Category Archives: Restaurants

reviews of establishments, with an eye for details

Kanishka’s Gastropub, Walnut Creek CA

For the folks who profess their love of all cuisines, Kanishka’s Neo-Indian Gastropub would be a real treat. Not everyone likes Indian food, but this is not entirely typical Indian food. The owner/chef is heavily inspired by her grandfather’s Bengali recipes with a few servings of her travels through all hemispheres. Her menu is filled with ingredients that combine flavors from all lands where she’s stepped foot, bridging India to all of them like a global network of small plates. Dining here is an experience to take your taste buds on a trip around the world through the perspective of one cuisine in one sitting.

special brussel sprouts

flash-fried brussel sprouts, chef’spices, lemon curry aioli

We began our dinner with the Brussel sprouts, flash-fried and seasoned with “Chef’Spices” and served with lemon curry aioli. Blanching before frying helped cook the bitterness out, allowing so many other flavors to shine. They were seasoned with a mild curry and cumin spice blend, and while the outer leafs gained so much of the savory flavor, towards the center the sprouts retained an al dente texture with natural vegetable flavor. It was a fine balance of fresh and savory, crunch and cooked. A creamy aioli with light lemon flavor and a bit of curry was vital, not just a hastily added condiment; the sprouts, while tasty, were better with it.

The Street Side Duets was really more of a three-in-one small plate with typical Indian street snacks, or chaat, a term referring to savory snacks sold from stalls or carts. The five pastry-looking puchkas are also known as pani-puri, consisting of a hollowed pastry fried and then filled. These were much like the standard found throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The pastry cups were so surprisingly thin, yet sturdy enough to contain the semi-smooth potato and chickpea filling with mild curries and the heat of a chili pepper. The sweet tamarind glaze helped balance the heat, but it was far from the hottest item on the plate. From the silver bowl we enjoyed bhel puri, kind of like an Indian Chex Mix made with puffed rice, a few peanuts, a small amount of fresh cucumber, and a tamarind sauce. It was spiced, but not spicy. Zach didn’t like it at first bite, but the second and third and so forth kept getting tastier, like a consuming addiction (part of the comparison to Chex Mix). To appreciate it more, we would recommend eating it slowly because it is an experience for the mouth to feel in contrast to what the eye sees. Despite looking like having a cracker texture, it was almost salad-like with a mix of crispy and chewy. The tamarind cilantro shooter itself was not so bad, but the shot glass was rimmed with a tamarind chili pepper dust and that was a real kick to the tongue. It can be used as a sauce to drizzle over the plate with the puchkas, but we took it down like resilient older Indian women tend to do, according to our server Lindsay. The small plate was nowhere near lacking flavor.

papas bravas re-invented

papas bravas re-invented

The papas bravas were strikingly similar to what August has tasted in Spain, but decidedly different here at Kanishka’s. Large-diced potatoes were tossed with Indian spices as well paprika, served in a pool of tomato fenugreek cream sauce that tasted essentially like a curry ketchup. The same lemon curry aioli as the Brussel sprouts proved to be just as integral here as it was for the sprouts, adding a layer of flavor that made this memorable.

kanishka's 038

nicoya breeze salad

Just have to say, what came out to us what not what we expected when we ordered “warm seafood salad (fresh catch & shrimp), zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, avocado, butter lettuce, devilish egg, Chef’s tangy dressing” but that’s okay because it was still tasty. The eye tells us so much about what we eat, but we become so accustomed to certain standards of plating that “seafood salad” would probably not be dreamed of like this by too many people at all. The fresh catch was mahi mahi, and three large bites of it plus three shrimp sat in the hollowed-out half of an avocado skin. The fish was lightly seasoned; sometimes simplicity is delicious when the ingredient can stand alone in its purity. The shrimp had a little extra flavor to it, a touch spiced but not overwhelmingly. The squash and carrot salad had a latent heat from the tangy tamarind dressing, so August was thankful for the avocado half to keep her tongue cooled from this and the other spicy components of the dinner.

tandoori-tini

tandoori-tini

The tandoori-tini was creative in its plating, that’s certain. Made with tandoori BBQ chicken thigh meat, the same paprika potatoes as the papas bravas, spicy pico de gallo, and Indian spices, it was the type of dish a small eater would fill up on easily. The spoonful of classic Mexican guacamole was not listed on the menu, unless that’s the pico de gallo, as it did have lots of fresh tomatoes and onions. A garnish of pickled onion offered a bit of tanginess to break up the hearty “meat and potatoes” vibe this gives off. But, we didn’t realize that this was going to be almost identical to the papas bravas so we recommend that you choose one over the other.

