(Dwight and Sacramento). As I got off the bus the other day, I noticed that a new place, Digs Bistro, had moved into the location that Olivia used to occupy. I had never made it to Olivia, so I figured I’d eat locally and check out Digs. The dinner I had was delicious. Apparently it used to be an underground thing but they’ve gone legit. The atmosphere reminded me of this little place I went to this summer called Chez Grisette near Monmartre in Paris.

I had the oxtail raviolo with chanterelles, tomatoes, and braised greens (Kale? something bitter-ish). I thought the meat overwhelmed the mushrooms, which made me feel like the luxury of fancy mushrooms was unwarranted. But the pairing of the slightly bitter greens with the sweeter tomatoes and meat was spot-on. I also splurged and had the chocolate budino, a flourless cake that is setting my cholesterol-reduction plan back a week. Or two.

All in all, it was worth it, and I think this place may be my little “treat myself to something nice for finishing a chapter” in the upcoming Thesis Weeks. If you don’t want to spring for Chez Panisse but want a great California/French fusion meal in an intimate and cozy setting, then this is your place.

Ryowa
2068 University Avenue
(at Milvia St & Shattuck Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 883-0667

This is a no-frills ramen house, a-la-Tampopo, but minus the comedy. I’ve been here three times now, and will probably keep going back whenever I have a noodle soup craving in downtown Berkeley. Although Cha-Ya is a short walk away, sometimes you want some chashu (pork) ramen, and Ryowa will deliver. This is probably my new standby for a quick pre-Berkeley Rep meal.

I still haven’t tried the butter corn ramen, but the original, shoyu, and butabara bowls are pretty tasty. The sesame broth is light, as is the shoyu, but still flavorful. Unlike some places I’ve tried, I actually find myself trying to drink the broth down, especially after adding in some red pepper powder. I’ve also heard that the kara-age (fried chicken) is really goos, but I’ll have to wait to go there with a bigger group. The menu is pretty much just ramen, gyoza, fried rice, and kara-age, so don’t go here if you want to have a variety of eating options…

Red Box Sushi
581 Eddy Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

This place is so small that it’s easy to almost walk past without noticing it, but it serves up some great sushi in the Tenderloin. The fish is fresh and almost buttery, and it’s the perfect place to go before seeing a show or movie. I went there before seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Great American Music Hall with Erin.

We started with some miso soup, which was really flavorful compared to the stuff you get elsewhere. Maybe they put in too much miso paste, but I liked it. We ended up getting a few maki and the sashimi combo (although i thought we ordered the sushi combo…). The sashimi was melt-in-your-mouth good, especially the salmon. The unagi maki was also good, but somehow less memorable to me. There were a number of crazy American-style rolls if that’s your thing (it’s not mine). The standout thing for me was an innovation of the chef that he called “firecracker balls.” These are spicy tuna maki, batter-dipped and deep fried, with what tasted like sriracha, mayonnaise, and tobiko on top. If you like spicy food, definitely get these. All in all, a worthwhile trip. Next time I’ll go with more people so we can try more things.

Broadway slightly after 40th. This is a Korean BBQ place that’s slightly out of the way from the main Korean drag on Telegraph. If you’re willing to pony up a ridiculous amount of money to be stuffed to the gills with meat grilled at your table, rice and an array of 20 little dishes of pickled things of unknown provenance, this is the place for you.

In case you’ve never been to a Korean BBQ, the tables have a hood and a grill at the table — you order various sorts of marinated (and sometimes unmarinated) meat that they then bring to the table and grill for you. There are some kind of wood chips in the grill to give a little smoky flavor, and the meat comes pretty de-fatted, which makes it all the better. We tried the saeng kalbi, which is unmarinated kalbi meat with a sesame oil dipping sauce. We also had a spicy pork thing that was not for the faint of tongue. Next time I come here I want to bring a larger group and also some Korean people to help explain the food better. This will be after my pocketbook recovers, of course.

