Alameda a la carte

Alameda a la carte

Denise Shelton
Monkey King Pub & Grub

“Alameda – The Isle of Style and Gracious Living”: A long-ago developer came up with this pitch to San Franciscans to relocate to Alameda for a better, more genteel lifestyle. It still applies today and, in spite of budget woes and economic uncertainty, with a little effort and imagination, gracious living can be achieved here regardless of the size of one’s bank account.

At the center of this is something none of us can live without: food and drink. These are basic needs which, in the right hands, become much more. The difference between food and a feast is not in the quantity but the quality of the repast. Our city has so much to offer the restaurant goer, home cook, and discerning drinker of adult beverages.

In this monthly column, I will feature some of what Alameda has to offer by reviewing restaurants, covering what’s going on in home kitchens and kitchen gardens, and touching on what’s new and noteworthy in town in the realm of food and wine. Push outside your comfort zone and try the unfamiliar. Your new favorite recipe, restaurant, or varietal may be just around the corner.

Restaurant Review: The Monkey King Pub and Grub, 1315 Park Street, 522-8882

In this spirit of adventure, my husband, son and I ambled over to the Monkey King Pub and Grub on a Thursday evening earlier this month. There was much debate over which restaurant would be my first to feature in this column, but the fact that my deadline was approaching and the car was in the shop pretty much settled it on someplace within walking distance.

At first glance, this was not my sort of place. The patrons appeared to be primarily young singles looking for a little mood alteration, food, and fun after work. I imagine this atmosphere thickens as the night progresses. We arrived around 6:30 p.m. and there was a fairly mixed group of young and older patrons, although there didn’t seem to be anyone under the age of 18, which makes sense when you put “pub" before "grub” in the name of your restaurant.

The Chinese/Asian fusion menu is more extensive than what is typically offered at most drinking establishments and the food, while reasonably priced, is certainly a notch above. We sampled the pot stickers, served with a crisp, lightly dressed chopped salad. The ingredients were fresh and well prepared. Also good were the garlic noodles. The garlic fries were especially tasty with ample fresh garlic and cheese. The hefty portion quickly disappeared.

I tried one of the specials, dry ribs with basil. It was adequate although uninspired. Perhaps the spicy alternative on offer would have been a better choice. The Monkey King fried rice with Spam as one of the ingredients (yes, really) was also a hit.

There are lots of good beverage choices. The Hard Strawberry Lemonade just didn’t do it for me, but my husband enjoyed his Coconut Mojito very much. The non-alcoholic peach flavored iced tea was refreshing and not too sweet. All the “usual suspect” beverages are available at the bar, but the star attraction seems to be the Jungle Juice (a mixture of grain alcohol and fruit juices available in carafes for group consumption) with many of the servers sporting T-shirts trumpeting its availability. The message being, if you want to get hammered, this is the place. Happy “Hour” is 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

As for the servers, they are mostly young and inexperienced but eager to please. The noise level, with shrill laughter from 20-somethings on a girls’ night out and the output of several big screen TVs bouncing off the cracked, gray cement floor, makes communication difficult. Not the best setting for a romantic meal or a heart-to-heart.

It’s a pity no one thought to reserve some of the paint from the gorgeous, gigantic mural that adorns one wall depicting the titular Monkey King for the stained cement floor. You see a great expanse of it when paused at the front door, and the sight of it may have given more than one potential patron second thoughts about crossing the threshold. But perhaps that’s the point. This is clearly not a place for everybody and certainly not for every occasion. If however, you’re on the prowl for substantial food alongside your potent potables, up for a laugh and some after work wind down, or later on, a riotous evening where anything can happen, just order up a round of Jungle Juice and take a swing with the Monkey King.

Home Cooking: Hot Tomato – Or, Why We Don’t Grow All of Our Own Produce

Like many Alamedans these days, I wake each morning, imbibe a stimulating beverage and check out what’s going on in the garden. Sigh. It’s August. I have seven strapping tomato plants, laden with fruit, and exactly one wee tomato has ripened and been consumed. In spite of all the assurances on the Internet gardening sites, in the seed catalogs and at the local nursery that we should have been knee-deep in canning equipment by now, scrambling to preserve our bounty, it hasn’t quite clicked - at least, not yet.

Long ago in April, we crafted self-watering containers out of five-gallon food grade buckets scrounged from local restaurants (thank you, Burger Meister and C’era Una Volta!). We prepared the soil, mixed the magic fertilizer formulas, planted our seeds and then our seedlings with visions of summer’s luscious bounty dancing like sugarplums (or is it Sugar Babies?) in our heads. And then we waited. Obviously. The seed package and the little tags on the potted starts tell us exactly how long it takes to make good on the promise they’ve pitched. The only problem is that the one thing the home gardener cannot control effectively is temperature, and we just haven’t had enough degrees of that this summer. Again.

If I had been able to rely on their estimates, my Cherokee Purple plants, started from seed on April 1, would have been ready to harvest in 80 days. Even with my tenuous grasp on the principles of arithmetic, I know that by August 1, we are well into extra innings in this game and still, the green meanies refuse to ripen. I’ve tried placing an over-ripe banana at the base of the plant and even experimented with stapling a brown bag with an apple in it over one section of the plant so that the gas from the apple would stimulate ripening. Nada.

