Tag Archive for dinner

Sidebar

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Sidebar is an upscale, Nouveau American joint along the Grand Avenue side of Lake Merritt. Its website boasts Mediterranean, seasonal, local, and comfort foods among its qualifications, so think dressed up French fries, with smoked paprika in Sidebar’s case, and quality meats served with fresh pickled veggies and relishes. I went at lunch. The menu was a shorter version of the dinner one with fewer options not in salad or sandwich form. As it was lunch, that suited me and my companions just fine. Especially because the cocktail list wasn’t shortened at all.

The staff was lax on seating—we had to wave down the barman and a busser to get a table though the restaurant was not busy. But our server was attentive and the food and drinks came out with no delays. The décor was pleasant with whimsical lighting and mostly small tables with one large round booth in back. A central bar divides the space; the other side hosts a communal picnic table. Cherry-red wood abounds.

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Did I mention the cocktails? That is most definitely where Sidebar excels. I believe this beauty is the Locavore ($10) with Crusoe organic spiced rum, Fruitlab organic orange liqueur, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, seltzer, and mint.

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I say I believe it’s that drink because we didn’t ask particulars—my companions just wanted a cocktail with ginger and that’s what our server brought. Whatever it was, the drink hit all the right marks for a refresher on a warm weekday: light, vivacious from the mint and ginger presences, and enough rum flavor that you don’t forget what you’re drinking. Plus, I’m a sucker for tin cups. Yes, yes, I passionately hate the mason jar drinkware craze for its affected rustic imagery, but I’m all over those cups. I accept my hypocrisy.

My own drink was the Caged Heat ($10) made with B & E bourbon, tamarind, ghost pepper, cardamom, and lemon juice.

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If you don’t like spice, this is not the drink for you. It is absolutely the drink for me. The ghost pepper rose up at the end of every sip, coating my throat with a sensational fire that stopped just short of scorching. Cardamom is also a favorite cocktail ingredient of mine, and it provided the complex sweetness needed to play with that pepper heat. Tamarind grounded it in earthiness, the end result being a well-mixed and memorable drink.
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Afghan Village

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The husband and I ended up at Afghan Village after a quick Yelp search from the freeway when our hunger post-wine-tasting had reached critical levels. So that hunger may have influenced my opinion of the establishment, but honestly, I think Afghan Village just plain has amazing food despite mixed Yelp reviews.

It’s located in a dark strip mall, and the restaurant was just starting to get patrons in the early evening, around 6 pm. Traditional, elaborate decorations adorn the walls. Gold, white, and red were the primary colors of the room.

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It gave of the vibe of a special occasion restaurant, the type where a large family would rent half the room for a birthday or wedding celebration—the two throne chairs in the center of the restaurant definitely contributed to that effect. The décor made the place seem vast when not filled, but it was pleasant to gape at, regardless.

Service was prompt. Because of our hunger, an appetizer was a must.

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Those are potatoes pakora, and I loved them. The spices in the besan flour batter made for an intriguing blend, and the cilantro chutney banished any potential for blandness. It was a healthy helping, too. Despite that glossy sheen, they didn’t taste at all greasy and had a crisp exterior.

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Star Bene

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When I went to school in Santa Cruz, Star Bene was one of the fancier restaurants I heard about but never had the chance to go to because (a) it was outside the range of my college student budget and (b) none of my dates chose it for dinner. Thus, it remained an out-of-reach of restaurant that people went to on dates in my mind’s eye for the last decade. So when my husband and I stayed overnight at the lovely Bella Notte on East Cliff Drive last month, I was delighted to realize Star Bene was right down the street. My chance to live out a college fantasy was in reach.

The atmosphere of Star Bene lived up to that fantasy pretty well.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

Yes, that’s the husband in the side dining room.

It’s standard for an Italian restaurant with moderately dim and warm mood lighting, welcoming staff, dusty bottles of wine on the table, a patio area closed for the season, and an enclosed courtyard out back that looked quite swanky and I wish we’d been sat in—we didn’t notice it until later in the meal.

The cuisine is a typical menu of Italian food with some Spanish influence and a specials menu of Argentinian fare.  I’m not sure the specials menu actually changes, but it was a separate sheet regardless. They offer a wine and beer list as well—I should note that we didn’t particularly enjoy the chianti we ordered, but I can’t remember its name. Sorry! Bad food blogger.

The bread service was notable for the dipping ingredients arranged by color to mimic the Italian flag.

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I’d actually recommend not mixing them up; the tomato, parmesan, and herb flavors were best appreciated separately when dipping.  The bread itself was unremarkable Italian baguette rounds.

We decided to order from both the Argentinian and Italian menus, starting off with a beef empanada.

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It’s made with ground top sirloin, cumin, bell peppers, caramelized onions, green olives, and hard-boiled egg and it was delicious—the star of our meal. Empanada pockets vary greatly, and this one had a hard outer shell with a satisfying crunch while maintaining a nice and moist inner layer. The filling was very flavorful, enough to make me wish I’d stuck with the Argentinian menu for the main course as well.

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