Vegan soul food

I have been wanting to try Souley Vegan for a long time. So when a vegan friend of Mike’s was in town, we had the perfect excuse. As you can probably guess from the name, they serve all-vegan soul food in a big space in the Jack London Square area of Oakland.

I tried the southern fried tofu sandwich, which was really good. It can be tough to make a block of tofu taste good, but they managed it with a crispy cornmeal crust. Plus, the sandwich was big and hearty, much more than I expected. I could barely get my mouth around it!

Mike got the grits with gumbo and southern fried tofu, while our friends tried some of the other sides. The mashed potatoes and cornbread looked good — I’ll have to try those next time, along with the BBQ tofu — the mac ‘n cheese less so. Maybe that’s just something that is tough to make vegan. We loved the fried okra, but thought the sweet potato fries (really chips) were so-so. Their specialty lemonades and cupcakes looked really yummy.

Overall, I’m so impressed with an entire restaurant devoted to vegan food, although you definitely don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to appreciate it.

Another must-try: Angeline’s

We are just on a roll lately with restaurants. Last weekend, Mike and I went to dinner with our friend Coulter, and we decided to try a new place in downtown Berkeley, Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen. For some reason I had the impression that it was going to be more of a fast-casual type of place, but it turned out to be more like fancied-up New Orleans cuisine. We loved it.

I wish I had more than grainy iPhone photos of the food, but it was really dark in there. I had the gumbo, which was definitely the best I’ve had. Not terribly attractive, but it had a richness of flavor that I can imagine is hard to recreate.

Coulter had the fried chicken with mashed sweet potatoes. I was lucky enough to try a bite.

But the creme de la creme was the side of macaroni and cheese. It was incredibly rich and creamy, with crunchy parmesan breadcrumbs on top.

We were totally stuffed, but we made room for dessert — bananas foster bread pudding with rum-caramel sauce. I’ve never had bread pudding quite like it. It came in a block, kind of like the texture of cold polenta, but seared and caramelized like bananas foster. Didn’t get a picture of that, but highly recommend!

Even more good eats

I cleared out some photos from my iPhone and now I have even more good restaurants to share with you.

First is Daimo, a Chinese restaurant that’s right next to the pan-Asian mall in Richmond. We heard it was good and decided to check it out on a Friday night. Big mistake! It was mega crowded and totally chaotic. But once we got our food we were in love. So the next time we went there on a Thursday, and it was practically empty.

Chow mein with prawns.

Chicken with string beans.

I should have taken a photo of the potstickers, but we ate them too fast. There are definitely some more adventurous things on the menu we’ll have to try in the future. The best part is, when you’re finished with dinner, you can go into the mall and get a cream bun.

Another place we really liked was Everett and Jones barbecue in Oakland. We had so-so takeout at their Berkeley location, but decided to give the sit-down restaurant a try. It was significantly better. Service was a little iffy, but we loved the spicy barbecue sauce, the tender brisket, and all the sides.

I love how the potato salad tasted like pickle juice. Just like my grandma made it!

Plus, I am a sucker for a place that serves lemonade in Mason jars.

Also a sucker for a man in a plaid shirt. 

And lastly, we went to the Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro for some seafood. You have to try this place. It is such a gem. It is absolutely tiny — one of the smallest restaurants I’ve ever been to. So you’re guaranteed a wait. But while we waited in the chilly weather a guy brought us samples of their tasty clam chowder.

So many people who had written their names down ended up leaving, so I think we got bumped way ahead on the list and didn’t end up waiting that long. The food was a little slow to come out, but it was worth the wait. And you have to give a little slack to a packed place with only 4 employees.

Mike got a combination of different types of oysters, huge shrimp cocktail, and a big bowl of clams in broth, all for $20. He had to get extra bread 3 times because he didn’t want to leave any broth behind (which was quite impressive to one of the waiters).

I had scallops over mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. I never order scallops, but they just sounded good, and they were really good. We also got some crab cakes for an appetizer. Everyone else’s food looked good, too. You can tell they really try to stay seasonal and fresh and local with their ingredients.

I want to go back to all these places, but I’m actually more inspired to go out and keep finding more good restaurants to try. There are just so many around here! I could never get to them all. But I’ll sure try.

Some more good eats

I just found some old pictures on my camera that I forgot to share with you. The first one is from what has become one of our go-to restaurants in the East Bay, Talavera.

Their pumpkin seed mole guajillo (above) is to die for. I always get it with pork, sometimes in a plate, sometimes in a burrito. You can’t possibly eat one of their burritos in one sitting, so I always get to eat it twice! They also have great homemade chips and guacamole, homemade salsas, and horchata to drink. I love the pickled veggies they serve with everything, too.

The other photo is from Gott’s Roadside, inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to try it, so one Friday night we finally did.

I got a burger, Mike got a hot dog, and we both split onion rings and a shake. They were all delicious. I like that Gott’s cares a lot about how they source the food (how very SF), and I also liked how much outdoor seating they had. We were entertained by a car getting towed out front for parking in a bus zone, and then as soon as it was gone another car pulled into the spot.

Normally I’d say that if you were in the Ferry Building, try some of the more gourmet options like the Slanted Door. But if you’ve been doing a lot of walking/touristy stuff and just want to sit and eat something filling and good, you can’t go wrong with Gott’s.

Barney’s burgers

There are many fancypants places where you can eat in the gourmet ghetto, but we have a thing for Barney’s. It’s simple — they make damn good burgers and fries.

Case in point:

We went there last night and I had this delicious bacon-y burger, which I could only manage half of. Mike had an equally huge California burger.

They have a nice patio, so we sat outside. We split steak fries. They’re so yummy!

One funny thing I always notice about bay area restaurants — they give you an impossibly small water glass. At Barney’s it’s like a shot glass. But at least they always give you extra water in some kind of chic looking vessel so you don’t have to be too parched.

My bay area top 10

I know my bay area travel guide is insanely long, so I thought I would do a shorter post on the essentials — what I would recommend you do if you only had a short time here. So here goes:

1. Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because it just is San Francisco. If you’re lucky enough to see it on a clear day with sailboats all around, it is truly spectacular. As someone who lives here, I can tell you that it is as cool now as it was the day I got here. I would recommend seeing it from the Crissy Field area, or driving across to see it from Marin County.

2. The Ferry Building. Not just for the farmers market, which happens Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but for the assembly of bay area foodie culture. Some of the best restaurants, food shops, and bakeries, are housed here. You can get coffee, breakfast, and a few gifts to take back with you. Plus, a clean bathroom!

3. North Beach. This may warrant more than one slot, but it is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, and you can walk there from the Ferry Building/Fisherman’s Wharf area. Tour Coit Tower for a view of the city, explore the Italian restaurants and beat culture on Columbus Street, check out the Zoetrope building, shop on Grant Street, then follow it into Chinatown. You can go to Lombard and see the crooked street, too.

4. Dim Sum in Chinatown. You really should eat Chinese food while you’re in San Francisco, and dim sum gives you a chance to try as many different things as you can fit in your belly. Here are some places you might want to try.

5. The Mission. This neighborhood is best known for Mexican food, especially burritos, but we like to go here for two reasons: Tartine bakery for morning buns and huge lattes, and Bi-Rite Creamery for the best salted caramel ice cream you’ll ever have. If there’s a line, wait in it. These are not to be missed!

6. Chez Panisse. Moving on to the east bay, you don’t want to miss your chance to eat at this legendary restaurant. If you can’t get reservations or can’t afford to go for a fancy dinner, opt for lunch at the cafe instead. It’s still a really special experience. And while you’re there you can check out the rest of the gourmet ghetto.

7. Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Bette’s is that place we take everyone who visits because it’s so consistently good. You do have to get there pretty early to get a table, but it’s so worth it. And you can always check out the 4th street shopping district while you wait. At Bette’s, the coffee is strong, and the food is creative, filling, and so, so good. Go for sourdough pancakes on Mondays.

8. Shopping in Rockridge. Berkeley is kind of scattered in terms of shopping districts, but if you start on College Ave. just south of downtown, you can follow it all the way to Rockridge in Oakland and find some great shopping and restaurants along the way. Rockridge is that neighborhood where you would definitely live if you could afford it.

