Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Reichl’

Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eat Local

November 19, 2009

Due to last minuteitis (recently afflicted but may be chronic condition) and email error (note to self: figure out spam filter so important stuff doesn’t get sucked into spamland) I missed the boat — well not the boat actually but a hot air balloon — on the World Street Food confab last week at the CIA (think foodie folk, not spy guys).

Instead of driving up to Napa to eat cart cuisine from around the globe with the likes of street food guru Jonathan Gold, I had to endure a constant stream of twitters about hot hawkers from Lima, Istanbul, and Barcelona sent by food savvy souls such as ruth reichl, cooking with amy, and seattle tall poppy. I tried not to be green with envy about the finger-licking food they were feasting on, though the thought of a hot air balloon ride just made me feel green, period. I like to consume my street food on terra firma thanks very much.

So, in keeping with that well-worn slogan Think Global, Act Local, I decided that instead of pouting at my misfortune I’d simply conduct my very own spontaneous street eats survey on my doorstep in the multiculti East Bay.

Faithful readers may recall I’ve chronicled groovy street grub found in Sydney, San Francisco, and the Eat Real Festival in Oakland.

Now, on demand, (well, a couple of friends did ask): some picks for locavores or out-of-towners when they next pass through Berzerkeley and that happening hub of ethnic eats Emeryville (look on a map, it’s super close to both Berkeley and Oaktown.)

And we’re not talking taco truck tucker here, people. Some serious chophouse chow — with enough worldly influences to keep this armchair traveler happy — hitting the streets in my neck of the woods.

Liba

Chef Gail Lillian, inspired by falafel bars in Amsterdam of all places, takes the fabulous falafel to new culinary destinations. A huge fan of this Middle Eastern staple, I was delighted to find the lovely lime green Liba cart parked across the street from Pixar Studios.

Gail, who’s run a cafe in Oakland among other culinary jobs, makes the falafel from scratch in the commercial cooperative Artisan Kitchen in neighboring Richmond. She serves these crisp chickpea patties with unique add-ons like chimichurri herb paste, harissa hot sauce, and dill & cardmom pickle. Equally intriguing side salads draw on different ethnic origins, and include olive-orange relish with thyme, red cabbage with black sesame seed, and roasted eggplant in tomato sauce. And there’s complementary condiments like rosemary peanuts and tomato ginger chutney. Makes for a hearty, flavor-filled, and lip-smacking lunch of mostly organic, local ingredients. Liba’s fare can be custom made for the vegan or gluten-free; falafel salads and sandwiches run $7.25.

Mon., Tues., & Thurs. in Emeryville. Wed. & Fri., Potrero Hill in SF.
For up-to-date info including hours and exact locations, follow the falafel lady’s twitter feed.

Jons Street Eats

Also trucking around Emeryville, Jons Street Eats, where I waited last week for what turned out to be a generous slab of nicely seared tuna that formed the basis of the $9 ahi roll, a creamy concoction served on a sweet bun with daikon cabbage, wasabi aioli, and cilantro.   This extremely delish and very messy offering — grab some napkins on the go — is created by former Fork chef (acclaimed & shuttered San Anselmo eatery) and CIA graduate Jon Kosorek, who opened his nomadic restaurant a few months ago when a bricks-and-mortar establishment fell through.

The day I stopped by he was dishing up duck tacos for $7 and a butternut squash bisque & green salad for $6.

Think gourmet grub on the go more than snacky street eats for the offerings from this cart, which includes a short, seasonally changing menu, prepped ahead and prepared on the spot, hence the wait. Word to the wise: Most street food vendors welcome folks ordering ahead.

Check Jon’s twitter feed for exact E-Bay only locations, but popular spots include Stanford & Hollis in Emeryville on Wednesdays & Fridays and Piedmont & Pleasant Valley in Oakland on Saturdays.

Cupkates

Kate McEachern, a former managing editor at design mag Dwell, now goes by the title Chief Cupcake Officer.  She delivers sweet treats from a dot-covered converted taco truck she calls her mobile cupcakery. Kate says she’s the worst intern in Chez Panisse history. But while at Cal she did wow folks with her baked goods. So Cupkates was born.

Her cupcakes are made with high quality ingredients like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Guittard chocolate, along with local milk, eggs, and butter. She sells her generously frosted desserts for $2.75 a piece. The day I stopped by for a chat and a bite an endless stream of students made their way to the truck to order a cupcake or two or three in classic flavors such as double chocolate and red velvet.

