Oakland restaurants to put on your radar

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

As I’ve started spending more time in Oakland, I’ve fallen in love with the people, city views, boutique shopping, hiking, and food. Living and surviving in San Francisco is exhausting – from the commute to our politics – and Oakland and its people really remind me of living in San Diego. As I continue to explore the nooks and crevices of Oakland, here’s a list of some of the Oakland restaurants that are on my radar.

Itani Ramen for Sake, Ramen and Cool Vibes

Itani Ramen Oakland
The Shoyu ramen from Itani

Since opening its doors in May 2016, Itani Ramen and its owner Kyle Itani, have offered a lively Tokyo-style vibe inside its super hip spot right in the thick of it all on Telegraph Ave. Located just a few steps from the 19th St. BART station, Itani offers Japanese comfort food with casual service.

“We’re offering ramen for everyone,” Kyle told us at a recent press dinner. “People come for familiar flavors and good sake at an affordable price.”

Itani's Pig Ears
Itani’s Crispy Pig Ears
Itani Ramen potstickers
Itani’s Sloppy potstickers

Upon walking into Itani, you’ll be greeted with an open kitchen, old school jams over the sound system and the Japanese symbol for ramen on nearly every wall. For starters, go for any one of the Mini Rice Bowls (the Salmon 3 Way is great) or the Sloppy Stickers, fried pork gyoza drizzled with kewpie mayo, soy sauce, green onions, bonito tuna flakes and pickled ginger. Definitely get an order of the Crispy Pig Ears for your table – I wouldn’t be surprised if those garner a cult following in the couple months.

Unfortunately, I’m not a sake connoisseur but Itani has a sake list that will suit any palate. Carafes of sake and shochu range from $33 to $49, which seems to be the norm for Oakland restaurants. As far as the ramen goes, the Shoyu ramen with ginger chicken, pickled cherry tomatoes and fennel oil was standard, but the Shivering Cold Noodle Salad might be the winner here. Poached chicken is served on a bed of cold noodles with pickled ginger, tomatoes, cucumber, radish, snap peas, corn, and dashi soy dressing would be great on a warm night or paired with some warm sake.

In keeping with the cool Tokyo style, the dessert menu certainly is a curious one. Grab a token from the cashier and use it on the Dessert Vending Machine in the front. You’ll have your pick of Match-flavored Pocky, red bean cakes, or whatever else is rotating that evening.

itani-sakeIf you’re looking for a quick bite before a show at The Fox, or need some carbs to soak off some booze while you’re out at about, check out Itani Ramen.

Hutch Bar & Kitchen for Soul Food

Ever since my trip to New Orleans, I’ve had a deeper love for soul food and Southern charm. Upon walking into Hutch Bar & Kitchen, I had a flashback to Nola with just a twinge of Oakland cool. Not to mention an enormous wall lined with 100+ whiskeys.

Cocktails and wine at Hutch, Oakland
Cocktails and wine at Hutch, Oakland

The menu at Hutch perfectly mingles local ingredients into their Southern menu and their cocktails make for a great way to start a night out. The whiskey list reads like an encyclopedia and the cocktail menu offers some classics. I started our night with a Hutch Sour, the restaurant’s take on a Pisco Sour, before diving into some apps.

Hutch's Fried Catfish
Hutch’s Fried Catfish

Go for the Bacon & Cheddar Grit Croquettes for a taste of the South and some oysters for a taste of our local waters. You’ll find larger plates like Mary’s Fried Chicken served with collards and rice, or Fish & Grits if you’re in the mood for some seafood. The Hunter’s Gumbo and Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf were also highly recommended, but we’ll wait to try those on our next visit. Everything was tasty and offered some Southern-inspired tastes.

If you’re in the neighborhood and just want to stop by for a drink, I highly recommend ordering a dessert to complement. The Vanilla Bourbon Bread Pudding is certainly boozy but only in the best way possible and the Hutch Affagato will smack you in the face with its St. George NOLA coffee liqueur. If I lived in this hood, you’d definitely find me at the bar sipping on any of their deliciously sounding nightcaps.

Check out Brunch at Eve’s Waterfront Now before Everyone Else Does

The dining room at Eve's.
The dining room at Eve’s. Photo courtesy of Eve’s Waterfront.

