Monday, October 21, 2013

San Francisco: Okay, it's actually East Bay (more specifically Berkeley) Pt:II

As we checked in at the the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, the desk clerk asked, "And what brings you to Berkeley?"

My wife instantly shot back with one word - "Pizza!" An incredibly puzzled reaction overtook the clerk.

That was pretty much the end of the conversation. What appeared to be a first in Hotel Shattuck history, someone declared their sole reason for visiting this storied college town.....was for pizza.

The first leg of my "Day O' 'Za" would begin with lunch at Gioia Pizzeria over on Tompkins street. This small slice house serves up - in my humble opinion - one of the better slices you're going to find out on the west coast. Now keep in mind, I've got some pretty good advice on a couple of places in Los Angeles, but as of today Gioia is one of my faves.

There might be eight seats (maybe six) in the place, but the rate of ordering, the heating of slices, and devouring food seems to meet some sort of comfortable equilibrium where no one is really left without a seat.

Spinaci Aglio [2013]
 The dough here has a toasted (not charred, except for the massive char bubble you see in my picture) appearance to it, with a crust that has a moderately airy crumb. Since I have a proclivity for unique topping combos, I went with the Spinaci Aglio (mozzarella, spinach, garlic, and olive oil). While the description sounds a bit bland, the garlic and - the unlisted in the description - red chile flakes pumped up the flavor factor.

The specialty slices all weigh in at the $3.50 price point. Since I didn't want to take up too much room for Saturday's main pizza event, it was only a one slice lunch. Although I haven't been, a second store has been opened in San Francisco if you can't make it across the bay.

Gioia Pizzeria
1586 Hopkins St
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 528-4692

Gioia Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 20, 2013

San Francisco: Okay, it's actually East Bay (more specifically Berkeley)

One of the things I really enjoy about flying into San Francisco is that its airport is well connected to public transportation. As subways go, Bay Area Regional Transit (BART) is one the more well run public transit agencies in the country. The trains are clean, the operators are easy to understand, and maps were very easy to read. The cost from the airport (South San Francisco) to Berkeley? $8.80 per person. A taxi (for one person) could easily run you 10x that depending on the time of day. Total travel time was about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Our destination was the Hotel Shattuck Plaza (#1 rated hotel in Berkeley on Trip Advisor), which conveniently enough, stood a mere block away from the BART station. Since it was a Saturday we were able to get an early check in.

The hotel itself is a beautiful hundred year old building - but you'd never know it. Unlike many older hotels, there is no musty smell, creeky flour boards, or outdated interiors. The rooms are a comfortable size with modern bathroom fixtures and comfortable beds. Our room with tax was in the $160-170 area.

A Deluxe Queen room

Our main reason for choosing Hotel Shattuck Plaza:
  1.  Absolute best location - Close to transportation, dining, university, shopping. Most everything is within reasonable walking distance. No need for a car.
  2. Beautiful - HSP is a truly smart looking hotel. One would never know this was a hundred year old building by walking through its halls. Bed bug fear? None. However, all bets are off once you walk out onto Shattuck Avenue.
Should you find yourself in these parts, the Hotel Shattuck Plaza - for my money - is the place to stay in Berkeley.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

San Francisco: It all starts with a map

When it comes to travel, some people love to wing it. They simply get on a plane with a suitcase and let the chips fall where they may.

I can't do that.

I've got to research the hell out of anywhere I go. I've got to find out about the hotels, the restaurants, the attractions. I want to know how long it lasts, what it costs, inside info - whatever I can find out. If there's anything that drives me nuts - it's a wasted opportunity.

I think I've talked about the necessity of the Google map before, but this San Francisco trip took it to a whole new level. This time around, there was a genuine effort to try and go to a neighborhood and shop/eat  as efficiently as we could. Much time was invested double checking hours of operation, days they were closed, eating lunch early enough to where you missed the lines (not to mention allowing enough time to be hungry for dinner).

View San Francisco 2013 in a larger map

Since we hadn't been to the Bay Area for a couple years, there was a lot we wanted to see this time around. We stayed in the same two hotels we did last time, but ate breakfast or got coffee from all new locations. This trip was less focused on pizza, and more so on sandwiches.

