Category Archives: Chefs

The Surprise of Sabio on Main

Deviled eggs with crab and caviar at Sabio on Main.

Deviled eggs with crab and caviar at Sabio on Main.

 

I sheepishly confess that before a couple weeks ago, I had never dined in Pleasanton.

It was a city I merely drove past on the way to somewhere else.

I only felt a little less embarrassed by that after Chef Francis X. Hogan told me that he had been in the same boat. Living in Oakland and fresh off heading the kitchen at San Francisco’s Bluestem Brasserie, he scratched his head when he got approached to open a new restaurant in this city three years ago, which he had associated merely with strip malls and car dealerships.

Chef-Partner Francis X. Hogan.

Chef-Partner Francis X. Hogan.

When he got invited to tour the area, though, he found his eyes opened wide. Surrounded by undulating hills, it boasts a charming, most walk-able downtown full of restaurants, small businesses, and residents who regularly flock to it on weekends.

“I fell in love with the area,” he told me. “It feels like old Sonoma.”

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Hawker Fare’s Flavor-Bomb Grilled Pork Chops

Thinly sliced pork chops grill up fast and sweet, and get a potent dipping sauce.

Thinly sliced pork chops grill up fast and sweet, and get a potent dipping sauce.

 

Hawker Fare — it is far more than a restaurant and a cookbook.

It is the deeply personal embodiment of Chef-Owner James Syhabout. It is a love letter to his mother, a reckoning with his Laotian heritage, a symbol of respect for an often misunderstood cuisine, and a testament that fortitude, passion and determination can lead to greatness and awakening.

Syhabout may be known best as the only Michelin-starred chef in the East Bay — for his fine-dining Commis restaurant (two stars, thank you very much). But it is the down-home Hawker Fare where his heart lies.

That’s immediately evident in the pages of his first cookbook, “Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes From a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots,” of which I received a review copy. Syhabout wrote the cookbook with assistance from James Beard Award-winning food writer John Birdsall of Oakland.

HawkerFareBook

It was published by Ecco, Anthony Bourdain’s publishing imprint of HarperCollins.

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Joanne Chang’s Addictive Soy Sauce Deviled Eggs with Five-Spice

Make no argument, these are the best deviled eggs around.

Make no argument, these are the best deviled eggs around.

 

These are by no means traditional eats for Chinese New Year, which begins Feb. 16.

Nor are they typical picnic fare.

What these deviled eggs are is simply the best rendition you’ll ever sink your teeth into.

Boston-based Pastry Chef Joanne Chang of Flour bakery already makes some of my most favorite baked goods. Now she and Executive Chef Karen Akunowicz of Myers + Chang restaurant in Boston have done it on the savory side, creating an Asian-inflected version of deviled eggs that will spoil you for all others.

“Soy Sauce Deviled Eggs with Five-Spice” is from her latest cookbook, “Myers + Chang At Home” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) by Chang and Akunowicz, of which I received a review copy.

myerschangathome

The more than 80 recipes represent favorite dishes served at Meyers + Chang over the past decade — everything from “Sichuan Shrimp Lettuce Wraps” to “Korean Braised Short Rib Tacos with Kimchi-Sesame Salsa” to “Surf and Turf Black pepper Shanghai Noodles” to “Chocolate Tofu Mousse with Black and White Sesame Brittle.”

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Baking A Childhood Favorite: Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake

Blum's coffee crunch cake -- it's not nearly as hard to make as you might think.

Blum’s coffee crunch cake — it’s not nearly as hard to make as you might think.

 

If you grew up way back when in San Francisco like me, no doubt you grew up obsessed with Blum’s coffee crunch cake.

This neighborhood bakery was famed for this airy two-layer cake slathered inside and out with swirls of coffee whipped cream. The piece de resistance? The shellacking of crunchy toffee pieces all over it.

It was the cake families bought for birthdays, and all manner of other celebrations. Mine certainly did. That cake was always front and center for my birthday, as well as my two brothers’.

The secret was that you had to eat as much of it as you could that very first day. Because once refrigerated overnight, the toffee pieces turned soft and soggy, and not nearly as appealing. So I cop to always cutting myself a rather gargantuan piece as a child. It’s a wonder my parents let me get away with that, let alone eating a coffee-laced product at that age, when they’d never let a brewed cup itself pass my lips.

Thank goodness they did, too, because that cake remains an iconic part of my childhood. Just the thought of it is enough to make me smile big-time.

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Teni East Kitchen — A Gem in Oakland

Chef Tiyo Shibabaw at her Teni East Kitchen.

Chef Tiyo Shibabaw at her Teni East Kitchen.

 

What’s an Ethiopia-born chef doing cooking Burmese food?

Living out a delectable dream, that’s what.

Tiyo Shibabaw, born and raised in Ethiopia where her parents run a hotel and restaurant, always knew she wanted to be in the hospitality industry.

But it wasn’t until she moved to the Bay Area that she found her calling in Southeast Asian cuisines, most notably after going to work at Burma Superstar. Although she started there as a general manager, it wasn’t long before she began apprenticing in the kitchen. She was soon tapped to open the Burma Superstar in Alameda, followed by one in Oakland.

After 10 years, she left the fold to step out on her own, opening her Teni East Kitchen in 2016 that’s named for her mother.

Textbook roti.

Textbook roti.

As she explained when I was invited in last week as a guest of her restaurant, she fell in love with the deep, complex flavors of Burmese cuisine that are multi-layered thanks to its judicious use of spices much like in Ethiopian cooking.

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