As the primary point of this visit to the Bay Area was indeed a job recruitment/interview part of the reason that so many of my meals were quick snacks and places not requiring reservations was the variability of the schedule…as you may have guessed, the life of a physician is not always set in stone. Given these constraints and my potential employer’s generosity in picking me up and dropping me off at the airport I was fortunate that although I was (for the first time in ages) at the mercy of his choices it turned out that not only did he know the area well, but as a man who raises his organic backyard garden near the Mountain View Cemetary he also knew of some rather nice spots to chat in the area, the first a small sushi stop named Kakui where we had lunch on 9/2 and the second Oliveto where we talked numbers over breakfast on 9/7.
Beginning the story with my first bites in the city of Oakland, Kakui proved to be an experience in and of itself largely because my colleague was known to the restaurant; no order was placed and the bill went on his tab. Chatting with the owner and sushi chef as we ate and talked about the area, the job, and the economy of medicine food simply appeared and while descriptions were largely inconsequential in such a setting my questions were answered at length with the owners showing great interest and pride in their products and sourcing – mostly from California and the Salmon actually line-caught that very morning.
With conversation flowing between ourselves and the staff and water perpetually at 3/4 full or better the first plate to arrive at our table would be the house ‘signature’ grilled caramelized Brussels’ Sprouts with karashi vinaigrette – a sweet and savory crunchy riff on the one of my favorite vegetables slightly tinted with mustard, an ingredient I generally don’t favor but used to great effect here adding a slightly spicy bite to the heady sprouts.
Moving next to a special request from my associate the second dish to arrive would be a half-dozen briny Kumamoto oysters with topped with ponzu, tobiko, and a dash of tobsasco – brisk, briny, and just a dash of heat they were standard but nicely harvested and shucked – nothing to write home about, but quite good for a standard oyster prep.
Moving next to our sashimi selections served with a house brewed soy sauce, plenty of daikon, and a smear of wasabi paste plus excellent candied ginger the chef’s choice selection for the day consisted of Butterfish, Tai Snapper, Bluefin Tuna, and Line-caught Salmon reportedly brought in from the boats that very morning. Always a fan of the first three selections and less frequently of salmon the fish was all fresh and watching the owners train a young chef on the appropriate way to fillet and slice each fish was actually quite a lot of fun. Sure this is not the sort of sushi you’ll get at Urasawa, but considering the menu prices I actually found the quality quite favorable.
Having spent the last 9 hours en route from Columbus to Oakland and getting somewhat tired (with a long night at Saison beginning at 7:30 ahead of me) our final dish of the early afternoon would be the California beef “Okinawa-style” filet mignon with fish sauce, garlic, and mushrooms served over rice – a surprisingly tender amalgam of lean beef with the earthy aromatics of a variety of fibrous mushrooms serving to balance the hefty sauce. Apparently my colleague’s favorite dish this large portion listed at $21 on the dinner menu was more than enough for one but a great dish to be shared even though I largely stuck to the mushrooms as I tend to find beef monotonous.
As previously mentioned we never saw a bill but considering the fact that my colleague reported he went back later that week for dinner with a number of his friends it appears that Kakui has gathered a well deserved clientele of regulars and after browsing the online menu in retrospect I think the quality of the food, service, and setting were certainly worth the prices placing the restaurant in the mid-range of America’s sushi scene…and in central Ohio it would be a gem.
With many days of eating including a long Labor Day weekend now behind me, my second sit-down meal with my host would be at Oliveto, a large café near the BART line apparently known for vegetable themed dinners and solid mid-priced Italian fare focusing on what is local and seasonal. Arriving early, before the doors even opened, we browsed the small store nearby and being the first to walk in the door of Oliveto were greeted promptly and pleasantly before being sat at a nice two top near the window. With my counterpart having eaten there frequently no menu was required for him and on browsing the limited selections my I just opted to replicate his order replacing the toast with a house made croissant.
Sitting and chatting while we waited coffee was poured and kept full – a relatively dull organic blend with a bit too much acid for my preference – and with the restaurant largely empty aside from a couple of regulars food arrived quickly in the form of 2 Poached Farm Eggs, a puffy golden croissant, and house made fruit compote plus Orange Marmalade.
Beginning first with the eggs – all I could do is shake my eggs when the overcooked formed orbs arrived. While I realize poaching an egg is not as easy as scrambled there are many diners that can do it appropriately and as such for a rather upscale café to use a mold and then overdo it seems to be poor form. Tasty and a bit runny I will say the egg sourcing was good, but the execution needs serious work.
Moving next to the croissant – perhaps my standards were artificially inflated by my April trip to Paris and the outstanding versions at Knead and B. Patisserie but like the eggs the croissant was blah – no better than any average Midwest bakery and although buttery far too dense on the inside with a shell that certainly did not crack but rather just sort of “squished” on mastication. Noting the poor quality of the croissant I will note that it did serve as an adequate delivery device for the excellent admixture of raisins, figs, and currants as well as the slightly bitter marmalade.
Acknowledging that this meal was certainly not a “destination” but rather to talk business (for us) while others ate a quick healthy breakfast or read the paper before hopping the BART to work I will hold my judgment of Oliveto overall because the dinner and dessert menus actually sounded quite impressive, but given the limited menu and high prices (albeit for good ingredients) I’d rather prepare my own breakfast at home where I can appropriately poach an egg.