Friday, April 21, 2017

Out in Oakland and Reviews

Across the Bay Bridge is the municipality of Oakland. As complex as San Francisco, it has a
Getting on the Bay Bridge
completely different flair. There are neighborhoods rather than Districts and the downtown has a much more industrial feel to it. With the same background as the other cities (Huchiun Indians then Spanish settlers, then part of Mexico, and finally claimed by the US) Oakland was originally called encinal, Spanish for ‘oak grove’, because of the extensive oak forest that covered the area. The Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point and the major terminus for the Central Pacific Railroad proved the wisdom of Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon in establishing the city in the mid-1800s. Other entrepreneurs, such as Francis "Borax" Smith developed a streetcar company; other such innovations as electric service and telephones connected Oakland and Berkeley, making both cities desirable places to live and work. By 1920, Oakland boasted many manufacturing industries, including metals, canneries, bakeries, internal combustion engines, automobiles, and shipbuilding. A short nine years later, Chrysler added another automobile manufacturing plant, making Oakland the ‘Detroit of the West’. Thankfully, it has not suffered the same fate as Detroit. 

World War II brought even more industry including dry docks, and expanded canning,
Left T to B: Downtown Oakland, Ferry landing at sunset
Right: Odd building in Oakland
preserving, and packing companies. The population in Oakland and surrounding areas was booming. From 1940 to 1970 the migration of the poor from southern states not only brought in a mix of cultures and ethnicities, but some deeply ingrained hatred of minorities. In 1943 Oakland was plagued by the ‘zoot suit riots’. By the 1960s, racial tensions had not eased; students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party at Merritt College, emphasizing black power and the need of African Americans to take care of their own community. These problems persisted through the 70s and 80s allowing for the increase in drug related violence and property crime. The firestorm that swept through Berkley in 1991 also affected Oakland destroying as many as 4,000 homes and leaving thousands homeless. Throughout the rest of the 1990s Oakland’s economy has been in very slow recovery. The new century has continued to see slow growth, with still low sales, rentals and occupancy rates in the downtown area.

One of the projects aimed at providing venues for businesses and employment opportunities
Top L to R: Statue of Buck, London's Klondike cabin
Bottom L to R: USS Potomac, Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon
is Jack London Square. It is owned by the Port of Oakland and has it is the home of stores, restaurants, hotels, an Amtrak station, a ferry dock for the San Francisco Bay Ferry, the historic Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, the cabin that Jack London lived in the Klondike, and a movie theater. The former presidential yacht, USS Potomac, is moored at an adjacent slip. This formerly industrial neighborhood has undergone significant rehabilitation, including loft conversions and new construction making it one of the success stories in Oakland’s economy.

My time spent in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland was definitely too short to sample
all these interesting cities had to offer. However, I did get to see plenty of interesting things and sample just a smattering of the culinary delights available. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Where we stayed:

Of course, the best place I stayed was with my friends, Teri and John. Not only was their hospitality wonderful, but being entertained by Willy, Waylon, Pepper, and Boo was over the top!
Three carrots

Crown Plaza Hotel (1177 Airport Boulevard, Burlingame, CA 94010, 650-342-9200) is the same hotel we stayed in last year. The rooms are comfortable, although they are a bit expensive. I was rather disappointed with their pick-up service at the airport; supposedly the van runs every 15 minutes; we waited about an hour. While you have to pay for parking, it is reasonable and you can come and go as you please.
Left: Bathroom
Right: Bedroom

What we did:
Four carrots

Cliff’s Variety (79 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, 415-431-5365) is a social event! While they offer plenty of unusual items at reasonable prices, the biggest treat is the selection of tiaras. Even if you buy nothing, it’s fun to wander the isles and to people watch.

Three and one-half carrots

General Bead (637 Minna Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-621-8187) is one of the
Left: General Bead entrance
Center T to B: Wall of beads, Flower spot
Right: Mural outside
must-see places for beaders. It’s in a part of town that you only want to go to during the day and probably with a friend. Once you get inside you’ll have bead-overload; there’s not much they don’t have. One of the rules is that you much stand on the flower to get help with your purchases. Make sure that you take a list, otherwise you’ll spend hours and either come away with nothing or with much more than you intended. My only negative is that you have to write down what you want and have it pulled – you cannot, for the most part, simply select what you want and put it in your basket.

