HOMESTEAD Is Where the Heart Is

Tagliatelle with Truffle

Tagliatelle with Truffle

I often write about the familial connection to the foods we eat. The moments that lock in the collective memory each time we join together over a meal, the ones we remember for a lifetime. Some harken back to childhood holidays, and are rekindled by the scent of our grandmother’s apple pie, or a perfectly roasted ham at a long-ago Easter dinner. Others recall more recent gatherings, but each revolves around food. They wait in our consciousness like an unspoken anamnesis, to be released by a familiar smell or taste. We bite into a slice of that familiar pie, and suddenly Grandma is alive again, smiling at us from across the table, handing us a napkin for those inevitable spills. These fragile tendrils of connection are part of the fibre of our souls, reuniting us with our pasts, and brightening our todays. It is the most important of all rituals in human existence, embracing the best of life while breaking bread.

Nowhere has this sentiment of the abundant joys of home and hearth been more evident than it is at Homestead in Oakland.

 

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

The decor is a lovely sort of “welcoming homespun” elegance, just fancy enough for a date, but open and charmingly familial in its intrinsic warmth. The food itself is the freshest interpretation of “New American,” where everything is sourced “farm to table,” and the food is prepared to reflect the intrinsic properties native to each ingredient. The wine list is crazy extensive, if a little pricy, but nobody says you have to order from the “cellar” list. One can secure a perfectly lovely pairing from their “by-the-glass” selection if on a budget.

But Seriously… that asparagus…

I went there recently with the Better Half. We were out on one of our date nights, and had been meaning to get to Homestead, so on this occasion we made it a priority. I am so glad we did. The menu offers three courses, each one gradually increasing in portion size over the course of the options. We began our meal with our “First” course selections, his was the Butter Lettuce Salad with Blood Oranges, and mine was the Asparagus and Soft-cooked Egg. We share everything, so I was able to sample both appetizers amply. His salad was light and crisp and perfectly dressed, and I found myself having to pull back from guzzling up all his lovely orange slices. It was a lovely palate refresher with which to start a meal. Mine, however, was out of this world. I like asparagus well enough, but I’d ordered the dish because I’m obsessed with soft cooked eggs. (Obsessed.) The egg did not disappoint, but the asparagus was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. Each stalk was roasted to perfection, and without heavy-handed saucing or over-seasoning, the chef had managed to simply express the flavor of that particular vegetable as well as anyone possibly could. It was at that moment I realized that they were serious at Homestead about letting the flavors of the food shine through.

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yams

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yamsflavors of the food shine through.

“SECONDI”

For our “Second” choice, I selected the Pork with Wild Mushrooms and the BH had the Truffled Tagliatelle. The pork dish arrived with two different cuts, a beautiful sparerib and a moderately-sized piece of pork loin. The delightfully sticky black bean sauce gave the dish a sense of backyard barbeque, with the meat of that sparerib fairly falling off the bone. The meat had picked up all that beautiful smoke from the hearth, and the hearts of palm were succulent and flavorful. The buttery house made tagliatelle was toothsomely al dente, the aroma of truffle
a heady perfume with every bite. Really splendid.

And for the Main Course 

Our third course choices were a Steelhead Salmon for the BH and I ordered the Fire-roasted Poulet with Mashed Yams. The trout was buttery bliss. Soft and malleable, with a gorgeous flavor, accompanied by a lovely serving of black-eyed peas and spinach. When salmon is done right, it’s an experience not to be missed, and this was a perfect piece of fish. My chicken was everything I could have hoped for. Lovely strips of roasted chicken breast that just melted in the mouth; the yams were a nice accompaniment of sweet to offset the savory.

Desserts were similarly well executed, a lovely Orange Creamsicle Concoction and a dish of Profiteroles, Dulce de Leche and Chocolate. But the overarching delight was the sense of hearth and home that pervades every bite. Comfort food, elevated and executed well, is just as rewarding in its own right as any haute cuisine with all the modern bells and whistles of added “entertainment.” This is Grandma’s kitchen, food executed to extoll all its natural properties and flavors, without a lot of fuss and distraction. Just a stellar plate of food.

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

If you haven’t been already, take the family, and check it out for yourself. Relive a few cherished memories, or make some new memories of your own.

