Monthly Archives: February 2013

Yankee Pier, Lafayette CA

“Sustainability” is greater than just a buzzword anymore.  For some it’s becoming a way of thinking, a way of living.  At Yankee Pier, “sustainability” drives the cooking.  Yankee Pier follows the West Coast Sustainable Seafood Guide put out by the Seafood Watch Program as part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to serve fish that has been “caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices.”

ceviche with the day's catch

ceviche with the day’s catch

Our first taste of sustainable fish was in this tangy ceviche.  Every day the ceviche might be a little different from the next, since they use the daily fishes to make it.  The only guarantee is that they never use catfish, sole, or scallops.  Lots of cilantro give it a clean earthy taste, the peppers and onion make it a little crunchy and mildly spicy, and the pineapple provides a refreshing sweetness.  Creamy ripe avocado and house made chips put it over the top.

clam chowder

clam chowder

Zach ordered the Twilight Menu, which is a very reasonable prix fixe available Monday through Thursday from 4-6 pm.  He started with a cup of clam chowder.  Since we went to the cook off this last weekend we got spoiled with clam chowder, and now we can judge that this one from Yankee Pier could have competed with the best on Saturday!  It had a rich and creamy broth, with rich clam flavor and mild bacon flavor.  The clam chunks were tender and plentiful.

fish & chips

fish & chips

For his entree Zach chose fish and chips (he’s been craving it for a while).  The kennebec fries are hand cut in house, and the tartar sauce, also scratch made, includes pickles that Yankee Pier pickles themselves!  The pickling spices come through to make this one special tartar sauce.  It needs to be special, though, to match the quality of the fish.  Moist, tender, and meaty, these three hunks of hand cut rockfish with Fish Story Ale beer batter were fresh and delicious.

dungeness crab roll

dungeness crab roll

We didn’t know this until we were seated, but this February is the 24th Annual Dungeness Crab Festival for the Lark Creek Restaurant Group, of which Yankee Pier is a part.  Every February they heavily feature dungeness crab on the menu, so August selected the hot crab roll.  Butter and shallots are mixed with the crab, then stuffed in a griddled brioche hot dog bun and served with kennebec kettle chips.  The naturally buttery crab is hand-picked, so the hunks are big, juicy, and tender, not finely shredded or mushed up.  Cole slaw is always good in August’s mind, but Zach agreed that the one made here is excellent.

seasonal fruit crisp - pear

seasonal fruit crisp – pear

The final element of Zach’s Twilight Menu was the seasonal fruit crisp; in season now is pear. The oatmeal crumble with cinnamon and sugar was the right amount of sweetness to set off the not-too-sweet pear, and allowing the high quality vanilla ice cream to melt just a little made it very rich and creamy.

Admittedly, the ice cream and bread are the only items not made here.  Like we said, they pickle their own pickles to make their own tartar sauce!  We like that this restaurant is so conscious towards the range of environmental risks that modern harvesting practices exacerbate.  If we all could make tiny steps towards that level of consciousness, as a world we would be in a much better place (and not just for having delicious, sustainable food!)

Capay Valley Almond Festival

just as the almond trees are starting to bloom

just as the almond trees are starting to bloom

Capay Valley, covering Esparto, Capay, Brooks, Guinda, and Rumsey, has hosted the Almond Festival since 1915.  We began in Esparto then made our way northwest to finish in Rumsey, sampling anything and everything almond that we could find.

mobile brick oven

mobile brick oven

Driving in, we met blocks of cars parked along the way up to the Esparto Community Park, and that’s when we realized this wasn’t just an almond festival – it was also a car show!  There were hundreds of cars on display, but somehow a parking spot opened up right before us, immediately next to the park.  It didn’t take long to find our first almond-based item from Caffé Italia, pulled from their mobile brick pizza oven.

sweetza pizza

sweetza pizza

This sweet and savory delight was exactly that.  Starting from the thin crispy crust, through the tangy and sweet satsuma mandarin marmalade and syrup sauce, a very light sprinkle of mozzarella cheese, and fresh sweet basil, the background for the day’s star was spectacular.  Plenty of toasted almond slices made this a real treat.

almond churro shortcake

almond churro shortcake

Puros Churros came up with an outstanding sweet treat, as well.  Shortcake was extruded in churro form and freshly deep fried, then dusted in cinnamon and sugar, topped with chocolate fudge sauce, almond slices, and whipped cream.  This was not your ordinary churro as the base was shortcake, so the crunchiness remained on the outside for the frying while the inside stayed cake-like and rich like a pound cake.  With the cinnamon, sugar, chocolate, and whipped cream, it was reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate.

what we saw

what we saw

Soon after we found the first booth with nuts, and there were lots of them!  There were over 20 specialty flavors and we got to sample many of them while talking with friendly and knowledgeable Mel, but even at an extremely reasonable price, we settled on getting only five.

what we bought

what we bought

Some are for ourselves (really just for August since Zach can’t eat unprocessed nuts in excess) and most are for family members.  We can tell you about the mocha almonds; the smell is intoxicating, and the flavor is sweet from the cocoa powder yet has a hint of bitterness from the coffee undertone.  Fresh nuts always makes a difference – we learned that nuts found in the typical grocery store are at least six months old before they even get put on the shelf!

