Friday, January 8, 2010

MISS PEARL'S JAM HOUSE - Pusser Up and Kiss Me!

By way of a little Oakland History, Miss Pearl's Jam House on the wharf in Jack London Square, is located in the building that used to house Jack's Bistro (also named for Jack London, as many things are in that part of town).  Jack London, Oakland's adopted native son, was a seaman and author who spent much of his time on the Square during the turn of the previous Century. The First and Last Chance, is a watering hole he frequented that remains to this day, a favorite of tourists.  When Jack's (the Restaurant) originally opened in this location on the Square it was one of the earliest additions to the first wave of a commercial and culinary rebirth of Jack London Square, which over the years had fallen into disrepair.  Since then, many new additions have come and gone in this part of Oakland.   Though she has spent much of her time as San Francisco's overlooked and underappreciated step-sister, Oakland is a City with a character and personality all her own, so it has been wonderful to watch its renaissance.

The building that houses Miss Pearl's is next to the site of the old Waterfront Hotel.  I remember walking past it as a child, on our way to eat at the Sea Wolf that sits out over the water.  The building is in a nice locale, also right on the water, with a beautiful view.  We went there for lunch on the Tuesday before Christmas. 

Whenever I eat at Jack London Square, I can't help but remember my childhood.  From the time I was three or four until I was eleven or so, I visited one of the restaurants here for dinner with my Grandparents almost weekly.  We ate at what was then the Sea Wolf (now Scott's Seafood Restaurant), or the Grotto (now Kincaids).  Everyone knew my grandfather, and we were always ushered to our table with a great deal of attention.  At Scott's I would always order the same thing.  The shrimp cocktail and a filet of sole.  Grandma always let me have a Shirley Temple, as she ordered a Grasshopper for herself.  Though the setting is different, the environment is unchanged.  The view of sailboats slowly leaving the estuary for the open Bay, the bustle of the wharf and the smell of Jack London's mighty blue ocean.  All these things I have come to know and love, then and now.  It is easy to feel the spirit of Jack himself when dining on the Square.

I like Jack London Square and its history.  It's a charming place to eat, and Miss Pearl's has some interesting items on the menu, many of which feature the flavors of the Caribbean.  We began our meal with cocktails, and I have to say, the mixed drinks at Pearl's are awesome.  They are freshly blended by a skilled mixologist and it shows.  My husband and I are both fond of one called the Pusser’s Painkiller.  It's a creamy combination of citrus and coconut --- tangy and refreshing at once.  The coconut gives it an eggnog-like quality, and the tang comes from a bit of fresh citrus.  It's a creamy sip of heaven with a kick.  Another of the house specials is the Hemingway Daquiri, which is a more robust, MAN drink, cut with just a dash of lime.  One can imagine Papa H consuming such a drink while smoking a cigar on a veranda of a summer afternoon.  Since Papa H himself was not there, our Partner in Food Crimes enjoyed one on this occasion.

Our cocktails were rapidly followed by bowls of steaming hot soup.  Our PFC has a thing about the temperature of soup.  It has to be hot, not merely warm, and certainly not tepid.  While I'm not as soup-temp-obsessed as my mate, I do prefer my soup hot when it's cold outside.  I think it's a childhood sense memory.  Hot soup = comfort.  Or perhaps it is as simple as soups warms me up.  Either way, the soup today was a lovely Cream of Garlic and Potato Soup, that had been blended or riced really well into a smooth concoction of potato-ey goodness with a lovely topping of deep fried leeks that gave leant a terrific crunch to the spoon, for a great contrast in textures.  The soup itself had a good deal of flavor, and was well seasoned.  Its "backbone" was the potato, but there was a noticeable kick of pepper mixed in with garlic and onion to balance it out.  We all enjoyed every last drop.  Kudos to the Chef.

I forgot to mention that we also had Sweet Potato Fries with our cocktails.  Sweet Potato Fries are becoming more common these days, but I really like the way they do them here.  They are slender and crispy, well cooked and seasoned, served with sides of  spicy chipotle aioli and bbq catsup.  Yum!

For our main our PFC and I ordered the Grilled Jerk-Marinated Chicken Breast.   We both really seek heat, and whenever a place lands that delectable combination of "sweet heat," we are going to come away very happy campers. The chicken in this case was spiced to perfection with a crunchy golden brown skin wrapping the still moist but not undercooked meat of the chicken breast. The starch was a lovely mixture of rice and tiny, delicate beans that finished off the plate quite nicely.  When a nice sauce is to be consumed, nothing carries it to the palate better than a bed of well prepared rice.  The flavor is absorbed and seemingly multiplied by the rice as it makes its way to the mouth.  Good times.  We both loved the heat in the habanero reduction, and thought it mingled perfeclty with the slightly sweet jerk.

