Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Celebrations

It is amazing how fast this year has gone by. It is December 31st and 2009 is here and now. What to do on New Year's Eve? If you have the time, money and patience, venturing into San Francisco to celebrate the New Year is a great experience. The streets are blocked off and there are thousands of people walking around, celebrating, having fun and meeting people. It is a lively, upbeat atmosphere where everyone is seeking to have a good time.

If San Francisco is not your style and would rather stay in Alameda, there are few options for you. Of course all the bars in Alameda will be open beyond the midnight hour serving drinks. However if you are looking for organized, black tie galas with live bands and food, than that activity would be a tall order to fill. The party aboard the USS Hornet is your best option. This event offers food, drink, live music, dancing and an upbeat atmosphere throughout the night. The only caution to point out is when the party is over, do not drink and drive. There will be policemen waiting in patrol cars to pull over drunk drivers.

If black tie is not your gig and bars are too casual, than a handful of restaurants will be open to celebrate the festivities. Pier 29 will be hosting food and drinks for diners, and for customers who are looking for a party atmosphere with a DJ and karaoke machine. Food will be served beyond the midnight hour to sober up customers.

Happy New Year! Have a wonderful and safe New Year's Day.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Late Nite

I am always searching for late nite spots around San Francisco. One never knows when a 2 AM hunger kicks in and Sparky's (on Church Street) is not a solution. The bay area needs more late nite establishments to be in operation, and I think there would be plenty of clientele just as long the food is decent and priced accordingly. Denny's and other diner establishments who stay open 24 hours are desperate options. Customers want better food choices. If you think San Francisco shuts down early, Alameda is worse. Most eating establishments around Alameda close around 9 PM on weekday nights and 10 PM (if you are lucky) on Friday and Saturday nights. Who is catering to the club and after hours crowd? There are only three places who stay open late, and I am not talking about fast food drive thrus. Those restaurants are: Juanita's, La Pinata 3 and King of Thai Noodle.

My favorite late nite spot is King of Thai Noodle. This place was a former Mexican Taqueria, and the interiors have not changed much since it was a German bakery even before the burrito joint. The menu was long and extensive with noodles, curries, rolls and stir fry dishes. I tasted the spring rolls which were deep fried with vegetables inside. The sauce was tangy and fruity with an apricot color to it. The sauce was slightly sweet and complimented the roll. The chicken satay was tender and flavorful. The peanut sauce was great and not too sweet. The small cucumber salad on the side had been pickled with vinegar and was a great palate cleanser and gave a nice texture. I then ordered a green curry with chicken and vegetables. Green is the hottest curry of the restaurant. (Yellow is the mildest and red is medium heat.) The curry was amazing and not mouth scorching because the coconut milk canceled the heat of the dish. The dish was aromatic and full of flavor. The other entree was a pork and eggplant stir fry dish with thai chillies and basil. The sauce was smokey in flavor and all of the components of the ingredients came out. The dish was great. The Thai beer, Singha is a light lager beer. I highly recommend this restaurant. Another positive of this place is that it stays open until one AM in the morning. Look out La Pinata since this place serves great food and is a competitor with you for the late night crowd.

La Pinata 3 is the party place. The wait may be long for a table, but the food and atmosphere is worth it. Come on a weekend night and the restaurant is a party. Every dining room is full, the tequila bar is always packed and everyone appears to have a good time. Once you are seated, the wait staff is quick and works through the labyrinth of tables. The tortilla chips are warm and the salsa is mild and fresh. The quality and taste of the food is similar to Otaez. The deep fried fish is good, but it's the sauces that make the difference. The garlic and butter sauce is really tasty. The red sauce is also good with a kick of peppers and spices. The fajitas are decent, but the kitchen has a tendency to over cook the vegetables. The end result is that the vegetables are limp and soggy. Portions at this place are quite large and two entrees could serve four people. The combination plates are decent, but nothing really stands out from the menu. The chile rellenos taste good and one is not left with a bloating sensation afterwards. (This actually has happened to me a few times at a certain Mexican restaurant.) What I have noticed is that people who don't want to wait for a table here, walk down the street to Juanita's.

Juanita's Mexican Restaurant is definitely not as popular as La Pinata 3. The food is good and fairly predictable, but not memorable. The menu is basically identical to La Pinata and Otaez. It is food that one would expect at a casual, Mexican restaurant in America. There is little ambiance at this establishment which could be the reason why La Pinata is always busy and they are not.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I absolutely love baked products. I will try everything when it comes to tasting baked goods. I don't know how this fascination began, but I enjoy browsing bakery windows and smelling the aromas of bread, cakes and cookies.

For the most part, Alameda has few bakeries considering the population of the city. I believe a good number of cafes around town buy from major bakeries around the bay area: Sugar Bowl, Semifreddi's, Grace, Acme and Parisian. And of course, a large portion of baked goods are from Starbuck's and Peet's Coffee House.

