Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dish on Dining: Wood Tavern

A Year Later, It’s Still a Hot Spot in Oakland
6317 College Ave., Oakland
Outer Rockridge neighborhood
PH: 510.654.6607
Lunch, Mon.–Sat.; dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

This is a review that was a year in the making. I’ve tried twice to visit Wood Tavern soon after it opened in my Rockridge neighborhood, but was rebuffed both times. (First it was a Saturday night and they said it was a three-hour wait even though we arrived at 6 p.m.; the second time after arriving at 5:30 p.m. I tried to get a seat at the bar but the host couldn’t tell if a group was going to leave or not nor did she seem to want to find out.)

This is the kind of food frenzy (The Chronicle’s Michael Bauer named Wood Tavern one of the top 10 new restaurants of 2007) that makes me want to not like this place.

But I can’t. I. Love. Wood. Tavern.

A sure sign of its success is that Wood Tavern has completely erased the collective memory of the restaurant that was there before them (it was the popular Asian-fusion Grasshopper).

A couple of weeks ago, Wood Tavern celebrated its one-year anniversary. Opened by Rich and Rebekah Wood (formerly of Frascati in San Francisco), the handsome American Bistro-type spot is consistently busy for lunch and dinner, serving up bold California cuisine from the kitchen of Executive Chef Maximilian DiMare.

Getting dinner reservations for this East Bay hot spot can take up to a month’s lead time. So for my first visit, I decided to squeeze in for lunch on a Saturday.

I was the first to get a spot at the bar when I arrived at 11:45 a.m., but the restaurant quickly filled up while I was there and a few other solo diners joined me at the bar later.

The lunch menu is a condensed version of what I saw of the dinner menu on the restaurant’s Web site, plus they added a section of sandwiches. I decided to start with the Tavern Onion Soup ($9) and chose the Day Boat Scallop Salad ($17) as my main.

The soup was a rich broth that was covered with a cheesy layer of Swiss and Parmesan. It was substantial, probably because it contained braised pork pieces. Although the pork gave the soup a rich dimension, I thought it was an odd take on the classic French onion soup because the pork flavor really overpowered the sweetness of the onions. Still, it was tasty and I ate it all.

When my scallop salad arrived, it was this huge and beautifully designed plate of seared scallops, spinach, frisee, bacon bits and bread crumbs. It was held together by a creamy dressing with swirls of balsamic vinegar. When I took my first bite, the first word that came to my mind was “balance.” All the ingredients contrasted with each other, but in a way that in the end was a perfect harmony of flavors. (The only minor point for me was that my scallops were a bit on the raw side in the center, which is how most restaurants serve them but I like mines a bit more done.)

Buoyed by lunch, I decided to return for dinner on a Tuesday night. Still concerned that it would be hard to get a seat at the bar, even on a weeknight, I arrived soon after the kitchen opened at 5:30 p.m. (I actually walked in at 5:45 p.m. because I didn’t want to be the first one for dinner, but it didn’t matter because there were already two couples at the bar and a couple of tables already perusing the menu.)

I have to say the service at the front has become sharper and more efficient since those first few months after Wood Tavern opened. In those early days, the front staff seemed almost a bit smug about the difficulty getting a table, and they didn’t seem to be bothered that people had to wait nearly three hours. Today, I watched as the host warmly welcomed people and gave good guesses of how long a wait would be or made suggestions about when is the best time to return.

Both the lunch and dinner menu offers a “butcher block” with a variety of house-made meats and paté. But I thought it might be too much to order for myself. So I started with the seasonal Dungeness Crab Lyonnais ($15). A twist on the traditional French lyonnais salad, Chef DiMare served up fresh Dungeness crab meat with frisee, smoked bacon in a Champagne vinaigrette topped with a poached egg. It was a refreshing and light start, with the sweetness of the crab contrasting with the bold flavors of bacon. (Side note: there were some odd white cubes in the salad that I didn’t notice described in the menu. They looked and tasted like tiny potato cubes, but I couldn’t say for sure. I can’t say that they really added to the salad.)

For my entrée, I ordered the Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop ($25), which seems to be a mainstay on the seasonal menu. (Other regulars include the Pan Roasted Half Chicken, Niman Ranch Burger and Maple Leaf Duck Breast.) The menu definitely weighs more on the meat side, with maybe just one fish selection and one pasta dish to round it off.

They weren’t kidding when they said double cut. My pork chop was this beautifully grilled huge chunk of meat, surrounded with fingerling potatoes and pieces of kale. The coloring was perfectly golden, adding to its aroma. (Also adding to the dish was a Manhattan I decided to order. My bartender gave me two options for the whiskey and I left it up to him. He came back with this amber-colored drink that had a beautiful fragrance that totally complemented the aroma of the pork.)

I was amazed at how the pork chop was evenly cooked, despite it being at least two inches thick. I used each piece I cut to soak up the natural juice and Marsala wine sauce that was on my plate.

I wanted the meal to keep on coming so I decided to try the house profiteroles for dessert. The ice cream flavor used to stuff the profiteroles changes often. Tonight it was mint chocolate chip.

The profiteroles, while yummy with high-quality ice cream fillings, were just fine. I wasn’t necessarily wowed by the pastry portions.

Prices at Wood Tavern are on the high end for a so-called neighborhood restaurant (in fact, I saw that the prices went up an average $2 compared to last year’s menu). But it would be money well spent. Wood Tavern continues to generate buzz and has kick-started a dining trend in Oakland that’s making this East Bay city a destination spot for restaurateurs escaping the high costs of doing business in San Francisco.

Hmm, maybe I don’t need to catch BART into the city that often anymore?

Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (Expense it if you can find a business reason in Oakland)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Wood Tavern in Oakland

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Food Gallery

Today's feature focuses on these incredible carrots. Yes, that's right. Who knew carrots could be so colorful? These are organic carrots I purchased at Whole Foods. But they're not just regular root vegetables, but heirloom carrots. See that purple carrot? That's supposed to be how carrots are supposed to be before people pumped it up with beta carotene and made it all orange. I kind of like this dark, purple-ish carrot. Not only tasty, but oh so photogenic.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lazy-Day Chicken

I haven’t been feeling well lately, so that means I’ve also been uninspired in my cooking. I’ve been falling on a lot of the old standbys.

But recently with the cold weather and my added overall laziness, I decided to slow-cook a chicken. Slow-cooking, or braising, is perfect for my current lazy mood because you just prepare the ingredients, put them in a pot and then just forget about it, letting it cook for a nice long time. The braising liquid you create determines the flavor of your meat.

For a recent braise, I decided to try out one of the many spices I got from my sister for Christmas. I smelled this one particular one called Tabil from Tunisia and I loved the smell of coriander. I thought it would be nice for the chicken without overpowering it.

Most people would braise red meat because of all the tenderness that comes from the slow-cooking process. So some of you might not like braising a chicken because chicken really doesn’t take two and a half hours to cook. After awhile, it’s really just stuck in there to absorb the essence of the liquid and because I’m too lazy to fish it out. Some might find the braised chicken a bit stringy, especially the white meat, but I kind of liked the shredded feel of the white meat and the overall softness of the dark meat. Plus you get all that great liquid as a natural sauce.

The only challenge is trying not to bring the chicken out earlier than you should. I loved the smell of the spices cooking with the chicken. It filled my apartment with this wonderful aroma that I ended up getting hungry and wondered if I could really wait. But wait I did and I was rewarded with this tender chicken dish. Enjoy!

Braised Chicken

Copyright 2008 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 whole chicken, cut in half (about 1.5 to 2 lbs.)
3 to 4 carrots, chopped
half a sweet onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped (remove stems and fronds)
2 T Tabil spice blend (see below)
1 bay leaf
2 T flour
½ bottle of white wine
Water as needed
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cut your chicken in half down the spine and generously season with salt (I use about half a cup), making sure you rub the salt under the skin and inside the cavity. Leave in refrigerator overnight or at least two hours before cooking.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from refrigerator. Warm a Dutch oven over medium high heat with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then pan-fry the skin side of the chicken to get a nice golden color, about 2 to 3 minutes. You may need to do one half of the chicken at a time. Remove chicken from pot and set aside.

Reheat more oil and then add onions, carrots and fennel. Cook for about 2 minutes and then add flour and spices, just cooking enough to cook off the flour taste (less than a minute). Then deglaze the pan by adding the white wine. Put the chicken parts back in the pan on top of the vegetables, with the skin side up. Add more water if needed to fill the pot so that the liquid level covers the meat of the chicken but not drown it. Add bay leaf and season with about a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Cover and place in oven to cook for 2.5 hours.

When done, the chicken should be falling off the bone when touched with a fork. Place chicken onto plates with some of the cooked vegetables and liquid. Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite greens.

Makes 6 servings.

Pair with a glass of Riesling.

TIP: The liquid of your braised chicken can be oily because of the chicken skin. So you might want to let your chicken cool a bit and then skim off some oil before drizzling on the chicken. If you’re concerned about getting too much oil, remove the chicken skin before cooking.

TABIL BLEND: Tabil is a blend of spices from Tunisia used in African cooking. If you don’t have a Tabil blend available, you can create it by grinding together garlic cloves, coriander seeds, caraway seeds and cayenne pepper.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jamie At Home: Episode 7, Rhubarb

Today Jamie Oliver is working with rhubarb, which is something I haven’t really cooked a lot with. I see it in a lot of English cooking and I always think of pies, but I’ve seen lately people doing more with this interesting vegetable. Jamie says it’s a perennial and brilliant for dessert and savory dishes. They’re also really leafy. He’s like a bobbing head crouching in that field of rhubarb plants in the garden.

First, he makes something he calls “Speedy Rhubarb Fool.” (You can get the complete recipe on the Food Network site.) I’m not really sure what that means. Is he saying it’s so quick and easy any fool can make it? Or is he saying: “This is Speedy Rhubarb, Fool.” LOL. Anywho, Jamie’s basically making a master recipe that can be made into a compote, jam or dessert.

The trick, he says, is balancing the sweet and sourness. So how much sugar you put in it will make your Speedy Rhubarb fantastic or dead wrong. Jamie chops up some rhubarb and puts them in a pot, along with unrefined sugar (I notice he uses that a lot) and the juice of one orange. He says you can use water if you don’t have an orange around.

Then he gets some puff pastry sheets (I love using these, so easy) and slices off two inch-thick slices. Then he rolls them into a thin layer, dusting his board with cinnamon and icing sugar instead of flour. He says he’s doing this for an added sweetness. I’m not really sure what he has planned for them. He cuts them into an odd shaped triangular pieces and then place them in a sauté pan with some oil and starts cooking them.

As the puff pastry cooks away in the pan, he gets some Greek yogurt and mixes in some honey and orange zest. He checks his puff pastry sheets and says they should start puffing up as it browns in the pan, but they really just look like pancakes to me. He turns them over.

