Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 2: Where I Took the Japanese Food Demon this Weekend

Second fueling stop at the Ferry Building on Saturday was the Imperial Tea Court.

A tall white dude, garbed in a changshan, was hovering above straw baskets filled with steamed buns.   I am a slave to steamed buns. In the Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan, you can get these XXL-sized ones filled with such things as kabocha and chestnut paste (as well as savory flavors).   These divine puffs always come to mind when I see versions elsewhere.

The options at Imperial Tea Court on this day were red bean, pork and veggie. I chose veggie, which had in it mustard greens and shiitake mushrooms. Ordinarily I avoid shiitake, but I love well prepared mustard greens, so I went for it.  

Mustard greens and shiitake inside.

The bun was everything I could have wished for, except maybe, supersized. ;-)  I am trying the red bean next time too.  $3 or $3.50.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where I Took the Japanese Food Demon

My cousin is here from Tokyo.  She is, by definition, a discriminating eater (what Tokyo-jin isn't?).   As part of an experiment, I will uncover the places where we chowed each day this week, rather than all together. (Why? I am struggling to find time to keep up with blogging.)

All edibles were consumed in San Francisco or Palo Alto.

First stop: The Ferry Building Farmers' market for essential coffee from Blue Bottle, arguably San Francisco's finest.

Cappucino for me.

As one of three regular readers of my blog, my cousin wanted to go to the Ferry Building having seen my posts on it.  Of course, I was delighted.  It was miraculously uncrowded there this Saturday. Probably because it felt colder than Chicago-in-January, and because this is the lowest point of travel season.   For us, this meant access. Lines, if there were any, were short, service was friendly, and roamability (the ability to roam without running into strollers or elbows) was a 10.  Even the Roti truck had just a few people in line! I have never seen it like that. Bonus: the sun, having penetrated all kinds of clumpy gray clouds, was beaming from above on a day I was expecting rain.

Drip coffee for her.  Caramelly.

Correction: Lines were short or non-existent everywhere but at Blue Bottle...alas BB was a necessary first-stop.

Next up: steamed buns.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Real People's Doughnuts, and the Real Person Behind it

Pepple's Donuts
6037 San Pablo Ave
(between 60th St & 61st St)
Oakland, CA 94608

Last week at the Ferry Building, I tried some unforgettably scrumptious doughnuts.  So on Sunday I went to the Donut Farm, in North Oakland to see where they are raised.

Donut Farm offers a variety of doughnuts, brunch on Sundays, and tasty coffee that is made from beans  roasted over a wok.  Everything is vegan and all ingredients are sourced locally. This is not just a bragging point, but a philosophical belief of founder Josh Levine.  "Our business is more about politics," said Josh, over a cup of coffee at the Donut Farm counter.  "If I had a cause, it's that people should be aware of what they're voting on with their dollar."

Josh Levine, updating the brunch menu on a Sunday morning.

As a kid in San Francisco, Josh grew up watching his lawyer-father give Chinese cooking lessons in the family's kitchen.  He then spent time working in restaurants as a cook, and making vegan dishes for fun, such as custom-style Top Ramen, loaded with fresh veggies.  Before starting Pepple's in 2007, he worked in real estate, which he continues to dabble in, on the side.

When asked what inspired him to start the business, he said,  "I wanted to make a lot of people happy."  Once the idea took hold, he "just decided to do it," and was determined to pursue it, no matter what the outcome.

He began to study the coffee and organic doughnut businesses, modeling Pepple's after Stumptown Coffee, based in Portland, and organic Mighty O Donuts in Seattle. But unlike at these places, you will not find a drop of milk anywhere at Pepple's.  It is 100% vegan, no ifs, ands, or buts. 

Within a few years Josh has put up two stores (the doughnut shop-that-serves-brunch, and the kiosk at the Ferry Building) and wholesale to several dozen local businesses from Santa Cruz to San Jose to San Francisco.

As for how he comes up with his ecletic flavors, Orange Creamsicle came to him in a dream, and Chili Mango is an inspiration from the fresh organic mango he'd noticed at markets (he said to himself: "I gotta do something!").  Other flavors on display today, ranging from $2.00 to $3.00 each, included: Plain 'n' Good, Vanilla Glazed, Chocolate, Chocolate Coconut and Blueberry.  

Of these, I tried Caramel Apple, Chocolate Cookie, Lemon Poppy and Cinnamon Sugar. They were handpicked by Jake, the tall, friendly dude behind the counter. At first I thought that $3.00 was much to pay for a doughnut. But when I thought about the purity of ingredients,  where these ingredients come from (across town), who I am supporting in buying them (locals rather than corporations), I not only think that the prices are reasonable, but that buying them is the right thing to do!

"Chocolate Cookie" - Delicate, subtly sweet.

"Cinnamon Sugar" - The sugar crystals are like glitter.  This is a gorgeous, shimmery doughnut!

"Lemon Poppyseed" - I am finding that the doughnuts with heavier glaze are sweeter. This one has a refreshing tang.

"Caramel Apple" - You can see the little chunks of apple in the icing.

I cannot say I have a "favorite" yet because every last doughnut I try--no matter which--seems to be that moment's favorite. Alas, not only are they all organic and all vegan, but they are all good at Pepple's Donuts!

The inconspicuous farm on San Pablo Avenue that is bursting with flavor inside.