9. Little Star Pizza. Of all our go-to restaurants, Little Star is probably our favorite. It’s actually deep-dish pizza, but with kind of a bay area twist (cornmeal crust, not too gigantic, house-made this and that). I think it’s fantastic, some of the best pizza out there.

10. Bakesale Betty. Let this be your excuse to come to the Temescal neighborhood (aka hipster paradise) in Oakland. Bakesale Betty is known for the tastiest chicken sandwiches, which you eat outside on vintage ironing boards.

Old Oakland

We made a fun little discovery last weekend. We decided to try a gastropub in Oakland that specializes in our favorite, Belgian beers. It’s called The Trappist, and if you are a beer snob, a foodie, or both, you will love it.

I had a Rodenbach grand cru, which I can never remember the name of, and a tasty pastrami sandwich. Mike tried the sausages with potato salad and red cabbage. My favorite part, though, was the sampling of pickled green beans. Usually when people make their own pickles I find them kind of meh, but these were phenomenal.

Actually, the best part of going there was discovering the neighborhood of Old Oakland.

It is just the cutest shopping and restaurant district. I can’t believe we didn’t even know it was there. And I can’t wait to go back and try some of the other restaurants there.

A day that was just meant to be

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like the universe was just pulling for you to have a certain experience? That was our Saturday. We had a plan for a fun day — go to the Ferry Building market and check out goat fest, eat our favorite pizza at Tony’s, finally visit Alamo Square Park. And I thought if we had time we could check off another wishlist item: ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe.

First off, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. It felt just like summer, and I guess since summers are cool and cloudy here, spring really is our summer. I mean, I wore a tank top and flip flops all day. Unheard of!

So we headed to the market, but we just could not find a place to park. The place was teeming with tourists out enjoying the beautiful day, and we were getting so frustrated trying to find a metered spot that we just gave up and parked in a garage. Which turned out to be the totally right thing to do because it actually costs $4.50 an hour to park on the street and $7 to park in the garage all day.

Then we went to the market. But instead of waiting in the long line for Blue Bottle, we changed plans and decided to get breakfast at Il Cane Rosso (another wishlist item). Which was win #2 because there was almost no line, and the breakfast was amazing! The fried egg sandwich looks humble but it tastes so good.

And my soft scramble on Acme Bread was simple and perfect.

The goat fest was pretty pathetic, just a couple of booths, but right next to that was a stand with Humphrey Slocombe ice cream! Of course we had to try it, so we got the secret breakfast flavor, which has bourbon and Cornflakes. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does work. It’s not Bi-Rite good, but it’s pretty tasty.

After that we walked around north beach and checked out some of the adorable shops. I had to use a lot of restraint not to buy a bunch of stuff at Therapy. Once we’d worked up enough of an appetite we headed to Tony’s.

Incredibly, there was no line, and the hostess said what they had available was two seats at the pizza counter. We were like sure, why not?

Not Tony, but this guy was nice, too. 

Turns out the pizza counter is right in front of the wood-fired oven, where Tony himself is making pizzas and answering any questions you might have. It was too cool. Mike loves making pizza, so he got to ask about various things. I wanted to know where the honey they use comes from. The bee hives on the roof, of course!

Last time we were there I wanted to try the fries, which someone down the bar had ordered. So we got those, and they were some of the best I’ve ever had. They toss the hot fries in honey and pancetta, then sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. You wouldn’t dream of putting ketchup on these.

We also went for a classic margherita pizza out of the wood-fired oven. It was just like the one I had in Naples.

For comparison’s sake, this is the pizza Erin and I had in Naples.

I also liked the way they presented the bread at the beginning of the meal. You get three dipping options and three little pots of toppings to go with slices of focaccia that come in a San Marzano tomato can. Pretty clever packaging.

After that lunch we were pretty much floating on a cloud. We headed over to Alamo Square Park and just laid out on a blanket. About 4,000 other people had the same idea.

This couple was too cute.

It was great, though, and it just felt like the whole day was meant to be.