He brings out some glass dessert cups, and scoops some yogurt on the bottom. Then he checks his stewing rhubarb and says they’re ready when the rhubarb falls part when you pinch one. Jamie says you should check the syrup at this time, and if needed, you should add more sugar. This is the whole balancing thing he was talking about earlier.

I don’t think the rhubarb cooked that long, but I guess it’s ready because Jamie scoops some out and places them into the glass dish with the yogurt. He creates a layered thing with yogurt and rhubarb and then some yogurt, finally topped off with the rhubarb. The pink of the rhubarb looks pretty against the white of the yogurt, but you know what? It looks kind of like a watery mess? He gets his puff pastry sheets from the pan and serves it with the rhubarb yogurt dessert as a side. I think some biscotti would work just as well.

Rhubarb and Crispy Pork

Jamie’s back in his main garden kitchen, showing how rhubarb is nice for a savory dish. And when you think of sweet and savory, what do you think? That’s right, Asian baby. Jamie says he thought up this dish the other day and thought of the acid of rhubarb being similar to apples. So he’s going to make rhubarb with some pork (sans the apple sauce).

He gets four cloves of garlic and some fresh ginger, and two big red chilies and places them all in the processor. He adds a teaspoon of five spice and four tablespoons of soy sauce and the same amount of honey. Then he adds some rhubarb and pulses all this to create a rhubarb sauce.

He gets a casserole dish and adds pork belly that’s been cut into 1-inch chunks. He adds a pint of water and pours some of the rhubarb paste. Then he bakes the pork belly for an hour and a half in a 350 degree oven. Of course, this being the magic of television we cut to when he brings the cooked pork belly a second later. He tastes the sauce to see how it is, and adds more soy sauce.

Now that the pork belly is somewhat cooked, he’s going to give them color by sautéing them in a pan with ground nut oil. It’s Jamie’s attempt at wok frying, but without the wok. You know, Jamie cooks so often with Italian influences that it’s nice to see this Asian-influenced dish. Although it’s not very authentic, but I’ll look pass that.

At this point, he’s talking about how you want the pork and the sauce to caramelized into a nice golden brown and that way the sauce will just be “pukka.” Hey, he said pukka! He catches himself like he just swore or something. “Oh my. I said pukka. I haven’t said that word in 10 years.” He says it in this melancholy kind of way. Well, just for you Jamie: pukka, pukka pukka, pukka, PUKKA. ;-)

Jamie gathers some sprouts, cress, shiso and pick coriander. They all look pretty and small, a nice variety of micro greens. He chops up a spring onion and then gets ready to plate his dish.

He goes to a pot where he’s been boiling some noodles earlier. He gets some noodles and then places some pork on top, garnishing with the spring onions and then a mix of the sprouts and micro greens. And to mix up the Asian influence, originally starting out Chinese, he now adds lime and chili for that Thai or Vietnamese influence. It’s a weird mix of hot and cold ingredients. I don’t really get the fresh vegetables added to this pork noodle dish. But hey, I’m sure it’s pukka.

Rhubarb and Custard Souffle

Jamie’s in the tiny toolshed kitchen, which I notice he often ends his show cooking from this tiny spot. He’s making another dessert, this time a soufflé. (Recipe here.)

He preps the ramekins by rubbing them with butter, but instead of dusting with flour he’s going to use ginger snap crumbs. So he gets some ginger snaps and place them in a kitchen towel, which he then proceeds to whack against the side of the table. Jamie looks at the cameraman like he’s really loving working out his aggression. Just for the heck of it, he grabs a small rolling pin and uses that to whack the snaps. Of course, they’re totally pulverized and he uses them to dust the ramekins.

Using the same rhubarb from the compote he made earlier in the show, he puts a tablespoon in each ramekin. He puts some leftover rhubarb in a bowl, along with one egg yolk, store-bought custard and a teaspoon of flour. Then in separate a bowl, he gets four egg whites and a pinch of salt and beats them up. He stirs the other ingredients in the other bowl. Jamie is really multitasking. Then in the whites, he adds unrefined sugar, trying to get a nice shiny, silky blend. Then he gets a small scoop of the whites and folds them into the rhubarb mix. This is his way of slowly adding in the whites without loosing the air. In fact, Jamie makes a big point to say the air escapes as you mix, so you have to act quickly. He adds in the rest of the whites, folding it in gently but quickly.

He pours the rhubarb mix into the ramekins and places them on a preheated tray. He gently puts them into the oven, carefully closing the door. Souffles are so sensitive. He cooks them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. “Just leave them, trust them,” Jamie warns, saying not to be tempted to open the door.

Jamie’s lucky because his oven has a glass window (unlike mines) so he can tell when they’re all nice and puffy. So of course when Jamie brings out his cooked soufflé, they look perfectly golden brown and puffed up. I’m surprised he actually punctures the puffiness by getting a teaspoon and poking in the middle so that he can pour some more custard down the middle. Hmm, more custard. I guess it’s worth puncturing the soufflé for more custard. He finishes it off with some powdered sugar.

Creamy Rhubarb and Vodka Cocktail

I thought Jamie was done cooking, but he’s not. He’s out in his garden. It’s so sunny and I’m totally jealous because it’s been raining all weekend in the Bay Area. He gets the juice from the rhubarb, which looks kind of pretty. In a cocktail shaker, he puts two shots of the juice, a handful of ice, a shot of cream, a swig of milk, and two shots of vodka. He also puts a shot of liqueure I haven’t heard of. I think it sounded like “galleona.”