a-mend roca

a-mend roca

To support a local cause we bought a bag of almond, er, “a-mend” roca.  Too bad Zach can’t eat it, but August is loving it.  The toffee is crunchy but smooth, so it doesn’t get so stuck to your teeth.

fried mushrooms

fried mushrooms

Ok, so we got one item that wasn’t almond-related.  But it was good.  When we first arrived we saw a guy walking with these mushrooms and we asked him about them, so with his recommendation we got some after finding all the almond goods in Esparto.  With just a tiny bit of ranch dressing, these were mighty flavorful with fresh mushrooms and a light batter.

bake sale goodies

bake sale goodies

Along the way to Rumsey, Capay offered live music and barbecue food, Brooks did a wine tasting and olive oil tasting, and the Capay Fired Department barbecued oysters in Guinda.  In Rumsey we found more almond products to be enjoyed there and brought home.  Above you see an almond cake, a homemade bear claw, and blossom-shaped sugar cookies with an almond latte for sipping, all wonderful goodies from warm community members.

nuts n' honey

nuts n’ honey

Fine, we’ll admit, this is another non-almond product.  This is honey with walnuts, but who could pass it up?  Especially when we learned that almond honey is disgusting and only good for bees because it is very bitter, we thought walnut honey could make a great topping for waffles or pancakes sometime soon.

coconut crunch, onion garlic, and butter toffee almonds

coconut crunch, onion garlic, and butter toffee almonds

More nuts for family members!  Well, one bag might stay with August.  These came without business cards or a website, but were for another community cause.

We are definitely going back next year.  The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and there were lots of almond products.  The police did a great job in conducting traffic in these tiny towns.  It was a wonderful day!

Sushi Momoyama, Concord CA

Hidden off one of the main drags in Concord is a tiny sushi place that has been around for 12 years in the same location.  We had never heard of Momoyama until we searched through the web, looking for a sushi restaurant with good reviews so that we could compare and see for ourselves.  Our verdict: no wonder this place is popular!

cold, dry sake

cold, dry sake

Zach had tried hot, sweet sake before, and August only knows sake from going bombing once in college.  This one, cold and dry, was a delight and easy to drink.  As our waiter David described it, “Sweet sake is for those who are just beginning with sake.”  This here is for those in the know.

shrimp vegetable tempura

shrimp vegetable tempura

The tempura appetizer here was cooked really well, crispy but not overdone, yet cooked thoroughly enough that there was no gummy batter amidst the broccoli.  The shrimp were juicy and flavorful, and the dipping sauce had a mere essence of saltiness, not strong at all.  We liked the wide variety of vegetables, also.

salad and miso soup

salad and miso soup

We each got a traditional salad and miso soup.  Now that we have this blog and we take pictures, Zach noticed for the first time what miso soup does if you let it settle.  Kind of neat, eh?  The sesame dressing for the salad was a little different than what we’re used to (but in a good way), as it had a touch of peanut in the mix.

baked scallop roll

baked scallop roll

The baked scallop roll is essentially a California roll (crab and avocado), topped with scallops and then baked in a little foil boat.  Baking makes the rice softer and stickier, so these were like warm morsels of seafood goodness.  The rolls themselves were mild, so the sauce drizzles on the side added some oomph.

oh baby roll

oh baby roll

The Oh Baby roll is a deep fried scallop with avocado over rice and topped with a “special sauce.”  Zach loved these because the scallops were tender, moist, and succulent despite being deep fried.  There was a nice texture contrast between the creamy avocado, the crispy juicy scallop, and the sticky rice.  The special sauce was both tangy and savory.

not-on-the-menu smoked salmon roll

chef elvis’s special seared salmon roll

Elvis, the owner and master sushi chef, sent us a couple of plates to sample.  The first surprise was this no-name roll with seared salmon.  You can tell this is one of his specialties that he is very proud of, and justly so.  The salmon was only slightly seared, resulting in a butter-like texture that melted in the mouth.  At least three different sauces added so many flavor layers it was a journey with each bite!  We know there was seared salmon, shrimp tempura, crab, and avocado, and we probably should have looked more, but it was too good to dissect, we just had to eat it.

"spicy cracker"

“spicy cracker”

Elvis’s version of a jalapeño popper is on the appetizer list as Spicy Cracker.  Jalapeño slices are deep fried with avocado, cream cheese, crab, salmon, seared tuna, and ponzu sauce.  Crispy outside with some of the most phenomenal sushi-grade seafood mixed together make these memorable for flavor and spiciness.  Both August and Zach like jalapeño poppers, but this was all for Zach because it was too spicy for August.  At first he said, “The taste is great with not too much spice,” but then his face turned red as the heat crept up.  These Japanese poppers are something worth returning for on their own merit.

The driveway is practically hidden behind a cafe and you can only turn in from one direction, so don’t let your GPS fool you in getting there.  The dining area is small and lots of people know about the quality here, so anticipate some wait time.  Once seated, you’ll be impressed by the food and the service.  Everyone was hustling tonight, with every table and counter space occupied by happy diners.