Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rockridge Neighborhood Food Walking Tour


Last Sunday we spent a glorious Spring day in Oakland's Rockridge Neighborhood on a delicious and informative food walking tour, "Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage Tour," offered by Local Food Adventures

Local Food Adventures is a small locally-owned company whose walking tours focus on Oakland, California, neighborhoods.  

I chose the Rockridge tour because Rockridge is one of my favorite Oakland neighborhoods.  Rockridge is one of the first Bay Area neighborhoods Jim and I discovered when we moved to California over 40 years ago.  While Rockridge has become more gentrified since we first discovered it, it has continued to retain its local neighborhood spirit. Rockridge is easy to get to; it's right off Highway 24 and has its own Bart station right in the midst of its bustling business district.

Over the past several years, with so much changing in the Bay Area, we've not gone to Rockridge as often as we used to. I signed up for the tour in hopes of rekindling my love of the neighborhood.

We were not disappointed and are already planning our next visit.

There were just four of us on our three-hour tour: Maureen and Mike from San Jose, who had come from San Jose on Bart from the newly-opened Warm Springs station, and me and Jim, who drove the 14 miles from home and were easily able to find parking in the neighborhood on a Sunday morning. (Note: Rockridge is a busy residential and business district; on other days and at other times of day, parking can be scarce, making Bart and excellent option for getting here.)

We met Debra, our guide, at the Rockridge Library. After introductions and a bit of talk about our favorite foods and food interests, made our first of six stops at A16 restaurant.  A16 is known for its Tuscan pizza.  


We were seated at the counter that surrounds the wood-fired pizza oven.  While we enjoyed some freshly-prepared pieces of frittata, the pizza chef told us a bit about A16, its pizza oven, and Tuscan pizza. Since it takes only 90 seconds to bake a Tuscan-style pizza in the oven's 900 degree heat, we got to watch the pizza being prepared from the stretching out of the dough to it's completion.  We had the Margherita pizza, a classic that is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil.  


Before tasting A16's Margherita, I've never been a fan of this simple pizza.  This tasting changed it all for me. It was amazing!


Next stop was Cactus Taqueria. I had eaten at Cactus Taqueria when it first opened in Rockridge, over 20 years ago.  I remember liking it and appreciating that all their meats are antibiotic/hormone free.  Our Crispy Chicken Tacos were filled to overflowing with Mary's chicken, guacamole, cheese, salsa and lettuce.  I love their self-serve salsa bar that features at least half a dozen salsas. Yum! And, of course, I'll be back sooner than 20 years from now.


Next stop was the bustling Rockridge Market Hall Foods, a European-style indoor market with a bakery, a coffee roaster, fresh produce, wine, meats, fish, flowers, packaged fancy foods, prepared foods, pasta, and cheese. Our focus was on the cheese section.


The cheese monger talked with us about cheese and the cheese shop's cheese selections.  We enjoyed two tasty cheeses, each garnished with preserves, also sold at the Market Hall.  

After our cheese tasting, we had some time to explore and shop in the Market Hall.

At this point, about half way through our tour, we took a break from eating and walked through some of the residential parts of Rockridge. We saw many examples of the neighborhood's Arts and Craft style architecture.  Architects Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, working mainly in the first half of the 20th century, designed and influenced the design of many buildings in Rockridge and other parts of Oakland and Berkeley.   


Rockridge's College Avenue Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1917, was designed by Julia Morgan. 


Our next tasting stop was at Ver Brugge Meats and Seafood, an old-style butcher shop and market, complete with hand-lettered signs in the window to advertise the week's specials.

Here we tasted freshly-cooked house-made Whiskey Fennel Chicken Sausage and Pork Bratwurst that were paired with a deli mustard and a horseradish sauce  Both sausages were so tasty that I bought some, and a bottle of the deli mustard,  to take home.


We then went next door is La Farine, a French bakery that has been here since 1977. La Farine's signature pastry is their morning bun. 

Sorry that Jim's mini morning bun is half eaten in this photo; they are so good, it is hard to not devour them immediately.  I left La Farine with more morning buns, scones, and a loaf for bread to enjoy at home.


Our tour ended at Dreyer's Ice Cream. Dreyer's dates back to 1928 when it was founded as Edy's Grand Ice Cream in Oakland by Joseph Edy and William Dreyer.  Edy was a candy maker and Dreyer was an ice cream maker. The top picture is a painting of what the ice cream parlor looked like in times past. Today, Dreyer's is a subsidiary of NestlĂ©.  