Jay's Coffee Shop makes a good brownie. Their brownies have rich, intense chocolate flavors that I am looking for. Their cookies and pastries are good, but not as satisfying as the brownie. The atmosphere is a wonderful space with cute decorations.

Boniere Bakery has been around for quite a long time. Their major products are bread, butter cookies and fruit tarts. I have to say their bread loaves are not appealing and I usually pass over them. The butter cookies are tasty, but lack the impact of an exciting cookie. The fruit tarts are good. The fruit is fresh and the pastry is flaky. It is a good, simple dessert without the pizazz. Overall, the bakery is good for simple items, but if you are looking for more exciting baked products, than this isn't the place for you.

Feel Good Bakery makes a decent baguette, but the loaf dries out quickly after one day. The cookies look delicious, but once you taste them, it falls short compared to their appearance. The chocolate chip cookie is their best cookie product. Their brownie is a bit sweet and did not have the strong chocolate flavor that I am always searching for. Their chocolate tart is good and intense in flavor and has the most flavor of all their items. Their claim to fame is making the Obama sourdough bread.

Blue Dot Cafe creates better baked products compared to their hot breakfast foods. The scones look amazing and it's a great winning product for the bakery. The cookies and lemon squares are also strong contenders. It is wonderful to have such delicious options to choose from. One does not get as many awesome choices to select from within the same bakery in Alameda. Hallelujah!

Muffins, Muffins, Cookies & Buns bakes their own croissants, muffins, cookies and buns. I've visited this cafe a few times and my experiences just kept on getting worse the more times I went. The breakfast croissant sandwich which consisted of a fresh croissant with scrambled eggs and bacon strips in the middle, was terrible. It's not difficult to make scramble eggs, but they got it wrong, the cook overcooked them. Plus, grease oozed out of the sandwich. This was not a pleasurable experience because I had to use a napkin to wipe away the fat down my arm. Another time, I came for the fresh baked muffins. The muffins I chose were unfortunately over baked and they were hard and dried out. The cookies were decent in flavor and texture, but they were not a strong enough incentive for me to return. I hope the business owner understands how important it is to taste test food, especially in this weak economy. My suggestion for people is to go somewhere else for baked products.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Hamburgers convey American cooking. Who doesn't enjoy a good hamburger now and then? With all of the different ingredients for fixings, cheese and meats, there are ample ways to never get bored with a patty of meat between two pieces of bread. Even the vegetarians have tofu burgers to eat. The hamburger places listed below are not fast food chains; you cannot drive up to the window and order food and never get out of the car. These establishments have food to go, but also accommodate tables and chairs for customers to seat while eating.

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.

Alameda Grill on Park Street is a hamburger joint. The burgers are grilled to order, so it does take time to cook the meat. Hamburgers taste good and fresh. The meat is juicy and flavorful. The french fries are decent, but not the best. Tables and chairs are located outside in the parking lot of the bicycle store next door. This place is great on a warm, sunny day. On rainy days, one would have to pick up the food and go. The hamburgers are simple and not as varied compared to Nation's, but the service is intimate since it is a small, locally owned business.

McGee's Bar and Grill is a popular spot on game days. The place is packed with customers cheering for their favorite teams. It's definitely fun and festive, watching a game with a room full of total strangers all screaming and rooting at the same time. The food while watching a good game does not disappoint. Hamburgers are made fresh and grilled to order. There are about ten different burgers to choose from. The meat taste fresh and the ingredients are in peak condition. When I tried the Philly Cheese steak sandwich, the meat was supposed to be thinly sliced beef, it turned out to be loose ground beef. The meat combined with the cheese, grilled onions and green bell peppers tasted good, but the meat should have been sliced beef. I should have returned the sandwich, but I didn't.

Burgermeister on Central Avenue is the fairly new gourmet burger joint. Their menu has a good selection of 1/4, 1/2 or 1 pound burgers. I would recommend a 1/4 or 1/2 pound burger, anything bigger would be too excessive. Their California Burger with guacamole and swiss cheese was good, but not great. There wasn't enough flavor when I bit into the burger. Sometimes when the meat is too lean, there is not enough fat in the meat to really taste it. The meat the restaurant uses is Niman Ranch organic beef which is a great company for meat products. A better tasting burger was the Western Burger. It had fried onion rings, bacon strips, cheese and BBQ sauce all inside the burger. The flavors were tangy and sweet with the saltiness of the onion rings. The result was a better tasting product compared to the California Burger. My recommendation would be to ask the wait staff for suggestions on the menu.

Tillie's, Jim's Place and Ole's Waffle House all serve hamburgers. Their burgers are a step above a hamburger from a McDonald's or Burger King, but below in taste and quality from Nation's, McGee's and Alameda Grill.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


When I think of Italian food, pasta and meat dishes come to mind, not pizza joints. There are more pizza places in Alameda than true Italian restaurants. Pizza is Italian, but it is not Italian cuisine. Therefore, I did not include pizza places even though they may serve pasta and meat. My personal opinion is that the real Italian establishments are C'era Una Volta and Acquacotta.

