Flavors Worth Finding: Charred Cauliflower, Dungeness Crab and Mole for Brunch

Sure Tacos Oscar's cauliflower taco is vegan, but it's not the most interesting thing about it. (Courtesy of Tacos Oscar)

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

Get a bite of Roasted Cauliflower and Dungeness crab at home

Cauliflower Delights

I still think about the first Tacos Oscar taco I ever had. It was a charred broccoli and peanut salsa situation I devoured some years ago when the restaurant was still a pop-up that roamed around Oakland. The deliciously inventive combination is a signature of Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss, whose vegan tacos are never an afterthought or a concession to appease the Bay’s non-meat-eating diners. The duo behind the restaurant have a knack for making a star out of a vegetable some might otherwise pass up, pairing it with slaws and salsas that compliment rather than drench and hide.

The cauliflower taco I had the other night at Tacos Oscar is a prime example. Cauliflower takes well to direct heat—it chars beautifully, its florets acquire a satisfying crisp while the stems sweeten and soften. On top of their handmade tortillas, Michel and Weiss dress the toasted cauliflower with a red pickled cabbage slaw, cilantro and warming salsa macha whose crushed peanuts add more texture than loud, peanut flavor. A satisfying taco with every bite. The fact that it’s vegan is a parenthetical. — Ruth Gebreyesus, Food Reporter and Visual Arts Columnist

 

Dungeness Crab with Garlic Butter to Spare

Ever since crab season opened up this winter, I’ve been drooling over the Instagram feed of Chef Smelly, who prepares locally sourced, sustainably caught wild Dungeness crab. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I finally made a plan to check out his pop up, Smelly’s Creole and Soul Food, inside Au Lounge Oakland in Uptown. The photocopied menu you get at the door includes all kinds of delicious-sounding combos of crab, shrimp, beef and oysters. But my family of three was all about the crab. We ordered a whole dungeness à la carte drenched in chopped garlic blooming in butter, along with a side of the Creole-spiced fries—also dipped in melted garlic butter. We got our order to go, and the crab did not disappoint. Only, once home, I regretted we didn’t get the trademark garlic noodles that come with most of Smelly’s combos. (Truth be told, I was trying to save a few bucks too.) I quickly assembled a pot of noodles at home and dumped them in the left-over butter, garlic and crab scraps. Divine.

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I’ve read reviews and heard about the long lines at Smelly’s, so I was relieved when we showed up to find only a half-filled bar and one person in line. But don’t let that fool you, we still ended up waiting more than an hour for a to-go order, not ideal when you got a hungry nine-year-old kid in tow after basketball practice. In the end, it was still worth the wait.Kelly Whalen, Senior Digital Video Producer, Arts & Culture

Catch Check Please! at Los Moles

Mole Pipián for Brunch and Memories

On weekends, there’s nothing I want more than a breakfast I can enjoy with intention. That Saturday morning meal is to be savored slowly, and the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet at Los Moles provides tenfold. The first non-negotiable item for me is a mug of their café de olla—coffee brewed with canela, chocolate, piloncillo and orange rinds. The spicy-sweet brew cuts the grogginess of any Friday night stupor and prepares your stomach for the feast ahead. 

 

And while I have fever dreams about the entire spread—the giant bubbling pots of menudo and pozole, the seven-plus varieties of mole, the handmade corn tortillas, the vats of carne machaca and carnitas—the centerpiece of this Saturday morning tradition is their mole pipián. 

Pale green and stewed with tender shredded chicken, Los Moles’ nutty, vibrant pipián made of roasted pepitas and seed varieties tantalizes. I recently learned that my great grandmother specialized in a mole pipián made from grinding toasted maíz, pepita, and sesame. And while the recipe was lost between generations, I hold on to that story with every bite I take of Los Moles’ pipián. — Lina Blanco, Digital  Manager of Engagement, KQED Arts & Culture.