Jack London Square (Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607, 510-645-9292) is a really interesting place. Besides having Jack London focused things to see and do, there are lovely sculptures, lanes to stroll down by the water, and oodles of places to eat and/or imbibe. It’s a good place just to hang out.
Urchin sculpture and fountain

North Waterfront Park (near 11 Spinnaker Way, North of the west end of University Avenue, Berkeley Marina) is a beautiful place to see San Francisco Bay up close. There are lovely trails near the water and across hills. When we were there, people were hiking, walking dogs, and folks practicing tai chi. There is also a marina and places to eat. It’s quiet, peaceful, and a nice place to get away from the city.
Tai chi by the Bay

What we ate:
Four carrots

Finn Town Tavern (2251 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, 415-626-3466) is a great deal more up-scale that what you’d think for a tavern. And this is one place that you will need a reservation even on non-peak hours just to make sure that you get in at a
Left T to B: Menu, Buffalo shrimp
Center T to B: Lobster rolls, Chicken sandwich
Right: Stuffed eggs
reasonable time. The evening we went, our choices of reservation times were 5:45 or 10:45 PM and the only places left were at the bar. And good seats they were: we got to watch what was happening in the kitchen, see the wait staff run in and out, and get a good look at all the different offerings the restaurants provides. We decided to share plates, partly to be able to sample different dishes but also because this is a pricy place. Teri, Sue and I began with stuffed eggs as an appetizer. This is the ‘in thing’ in San Francisco. What made these different was the spicy sauce that accompanied them. Teri got the Cornflake Crusted Fried Chicken Sandwich with Chesapeake aioli, brioche, pickles, fries; the chicken was huge, but rather than being a dried out patty, it was moist with a very definite flavor. The fries were good, also. Sue got Buffalo Shrimp; they were spicy and plentiful. I ordered the Lobster Rolls and was surprised that they were more like flautas than the rolls you get in the Northeast; they were quite tasty. We were all quite happy with our meals and with the service.

Mingalaba Restaurant (1213 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, CA 94010, 650-343-3228) was so good last year that we decided to pay a return visit. As with last year, there was a 20
Top L to R: Menu, House noodles
Bottom L to R: Tea Leaf salad, Okra and shrimp
to 30 minute wait. However, it was definitely worth staying. This place serves a lot of food, so sharing among three people is no problem. We began with the Tea Leaf Salad. The flavor is unforgettable and unmistakable; the texture is nutty. We all loved it. Next we shared the House Noodles that came with coconut chicken, lime leaves, yellow pea’s powder, onion and fried thin noodle on the top. It was oh-so-good! And finally, for our  vegetable, we ate fried okra and shrimp; it was as good as it was different. Once you’re seated, service is good. Prices are right in line for the food and service presented.

Picán Restaurant (2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612, 510-834-1000) was a real surprise. Teri and John told me it was southern cooking, but what I didn’t realize was that
Top L to R: Blue Bayou ravioli, Cornbread, Shrimp and grits
Bottom L to R: Pork belly, Fried chicken, Cheesecake
this was a very nice restaurant. The man playing the piano was excellent and the music was a selection of oldies from the 60s through the 80s. It was perfect for the ambiance of the restaurant. We started with the Warm Artichoke, Shrimp and Louisiana Blue Crab Dip that included garlic-parmesan cream, and was accompanied grilled country bread; it was quite good as were the accompanying breads. Teri had been wanting to try the Southern Fried Chicken with smoked Gouda mac ‘n cheese; she said it was fantastic. John ordered the Braised Pork Belly on bed of braised savoy cabbage with raisins, apples, and maple gastrique; while it was more than any human could eat in one sitting, he said it was excellent. I decided on the Gulf Shrimp and Logan Turnpike Mill Grits; the shrimp were cooked just right and the grits were quite tasty. For dessert there was a cheesecake with fruit; it was good, too. Service was excellent, as it should have been in this upscale restaurant.
Three and one-half carrots

Ici Ice Cream (2948 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705, 510-665-6054) is one of those
Left: Window sign
Right T to B: Parlor, Curry ice cream
delicious temptations that is set right next to restaurants so that you can tell yourself you’ve walked off your lunch so it’s time for dessert. They have a wide range of ice cream flavors; some of them are quite different. Teri ordered a small scoop of curry ice cream – and three spoons. I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor of this dessert. You got the curry flavor, but with the cream and sweet it was delightful!

