Dishcrawl: an evening in Uptown

by foodhoe on September 17, 2012

I recently signed up to go on a Dishcrawl through Uptown in Oakland.  What is a Dishcrawl you ask?  It is a social dining expedition where you and 40 or so other food enthusiasts nosh your way through a neighborhood by visiting 4 restaurants in an evening!  I haven’t been keeping up with all the new restaurants that have been opening in Uptown and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to check it out.  You don’t know which restaurants you are going to, just the neighborhood and once you have signed up and paid your $39 fee online, you will receive an email with the details of where to meet, along with some hints.  We started out in the lobby of a new condo development where we donned name tags and I promptly ran into Luna Raven who writes A Curious Girl (and I had already met previously), Christina from East Bay Dish, who I read and follow but had never met, and Tracy Lee aka @LadyLeet herself, who started the whole thing!

Vo’s Restaurant 59 Grand Ave | Oakland, CA, 94612

We began at one of my old haunts Vo’s Restaurant which Mr. K and I used to frequent when we lived in the neighborhood years ago.  It has been remodeled with a sleek and modern feel, the large dining room is broken up into several smaller rooms, which make it seem more intimate and cozy.  Their menu has been updated with modern dishes like apple tofu salad, basil mussel soup and grilled rack of lamb.

We sampled several refreshing classics, beginning with Green Papaya Salad with Shrimp, a tastebud rousing medley of crunchy shredded green papaya, daikon, carrots & cucumbers tossed in a tangy sauce topped w/ poached shrimp  & peanuts

A variety of Spring Rolls, Shrimp or Tofu with rice noodles served with a delectable peanut dipping sauce.  Tracy scored one made with salmon!  I was so busy catching up that I totally missed out on the Chicken Sate, but it looked good.

The next stop was Xolo Tacqueria, by same owners of Doña Tomás, one of the first hotspots in the area, Tacubaya on 4th Street in Berkeley, and Flora, an upscale Art Deco restaurant which we walked by and I really want to try (ooh check out their brunch menu).  The menu at Xolo is all about tacos and burritos but they also serve a bacon wrapped hot dog (called the danger dog), mini crispy churros, vegan pozole, and Mexican hot chocolate. Everything is made from scratch including birria (served on Fridays and Saturdays only), and they use local and organic ingredients as much as possible.

Xolo Taqueria 1916 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612

We were served two tacos, Vampiro al Pastor, salsa ranchera, red onions, cilantro, fried cheese tortilla ($2.95).  The tender meat was spicy and luscious, a fantastic feast for the tastebuds and served with the best house made tortilla chips I’ve had in my life.  I’m going back for those chips alone!

Our next stop was Hibiscus Cafe, which has been revamped is now a quick service cafe serving a seasonal menu inspired by their Southern roots and Oakland attitude.  It feels quite different from my last visit a couple of years ago and the menu has been scaled back and seems more gastropubby than before.

The Loaded Potato ($8), was a bit of a disappointment, the potato was not cooked through, so it didn’t come together very well.

The Carrot Ginger Soup ($6) was bland and listless but Luna had a moment of mad food genius and suggested the okra go into the soup, which was just the thing.

I was excited when I found out our last stop was Hawker Fare, which I have been wanting to try forever.   It opened last year by Chef/owner James Syhabout who earned Oakland’s only Michelin star at his restaurant Commis, and specializes in Asian soul food rice bowls priced under $10.

Hawker Fare, 2300 Webster St., Oakland

We munched on  Siamese Peanuts, which are paired with fried tiny anchovies tossed in a lip smacking shallot and chili jam ($3).  They are caramelized and full of vibrant flavors and textures, salty, sticky, sweet, spicy, and addictive as all get out, I’d like them with a bowl of rice please!

And we finished with the fabulous Hawker Sundae, Strauss condensed milk soft serve ice cream swirled with salted palm sugar caramel, sweet red beans and puffed rice, and a frothy whipped cream topping infused with lime ($6).  This little cup was full of mesmerizing flavors and textures, I would have loved a full serving after those spicy nuts!

Executive Chef Justin Yu (who worked at the Momofuku Ssam Bar in Manhattan and Quince in San Francisco) came out to visit the tables, he was very charming and posed for pictures for us.

This is Ziggy who patiently waited in the doorway of all of the restaurants for his people.  He didn’t mind hanging out and got lots of attention because he was so well behaved and well coiffed. It was a little goofy to be walking around in large formation, kind of like we just got off the tour bus…  but the dishcrawl people kept us on schedule and had the details figured out.  Ahh, this is my idea of a good time, hitting up 4 different restaurants in an evening with hordes of hungry food lovers.

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