In the ice cream arena we got shot down twice, but found some fantastic two new bakeries we didn't know about.

The two of us came back from San Francisco very inspired. The weather was in the mid - upper 70's every day, and I don't think I saw a cloud the entire week we were there.

In the coming weeks I plan on posting some quick hits on many of these noteworthy places. Since I found so many posts on blogs, Yelp, or where ever, so helpful I think it's only fair that I add to the body of knowledge already out there.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cooking: Tonkotsu Ramen

One of the big reasons I enjoy cooking is because I am genuinely interested in how things work. To know what goes into making something is to appreciate the craftsmanship involved in the final product. On a personal level I have ruined my fair share of perfectly good ingredients (or if I'm Teresa Giudice "ingredientses"), trying to replicate something I had elsewhere. From the first foray into a recipe, to making the final nip and tucks to suit my tastes, the journey is as much a part of the fun as the final product.

Last winter I spent a solid week in Honolulu eating at ramen houses by day and izakayas by night. Some were obviously better than others, but to truly understand what you're eating I think you've got to have some kind of idea about what goes into cooking it. I knew I wanted to make a broth that was opaque, had creamy well emulsified appearance, and most of all had the same kind of stickiness you get on your lips after you've eaten a handful of good chicharrones.

Armed with a stash of the best noodles made in this country, I looked high and low for something worthy enough for my Sun Noodle no.22's. One of the first recipes I found was from What I was looking for is not found in a foil packet. It isn't cooked in one pot. It certainly can't be made in two minutes. The recipe by Marc Matsumoto is one of foundation.

Here's the recipe link:

Tonkotsu Ramen with Kalua Pork and Salted Egg

 Since you've made it this far and can clearly read, I'll assume you can peruse the recipe yourself. Here are some of my thoughts on how things went:

I actually used chicken feet instead of a carcass. I think it's a nice blend of collagen and marrow. I switched it out 1:1 with the chicken bones.

Using Marc's method I ended up with onions that were more fried than caramelized. Next time I'll slow roast the onions beforehand. I think it would certainly add another dimension to the broth.

I need to give more thought to what I want to add to the bowl. I was so wrapped up in making the broth, mayu, and tonkotsu base - the other stuff seemed a bit of an afterthought. Some meaty mushrooms would have been the ticket.

We had this two nights in a row. The first night I used a barbecue pork. The chunks of meat were just too much. The second night Regina pulled out some kalua pork from the freezer - perfect choice. The smokiness of the meat and the ability to pick out small portions shredded meat worked beautifully. 

Ham bones cut into 2" sections fit the bill for "leg bones". You can call around to butchers doing their own sliced ham. The pigs feet, chicken feet, and pork cheeks can be found at a good Asian grocery. The pork cheeks will end up being your hardest thing to procure. (My Asian grocer was sold out, but I found a pack at my local farmers market (New Creation Farms).

Get quality noodles!

The pigs feet will be semi cut in half. Get a cleaver and lop those things completely in two. The goodness is in the middle. 

Make the mayu! It tastes like ass on its own, but there's something about the little flecks of burnt garlic that really do taste good.

Is it something I would make on a beautiful summer day in Cleveland? Not really (but I did). Will I be busting this out when the snow is flying outside? You bet! The Marc's tonkotsu is an absolute keeper.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cleveland : The Katz Club Diner

Doug Katz has opened a new spot out in Cleveland Heights in the old diner car space formerly occupied by a revolving door of tenants. The location has always needed to be one that is supported mostly by those living in the immediate area due to its distance from any highway access.

I stopped in with Regina for dinner a couple of weeks ago. A dessert counter greets you when you come to the front door. The dining area is to the left.

The dessert counter has a wide variety of desserts. Some of the stuff is a house made version of things like Twinkies and Ho Ho's, while others are more of the diner variety pies and cakes. Prices were reasonable starting at $2 or $3 and heading upward. Didn't buy anything, but then again I usually eat dessert at home.

Sitting at the Counter

The dining area consists of lunch counter seating as well as a decent number of tables and chairs. Waitstaff is dressed in smart black "diner-ish" outfits. 