A big thing to draw me back is that they have naeng-myun, a cold soup that I really like and haven’t had in years.

883 Island Dr. #C-2. Angelfish is supposed to be the Alameda’s big secret — a sushi place hidden away in a strip mall near a golf course in the outter reaches of the city. The fish was excellent, and that is the number one reason to go here. That being said, I was little underwhelmed by some of the things we got and the overuse of mayonnaise on the menu (mayo in maki seems unnecessary to me…). The black cod appetizer was a nonstarter with me — the whole flavor of the thing was off and the mayo-ed potato salad put me off. The fresh octopus was smothered in mayo as well. We had a sashimi plate and a bunch of a la carte nigiri and maki as well. There were a lot of those rolls that I don’t like as much — tempura things with avocado and so on. Next time I go I’m going to stick with the fish, since the sashimi, by itself, was excellent, especially the tuna and salmon. For that quality, the price can’t be beat.

1713 Webster near Pacific. I think East Ocean may be my new favorite place for dim sum. Rather than hunt for parking near Legendary Palace in downtown Oakland, we just drove through the Webster tube and into Alameda. We showed up at around 11 and were seated in under 5 minutes, which is almost unheard of when going for dim sum. The food itself was pretty good — I’d rate it almost better than Legendary Palace, and certainly less greasy. The place is small compared to Legendary Palace — more the size of Yo Ho — so the dishes come out still hot. We had a small group so I didn’t get to try that many things, but I did have most of the old standbys. The only disappointing dish to me were the Shanghai dumplings, which were a little dull. I didn’t see a lot of specialities on offer, so I can’t evaluate how much a connoiseur would like it, but as long as you’re not looking for something fancy, this place can’t be beat.

(Shattuck between Cedar and Vine) I’ve lived in Berkeley for 4 years and I finally went to Chez Panisse, the restaurant of Alice Waters that supposedly revolutionized California food. We ended up going upstairs, to the Cafe, which is more relaxed and cheaper (but not cheap by any stretch of the imagination). Liz and I split everything and we had, between us,

  • 1 Bottle 2003 Catherine and Pierre Breton Bourgueil “Galichets”
  • Cannard Farm cucumber, chervil, and radish salad with local albacore tuna
  • Baked Sonoma goat cheese with garden lettuces
  • Local king salmon baked in the wood oven with gypsy peppers, summer chanterelles, and roasted potatoes
  • Hoffman Farm chicken al mattone with tomato-potato gratin, corn, and okra
  • Pistachio cake with kirsch cream and blackberries

The dominant impression that I had from each of the dishes was that fresh ingredients are absolutely delicious. None of the dishes struck me as particularly amazing, but the flavor came from the ingredients. That’s one way of cooking, but the herbing and spicing came off a little dull to me. Nothing on the menu looked vaguely spicy to me.

I don’t think I’ve ever had cooked tuna that didn’t taste really fishy, but this fish was mellow, almost buttery, and the cubumbers were nice and sweet. Try as I might, I couldn’t taste the chervil, but it looked pretty. Whatever dressing they put on the garden lettuces was far too salty for my taste. The cheese came in two little rounds covered in spiced crumbs and warmed so it was gooey. Wrapping some goat cheese in the lettuce yielded little crunchy tangy packets of yumminess.

As I learned last night, “al mattone” means cooking the chicken under a brick. What we ended up with was something almost resembling fried chicken, with a crispy skin and firm but juicy meat inside. The gratin was probably one of my favorite parts of the meal — the vegetables’ sweetness complemented the slighly crunchy potatoes, and the okra was just right. The salmon was actually unremarkable, which is where the freshness really came to the fore. The only disappointing thing about this dish was the gypsy peppers, which I thought had no taste and weren’t at all spicy. Of course, I’d never heard of gypsy peppers before.

