I’ve been lucky enough in the past week to eat a lot of good food. Partly it’s because I’ve been too damn busy to cook, which I usually love to do, but it’s also because there is so much good food to be eaten in Oakland. Here are my top dish picks from the last week:
Fig Salad at B Restaurant, 499 9th St in Old Oakland
B has become my favorite dinner restaurant in downtown Oakland. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is laid back, and they do a good job catering to vegetarians and meat eaters. They just put the fig salad on the menu last week, and it’s worth going down there even if just for the salad. Crisp endive, sweet figs, and a chunk of blue cheese – really, I couldn’t imagine a much better salad. I must warn you though, don’t expect this dish to be served in a bowl. B’s salads are served on long plates, deconstructed, so that each ingredient has its own spot on the plate. The presentation is beautiful, but I’ve seen more than a few dining companions get a bit thrown off and wonder if they really ordered a salad.
Coconut Noodle Soup at Herbivore, in 2451 Shattuck Berkeley
OK, so this isn’t in Oakland, but I couldn’t resist since there’s really nothing comparable to Herbivore in Oakland. If I’m in a bad mood, or feeling sick, or just want something really warming to eat, the coconut noodle soup at Herbivore is always my top choice for comfort. It’s similar to the tom ka gai you’ll find at Thai restaurants, except it’s filled with rice noodles, tons of veggies, and pineapple. Yeah, the pineapple does seem a bit strange, but somehow it works. Now if they would just open a downtown Oakland location so I could eat there more often.
Polenta at Filippo’s, 5400 College Ave in Rockridge
The food at Filippo’s is consistently good, but the polenta is the reason I keep coming back. The polenta’s always cooked perfectly, and it’s covered with goat cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, and parsley. The combination is amazing! I’ve never managed to recreate the dish to my satisfaction at home, and besides, it’s probably cheaper just to get it at Filippo’s (and much easier). If the weather’s nice, grab a table outside.
Vegetarian Vietnamese Sandwich at Cam Huong, 920 Webster St in Chinatown
If you haven’t been to Cam Huong, well, stop what you’re doing right now and go! Really, when we hire new staff at my office, this is one of the first places I take people – it’s basically part of our office orientation. The crunch and flavor of their sandwiches are inredible. And you cannot find a cheaper lunch in Oakland – $2.50 – $3.00 for a HUGE sandwich. And don’t worry, they have plenty of meat options too. Head on down to Chinatown and look for the line coming out the door. Don’t be too intimidated though – the line moves quickly, and it’s well worth the wait.
Chocolate Budino at Garibaldi’s, 5356 College Ave in Rockridge
I hadn’t been to Garibaldi’s in a long time (years I think), partly because they have very few vegetarian options, and partly because it’s a bit expensive. But after eating at Filippo’s the other night, me and my girlfiriend were craving something sweet, so we walked down the block and ordered the chocolate budino. We learned quickly that we had made a good choice – the bartender told us that Garibaldi’s had recently hired a new pastry chef who replaced all the desserts on the menu except for the budino. But the former pastry chef had taken the recipe with him so the sous chef had to do his best to remember the recipe, which was apparently a stressful endeavor. I’m glad they rescued the dessert because it was exactly what we needed – served with espresso ice cream, caramel, and nuts – the upscale restaurant’s answer to a brownie sundae. We savored every bite, and enjoyed a drink at the bar with the friendly (and ridiculously attractive) bartenders. I’m unlikely to go back for a full meal, but I’ll be back soon for drinks and dessert.