Friday, July 25, 2008

Park Street...AKA Downtown Alameda

Park Street had a face lift. It has transformed into a more modern version of itself in the past few years. Mom and Pop stores are still in abundance along the avenue with a few chain coffee shops. The old institutions of Ole's Waffle Shop and Jim's Place are still going strong. However, the food palates of local Alamedans are changing. Restaurants along Park Street are more upscale and diverse.

Gold Coast Grill specializes in grilled meats and mediterrean food. The eggplant parmesan is my favorite on the menu. The eggplant is tender with a tasty breading. The cheese binds the layers of eggplant together and gives the dish added texture. The flavors are pure comfort food. They also grill a decent steak too. This is a good place for a casual family outing. One issue about this place is that it lacks ambiance. The interiors of the restaurant appear tired and outdated.

Havana is the new Cuban restaurant on the block. The space is brightly colored with great, large pictures of the actual city throughout the restaurant. The food has a lot of tropical flavors in the sauces. The plantains which are prepared a few different ways has some issues with the texture. The seafood dishes are wonderful and full of flavor. Their version of paella is too mushy and wet and should have more crunch. The shredded beef was too large of a portion for just one person and the meat was a bit dry. The crab cakes were small and tasty with a mango sauce. The flan was a great dessert to end the meal. Be sure to order a mojito.

Ole's Waffle House is the anchor of Park Street. It has been around since the 1920s. The best food coming out of the kitchen are their breakfasts. One cannot go wrong in ordering waffles, french toast, pancakes or eggs. Their portion sizes are big and your stomach will be happy. Ordering food for lunch or dinner, however is questionable. Their hamburgers are good and predictable, there is nothing fancy about them. Their turkey pot pie was not a good choice. The pastry was very heavy and thick. The filling was minimal and the pie was too dry. Plus, there was not enough turkey meat. Deep fried fish dishes are over cooked. The fish was tough. The best selections are the breakfast food, meatloaf or hamburgers. Patty melts are a safe bet too.

Yume is a very small Japanese restaurant on the second floor. The sushi is fresh with a wide selection. The husband and wife owned restaurant are a tag team serving customers. The husband has awesome knife skills and the food has a great presentation. The wife is very friendly and is happy to serve the food. If you are looking for teriyaki or donburi, they do not serve those types of food. Their specialties are the sushi, sashimi and nigiri. The amount of cooked food is minimal. Their tonkatsu is delicious with a tangy, slightly sweet sauce. If you enjoy sushi than this is a wonderful place to experience.

Toomie's Thai Restaurant is a popular spot. I was surprised to see the number of customers one day when I had lunch there. Their pad thai was very good and full of flavors. Their varieties of curries were amazing with different heat, spice levels. Red is the hottest, green was second and yellow was the most mild. I had a green curry dish. The meat in the curry dish was over cooked and the chicken was tough and chewy. The sauce had coconut milk which lightened some of the heat of the dish, but the bamboo shoots were limp and did not add any value to the flavors. Their hot and sour soup had a wonderful broth of lemongrass. The soup was not too spicy with fresh vegetables, and the seafood was perfectly cooked.

La Pinata 3 is crowded morning, noon and night. Their best deal of the house only occurs Monday through Friday during late mornings and lunch hours. They have a $2.99 American Breakfast. It is served with 2 pancakes, sausage links (4) or bacon strips (4), potatoes and toast. I know this is not Mexican food, but for the price, I had to try it. The meal was good. I would order the selection again. Their huevos rancheros is also good for breakfast. The tortillas were fried and were a little difficult cutting them with a knife. The food is over all pretty good at this place. The menu is large and the portion sizes are worth sharing with another person. The deep fried fish is a safe selection along with fajitas and chimichangas. Their combination plates have a good selection and their enchiladas, tamales and tacos are predictable. The beans and rice are staples and tastes good with tortillas. If the waiting line does not stop you from going inside, it is worth the wait. Otherwise, walk over to the tequila bar and have a drink.

