Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brenda's French Soul Food

It's always a challenge finding a place to take out-of-town visitors for brunch when you still don't know the city yourself very well. This time though, I outsourced location-finding duties to the said visitors, mainly because I knew they'd be both thorough in their research, and interested in finding good food.

So we ended up at the very well reviewed Brenda's French Soul Food for a weekday brunch. A busy day was underway so I was thankful to start with a large cup of black coffee.

Community Coffee with Chicory
The coffee was more interesting than the usual fare I've been drinking with the hints of chicory, but my opinion that Melbourne does a better coffee is thoroughly in place. Still, caffeine is caffeine.

The first section on the brunch menu are beignets; New Orleans flavoured donuts. They were incredibly tempting but this was one day where a sugar-rush would just not do. An order for a return visit perhaps? 

The remaining sections of the menu are more standard brunch options with plenty of egg dishes, pancakes and french toast, and sides including grits (ground-corn) and biscuits. 

Having never had Creole food before, I played it safe with a Creole Veggie Omelette (which made me feel like I was branching out a little, but not so far as to have crispy oysters for breakfast).

Creole Veggie Omelette
Creole Veggie Omelette
With plenty of vegetables in the form of corn, tomato, bell peppers and spinach, it was light but satisfying. I opted for an omelette without cheddar cheese so the omelette itself needed quite a bit of salt/Tabasco. I think it would have been great with the cheese though if that's your thing. 

On the side were breakfast potatoes (great and crispy) and a biscuit (not so great being too sweet for my liking).

One of my dining companions ordered 'Two Nice Big, Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes' and that's exactly what arrived at the table.

Buttermilk Pancakes
These are monstrously sized pancakes by my standards but they were incredibly fluffy and so didn't sit too heavily. With some maple syrup and a size of bacon they were a great pancake dish.

My other dining companion ordered the egg and bacon tartine with grits on the side.

Egg & Bacon Tartine
With bacon, scrambled eggs, gruyère and tomato-bacon relish on toasted french roll, this was a proper breakfast open-face sandwich. It's hard to go wrong taste-wise with crispy bacon, creamy scrambled eggs and melted cheese. A side of grits adds a serving of almost-vegetables, making this a complete meal. 

Overall I was impressed with Brenda's French Soul Food and certainly intend to return for brunch and to try the interesting donuts. The place was cosy, with high quality food, large servings and efficient service. It can get pretty busy though, so if you plan on going, plan on waiting in line for a while.  

Brenda's French Soul Food
Mon-Tue 8am-3pm, Wed-Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 8am-8pm
652 Polk St, San Francisco

Brenda's French Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 31, 2014

La Méditerranée

It's been quite a while since I've had decent Middle-Eastern food. We're royally spoilt in Melbourne with our delicious 24/7 purveyors of gyros and mezze plates within the city and out of shifty-looking food trucks that seem like the greatest idea in the world at 2am.

Berkeley doesn't quite run along the same lines. Indeed, I went to La Méditerranée for a lunch on a Saturday in much more respectable surrounds at a much more respectable time. In this case perhaps, respectability means a less delicious meal.

Heralded as the best Middle-Eastern restaurant in Berkeley, it's been around for 30 years and has won numerous awards. My friend who brought me here, raved about how much she loved it. The menu looked very promising indeed - mezze plates, kebabs, and fillo plates galore.

My friend ordered a chicken kebab plate with a side of soup (not shown), while her husband ordered a chicken kebab plate and salad.

Chicken Kebab
The serving sizes are nothing if not generous! Two full skewers of chicken on a bed of rice and a few pieces of fresh fruit. Both of them enjoyed their meals heartily.

Perhaps my expectations for the lamb kebab I ordered was too high, because I was disappointed with the end result.

Lamb Kebab
Maybe I'm just used to fattier cuts of Australian lamb but I found the meat tough and dry here. The salad was miserable in my opinion and I would probably have been better off with the soup as well. The hummus was delicious however - silky smooth and perfectly creamy (without even the tiniest bit of cream). 

While I was disappointed with my meal, it was perhaps more due to my expectations rather than the actual quality. The food is reasonably priced with large serving sizes, and the service is fast. The fillo pastries look decadently tasty, so those seem worth a try. 

As for myself, I'm unsure whether I'll return here, but at least I know what I'll be getting for dinner the first night I'm back in Melbourne.

La Méditerranée
2936 College Ave, Berkeley
Mon-Thu 10am-10pm, Fri-Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-930pm

La Mediterranee on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

Toss Noodle Bar

The concept of a choose-your-own adventure type of meal isn't particularly new, but it is something hard to do well. Chipotle is one of my favourite quick-meals, and the idea of transforming this idea into a noodle bar intrigued me. I was worried however - there can be issues with the freshness of the noodles, the speed of service, the limited options on offer but thankfully Toss suffers from none of these ailments.

Classed as an Asian-fusion restaurant, the menu focuses on simple combinations of noodles/rice, sauce/soup/curry and protein to suit every customer. The noodle choices are Hokkien, wheat, rice (flat or thin), spinach and grass (which I wasn't game enough to try). White and brown steamed and brown rice are also on offer. Flavour choices include Thai, Malay, Chinese and Japanese sauces, Tomyum, clear and laksa soups and green and red curries. Protein choices include tofu, chicken, prawn, pork, beef or combination.