Anyway, he shakes it up in a way that only Jamie does so well, and then pours them into martini glasses. They’re just like strawberry cream. Hmmm, looks good. Cheers.

Must be a British Thing:
Just some clarification on some of the terms Jamie uses.

Cress=baby water cress

Icing sugar=confectioner’s sugar

Jamieisms heard in this episode:



Mucking about

Jamie At Home airs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on the Food Network. Visit Jamie’s Web site at More on the accompanying book for the series here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What's In My Frig?

This is what it looked like in my refrigerator a few days ago. I had a whole bunch of these individual-size yogurt, not because I like variety (but I actually do), but because I've been feeling bored with my standby yogurt I usually buy. So I decided to test a few different ones to see if I can find a new favorite.

I notice at Whole Foods, they have so many low-fat and organic yogurt. So I just picked a few interesting ones. Let the taste test begin:

Cascade Fresh Fat-Free Yogurt (Orange Cream flavor), 79 cents. I thought this would be like eating a Creamsicle, which I used to love as a kid. But it was tart and had this odd chalky texture in my mouth. The texture was a bit more firm like custard, but not really pleasing. It says it's gluten-free and it didn't have any fat. Just sodium (4%), potassium (10%), carbs (7%) and protein (14%). For the orange flavor, they used mandarin orange marmalade at the bottom that wasn't that great. I didn't like this one.

Stonyfield Farm Organic Fat-Free French Vanilla Yogurt, $1.19. This had a clean texture that was like those Chinese tofu desserts I like, so it definitely was easier to swallow. It has no artificial sweeteners and also no fat. This was a possible substitute for my regular yogurt, but I didn't fall in love with it.

Clover Organic Farms Natural Low-Fat Yogurt (Vanilla Bean), $1.19. This was one of the worse of the batch, mostly because it was the most sour. I didn't like it even though it had a texture similar to creme brulee and it had the least calories (90) than all the others. The downside: it did have 3% fat and 8% saturated fat.

Brown Cow All-Natural Vanilla Bean, 99 cents. This had a nice, subtle flavor with a harder texture similar to soft cottage cheese that's been blended. I kind of liked this the best, although, again, I don't think it was way better than my current favorite (the Danon Light & Fit Vanilla Yogurt). This had 150 calories and fat (3% total fat and 5% saturated fat).

Rachel's Relax Vanilla Chai Yogurt, $1.19. This had the nicest packaging, and I liked the whole relax idea. But it was tart and tangy, which some might like in yogurt but I don't unless it's frozen. There were hints of cinnamon, which I guess is the chai part. Even though this had a low-fat yogurt appearance, it had the most calories (160) compared to the others and it also had 4% total fat and 8% saturated fat. Also 3% cholesterol, which appeared in only a couple of others.

So despite all the varieties, I still couldn't find a new yogurt that I would love to eat every night. I guess I have to keep looking. If you have a favorite you want to recommend, let me know!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dish on Dining: Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen -- CLOSED

A Delightful Overture to Any Night Out
UPDATE 09/22/10: The restaurant is now only open to private events and retail wine sales. No restaurant.
1666 Market St. (near Gough), San Francisco
Between the Hayes Valley and Mission neighborhoods
PH: 415.437.1770
Hours: Mon.–Thu., 5:30–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–midnight
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

A wine bar—traced back to the quick hearty bites and flowing wine of Italy—is the perfect place for a light meal, especially if you have no reservations and have other plans for the night. That’s the predicament I found myself in last night when I had plans to go to my first ballet performance for the season. Showtime was a little earlier than usual, set for 7:30 p.m.

Most restaurants in the nearby Hayes Valley neighborhood are packed with pre-show diners, and many won’t let you in unless you’ve made a reservation or have arrived more than 2 hours before the curtain rises. But when going out by myself, it seems silly to make a reservation for one (and despite my age I’m not really an early-bird special kind of guy).

So instead, I ventured not too far to Market Street to the Cav Wine Bar and Kitchen, which opened in 2005 next door to the venerable Zuni Café. Cav’s owner, Pamela Busch, is all too familiar with the Civic Center performance crowd since she used to own the wine bar Hayes and Vine on Hayes Street.

But Cav is far from the days of Hayes and Vine. Sure, you can still find an extensive book of wine choices along with prepared wine flights to taste. But that’s all augmented with creative dishes coming out of the kitchen. (According to its Web site, Busch heard the debate over whether Cav is a wine bar or a restaurant so often that she added the word “kitchen” to the name a year later.)

Since I was eating somewhat early, I didn’t have any problems scoring a seat at one of Cav’s zinc-top tables that surround the front bar. The zinc-top tables blend with the overall industrial feel of the décor, which included a massive graffiti mural and graffiti painting near the entrance. Initially, I thought the graffiti was an odd contrast to the sophisticated cozy feel of the bar. But after awhile I realized it was a brilliant commentary on Cav’s location. It sits at the part of Market Street that for years have been struggling between the dual identities of up-and-coming neighborhood with fine restaurants and antique stores and the reality of the homeless wanderers outside.

The kitchen is run by Executive Chef Michael Lamina, who started out as a sous chef at Cav but was promoted to top chef after Christine Mullen left last October. From what I can tell, Lamina has kept the Mediterranean approach to cooking that began with Mullen.

The menu is broken up to primarily two sections: one for small plates and another for large plates/entrees. I was hoping to see more among the small plate selection (I still had the idea of a wine bar in my mind despite the word “kitchen”) but that’s fine because I was able to zero in on two possible favorites: the Truffled Leek Terrine with Crispy Pig Ear ($12) and the Pimenton-Braised Baby Octopus ($12).

My friendly server scared me on my third choice of trying the house-made charcuterie platter ($22). I thought it might be a few slices but he said it was a pretty large plate of sliced meat. I decided to save that for another time when I could drag a friend with me. So I settled for the Seared Duck Breast ($21) because you know my rule about duck on the menu (always order it because it’s too much trouble to make at home).

Side note: Wednesday night is also when Cav offers a special weekly tasting menu for $50 (which doesn’t include accompanying wine flight). It was an enticing menu of three main tastes—lobster was included as an ingredient for one dish—and a dessert, but because I was worried I might be pushing it with my ballet performance, I also decided to save this for another time.

I feel like I should say something about the wine, given that Cav started out as a wine bar. The impressive list includes wine from all around the world. In fact, the list of California wines was a bit shorter than what I’ve seen at other California restaurants as Cav gave equal weight to California and the wines from Europe, Australia, South America, South Africa, etc.

Cav offers a special wine flight for the night (last night focused on Chardonnays) and wine by the glass, with prices for a full glass and a “tasting” (which is usually half a glass).

For dinner, I ordered a tasting of the Viognier from Kestrel of Yakima Valley to go with my two starters and a tasting of the “Cace è Mmittee de Lucera,” an Italian red wine from Alberto Longo Winery of Puglia, to go with my duck.

My leek terrine and baby octopus came together to start. Both of these dishes were served cold.

The terrine was interesting layers of soft, buttery leeks with a butter-like brown substance. But it was bland. However, it was saved by the contrasting flavors of the salad on the side, which was simply arugula dressed with an aggressive vinaigrette (quite welcomed given the bland terrine) mixed with crispy pig ears. The crunchy pig ears (I know, difficult to read, harder to write) was delightful. I’m not sure if it was because anything fried is good or that it was so vastly different than the leek terrine, but I could have just eaten a big plate of the pig ear salad and left happy.

My octopus had a very Spanish feel (and not just because it took on the color of the smoked paprika) with its tender texture and cold temperature. When traveling in Barcelona, I found that a lot of seafood dishes are served this way to highlight the freshness of the ingredient. It did just that, with its taste accented by the crunchy fennel underneath.

Finally came my seared duck, which was served with spaetzle and creamed mustard greens. While I love any seared duck, I was disappointed at this particular dish of the evening. The duck was a little overcooked, so it wasn’t as juicy as I’d hoped nor did it have the classic caramelized sear I’ve seen at other places. And it was sitting in a jus that was overly salted. The spaetzle (the traditional German pasta-like substance) tasted like bits of Cup of Noodles. The only redeeming factor of this dish was the incredibly tasty creamed greens on top.

Despite the unbalanced nature of the duck dish, I found Cav’s other dishes to be a nice blending of contrasting flavors, artfully presented and nicely enhancing the wine selection. The service is friendly and informed, adding to the hip neighborhood vibe and the casual approach to a night out.

Another side note: Cav has a nice dessert menu and cheese selection, but I decided to skip dessert and instead went across the street to the nearby Delessio Market and Bakery. That’s where I got a mini cupcake—the chocolate brownie with vanilla malt. It was such a perfect, sweet ending to my dinner that I was literally skipping to the ballet.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Eat, drink, be merry)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Cav Wine Bar in San Francisco

BTW, if you haven’t been to the San Francisco Ballet, you should definitely check it out since this year marks the 75th anniversary of this world-class ballet in our very own backyard. The performances are always exuberant and refined.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Get Ready for Fish Fridays

This year I’m trying to be better about my observance of Lent (Day 14 people!), so that means abstaining from meat on Fridays until Easter. Now, it’s not a strict vegetarian diet because we’re still allowed to eat fish, which I often do. (Sushi is a top choice if I can afford it.) Still, it takes some planning on my part because I eat chicken and pork so often that meat often creeps into my recipes somehow or another.

It’s also a challenge because Friday is still a work day, so again, as the Single Guy, I’m too tired after going to the gym after work to really do a lot of cooking. That’s why I keep it very simple and easy on the weeknights.

One of the simplest things to do, especially during citrus season, is to serve a nice piece of fish by itself seasoned with only salt and pepper and then served with a refreshing citrus-type salad. The trick to really make your fish look fancy is creating that nice sear on the top. Like I keep hearing Tyler Florence say on his show, “color equals flavor.” I hear you Tyler.

For this recipe below, I bought a nice piece of farm-raised halibut from Whole Foods. It’s a nice, meaty fish that flakes perfectly when cooked just right. And the citrus of choice? A ruby grapefruit. I love grapefruits because they’re so healthy for you. I just served it with some mixed greens and used the juice as the basis for the dressing that I poured on both the salad and the halibut to create a glaze.

To top it off, I roasted some fingerling potatoes as a side. I chose fingerlings because they’re small, so you know what that means, right? Shorter cooking time. They took only 30 minutes to roast in a 350-degree oven. I started with my potatoes and timed the cooking of the fish to finish just as the potatoes got done. So I made everything in 30 minutes. Please don’t call me Rachel. Enjoy!

Seared Halibut with Grapefruit Salad

Copyright 2008 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 halibut filet (about 6 oz.)
1 Ruby grapefruit
2 cups mixed greens
2 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

For dressing:
1 T grapefruit juice
1 T Dijon mustard
3 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

To start, cut your grapefruit into sections, removing the skin and pith then set aside. Squeeze remaining grapefruit flesh to get the juice and make the dressing by combining all the ingredients.

Season your halibut filet with salt and pepper. Warm olive oil in an oven-safe sauté pan over high heat and place the halibut skin side up to sear the top. Cook untouched for about 2-3 minutes, then flip it over. Drizzle a bit of your grapefruit dressing over the fish and place the fish in the oven. Cook until done, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on the thickness of your filet.

In a small bowl, toss the mixed greens with the grapefruit sections in your grapefruit dressing. When fish is done, add your salad to your plate with the fish. Serve with roasted fingerling potatoes.

Makes one serving. Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

TIP: When searing your fish, it’s important to have a high heat so that the fish doesn’t stick to the pan. That initial shock of heat will create a nice sear to easily separate from the pan with a spatula. While you shouldn’t touch the fish so that you get a nice brown color, you also shouldn’t forget about the fish and let it cook any longer than needed or else it’ll be blackened. After a few tries you’ll know how long your stovetop takes to sear a fish on high heat perfectly brown.

EMULSIFY IT: When making the dressing, always add the olive oil last. The best way to make sure the ingredients mix nicely and “emulsify” (that’s a fancy word huh?), slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream from the bottle to the bowl while constantly whisking the ingredients to mix as you add.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hook Me Up: Gaylord's Caffe Espresso

Happy Presidents' Day to everyone. I'm chilling it near the hood on my day off, so I decided to check out the cafes near my home in North Oakland. The first place I went to was nice but small so all the tables were taken. So I walked a few yards down to Gaylord's Caffe Espresso, which always seem packed so that's why I thought I'd avoid it.

And when I got here, I was right. It was packed and didn't look like a table would be free by the time I ordered my tea. Luckily, one did so I sat myself down.

If you believe the window, Gaylord's has been serving up coffee since 1976, so it has that institutional feel. What I really like about it is all the funky artwork on the wall. It's this huge space with a bunch of round tables filling every spot. Like I said, it was packed when I got here around 2:30 p.m., but now it seems to have loosened up a bit and a few people have left. But there's a constant stream of people coming in and out so you have to grab a seat fast when you get here.

I'm really disappointed at the food choices here. They just have sandwiches and baked goods. The baked goods really look home-baked, but not necessarily in a good way. I also found that the people here are really not very organized about the line. Everyone's all laid back so some people are standing, waiting for their order but they also look like they're standing in line, and for some reason they look really disgusted when you ask if they're in line, like it's such an assumption on my part. Um, lady, move to the side if you're not in the line and then I wouldn't have to ask. Weird vibe so far among the customer base.

I just got a pot of Madagascar Vanilla tea and a lemon bar that was wrapped up in cellophane. The lemon bar looked weird and the tea steeped too long so it tastes really dark and virtually no hint of vanilla. Luckily I ate before I got here.

Gaylord's has a great wi-fi connection, very strong despite so many people hooked up to it. But you pay for it, $1 per hour, so I only have 30 minutes left and will have to sign off and just work on organizing my photos on my laptop. I like the neighborhood feel of Gaylord's with its mixed group of regulars, but I bet most people come for the atmosphere because it's definitely not the coffee or the food.

I'm really amazed at how Piedmont Avenue near my home has all these coffee places, but at the same time they all seem so packed. Where do everyone come from? Don't they know it's a holiday? Oh well, I'm down to 20 minutes so got to get going and POST. :) (UPDATE: OK, so maybe it's not $1 per hour of wi-fi. I waited past the hour to see what would happen and doesn't look like Gaylord's wi-fi system can figure out if you've gone beyond your 1 hour allotment, even though that's what it says on the receipt. So I'm just pushing it as far as I can go. You may still see me here later tonight. Ha!)

Gaylord's Caffee Espresso
Location: 4150 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
PH: 510.658.2877
Food: Baked goods, sandwiches
Coffee: Equal Exchange free-trade coffee
Tea: Unknown
Wi-Fi: Yes, $1/per hour (password on your receipt), but really, you can keep on wi-fiing it until you leave.
Outlets: Yes, alongside the walls.
Restrooms: Yes
Seating: About 20 small, round tables and two Pac Man game tables.
Cleanliness: Average

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jamie At Home: Episode 6, Leeks

Jamie Oliver is finally back in his garden, and this time he’s surrounded by some pretty big leeks. I love leeks. The flavor is milder than onions but not as sharp as spring onions. He says leeks are underrated. I’m surprised to hear that because like I said, I love them and use them often as a base for soups or stews. Does anyone else think it's weird that he names all his food “mister”? (i.e., “Welcome to Mr. Leek.”)

Pappardelle and Slow-Braised Leeks

Jamie has cut some huge leeks and is talking about washing down to get all the grit out. (I personally soak my cut leeks to make sure all the sand is wash away.) He has four leeks and slices them the same thickness as the pappardelle he plans on using. He puts some olive oil in a sauté pan along with a nub of butter. He says butter and leeks are brilliant because they both have the same texture that’s, well, buttery. He adds three cloves of thinly sliced garlic and some fresh thyme. He throws in the leeks and coats them with the oil and butter, beginning the braising process by adding half a glass of white wine and a pint of vegetable stock.

Jamie brings out these beautiful parma ham prosciutto, which he uses to create a thin layer cover over the cooking leeks. He does this instead of using parchment paper (although I bet parchment paper would be cheaper) to trap the steaming effect and keep the leeks moist while it cooks for 30 minutes.

Jamie’s using a lot of French terms in this episode, and I can’t catch them all. But he says something about making a pan of bread crumbs. He cuts up some stale bread and the in his food processor pulses some dried mushrooms (he says if you can use porcini, they’d be good) and throws in the bread pieces. In a pan, he warms olive oil and infuses it with two cloves of garlic and a rosemary stick. Then he adds the pulsed bread crumbs (not all of it, just a handful) and toasts them in the pan.

Here’s his cheat about making pasta: Instead of using freshly made pappardelle, he buys the pre-made sheets of lasagna. Now, you’re thinking, why not just buy fresh pappardelle pasta? Jamie’s already ready for this question and starts talking about cooking as heart and soul and love. He says he cooks because he likes to be happy. And I guess he’s saying he’s happy when other thinks he’s made hand-made pasta by giving it that rustic home-made look by cutting up lasagna sheets. Jamie thinks cutting up fresh lasagna sheets may take you one step closer to making your own pasta. Hmm, I don’t think so, but nice try Jamie.

He adds the “hand-cut” pasta to a pot of boiling water.

Jamie starts to put together the pasta dish. He takes the prosciutto off his leeks and cuts them up and throws them back with the leeks, adds freshly grated parmesan and some butter, then gets his pasta and throws it into the leeks and stirs everything together, mixing all the cheese, butter, and pasta water. He finishes the dish off with his pan-toasted bread crumbs along with more grated parmesan. He says you’ll clean up in the dinner making awards with this dish. (Complete recipe on the Food Network site.)

Concertina Squid with Grilled Leeks

He’s back in the garden with someone that he doesn’t really introduce. I’m assuming he’s the gardener. James gathers some greens from his garden, including some Italian radicchio that looks huge like turnip leaves. He also gathers some fennel, all for a grilled vegetable salad for the winter.

Jamie’s cooking at his wood garden and says he’ll be making a “trendy” dish. (The complete recipe posted here.) He steamed his baby leeks for about five minutes and coats them with olive oil and salt and pepper, then places them onto a grill.

Also on the grill his thinly cut fennel bulb and radicchio leaves (he places these without any oil, just dry).

He starts making a warm dressing for his salad by cutting up a chorizo sausage and fries the pieces in a pan to render some of the fat, which he’ll use for the dressing. (BTW, he places the pan right onto the coals. That’s some hot heat.)

He removes the grilled vegetables and he says (jokingly) that they look miserable. He says you might think he’s gone mad. Never, Jamie.

In the pan of frying chorizo, he adds some chopped rosemary, garlic and then some really thick balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice. He stirs everything up.

For the salad, he’s serving it with squid, so Jamie gets the squid out and shows a trick using two knives. He sticks one knife into the body of the squid piece, and then uses the other knife to score the squid. He calls this the concertina cut, I think? Again, he’s using a lot of fancy terms that I don’t catch. Either way, this is a very Spanish dish but he says he couldn’t get anything like this in Spain so he made it himself. He drizzles the squid pieces with olive oil and fennel greens, season with salt and pepper, and throws them onto a preheated pan and puts it in the wood oven to roast.

Jamie looks like he’s going to combine everything for his final dish, but he puts all his wilted vegetables into a bowl, while on a cutting board he puts the squid with a bunch of vegetables on the side. I’m a bit confused about this presentation, but that doesn’t matter to Jamie, who calls it “flipping brilliant.”

Huh, only two dishes in this episode? Jamie’s slacking off. Hopefully he’ll make an extra dish next week.

Jamie At Home airs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on the Food Network. Visit Jamie’s Web site at More on the accompanying book for the series here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Never Take a Challenge Before Its Time

I love quizzes, especially the multiple choice ones. And what do I like more than quizzes? Challenges. I’m the guy on Facebook who gets a challenge from a friend and ultimately wants to beat said friend’s score. So this was a fun quiz I found recently on the Fine Living Web site testing your knowledge of wine. It’s just 10 questions and I mostly guessed the answers. I got 9 out of 10 correct! And Fine Living says I’m a “fine wine expert.” Ha!

So I challenge you to beat my score. Hmm, I guess that means you’ll have to be perfect? Start taking the quiz now.

Disclaimer: Sorry, no prizes for taking this challenge. Just the pleasure of beating one Single Guy Chef. If you can.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

For The Love of Free Food

Last night I went to a free screening of a documentary called “The Pursuit of Equality.” It really is a film about the pursuit of love, and focuses on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision four years ago on the eve of Valentine’s Day to allow same-sex marriages to take place in City Hall—igniting a frenzy and a national debate that continues to this day.

Now, I realize the idea of same-sex marriages is a very politically charged topic. And since this is a food blog, I’m not going to get in it. Nor am I going to critique the documentary. (If you’re interested, you can check out the documentary’s Web site here.)

What I am going to do, however, is to talk about the spread that was put out prior to the screening at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The catering was done by the Jack Falstaff restaurant in San Francisco, part of the PlumpJack Group that’s owned by Mayor Newsom. All the food and the free screening were underwritten by AT&T and PG&E.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived were these mini-buns. I was hoping they’d be mini-burgers, but they actually were thinly sliced ham with mixed greens. The use of mixed greens to accent these bun-wiches was an interesting touch, but the overall taste was like any other ham sandwich.

What I really liked were these tomato-cheese crostinis. I don’t remember what kind of cheese were used, but it was really yummy. As you can see, I had to snap my photos really quickly before the hungry crowd grabbed everything.

These chicken skewers needed a better presentation. But they were very tasty. I thought they would have a basic teriyaki sauce but they actually had a nice, light glaze. I enjoyed it.

