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

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/

TRIBUNE TAVERN – Who says you can’t go home again?

Guilty Fries anyone?

Guilty Fries anyone?

All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. THOMAS WOLFE

I have a thing for the Tribune Tower. Its history fascinates me. The “Trib” as I’ve always called it, where my grandfather once hung out with his buddy, Joe Knowland. Knowland, who purchased the paper in 1915 was a character right out of a black and white movie. I used to imagine the two of them sitting together in Knowland’s walnut paneled office, pouring scotch from a delicate crystal decanter and surveying the City from a perch far above. There they remain, in my mind’s eye, discussing politics or the day’s current headline, making decisions that would change history. It is always a scene cut straight from Citizen Kane. The Tribune Tower is a repository of much of Oakland’s history, and by a twist of fate, my own as well.

It was while working there as a legal secretary that I first met my husband. He interviewed me when I answered an ad in the Inter-City Express. I got the job. We worked there together for almost ten years, until the building was felled by the Quake of ‘89. While it didn’t quite come down, but it was uninhabitable for some time afterwards. I was devastated to leave it behind.
So naturally, I was thrilled to see it rise like a phoenix, after being restored. When the Tribune Tavern opened at the site of the former Oakland Tribune offices, I was elated. Ownership has reinvented the space into something new and modern, while managing to faithfully retain the spirit of its origins.

I’ve recently moved my own office back to the heart of Oakland’s 14th Street, only a block from our spot in the Trib. So recently, I grabbed my camera and headed out on a mission, accompanied by most of my family for a festive occasion, my mother’s “18th” birthday. My heart-to-food conversation with the Tribune Tavern felt long overdue.

THE FOOD

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

We all arrived on time, which for my family is a feat in itself. The evening started with cocktails, of course. I had my favorite of their talented mixologist’s concoctions, the Stolen Afternoon. A lovely blend of Hibiscus tequila and Earl Gray, with a hint of lemon. Cool and refreshing, its flavors hide quite a punch My kind of drink.

Absolutely starving, we ordered almost every appetizer on the menu. The staff was on it, and we were shortly presented with a lovely assortment of appetizers. The house made chips were light as air, and crisp which is not often the case with a house chip. They don’t add all the “stuff” that keeps chips crispy, which is good, but it often results in a slightly soggy chip. No so these. Whatever the chef is doing, it is being done to perfection. (The bacon in the dip wasn’t bad either.)
We shared a cheese plate, which though a bit on the small side as cheese plates go, was a lovely blend of flavors. The charcuterie plate, on the other hand, was abundant and really tasty. A nice selection of sliced cured meats, and a country paté. Delectable. My party devoured it all.

Moving on to the mains, several of us had the Ahi Tuna, which arrived on a bed of pureed greens. The fish was cooked beautifully, with a nice sear and a buttery pink interior. My eldest had the Burger, and it came with a fried egg on top. Did you hear the part about the fried egg? I’m as crazy for fried eggs as I am for the Tribune Tower. Yum.

Hubs had the Fish & Chips, which appeared as tender pillows of fish filet as puffy and light as a wispy spring cloud, on a bed of piping hot fries, both cooked to a golden perfection. The potato slices were likewise . My youngest had the Veggie Risotto, a dish I had opted to skip in favor of something with a bit more animal protein. Big mistake. I think it was the most flavorful dish of the evening. The tender bits of rice were rich and masterfully seasoned, each bite so good I wanted to eat her entire bowl. I think she sensed my predatory air, because she snatched it back before I could. Spectacularly successful dish.

Veggie Risotto bliss

Veggie Risotto bliss

TIME FOR DESSERT

We completed our feast by ordering three of the four desserts (with share plates and loads of spoons and forks, cause I’m nothing if not a sharer). The first of our desserts was a simple confection featuring the first Strawberries of the season atop a creamy house made ice cream. We also ordered the Bread Pudding & Caramel which presented as a creamy and toothsome pudding served with mango ice cream. The last dessert was essentially a piping fresh Turnover, chock full of blueberries and accompanied by a lovely serving of house made dulce de leche ice cream. All were delicious, but the pie, hot from the oven, with the cream melting into every nook and cranny was my favorite. Anything consisting of a flaky, buttery crust, berries and cream is pretty much heaven in my book.

The Tribune Tavern is a splendid jewel in the Oakland dining crown. The chef used simple, fresh ingredients, to produce complicated bursts of flavor, each dish was well executed; our service was attentive while remaining inobtrusive as we carried on with our festivities. In short, mom had a swell birthday party, and we left very happy indeed.

Places like the Tribune Tavern remind me that I no longer have to cross that beautiful sparkly bridge into Oz to experience a special evening out. If you’re looking to celebrate something in Oakland, then check it out. Break some bread, make a memory of your own.

Tribune Tavern
401 13th St, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 452-8742
http://tribunetavern.com/

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream