Oven-Baked Mussels with Herbed Panko

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Mussels are underrated. Cheaper than clams, but meatier and just as flavorful, they get a bad wrap. Sure, you probably shouldn’t order them in a restaurant (thanks to Kitchen Confidential, I’ll never look at a seafood special the same way again), but they couldn’t be any easier to make at home.

For this dish, it’s essential that you use fresh mussels. Don’t bother with the frozen, pre-cooked variety, otherwise you’ll get none of that good briny flavor that you want to achieve.

Oven baked mussels with herbed panko

Ingredients:
1/4 cup water
2 pounds mussels, rinsed
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Bring water with mussels to a boil in a large pot, covered, then boil, covered, shaking pot occasionally, until mussels open, about 4 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, reserving cooking liquid, and cool to room temperature.

2. Put the half of the mussel shells with mussels attached in a large shallow baking pan (discard other halves) and drizzle with a little of the reserved cooking liquid.

3. Stir together remaining ingredients, then top each mussel with about 1 teaspoon of mixture. Bake until crumbs are golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.

Bar Cesar, Revisited

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I know I reviewed Bar Cesar just over a month ago, but it’s worth mentioning again. A few months ago, I stopped by their Piedmont location with a friend to have dinner and sat at their patio on an uncharacteristically warm evening. This time around, we branched out from our favorite dishes and decided to try all new ones.

We started with fresh garbanzos with cumin. I love garbanzo beans (what Middle Easterner doesn’t?) but have never had them fresh in their pods. These were deliciously addictive and perfect with our Affligem blond ales.

Fresh garbanzos with cumin

Next, we tried the oven-dried tomatoes, lomo and green garlic aioli on grilled bread. These were good, but not my favorite of the meal by any means. I felt like they could have used more flavor.

Oven-dried tomatoes, lomo and green garlic aioli on grilled bread

We always try a cured meat when we visit Bar Cesar, and this time we tried the cecina, or air-dried beef. This was tasty and almost pastrami-like in texture, but sturdier. I prefer the fuet that I’d tried so long ago but would definitely try the cecina again too.

Cecina

The real star of the meal was the patatas bravas. Do not be put off by the generous serving of garlicy aioli – these potatoes are out of this world. If there is one tapa you must try at Bar Cesar, this is it.

Patatas bravas

Dinner apparently wasn’t enough to sate our appetites for Spanish cuisine, so the next morning, I revisited Bar Cesar for brunch. We had the patatas pobres, a hearty and filling dish of potatoes, mixed cured meats and peppers topped with a fried egg.

Patatas pobres

Next, we had the migas con chorizo y huevo, made up of bread crumbs, chorizo, fried onions and fried egg. We pierced the egg and let the gooey yolk mix with the other ingredients, and it was delicious.

Migas con chorizo y huevo

We ended our brunch on a sweet note with churros con chocolate. Bar Cesar always has the best churros, but I could do without the chocolate sauce, which was too sweet for my taste.

Churros con chocolate

Bar Cesar’s Piedmont location remains my favorite tapas restaurant – the service is warm, the vibe is unpretentious and their dishes are solid. One of these days I’ll have to find time to visit their Berkeley restaurant as well.

Spaghettini with Fried Eggplant and Capers

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If I had to choose, eggplant may very well be my favorite vegetable. When undercooked, it tastes terrible, but when cooked properly it becomes sublime, buttery perfection. I’m no stranger to eggplant and pasta dishes, so when Food and Wine ran a Sardinian-inspired version, I had to try it. I adapted the original version to my own tastes, using less oil, substuting the Pecorino for Parmesan, using brined capers in place of salted ones, and omitting the homemade croutons altogether.

This version might just replace my standard southern Italian-style pasta and eggplant recipe, which includes tomatoes and ricotta salata. That’s the thing with eggplant dishes – you can never have enough.

Spaghetti with eggplant and capers

Ingredients:
1/4 cup brined capers
1 lb spaghettini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt an let stand for 15 minutes. Lightly pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In a bowl, rinse the capers and squeeze dry. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghettini until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the capers and fry over high heat, shaking the pan slightly, until the capers are golden and puffed, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel–lined plate.

4. Add the pasta to the eggplant. Add the Parmesan and the reserved cooking water and simmer, tossing, just until the water is nearly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with the fried capers.

Fook Yuen

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My favorite dim sum restaurant in San Francisco is Ton Kiang, but overall in the Bay Area, it’s Fook Yuen, hands down. Located in Millbrae, Fook Yuen specializes in seafood dim sum and is always packed on weekends around brunch time. Most of their dim sum offerings are classic, standard fare, but with better taste and craftsmanship than most other restaurants. It’s the perfect place to share small plates with a group – everyone gets to try a bite or two of everything.

Like most visits, we started this one with the har gau (translucent shrimp dumplings). Har gau have a clean, fresh taste unlike many other dim sum that are heavily sauced. Next, we tried the cheong fun (rice noodle roll), which are filled with either beef or shrimp.

Rice noodle roll

One of the less commonly-served dim sums are fu pei guen (tofu skin roll), filled with shrimp and chives. Part of the fun in dim sum is mixing textures, and I usually like to have a fried dim sum or two in between most of the steamed ones.

Tofu skin shrimp roll

Next, we tried Fook Yuen’s potstickers, which on this visit, were the best potstickers I’ve ever had. (Unfortunately, during my last visit, I ordered the potstickers again and ended up with among the worst potstickers I’ve ever had. The dough was significantly undercooked.)

I try to avoid limited myself to only seafood dim sum, so we also tried the fried tofu squares with black bean sauce, which were delicious and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Fried tofu squares with black bean sauce

We ended our meal at Fook Yuen with jin deui (deep-fried glutinous sesame seed rolls filled with red bean paste). These are sweet and warm, and my sister’s favorite dim sum.

Jin deui

The best thing about dim sum is the element of surprise. You never know which dim sum will be carted around next. At Fook Yuen, you usually can’t go wrong with whichever dim sum you choose.

Jong Ga House

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I don’t really know how to begin this post other than just saying it: I really, really love Korean food. Honestly, I think it’s the banchan that does it for me. Not only do you get your main dish, but you get at least ten additional tiny plates of delicious, savory, morsel-y goodness de rigueur! I mean, come on. What other national cuisine does that? Oh, and then there’s gohcujang. I think I could write an entire post about the ubiquitous Korean red pepper paste that makes everything taste like happy.

My favorite Korean restaurant is Jong Ga House near Lake Merritt in Oakland. They have great ambience and serivce, and their entrees never dissapoint me. Also, they play K-pop, which only adds to the fun.

Instead of the usual seaweed soup in a light broth that most Korean restaurants serve at the beginning of the meal, Jong Ga House brings diners a cold kimchi soup. The soup is refereshing and peppery without being overwhelming.

Cold kimchi soup

The restaurant is generous with the banchan, usually bringing thirteen or fourteen of the little side dishes. They’re delicious, but a little sweeter than I’m used to.

Banchan!

I usually order the bulgogi, which is almost always moist and juicy. It’s grilled to perfection, mixed with flecks of charred and grilled onions.

Beef Bulgogi

At the end of the meal, as is the case in all Korean restaurants, a tiny chilled cup of sikhye is served as a non-alcoholic digestif. Made of cooked rice, this sweet beverage helps cleanse the palate too.

Oakland is home to a lot of good Korean restaurants, but even in a city with strong competition, Jong Ga House easily stands out.