La Mediterranee (2936 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705, 510-540-7773) is a cute little
Top L to R: Menu, Fillo
Bottom L to R: Appetizer, Middle Eastern Plate
restaurant in the heart of Berkeley; it’s been in existence for 30 years and has several locations. We began with a mixed plate of appetizers that included hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, cheese, olives, and pita bread; there was more than enough for three and it was really good. John’s Middle Eastern Plate was packed with a combination of chicken cilicia fillo, grecian spinach and feta fillo, a levant sandwich and lamb lule; he said it was amazing. Teri and I got the fillos. They came with a bowl of soup – lemon chicken with lots of rice; tart and savory, it was very good. Teri chose the Fillo Combination: chicken Cilicia, spinach and feta, and cheese Karni. I got the Chicken Cilicia Fillo Dough Specialty that not only had chicken, but nuts, raisins, cinnamon, and spices. She and I agreed that our meals were very good.

Max’s Restaurant and Bar (1250 Old Bayshore Highway, Burlingame, CA 94010-1805, 650-342-6297) reminded me of a Denny’s so I didn’t expect much more than that from the
Top L to R: Bread, Menu, Cobb salad
Bottom L to R: Puppa, Caesar salad
menu. I was wrong. We started with fresh, warm bread and an order of Tuna Avocado Puppa that reminded me of the food I’d gotten in Hawaii. Since we knew we’d attend a dessert reception that evening we decided to eat lightly. Teri had a Cobb salad and I had a Caesar salad; both were made with fresh vegetables and not soaked in dressing. We agreed that lunch was very good and that the service was efficient. We’d both eat there again.

Wine glass
Rosenblum Cellars (10 Clay Street, Oakland, CA 94607, 877-478-9467) is basically a wine bar with snacks. However, the view was lovely and our waiter was excellent. The wines were very good and weren’t particularly expensive. This restaurant sits next to the ferry terminal so draws crowds when the ferry arrives, but we weren’t rushed although we were nursing a glass of wine and didn’t order food. It was calm, relaxing atmosphere.

Three carrots

Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon (Jack London Square, 48 Webster Street,
Hats and Ship on ceiling
Oakland, CA 94607, 510-839-6761) with a slanted floor caused by an earthquake. Seating is limited as is the menu. The main draw is the saloon, itself. It was opened by John (Johnny) M. Heinold in 1883. It was literally the first or the last chance for sailors to get alcohol as they were landing or sailing. It’s a pretty funky place!

Mountain Mike’s Pizza (10750 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, CA 94530, 510-526-6000)
Left to Right: Pizza box, Pizza
serves a really good pie. Teri and John had this delivered to their house and it was the perfect accompaniment to glasses of red wine, good conversation, and curious cats. One of the nice things about the area in which Teri and John live is that any place that does take-out can also have their food delivered to your door. I’ll be happy when that comes to Keller!

Top: Menu
Bottom: Burrito
Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-863-8205) is where the original Mission style burrito. This one time meat market still retains the fixtures from that business, but they have been converted into stove tops on which to cook meats. Teri and I got the burritos; mine was chicken with rice, beans, and a bit of salsa; and while it was good, it wasn’t as spicy or flavorful as I had expected. What I really did like was the ‘Mexican’ Coca Cola, made with real sugar rather than corn syrup. The chips and salsa were okay, but not outstanding. I’d got back to try something different from their menu.

West Bay Restaurant and Bar in the Crown Plaza Hotel (1177 Airport Boulevard,
Left: Food from the catered buffet
Right: Swan cream puff
Burlingame, CA 94010, 650-342-9200) hasn’t gotten any better in regard to the food or the service than it was last year. This is a stunning contrast to the food prepared for the beading group. Everything presented to our group was very good and the service was passable. I was particularly pleased with the desserts that ranged from pastries to fruit. My recommendation is if you have time, eat elsewhere for breakfast and dinner. Take advantage of the catering since it’s the best of the lot; for this reason the restaurant wasn’t given a rating of two carrots.

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