17)

German Potato Salad

These were the thoughts that filled my mind when I recently visited Brotzeit Lokal, a relatively newish addition to the Oakland dining scene that is nestled neatly beside the docks on the Oakland side of the Estuary, near the site of the new Brooklyn Basin. The views of the water are spectacular, and with my inbred love of aquatic-themed dining adventures, I found it reminiscent of my days on the Delta. The briny air, the cool breeze off the water, all these things whet my appetite for a cold beer and something fried and yummy.
Brotzeit Lokal did not disappoint. Most Fridays my office often holds an out-of-office lunch meeting to go over our week’s progress while breaking bread and loosening up a bit after a week of the regular grind. This place is tucked away nicely, and a bit hard to find, so keep an eye out for the cloth banner at the front of the Homewood Suites, so you don’t miss your turn into the driveway.

There are plenty of communal tables outside on a spacious patio, a few in the bar, and another set of tables in a lovely little enclave between the outdoor seating and the barroom. These are protected by the wind, but the windows open to allow the sea breeze to brush against your face, so we decided that enclave was the best of both worlds. Same view and no breeze to whip those paper napkins about.

Cheers!

Cheers!

We tried a number of Brotzeit’s German-themed dishes, among them Mussels in Beer Broth, Sausages of several varieties, and my favorite, a fantastic rendition of a German potato salad. Traditionally served hot, this dish was chilled, but on a steamy summer day one could easily forgive the decision to leave it chilled & refreshing. German potato salad, when done correctly, is nothing like the heavily-mayonnaised versions found in most American picnic baskets. The German version is lighter, more acidic and to my taste, infinitely more delicious. The lovely small red potatoes used at Brotzeit are also my personal favorite, their unique and buttery natural flavor lending a balance to the dish that we all found irresistible.

Brotzeit Lokal is a solid little pub, with a respectably varied menu. It’s a great place to gather on the waterfront to watch sporting events, or collect your thoughts and refuel after a day on the water. I will be back to enjoy a beer and a Bratwurst, and almost certainly remember once again my own days spent skimming the wet fantastic. There’s nothing quite like it. If you haven’t been lucky enough yourself to spend time aboard a vessel, head over to Brotzeit, grab a beer and watch the boats go by. Pleasant indeed. Check it out, make a memory of your own.

Brotzeit Lokal
1000 Embarcadero,
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 645-1905
http://brotzeitbiergarten.com/
email: brotzeitlokal@hotmail.com