Homestead Oakland
Reservations: 510-420-6962
4029 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
http://www.homesteadoakland.com

LA MARCHA TAPAS BAR – Sharing is in the Heart

La Marcha Interior - photo credit Kristen Loken

La Marcha Interior – photo credit Kristen Loken

The first time I heard about tapas, a friend had just returned from Spain. He spoke for weeks about these extraordinary small plates that he’d experienced, as he dined across Spain in its restaurants and bars. He’d enjoyed the experience immensely, and described sampling tiny mouthfuls of smoked octopus, chicken covered in garlic and chiles and shrimp paella, each dish served in bite-sized proportions atop tiny plates. The first thing I thought then was, how would one get enough to eat? Yet today, after decades of sampling the “small plates” now so prevalent in our food culture, I’m a convert to the concept. I don’t think I’ve ordered a main course intended for just myself in over a decade. No meal is complete without shared plates.

The tradition of tapas itself hails from a time between the middle ages and modern Europe, when bad roads and difficult travels forced weary travelers to rest often. Hungry and exhausted, they’d find succor at many a roadside inn. The innkeepers of these establishments, often were unable to read or write, and so had no menus to offer their patrons. Wanting to be as hospitable as possible, they would offer their guests a sample of the dishes available, on a “tapa” (Spanish for pot cover), instead. The first tasting menu, if you will, and thus, tapas were born.

Chefs Emily Sarlatte and Sergio Monleón have partnered to bring their version of tapas to Berkeley, opening the brick and mortar version of their

Tortilla de Patatas - photo credit Phi Tran

Tortilla de Patatas – photo credit Phi Tran

wildly popular food truck “Ñora Cocina Española” in mid-October. The restaurant interior harkens back to that tradition of bar-hopping and bites that is uniquely Spanish. The overall effect is welcoming, and the effort itself clearly a collaboration, as the large expressive and colorful paintings of what appear to be colorful arches adorning the walls, are the product of Chef Sarlatte’s artist father.

La Marcha offers more than sustenance, it’s food reflecting the great pride in the art of combining flavor and providing a variety of tastes, that is at the heart of shared dining. It is clear that Chefs Monleón and Sarlatte understand that a well-prepared dish can have the power to envelop your senses, warming the heart like a grandmother’s hug. The idea that hungry travelers will cross their threshold and find not simply a meal, but a dining experience worthy of a memory, seems to be the thrust of their undertaking here in Berkeley.

At the recent soft-opening gala, I was able to sample many of their food offerings. There were thoughtful little amuse bouche of anchovy and peppers

Paella Mixta - photo credit Phi Tran

Paella Mixta – photo credit Phi Tran

to whet the palate, the tart acid of the peppers a lovely foil for the oily fish. The Albóndigas (wild boar meatballs) were juicy and plump, lightly acidic from the tomato cream sauce, and melted in the mouth, leaving a lingering blend of meat and cheese caressing the tastebuds. The bite-sized morsels of Tortilla de Patatas, a creamy egg and potato concoction that reminded me of my grandfather’s fritatta (no small compliment) were delicious. But the house special, Paella, was definitely the show stopper everyone came to taste, and it was splendid, chock full of seafood and well-developed flavors.

There was such pride in the house, both chefs clearly possessing a deep passion for the art of feeding people. It means something to them. The foods they serve brighten up a plate with the natural resonance on the tongue that is the joy found when food comes from the heart. The menu reflects that passion. Dish after dish offering the tang of tomato, fatty fish, well seasoned proteins, crafted together with peppers, and cheeses, each conjured nicely to be presented to their diners in the classic style that is “tapas.” It makes perfect sense. I’m heading back to have a full meal. I’ll bring some friends and make a memory. How about you?

La Marcha Tapas Bar
2026 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
b/t University Ave & Addison St
Phone: (510) 269-7374
website: lamarchaberkeley.com

Chefs Sergio Monleon and Emily Sarlatte - photo credit Phi Tran

Chefs Sergio Monleon and Emily Sarlatte – photo credit Phi Tran

DOWNTOWN WINE BAR – Intoxicating Buildings and Beautiful Wines

Growing up in Oakland, I used to love to wander downtown and look at the buildings. I went downtown a lot. That’s what teenagers do, they hang out downtown. We would go to the old Capwell’s or Liberty House for … Continue reading