Benchmark Pizza in Oakland

by foodhoe on December 5, 2018

499 9th Street, Oakland, CA | 510-488-6677 | website | reservations online

Hey is anyone out there still reading blogs? I am much more active on Instagram @foodhoe, so I hope you follow me there.  Anyways, sometimes a place is so good that it needs a big page dedicated just to them, and that’s why we still write our blogs.  And I really have to tell you about a new pizza place that opened up in old Oakland called Benchmark Pizza.  It is seriously our new favorite pizza pie!  This is their second location, which recently opened in the historic Old Oakland neighborhood which is much closer for me than the original location in Kensington.

I met my friend TK for lunch who I’ve known since high school, who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like.  We started off with festive glasses of fizzy Prosecco (Gasparini, Veneto NV).  It had been a few years since we last saw each other so we had a lot to catch up on, so I was distracted and forgot to take a shot of the fizzy!  Fortunately, TK took this photo of me as we toasted, so there you go…  Also, I was invited to dine there as a guest of the house and I loved it so much that I came back with Mr. K, so this is an extra long post covering several meals!

The restaurant is in a gorgeous historic building with high ceilings and the room is filled with light from the surrounding windows.  Chef Swanson was previously at Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant and Dopo where he worked as sous chef for six years. Assisting him in the kitchen is Chef de Cuisine Jennifer Moffitt who was most recently at Boot & Shoe Service.  Managing the front of the house is the chef’s wife, restaurant co-owner and Operations Manager Melissa Swanson who worked at Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant and Chez Panisse and who we found to be delightful and charming.


The zinc-topped bar has room for 10 people and looks like a cozy spot to hang out and be in the middle of the action.

Our server recommended the Fried Sage pizza ($17), made with fresh house stretched mozzarella, brown butter, lemon zest, and shaved garlic.  The ingredients don’t sound that amazing, but I can’t even begin to describe how fabulous the flavor from the browned butter drizzled over this pizza was!  And the crispy fried leaves of sage, the shaved garlic, the lemon…  each bite popped with flavor, and wow that crust is incredible!

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Arca, dining in the jungle of Tulum

by foodhoe on September 28, 2018


I’m still thinking about my Mexican adventure last Spring which is beginning to feel like a distant memory… But, if you find yourself in Tulum, you must make time to explore the Si’an Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which is an amazingly beautiful UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site that is located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula.  It is full of natural wonders: tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, and a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef.  Sian Ka’an in Mayan translates to Where the Sky Begins and you totally feel it with the vast expanse of sky that surrounds you!  We explored walkways through the protected jungle preserves and mayan ruins with our guide who told us about the Maya: a rich, complex society full of astronomers, mathematicians, agronomists, philosophers, artists, architects, sculptors and warriors, whose history is really fascinating.  They were the first to cultivate chocolate, chilli peppers, vanilla, papayas and pineapples. They built causeways and reservoirs, created great works of sculpture and art, carved fantastic jade masks and wove rich colorful textiles. They also developed sophisticated mathematical systems; complex, accurate calendars; and perfectly proportioned buildings of immense size and beauty.  

After the hike through the jungle, we went on a boat ride across the crystal clear azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, until we got to the canals where we floated down ancient maritime canals, hand-dredged by Mayans nearly 1200 years ago.

After exploring the past, we ventured into the stylish section of Tulum, along the beach where you find the beautiful people, boho-eco chic urbanites seeking world-class restaurants with phenomenal cocktail programs in a jungle setting. It’s full of yoga on the beach, juice bars and vegan friendly cafes, and expensive boutiques, but there are also many restaurants where the chefs focus on the spectacular local ingredients, wood-fired cooking heavily influenced by the nearby ocean and tropical environs.  It’s definitely the place to be and I failed to get a reservation at Hartwood, which is the restaurant that started the fascination with Tulum, so we opted to go to Arca next door where it is still possible to get a table without reservations!  The chef Jose Luis Hinostroza is the California-raised son of a Mexican family, who  worked at the illustrious Alinea in Chicago, El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain then at Noma in Copenhagen.  From Noma, he went to Tulum to spearhead Rene Redzepi’s Noma Mexico pop up last year (May 2017) and then stayed to become a partner at Arca.

It’s open air dining at its best, everyone is seated at modern picnic tables surrounded by the lush jungle with lanterns dangling overhead from the trees and a wooden framework that provides minimal shelter above.  There’s a fragrant waft from copal resin, an incense they burn to try to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  We got there before they opened and stood in line to get our names on the wait list and then sat at the bar until a table was ready.  You can just tell from this spread that great artistry is involved with the making of cocktails at this bar!

Mr. K had the El Solar, the pink cocktail had a dark smoky flavor and was made with mezcal, hibiscus, piloncillo, chipotle syrup, smoked ancho chili rim and garnished with a dehydrated citrus.

We waited about 20 minutes before we were seated and ended up ordering a bunch of small plates to share.  All of the dishes arrived at once.

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Dinner at Cetli Restaurant in Tulum

July 1, 2018

Well hello there!  It has been a long time since my last post, but I’m still here and want to share with you some amazing food I’ve enjoyed recently. Last spring, we went on an adventure, traveling to the far northeastern end of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico to Quintana Roo.  We visited Tulum with […]

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Sideways Southern cuisine at PLāYT in Hayward

April 23, 2018

1036 B St, Hayward, CA 94541 | 510 -888-1092 | website I was very excited when I heard that the owners of Picán in Oakland opened up PLāYT restaurant in downtown Hayward, which is just one stop down the freeway from where I live!  Yay!  We love it when new restaurants open up in the area, […]

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A Vietnamese feast at Temple Club in Oakland

February 21, 2018

2307 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601 | 510-479-3680 | So there I was, driving up and down International Blvd in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood (which is somewhere in between Fruitvale and Lake Merritt), looking for a sign.  It is a long dark stretch that is mostly marked no parking because it is a landing strip for […]

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A Oaxacan feast at Agave Uptown

February 19, 2018

2135 Franklin St. Oakland | 510.288.3668 | website We had a great meal at Agave Uptown recently, the latest restaurant from Chef Octavio Diaz who brings traditional Oaxacan food with a focus on authentic mole and mezcal to the hip Uptown section of Oakland.  The chef has another Oaxacan eatery called Agave Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar and […]

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Dinner at Mockingbird in Oakland

January 17, 2018

416 – 13th Street, Oakland | 510.290.0331 | website We’re halfway through Oakland Restaurant Week which runs through two weekends from January 11-21, so there’s still have time to get out and take advantage of some great dining deals.  This year there are 70 restaurants offering special lunch and dinner prix-fixe menus or other dining […]

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