The pistachio cake was good, but remarkable only for its moistness. In restrospect I should have gotten the nectarine cobbler, but I think at the time we were both too stuffed. The wine is a keeper. I know I can get it at Kermit Lynch, so I’ll try to find it there. I know nothing about wine, so I can’t say it had spicy oaky notes or anything like that.

Will I go back? Probably, but I didn’t feel like the meal was interesting enough for me to try and go there whenever I save up enough spare cash. It was definitely good, and I’ll try and go there one or two more times before I leave.

Mission near 19th. This place is just a few doors down from Cha Cha Cha and serves small plates with a Cuban theme. They don’t have a liquor license, so there are no mojitos, but there is sangria, which is just fine. It’s hard to get a table here — the place is small and there’s usually a wait, but I’ve never found it to be ridiculous. It’s got that typical Mission blend of dressed down and pricey food, but the flavors here are more robust.

I said it’s small plates but it’s more accurate to call them medium plates. The price reflects the increased size. It was a while ago, so I don’t remember everything, but we did have a delicious garlic soup and a very tasty medium-rare steak (Niman Ranch, I think). As a warning, the shrimp are almost always cooked and served in the shell — while the former improves the flavor, or so I hear, the latter results in a big mess that invariably rubs off some of the flavor from the food. A good bed every time are the fried plantains (maduros) and the frijoles negros. That’s some tasty home-cookin’.

I’d recommend Charanga if you want to have light-to-medium dinner in a fun Mission spot. Of the similar places in the Mission, I’d have to say the food there has been the best, but I know people who would disagree.

Larkin near Ellis. This is another place I had been meaning to write about for a long time (more than a year now). This is probably the best Vietnamese food I’ve had, and a steal for the price. It’s in the Tenderloin, which is not the nicest of neighborhoods, but it’s a good place for an early dinner before going for more adventures (or rehearsals). If you’re a pho fan, you’ll find their broth to be richer than most places, and the tai (rare flank) is really fresh until you push it under the broth to cook it. There’s a 7-course beef feast that I’ve never tried but I hear it’s delicious. I’ve also tried the construct-your-own spring roll with shrimp molded over sugar cane and grilled (you have to try it). On the curry side I had a lemongrass dish that was good but just wasn’t as exciting as the other things. The restaurant itself is a little spare but in an elegant clean designed way. And did I mention it’s cheap?

Mariposa at Hampshire, one block west of Potrero. I meant to write about this place before, but it slipped my mind. Slow Club is one of those hip restaurants in that area between Potrero Hill and the Mission. We had to wait for a table so we decided to sample the drinks at the bar. I had a Junipero martini. I’d never had Junipero before, despite it being a local gin, and it was quite good, although I think I prefer Hendricks if I’m going to pay ridiculous amounts for gin. Overall though, I’d skip the bar next time and maybe get a glass of wine with the meal.

Slow Club is the kind of place that has good food that even your picky (but non-vegetarian) friends might eat. There’s always a pasta, a lamb, a chicken, a fish, and the burger. As I mentioned, the vegetarian pickings are slim. Prices range from $10-$20 for an entree, but I definitely recommend splitting an appetizer, such as the grilled flatbread. It’s a kind of lavash-like pizza thing and it’s ridiculously tasty. The menu changes daily and is posted online.

We had the flatbread and I had linguini with a veal ragout. The pasta tasted fresh and light, much like the Phoenix Pastificio in Berkeley. The sauce was delicious, and not too fatty in spite of the veal. I think I tasted fennel in there, which I will have to try the next time I make meat sauce. I also got to try my friends’ dishes, a leg of lamb that was too tender to be believed, and a citrus-rosemary crusted chicken. It’s the second time I’ve tasted the orange-rosemary combination and I’m sold on it now.

I’m definitely going to go there again, maybe on an off-night. As long as you can ignore the endless parade of hipsters and the loudness of the room and concentrate on the good eats, you’ll be golden.

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