We got wind of Eve’s Waterfront as soon as they opened in September and I absolutely had to check this place out before the hype got the crowds all riled up. Perched on the bay and facing Alameda Island, Eve’s is an awesome hidden gem. The building itself looks unassuming, but the view of the water from inside is so worth the drive.

Growing up near the beach, I never really trusted “waterfront dining” because they usually turned out to be tourist traps with mediocre, overpriced food. But Eve’s finally broke the cycle and is offering some serious mouth-watering fare.

We visited on a rainy morning for brunch and I was caught off guard by the enormity of the space. The main dining room is two levels, the wood-paneled bar could fit dozens of people, and the waterfront decks will be prime real estate when it’s warm out.

Eve's Oakland cocktails
The best way to start the day…brunch cocktails.

Brunch at Eve’s is stellar, especially when you can add a couple of morning cocktails to the gamut. Go for the Eve’s Sunset with infused pineapple vodka, lime and pineapple juice, and raspberry liqueur, or my favorite, the Embarcadero 75, with gin, citrus juice, and champagne. The Bloody Mary was also delicious had a slight brininess, which I always love.

Brunch at Eve's, Oakland.
Brunch at Eve’s, Oakland.
Eve's French Toast
Eve’s Eggnog French Toast

We started the solid food part of our meal with the highly recommended Eggnog French Toast drizzled with a citrus curd and espresso maple syrup, which was buttery, eggy and slightly crisped. Order one for the table – it’s so stinking good. The Dagwood Breakfast Club was amazing and I would have finished the whole thing had it not been for the French Toast. Fennel sage sausage, a fried farm egg, smoked cheddar, lettuce, tomato and aioli are sandwiched between two pieces of sourdough. My brunch mate ordered the Salmon Hash, with Yukon gold potatoes, poached eggs and a béarnaise sauce. Both were heavenly and worth every penny.

Executive Chef Bruce Paton is pulling out the guns at Eve’s and you definitely should add this spot to your foodie list. We didn’t even touch the lunch and dinner menu so trust that we’ll be returning and reporting back.

Get Your Meat Sweats at Galeto

Galeto Oakland
Meat for days at Galeto in Oakland.

If you’ve been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you know the drill. Grab a plate, head to the salad bar for some carbs and veggies to accompany your main course, and sit back and watch as men yielding massive skewers come by and drop off beautiful cuts of meat. The routine is no different at Galeto Brazilian Steakhouse in Old Oakland.

We visited for dinner one night and tried nearly a dozen different meats, ranging from sirloin and rib eye, to sausage and grilled chicken wrapped in bacon. The wine list is sizable and there are a few Brazilian-inspired cocktails that’ll make a great addition to your meal. And what better a way to settle your belly full of meats than with a Dulce de Leche Crepe or a Belgian Chocolate Petit Gateau?

Thank you to all of the restaurants who invited us into their space! See you all soon!

Tamarind Hall brings bright colors and Thai tastes to North Beach

Tamarind Hall's cocktails and mango salad
Check out Tamarind Hall for a colorful and delicious approach to Thai food.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

There’s a constant, woeful rotating door when it comes to restaurants in San Francisco. It’s sad for only a moment after hearing about one of our favorite restaurant or bar’s sudden closing – only because we know it’s a matter of time before a new place opens. Tamarind Hall is a brand new Thai restaurant that just opened up in North Beach and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check it out.

Tamarind Hall is a beautiful space that took over King of Thai’s nearly decade-long residency on the corner of Vallejo and Grant. Bangkok-born Salisa Skinner opened her restaurant in August with some serious shoes to fill. Luckily, her approach to casual bites and drinks is fitting the bill of what San Francitizens are looking for when it comes to Thai food in SF.

The bar at Tamarind Hall.
The bar at Tamarind Hall.

Upon walking into Tamarind Hall, we were greeted with music you’d hear in a rad wine or cocktail lounge and beautiful oil paintings of Muay Thai kickboxers. With a 60-seat dining room and long bar in the back, you can find a secluded table or something near the windows for people watching you’ll only ever get in SF.

Salisa has a law and Silicon Valley background, but always had a love for preparing food rooted in her family’s history and recipes. Her dishes are extraordinary – from authentic Thai ingredients to the actual presentation of her plates.

