Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Angela's Bistro

The long awaited Angela's Bistro on Central Avenue is finally in operation. It took the contractor a lot longer than expected to get the restaurant built, but every aspect of the restaurant is bigger and better.

I was a regular at Angela's when it was located in the Marina Village. The prices were fair, not expensive and the food quality was good. When the new location first opened, I went there a few times without a reservation and could not get a table. I walked around the dining room to get a feel of the new space. The front area of the restaurant was very pleasant with a relaxing color scheme of greens and browns. The mood then slightly changed the further you walked back towards the restrooms. The tables were so close together that it was quite easy to bump into a table with one's rear end. Luckily, the last time I actually ate a meal at the restaurant, the staff had moved the table and chair configuration that was a much better layout than feeling like cattle.

The first noticeable difference in the new location is the green spread for the bread. The spread is much lighter in flavors of garlic and cilantro. The old version was strong and pungent where the flavors exploded in your mouth. The new version is a watered down version of the old with similar flavor profiles, but with less intensity.

The menu hasn't really changed much, but there are a few more choices to select from in appetizers and entrees. I ordered the Duck confit with wild rice in a puff pastry as an appetizer. The dish was very nice and light. The Duck confit was tender and flavorful. The tangy sauce brought the flavors together of the duck and wild rice. The wild rice alone without the duck was a bit lackluster. The dish overall was a good pick since Duck confit does not appear on the menu with high frequency and it's not easy to make at home.

My main course was a medium rare Hangar Steak with potatoes and vegetables. The steak was thinly sliced when it arrived at the table with a red wine sauce reduction. The sauce was nice and added a more complex dimension to the steak. The potatoes were awkward at first because they were flattened, small potatoes with skins on. The potatoes were tender and had a great flavor to them, but you had to cut them with fork and knife. The vegetables were carrots and green beans. The vegetables had problems. The carrots were overcooked and thinly sliced where it was tough to chew. All of the moisture of the carrot was gone and it was like chewing on a piece of leather. The green beans lacked flavor and it wasn't an issue of being overcooked, but something tells me it has to do with freshness. Food portions were not large and the prices were somewhere in the medium to high range. The steak was over $20, but I got five to seven slices of meat at approximately four to five ounces in weight.

The dessert menu looked a little weak. There were six items to choose from, but none of seemed appetizing and so I opted to skip dessert.

Another time I ate a meal at Angela's, I ordered the Lobster Ravioli. The sauce was creamy and delicate with hints of tomatoes, herbs and butter. The lobster inside the ravioli was perfectly executed, it was thinly shredded lobster meat. The strong lobster flavor of the pasta balanced the subtle creme sauce where the two components complimented one another. One slight flaw of the meal was the texture of the ravioli. The pasta was a bit chewy and it was a tad too thick for my liking. I wondered if the pasta was purchased from a wholesaler and then boiled in the kitchen, but the waitress claimed the pasta is made in the kitchen on the premise. I should have further investigated to ask if the pasta was ever frozen which would explain the chewiness of the texture, but I did not. Oh well, another time, another opportunity. The Lobster Ravioli was a pleasant meal, the food portion was appropriate with six pieces of ravioli.

I would definitely come back to Angela's Bistro for another meal. The ambiance is nice if you sit in the middle of the room or closer to the front door. I suggest choosing menu items that are more complex because steak or salmon is an easy food item to grill. The chef is playing it safe in cooking food that he knows how to make, instead of taking chances on flavors and ingredients. However, you can't blame the guy because the costs of building a new restaurant is expensive, and you have fill the space with paying customers to pay the bills.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farmer's Market

If you haven't recently shopped at the Farmer's Market in Alameda, the location has changed to Haight and Webster Street. Market days are Tuesdays and Saturdays. The only positive aspect of the move is the Saturday venue; and hopefully more people can attend since the 9 to 5 working stiff get the day off. The move unfortunately has made the Market to be placed in a strange location that doesn't really work. The street is sectioned off on Haight Avenue, east of Webster where the Market is a L formation. The vegetable stands are on the street and the other food stands wrap around into the parking lot of the Chosen Vessel and Lucky Ju Ju Pinball lot.

The reason why the Farmer's Market had to move to a new location is that Gallagher and Lindsey is selling the parking lot where the Market was originally located on Webster. Forcing the move of the Farmer's Market is bad for community spirit. I know Gallagher and Lindsey are in the business of making money, however, they are also in the business of promoting and creating community amenities.

Just as long the fresh produce, fair prices and La Farine Bakery do not go away, I will be content.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jay's Coffee House

Jay's Coffee House on Encinal has great ambiance and atmosphere. I enjoy the interiors of both rooms of the Cafe and it feels like a homey, neighborhood hangout. Friends of mine who have been customers at Jay's for decades had mentioned the comfortable surroundings and great cinnamon rolls once upon a time. I was told that somewhere down the line, the original owner sold the business and the cafe was never the same thereafter. For the time that I have lived in Alameda, which has been over a decade I don't believe the cafe ever changed hands.

