Friday, July 31, 2009


**CLOSED*** as of February 2010

This restaurant has long been one of my favorites and is perhaps one of the strongest reasons compelling me to start this blog. When food is done this well, ya gotta get the word out.

We like to go on Fridays. Our usual server, Rachel, is extremely knowledgeable about their variety of wines and will take all the time you need getting you comfortable with your order. If you can't decide among their many many wine choices, they do daily flights that allow one to taste three different types of wines, usually threaded together by region or grape. Really a treat and I've learned a lot about wine. Such as that I like Malbecs. And Black Kite, which is a fruity, special reserve pinot that is grown here in California.

Today I went with the Malbec. We usually go with a cheese plate, but our partner in eating crime just had a baby so we were down an appetite. Instead, we started with the seasonal Prosciutto de Parma with Organic Melon and Mint. The melon was ripe, not too sweet and a perfect foil for my favorite thing in the world, prosciutto. Grew up on it. Wrapped around foccacia, or sweet summer melon, it's definitely one of g-d's gifts to people-kind. My BH, as we've established, is a fairly big eater so he had a bowl of the Summer Minestrone, which is really a hearty corn and bean soup in cheesy broth. One thing they routinely do to perfection here is soup.

I followed the melon and prosciutto with a small plate dish, the Maine Lobster and Saffron Risotto Cake. The lobster sits atop this lovely biscuit textured cake of creamy risotto. It's crunchy on the outside and soft but textured on the inside. The lobster has a delectable drizzle of the truffled lobster butter, that the cake sits on top of. The textures and flavors all work together to make this dish one of my all time faves. I keep wondering how much longer I can enjoy it before Laurie takes it off the menu.

BH had a new dish. The Seared Dayboat Scallops over Zucchini Corn Pesto. It replaced an amazing shrimp dish, but I think this dish may be one better. So hard to tell when one has a mouthful of perfectly cooked scallop in a creamy basil sauce. The corn "pudding" which seats the scallop is a wonderful texture. It's a cross between a polenta cake and actual pudding. Firm, yet creamy and laden with buttery flavor. Yum.

Desserts here are simple, and consistently good, though unremarkable. Usually a chocolate pot de creme or a small pudding with berries. The restaurant offers a Prix Fixe Menu that is a pretty good deal, if that day's offerings line up with what you're craving.
Desserts are prepared, I believe by the Franklin Square sister restaurant Luka's Pub, which I will get to on another day. This scallop dish reminded both my BH and I of the amazing scallops we have had at Absinthe in San Francisco, which is home to a local favorite Jamie Lauren. I predict Chef de Cuisine Laurie Hurlebaus will make a name for herself in no time. This girl's got game.

Bon Appetit!
Franklin Square Wine Bar, 2212 Broadway, Oakland. 510.251.0100

Thursday, July 30, 2009

PICAN - Oakland establishment celebrates the South in all its glory

Often my discoveries occur over the lunch hour. In the past several years, I have watched food choices grow, as establishments all over this wonderful city have come and sadly, also gone. Hopefully I will be able to revisit all of my favorites, and then many new finds, to fill you all in on the most delectable places to dine in Oakland. It will take awhile, but isn't that the fun?

Today my BH and I returned to Pican in Oakland, for a crack at their lunch menu, having been delighted recently with a birthday dinner spent there several weeks ago. Pican is fairly new, in a structure located very near the intersection of Grand and Broadway. Which makes it an easy walk from my office. Lucky for me.

We started our lunch with the Sweet Corn Bisque which is nothing short of sinful. This soup is a combination of creamy sweet corn, delicious fatty bacon bits, good-sized and chewy, they appear to be cut from slab bacon. It looks home-cured. Topped with a perfect sprinkling of red pepper flakes, this soup is a combo of flavors that is incredibly successful. It seemed to be sweetened with perhaps a hint of maple syrup, but that's only a guess. The fat in the bacon melds with the fresh sweet corn and the combination is genius. The red pepper flakes (which my husband chose to do without) added just the perfect amount of heat to the sweet cream base. I love sweet and hot, so if you don't, just have them hold the peppers. This dish is probably a summer special, so I've gone in for it twice and may return before sweet corn is no longer in season and the dish is taken off the menu.

For our next course the BH and I shared something they've named Bayou Pate. The dish is a skillet of creamy cheese mixed with blue crab. It is intended to be spread onto, or dipped with, giant homemade Bar-B-Q potato chips. They make them fresh daily and the chips are perfection. I preferred to spread a thin layer of the rich cheesy dip over my chips, BH just dug in and dipped his. A few broke, but the skillet kept the sauce hot enough to remain melted and liquid for as long as we were eating the dish. I loved it, as did he. This sort of fanciful 'twist' on the labeling and presentation of high end cuisine using comfort food ingredients is one of the things I like best about this place. They take comfort food favorites of the deep south (the chef is from Atlanta and the owner from New Orleans) and make them their own. The presentation and flavors are extremely upscale, the portions generous, the platings are appealing and the service is excellent. Welcoming, professional and prompt.

