A weekend trip to the Bay Area is the perfect remedy for the Bako blues! Hubby and I went up last weekend to visit our daughter, see her new apartment, and go to the Warriors vs Knicks basketball game. We managed to fit all that in, plus go out to eat at some of our fave dining spots and try something new too. So here’s the rundown on where and what we enjoyed on our little 48-hour trip.
First of all the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and all points within 50 miles or so) is food lovers’ heaven. We live in Bakersfield (transplants from L.A.) which, contrary to popular belief, is truly a great place to live, except for a few small issues… 1) the food culture is lacking (growing, but still lacking)… not very many good restaurants and limited choices for non-meat-eaters; 2) the air is about the most polluted in the state (although it doesn’t seem any worse to me than L.A.); and 3) despite the fact that most of the produce in the United States (and much of the world’s) is grown here in California’s central valley, the fresh produce selection in markets is so-so, and the farmers markets are not much better. I guess I got a little spoiled living in West L.A. for so many years before moving up here… beautiful, fresh produce everywhere, plentiful farmers markets, and some of the best little restaurants in the world. Thus, little weekend getaways, whether to Santa Fe, the SF Bay, or down to L.A. are usually a little food-focused (at least for me!).
We headed out of our hotel late Saturday morning to visit the Ali Akbar College Store in Berkeley. I have a beautiful concert harmonium I purchased in India 10 years ago that needed repair and my husband has a “very best quality” (and it really is) dhol drum needing restringing. We chatted with the store guy, I tried out just about every harmonium in the shop, left our instruments for repair, and then headed out to find a morning “snack” before we met our daughter later for lunch. I’d been digging out from under a boggy cold for a couple days and wanted something with a little spice. I googled “Indian Chat” (thinking paranthas or the like) and discovered “Vik’s Chaat” on the corner of Channing Way and 4th Street in Berkeley; it had good ratings and was just a mile or two away. In 5 minutes we were there.
Vik’s Chaat & Market is mainly a large Indian fast-food “snack” restaurant with everything you’d desire. Chaat is what Indian snack or “street food” is called. Tasty, spicy, mostly fried, and so so good. Obviously Vik’s puri’s (fried breads) are top sellers because the easy majority of customers, many of whom were of Indian descent, walked away from the pickup counter with one of the 12-inch breads (huge and puffed up so high they looked like toasted beach balls!) — I watched a couple seated by us happily tear off pieces and use them to scoop up spicy sambar. While called “puri” on the menu, by the size I would guess they are actually batura, similar to puri but made with all-purpose flour. My husband got the dosai-sambar and I ordered a gobi parantha with extra green chile and ginger and a masala chai (masala chai is sort of like Yogi Tea but with more black tea). I was a little disappointed to learn that they would not customize my parantha because they make them all in advance (!!!!!) and they only had plain chai (with cardamom). Plain chai is pretty customary, but many chaat spots will happily whip up a batch of masala chai if asked. Hubby was very pleased with his dosai and ate every bite. I must be honest in saying I wasn’t jumping up and down about my parantha. Perhaps they put cornmeal in the dough or between layers to prevent them from sticking together… it had a gritty texture. Plus, the stuffing did not seem fresh and lacked flavor. But who am I to complain, I also ate every bite! I must add that I did have a bad cold and was pretty stuffed up… taste buds not fully functioning…. Even so, I probably would not order a parantha there again. It’s clearly a spot favored by the locals.
Then we hooked up with our daughter and got the tour of her new apartment; she moved up from a lovely little studio to a smart and well-designed one-bedroom. Perfect for her. Then off to meet her boyfriend for lunch at Burma Superstar!!!
There are three Burma Superstar restaurants, one in SF near Golden Gate Park, one in Berkeley, and the last in Alameda. I have only ever had the Sumosa Soup (4 times now) but my daughter swears everything on the menu is just as good. If ever you are in the Bay Area and want to try something new and amazing, please go there! The Sumosa Soup is brothy, spicy, indescribably satisfying, stimulating, full of fresh veggies, and bits of sumosas (I believe something like Indian samosas, but very different). If you are under the weather, this soup is perfect! I was simply in heaven and except for a small serving I shared with my husband, I ate the entire big bowl up, every drop! This was the first time I actually have eaten in the restaurant. We arrived just after noon and there were a few empty tables; we were quickly seated. Within a short time the place was packed (as is typical) and the line was out the door. If you go and are not in the mood to wait for a table, get food to go, or better yet, try Postmates (they deliver anything from any restaurant or store to you within an hour). Another big plus with Burma Superstar… they are very friendly with vegetarians and happily can accommodate/adapt almost everything on their awesome menu.
