at a Benicia bakery... Wang: You have to eat it all.
Sbrocco: ...authentic Burmese flavors in Walnut Creek... Socrates: That was through the roof.
Sbrocco: ...and gastropub fare in San Rafael -- just ahead on "Check, Please!
Friedman: The bun had a great soaky-uped-ness.
Sbrocco: Very technical term.
Friedman: Yes, very technical term.
♪♪ Sbrocco: Hi, I'm Leslie Sbrocco.
Welcome to "Check Please!
Bay Area," the show where regular Bay Area residents review and talk about their favorite restaurants.
Now, we have three guests.
And each one recommends one of their favorite spots, and the other two go check them out to see what they think.
Joining me at the "Check, Please" table today are physician assistant Alex Friedman, graphic and print designer Adriel Socrates, and dental implantologist Janice Wang.
Wang: Thank you.
Friedman: Thank you.
Sbrocco: Up first is Adriel.
He's got a big sweet tooth, so he's always on the hunt for his next dream dessert.
He thinks he's found it at a cozy bakery that went viral nationwide, thanks to one of its most creative bakes -- a life-size Han Solo made entirely out of bread.
Located in scenic downtown Benicia, it's One House Bakery.
♪♪ Man: Can I get the apple crumble tartlet?
Pervan: One House Bakery is my dream.
Woman: I haven't had this in a while.
Pervan: It's been the only thing I've ever wanted to do my whole life, since I was 10.
[ Laughs ] So, we have a pastry department, a bread department, a savory department.
Man: Chicken pot pie, one of the crowd favorites.
Pervan: 152 heard.
Woman: Thank you.
Pervan: When we first went to open, everybody's like, "You're doing too much."
Like, you have to pick one or the other.
And I was like, "I don't want to pick."
[ Laughter ] ♪♪ We mill our own flour.
Everything is from scratch.
And then, we have a mezzanine upstairs so people can actually sit at the balcony and watch everything in the kitchen.
I wanted our customers to feel like they're in the kitchen being a part of what we're making.
Girl: I love this!
Pervan: Essentially, we have all-day breakfast.
You can order anything all day.
I wanted people who, you know, like to sleep in or shift workers or don't necessarily get a traditional weekend off -- I wanted them to be able to come and have, like, brunch every day of the week, all day long.
Within our town, we have something called the Benicia Scarecrow Contest every year.
My mom and I are giant sci-fi nerds.
You know, we put a lot of effort into making these huge sculptures out of dough because we love it and it's fun.
And, you know, we get to see the kids coming up and taking pictures and we had Pan Solo and Baby Dough-da, and it's just become, like, a real thing for us to do together.
We take what we do very seriously, but we want you to come in and enjoy it and have fun and be a part of our family.
I wanted our town to feel like this is their bakery.
When they grow up, I want them to think back, go home, and like, "Oh, remember that bakery when I was a kid?"
Like, I wanted to be that thing for our town.
Sbrocco: Okay, before we get talking about this bakery, we have to talk about the Han Solo.
I'm a huge "Star Wars" fan.
Sbrocco: And these guys did go viral for this Han Solo captured in carbonite, life-sized piece of bread.
Sbrocco: And the Pain Doughlorian.
Sbrocco: Got to throw that one in there.
Sbrocco: So, obviously creative.
One House Bakery is such a dream.
You know, it's nestled in the heart of downtown Benicia.
And you can just walk around there and spend the whole day there.
What I love about One House is that it's just full of life.
The people there are so friendly.
The food just smells amazing when you walk in.
Sbrocco: And what do you start with?
Socrates: I'm a very dessert-first person.
I literally run towards the peanut butter caramel tart.
And that's because this tart is kind of like a really refined Reese's Pieces cup.
You know, it's smooth, it's really decadent and creamy, but it's not overly sweet.
And then it has this really buttery, moist tart at the bottom that's not overly done.
It all just marries so well together, and it's so balanced.
And I mean, who doesn't like peanut butter?
Sbrocco: I don't know.
Anybody not like peanut butter?
What was your experience?
Wang: We walked in.
It was bustling.
Wang: Giant bakery.
And the bakery counter -- what you see are just gorgeous desserts.
And you almost think, "Are they going to taste as good as they look?"
We tried the chocolate almond croissant, which was so filled, it felt like the baker wanted to stuff as much goodness into that croissant.
Wang: It was completely just mind-blowing in the amount of chocolate and almonds.
The food is also excellent.
I had the chicken pot pie -- piping hot, buttery, flaky crust.
It's my favorite.
Wang: Oh, I agree with you.
I mean, it's the kind of thing that, even if you're trying to be a little bit healthy and reduce your carbs, you have to eat it all.
It's so delicious.
Sbrocco: But there are some vegetables in there.
Wang: A little bit.
There are some vegetables.
Socrates: There are definitely vegetables in there, you know.
Sbrocco: That's right.
Friedman: I mean, we got there at, you know, brunch time, so we went breakfast, savory, sweet, dessert.
Friedman: We tried it all, right?
And so, we got a focaccia meat sandwich, which was amazing because it had three different types of meat.
It had prosciutto, salami, ham, had some pickled diced vegetables on there.
And it was just a very freshly made sandwich, very thoughtful, how they put it together.
Socrates: The Cuban meat pie is spectacular.
It's puff pastry, but when they bake it, it's just extra fluffy and light, and it's, like, pillowy in a way.
It's filled with a really nice seasoned beef.
It's full of onions, garlic.
And when you bite into it, you get the satisfying crunch, but you also get the savory factor that you're really looking for in the Cuban meat pie.
I could eat easily like 12 of these.
A whole dozen, actually.
[ Laughter ] Friedman: I also had the cinnamon sticky bun, which is an amazing pastry, really well made.
You know, sometimes when you have a cinnamon bun, the center is the best part where the outside is kind of crispy, but this is all uniformly baked where you could pick apart each part and put it in your mouth.
And it was like melting honey and caramel in your mouth.
It was so awesome to eat.
I would eat a dozen of those.
[ Laughter ] Wang: I had the kouign-amann pastry, and it is absolutely fantastic -- this buttery croissant dough with caramel, sticky, crunchy on the outside.
Just complemented the flavors.
Just so well done.
Their chocolate chip cookie is the size of a salad plate.
A family of four, I think, could easily eat from that one cookie.
Sbrocco: And what about drinks?
Socrates: There are so many drinks on their menu, but my go-to is the lavender latte.
It's really aromatic, and I always ask for oat milk, and they have tons of nondairy options.
I don't know.
It's just so homey and cozy.
Wang: I tried the Vietnamese coffee, and it was delicious, wasn't it?
Friedman: Me, too.
I mean, it's nice that it's layered and you could either drink it with the coffee or some of the condensed milk, swirl it around and try to get a good mix.
Wang: It was such a surprise that they offered it there.
It's such a deeply intense coffee-flavored drink against those delectable pastries.
It's a perfect mix.
Sbrocco: And did you feel like this was value, that you got your bang for the buck?
The quality ingredients and the kind of care they put to it.
I would have loved to try the Cuban meat pie.
Some of the items that we wanted to try were sold out.
I've even made it a point to call them and be like, "Hey, do you have the Cuban meat pies?"
Because they run out fast.
Socrates: I would say give them a call.
They are the friendliest staff I've met, out of any cafe I've been to, honestly.
Sbrocco: And One House means, you know, no back of the house and front of the house.
Just one house.
Socrates: Oh, yeah.
Sbrocco: If you would like to try One House Bakery, it's located on First Street in Benicia, and the average tab per person without drinks is around $20.
Sbrocco: Sour, salty, and spicy.
That's the unique flavor profile that Janice has come to love in so many of the dishes at her favorite Burmese restaurant.