“I want this restaurant to celebrate the common people of Thailand along with my passion for street food,” Salisa says. “I’m not trying to compete with the Thai restaurants in the city. I’m doing my own thing.”

And it shows.

We started our meals with a couple cocktails. Go for the Thai Mango Mojito made with fresh chunks of mango, or the delicious Siamese G-Spot with tequila, St. Germain, lychee juice, and grapefruit juice. You’ll find other classic cocktails on the list, along with concoctions with unique Thai infusions.

Tamarind Hall's roasted eggplant salad
Tamarind Hall’s Yam Makua Yao salad

 

Salisa proceeded to bring out some of her favorite and most-popular dishes for us to try. Thankfully we came with an empty belly. Go for the Chicken Satay presented on a piece of banana leaf and topped with a cucumber salad and peanut sauce. My mom makes a mean chicken satay and these were definitely on par with the southeastern flavors I had growing up.

Tamarind Hall's Mango Salad
Tamarind Hall’s Mango Salad

The Mango Salad was definitely a favorite and is served with dried anchovies, crispy onions, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts tossed in lime juice and palm sugar. We also tried the Yam Makua Yao salad where smoky grilled eggplant is topped with soft-cooked duck eggs, mint, coriander, house-cured bacon and crispy garlic. Most of the dishes are topped with gorgeous orchids and edible wildflowers, adding even more beauty to these plates.

There’s a ton of other starter to choose from, ranging from Fresh Rolls and Curry + Roti, to Glass Noodle Salad and Tom Yum Goong soup. Popular starters appear on the restaurant’s happy hour menu, so drop by Monday-Friday from  5-7 p.m. if you want a taste of what these guys have to offer.

Tamarind Hall's Crab Noodles
Tamarind Hall’s Crab Meat Khanoom JeenTamarind Hall's Pad Sew Ew.

Tamarind Hall’s Pad Sew Ew.

Whenever I try out a new Thai restaurant, I always judge the place by their Pad See Ew and Tamarind Hall has a killer version.  Another popular noodle dish is the Crab Meat Khanoom Jeen. Hunks of crab in a lemongrass curry are piled next to vermicelli noodles, basil and mint leaves, boiled eggs, and chopped cabbage before your server blends it all together in front of you. Obviously you’ll find other Thai classics on the menu, but talk to your server if you’re in an adventurous mood.

Mango and Stick Rice
Save room for the Mango and Stick Rice. It’s freaking delicious.

Save room for dessert because Tamarind Hall’s Sticky Rice with Mango is one of the best I’ve ever had. The rice is silky and sweet and the mango was perfectly ripe.

Tamarind Hall, despite taking over a special street corner in the city’s foodie history, is destined for success because of Salisa’s passion for food and the people of Thailand. For more information, visit www.tamarindhall.com.

 

Mac Daddy in Potrero: Go for the mac and cheese, stay for the fried chicken

Garlic Mac topped with Fried Chicken Tenders
Garlic Mac topped with Fried Chicken Tenders

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Up until very recently, I paid an insane amount of attention to everything I was eating and how much exercise I was doing. After years of poking and prodding at my own belly fat and the size of my legs and thighs, I finally learned to accept my body and build as it is. Gone were the days of counting calories and today, I can finally detach the feeling of guilt while indulging in a beautifully-crafted, indulgent meal.

Potrero Hill’s new restaurant, Mac Daddy, would have given me serious chills back in the day – with their decadent mac and cheese dishes and famous fried chicken (more on that later). But alas, my girlfriend and I attempted to order everything off the menu on a recent San Francisco summer evening.

Potrero Hill isn’t a neighborhood I usually frequent, but there is some awesome food coming out of this area. Opened in May 2016 as the city’s first mac and cheese-focused restaurant, Mac Daddy has 12 different cheesy ways to pack in the calories on their menu. And let’s not forget the salads, soups, sides and main dishes also available on the list.

Owner Jocelyn Bulow enlisted the culinary help from Chef Brandon Peacock, who has roots in places like MUA in Oakland and Chapeau Bistro in SF. Chef Peacock even took his fried chicken to market when he appeared and WON a Fried Chicken Challenge on Food Network’s Chopped.