Barceluna is both old and new to Alameda. The previous location was at the old Alameda Theatre before the the movie house was in operation. The restaurant was forced to close and now it has relocated to Santa Clara Avenue at the old Luciano's space. The food is geared towards Spanish tapas, or small plates. Pizza was also on the menu. I really wanted to come to this restaurant for the pizzas, but when I looked over at the next table and looked at their pizza, it did not look very appealing. The ingredients were fresh, but the middle appeared soggy. Plus, the neighbor stated the tapas were better in taste than the pizza which then prompted me to order a pizza another time. The Tuna Luna tapa was fresh ahi tuna with tofu, cucumber and avocado chunks mixed in a spicy sauce. The presentation was nice in a martini glass and with a giant tortilla chip. The flavors, however were a miss. There was not enough tuna for my liking and the dish was mainly filling. The tofu did not add any flavor and at times looked like avocado to me. The ahi was over cooked and other ingredients masked the natural taste of the tuna. The mushrooms tapa was decent. The dish was cooked mushrooms with a nice smokey flavor. The skirt steak on top of a crostini tapa sounded great on the menu, but it was a bit difficult to eat. The steak was a bit chewy and slightly tough and did not tear easily once you bit into the meat. The flavor of the beef was good, but I wish the meat was more tender. The pomme frites was yummy. The garlic fries was large in portion with a good texture. They were crunchy and hot served with a mayonnaise and ketchup dipping sauce. The dessert menu is very minimal. I will have to come back to try out a pizza and their deep fried dessert.

Hong Kong City Restaurant is unpredictable. I have eaten there more than a few times over the years and found the food quite good a few years ago. The food now lacks flavor. I wonder if they changed cooks over the years? I would pass over this place since there are many restaurant places to choose from along Park.

Pappo has a more mature approach to its menu. The food is more upscale which is a blessing for the island. The flavor combinations are more sophisticated and the end result is good tasting dishes. I cannot say what my favorite dish is because they change the menu frequently. The salads are salads that I make at home, so I was not amazed when I ate them on a few different occasions. The desserts need some help. I was not impressed by their selections or after I had eaten them. The safest bet is the chocolate cake. Food prices are a bit too expensive for the portion sizes of the dishes. I have left the restaurant at least twice with having a three course meal and still be hungry. Wine selections are great considering other establishments on the island. This restaurant is a wonderful dining experience for finer dining on the island, just remember to bring your wallet.

Tomatina did not have palatable pizza when I went there. The menu made the pizza sound awesome, but I was disappointed by the flavors and texture. The pizza was soggy in the middle and the cheese slipped away from the crust. The salads are better tasting than the pizzas. Instead of the pizzas, pasta dishes are recommended.

C'era Una Volta has come around for me. When the restaurant first opened, I was not a fan. The food lacked taste. Over the years, the flavor combinations have greatly improved. One of my favorites is the pappardelle with the meat sauce. The eggplant parmesan is also good. The cannelloni is delicious for a few bites and then it becomes too rich due to the ricotta cheese. The gnocchi is a tasty dish, but it depends upon the sauce. Truffles are awesome with gnocchi. The meat sauce with gnocchi was a miss. The desserts still need help. I have not been able to have a wonderful dessert here. I will keep on waiting. This restaurant probably has the best Italian wine selection of the entire island. The staff is highly knowledgeable and know the tasting notes of each wine.

Juanita's Mexican Restaurant is definitely not as popular as La Pinata 3 down the street. The food is good and fairly predictable. I cannot say anything negative about this restaurant. The food is not memorable. It is food that one would expect at a casual, Mexican restaurant in America. There is no ambiance at this establishment.