shikampuri lamb sliders

shikampuri lamb sliders

To our delight, as we are lovers of this not-too-popular meat, there were more than one lamb dish on the menu. We went for the sliders as the lamb was from local Superior Farms of Dixon; lamb is tasty (barring mutton), but the closer to home is better and this dish was another tally in the column of evidence. Patrons can choose between Indian flatbread and eggless bread but the owner recommended the wrap style with flatbread so of course we took her suggestion. With arugula, chutney, aioli, and onion straws, the crunchy wrap with a tortilla-like texture enveloped the crispy onion straws and fresh greens, creating excellent layers of texture. Simple flavors and few ingredients make for a great dish.

With such a menu to take a culinary trip around the world, it would be foolish not to return. Being that the restaurant is still young, there is room for adjustments to be made. We did try an additional dish not featured here, because we learned that it will be axed soon so we would hate to lure you here under false pretenses. The menu, though, is nearly a piece of art for all its details and subtle references. There are main categories for the different types of small plates (vegetarian, seafood, land-based meat, etc), each with a corresponding song title that ties in to the theme in some puzzlingly metaphorical way. For each item there are thoughtful beer and wine pairing suggestions, but like our honest server Lindsay pointed out, most people that order more than one item wouldn’t necessarily care to have a dedicated drink for each. It is nice to have the options; if August still worked in downtown Walnut Creek like she did for a year after college, she would make this her lunch break stop on the regular, a plate a day with a little something to sip it down. If you were to take just one of our recommendations, though, let it be this: make a reservation, but be prepared that you still might wait for your table anyway. Kanishka’s is the cool kid at school and everyone wants to hang out with her.

SOMA StrEat Food Park, San Francisco – Beat the (Sunday) Blues! with The Yes Address

Can you believe it’s already March? And how’s that New Year’s resolution going for you? After our extended break from blogging, we’re refreshed and committed to our resolution of continuing to find spectacular restaurants and amazing events to bring to life so that you may vicariously enjoy them. A common resolution is to be bold and try new things, so while you, dear reader, are trying new things by proxy through our blog, Eventbrite is helping share new experiences with people throughout San Francisco. The Yes Address by Eventbrite is a series of 15 events spanning 10 days from February 28 to March 8, with a variety of options like workout classes, a skeeball tournament, and of course, plenty of dining. The Yes Address collaborated with SOMA StrEat Food Park for a memorable March 1 evening called “Beat the (Sunday) Blues!” featuring breakfast for dinner as one of the ultimate comfort foods to “chase away the #SundayScaries”. Normally the collection of food trucks is closed for dinner on Sundays, but when we found out that this was going on, we got on our way across the Bay Bridge – with about eleventy bazillion other cars and an extra 45 minutes of traffic. So although we didn’t get there quickly enough to enjoy games and 80’s movies as advertised, we still had a great time sampling some inventive dinnfast.

Ultra Crepes is a family-operated business based on Sebastapol with a storefront, not just a food truck (lucky local Sebastapolians!). Serving an assortment of sweet and savory crepes, we could not not try one of each. The Monte Cristo sandwich is a hot contender for August’s favorite breakfast sandwich, and Ultra Crepes’ version further helps to secure its seat. With ham, Swiss cheese, raspberry jam, and powdered sugar, it was everything a traditional Monte Cristo would be, but with an edge on texture because, while August likes French toast, she likes crepes more. The naturally tangy sweetness of the raspberries contrasted well against the smoky cheese and salty ham, so even with the jam and sprinkling of powdered sugar, this was definitely on the savory side in comparison to our second crepe, the Palachinka. Palachinka is the Eastern European version of a crepe, and this one was treated to taste like s’mores. Just the right amount of Nutella to keep it from being overly gooey, crumbled Plazma Biscuits (Serbian graham cracker-like cookies), marshmallows, and whipped cream combined to make this our favorite Nutella-filled crepe we have tried so far. Had it had any more fillings or toppings, it would have been simply too rich but as it was, it was just right.

Before getting too deep into dessert-type breakfast items, we needed something else savory and substantial so we walked not far at all to temporarily neighboring Savourie Streets. To keep with the theme of the evening, they added a fried egg to their “famous BLT” with pork belly on lightly toasted sourdough. The bread would have been cutting our gums had it not been for the thick, juicy tomato slice. The fresh produce was a nice backdrop for the perfectly cooked egg and hearty amount of pork belly. To be frank, we were a little nervous to order this because we have had some unfavorable experiences recently with gelatinous, undercooked pork belly, but Savourie Streets restored our faith. We found no fat strips, only tastiness.