I followed my soup with the Louisiana Crawfish Cake, a thick, patty of perfect moist shredded crawfish, blended with seasonings I found complimented the seafood's flavor wonderfully. Crab Cakes are a personal favorite of mine, and I found this twist on the dish thoroughly enjoyable. Simple, fresh and mouth-watering. It was accompanied by a well-dressed salad of greens and halved baby tomatoes. The dressing was a light, inobtrusive oil and vinegar that added just the amount of flavoring required to round out the dish.

My BH ordered the Shrimp and Grits. He loved it, so I tasted it and soon discovered why. The large prawns were cooked perfectly, but it is the grits that make this dish. They are a cloudy pillow of buttery goodness. Soft, creamy and golden, if you have ever hesitated ordering grits --- hesitate no more --- this is the place to begin. You might find yourself an instant convert.

Since it was the lunch hour, we had to dash. No dessert today. But when we had dinner the other night at Pican we shared the complimentary Banana Pudding (a hospitable touch for a birthday guest) and an order of the Fried Peach Pie. The pudding was simple pudding with vanilla cookies tucked into the folds, and while it was good, the peach pie was out of this world. Surrounded with a flaky crust, resembling nothing so much as a croissant, the filling was sugary fresh peaches. The chef named the filling "sweet sexy" and it's an apt description. Imagine that concoction deep fried, served hot, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and well, wow.
Pican is a jewel in the new Oakland Gourmet Ghetto and I predict it will be around for a good many years to come. Business seems lively, and it's a great spot to meet people in the evenings. The decor is gorgeous, open and welcoming. Really reminiscent of some of my favorite New Orleans hot spots. The cocktails deserve a blog of their own. They've got a Bourbon Bar!

A Taste of the South
2295 Broadway, at 23rd
Oakland, CA 94612
Check it out, and Bon Appetit!
Price: Expensive
Eating Time: Lunchable (can be done in an hour if needs be)
Table Size: Comfortable. When all food is served there is plenty of room for the plates.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DRAGON ROUGE - thru the tube to begin

So, yeah, this blog is about Oakland food, but Alameda is almost Oakland. Half my family settled there in the twenties, before my half moved through the tube to Oakland. I was visiting a particular favorite of mine the other night and anxious to begin writing food. The name of the place is Dragon Rouge, it calls itself a Vietnamese Bistro, and it is an amazing treat of eating enjoyment. Last Friday night, my better half (from here on out we'll just call him "BH" for short) and I stopped in for a bite to eat.

We began with cocktails. Dragon Rouge recently expanded to a full bar. Yay~! I had the Dragon's Kiss Martini (which is a fantastic blend of mango, liquor and a hint of Sriracha hot pepper sauce). Okay, sounds weird right? Kinda is, but so good I had two. The combination of the thick sweet mango and the after sip heat left by the Sriracha was bliss. BH had the Dragon Berry Punch. This was a fruity stew of goodness. The kind of drink you want to have way too many of.

Once we have been at this for awhile, I will try to teach BH not to get his hands in my photos. But for now, you can at least get the gist of the drinks.

So on to the meal. We ordered Mango Steak Blankets, Lemon Grass Chicken Rolls, Curry Chicken and a half order of the Mekong Skewer Platter. The waitress (who was as helpful as she was beautiful) brought us the Mango Steak Blankets to start. We were starving so we dived in. There is no describing these delicacies until you have tried them. It is a steak strip of some sort wrapped around the tiniest slice of mango and a tiny bit of green onion. The meat is moist, juicy and perfectly cooked. These babies just about melt in your mouth. BH usually doesn't like his meats with anything sweet and so we had not ordered them together in our many trips here. He recognized the error of his ways at first bite. The "blankets" are accompanied by a lovely, yet simple lemon-lime and salt & pepper dipping sauce, in addition to the standard sweet & sour.

After the Mango Steak Blankets came the Lemon Grass Chicken Roll. These rolls are a lovely example of the raw fresh spring roll. They are well seasoned, extremely fresh and all around goodness. They were immediately followed by the Mekong Skewer Platter (did I mention the service was great? She brought everything right out as it came off the grill. Hot, steamy and fresh!)
The small version of the platter contains one of each protein selection, beef, pork, shrimp and chicken. All are done to perfection. One might think that they'd get at least one of the meats wrong, since they all cook at such different temps, but no. Each was done exactly the way it should be and had that beautiful smoky barbeque flavor. We had initially ordered the larger platter, but the waitress kindly told us it was pretty big, and so might be too much for us. We went with her suggestion, and she was correct. The small platter was sufficient. They next brought us the Curry Chicken and some brown rice to finish off the main courses. The curry chicken is unremarkably delicious. It's really really good. Really simple, and not spicy.

My BH is a pretty serious eater, so we were ready for more, and ordered dessert. The deep fried Banana Samosa is exactly what it sounds like. A yummy, crunchy, hot and cold pile o' goodness. If you are a fan of bananas fried in any manner, it's not to be missed.

Dragon Rouge is located at 2304 Encinal Avenue, Alameda, Ca. The phone is 510-521-1800 and their website is
Bon Appetit!

Price: Moderate
Eating Time: Lunchable
Table size: Adequate