Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Brief Guide to Eating 'Ethnic' in the East Bay

Twenty restaurants you should try.

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 8:00 PM

Last week, my cover story in the Express tackled the issue of cultural appropriation in the East Bay restaurant scene — and how the unequal distribution of media hype allows certain chefs who decide to take up a new "ethnic" cuisine to attain far more fame and success than that food's native practitioners. A few readers asked me to put together a list of restaurants run by people of color who do have direct cultural connections the food that they're serving — a kind of "If you like X, you should try Y instead" guide for the "woke" diner.

While this is right up my alley, I also don't want to set up some kind of false binary wherein a certain kind of mom-and-pop restaurant is good, and therefore the ones run by non-native, pedigreed chefs are bad and shouldn't be supported.

Look: There are tricky power dynamics at play here. But I'm not opposed to culinary innovation, or to chefs expanding their knowledge base by immersing themselves in a new cuisine, or to the kind of cross-pollination that takes place when this is done in a thoughtful way. My hope is just to tone down some of the hype — or to at least distribute it in a more equitable way.

In any case, in the spirit of shining a light on restaurants that don't get their fair share of attention, and even a few that (deservedly) do, here are just some of the restaurants that you need to visit at least once if you're a fan of global cuisines.

Since my cover story may have put you in the mood for kebabs, let's start with Kamdesh (332 14th St., Oakland, 510-286-1900), arguably the king of Oakland's vibrant Afghan dining scene. The grilled meats might get top billing, but it's the bolani (stuffed flatbread) and the meat-juice-infused rice dish known as quabili pallow that keep me coming back.

One of the things that frustrates me about the national publications' coverage of the Oakland's dining renaissance is that you can read an entire article, complete with a glossy photo spread, and not even realize that Oakland is one of the best places in the entire country to eat Burmese food and Laotian food. For the former, head to Grocery Cafe (2248 10th Ave., Oakland, 925-566-4877), where, tucked in a residential neighborhood, you'll find the most uncompromising, and most delicious, versions of Burmese classics such as tea leaf salad. For the latter, Vientian Cafe (3801 Allendale Ave., Oakland, 510-535-2218) offers the most exciting rice ball salad and crispy-skinned fermented sausage. After you're done there, head to Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St., Oakland, 510-832-8896), where Michelin two-star recipient James Syhabout has been going ever deeper, without apology, in his exploration of the bold flavors and traditional recipes of his Lao heritage. (You've probably been to Hawker Fare already. Having had some contact with traditional Lao cooking will make the experience that much richer.)

The East Bay is lucky to be home to cuisines you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the country. Togi's Mongolian Cuisine (352 14th St., Oakland, 510-922-1286) is one of the small number of traditional Mongolian eateries in the United States. It boasts a Mongolian chef and, not buffet-style "barbecue," but an array of traditional Mongolian dishes — mostly dumplings, noodles, and meat stews. And in Chinatown, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles (261A 10th St., Oakland, 510-250-9333) is one of the only places in the country that serves its titular rice noodle dish — a specialty of the Guangxi province of China.  

Other restaurants get overlooked in large part because of their location. Both Masala Cuisine (7912 International Blvd., Oakland), my favorite mom-and-pop Indian eatery in the East Bay, and A Taste of Africa (6638 Bancroft Ave., Oakland, 510-938-2000) — which serves the most delicious Cameroonian/West African food I've ever had — are well worth the trek to Deep East Oakland. Tamales La Oaxaqueña (2608 Market St., Oakland, 510-501-3969) serves fantastic tamales and mole in an unexpected stretch of West Oakland. And, for those who rightfully complain that we're often too Oakland-centric in our coverage, Katalina's Island Grill (821 Sycamore Ave., Hayward, 510-200-9504) and Parekoy Lutong Pinoy (14807 E. 14th St., San Leandro) are destination restaurants in the southern reaches of the East Bay — for homestyle Tongan and Filipino food, respectively.

And did you know that some of the very best food in the Bay Area is served from the confines of a liquor/convenience store? Try the Puerto Rican arroz con gandules at Borinquen Soul (2020 MacArthur Ave., Oakland, inside Two Star Market) or the pupusas at Norma's Meat & Deli (3630 Barrett Ave., Richmond, inside Val-Mar Market), and tell me if you aren't convinced.

Finally, lest we fall into the trap of thinking that all "ethnic" food needs to be served in some cheap dive, let's remember that some of Oakland's most well known restaurants — places fancy enough for a special occasion — fit into this category as well: Kingston 11 and Miss Ollie's (for Jamaican and pan-Caribbean, respectively), AS B-Dama and Delage (Japanese), FuseBOX (Korean), Juhu Beach Club (Indian), and the aforementioned Hawker Fare.

For those of us who live in the East Bay, these are the places we bring out-of-town guests when we feel like showing off.

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Twenty Restaurants to Consider When Eating 'Ethnic' in the East Bay

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Nan gyi thoke at Grocery Cafe. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE
  • Bert Johnson/File
  • Nan gyi thoke at Grocery Cafe.

Last week, my cover story in the Express tackled the issue of cultural appropriation in the East Bay restaurant scene — and how the unequal distribution of media hype allows certain chefs who decide to take up a new “ethnic” cuisine to attain far more fame and success than that food’s native practitioners.

See also:
Cooking Other People's Food

More …

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Drake's 27th Anniversary Party is Friday. Here's the Beer List.

by Nick Miller
Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 7:31 PM

East Bay craft beer godfather Drake's Brewing Co. celebrates 27 years this Friday in San Leandro. And, in true Drake's fashion, they're busting out quite the birthday list of beers.

From their Facebook page:

Aroma Coma, IPA
Aroma Therapy, Triple IPA
Aroma Session, Session IPA
Aroma Prieta, IPA
Aroma Flora, Farmhouse Saison
On the Tap Trailer-
Aroma Coma, IPA
Aroma Therapy, Triple IPA
Aroma Session, Session IPA
Aroma Prieta, IPA
Strawberry Oaklander Weisse, Berliner Weisse
Flyway Pils, Pilsner
1500, Dry Hopped Pale Ale
Denogginizer, Double IPA
Robusto, Robust Porter
Firkin Station-
1500 Pale Ale w/ Grapefruit
Winning Lager w/ Bourbon Vanilla Oak
At the Meet the Brewers Station-
Unholy Alliance, Viognier Grape American Sour
Headzo, American Strong Ale
Mission Kriek, American Sour
Too Many Candles , Blonde American Sour
Santa’s Brass, American Barleywine
Brette Davis Eyes, Blonde American Sour
BA Drakonic ’14, Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Lusu’s Love Child, Zinfandel Grape American Sour
Harlequin, Bourbon Barrel Coconut Brown Ale
Zin Barrel Drakonic, Zinfandel Barrel aged Imperial Stout
BA Jolly Rodger, Barrel Aged Imperial Coffee Porter

There will also be stations with Drake's alumnus pouring beers from their new breweries:
Collin McDonnell, Henhouse - Saison
Jeff Kimpe, Triple Rock - Francis, Belgo American style Pale Ale
Rodger Davis, Faction - The Penske File, Strong Pale Ale
Alexandra Nowell, Three Weavers - Knotty, DIPA
Roger Lind, Schubros - Ship to Shore BB4 IPA
Cortlandt Toczylowski, Barebottle - Thickets & Wickets, English Summer Ale
Jesse Houck, Maui Brewing - Coconut Porter
Melissa Myers (Former Drake's Brewer, current owner of the Good Hop, collaboration beer w/ Iron Springs), Midnight Kolsch, Black Kolsch

So, yeah, that's a helluva list.

Tickets and more info here. Cheers!

What: Drake's Brewing Co. 27th Anniversary Party
Where: 1933 Davis Street, Ste. 177, in San Leandro
When: 5 p.m.
Who: 21-and-over, no pets
Why: beer, eh!

Mid-Week Menu: A Hotel Restaurant Reinvents Itself, a Sandwich Pop-Up Re-emerges, and a Fish Market Shutters

by Luke Tsai
Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 1:46 PM

  • Fairmont Hotels

Welcome to the Mid-Week Menu, our roundup of East Bay food news. Regular What  the Fork readers may have noticed my absence from these interwebs for the past couple of weeks, but now that I’m back, let’s get caught up.

1) Berkeleyside Nosh got the first word on the new restaurant that will take over for Antoinette — the short-lived, spectacular failure that it was — at Oakland’s Claremont Club & Spa: Limewood Bar & Restaurant will be a little bit less expensive and more down to earth, according to the general manager, and it appears that chef Joseph Humphrey (most recently of The Advocate) will ditch Antoinette’s French brasserie theme — despite the hotel’s previous statements to the contrary — for more of a straightforward California cuisine approach.

More …

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ramen Shop's Breakfast Pastries Embrace California-Japanese Inspiration

Also: Comedian Shanti Charan's Mixing Masala web series helps you make good Indian food.

by Cynthia Salaysay
Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 6:00 PM

Ever since Pizzaiolo started opening its doors in the morning, making its ramshackle stateliness available to the bleary-eyed, the local cafe scene hasn't been the same. Places such as A16, Homestead, the Boot and Shoe, and Adesso soon followed suit — with mixed success. But particularly deserving right now of your early morning caffeine visions is the Ramen Shop's weekend service, with its Asian-influenced pastry menu and one of the spiciest cups of chai in town.

Pastry chef Brett Boyer, a former Chez Panisse intern, wanted the pastry selection to fit in with the Ramen Shop's Cal-Japanese theme. "Although a lot of Japanese pastry has been influenced by Italy, France, and Germany, the Japanese just took those traditions and made it really beautiful," he explained. "I wanted to start infusing the flavors I was around all the time here [at the Ramen Shop]. Once I decided to dump a bunch of kimchi purée into a gougère — and it's become one of the most popular things."

Get there early and the kimchi gougère — umami-rich and tickly with chili — will still be warm, along with most of the pastries when the doors open, including the matcha-glazed bear claw, another customer favorite. At that hour, the bear claw's glaze shines a grassy green, sticks to your fingers, and lends a whisper of astringency to the not-too-sweet walnut filling.

It pairs beautifully with the chai, made by Steep Tea, a soon-to-be mobile tea outfit located in West Oakland. Co-owner Molly Gaylord brews it fresh each weekend morning for Ramen Shop, where she also works in the evenings. Abundantly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper, the chai is pre-sweetened and already mixed with milk. A haunting note of nutmeg makes it go down smoothly past the pleasantly lingering slow burn of ginger at the back of the throat.

Also heavenly is the chashu pork croissant, with its tender, sweet-smoky filling and buttery, crackly crust.

There are more customary offerings, such as the well-executed morning bun, which pulls apart into cirrus cloudlike shreds. Four Barrel is the Ramen Shop's choice brew, because its light, brighter side plays so nicely with the delicate flavors of its pastries.

The Ramen Shop's morning service operates from 8 a.m.–12 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays (5812 College Ave, Oakland; (510) 640-5034; RamenShop.com).

Shanti Charan Wants You To Make Good Indian Food

In the first installment of Mixing Masala, a web-based cooking series shot in Shanti Charan's Hayward home, the comedian demonstrates how to make sautéed okra good enough for a die-hard carnivore to like — and she doesn't hold back. "Turmeric just aids in taking a good solid poop," she says, with an enthusiastic jab of her fist.

With Mixing Masala, Charan seeks to demystify Indian cooking — not just for non-Indian folk, but for first-generation Indian-Americans, too, who, according to the comedian, look to their parents and restaurants for good butter chicken.

"Not even we know how to make our own food," Charan explained. "There are so many different ingredients, it may be a little overwhelming. We want to inspire people to feel like it's more approachable, and make it seem fun — not like an Indian grandma teaching you."

This certainly holds true when it comes to the web series, although Charan did learn to cook Indian food at her mother's side. The comedian shares the kinds of tips and tricks you might receive were you actually standing beside her at the stove — such as how the spices should sizzle on contact with hot oil, and how to properly prep okra.

"You want to wash okra before you cut it, or you're going to goopify your shit," she explained.

Adding to the free-spirited feel of the show is local rapper and radio personality Arthur Ballesteros, who directs, produces, and provides the beat-heavy soundtrack. Guest comedians are also on kitchen duty, timidly adding onions to the pot, or not so timidly adding cannabis butter, as Leslie Small did in one episode to gulab jamun, a syrup-soaked Indian doughnut.

New ten-minute episodes of Mixing Masala air on YouTube and at MixingMasala.com every Tuesday.

Correction: In the original version of this report, we described Brett Boyer as a "Chez Panisse alum." Boyer was an intern at the restaurant.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mikkeller Oakland Grand Opening on Friday

by Nick Miller
Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 4:52 PM

  • Courtesy Mikkeller Oakland
The big beer news in the East Bay is that Mikkeller Oakland's grand opening goes down this Friday, August 19, beginning at 4 p.m.

The Danish brewer's eccentric lineup, and his newer West Coast-produced hoppy stuff, will parachute into the old Trappist Provisions location for at the week's end. A post on Mikkeller Oakland's Facebook promises killer brews on draft, and also some desirable bottles for in-house consumption and to-go, so be sure to pop in as soon as you get off work. A quick tease of what could be poured this Friday:

Acid Trip BA White Wine
Ahhh BA White Wine
Nelson Sauvignon Wild Ale BA
Raspberry Trippelbock BA
Recipe 1000 BA Sauternes
Vild BA Bordeaux
Barrel Aged Beer Geek Brunch
Birthday Bruit

So, basically, brew that's hardly ever made it across the Atlantic. I'm down.

It was announced last month that the beloved and quaint Provisions would transform into a Mikkeller location, and the remodel has occurred gradually in recent weeks, complete with all sorts of Keith Shore artwork (he does all the Mikkeller logos and labels).

Learn more at MikkellerOakland.com.

What: Mikkeller Oakland Grand Opening
Where: 6309 College Avenue in Oakland
When: 4 p.m. to close
Who: You
Why: Beer

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Six Ways to Fried Chicken in the East Bay

Where to satisfy that summertime craving in Oakland and Berkeley.

by Jasmine Guillory
Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Summer, the ideal fried-chicken season. The days call out for a drumstick in one hand and a cold drink in the other. And hot sauces pair well with chill evenings. Plus leftover fried chicken as a midnight snack is bliss. Here are spots to visit when you want something fancier than Popeye's.

Don't Sleep on the Hot Sauce


3407 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

Do you have anywhere from one to five friends who live within driving distance of Oakland and love fried chicken? Excellent: Have them meet you ASAP at Shakewell on a Tuesday night. For $49 (for two-to-four people) or $98 (four-to-six) you get a lot of food: a fried-chicken platter, bowl of stewed lentils, plate of sautéed kale, cornbread, and a variety of pickles and sauces to go along with all of the above. Crunchy, juicy, full of flavor. And don't sleep on the housemade roasted carrot and habanero hot sauce that comes with this dinner; it has all the well-rounded and fruity flavors of its ingredients, and compliments all elements of the dinner.

Challenge Your Chicken Beliefs

Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen

2261 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

For those who argue that the thigh is the superior piece of chicken, and that bone-in is always better than boneless, the chicken at Angeline's will challenge those beliefs. Angeline's boneless strips of breast are crispy on the outside, tender in the middle, and well-seasoned throughout. The tasso ham cream gravy is perfect for swiping bites of chicken, through, and for dipping the tender-crisp green beans in.

Have it Your Way

Miss Ollie's

901 Washington St., Oakland

If you do have strong preferences in your chicken pieces, Miss Ollie's has you covered. At lunchtime, you can order their fried chicken by the breast, thigh, drumstick, or wing. Their chicken skin is so good that you'll be relieved they do to-go orders, so you can appreciate the chicharrone-like skin in peace at home. During lunch, you can order a variety of sides, from creamy potato salad to fried plantains. Oh, and rice and peas that show off Miss Ollie's Caribbean roots, plus seasonal greens with smoked paprika and vinegar. Miss Ollie's also does both catering and take-out orders, if you'd rather eat fried chicken at your own table.

On a Waffle

Aunt Mary's

4640 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

For those of you who like your fried chicken with a waffle, at Aunt Mary's you get a boneless fried-chicken breast on top of a big waffle with both gravy and maple syrup ($2 extra for real maple syrup). These waffles are both yeasted and made from grits and flour, so they have more of a crunch to them than your standard Belgian. Their chicken and waffles are on their menu every day, for those of us who refuse to adhere to the idea that brunch is a weekend-only event.

Kimchi Meets Chicken

The Half Orange

3340 E. 12th St., Oakland

For a very different take, try the Korean fried chicken and kimchi waffles at The Half Orange. The boneless chicken breast is shatteringly crisp on the outside, the spicy and savory kimchi-cheddar waffle as weird and tasty as it sounds, and the chili glaze drizzled over both brings it all together. The restaurant's proximity to both BART and the Oakland airport make this the perfect spot to bring tired travelers after a long trip.

Warning: Addictive


3915 Broadway, Oakland

If you're craving a more traditional version of Korean Fried Chicken, go to Ohgane. There, get the spicy KFC bone in, cut up into easy-to-hold pieces, and covered in a sticky sweet but spicy sauce that makes the chicken skin crackle like hard caramel. Warning: This chicken should only be eaten in the company of people who are cool with licking fingers, because the sauce is both delicious and addictive. Luckily, Ohgane does takeout, so pick up a few orders — along with some seafood pancakes, rice, and a bushel of banchan — for your next dinner party.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Love Letter to Li Hing, and Where to Find it in the East Bay

From shaved ice to tiki drinks, local bartenders and chefs experiment with the island powder.

by Rayanne Piaña
Tue, Aug 9, 2016 at 7:30 PM

When I relocated from Guam to the Bay a few years ago, it wasn't long before nostalgia set in and I began craving the comfort of the island meals and snacks. But I was unable to find most of my childhood staples in local markets. I'd phone home and read my family a wish list, detailing what I hoped the next care package would contain. These requests varied, dependent upon cravings, but a few items always made the list: dried mangoes, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and anything covered in li hing — a plum-based powder unmistakable for its bright-red appearance and salty-sweet taste.

Li hing mui is wildly popular in American islands, including Hawaii or Guam, where Cantonese immigrants first introduced to the fruit to locals in the 19th century. Inspired by its unique flavor, the food scene on these islands adopted li hing and integrated it into their own culinary creations.

Though the plum is still popular in its pickled and dried forms, li hing is now more commonly consumed as an additive in its powdered form. The plum skins are pickled in a solution of salt, sugar, and licorice, and then ground down into a fine, red-orange dust.

But how does it taste? Li hing balances on a unique tripod of flavor: equal parts salty, sour, and sweet. At first, the flavor touches your tongue with a soft saltiness, like a faint MSG. Then, it becomes a kind of calculated sour — enough of a zing to widen your eyes, but insufficient to pucker your face. Finally, it settles into an almost artificial sweetness that melts onto your tongue. Although each effect is striking, the three-part experience of li hing is so well balanced and simultaneous that it's hard to tell where one flavor begins and the other two end.

Because of its multidimensional taste, li hing has the ability to enhance a wide variety of flavors. As a result, the bright-red powder was sprinkled on nearly everything my childhood sweet tooth craved: li hing gummy worms, li hing sour apple candies, fresh mangoes covered in li hing, dried mangoes covered in li hing — you name it.

On fresh fruit, its saltiness emphasizes the fruit's natural sweetness by offering a counterbalance. On sweets such as shaved ice or candy, the sour side gives a citrusy spike to an otherwise flat sugar treat.

To my delight, island-themed dessert parlors throughout the Bay Area have been able to satisfy these li hing cravings (between care packages). Aloha Pure Water Shaved Ice (2300 El Portal Dr., San Pablo) serves li hing as a topping, and it tastes just like home when sprinkled over POG-flavored shaved ice.

For those Disneyland Dole Whip fanatics, Pineapples (296 Ocean Ave., San Francisco) also uses powder to top the famous pineapple-flavored soft serve.

The guys at Sugar & Spun (315 S. Maple Ave., San Francisco) have also incorporated li hing into their cotton candy, one of their featured flavors being li hing mixed with pineapple.

Li hing has also infiltrated the bar scene, mostly with tequila-based drinks. Li hing mui is either infused directly into tequila (drop a few of the dried plums into a bottle and let it sit for a few days) or the powder can be used to replace salt around the rim of a margarita.

At Oakland's Kona Club (a tiki bar, naturally, at 4401 Piedmont Ave., Oakland), your margarita will indeed be served with an accompanying halo of li hing.

But when I asked Connor Koreski, Kona's bartender, to fix me up their best li hing inclusive drink, he opted for a concoction on the bar's original menu — one that he feels works better with li hing than the average margarita.

Koreski poured a refreshing daiquiri, adding a generous splash of passion fruit juice to the classic formula of white rum and lime juice. "The li hing gives it a salty-sweet kick," he said. "And it pairs really well with the passion fruit."

There's something about both passion fruit and li hing that seem optimally tropical, And despite being two very distinct flavors, they fit together in a way that was inexplicably simple.

The mainland is slowly but surely catching on to the flavor godsend that is li hing. However, local chefs are missing the opportunity to do what islanders have been doing for decades: incorporating it into savory dishes.

In both Hawaii and Guam, li hing is used in salad dressings, meat marinades, glazes, and more.

So, consider this my call to action: Li hing is near and dear to my heart, and it can be to yours, too, if you embrace it in your cuisine.

If you use it, I will come.