Whenever she's craving a crunchy tea leaf salad or fresh-from-the-wok shrimp stir fry, she heads to the heart of Walnut Creek for a visit to Burma 2.
♪♪ Tinoco: Here at Burma 2, we serve traditional Burmese food.
Burmese cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighboring nations -- Thailand, China, and India.
So, there's heavy trading, but it's very much its own cuisine.
Family-style is the best way to enjoy our food.
You're able to go ahead and try a little bit of everything.
Some of our most popular starters is the palata.
It's a flat-style, flaky, doughy bread that comes with curry dipping sauce of your choice.
Our most popular dishes are stir-fried in the wok.
One of the most ordered is our dried basil chili beef.
It has a nice dry tamarind rub, and it's thinly sliced, really nice and tender.
Same time you get that nice sizzle.
Server: Thai chilies, jalapeño, basil, ginger.
Tinoco: So, our foods all automatically come medium, but we can go ahead and adjust it from mild to hot to very hot.
Server: Of course, a little bit of lemon.
Tinoco: What we enjoy the most is when we have people coming in for the first time.
Man: So beautiful.
Server: Here we go.
Tinoco: When you see them take the first bite and they just go, "Wow, this is one of the best things I've ever had..." Woman: And I love it.
Tinoco: Oh, thank you.
We do have our Burmese local people coming in and trying it out, especially moh hin gha, which is a national staple.
We've had people try it and they said that it's one of the closest dishes that reminds them of home.
A lot of our staff is from Burma.
So, for them to be able to share what they're passionate about and their secrets and what they enjoy and seeing the community enjoy their food just makes them that much happier.
Woman: It's so -- Man: So good.
Sbrocco: So, Janice, is Burmese cuisine something that you seek out?
Wang: You know, I was not very familiar with Burmese cuisine, but there are some different flavor combinations and different flavor profiles that you're unfamiliar with.
So, it sort of drew me in.
One of my favorite things to get there is the tea leaf salad, and it comes with these piles of all sorts of crunchy bits, such as fried garlic, peanuts, some shrimp powder, yellow peas, and then the tea leaves.
You can get it with romaine or with cabbage.
I usually do it with cabbage to have a little more crunch.
And then the way they mix it all together, it's just really, really delicious.
Sbrocco: So, Adriel, what was your experience?
Socrates: I started with the lettuce wraps.
And the lettuce wraps are this really fresh romaine lettuce cups.
And the chicken was really juicy and flavorful.
And it also came with water chestnuts, ginger, onions.
And you get a side of hoisin sauce that you get to pour over that, and it just brings everything together.
And I really enjoyed the black pepper beef.
It comes with this amazing smoky black bean sauce.
You get the sides of onions and bell peppers, and they're just soaked in this amazing sauce, which is so savory, and it goes so well with the whole dish as one.
I definitely would order that again.
Friedman: Yeah, the whole restaurant, all the dishes are very family-style, shareable.
So, we got the basil and dried chili beef, very nice marinades, very high-quality, moist meats.
But, you know, being someone who doesn't do well with very spicy things, in terms of tolerance, there are just enough spice to, you know, be adventurous and get that tingliness on your tongue.
Sbrocco: A little danger without too much.
Friedman: The pineapple fried rice, I think it was good.
I liked how they presented it.
It wasn't sweet.
It wasn't terribly flavorful.
It was a little bland-ish.
But it was just nice to, you know, have.
Sbrocco: A good foil for the meat dishes.
Wang: So, I really love the pineapple fried rice.
It has a tart quality.
It's a mound of this sunny yellow rice, and it's just so cheerful looking.
And I agree, it's not powerful in flavor, but I think it's a good accompaniment because some of the other dishes are very richly flavored.
I'm really a fan of the dry curry beef.
One of the things they put in that curry is okra, which I'm a big fan of okra.
My husband does not enjoy okra at all.
So, more for me.
Sbrocco: It's a polarizing one, okra.
But I love that kind of texture in the dry curry beef.
And it's not dry.
It's more like the sauce is glazed over the beef and the green beans and the okra.
There is a minted jalapeño diced fine chicken, and every piece is coated with sort of like a uniform soy, the freshness of the mint.
And I feel like when I go into the restaurant and you hear the other diners, you hear a lot of people say, "I want that minted jalapeño chicken."
Socrates: We had the lemongrass basil salmon.
And let me tell you, that was through the roof.
I loved how they perfectly pan-seared the salmon without making it dry.
And it's glazed in this delicious soy sauce-fish sauce hybrid.
It just has this delicious flavor that just really just makes your mouth burst with so much excitement.
I would get that again.
Sbrocco: And what did you drink?
Socrates: I had the Burmese tea.
It's so rich.
And then they add to it a mixture of evaporated milk and condensed milk.
And let me tell you, I was kind of sad when I finished it.
Friedman: And I agree.
I got the same thing.
And I think it was a great balance for having dishes that were spicy.
It was definitely something -- For me, it was something good to kind of cut the spice, but to be able to continue eating.
Sbrocco: And is there a trick to gauge kind of the spice level?
Wang: Talk to the server.
They'll guide you.
The servers are super friendly.
They want you to have that Burmese hospitality, that Burmese warmth, and really kind of educate you about what Burmese food is.
Sbrocco: So service was good for you all?
Socrates: Oh, impeccable.
Friedman: I had a different experience.
I think that we did order a bottle of wine, as well, after I had the tea.
But it took, you know, halfway through our entree to get our bottle of wine.
Sbrocco: Okay, that's not good.
And I do think that I love a good dance party and house music.
Wasn't the style for eating dinner with my mom and my brother.
[ Laughter ] Socrates: Was it busy when you went?
Friedman: No, it was like 6:00 in the evening.
So it was like three tables there.
Wang: A rave plus Burma.
Friedman: It was -- Yeah, it was rave Burma food.
Socrates: I actually had a great time.
The food was really new to me.
I've never really had Burmese food, so it was really fun to try something different.
My parents loved it.
You know, the flavors were exciting.
They were fresh and vibrant and there are things they've never had before.
I will say, do not leave without trying the semolina cake.
It's on the dessert menu, but it's, you know, semolina flour and yogurt.
You know, they bake it and it's perfectly moist on the inside and warm, and you have a condensed milk drizzle.
And it also comes with a side of ice cream.
And it was just perfectly sweet without being overly sweet.
Wang: I've had the dessert palata.
And palata is kind of a traditional Burmese flatbread.
And so that's very delicious if you want something warm and flaky and with the ice cream and the fruit.
But coming from a dessert aficionado like you, Adriel, I will definitely get the semolina cake next time.
Socrates: Oh, yes.
If you would like to try Burma 2, it's located on North Main Street in Walnut Creek, and the average tab per person without drinks is around $25.
If Alex was on a deserted island, the one food he'd dream about over all others would no doubt be a big, juicy hamburger.
In fact, he loves burgers so much he joined a bunch of dads who get together every month for the sole purpose of taste-testing burgers.
He thinks he's found the top contender at his new favorite brewpub.
Located in the Terra Linda neighborhood of San Rafael, it's The Monk's Kettle.
♪♪ Albertson: Well, we are The Monk's Kettle Terra Linda.
And the name actually came from the Trappist monks.
They were the first artisan brewers.
The kettle is actually -- You make beer in it.
You also make food in it.
And we do a little bit of both.
Brenner: My approach to the food here is I just really enjoy setting expectations and then over-delivering on it.
And I feel like it's really approachable stuff.
This isn't stuff you've never heard of before, you know?
But when you get it, it's gonna be better than you were thinking.
Man: It's good.
Brenner: I have done a lot of pickling and really love funky, exotic, sour flavors.
This is a mixture of mustard powder, Korean chili flake, and sumac.
Whenever possible, I try to incorporate beer and brewing practices into the flavor.
Albertson: Even the fries, you know, they're not just salted.
They use hop salt.
So we take some whole-cone hops and cure it in salt.
And that's the salt that we use.
That's a good night.
I would say my favorite is the magical kale salad.
It used to be called the kale salad, and we kept saying how magical it is.
And so we just said, "Let's just call it that."
We got a Pliny.
Our beer selection runs the gamut of the entire range of craft beer.
So we have anything from pilsners to IPAs to stouts to Belgians to sours.
Our staff is key.
We surround ourselves with just really great people, and that attracts a clientele that's really great as well.
So -- And our whole job is take a room and make it a place that people want to hang out in.
Our job is literally happiness.
Make people happy.
Let people have fun.
Sbrocco: Okay, Alex, what is it about this place that brings you back again and again?
Friedman: You know, the location itself.
It is tucked away in, you know, Terra Linda, San Rafael.
And so you almost wouldn't know that it's there.
But once you're there, you know, the servers are very quick to greet you.
They're knowledgeable about the menu.
They could guide you into what you want.
It's very welcoming.
Sbrocco: So you are a serious burger lover.
Talk about this club that you're in.
Friedman: Yeah, so it's a bunch of dads who get together each month, and we have a president who picks a different restaurant in Marin, and we all go and rate the burger.
We have a sizzling methodology, how we go about rating the burger, patty bun, accouterments, and overall experience.
And so it was nice to try to apply this methodology to The Monk's Kettle lamb burger, even though it wasn't a beef burger.
Sbrocco: And so this won.
So this is why you're saying this is the top contender.
So the bun is a nice, fresh Kaiser roll that had a great soaky-uped-ness.
Sbrocco: Very technical term.
Friedman: Yes, very technical term, trademark.
So it held up well to the juiciness of the burger.
Sometimes you have a burger that the juices kind of overflow into the bun and it kind of falls apart while you eat it.
Friedman: This didn't do that.
And I don't think that this burger had too much gaminess.
If you're not into gamey meats, I think that this is a perfect burger.
The char to the burger was great.
It wasn't too overpowering.
And I think that how it's all put together with all the dill, lemony kind of yogurt tahini sauce.
Sbrocco: So do you rate like on a 1 to 10 scale?
Was that a 10 or -- Friedman: It's 1 to 5, 5 being the best.
So this is a 5.
Wang: I will say that was a really delicious lamb burger.
And your soaky-uped-ness of the bun, I agree.
It held a really thick, juicy burger.
The crunchiness, the tartness, so delicious.
And I think they put a lot of care in assembling the correct meat to bun to accouterment ratio.
Friedman: So part of the accouterments of ordering a burger is you could order the fries or you could order something else.
So I was like, "I'm gonna try the tomato soup," which is, you know, very classic, simple, but it had certain flavors in there that kind of set it apart.
Had some fennel in there.
It gave it a little bit of different tang, and all the ingredients were very fresh.
Socrates: We started off with the Scotch eggs.
What I really enjoyed about the Scotch egg was the lamb merguez casing around the soft-boiled quail egg.
It was seasoned well, and it had spice to it.
And my only pet peeve about it was that the quail egg was not soft-boiled, and I was really hoping for an ooze-y, gooey center.
I didn't get it, but it still tasted so good.
It was over a bed of arugula that was lightly dressed, so it had freshness to it as well.
I really enjoyed it.
Wang: We tried the pretzel.
It comes with maybe like a mustard and also a cheese sauce.
The mustard was a whole-grain mustard and tiny little, almost like pearls of mustard that had that sort of caviar feel in your mouth.
Just very gentle and pop a little bit.
That was delicious.
We also tried the fried romanesco, which -- delicious and not very popular in many restaurants, so that was a nice difference from something like a fried cauliflower or fried Brussels sprouts.
We also did the mac and cheese, very creamy.
Our guest that we dined with is a mac and cheese queen.
Friedman: A child or adult?
Wang: An adult, but she eats like a child.
Sbrocco: Does she have a mac and cheese meter?
Is it cheesy?
Is it crisp?
I think she gave it like -- you know, it's into the red zone.
The cheesiness and the creaminess.
We thought it was also very, very good.
Served piping hot in a cast-iron skillet, which just makes it just more gooey and flavorful and just a lovely presentation.
And did you have the mac and cheese?
Socrates: I didn't have the mac and cheese, but I had the squeaky cheese fries.
And you know, I was really excited to try those.
It's Halloumi cheese batons, and they deep-fry it.
Halloumi cheese is a little bit mild, but it has great bite, great chewiness to it, and has a great texture.
I loved it.
I just wish that we had more.
And it's over their hop salt fries.
So you don't feel like you're missing out on your fry factor, but more is more.
Friedman: So, being at a gastropub where there's lots of items on the menu that are fried and you want to limit the fried heaviness to the food, I think a good option to start with is the pickle jar.
You know, carrots, there's parsnips, there's cauliflower, and each one of them has different flavors in there.
There's like turmeric and dill, miso.
And so it's almost like each different vegetable that you get is gonna have a different flavor.
Sbrocco: And any drinks for you?
Wang: You know, I have never tried mead before.
Sbrocco: Oh, interesting.
Wang: And it was put on the sparkling wine list.
And so we had the debate.
Is mead a beer or is it a wine?
And so we had this sort of, you know, heated debate.
And it almost is like a hybrid, but very delicious.
It comes out of Point Reyes.
And so it's nice to have a local brewery represented.
I think their curation of beers is phenomenally good.
You can just read through, and they have interesting names, interesting flavors, and can really be educational if you're not a big beer person.
Sbrocco: And in terms of desserts, did anybody have any?
Wang: They have a dessert menu.
But we actually ordered the French toast for dessert... Socrates: Oh.
Wang: ...and that was delicious.
I think that's a nice way to have something sweet, you know, off of their brunch menu and still delicious.
And that was excellent.
Sbrocco: And in terms of the price, what did you feel?
Socrates: I think it was a little bit kind of teetering towards a little bit pricier for the things that I ordered, mainly because the portions were a little bit on the smaller size.
I love to share with my family, and I think it could have benefited from being a little cheaper.
And what about you?
Wang: I thought it was good value.
I felt the quality of the ingredients necessitated what it costs to run that restaurant.
So I felt like it was fairly priced, and we enjoyed all the dishes that we tried.
Sbrocco: All right, well, if you would like to try The Monk's Kettle, it's located on Del Ganado Road in San Rafael.
And the average tab per person without drinks is around $25.
Looking for more Bay Area bites you've just got to try?
Check out "Cecilia Tries It" online at kqed.org/checkplease.
I have to thank my great guests on this week's show, Alex Friedman, who gives a 5 out of 5 to the lamb burger at The Monk's Kettle in San Rafael, Adriel Socrates, who's nutty for the peanut butter caramel tarts at Benicia's One House Bakery, and Janice Wang, who delights in the delicate tea leaf salad at Burma 2 in Walnut Creek.
So join us next time when three more guests will recommend their favorite spots right here on "Check, Please!
I'm Leslie Sbrocco, and I'll see you then.
Sbrocco: Which of these restaurants do you want to try?
We're eager to hear about your experiences at any of the places we've featured, so keep in touch with us online.
Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @kqedfood.
And don't forget that you can watch any of the shows on our website at kqed.org/checkplease.
It's where you'll find links to the restaurants and my notes on the wines we're drinking today.
Pervan: Most of my recipes that I created are 100, 200 tests deep, but my sticky toffee pudding, I could not figure it out.
And I figured out that if I put 10% rye flour in the recipe, that it just made it taste like pancakes.
And I was, like, running around the house, like "I did it!"
My husband's like, "What are you doing?"
So whenever I see the sticky toffee pudding, it doesn't look that special, but when you taste it, it's just -- Yeah, I just absolutely love the sticky toffee pudding.