Saturday, August 22, 2009
Dinner and more in the Temescal
The Temescal is an Oakland neighborhood that in recent years has risen from being just another neighborhood to being a culinary destination.
In one short block there is Bakesale Betty, Pizzaiola, and Doña Tomas, all special food places. Across the street is Genova Delicatessen's original location, albeit now expanded and renovated...Genova has two delis in Walnut Creek but got its start in this spot.
I had a gift card to Doña Tomas, a Mexican restaurant that has been on my to-dine list for many years. Tonight was our night to try it. Before heading to dinner, I read some online reviews of Doña Tomas and several complained about noise, small portions,, bad service, and high prices.
Our experience was none of the above. In fact, our dinner was one of the best meals I've had in any Bay Area restaurant and definately the most creative and interesting Mexican meal I have ever had. Doña Tomas makes just about everything it serves fresh at the restaurant. Ingredients are seasonal and mostly from local providers.
We had a choice of being seated on the outdoor back patio or indoors and opted for indoors. We were in a small back dining room that overlooks the patio.
Our room was not at all noisy but, on our way out, we noted that both front indoor dining rooms were very noisy.
After ordering a couple of beers (Pacifico is my current Mexican favorite) and munching on chips sprinkled with cheese and dipped in a dark rich salsa,
we started with a shared order of Sopes de Camarones. The order consisted of three masa cakes topped with fresh shrimp cooked in an achiote marinade, black beans, avocado slices and cilantro. This dish was as beautiful as it was delicious...and very filling too.
Jim's main course was the Tostada con Colache, a crispy tortilla topped with puréed black beans, potatoes, summer squash, corn, tomato and onions. It was garnished with avocado, crema, queso fresco and epazote. It was accompanied by red rice and an arugula and radish salad.
My choice was the Atún con Salsa de Naranja y Chiles, sautéed albacore tuna steak topped with a salsa made with gypsy peppers, red onions, habanero chiles, and orange and lime juices. Also on the place was chunks of watermelon in some kind of sauce and a most amazing Corn & Zucchini Pudding which was more like a corn soufflé. I asked our waiter about the Corn pudding and he said it is only made in summer during the corn season and is very popular. I could go back many times while corn is in season to have more of the pudding, for sure!
Believe me, we were not hungry for dessert but were intrigued by the Pay de Chocolate, Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie in a graham cracker crust. But, we were also intrigued by the Nieve de Yerba Buena con Pastilla de Chocolate, a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae with Mexican Chocolate sauce. Our waiter told us that he likes them both and often adds the ice cream to his serving of the Pie...and that's what we did. It was worth the indulgence.
About the only thing that Doña Tomas does not make in house is its ice creams and sorbets; they come from Ici in Berkeley, a one location ice cream shop in the Elmwood district where all the ice cream is made daily on site.
Before dinner, we made a quick stop at Bakesale Betty, just as they were closing. We got to know Betty, who is still wearing her blue wig, from our Sunday Farmer's Market where she would don her apron and blue wig and set up her ironing boards to display her baked goods. A few years ago, Betty stopped coming to Farmer's Market because she and her husband opened their shop in the Temescal. Now the ironing boards serve as tables for those who want to enjoy one of Betty's baked items or her famous Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Notice the attentive dog, hopping for a taste of the yummy chicken?
We bought some cookies and banana bread for treats for the coming week.