 

Dreyer's Rocky Road ice cream combined both of its founder's talents into one ice cream flavor that remains popular to this day. Rocky Road, introduced in 1929, mixed chocolate, marshmallow and nuts into chocolate ice cream.  Before this time, the only ice cream flavors were vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.  Our tour ended with a scoop of Rocky Road.

In addition to learning more about Rockridge and enjoying generous samples of foods at all six stops, we recieved a map of the area and discount coupons for future visits at most of the places we visited.

Local Foods Adventures other walking tours are the "Grand Lake Cultural Cuisine Tour" and the "Rockridge Ice Cream and Gelato Tour" (great suggest for where to take kids this summer). All tours include food tastings, food demonstrations and some history of the neighborhood  Our guide, Debra, knew Rockridge well and shared her knowledge and love of the neighborhood with us in such a way that we felt like had instantly become part of the neighborhood.

One last note:  I bought my tickets to this tour at a discounted price through an offer by Livingsocial.com.  Over the years, I've taken advantage of many Living Social offers and have saved money and been introduced to new services.  Their offers change constantly and often are from new companies who are seeking a larger market than they can market to on their own. Check them out and sign up for their emailings for the area in which you live. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Momo's Walnut Creek is Open!


The exciting news for me is that today is the official opening of Momo's in Walnut Creek.

Momo's has been one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants since it opened across from AT&T Park in 1998, even before AT&T Park was completed (in 2000). It was one of the first restaurants in that neighborhood.

Momo's has thrived, under the direction of owner Peter Osborne.



Today I broke my usual rule of waiting a few weeks, at least, before checking out a new restaurant. Jim and I had an early Valentine's Day lunch at the new Walnut Creek location today.  Reservations can be made on Yelp Reservations or by calling the restaurant directly.


At Noon, the restaurant was bustling with a lunch crowd that looked to be made up of about half local business people and half locals, like myself.

My best description of the restaurant is "elegance, with a bit of sports bar."  Several TVs throughout the dining room broadcast sports and sports news.  But, the dining room and bar have the feel of a casual upper-scale dining spot.  There are electrical outlets on the walls along the windows and the walls separating the dining room from the kitchen area, making it easy to charge your mobile device or laptop, should you be doing business while dining or just in need of a battery charge.


Jim had the Roast Chicken Cobb Salad. We shared an order of Onion Strings.


My choice was the Rock Fish Tacos.


For dessert, we shared the Deep Dish Key Lime Pie.

To my delight, not only was the food tasty and reasonably priced for such an attractive dining spot, but, the service was outstanding.

Food was prepared in a timely manner.  Our Onion Strings were served to us first, as I requested. Our main courses were served promptly, but at the perfect interval after we'd been munching on our Onion Strings for awhile.

Water was refilled regularly and Jim was offered refills on his coffee even before he thought to ask for such.


I appreciate Momo's Walnut Creek's attention to details.  Their choice of dishes, Tria's "Wish" pattern, adds to the elegance of the dining experience.

Owner Peter Osborne was there, overseeing the dining room and kitchen and meeting those of us who had come to dine.  He and his wife, Janet, were beaming like new parents.

I'll be back to Momo's Walnut Creek, very soon.



Thursday, February 2, 2017

WINTER FANCY FOOD SHOW, SAN FRANCISCO


The Winter Fancy Food Show came to San Francisco January 22 - 24. I attend this show every year to discover new food trends, meet representatives from food companies, and to see favorite vendors.

Fancy Food is a show for the food trade. Specialty food companies come to introduce new products and to widen their customer base of food stores, caterers, food distributors and restaurants. I go representing the press and always come away with a feeling for what foods are going to be popular in the next year and beyond, which ones endure from year to year, and which ones are no longer must have items.


This year, my friend Janet joined me for our day of food tasting and discovery.


I always start in the Cheese section, which goes on for row after row in the Moscone Center.  At last year's show I discovered many flavored cheese, particularly flavored cheddars. This year, we saw many softer flavored cheeses. There were many wonderful lavender and truffle-flavored cheeses.


 

The colorful, flavored French Macarons continue to be a favorite sweet. Both Janet and I indulged.


Hummus, in a wide variety of flavors, continues to be a popular dip/spread. Baba Hummus from San Luis Obispo was a newcomer to the show, introducing its handmade organic hummus. Right now, their hummus is in several California grocery stores and sold at many Central California Farmer's Markets.  Hopefully, since the show, it will be showing up in other parts of the country.


