1414 Encinal Ave
as rightfully expected from a coffeeshop breakfast sandwich. It could have just been the post-run endorphins talking, or the fact my total bad/mediocre bagel abstinence program had run me into "need bagel please you bagel me now!" mode, but sitting there in the corner window seat, awash in the tepid morning light, it was perfect.
Ok, really? I walked right into that one, it really was delicious.
Money shot: the inside of the accompanying strawberry croissant. That's a completely untouched pic, by the way. I'm pretty sure strawberry croissants in France don't look anything like this. In fact, I'm pretty sure they look like this. That being said, after accepting that this was really just a Pop-Tart posing as a croissant, it was easier to enjoy the cloying sweetness of the berry-flavored jelly encased in its cold, flaccid pastry shell. Really. A great way to start a birthday.
Fast-forward: 12 hours later. For the record, there's nothing worse than working on your best friend's birthday. Okay maybe working on your own birthday. If there's one "life lesson" to take away here, it's if you can, take an hour off. Just one hour that's yours to have on days like these. You're not superhuman, and it's your damn birthday.
Evening of (the birthday dinner)...
El Caballo is a unique little spot in Alameda. I'll just say this: it took a lot of coordination with one of the owners, Oscar, to get seven of us in there an hour and a half before closing. He's great. He's got this million-dollar smile and a mayoral quality; a real schmooze, you get the sense that he could talk you into trying anything, food-related or not. But his generosity and willingness to accommodate a bunch of high-energy girls on a Friday night was unmatched, and won't soon be forgotten.
Is that salt on my chips? Yep, these are the best chips in Alameda. Hands down. Don't care what you have to say about La Penca. Really don't. In the freebie corn chip battle, salt beats any endless supply because in the end it's about flavor, and these are exponentially corny.
The restaurant's cooks are all female, which is so awesome to see. And their backgrounds have even made an impression on the menu as one of the week's featured specials was Salvadoran pupusas with curtido made to order and served with the traditional spicy tomato sauce. Not only was it fresh, it was delicious. And the first I've ever seen of the yellow variety in the Bay, which is more indicative of Panama.
Fish tacos with marinated, then grilled red snapper, whole beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole and a spicy chipotle aioli. This was definitely more of a nod to the California-style fish taco than the Baja original. That being said it was lightyears better than I thought it would be as I have been conditioned to be immediately skeptical of anything with "chipotle aioli" mentioned in the description.
Enchiladas estilo casera - enchiladas made with corn tortillas that have been flash-fried and then submerged in a chile-spiked tomato sauce, filled with cheese and smothered in enchilada sauce. As good as these were the first time, I don't think they were quite what the birthday girl was looking for. The flavor and consistency of the sauce on top of everything was more akin to a mole than that of an enchilada sauce, and though folded the right way, it became difficult to discern the type of melty cheese that was so delicately encased inside.
The end to this monster of a meal was a piece of tres leches cake for the birthday girl and an assortment of gelatinas for everyone else. This was where Oscar's hospitality really came into play as he was generous enough to allow me to bring in seven gelatinas and a piece of cake (all still in their plastic containers), refrigerate them, hold them, plate them, and sneak them out to us on cue so that we could keep birthday girl in the dark about the whole thing.
And thanks to Oscar and the crew down at El Caballo, would you believe it actually worked?