Brunch at Oakland’s Portal Restaurant

The "Corned Beer and Hash" Two eggs any style, $12

After running the Hot Chocolate 15k in and around the famous Golden Gate Park, my wife and I decided to leave confines of San Francisco and find a brunch spot that rivals those found in the growing exclusiveness of San Francisco without the 1+ hour wait.  After a lengthy Google search, we discovered Portal in Oakland, shortly off the Lake Merritt BART station.  And we were glad that we did!

Portal Restaurant
1611 2nd Ave
Oakland, CA 94606

 

There wasn’t a lot of parking right around there, but there’s a Lucky store nearby that has a large parking lot, in addition to street parking off of East 18th.

The Portal Restaurant

The Portal Restaurant

Although the restaurant isn’t very large, the menu is quite expansive, capturing all of the sweet or savory taste buds that command you culinary decisions.  Take a look at the brunch menu below, I challenge you to find something that you won’t want to eat or drink….especially with bottomless mimosas and an expansive beer selection.

The Portal Restaurant Menu

The Portal Restaurant Menu

The view of Lake Merritt from the back patio

The view of Lake Merritt from the back patio

Looking back towards the restaurant on the back patio.

Looking back towards the restaurant on the back patio.

The Iron Springs Casey Jones Imperial IPA and Portal Restaurant Menu

The Iron Springs Casey Jones Imperial IPA $6 and Portal Restaurant Menu

The "Corned Beer and Hash" Two eggs any style, $12

The “Corned Beer and Hash” Two eggs any style, $12. Washed down with a Fieldwork Moraine Brett IPA $8.

"The Cowboy" two eggs (Any Style) over grilled polenta, drenched in tomato chili sauce $11

“The Cowboy” two eggs (Any Style) over grilled polenta, drenched in tomato chili sauce $11 with a side of bottomless mimosas $18.

From the great beer selection, like the Iron Springs Brewery Casey Jones Imperial IPA to the salty, beefy goodness of the Corned Beef.  All paths lead to a fantastic brunch.  So kick the concern about your calorie and sodium intake and indulge. After all, you only live once.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B
  • Service =  A+
  • Food = A+

Park’s Barbeque – Los Angeles, California, United States

Park's Gal-bi

When I am in Los Angeles, California for work, I always try to visit Park’s Barbeque to clog my arteries with their perfectly marinated, tender and fresh Korean barbeque meats.  It’s not a Travel Channel stop by Adam Richman or Anthony Bourdain, but it is an establishment that my colleague thankfully introduced me to and definitely worth a detour to this famous restaurant.  And I do mean famous.  As you walk in, you are greeted on the right with a wall full of celebrity photos.  You have famous Asian sports stars, Olympians (Apolo Anton Ohno) and actors (extremely beautiful Jessica Alba for example).  And how can we leave out an Executive for World of Warcraft who also made the wall of fame?  Yes, all types, sizes and trades have tread their feet through those fish protected doors.  You can find this local, famous establishment at the following address in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

S Vermont Ave # D
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1717

So how about that atmosphere, service and food shall we?

Outside Park’s Korean BBQ restaurant. They always have some nice cars parked out front and have valet parking should you go. I recommend parking on the side streets as it’s free.

Walking in, you enter a small corridor of an entry with the restaurant on the left behind a 5foot half wall and 100 or so photos on the right of the famous personalities who dined at this place.  The restaurant is located in a strip mall and spans two floors.  There’s valet out front, which you’ll have to do if you want to park in the front of the restaurant.  You might have to compete with the expensive sports cars typically parked there though.  You can find parking on the side streets instead, so take advantage of those free spots.  Downstairs is nicer than upstairs (and from my experience you get better service).  But, the restaurant is clean, busy and has great BBQ tables for cooking up those meaty morsels.

This is the view of the main floor right when you come into the restaurant and are greeted by the hostess.

Service is usually very good, with the servers/cooks conscientious to your food and needs.  They are quick to bring out the included Korean side dishes and your main courses.  Usually the servers are all very attentive and take turns throwing your food on the barbeque, cutting it up, flipping the meat and adding the vegetables.  However, during our last trip (which happened to be Valentine’s Day) we had horrible service at our table upstairs.  We usually sit downstairs and have always had great service, so I don’t know if it was the result of being busy, the upstairs service or some other vendetta against us.  But, our water was never filled, food was left to burn and I had to ask for our check instead of them bringing it when we were clearly done for quite some time.  Really disappointing for this type of restaurant.  Again, the service is usually much better, but this did leave a terrible taste in our mouths for sure.  I did not return on that trip, although I am sure I will sometime in the future to give it one more shot.

