Category Archives: Restaurants

Sidle Into Chop Bar

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

 

Chop Bar in Oakland is named for the West African term for a roadside bar-restaurant that’s a true gathering place for the community. And it fits that description to a “T.”

It’s like a hipper version of the Cheers bar, a warm space where regulars are recognized and newcomers made to feel welcome, as my husband and I were when we visited one recent Sunday, paying our own tab at the end.

Owners Chris Pastena and Lev Delany opened the convivial spot in 2009 in Jack London Square. It’s a compact space with a few tables and a good number of counter seats at the bar. Later this summer, Pastena and Delany will be moving Chop Bar across the street to a roomier location, a dream come true for the duo.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling garage-door windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

On a lazy late-afternoon, we dropped into Chop Bar. We were too late for lunch but too early for dinner. Fortunately, it has an “in-between” menu, 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., that offered plenty of choices, and which many people were taking advantage of because the place was packed even at 4:30 p.m.

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Niku Steakhouse — Where Japanese Wagyu Reigns Supreme

A 4-ounce serving of Japanese A5 Wagyu tri-tip at Niku Steakhouse.

A 4-ounce serving of Japanese A5 Wagyu tri-tip at Niku Steakhouse.

 

Some chefs wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Steve Brown takes that to an extreme — wearing his passion prominently and permanently inked on his forearm.

The executive chef of the splashy new Niku Steakhouse in San Francisco has “A5” (the highest grading for Japanese Wagyu beef) tattooed on his right arm, so there’s no doubt as to what his favorite ingredient is.

You can see for yourself if you snag one of the 18 seats — truly the best seats in the house — at the counter that surrounds the massive grilling station. That was my vantage point recently when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, opened by the Omakase Group, about one month ago.

Executive Chef Steve Brown's tattoo says it all.

Executive Chef Steve Brown’s tattoo says it all.

Sitting here is a primal, visceral experience, as you’re just inches from the flames of the hand-cranked main grill that can get up to 900 degrees to cook American prime steaks, and the small custom-built Japanese grill heated with binchotan white charcoal on which the Wagyu is seared.

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The Big Unveil

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Voila! Finally, the big reveal: Presenting the cover of my forthcoming cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1 Publishing).

I couldn’t be more excited to show off details of my newest cookbook, due out on Sept. 10, which will feature 41 of the best restaurants and bakeries in the East Bay.

To whet your appetite, that’s the paella from La Marcha Tapas Bar in Berkeley, and the lamb larb from Belcampo in Oakland’s Jack London Square prominent on the cover. The photos are all by the incredibly talented photographer Eva Kolenko.

What else will you find inside?

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It’s Not Easy Being Green (Cake)

Blink twice -- because this cake is indeed green.

Blink twice — because this cake is indeed green.

 

The first thing my husband said when he spied this cake cooling on the kitchen counter was: “WTH!?!”

Yes, this is cake.

With mint.

And parsley. Loads of it.

All of which gets minced until it resembles churned up grass clippings. Then, it’s folded into a batter that ends up looking quite a lot like pesto.

Meet “Parsley Cake” from Katy Peetz, former pastry chef of Roberta’s in Brooklyn.

It’s from the cookbook, “Food52 Genius Desserts: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake (Food52 Works)” (Ten Speed Press, 2018) by Kristen Miglore, creative director at Food52.

The batter goes into a rimmed baking sheet so it bakes quickly.

The batter goes into a rimmed baking sheet so it bakes quickly.

When I first spied this recipe, I knew I had to make it in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, a cake the vivid color of moss clinging to an ancient castle couldn’t be more perfect for that holiday, could it?

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Brunch Up Top At the Archer Hotel in Napa

Doughnuts galore at Sunday brunch at the Archer Hotel.

Doughnuts galore at Sunday brunch at the Archer Hotel.

 

From their calm and courteous demeanor, you’d never guess that this time of year is probably the most nerve-wracking for the staff that puts together the upscale Sunday brunch buffet at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa.

That’s because that brunch service is the only one in the Napa Valley that’s held atop a five-story building in an expansive open-air rooftop pavilion. If the weather is ominous –then and only then — the brunch is moved from Charlie Palmer’s Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar inside to the hotel’s Charlie Palmer Steak on the ground level.

With this winter’s rash of stormy weather, the decision on where to hold brunch each Sunday has not been an easy one to make.

“Will it be raining? Will there be too much wind? It’s very stressful. I don’t think there’s any other restaurant here that has to take all that into consideration,” said a manager, who noted that the decision on the location of the brunch must be made the night before in order to give the staff enough time to prepare.

A view of the hotel from my balcony.

A view of the hotel from my balcony.

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar.

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar.

I lucked out in late-February when I was invited as a guest of the hotel to stay overnight and try the brunch because the rains held off just long enough for me to enjoy the repast al fresco.

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