I ordered the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry stuffing. I thought the turkey was moist, the stuffing was good, and the chutney was solid. I don't know the provenance of the turkey, so it's hard for me to say what the price of something like this should be. 17 bucks seemed a bit stiff for what was on the plate.

Regina had the Baked Trout with tartar sauce and coleslaw. She liked the fact they didn't fry the trout and the portion was healthy. Tastefully done. Good not great. At $18, again, little stiff for something relatively inexpensive.

Katz Club Diner certainly has its champions (I have a number of friends that adore the place). It's clean,  well put together, uses quality ingredients, and offers a wide array of menu items. These are all things which come at a premium. Everyone has a different way of doing the mental math on value. For me, it's just doesn't add up. YMMV.

Katz Club Diner
1974 Lee Rd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-3333

The Katz Club Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Ingredient Hunt

It all starts with a recipe. In this case it would be the tonkotsu broth from  I have to say, there's nothing I like more than an ingredient scavenger hunt. It's not so much a function of the chase as much as it is learning where to find this stuff.

The recipe calls for 2# of pork leg bone cut into mulitple pieces, 1.5# of chicken bones, and 2 trotters cut in half. 

Let's start with the leg bones cut into multiple pieces. A call around numerous butchers in the Cleveland area yielded jack squat. Since I was heading out to Miles Farmers Market I figured I'd give it a shot. As luck would have it, Bo at the meat counter said he was going to have some ham bones ready in a few hours. News to me. You want pork leg bones? Ask for ham bones. BAM!!! One down.

Trotters (pigs feet) cut in half are actually pretty easy to find. I went with D&R Meats in Maple Heights simply because it was in the general vicinity to Miles Market. BAM!!! BAM!!! That's two down. 

The recipe calls for chicken bones, which I could have easily broken down a whole chicken, but I wanted to actually use chicken feet simply because I think the broth will benefit from the collagen in the feet than it would marrow in the bones.

By this time it was 7:00 o'clock and the butcher shops were closed. My options were dwindling when I realized....duh.....where does one buy ingredients for an Asian dish? An Asian market! I stopped over at CAM Asian Market over by the now desolate Randall Park Mall. BAM!!! BAM!!! BAM!!! That's three up, three down.

I was hoping they had a couple of pork cheeks for chashu, but the butcher told me they had sold out this afternoon. I've got enough to get my broth rolling, but tomorrow's will be another hunt....

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cleveland: The Oak Barrel

The Oak Barrel is in the old Hoggy's location at Cinemark's Valley View location. With Hoggy's, the overall feel to the place seemed totally out of scale. Sound seemed to reverberate throughout the entire restaurant. The task of filling this place would be a tall one.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to drop in for the first time for dinner at The Oak Barrel and was surprised to see Ben and Sarah from Heights Eats having dinner with their son.  After a little chat with two of the Heights Eats Three (the third wasn't really feeling the conversation) I headed off to find out what this place was about.

Decor and Space 4/5

The interior is a vast improvement over what used to be there. Gone is the mausoleum feel of the old place. The new owners have successfully portioned the massive space into several smaller scale 'rooms'. I was skeptical they would be able to do it, but it seems to work. Imagine my surprise when the owner told us capacity is 450!

Food 3/5
First off, the beer list is very good. The Oak Barrel offers a broad selection of well known as well as lesser known drafts as well as bottles. I'd be able to bring my old man here and not have to worry about him being put off just drinking 'fancy beers', as he calls them.

For dinner, I had the Turkey Burger and Stuart Spivack (foodie about town) ordered the ribs. I thought the burger could have used some kind of special mayo/sauce concoction. The burger itself was a little 'peppery' but probably would have been better if it had something else besides LTO to play off of. It was cooked all the way through and the bun was money. The fries were also above average.
Das Turkey Burger and Fries

Stuart liked the ribs alright. You could tell just by looking at them, they had a decent amount of smoke put to them. They were probably more KC style than a Memphis or Carolina, but he seemed to like them. Again, the fries caught props as well.