Since the time I moved to the Island, I've been a regular customer of Jay's. I mostly go there in the mornings for breakfast pastries and in the late afternoon for baked goods. Each time I go there I am always wondering about the so-called infamous cinnamon rolls that old timers keep on talking about. A few times I did inquire about the rolls, but I was told that they didn't have them. I am still waiting. A friend of mine informed me the cinnamon rolls were a specialty of the original owner and not the forte of the current owner. Too bad because the rolls sounds delicious.
So while I am keeping my fingers crossed for the resurrection of the cinnamon rolls, I buy croissants and scones in the meantime. I have to say the plain or the chocolate croissants are better tasting compared to the meat and cheese croissants. For some reason, the meat and cheese croissants are not flaky enough for me. The croissant is too mushy for my liking and it ends up being flat as a pancake and it doesn't keep its shape. A good croissant is firm on the outer layers of the pastry while the center is soft.

The scones are decent and moist. The texture is soft, but with the right firmness. The icing adds a slightly sweet taste which is a quality I really enjoy. Some scones at other bakeries are dry and not sweet enough for me. The orange and pecan scone is a good choice because the flavors of the nuts are supreme.

As for baked goods, the cookies are okay and palatable, but the real prize are the brownies. The cookies taste like something that anyone could bake at home. My preference for the brownies over the cookies is that the brownies are intense in flavor and a better product than something homemade from a box.

My personal opinion on cupcakes are that cupcakes are for suckers. Bakeries charge too much money for a small cake with cheap frosting on top. Even though the mini cakes seem tempting and cute, the retail cost of a cupcake is not worth the $2 to $4 price. That is why I never buy cupcakes at Jay's or anywhere else on that matter.

The hot cocoa at Jay's is also a bust. The drink is warmed milk with a squirt of chocolate sauce. Nothing special.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fish & Chips

I wish there was a British Pub on the Island that was cool and genuine, serving fish and chips, bangers and mash and shepard's pie. Oh well, I guess I can't have everything. So in the mean time, the closest restaurant to a pub on the Island is the New Zealander on Webster. Fish and Chips is a casual, inexpensive and simple dish. However, it does make a difference on the type of fish, oil and batter.

McGrath's Irish Pub on Lincoln Avenue is a poor attempt of a British Pub in Alameda. Unfortunately, the bar doesn't serve hot food and what type of pub is it, if it doesn't serve fish and chips or bangers and mash. What a disgrace!

Pier 29 has a Fish and Chips dish that I have consumed more than a few times. For some reason I keep on leaning towards the dish even though I have been disappointed on more than a few occasions when I ate it at the restaurant. I guess I keep on forgetting about the previous times and keep on wishing that each time would be better. Well thus far, the Fish and Chips dish has not gotten better. The fish on a consistent basis is deep fried too long and the moisture of the fish is lost. The batter is also really dark and very crunchy on the edges. Another reason why I am writing this entry is to remind myself not to order the Fish and Chips just in case I happen to be in the area and feeling a hunger pain.

The New Zealander on Webster has an expensive Fish and Chips dish at the high price of $17.95. The food portion was decent with four medium sized pieces of fish, with a hearty serving of french fries and cole slaw. The batter on the fish was thin, light and fluffy. The tartar sauce was nice and smooth tasting. The fish and chips tasted pretty good, but I wished I had vinegar. The wait staff did not even offer the condiment or ketchup for that matter. I had to beg for the ketchup that arrived to the table after a while from a bus boy who was in close proximity. The waiter was clueless that I wanted vinegar on the fries and fish. I was happy with the food despite the lack of service. However, the price is a bit steep considering it is only fish and chips.

Culina in the Marketplace on Park Street serves up a gourmet version of Fish and Chips. The dish is best eaten immediately even if that means chowing down inside the building or in front on the curb. The fish is light and tasty with a special sauce. The dish came with two large pieces of fish. The french fries were awesome, very delicious, hot fries with great herbs. For less than half the price of New Zealander, you can't pass up on the Fish and Chips at the counter. This is probably the best deal in town if you are a fish and chips fan.

Even though Quinn's Lighthouse is technically not in Alameda, it is a short sail away from Coast Guard Island and the City's limits. What I love about Quinn's is the outdoor deck on a warm, sunny day. Another favorite past time is throwing peanut shells on the ground on the deck. The Fish and Chips dish, however, was a sad disappointment. The fish was dry and over cooked. I couldn't even finish my plate since the food was so terrible. I will not make the same mistake twice at this place. At least the deck is still a great place to hang out and have a drink.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Has Pappo Lost Its Swagger?

Once upon a time, not too long ago, Pappo Restaurant on Central Avenue was a very popular spot. Customers came in and dressed quite chic and filled the brick room with coolness. For some reason, the atmosphere is now gone and the restaurant is an empty room. Even before Angela's moved into their new space on Central Avenue, Pappo was no longer on the radar. I'm not exactly sure what happened?