Mac Daddy is a small space, but its kitchen still packs a punch. Grab a seat at the counter or a spot outside on one of these very freak summer nights. You can start off your meal with a salad, ranging from a Cobb to a Kale Salad. But if you want to just go for it, minus the roughage, order up a few plates for the table.

Mac Daddy's fried chicken
Mac Daddy’s fried chicken
Fried Chicken on a bed of collared greens.
Fried Chicken on a bed of collared greens.

After hearing about Chef Peacock’s win on Chopped, we had to try it for ourselves. Go for the Fried Chicken meal, which comes with collard greens and a side of the Classic Mac Daddy. The chicken really was the winner of the night and had the right amount of crispiness and spices. We also ordered the Garlic Mac, with garlic butter, roasted garlic, gouda and pecorino, along with the Short Rib Mac, with mushrooms, rosemary and Mt.Tam Blue Cheese topped with crispy onion strings.

Mac Daddy's Short Rib Mac
Mac Daddy’s Short Rib Mac

These dishes are enormous and luscious all on their own. But if you’re one who likes to mess with perfection, you have plenty of options. All of the mac and cheese dishes can be made with gluten free pasta and can be customized in a ton of ways. Feel like adding some chorizo, guanciale, or fried chicken on top of or in your mac? They can do that. Trying to get some veggies into your pasta? They have a whole list of them that you can add in. Thinking about experimenting with some other cheeses? They can add cheeses like a truffle brie, Roquefort, or an aged goat cheese into the mix.

Mac Daddy broccollini
If you really want some greens at Mac Daddy, go for the Broccollini.

And if your meal wasn’t complete enough, go for a side of Chile Lime Corn or Oven Roasted Broccolini with black garlic for some balance. If you have the space, which we definitely did not, the dessert menu has pies and cake to soothe your sweet tooth.

Mac Daddy is definitely something for your radar when you’re looking for a hearty meal and a change of scenery. From the adorable counter seating, to the fried chicken and carb/cheese overload, this is a place you can feel good about waddling out of. For more information, visit www.macdaddysf.com.

Le Colonial in SF offers French Vietnamese dishes under beautiful design

Le Colonial's outdoor patio
The beautiful outdoor space at Le Colonial.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I’ll go out for a bowl or Phó or some spring rolls at least once every couple of weeks – especially since I live in a SF neighborhood that offers some serious Asian cuisine. That number goes up even higher when Karl the Fog starts rearing his ugly head, making for super chilly nights. There’s something so comforting about a big bowl of soup, or some Vietnamese-spiced noodle and rice dishes. However, when looking to step up my Vietnamese-food game, I got introduced to Le Colonial, an amazing, hidden spot for fancy French Vietnamese dishes.

Located near downtown SF and open for more than 15 years, Le Colonial is where you should go when looking for a romantic spot for a date, or to impress your colleagues and business partners. Fancy some authentic Vietnamese dishes with a touch of French flair? This place is perfect.

Le Colonial's Bright Eyes cocktail
Le Colonial’s Bright Eyes cocktail

Take in the fresh air and pull up a seat outside within the lush courtyard, or find a spot in the main dining room, or sneak away upstairs and find a seat in one of the many nooks at the Lounge for live music and people watching. The wine and specialty cocktail list is enormous. I’m a sucker for “healthy” cocktails and the Bright Eyes was calling my name: Boudier Saffron Gin, aperol, carrot juice, orange bitters, and muddled carrots.

Le Colonial's Appetizer Platter
Le Colonial’s Appetizer Platter

The beautiful Appetizer Platter from Le Colonial from nadia ibanez on Vimeo.

We started our meal by ordering the Appetizer Tasting Platter, which came with an assortment of Vegetable Spring Rolls; Crispy Rolls with crab, shrimp and chicken; Baby Back Pork Ribs glazed with hoisin and passion fruit sauces; Coconut Crusted Mini Crab Cakes; and Ahi Tuna Tartare. This platter is perfect if you can’t decide between a few different starters.

Le Colonial's famous shaken beef
Le Colonial’s famous shaken beef.
The Brussel Sprouts at Le Colonial
The Brussel Sprouts at Le Colonial are ridiculously addicting.

