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The Grand Tavern, Oakland CA

Monday night can be the most challenging to find a good restaurant for dinner.  If you’re looking for a restaurant that’s better than good, you’ll be even more hard pressed.  Luckily there is The Grand Tavern, a gastropub with New American cuisine and a cozy venue that’s bustling with the sounds of happy patrons every Monday.

el colibrí

el colibrí

Almost wagging their fingers at restaurants closed on Mondays, The Grand Tavern offers Happy Hour all day long for just about everything from the bar.  With that incentive, we tried a cocktail named for a hummingbird in Spanish, el colibrí.  Delicately tart and mildly effervescent with pisco, lemon juice, hibiscus liqueur, peach bitters, and sparkling torrontés, the light taste belied the strength!  It was very tasty, but should be sipped gingerly.

duck pate

duck pate

Californians can’t get foie gras so easily anymore, but at least there’s still pâté.  This duck liver with bourbon was layered with house-made blackberry jam and served with Acme garlic toasts.  The bread was toasted just enough to provide something substantial to bite through, as opposed to shattering when bitten (as crostini sometimes does).  Enough about the bread, the contents of the Mason jar were the star.  The mild mineral flavor of the pâté was enhanced by a medium herb background and faint bourbon essence.  Pâté and good bread is already a nice starter, but the blackberry jam set it far above average with a dark sweetness to balance the liver.

mushroom chips

mushroom chips

King oyster mushroom in paprika tempura were a delightful vegetarian nibble after the intense pâté.  The crispy breading coated thick mushroom slices with excellent texture that was nowhere near mushy.  The bites were salty and lightly spiced, not spicy, but all three of the sauces had their own kick.  Salsa verde had mild flavors with a medium burn, while jalapeño chutney was more tangy and salty with a strong jalapeño flavor rising above the heat.  The spiciest was the creamy habanero aioli; August, who avoids spiciness when possible, thought the aioli was “super tasty, but what a burn!”  She really wanted a second mushroom with aioli because the flavor was that good, but the heat kept her back.

golden beet salad

golden beet salad

The beets in this salad really helped cool down our mouths after the mushrooms’ sauces.  It’s important to get more vegetables than just tempura’d ones, anyway.  The braised golden beet salad on arugula had called out to us from the sumptuous selection, and ended up coursed perfectly to relieve the heat.  Toasted pumpkin seeds, fennel frond, fat blueberries, and faintly tangy citrus dressing complemented the sweet, earthy beets and the zippy arugula.

lamb rigatoni

lamb rigatoni

Where there is lamb, August tries it.  In this dish the shoulder was tender, savory, and not gamey, mixed in with al dente rigatoni noodles.  Meaty mushroom slices joined the fun, and the sunny-side up egg provided a soft tender element.  Tomato, yellow onion, and chili flakes made up the chunky sauce, but it was garlic, one of the most important ingredients in the world (tied with chocolate), that brought everything together.

harissa chicken

harissa chicken

Zach’s chicken was “very, very juicy” with subtle harissa flavors.  The tender chicken rested across corn and mashed potatoes, but not just any corn and mashed potatoes.  The corn was sautéed with cherry tomato halves and wild arugula, resulting in a sweet, crisp, and exceptionally fresh side.  The mashed potatoes were rich with butter flavor and an intriguing horseradish aftertaste.  Jalapeño chutney made an encore appearance here, showing its range in pairing with other ingredients.

Because the restaurant tries its best to work with the seasons, the menu changes somewhat often.  Frequent diners will never tire, and first-time guests will have different stories to share about their wonderful meals and beverages.  And, of course, one thing we can always rely on is that it’s open on Mondays.

Beauty’s Bagel Shop, Oakland CA

pretty popular place

pretty popular place

We drove by Beauty’s Bagel Shop yesterday and August noticed the memorable name.  We tried it for brunch today and met four spirited crew members, including co-owner Amy.  She and her partner Blake, originally from Philadelphia PA, have been running this quaint and very popular shop for only around seven months, but with such great consistency and customer service, you’d think they had been around for ten years.