The BH ordered the Bahamian Burger.  It's a nice juicy ground beef patty on a soft, sweet Challah Bun.  The condiments are traditional with a twist, grilled onions and Island-spiced Catsup.  The burger itself was large, and the BH said it was cooked perfectly to order, which in this case was ‘medium rare.’  He loved it.

We declined the offer of dessert, although tempting. Some days one has to leave something undone.  All the more reason to go back.

Miss Pearl's is a nice place for a tasty meal with a good view.  The cuisine is not necessarily 'inspiring' but it is solidly prepared and the cocktails are stellar.  check it out, and Bon Appetit!
Miss Pearl's Jam House
1 Broadway
Oakland, CA  94111
(510) 444-7171

Table size: Adequate
Noise Level: Excellent, sound is well-muted.
Cost: moderately expensive
Dining time: we are able to be in and out in under an hour if need be

Thursday, January 7, 2010

SALA THAI ~ Put the Love in the Coconut!

The BH and I found ourselves in Fremont on New Year's Eve.  We'd run to the Court to pick up some paperwork from the Clerk, and she asked us to come back in about an hour and a half.  So what to do?  Sala Thai is a local haunt we'd heard good things about so we decided it was a good idea to have lunch and return to the Courthouse after eating.

We entered the restaurant, which is in one of the many little strip malls that populate the neighborhoods around what I suppose one would call Fremont's downtown of sorts, or at least a business section of the City.   The restaurant is welcoming in that authentic way a restaurant can have of speaking to you with it's open spaces without saying anything at all.  Some places just whisper "Welcome."  The interior is moderately dark inside and decorated in traditional Thai decor.  It's not a very big space, sort of long and narrow like the inside of a ship, which perhaps is appropriate since it makes one feel as though one has traveled to Southeast Asia itself. 

A staffer approached and asked us if we'd like a table and we said yes, but noted that we had to be out fairly quickly in order to make it back to Court in the tiny window we were given by the Clerk to return.  Once seated, the waiter arrived almost immediately with menus and a delightful attitude.  There are some people who are just meant to host others, they have a way of putting you at ease and settling you in.  This young man was one of those people.  I had the distinct impression he was vested in the establishment, which I would venture to say is a family operation.

I decided to order somewhat adventurously.  I've got several asian dishes I've come to love over the years, a few of which have vanished into the Great Closed Restaurant in the sky.  One of those was a dry-braised spicy green bean at a Restaurant in Oakland called Maple Village.  Those beans saw me through many a youthful overindulgence.  The menu at Sala Thai contained something called Spicy Green Beans, so I decided to try them, along with their Basil Sauteed Chicken, or Pad Kra Pow.   I also ordered Fresh Coconut Juice, something I just decided to try in a burst of impetuousness.

The Coconut Juice arrived first, arriving in the shell with a straw.  It was refreshing and not overly rich and I absolutely loved it.  The presentation coupled with the restaurant's interior made me feel as though I was sitting in a family place in the heart of Bangkok.  It was delightful.  Next arrived all our dishes, and in plenty of time for us to enjoy them and be out of there before our appointment back at Fremont Superior Court.

The BH had Thai BBQ Chicken, which was a moist mountain of smoky chicken goodness.  The spices were subtle and well-blended.   He was really pleased with this dish.  I found the Green Beans tasty, although not as similar to the original dish I so loved as I had hoped.  They were more meat than I anticipated, but that's hard to complain about.  And it was a really tasty dish.  Good amounts of heat, beans and meat.  My Basil Chicken was moist, succulent and the fresh basil draping itself around the slices of golden, browned chicken meat was simply heavenly.  Fresh basil and peppers meld together for the perfect blend of hot, sweet aromatic flavor that is one of my absolutely all time favorite combinations of taste.  To his credit, the waiter had suggested I not request any additional heat until I tried this dish the way the chef generally prepares it, which I appreciated.  They do this dish a little on the warm side.   I could have used more heat, but I tend to like things so much hotter than most, that it was good advice on his part for me to check it out first.  Nothing ruins a meal faster than a fried set of tastebuds.

We wrapped up our snappy little lunch in about forty minutes, paid and were back on our way to Court, having found an excellent new choice for takeout in the neighborhood.  This is a great restaurant, food is fresh and really well-prepared, the staff is helpful, friendly and professional, and the presentation gives the
clientele the sense that they are in another country. How fun is that?

If you find yourself in the neighborhood, check it out.  Bon Appetit!

Sala Thai Restaurant

39170 State Street
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 792-0770

Table size: adequate
Noise level: Not too loud, but tables are a bit close together, so one shouldn't go there if you need to have an extremely private conversation.
Dining Time:  They are amazingly quick.  No problem.
Price: Extremely reasonable.  Good times.

One note:  We sat at a table right next to the door, and because it was December, and winter, it was freezing every time anyone came in or out.  Unfortunately this happened almost constantly, often with people standing in the doorway holding the door open for absolutely no reason.  So my advice is go for a table away from the door. At least until summertime rolls around.