Sacramento, Oakland, Palo Alto eats.

Klawchat is tentatively scheduled for 1 pm EDT Friday. I’ll also be on the Herd around 1:40 pm, which will be taped.

I bounced around northern California a little last week and found a few spots worth highlighting. The find of the trip was Bakesale Betty in the Telegraph/Temecula District of Oakland, a recommendation from a scout who shall remain nameless but whose culinary credibility went through the roof, because BB is a 70. They’re known for their fried chicken sandwich, which includes a large portion of perfectly fried chicken breast, about half the thickness of a whole breast, spicy, crispy, and not really greasy. It’s served with a big dose of a cabbage-based slaw in a mild vinaigrette and served on a slightly dense white mini-baguette. I told the cute girl taking my order that “I was told I need to order a fried chicken sandwich and a lemon ice,” but they were out of lemon ice. That may be why I got the to-die-for just-out-of-the-oven molasses spice cookie for free, although I prefer to believe that it was my stunning good looks and winning smile that sealed the deal. Sandwich + bottled Tejana iced tea were about $8.50. Srsly.

I also had two hits in Sacramento, one dinner, one breakfast. Dinner was at Kathmandu Kitchen, a Nepali restaurant on Broadway in the middle of a sort of ethnic restaurant row, two or three doors down from an Ethiopian place called Queen of Sheba that has a good reputation. At Kathmandu, I tried the vegetable sampler, which was, surprisingly, enough food to fill me despite the absence of meat. The platter comes with two samosas, five momos (a steamed dumpling with a thick doughy wrapper), dal (lentil soup), bhat (as far as I could tell, just white basmati rice), naan, green beans with a little chili pepper, and five different sauces/chutneys – one with mint, one with tomatoes, one with tamarind, one that was sweet like a fruit preserve, and one that was yogurt-based. The samosas, momos, and green beans were all intensely flavored, although the momos were too heavily flavored, with a fragrant (cardamom?) note that I didn’t like. The dal was thinner than what I’ve had at Indian restaurants, but I don’t know if this is authentic to Nepali cuisine. The naan was a little dry, but I don’t know if there’s a white bread product on the planet that I don’t like. The only real failure was the chai, which I found undrinkable, but again, may be suffering from a lack of acquaintance with authentic Nepali cuisine. Solid 50, leaning towards 55 for good service.

Breakfast – twice – was at Cafe Bernardo, a funky upscale bar/restaurant that does fancy breakfasts right but charges pedestrian prices. I tried the Belgian waffle, with a pecan butter that I could eat by the pound; the amaretto French toast, with very high-quality bread and toasted (slightly overtoasted) almonds, and a portion that exceeded my gastric capacity; and the chicken apple sausage, split in half and grilled, not dry and just a little spicy. Order tea and for $2.75 you’ll get a pot with loose leaves and at least four cups’ worth of tea in it. Street parking abounds but there are meters. It was just about full on Saturday morning at around 9 am, but half full the day before at around 8:30. It’s a 50/55 as well.

One bad meal in Sacramento came at New Canton, also on Broadway, a very popular dim sum restaurant. I had four dishes; two were good, two were hot, and if you did the Venn diagram on those the intersection would be the null set. I gave up for fear that dish #5 would be the one that poisoned me.

I was in Palo Alto for the Wheeler/Storen matchup and ate two meals there. The Counter is an upscale burger bar on California Avenue with a build-your-own shtick similar to that of Blu Burger in Phoenix, although the Counter uses Angus beef instead of American Kobe. It’s apparently a nationwide chain, although I didn’t know it at the time and have never seen one before. The ingredient quality was good, and the portions of toppings were generous (I’m going from memory but I believe I had their soft herbed goat cheese, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, mixed baby greens, and grilled onions), so much so that half of them slid off the burger as I ate. The problem was that I ordered the burger medium, which they say is their default option, and got one that was well-done. I mentioned this to the bartender, who called the manager over, who took one look at the burger and told me it was on the house. She mentioned that it was “two in a row” for the kitchen, so someone got in a little hot water that day. I might not have said anything, but the burger was pretty dry from the overcooking. I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt because the ingredients were good and the manager was hopping mad about the issue, so at least they take it seriously.

So, spending less than expected on lunch, I decided to go a little upscale for dinner and hit a fancy Cuban place on California, La Bodeguita del Medio for dinner, which was a dud. I ordered masitas, which is usually a dish of marinated pork shoulder chunks that have been slowly braised until tender; the chefs at La Bodeguita apparently feel that trimming the fat off the meat is for sissies, and the meat appears to have been cooked too quickly at too high a temperature, resulting in meat that fell apart but was dry. The meat and caramelized onions were sitting on the rice and black beans, which ended up swimming in sauce. I had asked the waiter how spicy the dish was, and he said “mild,” which was an outright lie. And the place isn’t cheap. I guess it’s a 40 – really, you want to find someplace better, but in a dire emergency it’s playable, like if your star restaurant is closed for 50 days for using a banned substance.