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Spunky Danielle took our order, and invited us to check out the kitchen.  There we met Jake who was running the wood-fired oven today (normally Blake’s job but he was out ill today) and Arezki, impressively rolling bagels at the speed of two men.

deviled eggs

deviled eggs

We began with an order of deviled eggs (two halves).  The yolk filling was creamy, mildly spicy, and very refreshing with a hint of lemon to add zing.  The whites were very tender and succulent.  For how simple it was, each half was a satisfying bite.

potato salad

potato salad

This potato salad was great in texture and flavor.  It was slightly rich with tender potatoes, but no mushiness.  There was some zip and tang, yet it wasn’t heavy on the mustard nor was it overloaded with other unnecessary ingredients like bacon and celery.

pickle plate

pickle plate

Danielle said the assortment of housemade pickles was popular, so we had to try it for ourselves.  Cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, beets, and mushrooms as the main ingredients each married with the pickling juice differently to draw out different spices, but none of it was spicy hot.  All of the veggies were clearly at the peak of freshness when pickled.

breakfast bagel with chicken scrapple

breakfast bagel with chicken scrapple

August saw something different on the menu and had to order it.  The breakfast bagels come with egg and cheddar cheese, but one of the options to add on is chicken scrapple.  Scrapple is an East Coast, or rather Pennsylvania favorite, usually made of pork scraps, corn meal, and wheat flour.  Here at Beauty’s, however, it is made with chicken thighs, hearts, and livers.  It had a great crunchy sear from the griddle on the outside while being incredibly soft and savory inside.  The eggs were tender and fluffy, and the cheese was gooey and rich.  Bagels are “Montreal-style,” meaning they are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and then wood-fired to provide a hint of sweet and a touch of smoke.  Tender on the inside with a thin, crisp crust, these are great bagels for sandwiches.  The coffee brewed and served here is Flying Goat from Healdsburg.

organic fried chicken

organic fried chicken

The chicken served here is organic, as are the ingredients for their bagels. Additionally, they try to source organic vegetables and produce, like the fresh-squeezed oranges for juice that Zach says was “so fresh it was like eating an orange picked straight from the tree.”  The chicken in his bagel sandwich was very flavorful and juicy, and its crust was flaky and crispy in the most delicious way.  There was a blend of spices in the creamy beet coleslaw that was tangy and mildly spicy, but the heat stays in your mouth without traveling down to burn your throat.  It helps that the beet backdrop is slightly sweet.  The salt and pepper bagel is a great choice for this particular sandwich.  We might not have tried too many restaurants in Oakland yet, but Zach says this is the best fried chicken sandwich we’ve found on Telegraph so far.

We are looking forward to our next visit.  We want to get some plain bagels so that we can try some of the tempting spreads – Sierra Nevada cream cheese, honey butter, and almond butter, to name a few.  We’re sure everything is amazing.

Hurley’s, Yountville CA

We drove to Yountville for Easter today, since most of our things are packed up for moving and you can’t really cook like that, can you?  We spent most of the day in town doing lunch, visiting a bakery, walking around the shops, and finishing with dinner at Hurley’s.  Like the lunch restaurant, we had our first impression of Hurley’s at the Taste of Yountville, so we were eager to come back today to try dinner.  Throughout the year there are themed menus such as a Father’s Day barbecue and a game week in November; today there was an Easter selection of specials, from which Zach chose his entree.

roasted baby beet salad

roasted baby beet salad

Atop the salad of frisée arugula, beets, spiced pecans, orange segments, and citrus vinaigrette sat a crustini with Burrata cheese.  This salad was light and refreshing, with colors to match the zingy flavors.  The beets were exceptionally fresh, earthy, and sweet.

macaroni and cheese

macaroni and cheese

We’re not surprised to see mac and cheese, just like we did at lunch.  It would seem to be a side dish growing in popularity.  This was very creamy in flavor and texture, with more cream than cheese coming through.  The panko sprinkled all over the top added a nice texture contrast.  It’s a great value, too – this is a big enough side dish for three to four people!

rosemary and maple roasted chicken

rosemary and maple roasted chicken

August’s chicken was flavorful and comforting as it started to rain outside.  Two meaty portions were supported by a potato puree.  It was a good texture to soak up the sweet and savory glaze.  Caramelized pearl onions, roasted garlic, and English peas rounded out the meal.

easter ham special

easter ham special

Zach’s Caggiano ham was tender, smoky, and had a mild clove flavor.  In all honesty, he wanted the wild Texas boar or the buffalo short ribs, but he chose this because A) it’s Easter, and B) this ham was locally sourced.  It came with scalloped potatoes, fried shoestring onions, a pineapple honey glaze and grilled Maui pineapple spears, which were exceptionally sweet as well as tart.  Nearly hidden from view in the picture are crisp green beans and mushrooms sauteed in garlic and butter.

We already have the second week of November in our calendar for Game Week – antelope, pheasant, and boar are just a few items to be featured.  If today is any indication of the quality of ingredients used at Hurley’s, you can guarantee we’ll be back to see what they do with those kinds of meats.