We tasted lots of Nut Butters made with a variety of nuts and in a variety of flavors. 

The most interesting nut butter that I sampled was the Peanut Butter & Co.'s Mighty Nut Powdered Peanut Butter.  The peanut butter can be reconstituted as a spread by mixing 1 tablespoon of water into 2 tablespoons of powered peanut butter.  It worked perfectly and tasted great.  I've also tried it simply sprinkled on my cereal or yogurt for an added protein and taste boost.  Many Bay Area grocery stores already carry this product and I highly recommend it both for at home and perhaps for your next camping trip.  
 

Smoked Salmon remains a popular fancy food and we indulged ourselves at the show.


As always, there are a lot of tea companies at the show.  A trend towards flavored teas continues.  And, curiously, many longtime tea companies, such as Harney & Sons, have added bottled juice, tea,  and energy drinks to their repertoire. 


Pique, a San Francisco company, introduced its individual packet of tea crystals, packaged much like Starbuck's Via. Their teas are already in many Bay Area markets and even at Sports Basement. Just add hot or cold water to a packet of crystals, and you have a high quality tea to drink.


To my delight, Snoqualmie Ice Cream, from the state of Washington, was at the show to introduce its new Organic ice creams.  I discovered their French Lavender ice cream almost 5 years ago in some local supermarkets. But, these markets no longer carry it and I've been longing for it.  Now, they have two versions of their Lavender flavor. Hopefully, Snoqualmie has found some new Bay Area markets for its superior ice creams. Believe me, their lavender is THE BEST!!!  I know it was popular at the show because they had run out of samples of it by the time Janet and I found their booth.

 

Last year I discovered Traina's tasty sun-dried tomato ketchup.  This year, they've spiced up their offerings to keep up with the enduring Sriracha trend with a new Sriracha version.  



The array of confections at Fancy Food can be overwhelming.  We saw several Marshmallow vendors.  Could gourmet marshmallows be the "it" sweet for the coming year?


At this year's Winter Fancy Food Show, vendors were allowed to hand out packaged samples of their foods, rather than simply serving samples at their booths.  I was delighted to be able to take samples with me to taste and evaluate later.  Of course, most vendors also served generous tastes of their products at their booths as well. The above are some of the samples that I picked up.  


And, one last note, my in-house taster of all things sweet, was happy to do his analysis of Jelly Belly's Kid Mix Jelly Beans. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Frank Stella Retrospective at the DeYoung Museum

Damascus Gate, 1970

There is just another month to see the Frank Stella: A Retrospective exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. It closes on February 26, 2017.


The exhibit covers this iconic American artist's career over the past nearly-60 years.  It follows his work from his flat bright-colored canvases in the late 1950s, to his cut-out canvases, through his use of different structural materials in his 3-dimensional works, up to present day and his use of computer technology to aid in his creations.  


Talladega (1980) is my favorite piece in this exhibit.  

St. Michael's Counterguard, 1984

Indian Bird maquette

The exhibit includes both Stella's very large pieces and intimate smaller ones such as Indian Bird maquettes, as seen above.

The main exhibit is on the lower floor of the deYoung.  It continues to the first floor to a room of his prints.

Allow at last an hour for the exhibit; two hours, perhaps, with the audioguide.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Women's March, January 21, 2017


Today was the day of Women's Marches all over the United States.

The Washington DC and the San Francisco Marches got the most media attention, but there were many more marches in other cities across the country, including my own city of Walnut Creek.

The Walnut Creek Police estimate that over 3000 people...men, women, and children...attended this march.

I arrived with my friends at about 9:30 a.m.  Much of the event was a rally in our Civic Park.  Local politicians, representatives from women's and family organizations, and even Miss Black California spoke.  There was entertainment and, overall, an amazing amount of spirit, despite a mostly rainy day and our standing in nearly ankle-deep mud.

The actual march part of the event was through the entire Downtown.

Amazingly, it was peaceful, orderly, and the local police and other authorities managed to keep traffic flowing on almost all streets. One some streets, the lanes on one side were for marchers and the lanes on the others were for traffic.

It worked and, at the end of 3 1/2 hours, we came away energized and knowing that we can, going forward, make our voices heard if there are issues and policies in the next few years that we feel are harmful to our human rights.

Here are some photos, taken between raindrops, of the Walnut Creek Women's March.