One of my belief's of why Pappo is empty in that the prices are slightly more expensive compared to other restaurants in the neighborhood. The prices of wines by the glass or by the bottle are more than their competitors, however their selection is different. The quality of food could also be challenged since their food and flavor profiles are more sophisticated than Burgermeister or Havana down the street. I'm not sure if Alamedans appreciate complex food with flavor subtleties that don't immediately hit your palate.

I wonder if another reason why Pappo is not popular is that the Executive Chef devotes more time to his deli, Culina in the Marketplace than the restaurant? During recessions, people are looking for lower priced foods, which the deli can offer. And luckily for customers, Culina offers high quality simple foods for a small price.

I have to say the food I had at the restaurant on a dead Thursday night was better in taste compared to a handful of times I've previously been there when it was a hot spot. I had a Curry, Tomato Soup with Cilantro creme fresh and it was delicious. The soup was creamy and smooth, with the perfect amount of heat. My second course was a generous sized Caesar Salad. The dressing tasted flavorful with a slight hint of anchovy. The romaine lettuce was fresh and had a good crunch to it. My last course was the gnocchi with bacon bits. I am fussy when it comes to gnocchi because it is difficult to make and a majority of the time, it comes out bland. Well their gnocchi was quite delightful, very flavorful with a creamy cheese sauce. The gnocchi were light, fluffy potato pockets which was a welcomed surprise. And of course, everything tastes better with bacon. The saltiness of the bacon brought out the flavors of the cheese in the sauce.

The million dollar question is when are the patrons coming back?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hot Cocoa

Regardless of what time of year it is, hot cocoa is a wonderful treat. There are different viewpoints on what a good cup of cocoa is. Milk is an important ingredient and chocolate powder or sauce is what makes the magic. Various coffee shops, donut joints and restaurants all over Alameda make their version of hot chocolate.

Starbucks has two versions of hot cocoa. There is regular hot cocoa with choice of milk and whipped cream, or with a shot of espresso in the hot cocoa. I much prefer the traditional cocoa than the espresso shot. I found the espresso to be overwhelming in flavor that brought a bitterness to the hot cocoa. Hot cocoa from Starbucks was not memorable.

Peet's Coffee had a stronger chocolate flavor in their hot cocoa, but their version was not exciting. There was a large mound of whipped cream on top which tasted pleasant when the cocoa was hot, but turned bad when the cocoa got cold.

La Pinata3 had a very interesting version of Mexican hot cocoa. It comes in a large cup with a generous portion of whipped cream and sprinkled cinnamon on top. The chocolate and cinnamon were a great combination with a spicy twist. It was a good drink, but it got a little awkward towards the bottom of the cup because there was so much cinnamon.

Blue Dot Cafe used Hershey's Chocolate sauce for their hot cocoa. I think it depends upon who makes the hot cocoa on certain days since staff is different from weekdays versus weekends. I'm not a huge fan of Hershey's Chocolate sauce because it doesn't have an intense chocolate flavor. The hot cocoa needs to be hot to taste good, but the cup I got was warm. The cocoa didn't have enough chocolate sauce to have a rich flavor. It was disappointing.

Spritzers to date has the best hot cocoa that I have tasted so far on the Island. The flavors were strong, you have a choice of what type of milk you want and whipped cream. I chose regular milk since I wanted to go full tilt and have the fat in the drink for the flavor. It was a good decision because the drink was quite satisfying. The portion sizes were also too generous. I ordered a small which was a 12 oz. drink. One drink was a full meal, I was full after I drank it.

Vines Coffee House was the least expensive hot cocoa I've had on the Island for $2. When I tasted the cocoa, it was basically warm milk with very little chocolate taste. There was more flavor in the cocoa powder sprinkled on top of the whipped cream than the drink itself. If you are seeking a strong cup of cocoa, than don't come to this cafe. This place offers great atmosphere, but bad cocoa.

Little House Cafe serves hot cocoa two ways, traditional and Mexican Hot Cocoa. I ordered the traditional version and watched the person make my order. I found out their hot cocoa was warmed Clover Chocolate Milk. That was it, nothing more and nothing less. I expected a little more from this cafe since they are usually detail oriented about their food items. The taste of the cocoa was bland, it needed a boost of stronger chocolate flavor. The price was also a bit high considering I got warm chocolate milk for $3. I could have bought a gallon of milk and warmed it myself for the same price.

Jay's Coffee House is a great place to hangout with your dog and grab a scone. The friendly service and atmosphere is quite pleasant. The hot cocoa, however is a weak link. The hot cocoa was basically warmed milk and Hershey's Chocolate sauce. Jay's and Blue Dot should not be copying each other on the hot cocoa since the sauce is disappointing and lacks flavor. I would pass on the cocoa at both places.