It’s not like we arrived in the last minutes of the event, but about half of the trucks were already closed half way through the evening so our options for savory breakfast items were slim. Sweet ones were plentiful, on the other hand. In spite of the cool weather, we couldn’t pass up Frozen Kuhsterd, one of our all-time favorite frozen dessert trucks. This evening, they brought a treat crafted by their landlord specially for this event: liège waffle bites made with sugar cane. Sugar cane is the secret ingredient that provides an extra bit of crispiness for this type of waffle, making it seem as if there are tiny caramelized nuggets of sugar within the waffle. Drizzled with thick burnt caramel and a touch of whipped cream, we were left to choose one scoop of smooth and creamy frozen custard among four flavor options. We stood by the breakfast theme and went with the maple butter, and it was encouraging that that was truck manager Frank’s recommendation as well. We really enjoyed our choice, down to the last drop of melted frozen custard in the bottom of the cup.

Johnny Doughnuts was our last stop, and good thing for it because they loaded us up with an assorted dozen. Whether for being towards the end of the night or that we got along well with the crew, we have to show our appreciation for the half-off deal we were offered because we got to sample plenty of deliciousness. We didn’t think a dozen doughnuts would make a box so heavy (Zach almost tipped the box when picking it up), but since we were ogling them for more than a few minutes observing shape, size, and glaze, the heft of the box shouldn’t have been a surprise.

We had two old fashioned doughnuts, one vanilla and the other chocolate salted caramel. They had an excellent cake-like texture with that little bit of exterior crunch expected in an old fashioned. The vanilla would pair perfectly with a coffee for breakfast, and the chocolate salted caramel was decadently different and delicious. Another four of our assortment were raised doughnuts made with fresh mashed russet potatoes, to make them tender, moist, and more hearty and filling compared to the standard from typical doughnut shops. The classic glazed raised is great for the no-frills doughnut eater, but when glazes and fillings are made with real fruit and chocolate and the flavors are natural and true to their names, they’re hard for even the minimalist to pass up. The chocolate-on-chocolate frosted and sprinkled “sprinkly guy” was deep and rich, and the two fruity raised doughnuts were a strawberry with chocolate drizzle and lime poppy seed, each delightful and refreshing in its own way.

 

The Bismark doughnuts, also known as Berliners, are hole-less and filled like the traditional Berliner Pfannkuchen of the north of Germany. We sampled four: lime marscapone, strawberry apple, chocolate vanilla creme, and wild berry. What we loved most about the Bismarks is that it was clear the fillings were scratch-made and not spooned out of giant plastic tubs. Fresh fruit, quality marscapone cheese, and real chocolate made the centers sing. Not the shape we typically think of when it comes to doughnuts but a doughnut nonetheless (and tasty yet), we got a cinnamon twist with great texture. And to round out our dozen, we tried the wheat-free “That Fritter Thang!” with blueberries. Its texture was almost like that of an old fashioned with some crunch to the outside, just with more of an all-around chew to it.

schwag

schwag, thank you eventbrite and the yes address!

Being that this event was unique and supported by the partnership of SOMA StrEat and The Yes Address by Eventbrite, the latter was on site to promote the awesome activities lined up through March 8 as part of spreading awareness about the features of Eventbrite. To spark conversation, Eventbrite set up a mobile unit with amiable spokespeople facilitating a prize wheel. Zach won a flask and August was bestowed an outdoorsy blanket with fleece on one side and tent material on the other. Had it not been for the prize wheel we wouldn’t have learned about how Eventbrite can be used to find new, unusual, and sometimes one-time events in our extended backyard of the Bay Area. Thank you, Eventbrite, for the schwag and the super fun and yummy evening at SOMA StrEat!

