Nosh wanted to know which dishes or drinks — which bite or sip taken in the East Bay — was most memorable, maybe even transporting, this year for some of our favorite chefs. Not surprisingly they work so hard they don’t have much time to eat out. But when service is over, they know where to go! In the first of a two-part story, we bring you, in no particular order, their choices.
In Part Two, we will hear from the Nosh editors, as well as Oakland food writer John Birdsall, Berkeley-bred rapper Lil B, as well as a baker (Eduardo Morell), a brewer (Fieldwork’s Alex Tweet) and a butcher (Local Butcher Shop’s Monica Rocchino)! We’d love to hear what tantalized your tastebuds this year too — share your choices in the comments.
Tanya Holland, Chef/Owner, Brown Sugar Kitchen
Best bite of 2015: I have a dish that I love and crave: Romney Steele’s Damaria’s Toast at The Cook and Her Farmer, which is her avocado toast with the addition of prosciutto and Calabrian chilies [pictured, top]. I add a fried egg. There’s arugula as well so it’s a complete meal. In it, there’re so many good bites that appeal to all of the umami senses with creamy, salty, spicy and just plain good. Feels like I cover all the food groups when I eat it to!
Can’t wait for this in 2016: I’m just looking forward to more of the same good stuff. I can’t possibly eat everywhere this year so I need more time! I know something new will turn up.,
Shotaro Kamio, Chef/Owner Iyasare, Chef, Zut Tavern
Best bite of 2015: I had an amazing Birthday dinner at B-Dama in Oakland. Chikara-san is the owner and a master Japanese chef in the Bay Area. For my birthday he prepared multiple home-style Japanese Kaiseki dishes including Yosenabe, a Japanese seafood and vegetable hot pot dish, and Shiogama-Yaki, which is a baked, salt crusted, whole Japanese Tai-snapper. I considered that dish my ‘Birthday cake’ :) Actually, my wife gave Chikara-san full-control of the dinner menu and the entire meal was delicious.
Can’t wait for this in 2016: I’m a huge ramen fan and I’m very excited about the opening of Itani Ramen in Oakland. Kyle Itani (Hopscotch, Oakland) and I worked together for many years at Kozen Modern Japanese restaurant in Sacramento, and at Yoshi’s in Oakland and San Francisco.
Hugh Groman, Owner, Phil’s Sliders and Hugh Groman Catering
Best bites of 2015: The poppyseed rugelach at Crixa Cakes is my spirit animal!). I also ordered four different cakes from Crixa for an event I catered: dark chocolate tiramisu, apple, coconut, and poppyseed apricot. They were all amazeballs. I also had a dinner and a brunch at Tigerlily, which were both delicious, fun, creative and wonderful! And the cinnamon rolls at Cinnaholic are cra-zazy delicious.
Can’t wait for this in 2016: All the wonderful developments in downtown Berkeley: new buildings, the Berkeley Art Museum and the UC Theatre, which are sure to spark and support lots of fun new restaurants.
Marcus Krauss, Partner and Executive Chef at Salsipuedes
Best bites of 2015: Since my eating habits are largely dictated by work, there are two spots I find myself returning to week after week to satisfy my cravings. First is Taqueria ElPaisa@.com. I eat lunch here at least twice a week. Being a San Diego guy, I feel qualified to make taco judgments. These are the best tacos I’ve had in California. The tacos de tripa are spectacular. Chewy, crunchy, porky, dripping with fat. Sometimes, after the first bite, I have to close my eyes, take a breath, and compose myself. Late at night, after service and a long day at work, Kang Tong Degi is where you can find me sipping soju and OB beer with my cooks and destroying platefuls of Korean food. This place is a bit more off the beaten path from other Korean spots in Temescal. It’s easy to miss. Keep your eyes out for the building that looks like a warehouse and has a bunch of Korean teenagers smoking outside. Nearly everything is great, but no matter what I find myself ordering, it will always include spicy rice cake (duk boki), and the seafood pancake (haemul pajeon). Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t wait to get through the day because the crave is strong!
Can’t wait for this in 2016: This is more what I hope someone will create in the East Bay, as I don’t have the time or finances to do it at the moment: Oakland needs a kick-ass food hall/night market. Not the kind of place that happens a couple Saturdays a year during the summer and closes shortly after the sun goes down. I want this to be the kind of place that you can show up at midnight, feast on cheap, delicious street food from stalls, pick up a couple steaks from a butcher counter to take home, buy bootleg DVDs and knockoff goods, and listen to the mariachi band wandering around the joint while you sip on pulque made in someone’s garage. It should be in one of the abandoned buildings down near Chinatown or Fruitvale. The Port of Oakland 9th St. Terminal would’ve been great, but it’s already locked in to some big corporate project that will likely be about as interesting as going to Whole Foods.
Sunhui Chang, Owner/Chef FuseBOX
Best bite of 2015: Honestly, I have been so immersed in the kitchen making kimchi and, now, the daily making of tofu, that I have not been able to get out as much. However, my favorite nights out this year was at Kiraku in Berkeley. It’s my favorite izakaya. Love the foie gras with braised daikon. My favorite elixir of the year was a sample of brandy I received from my distillery neighbor who’s just down the street from FuseBOX, Wright and Brown Distillery.
Can’t wait for this in 2016: These are also the guys I look forward to taking big steps this coming year. Viva La West Oakland!
Romney Steele, Chef/Co-owner, The Cook and Her Farmer
Best bite of 2015: The salt fish and ackee at Miss Ollie’s was my surprise favorite and incredibly delicious; and if I dare admit — chitlins with spaghetti on a Sunday afternoon, near home.
Can’t wait for this in 2016: Trying some of the new/old but “been here a while” restaurants that I haven’t made it to yet — like FuseBOX, and Genny’s out in East Oakland. And, of course, a soulful brunch at our place.
Mica Talmor, Co-owner/Chef with Robert Gott, Ba-Bite
Best bite of 2015: This past year, Robert and I have been working some crazy hours, which resulted in some late-night eating. One of our favorite places is Spices 3 in downtown Oakland. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m., they serve many great Sichuanese dishes. but the one that blew my mind this year was the lamb baby ribs with explosive chili peppers (not to be confused with the lamb with cumin spice which is also amazing). The riblettes are pre-steamed or braised, not sure, then fried with celery, cilantro, an excessive amount of chilies and cumin. Yes, cumin. Wow, what a surprise. Reminded me the Middle East is the middle East of Asia!
Can’t wait for this in 2016: I can’t say I’m a big planner of meals… I don’t have a list of places for 2016. for me meals are mostly about the people involved. I am looking forward to having dinner and drinks with my friend and chef Jesse Branstetter and his wife Mari. they live in Alameda and we plan to get together at Scolari’s at the point for good eats, good drinks, great views and excellent company.