Tastee Steam Kitchen
Following East Bay trendspotter Luke Tsai to the edge of Oakland’s Chinatown, Michael Bauer looks into the newly arrived steam restaurant trend at Tastee Steam Kitchen. The concept, in which ingredients are steamed at the table by servers while the juices drip into a bowl of rice porridge below, has caught on in Hong Kong and Singapore but is only now reaching the Bay Area and Bauer is ready to weigh in.
While the 60-item menu can present a challenge, Bauer recommends some favorites like the squid with lily buds, Sichuan beef or the ginseng-marinated yellow chicken. Any of the veggie or seafood items are also “sure bets,” and the steamed pork buns were above average, though a few combinations like enoki mushrooms wrapped with sliced beef or a meat pie with lotus root didn’t do much for Bauer. After delighting in a live crustacean execution last week, Bauer is a little more squeamish when his coral prawns try to escape the steam table here at Tastee. Luckily the waitstaff has the timing worked out so that almost everything comes out “perfectly steamed,” and stays where it should. Aside from the chile-spiked soy sauce, the accoutrements were Bauer’s “biggest letdown” but the food and service are good enough to overlook the “incongruent” Chinese-meets-Americana decor. Two and a half stars.
With chef Connie Tsui in charge at Melissa Perello’s Frances, Bauer decided it was time for an update review in which he discovers “Tsui is an excellent fit for reproducing Perello’s vision.” Standbys like the panisse fries and bacon beignets still anchor the menu but Tsui has updated other items like the chopped kale salad and the “intense, earthy” mushroom soup. With portions “so generous they would satisfy the clientele of a truck-stop diner,” Bauer is a big fan of the main dishes, especially the bavette steak with broccolini and oyster mushrooms or the perfectly grilled, honey-brined pork chop. With “one of the city’s best” pastry chef’s Sarah Bonar in charge of the desserts and it’s cozy, neighborly feel, Frances gets three stars.
For the Weekly, Pete Kane heads to Alba Ray’s where the Cajun-Creole vibe encourages a lot of eating and drinking. There’s “a nice balance of classicism and whimsy” Kane says and the New Orleans menu standbys are all here, but adventurous diners will look for the rabbit sausage with grits, the pickled okra boudin balls or the vegetarian-friendly smoked eggplant and carrot jambalaya.
While absinthe is great in a cocktail, Kane doesn’t particularly care for it in the “gimmicky” seafood linguini. No matter, he’s got plenty of other recommendations on the menu like the mirliton (squash) slaw, the rich chicken confit with “wintry” dirty rice and, of course, beignets to wrap it all up. Altogether it might not be the only cajun spot in town, “but nothing about Alba Ray’s feels redundant.”
In North Berkeley, Luke Tsai finds curry house standards and Punjabi specialties at Jotmahal on Shattuck avenue. “The atmosphere,” Tsai says, “is very Berkeley,” and chef-owner Gornam Singh has spent the past 20 years in Indian kitchens around town, so the take-out standards like tikka masala and tandoori meats are “better-than-average” and likely to leave diners satisfied. But it’s the “North Indian favorites” that make Jotmahal worth a trip to the gourmet ghetto. Tsai declares the chole bhature — a dish of fried bread with a side of chickpea curry — as his favorite version, while the black lentil dal makhani, a “heavily spiced” Punjabi saag made with mustard greens and the off-menu (but often-ordered) maki di roti round out his recommendations.
Bauer reviews how long it took him to drive to Meadowood, Healdsburg, Oakland and Outerlands on various days of the week. Chris Ying on the indestructibility of our local French bistros. Jeffrey Edalatpour gets anxious at The Wolf and Alexis Katsilometes goes for artisanal ice cream at Garden Creamery.