Wine Institute Of New Orleans

The Wine Institute of New Orleans (WINO) is a great place to pick up the perfect bottle of wine or champagne for any sort of dinner. They also offer wine tasting events of their own, including certificate classes in wine and spirits. The prices are competitive and the folks who work there are true oenophiles.

They also have a small deli in the back of the shop with a pretty decent selections of sandwiches. I went today and enjoyed a really wonderful roast beef sandwich with brie on ciabatta bread. The roast beef was excellent and they ran the sammy under a grill, so the cheese was all melty and delicious. The two of us each had sandwiches and drinks and the total ran right under $20, so its a pretty good deal for lunch there in the Warehouse District. Do be advised that there is only one guy working the deli, so it can take thirty minutes or more for your sandwich to arrive!


Dat Dog

The Freret Street area between Jefferson and Napoleon is seeing a much needed resurgence of new businesses and renovated homes. The best news is that there is a food renaissance happening at the same time. I stopped off for a late lunch at one of them, Dat Dog.

They list a lot of different dogs and where they are from (Poland and Slovenia, Aligator dogs from the Swamp, and, my favorite, a Veggie Dog from Oxymoron). I went for the German pork wiener with just tomatoes and mustard. They have a ton of fixings, if you like dressing your dogs with cheddar cheese, relish, onions, guacamole, chili, sauerkraut, etc, etc, etc. The bread is a little large but not so long as to be longer than the dogs. The wieners had a crisp snap and excellent flavor. The guys working the place are good fun, too.

The place is small with no a/c but, as I usually get my order to go, it isn’t much of a problem for me. There is plenty of outdoor seating, though, for those willing to brave the New Orleans heat and humidity.

Val’s Burgers – Castro Valley

My good friend Brian turned me onto Val’s Burgers several years ago and it was good to learn during this trip that nothing has changed. In fact, it is probably safe to say that nothing has changed on the decor or menu or service since the 50’s!

Val’s is an old style diner with wood instead of chrome but the burgers are thick, juicy and affordable. The burgers are so juicy that the bun nearly disintegrates by the time you get to the last bite. There isn’t a lot of seasonings or fillers in this burger–it is pure meat, cooked to order. The three of us had an excellent meal for right around $20 bucks. I got the baby burger (that’s 1/3 lb) with cheese and it was plenty good. I can’t imagine eating a papa burger–1 lb of meat!

A couple of tips–one order of fries will feed two, maybe three people and the milkshake is enough to share as well. They only take cash and are closed Sundays/Mondays.

Luke’s Grill – San Leandro

I met up with an author friend of mine for lunch in San Leandro. We went to Luke’s Grill for Greek Food.

I started with a glass of retsina, a traditional white wine with the unique scent and taste of pine resin. Originally distributed in amphora sealed with resin, the wine now is either aged in pine barrels or has actually pieces of pine resin added during fermentation. I love the taste and the glass I had was quite delicious.

Our appetizers were the tsatziki with warm pita. I love this yogurt garlic dip and ate most of it myself. We also got the saganaki, a goat cheese that they flambe at the table. Very fun (what can beat cheese AND fire?) and incredibly tasty, too.

For the meal, I had the souvlaki in pita with chicken. Well seasoned meat with veggies and more of the tsatziki. It was served with french fries that were a little overcooked but tasted very good dipped in the leftover appetizer tsatziki. My dining companion had the spanakopita, a spinach and cheese filled pastry. She seemed to enjoy it but I’m not a fan of cooked spinach, so I didn’t try any.

The wait staff is very friendly and quick to answer questions. We also arrived right after a large group and they snuck our orders in first so we didn’t have to wait forever. Luke’s Grill remains my go to place for Greek while visiting Northern California.

Bowzer’s Pizza in Alameda

We took a little drive last night over to Alameda, a small island in the SF Bay adjacent to Oakland. We made the drive because all of us were craving pizza and Bowzer’s Pizza is worth going out of your way for.

As you can see, there wasn’t much left:

The crust was New York style thin and cooked to perfection and the toppings were plentiful and high quality from local vendors. The cheese was just gooey enough and the sauce wasn’t too sweet. The slices totally hit the bullseye!

Despite all the TV’s in the place turned to Disney Channel, there weren’t that many children in the place and those that were present were accompanied by adults and pretty well behaved.

The Ranch – Hayward

Hayward is not on anyone’s list as the place for haute cuisine but they can rustle up some darn good grub.

The Ranch is on Mission Street and serves absolutely excellent steaks. I had the Rib Eye and my dining companions had the NY Steak. Mine came out perfectly medium rare and melted like butter in the mouth. Unfortunately, the corn they served with it came straight out of the can and the center of the baked potato wasn’t cooked. We also ordered the fried zuchini appetizer and the spears were large and pretty darn tasty. As I was mainly focused on the meat, I’m willing to overlook the veggie issues.

When we were there, the parking lot was full as it was the Oakland Raiders first preseason game. The bar was packed with rednecks and Raider’s fans who got a little noisy. The dining room wasn’t too full, though, and we got our food very quickly from the attentive servers.

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe

After my book signing at Laurel Book Store, my friends took me to downtown Oakland for some late night eats. Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe serves American diner fare with sides of style and creativity to a wide variety of patrons. Some of our fellow diners looked like they had come from a show at the Fox Theatre, others might have stumbled in from the nearest bar or skateboard park but everyone was treated to great comfort food.

I had the hash browns covered in melted cheddar and topped with a sunny side egg. Perfect with my Bloody Rudy. My dinning companions had the three cheese (jack, cheddar and swiss) grilled cheese sandwich and the monster BLT–double the usual amounts of bacon, lettuce and tomato. Everything we had was very satisfying. The service was quick and with a smile (which can be a little disconcerting when the the wait person is covered in facial piercings and tattoos).

Grand Lake Farmers Market

I think one of my favorite Farmers Markets (and voted Best by East Bay residents) is the one at Grand Lake in Oakland. Nestled right against the 580 overpass, it is between Grand Avenue and Lakeshore Avenue near Lake Merritt.

Not only is there a huge selection, year round, but the vendors very helpful and willing to talk about preparation ideas for their produce. The colors are marvelous as are the rich smells of fruits and veggies that smell like they should–no gassed tomatoes here, instead find heirloom varieties that look almost tie dyed!

I took a few pictures of the vegetables and fruits as I shopped around. I was after fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, artichokes and salad greens (I found a bag that included edible flowers) for the lamb dinner we were going to grill for dinner. I also added a couple of avocados, a pint of blackberries and some of the best balsamic vinegars on the planet (mission fig, pomegranite and a blackberry/vanilla) produced by Big Paw.

Fenton’s Creamery

I’m an ice cream fan, especially when the ice cream is house churned like at Fenton’s Creamery in Piedmont, CA. While the place is usually packed and raucous with kids of all ages, all of the noise seems to fade away when you’ve got a delicious sundae in front of you.

We started with lunch and I had the BLT with avocado. It had very thick bacon but as it is done club sandwich style, there is a lot of bread in proportion to other ingredients. My dining companion had the crab sandwich. Not much to this sandwich but it had a very good crab flavor. We split a basket of half onion rings and fries and were a little underwhelmed with the onion rings. They tasted like that came from a freezer bag.

But we were there for dessert, so the rest of the meal was more to help us feel not too guilty when we overindulged. I made my dining companion get the black and tan while I got the Fudgeianna (hot fudge with a banana).

Heaven–the caramel and chocolate sauce on the black and tan was so plentiful it spilled over the edges of the dish. I love banana’s and chocolate and the combination on mine was absolutely fabulous.

While I might skip the meal, I will never skip or skimp on Fenton’s sundaes!

Little Griddle – San Francisco

Who knew? A donut bar (with square donuts!), hotspot for bagels and one of the best burger joints I’ve been in can now be found on Market Street in San Francisco near the Civic Center BART/MUNI station. Little Griddle serves Neiman Ranch beef on the burgers and the choice of premier cheeses. I didn’t get the Lucifer which combines two of their donuts to make the bun for their burger this time and just went for the traditional burger. Well cooked and with a nice sauce to perk it up. As there is only seating for a few folks, plan on going early and you might catch a table when one of the breakfast patrons are done. Oh, and the lemonade is made fresh with lots of pulp!

They have on their menu fried pickles but the guy at the counter said they they couldn’t get the batter right and would be taking it off the menu. I’ve offered them my recipe:

Fried Dill Pickles

8 dill pickles
1/2 cup flour
1/4-1/3 cup beer
1 1/4 T paprika
1 1/4 T cayenne pepper
1 1/4 T black pepper
1/2 t salt
2 t garlic salt
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
Oil for deep frying

Cut the dill pickles in slices as thick as a silver dollar or into four spears. Mix together the remaining ingredients to form the batter. Dip the pickles in the batter and quickly fry in the hot oil (375F/190C) until pickles float to the top, about 4 minutes.

Depending on how you measure out the flour you may need more than 1/4 cup. You want the batter fairly thick!