Le Colonial is known for its Bo Luc Lac, or Shaken Beef, and it’s pretty clear why. Filet mignon is cubed and is wok-seared in a sweet and savory soy sauce before served on a bed of watercress with pickled red onion, fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes and crispy lotus chips. This dish is stunning and you’ll love tearing into it to get the perfect bite. I highly recommend you order a bowl of their Coconut Rice and their Crispy Sweet Chili-Glazed Brussel Sprouts. Those dishes alone are well worth the trip to Le Colonial.

You’ll find some standard Vietnamese dishes on the menu, like Chicken Pho and Roasted Lemongrass Chicken, along with French-inspired cuisine like Steak Au Poivre Vert and French Seabass. Whether you’re in the mood for seafood, soup, or beautiful pieces of meat, there’s something for everyone. Save room for dessert because you’ll find items like the Le Colonial Banana Roties, caramelized bananas on baked cassava cake and Orange & Lime Crepes Cake.

Outside of Le Colonial
Outside of Le Colonial

For some of us, taking a break from their local Vietnamese mom and spot to try out “fancier” interpretations of traditional rice and noodle dishes offer perspective into the country’s tastes. The combination of the ingredients may be exactly the same, but the presentation, service, and ambiance makes for a world of change. For more information, on Le Colonial, visit http://www.lecolonialsf.com/.

 

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle: Where color, nature and avant-garde shapes come to play



Chihuly Garden and Glass and Space Needle
The Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Sometimes when I travel and know I’m headed to a landmark everyone knows and raves about, I’ll intentionally ward off all photos and online reviews so I can actually experience it for the first time with my own eyes. There’s something magical about going somewhere you know everyone loves and savoring the surprise for yourself.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Seattle these days and Chihuly Garden and Glass came highly recommended. If you’ve been to the Bellagio in Vegas, or one of the 200 museums where his work lives, you’re well aware of the magnificence in Chihuly’s creations. But if you want to be surrounded by beautiful glass installations – inside, outside and ceiling to floor – Chihuly Garden and Glass is definitely a must see.

We visited the Garden on a typically cloudy day and spent the day learning about Chihuly’s educational background, the things that have inspired his work, and where you can find his avant-garde pieces around the world. You could spend hours at this place and I highly recommend you do.

Every corner you turn, vivid colors and wild shapes are thrown in your face – in the best way possible.

Chihuly's Glass Forest
Chihuly’s Glass Forest

You’ll start your walking tour in the Glass Forest and mosey on into the Northwest Room and amazing Sealife Room. Don’t forget to spend some time in the Persian Ceiling room – it’s absolutely mesmerizing. My favorite room definitely was the Mille Fiori room where dozens of glass forms mimic extraterrestrial flora. The explosion of color is absolutely stunning.

Chihuly's Mille Fiore
Chihuly’s Mille Fiore

Chihuly-Mille-Fiore

“I’ve been inspired by so many things,” Chihuly says on the audio tour. “One of which was growing up in a garden that my mother had. She had beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas and I got to play in the garden and be around all of these beautiful, natural forms. They also had a big influence on me, in terms of color.”

Chihuly's Chandeliers
Chihuly’s Chandeliers

Chihuly-Chandelier-blue

Water lovers will appreciate the Ikebana and Float Boats room where glass pieces are placed in wooden row boats. Chihuly’s actual drawings, which came to fruition after his eye accident, are on display on the Drawing Wall. The enormous Chandeliers and the Macchia Forest are next on the tour and the colors and contrast will blow your mind.

Chihuly-Space-Needle
The Space Needle and a spattering of clouds. So Seattle.
Outside at the Chihuly Garden
Outside at the Chihuly Garden

The Glasshouse makes for the perfect photo op and if you angle your camera the right way, the Space Needle and City Center make for a great backdrop. The floral sculpture is 100 feet long and 25 feet high and is designed to fill up the glasshouse while also leaving a lot of negative space for your eyes to wander. Lastly, the Garden is a great way to end your tour. The natural landscape and glass complement each other in a beautiful way and makes for a great place to sit, relax and enjoy the scenery.

Chihuly-Garden-Glass-4

Chihuly Garden and Glass hosts other events revolving around kids, food, music and even yoga. If you’re a local Seattleite, check out their events calendar. This place is unreal and definitely worth spending a few hours in. You’ll be amazed at everything within these walls. For more information, visit www.chihulygardenandglass.com.

Thank you to the team at Chihuly Garden and Glass for letting us visit! We can’t wait to come back!