Is that enough options for you? 

Spinach Noodles with Malay Sauce and Pork

White Rice with Green Curry and King Prawn 

The service here is super-fast with many dishes arriving within 5 minutes of ordering. The serving sizes are generous and the flavours pack a punch. I'd prefer more protein in my meals, but I guess that's what add-on dishes are for.
For those on the lookout for more protein, there are chicken satay and BBQ pork skewers and San Choi Bao available. 

BBQ pork skewer
The BBQ pork skewer was absolutely delicious. With a sensible amount of fat and a restrained addition of sweet marinade, it was really a very good dish. And at $2 each, a few won't break the bank. I've made a mental note to come back and try the chicken satay skewer next time I'm in.

San Choi Bao
The San Choi Bao (minced chicken with egg in lettuce cups) were less impressive. I took an immediate disliking to the fried rice noodle things that were sprinkled on-top of the baos. I'm of the opinion they don't belong on any dish. Nevertheless, the baos themselves were decent if slightly dry, with enough chicken contained within the crunchy lettuce cups to keep me happy. 

Other items on the menu include various small appetizers including kimchi rolls and vegetable dumplings just to keep things interesting.

Overall, Toss Noodle Bar is cheap and satisfying. With large portions, quick service and the novelty of building a dish exactly to your liking, it's hard to go wrong. I guess now all that needs to opened is a choose-your-own grill bar and my life will be complete. 

Toss Noodle Bar
2272 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley 
Mon-Sun 11am-10pm

Toss Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dolce & Guava Cocktail

With the amount of travel I do, I sometimes feel like I'm missing out on fun events in the various cities that I may call home; I consider both Melbourne and San Francisco home at this point.

Nevertheless, sometimes the only thing I can do is be grateful that I get to explore to world (which really isn't so bad after all), and live vicariously through other people's experiences. As those of you living in Melbourne may have noticed, the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival is in full swing this week. While I can't attend like I would have wanted to (shiny dresses are mesmerising after all!), I can at least sip on the signature cocktail: The Dolce and Guava.

Dolce & Guava

The recipe below makes 10 cocktails, so plan to share these at a very fashionable event.

Dolce & Guava
Makes approximately 10 cocktails

  • 150 ml London dry gin
  • 150 ml Lemon juice
  • 150 ml Pomegranate sugar
  • 150 ml Sugar syrup
  • 10 Raspberries
  • 1 Bottle of Rekorderlig Apple/Guava cider
  1. Mix in a bowl and enjoy
  2. Add some raspberries or blood-orange slices to garnish

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bravas Tapas

It's been a very long time since I last posted, not because I haven't dined since then (because that would be ridiculous for me), but rather because I still feel that I am a predominantly Melbourne-based food blogger regardless of the fact I haven't been there for months.

Still, the combination of a brand new restaurant, interesting food and dinner alone was irresistible to this food blogger.

Bravas Tapas
Wandering around a relatively quiet St Katharine Docks early on a Tuesday night in search of dinner, I stopped outside a cozy looking restaurant with a short menu displayed outside. Filled with interesting tapas dishes, it was as good of an bet as any.

Bravas Tapas
I had no idea I'd stumbled into a restaurant that was in its first week of business. A soft launch is an opportunity for new establishments to work out any kinks, and kinks there were, but I find the behind-the-scenes workings of a restaurant so much more interesting than a perfectly oiled machine. Unless I'm paying hundreds of dollars for a meal, in which case, a perfectly oiled machine is essential. Rapid fire Spanish and English was used to co-ordinate the service (with a minor bit of bickering to keep things interesting) but overall things went smoothly. 

Bravas Tapas
After been seated by the friendly hostess at the bar, I was left to peruse the menu. Feeling a little bit decadent, I ordered three small dishes for myself, which ended up being a pretty good amount of food. The wait for food was fairly reasonable (and I was entertained by watching chefs work which helped pass the time).

Also, I had these utensils:

Tapas Utensils
Anyone know how I was supposedly to use the tongs? I gave it a shot for a while, then gave up when it was too hard to work with those tiny points. Actually moving onto the food however.

Oyster Fritura
First up, oysters with sherry, wild spinach and toasted almonds. While I'm usually a raw-oysters kind-of girl, this dish a nice deviation from the usual cooked oysters options on offer. The spinach and almonds were a surprisingly good complement to fleshy texture and delicate taste of the oysters, however I found the sauce overpowering and ended up scraping as much of it off as possible.

Next up, this beautifully presented salmon dish.
Fresh Salmon Rulada
A salmon roll is often elegant and this one was no exception. Slices of high-quality smoked salmon wrapped around shoestring sweet potato fries. Can you imagine the textural contrast? The silky salmon was offset by the crunch of super-thin fries and I'm amazing that I'd never encountered this combination before. Inventive and impressive.