Kate is currently enduring a bit of grief from Berkeley parking police, despite having a permit and following parking signage rules. Nonetheless, the chipper cupcake maker is still on the beat, tweeting and facebooking about where you can get your daily sugar fix on her regular Berkeley and Emeryville routes. (Thanks to fellow blogger Frances Dinkelspiel, who wrote about Cupkates on the hyper-local Berkeleyside, for passing on this street eat tip.)

Judging by the long line at Jon’s and the steady stream at Liba and CupKates, this trio of trucks have already developed a loyal following in a short amount of time (the carts have only been rolling around the E-Bay for a few months at most). It remains to be seen if hungry folks go in search of street eats in the rainy season, of course, but in the gourmet ghetto perhaps it will take more than a little wet weather to dampen the enthusiasm of food foragers.

On my list to check next: The Pie Truck. Do you have a fav East Bay street cart to add to this list? Let me know below.

What Kind of Diner Are You?

September 17, 2009

eat.mrjoro.flickrI’d make a lousy restaurant reviewer. Here’s why: When I go out to eat I often choose the same dishes I know and love at a favorite eatery. If I’m trying a new (to me) joint, I’ll opt for recommendations from friends or scan reviews before hitting the dining spot to find the best picks off the menu.

Recent case in point: When I check out Burma Superstar in Oakland’s restaurant row in the Temescal neighborhood, a clone of its wildly popular cousins with the same name in San Francisco and Alameda, I simply follow the advice of my lunch companions, who both utter just three words: Tea Leaf Salad.

I’m not a complete sheep.  The menu notes that the Tea Leaf Salad is a customers’ favorite AND featured on the Food Network, no less. Hard to argue with such cred.

The salad promptly arrives and arranged aesthetically around the plate are little groupings of ingredients, including fried garlic, peanuts, sunflower seeds, dried chickpeas, tomato, romaine lettuce and dried shrimp (vegetarian option available). Smack dab in the middle is a wet mound of black and green Burmese tea. The obliging waiter tosses the salad tableside, finishing it with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

It doesn’t disappoint. As advertised, it’s an intriguing mix of salt, sweet, crunch, crisp, dried, fresh, all infused with the faint taste of steeped tea. I could eat nothing else and feel completely sated.

In the name of research I also sample the platha and dip appetizer. Platha is a multi-layered bread that’s almost like a pastry, with just the right amount of oil and flakiness to qualify as comfort food when dipped into a little bowl of coconut chicken curry sauce.

For the uninitiated, food from this southeast Asian country (now known as Myanmar) includes Thai, Indian, and Chinese influences; it’s neither too sweet nor too spicy for most palates. At the restaurant, sticklers for authenticity will immediately spot concessions to Cal cuisine to keep the locals happy (hello chopped romaine); most diners just dig in.

On subsequent visits to the busy, bustling spot, which doesn’t take reservations (insider tip: go early), I introduce a few new devotees to THE salad as well. It’s practically got a cult following.  Maybe even its own Facebook page. I venture out a little. Also good is the Rainbow Salad, which boasts 22 ingredients, including noodles, green papaya, tofu, and most notably, tamarind sauce. The Mango Salad with pickled mangos, cabbage, and cucumbers is refreshing and pairs nicely with the bar’s signature muddled and minty mojitos.

Forays into the hot dishes are less successful.  Chicken with Fresh Basil is serviceable but not stunning, Egg Curry with Okra simply doesn’t work. On one visit my fellow diners rave about Bun Tay Kauser (flour noodles, chicken curry coconut sauce, split yellow peas, eggs, and cabbage). I’m less wowed by the combo, though masala adds a welcome spicy undertone.  I know it sounds good but for me the different elements just don’t hang together. On the other hand, you can’t go wrong with the aromatic Coconut Rice.

I guess that makes me a somewhat unadventurous restaurant goer — and, thus, the gal least likely to get the reviewer gig. My standard order at Burma Superstar (no surprises here): Tea Leaf Salad. Platha & Dip. Coconut Rice. I’m reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, an amusing account of her days dining out in disguises for the New York Times, and like most epicureans she seems game to try anything. The book got me thinking about what kind of strategy people bring to the table when they go out for a meal.

So, dear readers, when you eat in a restaurant are you a play-it-safe diner or a go-for-it gourmand? Do tell.

Flickr photo by mrjoro used under the Creative Commons License