Our favorite comfort foods are often those that we ate as kids. So perhaps it’s no surprise that in the case of pasta—one of the all-time top comfort foods—many of Oakland’s favorite versions can be traced back to an old family recipe. We touched base with a few of the city’s Italian restaurants for the story behind their signature pasta dishes (hint: there are a lot of Italian mothers and grandmothers involved).
You can and should eat the flowers making their way onto your dinner plate and into your highball glass.
Tah-chin is an elegant, irresistible Iranian treat.
Kristy looked radiant in her satin gown when I picked her up in my dad’s leased, lemon-chiffon Lincoln Continental. The luxury ride was less to impress—Kristy wasn’t my girlfriend; I was standing in for her boyfriend in the service—than to smooth out the long and winding ride to Port Costa for our pre-senior ball dinner at the Bull Valley Inn. This was back in the culinary dark ages, before the advent of California cuisine, when we called restaurants “fancy” not “upscale,” and a fancy restaurant served French or, more likely in the suburbs, “continental” cuisine.
Six restaurants Oakland Magazine has visited recently.
Beer for breakfast. It wasn’t foremost in my mind when we planned a Sunday trip to Brotzeit Lokal. Nor do I advocate it as a daily indulgence. But we arrived around 1 p.m., so we’re really talking brunch. Also, I was having knackwurst with my scrambled eggs (poached not offered), home fries and toast ($10), and doesn’t a German pork sausage (flavored with juniper) just beg for a beer? Moreover, it was still October, so a pint of Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen ($6)—one of 16 rotating German, American and (a few) Belgian brews on tap here ($4.50–$8.50)—seemed perfectly appropriate.
Mention “European bread” or “the breads of Europe,” and what comes to mind? The fluffy stuff. The stretchy stuff. The soft stuff. The spongey stuff. Those golden-crusted rounds, braids, bars, and baguettes that, torn asunder, yield pillowy white poufs perforated with countless air pockets, all of them exhaling the sunny, floury perfumes that make you think of Paris, say. Or Rome, or Mykonos.
While the East Bay has gained the recognition it deserves as a foodie mecca, usually only a handful of names are dropped on its behalf: Alice Waters, Charlie Hallowell, Russell Moore, Allison Hopelain, Alison Barakat. But there’s a new cat in town, Chris Pastena, who spent his youth in Manhattan and New Jersey and has no ties to Waters. He has his eyes set on etching his name into Oakland lore, and he’s got a good start with Chop Bar, a homey favorite in Jack London Square; Lungomare, a refined Italian dining establishment in downtown Oakland; and the Tribune Tavern, a chic eatery in a historic landmark. Despite his being spread so thin—we haven’t even mentioned Labna, a Mexican restaurant he has in the works—we caught up with Pastena, who’s 42 “but feels 24,” to talk shop.
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You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone as passionate about ice cream as Scott Whidden, the Oakland born and raised masterblender at Fentons Creamery and Restaurant. He’s talking about cream; he’s talking about dairy. He’s talking about layers: of flavor, of contrast, of crunch versus creamy, and of bitter versus sweet.