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. There is an appetizer that I tried twice and was disappointed each time. It was the Arancini, saffron risotto balls filled with fontina cheese in the middle. When you see the item on the menu, it sounds absolutely delicious. When the appetizer comes to the table, you see these deep fried balls and think it will be tasty and it's not. The taste of the rice balls are a little bland with the essence of saffron. The fontina cheese in the middle is hot and gooey, but it doesn't help in the taste of the dish. I thought it was a miss each time. Soups were hearty with fresh vegetable ingredients. The pasta dishes were delicious and bold in flavors. The pasta was surprisingly a dry pasta and not made fresh on the premises. The sauces were flavorful and complimented the pasta type. 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.

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. The space is bright on the main floor with interesting art pieces on the walls. The second floor has a completely different atmosphere. The second floor can be a little dim with insufficient lighting to read the menu. Upstairs is not as decorated compared to the main floor, and the view to watch the action below is nonexistent. You get a great view of the ceiling and art work. This place is worth coming back to. The staff is more than happy to assist in any food cravings the customer is looking for.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mediterranean & Greek

There seems to be an interest in Greek food all of a sudden in Alameda. It started with Zeytini's at the mall in Alameda Towne Centre, and another one recently opened 300 feet away by the name of Daphne's. And by chance, I found a third Greek place in the old Quickly Tea space, right next to Pappo Restaurant. The new place is called Troy. So what gives on the new intrigue with Greek or Mediterranean food?

Daphne's is located in the new east wing of the mall, its neighbors are Borders, Chipolte and Jamba Juice. The interiors are simple and clean with large pictures of food plates at the cashier area. The menu is limited, but there are ample choices of meat, vegetable dishes and rice plates. The pita sandwiches are great for lunch. They are decent in portion size and the meat is full of flavor. The tzatziki sauce is great and enhances the flavors of the sandwich. The complete lunch or dinner plates are better meal deals than the ala carte pita sandwiches because you get a drink, salad and rice pilaf with your meal. The Greek salad is fresh and the vegetables are crisp. I just wish there were more calamata olives and feta cheese, but I guess they are expensive ingredients and so they are being frugal with the distribution. The only dessert is baklava. It looked enticing and fresh which is important for the crunch of the philo dough. I would recommend this restaurant more so than Zeytini's. The food is far more outstanding than its competitor, even though the interiors are much nicer at the other establishment.

Zeytini's is a beautifully designed, rustic and Tuscan feeling restaurant. The interiors of this establishment is quite nice. Big over sized benches and back rests with a beautiful Italian color scheme. They serve Greek food along with pizzas and salads. Food wise, the kitchen staff is very green and still needs help in creating quality products. The spanokopita was generously filled with spinach. The feta cheese, pine nuts and flaky puffed pastry, made the appetizer a pleasure to eat. The babaganoush, however was not as successful. There was too much garlic in the dish and overwhelmed the eggplant which was almost non-existent in flavor. The Greek Salad had a great presentation, but fell short on taste. The salad lacked the robust flavors of a typical Greek Salad. I think the salad dressing was the cause of the lack of flavor along with not serving good quality calamata olives. The Italian Pizza had the most problems of the entire meal. First of all, the pizza appeared as if it was made by an elementary school kid. The quantity of the sausage was scant, there was too much cheese on the pizza and the other ingredients were missing. The pizza had a lot of grease coming off of the crust and the oil separated from the cheese. The best bet is to have a drink in the outdoor dining area and wait a few months when the kitchen has worked out the kinks.

Gold Coast Grill specializes in grilled meats and Mediterranean 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.

Asena Restaurant markets their food as Mediterranean and California Cuisine. The food is always good here and the prices are very reasonable. The bread that comes to your table is fluffy and at times dry. It looks very similar to fochaccia bread. The olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture gives the bread moisture and added dimension and enhances the spices in the bread. The house salad is a simple green salad with a Mediterranean dressing. The salad and plate are both cold when it comes out of the kitchen and keeps the lettuce crisp. The olives, feta cheese and spiced nuts are great components of the dish. There aren't any bad choices at this restaurant. Meat dishes of steaks, lamb, pork and chicken entrees all have been well prepared and cooked precisely. Homemade pasta dishes of ravioli are wonderful. You can taste the freshness of the pasta and the sauces compliment the vegetable and/or meat fillings. The vegetarian dishes are also tasty. I really enjoy their version of eggplant parmesan. It is not traditional in the sense of fried eggplant patties, but layers of eggplant baked with a sauce. Desserts are decent, but they are not the restaurant's strong point. The chocolate cake is palatable and moist. The creme brulee is smooth and creamy. The tiramisu is light and fluffy and not strong in espresso flavor. I have been coming to this establishment for years and I highly recommend this restaurant. The food is consistent and delicious.