The Ribs and Fries
One strange thing I noticed was the sourcing of the pork noted on the menu. While I am interested in knowing where the food comes from, I probably don't need to know the pork is from Daisyfield Farms. People that don't care, aren't going, while people that are obsessed with that sort of thing will know that Daisyfield is factory pork. I'd just leave it off the menu. It's been my experience that non-factory meat gets called out on a menu, while factory does not. Picky? I know, but just an observation. I actually don't mind factory pork for things like ribs; for the money there's just not a big enough difference for me to pay the premium for heritage.

Service 3/5
I believe Heather was our server. Service got a little harried at the end simply because there was an older group that seemed to be packing up 3/4 of what they ordered to take home. She was doing the best she could for as busy as the place was and the avalanche of "to go" containers she was bringing out. She was doing a really good job until Mamaw started packing up the half the kitchen.

Overall 3/5
I thought the experience was a good one. Since I'm on the east side and I have people on the west, it would be a perfect compromise for lunch or dinner. Prices are in line with the setting and the portions. The Oak Barrel offers a little something for everyone while providing a nice setting, good service, and a solid value.

The Oak Barrel
5975 Canal Rd
Valley View, OH 44125
(216) 520-3640

The Oak Barrel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cleveland: Piada Italian Street Food

I've eaten a lot of Italian food in my lifetime, but never have I heard the word piada. I had absolutely no idea what "Italian Street Food" was. I had never heard the term. Do you know what it means? Didn't think so.

The old shopping center at Cedar and Warrensville Center Rd (where the old Anatolia was) got torn down a couple of years ago. Now standing on the old site is a brand new shopping center. Piada Italian Street Food (PISF) is the most intriguing of all the new food establishments now housed there. Started by Columbus native Chris Doody (former co-owner of Bravo Brio Restaurant group), Piada is a relative unknown to most everyone I talk to.

Having now been indoctrinated, I can tell you that a piada is basically an Italian burrito. If you were to switch the clean, sleek, white decor of Piada for corrugated metal and lacquered plywood, you would be in a Chipotle. It is a very similar setup to the Chip - very similar. Both have  style of service, choices, and level of value that are nearly identical.


Decor and Space 5/5
As a designer all I can say is "wow". I don't know who did their concept, but PISF is by far the sharpest interior architecture I've seen in a fast casual restaurant. The space just screams modern Italian design. Everything is pretty much some variation of white or some kind of play on negative space using light and shadows. I was genuinely blown away at how well put together the visual concept was.

Food  1/5
Here's the summarized version. A piada is the equivalent of an Italian tortilla. Just like Chipotle, you can forgo the piada and just get everything in a bowl (my recommendation). Anything they have on Italian food, they have as a choice for your piada/bowl. Unlike Chipotle, many of these combinations simply don't work. My normally reliable food karma failed me miserably during this trip.

 I ordered a piada with Italian Sausage, Diavalo sauce (spicy), angel hair pasta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, and onions. Salty....very salty. Was it my fault? Sure, I picked all of the items. I'm sure if I were to go multiple times I would eventually figure out a combo that works for me. At Chipotle I know what all of those things taste like on their own, and I know what will probably work with what. Here? You have no clue until you actually taste it.

 Piada Italian Street Food!

Service 1/5
Unfortunately you're going to have to run, walk, slowly limp this gauntlet at least once to know what the whole thing is about. (It took me 25 minutes from the door to the cash register.) The staff seemed incredibly disorganized and overwhelmed. Usually you can tell who the manager is; in this case I had no clue (and neither did they). The line was literally backed out the door because they were completely out of sausage, chicken, etc. (To their credit the cooks kept testing the meat to check if it was up to temp. To their discredit, open ovens don't cook meat very quickly.) The best advice I've heard came from Ben over at Heights Eats: Order it for carry-out. You've been warned.

Overall 2.5/5
I could easily drill this place and say skip it. The fact is, the concept as a whole is pretty new and as time goes on I'm sure they'll work out many of those service and food related problems. I would like to see them devise some 'suggested combinations', otherwise there is always the very realistic possibility that you'll end up with too damn many flavors in one dish.

Piada Italian Street Food
13947 Cedar Rd
South Euclid, OH 44118
(216) 862-8872

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