Tucked in the historic Swan’s Market in Old Oakland is ~COSECHA CAFE~, the kind of place I would just love to have in my ZIP code. But it’s not (I am lighting a candle), so I had to scoot over to the East Bay rather early in order to get there before Cosecha’s metal doors rolled shut at 6pm. It’s more of a daytime spot (open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm), although Cosecha is now staying open until 9pm on Fridays. Score.
Chef-owner Dominica Rice is quite the talent, cooking up all kinds of Mexican dishes (mostly tacos) in a Slow Food style (cosecha is Spanish for “harvest”). The ingredients she uses are sustainable, organic, seasonal, and local, from Becker Lane pork to seafood from Monterey Market. Her cooking background spans Chez Panisse, Eccolo, and Restaurant Soleil in Mexico City, so she’s doing that wonderful Bay Area thing we do of sourcing quality ingredients for authentic recipes. Everything tasted so fresh, homemade, and each dish was presented with care. Yup, these are some pretty tacos.
There are seven taco fillings to choose from, including a stew-like beef barbacoa ($3.65), and our favorite, a deeply seasoned and tender braised pork ($3.65) topped with pickled red onions. Further delicious porky action: the pork belly ($4), crisp and fatty, was tamed with pickled red onions and a spritz of lime. We were also lucky to get there on a Wednesday, which is fish taco ($4.50) night: a golden and hefty piece of battered Pacific wild cod was topped with a smoky chipotle crema and presented on cabbage slaw (it’s also served on Thursdays).
The made-to-order corn tortillas really are notable; they are just delicate enough without acquiring that leather-like texture that some housemade tortillas can acquire. Probably some of the best I’ve had locally—great flavor, texture, and—that word that makes many peoples’ skin crawl—moistness.
Other choices include a homey pozole ($3.50/$7) with juicy chicken (and a really delicious stock), quesadillas (like butternut squash and Oaxacan cheese; $6.75), and tortas ($6.95-$7.95). There are also some kid-friendly items on the menu. I am already scheming to return and try a torta with the braised pork—just gotta work on getting a hangover first. And there’s also brunch on Saturdays (10:30am-2:30pm) that reportedly gets mucho busy. (Chilaquiles and homemade “Spam” pancakes can have that effect on people.)
It’s a casual affair: you order at the counter and then grab a seat at the picnic tables at the center of the space. Fortunately the city has just approved some exterior accordion doors that should be up after Christmas so it won’t be so chilly in there. In the morning, there is coffee and espresso service (they use ROAST Coffee Co.) and pastries before the kitchen opens (9am-11am), and I am so coming back here when the warm weather returns so I can try their iced horchata latte—sounds like something I need to know. (We enjoyed a taste of their coconut horchata.) There are a couple beers on tap, and Cosecha’s new neighbors in the market, Periscope Cellars, should be able to hook you up as well.
You can like Cosecha on Facebook, or sign up for their mailing list to keep up with news and upcoming events, like their monthly Saturday night dinners.
- 907 Washington St. Oakland
Mac and cheese. It’s oddly and often done poorly in restaurants, featuring mushy pasta, curdled béchamel, too much cheese, not enough cheese, too dry, not golden brown…. The list of crimes against mac and cheese is endless. So when a restaurant dedicates itself wholly to a menu of 10 different kinds of mac and cheese, you have to hope they have mastered some mad mac skills.
Technique-wise, ~HOMEROOM~ in Temescal does a commendable job: the cheese-and-béchamel sauces are ample and remain creamy until you eventually and finally put your fork down (the kitchen uses California artisanal cheeses), the elbow pasta never got gummy or felt overcooked, the ingredients are well integrated, and you get a heaping bowl for $8.75. No one can complain about portion size here.
We tried a classic ($7.75) with broccoli (add $1.50) and breadcrumbs ($0.50); while the Gilroy ($8.75) featured a pleasing cheese combo of Gouda and sharp pecorino—but the promised caramelized onions weren’t very caramelized. Our unanimous favorite was the trailer mac ($8.75) with pieces of Niman Ranch hot dog and topped with crushed potato chips. Yup, my mom totally used to put hot dog in our mac and cheese, so this was a flavor flashback for me. Fun texture, good flavor.
We wanted to ramp up the trailer mac with a few shakes of some hot sauce, but the Tapatio (too vinegary) and a house chipotle sauce (not the flavor we wanted) were the only options. I think it would be cool to have a rack of different hot sauces for fanatics (I include myself in that group) to pick the one we want (in this case, we craved Crystal—or Cholula would have worked well). I’d also vote for fresh pepper grinders instead of the pre-ground pepper in the shakers—those things are an insult to the beauty of pepper.
You can give your mouth a pause from its cheese coma with a salad ($4.50), which comes with the option of add-ons like peas or bacon. The greens were very fresh, but the salad was served underdressed—an easy fix. There are also a couple sandwiches for lunch, tomato soup, and classic desserts like apple crisp and brownies, but we were in such a sated state at the end that we had to pass. No peanut butter pie for us, thanks. Beer float, almost.
There are some good beers on tap (Scrimshaw Pilsner, Deschutes), five in all ($5/pint, $16/pitcher), and you’ll notice each mac on the menu has suggested beer pairings. There’s also a selection of affordable California wines, homemade root beer or limeade, and other non-alcoholic options.
The place has a playful and clever style that the owners (Erin Wade and Allison Arevalo) obviously thought a lot about (you can read more about them in a previous tablehopper entry here). There are lunchboxes on the large communal table that double as planters, and there’s a library-style card catalogue where you can keep your frequent-diner card (love this touch). The music also had personality, from Elvis to the theme from Bewitched. And the staff registers high on the friendly scale.
But I gotta say it: I felt pretty dang old here. The night we went, it was packed with mostly 20-somethings, from pierced and brooding troubled youth to nonchalant hipster lesbians to small clutches of talkative Asian girls. If I was 22, hell yeah I’d be all over this place: it’s inexpensive, social, cute, and the kind of food that is not only easy to share but will hold you for a while while fixing your hangover from doing too many keg shots the night before.
But, as I am sure many of you have noticed or are perhaps noticing right now because I’m saying it: I’m not 22. So while I’m glad I checked it out, I’m guess I’m just not enough of a mac and cheese fanatic to obsess about when I get to return next. And whatever, the owners really don’t need me to, because they have an obvious hit on their hands.
- 400 40th St. Oakland