My intention was to take photos of food everyplace we went to eat. Every single time, when the food arrived I forgot completely about photos and remembered only the company I was with and the food we were sharing. My apologies! Luckily my husband snapped some photos of the restaurants.
After lunch they all went bowling at the Plank in Jack London Square and I went back to the hotel to nap for a few hours. I think Saturday was the worst day of whatever virus I had. I knew I had to rest if I was going to be up for going out again later. Let me say, I simply love those blackout curtains. I was asleep in a flash and woke up feeling a bit better!
For dinner we (daughter, boyfriend, hubby, me) all met up at Battambang, “Authentic Cambodian Cuisine”, at 850 Broadway in Oakland, a hop skip and a jump from our hotel. We’d been there once before and not only loved the food, but the very warm and friendly hostess who made sure we had one of the best vegetarian meals ever. She remembered us and immediately gave us a warm greeting. Once again we followed her advice when we ordered and were just as happy as last time. We started with the Avocado Rolls, fresh sprouts, avocado and other veggies rolled in rice sheets and served with a simply perfect peanut sauce. We all agreed, we would have been happy eating only avocado rolls for a meal, so satisfying and tasty! Then came Somlock Soup, a light brothy vegetable soup with a hint of lemongrass; a good way to clear our palate for the courses to follow. SatAmrit & Keith wanted a plain veggie dish, and ordered the Buddha’s Dish… it was not the typical “Buddha’s Feast” you will get at Chinese restaurants. The vegetables were in smaller pieces, in a light garlicky sauce, over a small bed of rice/glass noodles. We all agreed it was spectacular. Our hostess highly recommended #92, which I believe is called Toohoo Aing… skewered tofu, cherry tomatoes, peppers, marinated in lemon grass and spices and then char-broiled. Perfectly charred, scrumptiously chewy tofu…. and beautifully plated.
The sauce at first didn’t seem spicy at all, until the gentle after burn… Not too hot, perfectly piquant. I regret not getting those photos. The Kuy Teav Char is sort of like a pad-tai, a steaming plate of rice noodles smothered in a rich mildly spicy peanut sauce, with cubed tofu and green onions. I think I might have had thirds on that one. We shared two desserts… mango sticky rice (which we always love everywhere), and something new to us, Jack Fruit custard. I’ve seen Jack Fruit in the Asian markets (big, spiky and scary) but have never tried. The custard was made with flour and coconut milk, and small chunks of Jack Fruit (you will never find dairy products in this restaurant) and very little if any sugar. Surprisingly good, I tasted a hint of rose water, but the hostess swore it was flavored only with the coconut milk and fruit. We all exclaimed this to be our favorite. If we lived in Oakland, we’d be regulars at this spot. Love it.
After such a wonderful meal and loving company, I realized I was really feeling even better! and was definitely up for the basketball game. We had seats about as high up in the nosebleed section as you can go, but still had a great view of the game. With the Warriors up by 40 points at the end of the 3rd quarter we made an early exit to beat the crowds and get a good night’s rest. What a great day!
Sunday morning…. We usually go for brunch at La Note at 2377 Shattuck in Berkeley; a very French little restaurant with a cozy garden patio in the back, that is simply fabulous. Wonderful pancakes, ratatouille, fried potatoes, fresh juice, coffee/tea, salads, and more. But this day I wanted to shy away from such rich fare and hoped for something more on the tofu/spicy side (still battling that darn cold). We met up for the last time with the dynamic duo at Mama’s Royal Cafe, a trendy little spot at 4012 Broadway in Oakland, just around the corner from the new apartment. They have a good selection of home-style eats, with lots of vegan/vegetarian options. I got the tofu stirfry; it comes with toast and a serving of home fries. With a little hot sauce drizzled over the top, it really hit the spot! Hubby (aka King Pancake) ordered a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes. We enjoyed all.
After our cozy meal, warm hugs, and fond farewells, we were on the road again… home to Bakersfield, Mr. Binks (greeting us with his customary meow (“feed me noooowww”) and feeling simply great about our wonderful weekend.