What we’ve been up to

It’s beautiful out today, but the last couple weeks have been very rainy. It’s like our winter waited until Spring to arrive.

I just finished reading the Hunger Games. I thought it was a little kooky, but good in terms of suspense. I think we’ll probably go see the movie — I love Jennifer Lawrence.

Is anyone reading the 50 Shades trilogy? Why is everything a trilogy?

The dogs used the crappy weather as an excuse to cuddle. This lasted about 5 minutes.

I used some downtime to makes lots of little crocheted bowls. I just think they’re so cute!

We tried a couple of new restaurants. After our discovery that currywurst is becoming a thing, we went to the Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco. It’s not currywurst, but it does have a really nice selection of sausages and toppings.

The Haight St. location is absolutely tiny and people were crammed into every available inch of space. But the woman manning the grill managed every order without getting overwhelmed.

We tried the beer sausage, the merguez (spicy lamb and beef), and the wild boar. If I’m remembering correctly, the wild boar was actually my favorite. Who knew?

Then another night we had a groupon for Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland. The place is a little shabby inside, but the food was a-maze-ing.

It really felt like a grandmother’s recipe for classic soul food. We tried the mac ‘n cheese and some greens, too. Everything was delish. Then afterward we walked around Jack London Square a little bit, which we really haven’t done before. I’d like to check out their farmers market some weekend.

This weekend we heard there was going to be a Goat Fest at the Ferry Building. Goat cheese samples and tiny goats to pet? Yes, please!

San Diego

For the last part of our trip we headed down to San Diego. Though it was pretty chilly, we went to the beach (Mission Beach) so Mike could get a surf lesson.

The other guys in his group were actually traveling members of the Rock of Ages cast. I can’t imagine how you could spend much time in that freezing cold water, even with a wet suit, but Mike said it wasn’t bad.

I just hung around the beach and tried to soak up the sun.

For lunch that day we took a recommendation from one of Mike’s coworkers and went to South Beach Bar & Grill for fish tacos.

Though I don’t think they needed the cream sauce on top, I really liked the teriyaki marinade on my mahi and the salsa fresca. I’ll have to remember that when we make fish tacos at home.

For dinner we went to Toronado, which is known for its beer selection. I don’t have any photos of the food, which was really good comfort food type of stuff, but Mike did snap a photo of their huge list of Belgians. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do really like Belgians.

We felt like Toronado was the kind of place where we’d be regulars if we lived there. Overall, though, I didn’t connect with San Diego the way I did with LA. People always say such great things about SD, so I expected to love it. I think maybe we just need to spend more time there (when it’s warmer!).

Anyway, some other sights we explored while we were there:

The border fence. Unfortunately the park right near there was closed.

We did go across the bridge to Coronado and walked along the beach for a while. Part of the beach is on the naval base and there’s an airport landing strip so close that planes just zoom overhead.

We got some history lessons in Old Town San Diego.

For lunch that day we had the most amazing tacos from Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista. I can’t even explain what was so good about them, they just were.

My favorite were the spicy pork tacos (far left in the photo above). They’re made from meat that’s shaved off a big rotisserie, kind of like a gyro.

I’ve never had so much love for a man in a hairnet.

Our hotel was pretty close to the Torrey Pines State Reserve, so we explored that a bit.

The geology along the beach was some of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. The beach was just covered with all sorts of interesting looking rocks, some with shells stuck inside, some lava rocks, some petrified wood and sandstone.

Not that we needed to do anything to appear nerdier, but we had a really good time just picking up all the rocks and trying to figure out what they were.

Curlews looking for goodies.

Our last adventure was to the Green Flash Brewery, which was recommended by a lot of friends. We thought we were just going for a tasting where maybe a few other people would be there, but it turned out to be like a huge happy hour party.

I was feeling a little sheepish, as I was wearing slightly ripped cargo pants and a fleece jacket amongst people still in their work clothes, but I think it’s the kind of place where everyone fits in. And, as a bonus, they had food trucks outside. Score!

We tried a couple different types of pierogies with a garlic dipping sauce that were really good.

The perfect end to a foodie-centric vacation, I’d say!