Luckily, we have Dan’s Produce, Alameda Marketplace, the West End farmer’s market and dozens of other options, including straight-to-your-door services like Lolabee’s Harvest around to console us with perfectly ripe fruit until our own efforts are rewarded. My basil plants have flourished, been harvested, and grown back again and again but, without tomatoes, I still have no home grown Caprese salad.

Hopefully, the wait is almost over. In the meantime, spend a few bucks at your local produce purveyor and try out this fantastic summer salad idea. You’ll feel better because you know you’re not likely to plant a peach tree anytime soon, so it’s not exactly cheating.

I got this twist on a traditional Caprese salad recipe from my sister Pat. The basic idea of substituting peaches for tomatoes appeared in Real Simple magazine in 2006, but, as it is so simple, one can assume it’s something that’s been done by others before. Enjoy as written or throw in a few flourishes to make it your own.

Recipe: Pat’s Peachy Summer Salad

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

3 ripe peaches
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, torn
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into one-inch pieces
2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil (I use a bit more)
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

1. Cut each peach into six to eight wedges, then cut each wedge crosswise.
2. In a large bowl, combine peaches, basil, and mozzarella. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate up to four hours.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 194; Calories from fat 51%; Fat 11g; Sat Fat 4 g; Cholesterol 30 mg; Sodium 418 mg; Carbohydrate 10 g; Fiber 2 g; Sugar 8 g; Protein 17 g

New and Noteworthy

On Webster Street…
Café Jolie at 1500 Webster Street is now serving dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Hors d’oeuvres on offer include escargot, tuna tartare, and a charcuterie plate. Filet mignon, rack of lamb and wild Alaskan salmon are featured entrées. Phone: 523-4500.

At Alameda South Shore Center…
If you’ve been paying attention at all lately, you already know that South Shore will be the home to two new restaurants. Five Guys Burgers and Fries will occupy the space vacated by Pearl’s Hamburgers and the old Zeytini’s site is undergoing a major renovation to house Trabocco, an upscale Italian restaurant. Former Il Fornaio chef Giuseppe Naccarelli and his wife Christine plan to open Trabocco later this fall.

On Park Street…
Park Street is anxiously awaiting the opening of several new food and wine establishments. Betty’s Park Café, at the old Boniere Bakery location (1417 Park Street) was announced last year and ads have been running for a while in Alameda Magazine and the Yellow Pages. Let’s hope whatever bumps in the road Betty is encountering, they’ll be smoothed out soon. (Cupcakes have been promised!)

Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant is getting set to open at the old Woori Market location (1241 Park Street). As an Eastern European soul food devotee, I’ll be one of the first in the door.

Another intriguing project is Wine and Waffles: A Family Wine Bar, the wine and tapas bar set to open next to Ole’s. It will be interesting to see if the risky name works for or against them. A sketch of the planned interior (which looks gorgeous, by the way) is on display just outside the door at 1505 Park Street. Owners Ken and Vickie Monize say they look forward to a September opening.

Also in September, the retail scene will get a much-needed boost when Frank and Debbie George of Pillow Park Plaza fame open Bonne Vie, featuring fine wines and beer from around the globe. Bonne Vie is an expansion of Pillow Park Puff, a cigar shop that the Georges have operated in one corner of their furniture store for the past seven years. Set to open September 1, Bonne Vie is the next phase in an impressive retail history as the 41-year-old family business does a Darwin and reinvents itself yet again. Stop by and check out the rest of the building, stunningly redecorated by Josh Lipps. Several new businesses now occupy the space at 1419 Park Street including the soon to be open Gotham Harbor Coffee Company.

Got tips? You can reach Denise Shelton at


Submitted by Tia (not verified) on Thu, Aug 8, 2013

Great stuff - congrats on the inaugural column! Looking forward to using Alameda a la carte as a way to stay up to date on all the foodie news.

Submitted by June & Jim Ogden (not verified) on Thu, Aug 8, 2013

Nice article Denise. Keep them coming.

Submitted by Austin Shelton (not verified) on Thu, Aug 8, 2013

I am impressed by the article and proud of my sister-in-law's work on it.

Submitted by Vadette Goulet (not verified) on Thu, Aug 8, 2013

Congratulations on this first of many columns to come! Reading about your comments and suggestions, I am looking forward to some new favorites. Thanks!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, Aug 9, 2013

I'm in Alameda and have been getting tomatoes for a little while. Lest this sounds like bragging, it's not, because I think the reason my tomatoes fruit early is because they are all along a black asphalt driveway. I'm definitely not bragging that I have that lovely expanse of black asphalt. Sigh, at least there's some benefit from it.

Submitted by dj (not verified) on Sat, Aug 10, 2013

Cigars. Phoey. No thank you on anything else sold with them.

Submitted by Mandy (not verified) on Mon, Aug 12, 2013

Based on your review, I think I'll check out the Monkey King Pub & Grub for drinks. Thanks for the info on the new places. I wasn't aware of all of them. Looking forward to your next column!

Submitted by Julia Jawad (not verified) on Mon, Aug 12, 2013

What an amazing amount of interesting information. Thank you! I'm going to try that peach salad.