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Bites of The First Half of November

It’s been a few weeks since we savored some of the most special dishes enjoyed each week. Here are some of the bites that stop you in your tracks and make you want to order another round, all based in the San Francisco Bay Area this time around.

Next week we’ll get ready for Thanksgiving, the “Super Bowl” for the food world. Also, we’ll have new reports from Los Angeles and begin the switch to the holiday season, where everything pumpkin becomes everything peppermint.

Beauty’s Bagels, Oakland: Sesame Wood-Fired Bagel with Lox, Salted Cucumber, Capers, Red Onion, Arugula, and Oven-Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese

This new, cute bagel purveyor and much more café in a still edgy part of Oakland boasts an impressive wood-fired oven for their Montréal style bagels, à la St. Viateur and Fairmount (Fairmount is my pick). The smoky nature of the bagel is enhanced when served with just sesame seeds, a perfect contrast the velvet soft ribbons of superb lox. Go for the oven roasted tomato cream cheese for the perfect breakfast and make sure to go for the whole vegetable topping package.

Ippuku, Berkeley: Grilled Chicken Thigh Oyster Skewers

The chicken’s oyster comes from Tomales Bay. Thank you I’ll be here all week. Actually, they are small oyster-shaped pockets of dark meat by the chicken’s thighs. A petite, lucrative prize. Ippuku, the excellent Berkeley yakitori joint that would fit right into Shinjuku, cooks every cut imaginable from the chicken. The oyster may be best– buttery, smooth, and a taste of slightly less fatty pork belly. Add a spritz of lemon and enjoy.

Ippuku, Berkeley: Grilled Sweet Potato Skewer with Honey and Butter

Who says the best yakitori is with chicken? When you dine at a yakitori restaurant with a vegetarian like I did, you’ll get to know the grilled vegetables. We need to see more glistening, grilled golden sweet potatoes such as this version, magnificent with the rich combination of honey and butter. A perfect Thanksgiving side, far better than candied yams with marshmallows.

O Chamé, Berkeley: Warm Soba with Grilled Squid, Wakame Seaweed, and Daikon in Clear Fish Broth

I had been lukewarm on O Chamé’s fish broth before this visit, but somehow the broth was more vibrant this time around, the perfect teammate for incredibly tender charred squid. Nightmares of elastic calamari evaporated after this squid preparation. Of course, the soba noodles themselves are spot on al dente and you can’t help but eat every strip of wakame that must certainly aid the broth’s robust fishy-umami depth. I could have this for lunch twice a week.

O Chamé, Berkeley: Caramel-Balsamic Gelato

Here is the perfect example of how gelato is smoother and cleaner than regular ice cream. I’m the biggest advocate for salted caramel flavors. Here, the salted element is switched with…balsamic vinegar? Splendid way to conclude an umami abundant meal.

The aftermath. I guess it’s pretty exceptional gelato.

Range, San Francisco: Duck Breast with Shelling Beans, Roasted Apples, Broccoli di Cicco, and Hazelnut Gremolata

Duck Breast with Shelling Beans, Roasted Apples, Broccoli di Cicco, and Hazelnut Gremolata

Rachel Sillcocks’ wonderful, very Autumnal and Californian riff on cassoulet. Medallions of duck breast are perfectly tender at medium rare, mingling effortlessly with the supporting characters that might steal the show. I’m biased towards broccoli di cicco, but choosing your favorite part of this dish is like choosing your favorite character in “Friends.” The excellent hazelnut-based sauce ties everything together.

Range, San Francisco: Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle with Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Butterscotch Pudding with Toffee, Whipped Cream, and Wafers on Left
Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle with Lemon Verbena Ice Cream on Right

A textbook souffle from Range’s pastry chef Michelle Polzine. Escoffier would be very proud. The medium-sized soufflé is perfectly airy on top and still plenty warm and moist inside. The chocolate achieves that perfect slightly bitter cacao-sweetened chocolate equilibrium that causes diners to swoon for minutes after.

Salumeria, San Francisco: Mortadella- Coppa- Tarentaise- Greens- Giardiniera Sandwich on Focaccia

Spectacular Sandwiches at Salumeria. Coppa-Mortadella on the Left

Quite possibly the perfect sandwich from the folks behind Flour + Water and Central Kitchen. From the Acme Bakery focaccia to the superb mortadella and coppa (like prosciutto) slices to the tapénade-like giardiniera, everything clicks. This is to sandwiches what Flour + Water’s pastas are to the pasta world: rustic masterpieces with a touch of modernity involved.

SPQR, San Francisco: “Insalata di Estate:” Figs, Burrata, Padron Peppers, Wild Fennel Bun, and White Balsamic

“Insalata di Estate”: Fig, Burrata, Padron Pepper, Wild Fennel Bun, and White Balsamic

A masterpiece starter from Matthew Accarrino taking full advantage of lush, late season figs. The edible landscape presentation features the halved lipstick-red figs, charred padron peppers with a touch of heat to them, a fennel kissed biscuit-like bun, all centered around the dominant burrata. Everyone always bows down to the creamy burrata. Except in this case, the figs are the real superstars.

SPQR, San Francisco: Farro-Gianduja Chocolate “Budino di Pane” with Orange Curd, Hazelnut, and Chocolate Ice Cream

Farro Gianduja Chocolate “Budino di Pane” with Hazelnut, Orange Curd, and Chocolate Ice Cream

This wonderful dessert is far from the decadent chocolate fest the description sounds. No, budino di pane is not like the chocolate budinos and butterscotch budinos we see on many menus, where the budino is a cross between mousse and pudding. The budino di pane is a cake-like loaf based on farro of all grains, somewhat savory in taste. Sweetness comes from the chocolate sauce and ice cream. Hazelnuts are everywhere, lending crunch and an earthy hand, all balanced by the soothing jolt of orange curd. A different dessert that soars.

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