Alameda A La Carte: Acapulco Restaurant reopens
Alameda A La Carte: Acapulco Restaurant reopens
Restaurant Review: Acapulco Restaurant, 2100 Lincoln Avenue 239-4912
Just after this column debuted last month, reader Nancy Ely e-mailed me saying she had heard the Acapulco Restaurant was re-opening and asked if I had any details. I didn't, but my tipster told me the iconic Alameda eatery had been purchased by East Bay restaurateur Michael Wiesner, owner of San Leandro's popular Paradiso and Castro Valley's Boulevard Burger.
An internet search and an e-mail to Mr. Wiesner got me nowhere, so I put it on the back burner and prepared to review another place in town. Then, two days ago, my pal Cary mentioned that the Acapulco had indeed re-opened and he had dined there, pronouncing it "yummy." Since the mere mention of the place elicited 22 "likes" on Cary's Facebook page, I decided to scratch my original target and check it out. (Ordinarily, I would give a restaurant a few months to get the kinks out, but Mr. Wiesner's track record is pretty good and I knew readers would be anxious for a preview.)
Earlier this week after work, my colleague Nancy and I arrived a little after 5 p.m. The parking lot was already full - surprising since the owner appears to have opted for a soft opening with little fanfare, giving the staff a chance to reach their stride. A thrifty as well as wise decision, word of mouth being the cheapest and best advertising and we have plenty of that around here!
The main entrance opens into the small but pleasant bar area where we were greeted by Bill Silva, a most genial and gracious host who made us feel welcome at once. The interior is much the same as it was before, with lots of cozy booths, but Bill proudly pointed out the upgrades: new flooring, all new plumbing and electrical, new restrooms, and a top-to-bottom gutting and rebuild of the kitchen.
The basic, double-sided, one-page menus are a far cry from the old place's hefty bill of fare but will no doubt be expanded as the roll-out continues. The emphasis is on basic Mexican dishes such as tacos, burritos, flautas and combination plates using the freshest ingredients, many organic and/or locally sourced.
The Acapulco is currently only open six nights a week for dinner, but Bill says they plan to eventually add lunch hours and a special Sunday brunch menu. He also pointed out some of the menu items retained as a tip of the hat to the restaurant's 58-year ownership by the Quintero family. These include the three-cheese and chili appetizer queso fundido and entrees Acapulco Prawns (spicy), Acapulco Fish Tacos, and the Burrito Famoso.
Another welcome change is the liquor license that allows the new Acapulco to offer a full bar with a a creative array of high octane margaritas (in the old days, according to Nancy, they made them with wine). Although I didn't try one, the Chocolate Margarita alone - Milagro tequila, chocolate syrup, half and half, orange juice, and Godiva white chocolate liquor - inspired me to plot a return visit with a designated driver.
Soft drinks include Mexican-made Coke, Sprite and Fanta, which use cane sugar instead of corn syrup for, in the opinion of many - myself included - a much better flavor.
Both my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I had the carne asada - nicely grilled, peppery beef, with peppers and onions. Nancy decided upon the chile verde - melt-in-your-mouth pork in a green chili sauce. Both entrees were served with rice and beans, the rice being especially tasty. Dinners come with the traditional chips and a perfectly fresh, delectable house-made salsa.
Although the menu is somewhat limited at present, the new Acapulco appears to be off to a great start. Friendly and efficient service; delicious, reasonably-priced food; and sensitivity to the expectations of former patrons? Looks like a recipe for success.
Current hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m.to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays.
Home Cooking: The Long Hot Simmer - Famine Turns to Feast in Tomatoland
If you read this column last month, you may remember my frustration at the lack of ripe tomatoes on my seven heirloom plants. Things have changed. I won't say I have too many tomatoes (I really like tomatoes), but I have actually been giving them away. After the first blast of true summer heat (which always seems to happen right after the start of the school year - sorry kiddos), I finally had enough homegrown beauties to make my first real stab at making a big batch of tomato sauce.
I experimented first with a somewhat complicated recipe from an Italian chef, using only enough for a single meal. The method required steeping the garlic and herbs in olive oil separately, then adding it to the skinned, seeded, and reduced tomatoes. It came out rather nicely, but I had some trouble getting the oil and the tomatoes to incorporate, it was a lot of work, and required constant attention.
For my next effort, I looked for something simpler. I somewhat guiltily Googled "Crock Pot tomato sauce" and found quite a few examples. I also learned that some people think skinning and seeding the tomatoes is not necessary - just chop them up and whip them to a pink, frothy fare-thee-well in the food processor. Hmm. Well, if I'm going to be a Philistine, I may as well go all the way.
Another benefit of this method is that you don't have to use the stove. You turn the heat to high on the slow cooker and sauté whatever vegetables you'd like in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil first. I used an onion, a bunch of chopped basil, a couple of cloves of mashed garlic, and a small eggplant.
While that got going, I processed two batches of tomatoes, just cored and chopped. Then I added these to the oil and vegetables, winged it with a dash of parsley, oregano, garlic power, and chili pepper flakes, and turned the slow cooker to the low setting. (It's important to prop the lid with a wooden spoon so that the vapor can escape as the sauce reduces.) Then I went to bed.
In the morning, I tasted my masterpiece and it was REALLY bitter. You might think this is because of the skins and the seeds but it's sometimes just the luck of the draw with the variety of tomatoes you use. None of mine were "sauce" tomatoes, so that could be it.
What's short-cutter to do? Once again, Google is my friend. It turns out that a small amount of baking soda can adjust the bitterness, but no one seems to know exactly how much. I put in a little, it was better. I added a bit more, it fizzed like a science experiment, and it tasted ... kind of bland. How about a little plum jam? Better, but not quite there.
So I went to the store and bought a small package of Saint Louis style ribs, meatballs, and Italian sausage, and added those along with a few more herbs. I cooked the whole thing on low for a couple more hours until the ribs fell off the bone. (A trick I learned from an Italian lady in Upstate New York where I grew up.) Success! I removed the bones and had several quarts of fantastic sauce, most of which I froze. And that's my short-cut to a great home-grown tomato sauce. It took about 15 hours, but I was asleep for at least half of it, so there's that.
Survey Says: Stroll In or Stroll On?
Last month, we asked our readers to weigh in on the best and worst places in Alameda for parents to have a light bite or caffeine break with preschoolers in tow. Some of the comments were surprising, but keep in mind that this is a very small sample gleaned in a decidedly non-scientific way. The quotes that follow are our readers' opinions alone.
From The Alamedan website:
+Cafe Q on Encinal near Park Street- they have board games and great food. It is a favorite hangout for my son and I. Quality eats from an excellent chef in a casual setting. +Tomatina - one of our all time favorites. If we tell them we are hungry and in a hurry, they make it happen. We ask for the house bread to start off (focaccia slices on the house) to fend off any tantrums (adult or kid tantrums ;-)) +Angkor Grill - Quiet place with great food that tastes home cooked. My son swears the lemongrass chicken cures colds. Service is fast and there is always a place to sit." -Submitted by Tracy Zollinger
Cafe Q is pretty awesome. My 15 month old loves to eat their pasta specials. High chairs, board games for bigger kids, paper kids activity mats are a plus too. -Submitted by Alexis
"I think that most restaurants and cafes in Alameda are kid-friendly. In my experience, they kind of have to be to succeed here! Here are our family favorites: Blue Dot, Yellow Tail, Kamakura, Wescafe (usually for coffee and a treat before or after the farmer's market), Jay's Cafe." -Submitted by Jen
El Caballo Wraps (next to Pagano's on Lincoln) has had lots of kids on many occasions I have eaten there. Ditto for Otaez on Webster. And, of course, there is the top draw for kids of all ages--Tucker's....
Homeroom Cafe! They have great Thai food and aren't afraid to turn up the heat if requested. The staff is all friendly and extremely patient and understanding with even small children using the slot car racetrack. On top of that, they have a large assortment of toys, books and games, and tons of fun stuff to look at on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. -Submitted by phastphil
Yellow Tail Sushi has been a great Friday night spot with our children. Edamame, chicken yakitori and rice for the kids. -Submitted by John
From Our Facebook Page:
Julie's tea house is the worst for little kids!!!! -Submitted by Jamie Beane Soper
Peet's is always great for us! (We have a 4-year old) -Submitted by Tiffanie McEntire Tang
Blue Dot is a friendly kid place with the kid menu, chalk board and books. The Little house is not so kid friendly and Julie's Tea house not so kid friendly. Tomatina is great for kids, kids eat free on Thursdays. -Submitted by Rebecca Jimenez Trissell
Stay clear of Tucker's creamery. David, the ice cream maker told my friends to take their 5 month old baby and get out because the baby was crying. Oh did I mentioned he kicked my friends kid out and told him not to come back because he had a yogurt in his hand while 12 of us are getting ice cream in his store on mother's day. So stay clear from Tucker's if you have kids. We no longer eat there. Yogofina is wonderful and great with kids. -Submitted by Thuy Pham
Yikes, I'm glad I caught these comments. I haven't visited Tuckers in years, I do however frequent Jay's coffee on Encinal, Tuttimelon on Central, Loard's at South Shore & Tmix at the end of Webster. Only but the best kid friendly experiences with my 3. I'll stick to these places when in the mood for a cool sweet treat or a cup of joe. As a matter of fact just yesterday at Tmix the sweet young lady even switched from music videos to a kid flick just for us. I didn't realize it until my daughter said the lady turned on Hotel Transylvania Mommy! -Submitted by Stephanie Deguzman
Thanks to everyone who responded. Additional responses can be found on the original survey post.