Category Archives: Chefs

Dining News Around The Bay

"Fall Off the Bone'' wings from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. (Photo by Dana Plucinski)
“Fall Off the Bone” wings from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. (Photo by Dana Plucinski)

Nelson German of “Top Chef” Reopens Indoor Dining at alaMar Kitchen & Bar In Oakland

After months of doing only takeout and delivery, alaMar Kitchen & Bar in Oakland reopened last week for indoor dining. Come by to say “hello” to Chef Nelson German, whose time on this season’s “Top Chef’‘ was cut short by an injury from which he has thankfully recovered.

The lively restaurant, which blends Latin, Caribbean, and Mediterranean flavors, has undergone an interior refresh. The menu also has been updated with some new offerings, including shrimp tacos “quesa style” with Oaxaca cheese, chow chow and salsa criolla; roasted oysters with salsa verde, pork longaniza, and Parmesan butter; and stuffed masa, a recreation of his “Unidentified Dominican Object” created in an episode 6 challenge of “Top Chef.”

Chef-Owner Nelson German. (Photo by Melati Citrawireja)
Chef-Owner Nelson German. (Photo by Melati Citrawireja)

Perennial favorites, “Fall Off the Bone Wings” and “Peel and Eat Shrimp,” that proved popular during takeout can still be enjoyed on the dining room menu, too.

For more fun, pick up a copy of my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1) at the restaurant, local bookstores or on Amazon. It features recipes and stories from a roster of top East Bay chefs, including German.

Scott’s Chowder House Opens in San Jose

Scott’s Chowder House, a more casual spin-off from veteran Scott’s Seafood, opened in downtown San Jose last week, with another planned to debut next month in San Francisco at 334 Grant Ave.

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A Unique Rice Cake

A showstopping crusty rice cake that's super rich and creamy within.
A showstopping crusty rice cake that’s super rich and creamy within.

As a kid, I remember feeling a little burst of joy whenever the rice steamed and rested just long enough in the hot rice cooker to build up crispy little bits on the bottom.

My mom would scrape them up and pile them on my plate, knowing how much I couldn’t resist the juxtaposition of soft fluffy grains with cracklingly crunchy ones.

Later as an adult, when I first tasted tahdig, the Persian rice specialty that guarantees a bottom crust of full-on golden crunchiness, I was even more smitten.

Now comes “Rice Cake,” which much like this inverted dish itself, I’ve completely gone topsy-turvy for.

It’s Persian goes Italian.

Or tahdig in the spirit of risotto.

As it’s fortified with a load of butter, Parmesan, and creme fraiche.

This amazing recipe is in the new cookbook, “Bavel: Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by husband and wife, Chef Ori Menashe and Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis, owners of the acclaimed Bavel and Bestia restaurants in Los Angeles. It was written in conjunction with Lesley Suter, the former food editor for Los Angeles magazine.

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Plumb Good Plum Cake

Summer was made for plum-filled cake.
Summer was made for plum-filled cake.

When Zoë Francois singles out a particular recipe as being her favorite in her new cookbook, you’d be a fool not to make that one first.

Her “Plum Cake” from “Zoë Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, easily merits that adoration.

Francois, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and worked as a pastry chef at several Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurants, is also the creator of the wildly popular web site, ZoëBakes.

The cookbook is a must for anyone who loves baking cakes. Many of the recipes are unfussy enough for any home-cook to bake, such as “Lemon-Curd Pound Cake,” “Banana Cream Cake,” and “Olive-Oil Chiffon Cake.” For those who want to take things to the next level, Francois also includes detailed advice on working with fondant and piping bags, along with more ambitious recipes for “Blackberry Diva Cake” and a DIY “Wedding Cake.”

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Dining Outside at Flea Street

Cured and smoked half roast duck at Flea Street.
Cured and smoked half roast duck at Flea Street.

Few restaurants anywhere reach a 40-year milestone.

That such a momentous achievement happened during the height of the pandemic last year for Menlo Park’s Flea Street might have put a slight damper on the festivities that had to be held over Zoom.

But it’s a testament to this restaurant, whose doctrine of organic and sustainable has been woven into its fabric since the beginning, that after the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic it’s come roaring back.

When I dined there last week as a guest of the restaurant, every outdoor table was full of smiling patrons, clinking glasses of festive cocktails, and chatting with Chef-Owner Jesse Cool as the made the rounds. The indoor dining room is undergoing a refresh, complete with a new ventilation system, and should be ready to welcome back diners soon. Executive Chef Bryan Thuerk, all of 23 years old, couldn’t be happier to be cooking for diners in-person again, after months of doing takeout, which the restaurant had never done before.

The welcoming outdoor dining area.
The welcoming outdoor dining area.

The outdoor dining has the air of a celebratory backyard get-together with bales of hay topped with cushions for bar-service only, and wood-slatted fencing in the dining area.

Indulge in a cocktail by bartender Eloy Martinez, who’s been with the restaurant for more than 15 years. The Apricot & Sage is a blend of brandy, apricot, sage, Contreau, bitters and lemon juice that get garnished with a fresh apricot half and sage leaf. It’s fruity with a nice bitter edge and a touch of menthol.

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Black, White and The Grey — And Green Cabbage

A book so worth getting not just for the recipes like this braised cabbage with tomatoes, but for the story of two people who persevered to build their dream restaurant.
A book so worth getting not just for the recipes like this braised cabbage with tomatoes, but for the story of two people who persevered to build their dream restaurant.

If you have time to read only one book about restaurants or chefs this summer, make it “Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant” (Lorena Jones) by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano.

It’s not only a compelling memoir about a unique restaurant with a formidable sense of place, but it includes some delightful recipes, as well.

The Grey opened in December 2014 in Savannah, GA in what was once a segregated Greyhound bus depot. The restaurant is the vision of entrepreneur businessman Morisano, who had no previous restaurant experience whatsoever, and Bailey, who formerly cooked at Prune in New York, but had never opened her own restaurant before.

Morisano, who is white, and Baily, who is Black, formed a partnership to bring a new inclusivity to this once-divided symbol of the South, and in so doing, also elevated the region’s cuisine with fresh vitality. It proved a critical success, earning Executive Chef Bailey the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Southeast” in 2019.

For the two business partners, though, it was anything but a smooth road. That makes the book all the more commendable for its candid look at the sweat, tears and fortitude it took for them to understand and trust one another in this arduous project. With America’s reawakened reckoning with racism this past year, this book couldn’t be more timely. It touches on the here and the now, demonstrating how our present is vastly shaped by our past, much of it hard to forgive.

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