Braised Beef Short Rib
I was somewhat underwhelmed by the final dish. The braised beef short rib was a little tougher than I had expected, and more of the beautifully flavoured, slightly sweet, Pedro Ximenez (a Spanish sherry) would have been welcome. I would have appreciated more bite in the garlic mash as well, although it seems petulant to complain about a mash being too smooth.

Overall, Bravas Tapas looks like it has great things coming. The menu is interesting, innovative and inspiring and what I thought to be reasonably priced. The quality of the dishes is very high overall, but there are some kinks in both the food and the service that I hope are worked out by the time they've officially launched. The atmosphere is at once cozy and romantic, and I'm looking forward to visiting again to see if Bravas is as good as it promises to be in a few months.

Bravas Tapas
St Katharine Docks, London, E1W 1AT

Bravas Tapas on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Butler & The Chef

During the first few months of moving to San Francisco, every day was full of sunshine and warmth. It's perhaps unsurprising that I thought this was 'typical' SF weather and that rain would be a mere afterthought. Of course, little did I know that what I considered to be wonderful was in-fact drought weather.

The weather-gods seem set on making me see that yes, it does rain in California, and when it rains, it doesn't stop. None of the heavy rainstorms that Melbourne sees, what we get here is non-stop drizzle. Drizzle that causes water to flow noisily through the drainpipe all though the night.

It's weather like this that makes you thankful for weekends where you can be depressed by the weather, but at least you don't have to work. I took the opportunity to catch-up with a friend over brunch, even if it meant braving the weather.

We ended up at well rated The Butler & The Chef in the SOMA area. Fairly busy, it's a noisy bistro/cafe serving a variety of brunch dishes including salads, hot sandwiches, baguettes and French crepes. To warm up, I ordered a (boring) coffee while he ordered a mug of hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate
A mug is probably not the right descriptor, it was more like a bowl of hot chocolate - perfect for the wintery weather.

Unfortunately, their griddle was out of action which meant that non of the hot sandwiches were available (and the Croque Mademoiselle was looking particularly attractive before we found out about the situation). I ended up settling for a classic Niçoise Salade.

Niçoise Salade
The best bit about this version were the chunks of rare tuna that are a considerable step up from the usual tinned tuna found in Niçoise salads. With fresh mixed greens, a few potatoes, crunchy green beans, soft-boiled eggs, tomato, and deliciously salty olives pulled together with a light olive oil vinaigrette, it was a pretty good salad. Perhaps not as filling as I would have liked, it was still a perfectly respectable brunch dish.

My friend went for a savoury crepe instead.

La Parisienne Crepe 
A buckwheat crepe, with organic egg, ham, and emmenthal cheese, it was beautiful in its simplicity. It's hard to go wrong with a french crepe and with a choice of ham, chicken, smoked salmon or vegetarian versions on the menu, they're light but also filling.

If you're looking for a quiet cafe to catch-up over coffee, don't come to The Butler & The Chef. If you don't mind a bit of noise, then you can expect fresh food that arrives at the tables astoundingly fast, friendly and efficient service, and a price that matches the location (which is to say, reasonable, but definitely not cheap). 

The Butler & The Chef
155 S Park Ave, San Francisco
Tue-Sat 8am-3pm, Sun 10am-3pm

Butler & the Chef Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 3, 2014

Clement Street Bar & Grill

A word of advice: don't try to walk from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Golden Gate Park without a guide - you'll get lost. 

For a friend who was visiting San Francisco, the long, leisurely walk turned into an extra-long, slightly more stressful walk. Our winding adventure through the woods left her ravenous by the time we re-entered civilisation (although surprisingly I wasn't too hungry which is decidedly uncharacteristic of me) and a hearty meal was in order.

We ended up at Clement Street Bar & Grill, on, well, Clement St in Richmond. We weren't disappointed when instead of a bread basket, this appeared.

Bagel & Banana Bread
Now, my friend has never had a bagel before, and quite liked it. The picture however only shows half a bagel; I thought it was cruel to make her wait any longer for food. The banana bread was light, moist and not too sweet and I actually didn't feel bad for eating dessert before lunch.

Hungry girl decided to order the steak & eggs.

Steak & Eggs
A generous steak arrived, accompanied by a mound of eggs (scrambled, as per her choice) and some requisite breakfast potatoes. The orange and pineapple segments confused us somewhat, but the meal was well cooked and belly-warmingly satisfying.  

The Salmon salad looked pretty tempting to me, and I was happy with what was plated up.

Grilled Fresh Salmon Salad
It didn't look particularly beautiful but with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, poached vegetables, and an orange-cilantro vinaigrette, it satisfied my craving for something healthy.The salmon was grilled well, flaky-tender and sparingly seasoned letting the salmon flavour take center stage. 

After the nice surprise of an interesting bread-basket, we were happy to discover that the rest of the food at Clement Street Bar & Grill was good quality and reasonably priced. The staff are efficient and the ambiance relaxed. There's not really a view to speak of, but it's not a bad choice at all for a leisurely Sunday brunch, tucked away into a cozy booth.

Clement Street Bar & Grill
708 Clement St, San Francisco
Tue-Thu 430pm-930pm, Fri-Sat 430pm-10pm, Sun 1130am-9pm

Clement Street Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon