Flavors Worth Finding: Peak Tea Leaf, Earthy Beets and Octopus with a Zing
As we sat down at Grocery Cafe in Jack London—the only people in the place at 6pm on a Thursday night—my friend told me, “Whatever we get, we have to order this salad.” He pointed on the menu to something called laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad. The description on the menu, of “fermented tea leaves on crunchy cabbage, tomatoes, roasted nuts and toasted seeds,” isn’t something I’d ordinarily leap out of my seat to try. But he was emphatic.
Minutes later, it arrived: a plate with 10 distinct piles of ingredients. Our server began mixing the ingredients together at our table with almost reverent intention. This lasted for nearly a full minute, and I later understood why. The resulting blend of ingredients did things in my mouth I didn’t know were possible. The wet fermented tea leaves, along with fish sauce and lime, brought the whole dish together, and played off its varying textures in thrilling ways.
I’ve since learned that this is Grocery Cafe’s signature item, renowned locally. Coincidentally, a few days later I found myself at Burma Superstar in Oakland for the first time, with a different friend, and couldn’t bring myself to order their version of it. Grocery Cafe’s tea leaf salad, I knew, wouldn’t be topped. —Gabe Meline, Senior Arts Editor
Marinated Beet Sandwich from Acme Bread
It wouldn’t occur to me to make a beet sandwich at home. I usually go for a fried egg or mushrooms with some cheese and greens between whatever flatbread or loaf I have. But last week at the Acme Bread counter in the San Francisco Ferry Building, the beets called out to me. Served on their rustic sweet baguette, Acme’s balsamic and red wine-marinated beets were tender, sweet and earthy. Crunchy watercress and a creamy goat cheese, the beet’s eternal companion, cooled the vim of the fresh horseradish.
An employee at the bakery let me know these are the last few days for beet sandwiches. The bakery offers a variety of three sandwiches each week, including a salami with butter and cornichons, and Mt. Tam triple-cream with a fruit jam and arugula (all for under nine dollars!). Whichever sandwich you get, given it’s not raining, take it to a bench with a view and enjoy each bite under the sun. —Ruth Gebreyesus, Food Reporter and Visual Arts Columnist
Shakewell's Garlicky Octopus
I’ve always loved seafood, and over the years I graduated from indulging in shrimp and crab to slurping raw oysters and appreciating the creaminess of uni. But perhaps my favorite underwater creature of all is octopus, which Mediterranean-inspired Oakland restaurant Shakewell always serves in delightfully creative varieties on its ever-changing menu.
This is a special occasion spot with an intimate, dimly lit ambiance, and catching up with a close friend I hadn’t seen in months warranted treating ourselves. I had previously tried the Spanish octopus at Shakewell with paper-thin slices of chorizo, which lent a rich fattiness to the chunky, grilled tentacles with perfectly crisped edges. This time it was grilled octopus dressed in bright and zingy Greek skordalia (a potato-based, garlicky sauce) and Calabrian chili oil. Chopped green olives added surprising punches of acidity, while sprigs of parsley gave the dish a refreshing element.
I rounded out my meal with the roasted beets, which were served cold and charmingly stacked in a striped pattern (both visually pleasing and optimal for grabbing forkfuls with bits of everything). Avocado, anchovies, sunflower seeds and arugula complemented the beets, and a citrus vinaigrette married the distinct elements of the salad. It was another example of Shakewell’s forward-thinking and thoughtful execution, which is why the restaurant never disappoints. —Nastia Voynovskaya, Music Editor