"The li hing gives it a salty-sweet kick." Connor Koreski bartender, Kona Club

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Other Poke Stops: On the Trendy Hawaiian Dish and Where to Eat it in the East Bay

But what is 'real poke'?

by Nick Miller
Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 6:00 PM

I'm a no-frills eater, and so the simplicity of a dish like poke is appealing. A light dressing of sesame oil and sea salt over smartly sourced and fresh tuna or other fish. That's it. Perfect.

But now that poke is an emerging food trend — if not the latest torch-bearer of dining fads — all sorts of new poke spots (no, not "PokéStops") are popping up.

That's why I emailed Nino Camilo, a former-islander, now-mainlander who started the I Love Poke Festival series, which came to the Bay Area for the first time last month. He kindly broke down the different culinary philosophies behind the poke craze.

There's traditional Hawaiian poke (pronounced "poh-kay"), what with the aforementioned classic approach. (If you're on Oahu, he says visit Pa'ina Café for the real deal.) And there's also a new "third wave" of poke purveyors, as he calls them; places that have popped up in the past year or two.

With this newcomer status comes a healthy learning curve. Camilo, for instance, was pretty critical of many of these new poke eateries. "I am going to be honest and say that at least 50 percent of these places are not actually serving poke," he argued. "They are serving varietals of raw fish bowls with mixed veggies and sauces. One day, we will give these bowls a name. But for now, let's just say they are not poke."

OK, so what is "real poke." Who is doing poke right?

For an answer, I turned to chef Billy Ngo, owner of Fish Face Poke Bar, which launched in Sacramento last year and will soon open at Emeryville Public Market, in addition to a possible Oakland location. Ngo also embraces the basic tenets of classic poke. "As long as you stay true to tradition of some type of salt, protein, onions, oil, you can call it a version of poke, in my opinion," Ngo explained. At his restaurants, the fish is presented stand alone, sans rice, and with only sauces and seasonal ingredients. And no fake crab.

"One trend in the poke-bowl business I can't stand is the mound of fake crab salad they add in every bowl," the chef said. "It does nothing but take up space on the bowl, to give you perceived value, but you are actually getting less fish with all free veggies and scoop of 'Krab salad.'"

Fish Face stands out in how the chef integrates top-notch and seasonal California ingredients. Consider Ngo's lunch from last Monday afternoon: "I stopped in after gym and made [poke] for myself with seared sturgeon, mussels, octopus, kimchee ponzu, jalapeños, heirloom tomatoes, chili oil, onions, seaweed, scorched Nardello peppers, and crunchy garlic," he shared.

And he's OK with taking liberties on the Hawaiian tradition. "We are in California, the state of agriculture and farms, so I like include all our cool produce we have around us," he explained.

Camilo has zero problem with this, too. In fact, he invited Ngo to compete at the first-ever Bay Area I Love Poke competition last month in San Francisco. "I love new styles of poke where chefs get creative," Camilo explained. "The key to this is to make sure that whatever ingredients you use, blend [them] together well. You can't just throw things in there to be different."

Here in the East Bay, there exist both poke-only eateries and also restaurants with poke dishes on their menus. One of the more popular destinations is Simply Bowl, on University Avenue in Berkeley: a shotgun-style café that caters to students, what with its proximity to campus. It's a casual eatery with counter-order service, IKEA-inspired décor, and flatscreen TV menus.

The fare at Simply Bowl belies its name: These are multi-ingredient jumbles of fish, toppings, and sauces, served over steamed rice. And, yes, don't tell chef Ngo, but there's even some of that Krab salad.

I ordered the Ying-Yang bowl, which features cubed chunks of both wild ahi and farm-raised salmon, in addition to squares of mango, squid, shredded seaweed salad — all drenched in a gently spicy mayo sauce. The manager said the fish is prepared and sliced each morning. And while the $12.99 price tag might outstretch some student budgets, it's a substantial mishmash that, in the vein of Chipotle, will fill you up. But it may not satisfy more discerning palates.

Leave that to the ahi tuna poke appetizer at Blind Tiger, the new-ish underground Asian-fusion spot on Telegraph Avenue, in the basement beneath popular Gogi Time. Blind Tiger is hip, and its poke is traditional with a modern twist. The basics are there — wild yellowfin ahi (chef says it was flown in from Fiji), salt, oil, etc. — but the chef mixes it up with diced avocado, dusted macadamia nut, scallions, and fried wonton chips. It's a stellar dish for sharing, and the tuna is richer in flavor, and denser in mouthfeel, than what you'll find at most eateries.

But would Camilo be satisfied? I'd wager yes: It may not be perfect poke, but it's perfectly good.

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