Flavors Worth Finding: Winter Comfort Food Isn't Always About Soup

The satisfyingly crunchy crispy chicken silog at Gateway Kitchen.  (Grace Cheung)

Dining in the Bay Area can mean lots of optimized salad bars and grain bowls inhaled between meetings. Here, the staff at KQED Arts & Culture shares recent meals that demanded we slow down and enjoy them thoroughly.

More servings of silog, malfatti, and Olivier salad
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Gateway Kitchen’s Crispy Chicken

Cold day food cravings don't always call for soup—sometimes you want proper texture. So on a recent chilly evening, my boyfriend and I headed to a small Filipino restaurant in Daly City called Gateway Kitchen.

Its menu is as efficiently sized as its interior, with silog, a hearty, classic breakfast dish, as the main offering. Each variety comes with a different protein, including crispy chicken, longanisa, bacon, Hong Kong-style pork chops and more. We chose a crispy chicken silog and a longanisa silog with a side of bacon, and each came with a heaping mound of garlic rice and pineapple. (We also added eggs to both orders.)

Gateway Kitchen's longanisa silog served with a side of bacon and garlic rice.
Gateway Kitchen's longanisa silog served with a side of bacon and garlic rice. (Grace Cheung)

At Gateway Kitchen, when you tap the surface of the chicken with a fork, the crispy, hard shell taps back. Imagine how satisfying it is to hear the crispy crunch when your fork and knife first breach that umami shell—yep, it was just as good as you’re thinking! The fatty longanisa and crispy bacon provided a great texture and flavor contrast to the garlic rice, especially once we broke the yolk and mixed it all together. 

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And yes, I’m still thinking about that crispy chicken over a week later!—Grace Cheung

MAMA Oakland's Prix-Fixe Menu

After a trusted recommendation, I dragged along two friends to try MAMA Oakland’s fairly affordable $30 three-course dinner. The restaurant opened this summer amid a stretch of eateries and bars on Grand Avenue, and its seasonal prix-fixe offerings make it a standout—and a hard reservation to snag on a Friday night. 

Luckily, MAMA saves room for walk-ins, so my group and I settled at a cozy corner table with prime people-watching views to contemplate the night’s choices. Roasted mushroom soup or fennel-and-blood orange salad with toasted walnuts for the first course? Spaghetti with meatballs or malfatti with roasted vegetables for the second? And finally, our dessert options were a pumpkin cheesecake with rosemary graham crust or a spiced persimmon upside-down cake.

Between the three of us, we were able to order every dish. But I’m here to tell you about the malfatti: the delicate spinach-and-cheese dumplings sat on a butternut squash purée, leaning on roasted root vegetables, all glistening in brown butter and topped with crispy sage. It was a thoughtful and delicious dish—so good that nothing was left on the plate by the end.

The rest of the meal was also carefully prepared and lovely, and not just for its price. Also noteworthy is MAMA’s wine list, which is much longer than its food menu. (The restaurant’s owners first started with the wine bar Bay Grape, just a block west on Grand.) I’m going back to MAMA, and probably very soon.—Ruth Gebreyesus

Homemade Belarusian Classics on Thanksgiving

The best thing I ate recently was a Thanksgiving meal at my mom’s place in Hayward, which featured a mix of American dishes like roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and a delicious truffle salt stuffing, and a couple of classics on the table from Belarus. My mom brought back our childhood favorites, including Russian-style deviled eggs made with mushrooms and fresh dill, and the rich Olivier salad, which is eaten across many former-Soviet nations. 

Like many other salads from the region, Olivier is dressed in mayonnaise and resembles a potato salad but with more “stuff” in it: cubed potatoes, carrots, peas, mushrooms, eggs and a cured meat of some kind, usually ham. I had this dish at every family gathering growing up, but nowadays I eat it on rare occasions since it’s more laborious to put together than your average green salad. (If  I'm craving it I head to San Francisco's New World Market to get my fix.) 

The spread at Masha Pershay's mother's house on Thanksgiving.
The spread at Masha Pershay's mother's house on Thanksgiving. (Oxana Sapronova)

For dessert, I was reunited with another childhood favorite, medovik, a Slavic honey cake made by my sister’s friend, who’s from Kazakhstan. Made from several thin layers of soft, honey-sweetened sponge cake with sour cream in between, the velvety, soft texture and balanced sweetness of medovik was the best way round out the holiday meal.—Masha Pershay

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