Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Eats at Oakland's Eat Real Festival

So this weekend was Oakland's turn to celebrate street food with its Eat Real Festival at Jack London Square. Unlike last week's San Francisco Street Fest, Oakland's party is a three-day event filled with demonstrations, competitions, and lots of good eats.

Another edge Oakland has over San Francisco, of course, is the weather. I dropped by Eat Real on Saturday. And while it wasn't super hot like last year, it was still sunny and actually, with the breezy weather, perfect to cool off the crowds that squeezed into parts of the waterfront.

Also different in presentation from the San Francisco festival is that Eat Real emphasizes more of the food trucks instead of food booth setup. So many of the vendors drove up their trucks and lined up in various parts of Jack London Square.

The first truck I visited was actually the San Francisco truck featured on The Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race." (Have you been watching it? It's like the Amazing Race but domestic and with food competitions.) Spencer On The Go is by Chef Laurent Kategely of the fancy French restaurant Chez Spencer in San Francisco. Last year he started his food truck to capitalize on the food truck craze.

At Eat Real, the truck was offering its escargot lollipops and this lobster bisque ($8). The bisque was actually sold as "Lobster Cappuccino" because it came with a foam on top. I tried this first because it was early and I was still working up my appetite, and this was a perfect starter for my day. Light and refreshing, the bisque had a definite lobster flavor that was very complex and tasty. The foam on top provided a nice cool creaminess to the overall bowl. It was one of the more expensive dish I ate at the festival (and I remember Kategely say on the show that "if you call it French, people will pay more") but thinking about the work that must have gone into creating this perfect bisque, I felt it was worth the $8.

There were some interesting setups, which made it feel like a food theme park walking around the festival. For example, this booth from Jim 'N Nick's BBQ looked like a street car from New Orleans. It was also smoking up a lot.

I decided to try Jim 'N Nick's pulled pork slider ($5) served up with a grilled corn on the cob. The bun was kind of small, so you can see the meat had a hard time staying on the bun. This was so messy to eat, but it was so good. The pork was tender with a very slight smokey flavor, not overpowering. I should have squeezed on more of the BBQ sauce (not that there wasn't enough, but I wanted to try the habanero-infused sauce but forgot). And the corn was perfectly charred, sweet and tender.

It was a porky morning for me, because soon after the slider I got this "Cajun Boudain" ($4) from a truck called 51st State (specializing in America's history of immigrant cuisine). The boudain was a pork and rice sausage served over a corn maque choux. The creamy corn was a nice summer side, but I have to say I was confused about the sausage. It looked nice and plump, but the texture inside was a bit mealy, making me worry that it wasn't fully cooked. Does anyone know if a boudain is supposed to be served that way?

I took a break from the eating to check out the many demonstrations occurring throughout the festival in smaller stages (last year they just had one big stage). Here someone talks about preserving. But really I was focused on how well behaved that chicken was sitting at the front crate. Turns out, it was a stuffed animal. But it sure looked real!

There were so many different foods that I didn't get to try, like this interesting Indian dish called bhel puri from the Soul Cocina booth. It's made with puffed rice mixed with heirloom tomatoes and mint chutney with a squeeze of lime. It was served up in a paper cone that you can hold in your hand while spooning into the bhel puri.

There were a mix of lines. Some places you could walk right up and others had super long lines, like the line for Gerard's Paella. He was making several large paella, including this massive seafood one.

There were booths everywhere. Near the end of the day I was nearly full and ended up walking near the water and found even more booths I missed earlier! Including this booth from Oakland's Chop Bar restaurant, which was serving up whole roasted pig.

One of the reasons I was full was this bun from the popular Chairman Bao. I've seen the truck before and always wondered why there was such a long line. It also had one of the longest lines at Eat Real. So I decided to see what the fuss was about. It took me about 15 minutes from standing in line to get my bun, which wasn't too bad. I ordered the Red Sesame Chicken bun ($3.50), which was served up with scallions and bok choy. It. Was. Amazing. I have to take back all my earlier suspicions on whether Chairman Bao is overrated. It. Is. Not. These tiny buns are so creative and tasty. The tender chicken is blended with the scallions and bok choy that tasted slightly pickled, giving it a nice contrast in flavors. I just wished I also got the pork belly bun, but that would have just pushed me over the edge.

I went hunting for dessert, and there were a lot of ice cream and popsicles (and surprisingly not as many cupcakes). I ended up getting a Red Velvet Shortcake from The Oakland Cupcake Company (which is opening a store on Lakeshore Avenue soon). The shortcake (upper left photo) was in a cup and was layered with whipped cream, which made it so good for the lightness. It was like eating a layered cake with cream. Later on a tried an alfajores from the Sabores del Sur booth, and it was so fresh. The sandwich shortbread cookie was so flakey and light and the caramel filling was so soft. The only thing was it was totally covered in powdered sugar and combined with the wind on Saturday, I'm pretty sure I dusted a lot of people around me.

It was a lot of fun exploring Eat Real. There were definitely crowds in certain parts like the aisle outside Boca Nova restaurant where it was a major clusterfuck. But otherwise, it was a beautiful day of eating and watching craftspeople celebrate artisan foods.


Alisa said...

I love street food! Love your photos!

foodhoe said...

hah that is funny re: stuffed chicken! I saw the 51st state truck, but didn't get a chance to check it out, that corn maque choux (is that pronounced like a sneeze?) does look good!

Carolyn Jung said...

Those Sabors alfajores are the bomb, aren't they? I buy them sometimes when I go to the Spanish Table store in Berkeley.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Oh. My. God. What a fun foodie event! We would have been all over that. Especially the Chairman Bao. And the whole roasted pig. Awesome.

There's so much variety! Wish they had something half as good here.

Anonymous said...

I just started watching the Great Food Truck Race, and it is a lot of fun to watch :). So the French guys were worth it? They seem a bit snobby on the show, but I'd love to try that bisque.