If not familiar with Korean food, the menu can be a bit daunting.  Thankfully I was introduced to the place by someone much more familiar with Korean barbeques.  Once you get there and sit down, you are greeted by the complimentary spread of various Korean side dishes such as numerous kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

These are the free Korean side dishes you receive prior to your succulent meat gorgefest. They get you started with various kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

Once you get past the party in your mouth Korean side dishes, it’s onto the main courses.  They don’t hesitate to start delivering these in a well oiled assembly line fashion.  Without much delay, the raw beef entrees, Seafood Pancake and Kimchi Stew and sticky rice come out.  The pancake is like a thin, dense (you can use chopsticks to pick up the pieces) seafood frittata filled with rock shrimp, green onions, and asparagus that you dip in a mild soy sauce.  Then the scrumptious Kimchi Stew, full of spicy kimchi seasoning, beef and pork part and cabbage that you scoop over your sticky rice and indulge.

These lovely morsels are the Kimchi Stew on the left, Bulgogi (Seasoned Sliced Beef) top right and Pancake with rock shrimp and green onion on the bottom center.

Then there’s the beef.  Yes, those wonderful marbleized bovine morsels that are flown in daily for as fresh as you can get.  Our staples tend to be the Bulgogi and Gal-Bi.  Bulgogi shown above, is a delicious thinly sliced sirloin/prime cut beef that is marinated to perfection.  Served with some grilled garlic, scallions and enokitake mushroom, quite a delightful combination.  Unless they get fried like our last visit when they neglected our table.  Note, you can grab the utensils yourself and flip them if Park’s employees are attentive to it.  Oh those lovely marinated prime beef short ribs, Gal-Bi (aka Galbi).  Short ribs tend to be tough and difficult to come out tender, but Park’s has it down perfectly.  They thinly cut the spare ribs around the bone so the chef can just unroll the meat on the grill.  In addition, the meat is scored so that the marinade just gets sucked into the meat.  They grill them unrolled for a little while before getting the good o’l kitchen scissors and cut up the meat.  The part of the meat closest to the bone is the toughest though, so focus on the other tender chopstick size pieces first.

This is the scrumptious Bulgogi (marinated sliced sirloin/prime beef).

 

These short ribs (Gal-Bi) are full of flavor, tender and oh so good!

I have also had the fish and special pork belly.  The fish was just alright.  The pork belly was good, but just thick bacon really.  I would stick with the beef.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B+   (limited parking, love the famous photos, clean grills, in a strip mall)
  • Service =  C    (normally a B-A grade, but horrible the last time)
  • Food = A    (really fantastic beef, stew, pancake, side dishes and good other entrees)

Rosine’s – Anaheim, CA, United States

The grilled lamb chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction

This little gem of a restaurant is located off the beaten track in Anaheim, California.  Not really close to Disney or the Honda Center where the Anaheim Ducks play, one wouldn’t typically detour to the Yorba Linda, California area.  I on the other hand am here several times a year as that’s where our office is.  Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe is a must stop on each trip.

Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe
721 S Weir Canyon Rd
Suite 125
Anaheim, CA 92808
(714) 283-5141

Opened in 1995 by home trained chef Rosine Najarian, this restaurant specializes in her Syrian and Lebanese influenced home cooked food.  A splendid menu of broad, bold and rich items.  Ah the garlic, rosemary, thyme, pepper and spices!  A true party in your mouth for sure.  And then there’s the wine selection, a wide array of unique wines from around the world including the owner’s homeland of Lebanon.

Rosine’s Restaurant

Alright so let’s discuss the atmosphere, service and food….

The atmosphere is simple and quaint. A recent expansion into the building next door offers a good amount of seating and options for hosting functions.  With an open kitchen and most of the seating nearby, it provides an intimate environment for diners at this family run establishment.  It is located in a strip mall next to a Subway, with limited parking out front, but near unlimited parking behind the strip mall as it shares the parking lot with a grocery store and other stores and restaurants.  Walking in this dim lit restaurant, you are welcomed by one of their servers dressed in black where you’ll be sat at one of the small wood tables.  Usually there isn’t much of a wait, if any at all.  Typically most of the people waiting in the entrance are awaiting their to-go pickup orders.  They have a small stage in the dining area for someone to play some music.   Although that may add to the atmosphere of this culinary escape, I do enjoy the quite mood of the place when dining and having a glass of wine.

Inside Rosine’s Restaurant

Whether you eat in or order take out, the service is prompt and friendly.  They are happy to have you relax and enjoy your meal, wine or desert.  So the service is really good.  Maybe it’s because I eat alone usually, but when I go I really love their Muhammara, aka ‘Walnut Caviar’.  So I always order a side of it.  It’s happened a few times where one server will bring me the starter portion of it, which is a lot of food.  I’m not sure if it’s a nonchalant up sale or not since it’s a few bucks more, so just specify you want the side portion if you order that or any of the other yummy sides.  Still always good service though as they keep the glasses full and are timely in bringing the check.

The menu is very diverse and unique, with menu options that really do transport you to the Mediterranean.  Beginning with the starters, they have a wide selection of cold and hot starters that can suite any taste bud.  But if you aren’t alone, check out one of their cold and hot mezzeh’s for a good sample of their middle eastern tapas starters.  You have the Chilled Mezzeh containing hummus (chickpea dip, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil), tabbouleh (diced parsley salad, chopped tomato, green onion, bulgur, lemon dressing), baba ghannouj (fire-roasted eggplant dip with extra virgin olive oil), muhammara (walnuts, hot pepper paste, pomegranate molasses – my favorite), and sarma (stuffed rolled grape leaves, herbed rice, toasted onion) for $14.90.  Or the Hot Mezzeh  containing cheese böreg, meat böreg, kebbeh, and falafel for $16.90.  You also get pita bread to start, which is good, but it’s right out of the bag so nothing special.  You can see their famous rotisserie chickens in the window when you walk into the restaurant (half for $12.50).  Their chicken is very good, not too dry on the inside and full of seasonings on the outside from their proprietary rub.  Other menu items I really enjoy are the kababs, which you can get for chicken, lamb or beef.  Sometimes they can be a little overcooked though, which is easy to do when cooking kababs or if they sit too long under the heat lamp before serving, but still flavorful and divine with some garlic sauce on them.  I usually order either falafals or one of their two lamb menu options like the Grilled Lamb Chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction or the Lamb Shank with juice of red wine, garlic rosemary.  Both for $23.95.  They are very good, with the shank as my favorite.  The chops tend to be medium-well by the time I get them, so a tad overcooked from how I like them, but still very good with their complex lamb rub.  Their ratatouille is very flavorful as well, so that makes a hearty, but extremely satisfying side.  They tend to put on the side of each plate a few slices of their pickled turnips, which strong bitter, sour taste but nicely contradicts the other flavors on the plate.  Combine any of the above hearty stomach fillers with a side of their garlic sauce, you’ve got a happy belly for sure.

The grilled lamb chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction

The sides of muhammara (aka walnut caviar) on the left and their garlic sauce on the right

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B    (local, in strip mall, lots of parking, stage for a band?)  Note:  Updated on 12/30/2012 because of increased seating.
  • Service =  B+    (quick, friendly unnecessary up-sale)
  • Food = A-    (good menu, tasty food, garlic sauce, bought pita bread and little overcooked food sometimes)

 

Note:  This article was updated on 12/30/2012

 

Acosta Taco – Lennox, CA, United States

As anyone knows who travels a lot for work, eating at the chain restaurants gets old after awhile.  Thus when I travel, I first check to see if Anthony Bourdain, host of No Reservations and Adam Richman, host of Man v. Food on the Travel Channel feasted on any local delicacies from the town that I’ll be visiting.  Plugging Los Angeles into the Travel Channel’s website from my Droid, (yes I still have an original Droid) I searched for the closest place to El Segundo, California that Adam or Tony consumed some local cuisine.  So what gem did I find?…  Acosta Tacos located at 4539 W Imperial Hwy, Lennox, CA 90304.

This little staple of the local community was exhibited in the No Reservations episode where Tony ate carne asada tacos with some of the local LA gang unit police officers.  I didn’t have the entourage that Tony had, but instead a colleague where we decided to get a late lunch before attending another local meeting.  As with all restaurants I focus on three things, appearance, service and quality of the food.  So let’s begin..

Cruising down Imperial Highway searching for this local establishment, we drove right past it.  Pulling a u-turn we pulled into the empty parking lot in the rear of the shack…I mean restaurant.  I would have sworn it was closed since no one was around, but the wide open windows and doors and the ‘Yes, we’re open’ sign convinced us otherwise.  So the place wasn’t full of eye candy, but that means either the food is really good or really poor.  Since it was on T.V., the odds are in favor of the former.  It did have character though being a small, older local place characteristic of that area.

Walking up to the window in the front we studied the diverse menu full of various beef (beef tongue anyone?), pork, chicken and fish options while we waited for someone to show up from the back.  The gentleman was friendly and politely said “Don’t have any” to the first two things I tried to order, the barboboas and fish tacos.  Call me crazy, but if it’s on the menu I expected it to be available?  Maybe he just didn’t want to make any since we were after the lunch crowd, but not the best start.  So my colleague just ordered 12 tacos (at $1.28 each), 4 carne asada, 4 carnitas and 4 al pastor for the two of us.  The kind gentleman got right on our feast of these little munchkins and 5 minutes later or so, we got our little foil wrapped delights.  It’s important to note, and I do mean important, that this place is CASH ONLY.  Thankfully between the two of us, we just had enough.

Partaking of these morsals ontop of our red Chevrolet Traverse hood was a great change of pace from the subpar airport food we have been eating as of late.  The tacos were small, ~5″, with the standard double layer corn tortillas containing the taco goodness.   The tortillas were really good though, soft and newly steamed for sure.  All of the meats were well marinated and full of flavor.  In addition, all of the tacos were topped off with a mild tasty fresh tomato, cilantro, onion salsa.  I felt that the carnitas were my favorite with the carne asada being a bit chewy from possibly being cooked too long.  My colleague was the complete opposite as he liked the carne asada the best.  Everyone is different, so I’ll let you decide.  You can’t go wrong with any though from our experience.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B    (local, old building, nice change of pace)
  • Service =  C    (food was prepared good, but cash only and not having menu items was a downer)
  • Food = A    (good tasty food with soft tortillas and flavorful meat)