Amarin Thai Restaurant is the usual place I go to for Thai food on the island. Their curries are very good with varied heat, spice levels to choose from. The vegetables selections in their curry dishes make sense and compliment the seafood or meats. Their pad thai was great with lots of peanuts on top. There is not a bad dish at this restaurant. I believe the chef has put a lot of thought into the menu with the ingredients and flavor combinations.

Jim's Place is another great diner for breakfast. Good food, large portions. Anything on the breakfast menu is a home run. Their hamburgers and patty melts are also a safe choice. Their milk shakes are very delicious. They are thick and tasty, made with real ice cream. One will have to wait on the weekends. Lines form out the door.

Speisekammer is the only German restaurant in Alameda. The food at times can be inconsistent, but it maybe more dependent upon what food is being ordered. I have been there a few times when the schnitzel was cooked perfectly and one time it was over done and tough. I have never been a fan of spatzle and found their version to be bland. At one occasion, the bratwurst, mash potatoes and sauerkraut dinner was disappointing. The bratwurst tasted like a grocery store bratwurst grilled at home. The mash potatoes were runny and the sauerkraut lacked flavor. The braised beef tri tip (Sauerbraten mit Preiselbeerkonfitür) is a good choice, the beef is tender and the sauce is a red wine reduction. Fish dishes are delicately sauteed with subtle flavors. Desserts are more challenging. The desserts are brought in by a third party baker and do not utilize authentic German ingredients. The strudel was made out of puff pastry which was unexpected. Unfortunately, the pastry lacked flavor due to an insufficient amount of butter. The best part of the establishment is their vast assortment of beers. If you are really thirsty, order the boot. This is best place to be at on a warm, sunny day having a drink at the outdoor bier garden.

Burgermeister opened for business around the same time as the Alameda Theatre. The restaurant is mainly known for its hamburgers, but it also serves fish and chips, chicken dishes and salads. The hamburgers are decent in taste and flavor and huge in size. Most hamburgers are 1/2 pound. There is a meal deal going on right now for a 1/4 pound burger, fries and a drink for $7.50, served Monday through Thursday. My only suggestion in choosing a hamburger is to ask the wait staff for their recommendations. One time I chose a hamburger that I thought would taste good, but it ended up lacking in flavor when I ate it. The Western Burger is a great choice since it is tangy, sweet and salty from the ingredients. The burger has lots of components comprised of fried onion rings, bacon strips, cheese and BBQ sauce. This burger is full of flavor, this meal does not disappoint. I would recommend this place for a casual burger and the great outdoor patio.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

West End

The West End of Alameda was notorious for bars serving drinks to the Navy and civilians when Alameda Point was in operation. Now that the Navy yard is decommissioned, a renaissance of new restaurants has emerged on Webster Street.

The New Zealander Restaurant is most known for their meat pies. They are tasty in flavor and with a flaky crust. I just wished the pies were slightly larger or that the crust was thinner. The volume of filling never seemed to be enough inside the crust. I always came out of the restaurant feeling hungry after eating one pie. The staff are consistently friendly and it is a great place to get a beer. The complimentary garlic fries are also delicious at happy hour. The restaurant definitely has a great historical space with an outdoor patio area. This place is a casual, clean hang out for the locals.

Yokohama is a traditional Japanese sushi and food establishment. The sushi is always fresh, but their menu is limited. There is no fancy sushi or rolls here. The flavor of the teriyaki is good and predictable as one would buy from a grocery store in the ethnic aisle. However, the salmon teriyaki always comes out over cooked. The Japanese interiors are peaceful and calming. The fish tank is a nice touch once you enter the front door. If you are looking for consistently decent and traditional Japanese food, this is the place to eat.

Tillie's is great diner food. There is nothing elegant or fancy about this place. It looks like a real 1950s diner because it is a real American diner. Breakfasts are large portioned and tasty. The best item for breakfast if you are really hungry is the Steak Bits. You get a lot of food and the steak is tender and full of flavor. The menu for lunch and dinner are basically the same with the exception of the daily specials. The hamburgers, patty melts and omelettes are always delicious. If you are looking to eat casual, diner food with the family or by yourself, this place is recommended.