  1. Keith,

    I’ve had similar issues with The Counter here in Charlotte. Burgers are always “overtopped” and often cooked to death which creates a good bit of difficulty in my attempts to eat, enjoy and keep my hands relatively clean without using two trees worth of napkins. Not sure if you’re a milkshake fan, but theirs are top notch.

  2. Keith, you normally go medium on the burger? Made you for a medium-rare guy, though I guess you said you’re not a huge beef guy?

    Anyway, a 1PM Friday chat? I get out of work early tomorrow, and hopefully can be home for that and tipping back the brews. You should try to bump Jeremy Green from the 4PM slot and be everyone’s happy hour kickoff.

  3. I’m excited for the chat tomorrow and the crotchpunch all the feign-indignant writers are due.

    “OMG, Jayson, you really had no idea? You’re the real victim here???”

    Don’t disappoint me, Klaw, lest I knock the steak tips out of your hands at the Alewife Whole Foods this week.

    (But really, don’t disappoint me. Please. As a 30 year old, independent thinking baseball fan you’re about all that keeps me sane at this point. I really don’t want to start caring about my job.)

  4. Francis Borchardt

    You have t give that Cubn place a little credit for their name. It must be inspired by the Havana bar that Hemingway frequented for his mojitos. I have been to the namesake in Havana, and the drinks were good, can’t say I had the food though. It continues to shock me that Cuban places in the US are great, yet over a month in Cuba I had maybe five good meals.
    On the subject of burger toppings slipping and sliding, I make all my burgers inside out now, a la “Big Daddy” of the Food Network. When I first saw him do it, it made too much sense not to try it, and it’s brilliant. Of course you want to stay away from the fresh greens inside the burger, but everything else sticks in really well, and ends up flavoring the burger more thoroughly.

  5. Francis,

    Those inside-out burgers look pretty good on youtube. Thanks for the tip, might try it soon.


    No sushi on this trip out west? I thought you make it a point to get it out here whenever you venture this way.

  6. Keith,

    Glad you found Bakesale Betty’s place and enjoyed it! I live in the next neighborhood over from Temescal (Rockridge… also a great food/restaurant neighborhood) and frequent it regularly for the fried chicken sandwich. The egg salad sandwich is pretty good too, but the fried chicken is definitely the star.

  7. “Sandwich + bottled Tejana iced tea were about $8.50. Srsly.”

    Is that good or bad? Also, did you mean “tejava” iced tea?

  8. A little cardamom goes a long way. I once had a string bean dish with whole pods in it, which I thought was cool until I realized they tasted like toothpaste.

  9. Ha, you called that cuban place Juan Pierre.

  10. La Bodeguita is definitely named for the bar that Hemingway frequented. They make a big deal of it on the inside…

    Keith, it is unfortunate you didn’t have a good experience there, as they are generally quite good (with excellent drinks, although the mojito is surprisingly underwhelming). I haven’t ordered masitas recently, but the tierra y mar and/or ropa vieja are generally quite good, and I have heard good things about their paella.

    If you’re ever on California ave again, and want to spend a bit more ($25-35 an entree) check out Jin Sho for Japanese (run by some former Nobu chefs – they have a small menu but what they do is great) or Bistro Elan (French). In that same category, Shokolat on University ave is also good for an excellent meal.

  11. Hey Keith, I saw a kid at the local JC here in Ventura named Ryan Plum throw the other day. The White Sox scout there had him hitting 94 and sitting 91-92. Ever heard of him? He was a big kid, probably 6-5 or 6-6, legitimately.

  12. Guessing you heard about this, but since you mentioned using Starbucks wifi in today’s chat…

    That would appear to be a mobile baseball expert’s best friend.

  13. Keith,

    Cowherd raves about Counter. There’s one in Hartford or somewhere around there.

  14. Didn’t know you were going to be in this area… I would have enthusiastically recommended Kaygetsu in Menlo Park (just north of Palo Alto). It’s simply the best kaiseki ryoko I’ve ever had, and I’ve *been* to Kyoto and eaten at some of the best kaiseki restaurants in Japan. There are many wonderful restaurants in the SF bay area, but Kaygetsu might be one of the most remarkable.

  15. Oh, and I should also mention that, in my never humble opinion, the best restaurant in Palo Alto is Evvia. Top-notch Greek cuisine.

  16. Oakland is forty minutes away from foodie heaven. Head to a small town called Yountsville.

    Ad Hoc
    French Laundry
    30 others

  17. I’ve heard great things about French Laundry, but haven’t been able to convince myself to pay the $200-300 for a meal there. Is it worth it? (If so, I guess I’ll have to suck it up and give it a try this summer…)