 

Umami Burger, Oakland CA

Mondays present multiple challenges across many arenas, and one of them is to find a quality restaurant that is open for dinner. On a national holiday observed on a Monday, the initial assumption would be that any restaurant open for dinner would be slammed with patrons not wanting to deal with meal preparation on top of unpacking and decompressing after a long getaway weekend. We expected many more people on the freeways along our way towards Umami Burger but were surprised by relatively mild traffic. That the parking meters weren’t being enforced was another bonus. When we walked in there was no line. All omens were good for this visit.

a portion of the massive mural

a portion of the massive mural

Now it’s time for a history lesson. Umami is the fifth taste, after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. For over two thousand years there were believed to be just the four tastes, even though the sensation of umami is natural and attributed to the glutamic acids in foods themselves and developed through cooking processes. Mushrooms, tomatoes, seaweed, meat, and aged Parmesan cheese are some of the more commonly recognized examples of umami. Clearly these food items have been around for long before the last century, but we can thank Professor Kikunae Ikeda for uncovering the rationale behind this fifth flavor in 1908. Glutamate is the chemical compound these foods have in common. Professor Ikeda later went on to patent concentrated glutamic acids in the form of monosodium glutamate, or MSG. While we know that large quantities of MSG are unhealthy, one cannot deny how tasty a meal can be when it is added. Thus we call this fifth flavor “umami,” coined by Professor Ikeda, meaning “pleasant savory taste” or simply “yummy.”

tempura onion rings, truffle fries, three dips

tempura onion rings, truffle fries, three dips

Umami Burger is definitely “umami” in the yummiest sense of the word. There were many starters to choose from including fried items and fresh salads, but we began our evening simply with two sides, the tempura onion rings and truffle fries. Thick cut, hand dipped, and malt battered, the onion rings were noticeably fresh and never once near a freezer during prep. The onions were sweet and not cooked to sliminess, leaving just a bit of a sinking bite amidst the crisp, light batter. Without a sprinkling of salt, these rings were yearning to be dipped in the trio of sauces, but be prepared for the range of spiciness. The garlic aioli was very thick and creamy with a pleasantly mild garlic flavor. The jalapeño ranch, despite the fear sent into the hearts of some tastebuds upon hearing that J word, had zero heat and pure flavor. August, typically the one to avoid spicy foods, particularly enjoyed the opportunity to taste the jalapeño without any burn. The diablo sauce, on the other hand, was all for Zach, being that it was made with habanero peppers. If you like heat, you will be happy. With no need for extra dippers were the thin cut truffle fries, generously tossed in a creamy truffle cheese sauce. They weren’t overly truffly nor cheesy, but almost all fries had at least a smidgen of goodness on them. Some fries were particularly coated, so the crispiness resulting from the thin cut helped to keep the textural integrity intact.

throwback

throwback

With such variety, we had to sample and share three burgers between the two of us. To be fair to the restaurant, of course, clearly not because there were too many good things to choose from. We evenly split the Throwback, featuring two seared beef patties, white cheddar cheese, miso mustard, Umami house ketchup, soy pickles, and sliced onions. It was like the classic as described in that infectious song marketed by the chain with golden arches, but immeasurably better. Never mind the tasty char on the burger and lightly grilled bun, as some time on the flame adds a lot of flavor to already quality beef and bread. The variety of condiments created a combination of flavors that explored the broad depths of umami flavor, including savory, tangy, and slightly sweet. But the fresh pickles and sweet onion, you mustn’t request them to be omitted. Their sweet crispiness brought some much needed texture to what otherwise would be a very meaty cheeseburger.

cali burger

cali burger

August the California girl tends to gravitate towards menu items with some variation of California in the name. Typically that means a combination of bacon, sprouts, avocado, and/or Swiss cheese, but Umami’s Cali burger had none of these. Instead, the single patty was adorned with butter lettuce, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house spread, and “Cali cheese” – a high quality white American cheese that gooed like brie over the patty. The nicely treated tomato and onions added slightly acidic, slightly sweet layers to provide contrast to the handsome savor of the grilled beef and bun.

sunny side

sunny side

The Sunny Side burger, aka Truffle Especiale, caught Zach’s eye for the few albeit quality ingredients stacked together in a novel way. Not just cheese, special sauce, and lettuce sat beneath that beautifully fried egg, oh no. Parmesan frico (a cheese crisp), truffle butter, and truffled arugula gelled with the burst yolk. The Parmesan provided a bite while the arugula brought freshness, and all together the flavors balanced so that overall it was not an overwhelmingly truffled burger.

We did not have any alcoholic beverages this evening, although we might on the next visit because the menu was inventive, diverse, and tempting. We did not have any dessert either, since we learned that they are not made in house; no offense at all towards the dessert maker, but we went to Umami to blog about Umami. We had a very enjoyable dinner but must leave you with a warning: cut your burger in half. This is for two reasons. First, the burgers are large, so they’re just a hair easier to handle when halved. Second, the restaurant’s recommended temperature for your beef burgers is medium rare, but no matter how you order it, check to see it was cooked to your liking. If you are picky about meat temperature, communicate your preferences clearly to best enjoy your yummy meal.