Otaez has wonderful Mexican decorum inside and out. There is an inviting waterfall by the front door and great statues once you enter the space. The menu is vast with a lot of options. A great appetizer is the empanada. The restaurant prepares three different types. The dough is thin and flaky and the inside is hot and yummy with meat or fish and vegetables. At times, the chips that come to the table can taste slightly oily. The salsas are always fresh with a mild and medium heat varieties. The lightest fare on the menu are the fish dishes. The fish are quickly deep fried. The fish are fresh and you can taste it. The other foods like the hard shelled tacos, chile rellenos and enchiladas can be at times a little heavy along with the beans and rice and one may experience a bloated feeling afterwards. This restaurant is a great establishment for a fun, family atmosphere. Also good for large sized groups.

Nation's Giant Hamburgers are messy, juicy and big in flavor and portion size. These hamburgers are more of a gourmet burger compared to Tillie's down the street as well as other fast food chains in the area. The best burger is the Ole Hamburger since the special ingredient is a pepper. The pepper is not hot or spicy, but gives an interesting texture and added dimension to the taste. The milk shakes are also good here since they use real ice cream. The fruit pies are simple and refreshing during the summer months. The pudding pies can be a bit dull to the taste buds with the layer of whipped cream on top. Nation's is a great spot for a big burger for lunch or a late afternoon meal.

Hong Kong East Ocean Restaurant is great for dim sum. The dim sum menus are easy to read and you select which items you want. The ladies who drive the carts around the room may not speak English clearly, but they are eager to show you what they are serving. The crepes, dumplings, fried fish, stuffed tofu and eggplant are always good dishes. The sticky rice, chicken feet and the fried sesame balls are an acquired taste. The restaurant recently remodeled the interiors, so the room looks fresh with an Asian flare of golden dragons and red velvet walls. The restaurant can accommodate parties of any size.

Chef's Wok is a Chinese restaurant that is close in proximity to Hong Kong East Ocean. They also serve dim sum during lunch and is probably in direct competition with them. The menu is long and varied. There are so many selections that at times it is overwhelming on what to choose. In order to get a wide selection of food, I have ordered their Fixed Dinner Plans. The food lacked flavor at times and appeared the chefs prepared the food to appease non-Asian palates. The portions were huge and that is where the savings come in. One could eat the leftovers in two additional meals. If you looking for predictable Chinese food with large portions than this restaurant is the place to eat at.

AcquaCotta is the new restaurant in the neighborhood. The owner is the only chef on the block with pedigree training who has worked at famous and popular bay area restaurants. The space is somewhat dark with caramel and rustic color schemes. Salads were typical and predictable in flavor profiles. The pasta dishes were delicious and bold in flavors. The pasta was surprisingly a dry pasta and not made fresh on the premises. My only comment about this restaurant is the cost of the wine. The first time I had a meal here, the alcohol amount was more than the food cost. The restaurant is still working on improving the dessert menu and in the future wants to produce fresh pasta in the kitchen. I highly recommend coming here for a rustic Italian dinner. We just have to wait until they hire a dessert chef. You may want to call ahead and ask if you are allowed to bring your own bottle of wine.

Pier 29 is where all the East Bay Senior Citizens come out for an Early Bird Special. The prices are very reasonable during the Early Bird Special duration and the portions are good sized. The restaurant is known for its seafood dishes. The clam chowder soup is good and thick. The best dishes of the house are grilled or pan fried fish plates. The fish and chips are a disappointment. The stews are not appetizing and the beef dishes are also not favored. The vegetables are always plain and simply boiled in water with some butter. This is the only restaurant in Alameda that has water views in the front and back of the building. The service is always friendly. I would recommend this restaurant only for the Early Bird Specials.