They were also passing out these appetizers with eggplant, but I didn’t try them because I’m not a big fan of eggplant. See how they always look mushy?

Along with the typical fruit platter and coffee station, there were also large platters of strawberries (are they really in season?) and cheese. There were these cut pieces of brie that was perfectly served at room temperature. I really liked the softness but it still held up its shape so you could just pop them in your mouth as opposed to feeling the need to spread it. But what’s more exciting was what was towering above the strawberries and cheese…

…it was this multi-level dessert station with little chocolate cakes and a mix of cookies. It was an interesting presentation, but unfortunately I never got around to trying one because I was too busy …

… at the open bar. The bar’s sponsors included Absolute Vodka so that made me ask for a vodka martini. But they didn’t have vermouth so basically the bartender just gave me a glass of shaken vodka with ice. Oh well, I wasn’t complaining. ;-)

It was the best spread of free food I’ve had in awhile. And luckily I got there early because by the time I ran into other friends, they were only left with fruit and cheese to snack on before the screening.

Here’s a tasty dish: I was sitting near the VIP section and just two rows away from model-turned-actor Jason Lewis (“Sex and The City”). I wasn’t exactly sure why he was there or how he was connected to the film since he wasn’t featured in it nor did he do the narration. Still, afterwards I went up to meet him and he was so sweet and gracious.

Anywho, it was a fun night out. Hope you’re having a nice Valentines Day. And my wish to you all is that you’ll find love, and when you do, your government will sanction it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dish on Dining: B Restaurant & Bar

Lunching It in Old Downtown Oakland
499 Ninth St. (at Washington), Oakland
Historic Old Town District
PH: 510.251.8770
Open for lunch and dinner, Tues.–Sat.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Oakland’s Old Town is finally emerging as a foodie hotspot, with trendy places such as Levende East and Trappist (the Belgian beer joint) opening in the hood. But one of the early pioneers (dating back to 2005) to combine a sophisticated décor with solid food is B Restaurant and Bar.

B (the initial is probably from its connection with San Francisco’s Boxed Foods Company) is a modern bar with good bones. Its décor reflects a trendy feel like any other concrete-emboldened place in SOMA in the city, but its exterior blends in nicely with the refurbished Victorian touches of the late 1800s.

B has been so successful in Oakland that it started its own reverse trend last year when it opened a second B Restaurant & Bar in San Francisco on Howard Street. I haven't checked that location out, but I'm sure the styling fits in nicely with the SOMA crowd.

I recently visited B (in Oakland) for the first time with my friend Jeanne. We arrived early to beat the weekday lunch crowd and were promptly seated at one of the restaurant’s clear resin tables, which add to the industrial look of the space. I could barely catch up with Jeanne, who recently moved to the Bay Area, because I kept getting distracted by the resin table. It was so clear. It was so large. Its bolts were clearly visible. It was definitely a conversation piece—at least the conversation in my head.

As we ate, the place eventually filled up and became very loud. I can just imagine what it must be like on a Friday night.

For the lunch menu, B offers a variety of salads, wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches. Of course, you could also order some of B’s signature drinks like the B Completo (a shot of tequila with a side of house sangria mix) or the Love On (Skyy vodka, raspberry puree and pineapple juice).

Jeanne and I skipped the drinks (but we did order the pomegranate lemonade, which morphed into a raspberry lemonade, which was very tart).

We started with the B Caesar ($9) salad. It was a towering green of bibb lettuce topped with pickled onions and parmesan crisps and croutons. It was dressed with a special silken tofu dressing that was rich and creamy. I liked the addition of the pickled onions, which helped to cut the richness of the dressing. But I have to say I’m a Caesar traditionalist and found the use of bibb lettuce distracting (maybe not as distracting as the resin table but still).

It was my first time eating bibb lettuce, which looked and had the same texture as butter lettuce, except bigger. While the yellow part was slightly crisp, which was somewhat like romaine, the green part was velvety and soft.

For our lunch, Jeanne ordered the P-L-T ($8), a play on the traditional B-L-T sandwich but substituting the bacon with pancetta. Jeanne enjoyed her sandwich, especially the nice toasty texture of the roll.

I went for the Pork and Slaw sandwich ($9)—slow-cooked pork served with a Napa cabbage slaw on a bun. The pork was nicely cooked but the vinegar from the slaw overpowered it, along with the bun. The bottom layer of the bun was already soggy by the time my sandwich arrived at the table, so I resorted to eating it with a fork and knife. While filling, I felt the sandwich wasn’t balanced between the smoky flavor of the pork and the vinegar of the slaw.

Side note: Our server was friendly but she didn’t seem to know the menu really well. She had to go and ask the kitchen for some answers to some of our questions, including the soup of the day. (The menu clearly states, “see server for selection,” so you’d think she would have been ready for at least that.) Many of the servers looked like they were primarily bartenders helping out at the tables.

While I liked the restrained creativity in B’s menu and its emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, I found the execution to be a bit average. Which in that case it probably should be known as the C Restaurant and Bar.

THIS JUST IN: After posting this review, I read in today's San Francisco Chronicle Food section that B Restaurant has changed its chef. Saman Javid is out and veteran David Seawell (who has worked with Jeremiah Tower) is stepping in with a lighter touch to B's American classics. Now, the question is when I tried B last week did I have a taste of a transition kitchen crew or the new flavor of Seawell's command? I'm hoping it was the former. I may need to revisit B in a few months to see if Seawell has improved the grade.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (more fun as bar than restaurant)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

B Restaurant in Oakland