Monday, December 2, 2019

Where to Eat: So Much Seafood @ MOSA Coastal (Hermosa Beach)

The Eats: A range of diverse seafood selections with Italian influences

The Location: Hermosa Beach

The Vibes: Light, airy, intimate, tranquil

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large)

When-To-Go: Daily, 4 p.m. until close (9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday); Weekend Brunch, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $3 – $22; Entrées, $14.50 - $39; Desserts, $6 - $8

The Names behind the scenes: Partners Anne Conness and Nancy Vrankovic

The 4-1-1: MOSA Coastal officially opened October 2019

Parking Situation: Metered street parking

I’ll Be Back…: To try the brunch and check out the happy hour!

There are literally 5,001 reasons why I love living in California so much. But one reason in particular is that we have the beach. Whether it’s a beautiful sunny summer day or 40 degrees, smack in the middle of a winter “cold front” like we’ve had this past week, there’s really never a bad time to visit the beach, ever.

MOSA Coastal, which opened October 2019, seems to have the same affection for the beach. Situated on Hermosa Ave., it’s only a stone’s throw away from the shoreline. It pays homage to its close-to-the-waterfront location by offering an array of seafood options with Italian influences. It’s currently open for weekend brunch and daily dinner, also offering a daily 4 – 6 p.m. happy hour.

I recently stopped by for dinner one week night, first falling in love with the non-pretentious, laid-back vibes of the space. Minimalism, a touch of L.A. chic and seaside casualness all harmoniously co-exist, giving MOSA its own unique style and charm. White furry chair coverings give a pop of elegance, while colorful abstract paintings juxtaposed against natural brown and white wood fixtures give a modern aesthetic.

My favorite area was the Bamboo Garden, pictured below. It's a covered outdoor patio, with hanging market lights and elegant mirrors. Bamboo stalks run the length of one wall, with water fountains providing a relaxing background soundtrack of running water.

The dinner menu spans starters, vegetables, a seafood bar, oysters, pastas, entrees and desserts. Starters include a prosciutto board, tomato caprese or the Panini Rolls. As a bread lover, I opted for the rolls, which are these fluffy, warm mounds of heaven. Lightly salted, they come with rosemary mixed in olive oil and a zesty marinara.

The seafood bar features five choices, ranging from ahi tartar to steamed clams, steamed mussels and octopus carpaccio. I went for the Calamari Salad, pictured below. I’ve typically eaten calamari as an appetizer — grilled or fried and typically accompanied by garnishes or at most a dipping sauce and lemons. MOSA’s take on a calamari salad made me realize how delicious calamari can be with other ingredients, especially ones not often paired with it — like nuts and herbs and spices. This salad has so many delightfully unusual bursts of flavors and textures: the crunchiness of pistachios and celery juxtaposed to the tenderness of the calamari; the burst of sweet oranges and fragrant mint compared to the peppery North African harissa sauce. It was definitely one of my favorites of the night.

Oysters hail from three regions: Baja, California, Prince Edward Isle and Puget Sound, Washington. The Puget Sound’s Capitol Reserve were completely gone, so I tried Baja’s Kumiai and Prince Edward Isle’s Malpeque. The Kumiai are on the smaller side, and slightly sweet. The Malpeque, on the other hand, are larger and mildly briny. Both were excellent in quality — plump, firm and extremely fresh.

On the vegetable front, there are six items, including three salads, charred eggplant, spiced carrots and grilled broccolini, pictured below. And let me tell you about this broccolini. It is everything!! It’s slathered in a green olive pesto and topped with sliced almonds and pickled purple onions. I have no idea how MOSA made the pesto so velvety and buttery, but it’s such a rich, smooth texture. Most certainly a must to order.

The Cioppino, pictured below and also known as “Fishermans Wharf Seafood Stew,” apparently is one of the most popular dishes. It’s an assortment of seafood (think mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and more), all submerged in a tomato-based broth. It comes with your choice of garlic toast or spaghetti. It was very filling and the perfect way to stay warm during this freezing cold California winter. 

It was a tough decision to select another entrée: would it be the pasta, which is made in-house, or seafood, MOSA’s proclaimed specialty? The Niman Ranch lamb papardelle sounded so freakin’ good, but ultimately, I settled on the branzino, a.k.a., the European bass. It’s stuffed with sautéed spinach and onions, sitting on a thin red pepper rouille spread. You get the entire fish, head and all, deboned (although to note: there were a few bones here and there, so just be careful how hard you chew!). The meat was flaky and tender, and a really nice flavor. It didn’t disappoint!

Of course, a meal simply wouldn’t be complete without dessert. In addition to espresso panna cotta and lemon ricotta cheese cake, MOSA has rotating gelatos. The lemon gelato, pictured below, was subtly sweet and quite creamy — a pleasant surprise especially since it was dairy-free.

No hard liquor (yet?) but lots of wines and beers to choose from, including a very tasty sparkling white wine sangria with hints of citrus and basil, pictured below.

All in all, I enjoyed MOSA’s ambiance and decadently satisfying seafood. From chilled oysters to piping hot seafood stews and grilled fish, there’s quite a lot to pick and choose. So the next time you’re in the mood to relax and grab dinner right next to the beach, consider making the rounds to MOSA Coastal.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Where to Eat: Weekend Brunching @ Brown Sugar Kitchen (Oakland)

The Eats: Soul-filling “new style down home” favorites including BBQ Shrimp, Blackened Catfish, Gumbo and Cast-iron Skillet Cornbread

The Location: Oakland

The Vibes: Upscale, relaxed, vibrant

Good for: Alone, Dates, Very small groups

When-To-Go: Weekend brunch, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Other days & times: Wednesday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. & 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.; closed Monday & Tuesday)

The $$ Factor: Entrées, $12 - $21; Sides, $4 - $7; Cocktails, $12

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Tanya Holland

The 4-1-1: Brown Sugar Kitchen also has a fast casual location in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, with a patio overlooking the Bay

Parking & Transportation Situation: Free and metered parking; closest to BART’s 19th St. Oakland Station

I’ll Be Back…: For the Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Cornmeal Waffle!

I initially stopped by Brown Sugar Kitchen (BSK) on my very first trip ever to Oakland, back in 2011. Eight years ago, BSK called an industrial part of West Oakland home, in a laid-back, cozy one-room joint. Check out the throwback pic below and my original post here!

Fast-forward to present day, and BSK and I meet again, this time in completely different spaces. We’ve both changed addresses in 2019 — me to the Bay and Brown Sugar Kitchen to Oakland’s bustling and trendy Uptown neighborhood. By way of email updates over the years, I had kept up with BSK’s important milestones like cookbook launches and anniversaries, so like a long lost friend who couldn’t wait to reunite, I was ecstatic to make my way to the all-new location to see what had changed, and what had perhaps remained the same.

The first detail that caught my eye was the space. It's a lot bigger and has a snazzier, more upscale appearance than the old BSK. Subdued yellows and muted greens have been replaced with muted teals, rich red booths and golden accents. Sleek, modern light fixtures delicately hang from soaring ceilings bathed in black. Before, it seems like rolling up in sweats and t-shirts would've totally been fine. But here? Heels and dressing to impress appear to be the norm. All-in-all, the space is a tasteful, complementary backdrop to the classy, upscale soul food served inside.

Just as I had eight years ago, I immediately ordered the Beignets. While I had definitely loved them before, I hadn’t remembered just how soft and fluffy they actually were! It’s as if the recipe had been perfected even more with time. Coated in powdered sugar and accompanied by a delightful berry jam, they come piping hot as a trio.

Nowadays at so many places, what was once a novelty — the “fried chicken and waffle” combo — feels uninspiring, forgettable and underwhelming. Brown Sugar Kitchen, though, brings something new to the table by experimenting with one-of-a-kind ingredients. Its golden crunchy waffles are made of cornmeal and accompanied by a sweet but subtly tangy apple cider vinegar syrup. Plus, O.M.G. the fried chicken!! In addition to being perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, the batter has an incredible flavor, thanks to added spices (maybe hints of rosemary?). I’d order that again and again.

While I had previously raved about the Smoked Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo, this time around, it was good, but not great. More spices and more shrimps — I literally had one prawn in my entire bowl — would’ve been nice additions. In Brown Sugar Kitchen’s defense, the server did caution that the gumbo was typically better later in the afternoon after brewing all day, and another server offered to bring me another bowl, after I lamented about my lack of shrimp.

Of course, I couldn’t order everything off the menu, but there are eight brunch entrées total, including Blackened Catfish, a Vegetable Egg Scramble and BBQ Shrimp. There are also a dozen or so different sides in addition to the Beignets, including a Buttermilk Biscuit, pictured below.

As a heads up, BSK doesn’t take reservations — it’s first come, first served. If there aren’t any open seats when you arrive, there is a waitlist you can put your name on. But, being on the waitlist doesn’t guarantee you’ll get seated and waits can be up to two hours long. There are ways to avoid the dilemma — like hiring a TaskRabbit freelancer to stand in line for you (yes, this is actually a thing) or go on a less crowded weekday. But hopefully, BSK will just start accepting reservations sooner, rather than later.

So the next time you’re in the mood for a hearty and delicious soul food brunch, I recommend Brown Sugar Kitchen.

See you there soon!

For more information:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Where to Eat: A “DIY Nigerian Dinner Party Vibes” Airbnb Experience @ Eko Kitchen, SOMA, San Francisco

The Experience: A two-hour initiation into the art of cooking Nigerian cuisine, including favorites like chin chin, stews and puff puff

The Location: SOMA

The Vibes: Cozy, earthy, educational, inviting

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

When-To-Go: Select Thursdays; check the website for exact availabilities

The $$ Factor: $43 per person

The Names behind the scenes: Head chef / Owner Simileoluwa "Simi" Adebajo

The 4-1-1: In addition to offering this Airbnb Experience, Eko Kitchen is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. I
t’s closed during the week but offers meal preps and corporate catering for companies in the city. The restaurant also occasionally hosts pop-up dinners throughout the Bay Area. 

Transportation: The restaurant is located just a few blocks south from both the Civic Center/UN Plaza BART and the Van Ness MUNI stations

I’ll Be Back…: To learn how to make jollof rice and chin chin next!

Back in 2017, the digital travel platform Airbnb expanded its offerings, introducing a new program called Airbnb Experiences. For any given city, you can now search hundreds of activities that typically last a few hours, ranging from neighborhood walking tours to culinary classes and even photo sessions — something I booked during my latest trip to London.

Earlier this month, I signed up for an Airbnb Experience right here in the Bay: a “DIY Nigerian Dinner Party Vibes” class at Eko Kitchen.

For a little bit of context, Eko Kitchen is a casual, one-roomed restaurant serving up Nigerian cuisine, all to the backdrop of Afrobeats in the heart of SOMA. This modest dining spot is bathed in earthy yellows, tans and muted grays. It officially opened earlier this year and started hosting Airbnb Experiences in September.

Head chef / owner Simileoluwa "Simi" Adebajo (pictured below left with me) is originally from Lagos and quit her job as a financial analyst to operate Eko Kitchen full-time. She leads her sessions in a laid-back, welcoming manner that feels like you’ve known her for years. 

Each "class" can have up to 10 guests. Participants get to make two to three different Nigerian dishes, learning about the ingredients and various cooking methods along the way. At the end of the night, the group sits down to feast upon all of its hard work. The menu rotates weekly, so even if you’ve previously attended, you can potentially have a different experience, the next time you go.

Here’s a look at how my night went! 

There were only two others along with my friend and I, making for a nice intimate setting.

We kicked off our session by watching everyone wash their hands — so appreciated and welcomed — before reuniting in the main dining area to divvy up responsibilities to prepare our lovely dinner of fried plantains, chicken stew with rice and puff puff

I got stuck with cutting up onions, garlic and ginger, but still made sure to sneak next to my friend, who was responsible for the plantains, as Adebajo was explaining how to properly peel and cut them, prepping them to be fried. 

Look at how gorgeous our plantains turned out! Perfectly golden on the outside, sweet and mushy inside.

After everyone chopped, sliced and diced the veggies, marinated the meat and mixed the puff puff batter, it was time to head into the kitchen. Here, we gained hands-on experience frying the puff puff, a traditional dessert pastry made of yeast, cinnamon, flour and sugar. If I had to compare it to anything, it’s kind of similar to a beignet or donut hole. There’s a very nuanced way of scooping the batter with your hands and dropping it directly in the deep fryer, so as to have flawlessly smooth, fried spheres. 

Unfortunately, none of us except for Adebajo could master the technique, so we instead ended up with puff puffs that she affectionately coined “alien babies,” pictured below. Nonetheless, they were tasty no matter how they looked, so the moral of the story: don’t judge a book by its cover! 

The last item on our list was the chicken stew, a recipe that’s been in Adebajo’s family for generations. I learned some excellent cooking tips while helping with this dish: roast rather than boil veggies to retain their flavor, blend veggies in a blender for a puréed texture, and rub chicken down with oil as you season it to help it more easily absorb the spices. 

After letting the chicken marinate in our spice blend — including a spice cube called Maggi that Adebajo brought directly from Nigeria — we baked and then added it to a blended mixture of onions, ginger, garlic and peppers. We also made long grain par boiled rice, which Adebajo shared is frequently eaten in Nigeria. 

Now that’s what you call a stew!

After almost two hours of cooking (and nibbling on plantains and puff puffs to sustain us throughout the evening), it was time to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor. It was all quite delicious and I can't wait to try to reinvent this in my own home. 

So the next time you’re in the mood to have a hands-on culinary adventure and learn more about Nigerian cuisine, I recommend checking out Eko Kitchen’s “DIY Nigerian Dinner Party Vibes” Airbnb Experience. You’ll find new friends, discover new cooking secrets and of course, eat wonderful food.

See you there soon!

For more information: