Star Grocery & The Best Sandwich of Your Life: An Epic.

Here we have a guest post by Simone Rubi who lives in Oakland, CA. Simone is Danielle's twin sister who is a musician, graphic designer and life liver. In between making batches of harissa, pickles, preserved lemons and other kitchen projects, she is either on tour or working on collaborative art/design projects.
Star Grocery on Claremont Avenue is in Oakland, California (well, it's on the Berkeley border, but I can't seem to think it's actually there). This store was opened by The Pappas family in 1922. The same family still runs it! The store has weathered the Great Depression, the Oakland Hills fire and the proliferation of chain stores by relying on the same customers whose older relatives may have once relied on the Pappas family. The store embodies everything that I love. Quality stuff and not too much of it. Lots of local products presented in a non-snooty way and different specialty items like hard-to-find spices (like Piment d'Espelette), preserved lemons, and locally made ice creams. They have all of my favorite things (which include the perfect avocado, 'Have'A' corn chips, and homemade sausages). Well thought out choices for wines, beer, root beer, cheese, bread, produce, pasta, olive oil, pickles, preserves, herbs, and a good hardware section as well. They have everything. Well, almost everything. I went in for a roll of film, but alas, nothing (But I guess that's the way these days). It's not excessive, like most commercial stores that have 30 kinds of every-level-of-fat yogurt. It's just a real friendly place. Oh, and cute people work there. I seem to have a thing for dudes that work behind a deli counter (photos upon request).

Star Grocery on Claremont Avenue. 2011. Oakland, California.
In 1950.
Jim and Nick Pappas. 1970s. The Pappas family started and still owns Star Grocery.
I've never even seen these in Norway!
Love the Japanese owl beer. I think we drank that at Sam & Anissa's wedding.
The Bariani olive oil is delicious
Try something different
These are totally a thing in California.
The lower left lettuces are called 'Little Gems' here and I love them.
Normally I'm not a stuff-in-bread kind of person, but this olive bread is really _____ good.
Perfect California avocados. The opposite (a bad one) might be my least favorite think to eat ever.
My fave of the non-fancy variety. I ate a lot of these when I was little. Also, 'Scream' sorbet sandwiches at Star are incroyable.

Inside Star Grocery is Star Meats, and what they have to deliver is absolute perfection. I've always loved a good sandwich. I wrote that my favorite food in a 6th grade essay was a club sandwich (in that same essay, I said that I wanted to make a house that was made of aquariums). Ephemeric alchemy. No two are alike. I guess that's the true chase and desire for food, art, and music lovers. Nothing is ever the same. The object, feeling, and taste is always dependent on how we feel that day, what is surrounding us, and how developed and pampered our taste buds are. Taste buddies. That's what these sandwiches are! Taste buds.

Second of all, I don't think it's fair to take insanely scrumptious photos of sandwiches. Upon viewing, it always leaves me feeling a little unrequited and a tiny bit mad. However, all I can do is to take such photos. We want to eat and taste with our eyes, secretly tricking our stomachs that we are actually eating the food in the photos. Seems to work because I get a little full when I look at this blog. IN A GOOD WAY. Every time I want to share the tastiness of my day with my Cali-Parisian family, I let my food get cold while I try and capture the true taste of the meal with a photo from my little camera.

Whenever I see this pink paper, I get really really happy.
The Brian Allen. Something about the cheddar and spicy mayo combo with the Arugula...
The Goodfella. With fresh buffalo mozzarella, hot coppa, genoa salami and a good amount of vinegar.
The Classic.
You are bummed when you see this.

These sandwiches are the ones that I keep going back to. Like you, I've tried so many different sammies. Hi art and lo art. Square cheese to slathered cheese. Foie gras to Bánh mì. Meatball to pickled slaw. Fried chicken to pulled pork. Torta to panini. Cuban to roti. Euro style with butter and cheese as condiments to Italian style with olive oil and vinegar. What Star Meats has to offer, is the sandwich that I long for when I'm a million miles away. It's the sandwich I long for when I'm only 6 blocks away. It is home. They only use a stellar baguette from La Farine, and when they run out (usually around 2), they won't make any more sandwiches. Go there, order the Brian Allen or the Goodfella, pick up some sorbet or an it's it, pick out a old fashioned soda or organic juice, drive up to the Oakland hills with your pals, get some perspective, and have the best day of your life.

Bay bridge on the left and a distant Golden Gate on the right. Oakland Hills.

Candelaria • Paris's Newest Taqueria and Cocktail Bar

    As Californians living in Paris, Danielle and I naturally have both  a longing and disdain for European  Mexican food.  Not only is California joined at the hip to it's southern sibling, but numerous travels through many parts of Mexico have made the cuisine one of our favorites.  But almost every experience we've had in Mexican restaurants on the right side of the Atlantic has deepened, rather than helped to fill, the Mexican hole in my stomach-soul.  But recently, several self-appointed ambassadors have stepped up to aid the dearth of Mexican cuisine here in Paris.  Candelaria is the newest and brightest yet of these establishments.

     Comprising a taqueria and cocktail bar, Candelaria is located in the bourgeoning north Marais at 52 Rue de Saintonge.  As you walk toward the entrance, a pink glow hovers on the sidewalk, emanating from a large neon sign reading, simply, "TACOS".  Once inside the taqueria,  everything just feels right: white walls, primary color accents, familiar bottles of cerveza lined up on the shelf, bare bulb brightness, a communal, if small, farm table, and the smell of carnitas and rajas sizzling on the comal.  The menu is simple and right on, tacos de carnitas (slow roasted pork) and rajas con queso (sauteed green peppers and onions with melted cheese), tostadas de pollo pibil (stewed chicken in chile tomato sauce on a toasted corn tortilla) and queso fresco (crumbly mexican fresh cheese), as well as chilaquiles (fresh made corn tortilla chips topped with chicken, black beans, and a bunch of other fixings) and, of course, totopos (chips) y guacamole.   After wolfing down a couple of most things on the menu, my mouth confirmed what my nose suspected: this is the real deal.  And as soon as I chatted a little with chef Luis Rendon, the reason became obvious.  Luis hails from Mexico  City, a place that forcefully injects an appreciation for tacos and taco culture into everyone who goes there.  So, I can only imagine the bond that natives of the city feel to the magic-filled, folded corn tortillas.  Luis, a former architecture student, moved to Barcelona to focus on Mediterranean food at the Hofmann university, and moved to Paris thereafter, cooking in several restaurants before joining his friends' new project, Candelaria.  He seems genuinely excited to be cooking his homeland's cuisine, especially the salsas, and of those, especially the salsa de cacahuates (peanut salsa).  As the only departure from traditional mexican cuisine, it evoked both Spanish romesco and some southeast Asian peanut sauces I've had.  With waitress/hostess/prep chef, Maria Luisa, keeping the crowds calm and fed, the atmosphere has a genuine casera (warm, homey) feeling.

    At the back of the taqueria, a barely-noticeable door leads to the cocktail bar, and the vibe instantly changes.  Warm wood tones, intricately colorful murals, and numerous candles beckon you toward the bar itself, where Josh Fontaine and Carina Tsou (who, along with Adam Tsou, own Candelaria) serve an array of creative cocktails and an even wider array of rare tequilas, mezcals, rums, whiskeys, gins, etc.  Josh and Carina met while working at Paris's Experimental Bar, where they mixed top end cocktail for several years.  At Candelaria, there seem to be two main emphases guiding and distinguishing the cocktail and liquor menu.  First, there is a heavy focus on the culinary aspects of the drinks.  Having a kitchen allows them to make many of their own syrups, sangrita (a tomato-based, spicy tequila accompaniment), ginger beer, grenadine, etc.  Second, partly due to Carina's Colombian roots, there is a decidedly Latin American thread running through the offerings.  I love tequilas, and when I saw the bottles of El Tesoro de Don Felipe, I knew things had gotten serious.  I have never seen El Tesoro outside of Mexico, let alone 7 Leguas,  and Tapatio.  Along with Centenario, Corralejo, and Hacienda sotol (a northern Mexican variation on tequila that is made from the sotol cactus, a gaunt member of the agave  family), the tequila selection alone could keep me busy for weeks, putting me off-the-grid without leaving town.  Then there are the mezcals.  Even though I've tasted several smoky and very smoky, and even smokier mezcals in Mexico, I was unprepared for the smoothness and balance of the El Mezcal varieties I tasted at Candelaria.  The cocktails we tried were the Santa Margarita, like the traditional margarita but with the addition of hibiscus and agave honey, and the Pisco Disco, featuring pisco (the staple liquor of Chile and Peru) and house made orgeat (bitter almond) syrup and few other dynamic but less obvious liquors and spices.  While watching Carina and Josh mix, shake and concoct, I noted the amount and variety of ice being used, crushed, cubed, big-cubed.  It occurred to me that ice is to bartenders what fire is to cooks.

    The decoration of the bar and the taqueria rings of a homey, woody-yet-modern aesthetic I've usually only encountered in my native California, and maybe Brooklyn.  This is because Adam, Josh, and Carina brought in a group of creative friends to design and decorate Candelaria.   I suppose this is a perfect time for me to be transparent about my personal, benignly nepotistic involvement in the establishment: I am a designer and craftsman by trade, and I designed and built the bar and a few tables and benches for the space.  However, this involvement has no effect on my judgement of the food, drink, etc.  I think anyone off the street could confirm that the proprietors are amiable, experienced and knowledgable, and the fare is authentic and soulful.  Back to the decor, fellow Californians David Rager and Cheri Messerli oversaw the general design of the interiors, with their  unique, personal style and brought in artists and artisans like Confetti System, Amy Jo Diaz, Keren Richter and myself to add pieces to the space.  As a craftsman, I was particularly impressed with the owners' desire and willingness to use reclaimed materials in the fabrication of the furniture. For example, the bar and several small tables are made from reclaimed wood from old panels originally bought for the floor of the taqueria.  Probably from the 30's or 40s, the wood was aged, sun bleached, and full of sand and cement.  When I sanded it down, a dark, tropical hardwood showed itself and the objective became clear: let the wood's history and character shine through. Many other objects have equally rich provenance, like the voluminous wool tapestry on the far wall of the bar, which is made from the wool of an ancient Native American sheep breed that was saved from extinction by a ranch in Montana that maintains a fully organic, and predator-friendly flock.

     Having been open only for a few days, there is already a consistent crowd moving between the bar and taqueria of Candelaria.  Less obvious in his presence than the two bar tending owners, Adam Tsou can be seen making the rounds, expediting in the taqueria, quietly vigilant over his new project.  Originally in finance in NY, Adam came to Paris to study cooking.  He cooked at several restaurants in Paris and the south of France, most notably the three star L'Astrance, in Paris's 16th arrondissement.  With Adam as the man behind the curtain and Carina, Josh, and Luis in front of it, I think Candelaria will move easily through any current growing pains, and become a stalwart outpost for anyone who needs a fix of, or wants to discover, the flavors of a far off land so often misrepresented on this continent.

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Bánh for Breakfast

This guest post is by Paris based Julian Bowyer: A friend, fellow traveler and superman behind the stove. He is currently eating his way through the streets of Vietnam. Here is his report from this morning's breakfast in Hanoi!

Bánh is the Vietnamese word for dumpling and while visiting the St Joseph cathedral in the old town part of Hanoi we came across a Bahn street stall called Ly Quoc Su and decided to stop for breakfast.  Young Vietnamese girls with nimble fingers, filled different types of dough and pastry with all manner of tasty fillings, passing them over to their mothers and aunts, whose steady well worn hands plunged the delicate morsels into a vehemently hot, charcoal fuelled, cauldron of oil.  Looking around for a place to sit we saw how popular the Bánh stall was, tables full, and a queue of locals waiting for takeaway orders.  On instruction from the fiercest of the cauldron guardians we grabbed some plastic stools to create our own makeshift table, ordered 2 of each shape and got stuck in.  


The fillings were fresh and tasty; minced pork and prawns were paired with black mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, yellow beans, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.  Crunchy, juicy, porky, prawny, breakfasty heaven. There was a lighter than usual sweet vinegar with some sliced yellow chillies bobbing around and a few wafers of green mango to cleanse the pallet.  On the side, a guilt appeasing serving of salad greens and Vietnamese herbs.  If the salad isn't enough to absolve you, at least the Saint Joseph Cathedral is close-by where you can confess your sins of a deep fried breakfast to tempt even the most saintly.

Ly Quoc Su is located kitty corner from the Saint Joseph Cathedral

Photos and Text: Julian Bowyer

On a Date in Italy: A 1960's Hotel in Sorrento

Here are some photos Sam took while staying at the Parco dei Principi , a seaside hotel designed by Gio Ponti on the Amalfi Coast. The hotel was designed in 1962 and has had very few renovations. It's always nice to see an original building that has remained the same. Sam reported that there were 30 different tile designs used throughout for the flooring.

Photos and text: Sam Grawe

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