Monday, November 30th, 2015
One never knows when inspiration will strike. For the past three years I have hosted Mexican inspired Passover dinners at Comal, and decided that this year, I wanted to take the same approach and apply it to traditional Hanukkah dishes. We were still weeks away from announcing these dinners to the public, and as I was informing our service staff of this upcoming event during our nightly lineup meeting, it suddenly popped into my head. “Oaxanukkah!” I’ve always been a sucker for wordplay, and instantly knew that this must be what we called this mashup of traditional Hanukkah fare with Mexican flavors.
This stroke of lightning set off an intense brainstorm. Ever since I first saw them a few years back, I’ve been a huge fan of Bay Area illustrator John Sherlock Hersey’s series of t-shirts that combine Dia de los Muertos imagery with local sports team logos. Although we have been open now for 3 ½ years, we have never made a Comal t-shirt, and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to design one. Of course I can hardly draw a stick figure, so I reached out to my good friend and graphic artist, Justin Leibow. I pitched him the idea of putting together a fun t-shirt design that combines Oaxacan skull drawing and Jewish Hanukkah imagery. He was all in from the start. Between filming a television commercial last weekend, pitching two other projects and travelling with his family to Seattle for Thanksgiving, Justin threw down a killer design within the week, capturing everything that we discussed and then some!
I am very excited for the dinners, and also to offer for sale these limited edition “Oaxanukkah” t-shirts. Tickets are still available for both Monday December 7 and Tuesday December 8. Please join us for an epic feast!
Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
This New Year’s Eve, Comal will once again usher in the new year by clearing out the tables, turning up the volume on our state-of-the-art Meyer sound system and transforming into a funky dancehall. Doors will open at 9pm and legendary Bay Area DJ Jose Ruiz (KPFA, KPOO), who has an ongoing residency at Comal on Thursday nights, will spin his infectious mix of Latin and funk into the wee hours. The first three hundred guests to arrive will be presented with an authentic, unique “lucha libre” wrestling mask, which should make for a festive scene on the dance floor!
Chef Matt Gandin and his team will keep a steady stream of antojitos (little snacks) flowing throughout the night – expect some familiar items from Comal’s menu along with a few wild cards, with an emphasis on Oaxacan-style street snacks like quesadillas, de eses and flautas. Highlights include: adobo shrimp-wild nettle quesadillas, jalapeño-requeson flautas, chorizo molotes, mole negro chicken wings and chipotle deviled eggs. Bar man Matthew Campbell will be twisting up an original NYE cocktail for the occasion – details in the coming days.
Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1014585. All food offerings are included in ticket purchase. All previous parties have sold out, so advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended.
Please make special note: BART runs until 3am on NYE and Comal is less than a block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Also, Comal’s large beer garden is uncovered, so use of this space is weather dependent. Additional tickets may be released December 30th if weather permits the use of the beer garden for the occasion.
Friday, November 20th, 2015
For me, fall rains are synonymous with foraging. Almost 20 years ago when I had first moved to the Bay Area, I was turned on to a book called Mushrooms Demystified. Its author, David Arora, is a mycologist who teaches at UC Santa Cruz. His field guide to mushrooms is one of the most comprehensive available, and while covering the entire country, it is focused on the Bay Area since this is the author’s main stomping ground. Due to the drought, the last 2 years have been pretty much a washout, pun intended, when it comes to foraging mushrooms, so it was with much excitement that I struck out into the East Bay hills this past week. While I didn’t find any mushrooms (I suspect that it will take one more heavy rain to trigger fruiting), I did find other edibles – particularly leafy greens. There are many wild edibles that grow in our area, from fennel and wild radish blossoms to miner’s lettuce (named for the gold prospectors that survived on such greens during tough times) and wild nettles.
I am particularly fond of wild nettles. While in their raw form nettles have fine threads on their stems that will sting, once cooked that sting is neutralized. They are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, packed with Vitamin C and Iron. Nettle tea is frequently used as a diuretic to boost kidney function and to support prostate health. In addition I find nettles to be quite delicious, kind of like super intense spinach.
One quesadilla that I’ve broken out each year for our annual New Year’s Eve party (more on this year’s party in the coming days) is stuffed with adobo marinated white shrimp, chipotle salsa and wild nettles. At John Paluska’s suggestion, I’ve decided this quesadilla is too delicious to only save for special occasions, so starting tonight and throughout nettle season, we are going to work this quesadilla into the mix of our daily changing menu. Let’s hope that this El Nino is for real and we are blessed with many wild edibles to forage this rainy season.
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
After hosting popular Passover Dinners each spring for the past three years, Comal is adding a new twist on the Jewish/Mexican mash-up theme with a Mexican-inspired pair of Oaxanukkah Dinners. The multi-course family-style dinners will take place in Abajo, Comal’s intimate private dining room, on Monday, December 7th and Tuesday, December 8th. Executive Chef Matt Gandin has created a menu in his signature Mexican style inspired by classic Hanukkah dishes. Dinners will follow the more liberal Sephardic traditions, incorporating rice, beans and corn into the meal.
The dinners will start promptly at 6:30 pm. Seating is limited to 22 diners per night, and based on past events, tickets are expected to sell fast. Tickets are $70 per person (hospitality included but beverages excluded) and can be purchased through one of the following links:
December 7 – Ticket link
December 8 – Ticket link
Oaxanukkah Dinner Menu
Tequila-cured Salmon avocado, endive, radish, cilantro oil
Potato-Jalapeño Latkes crema, spiced apple salsa
Braised Beef Brisket ancho chile adobo, carrots, raisins
Rapini w/chile arbol and garlic
Midnight Black Beans de Olla
Bunuelos bitter orange marmelada
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
Jews have a long history of immigration to Mexico, the first arriving soon after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. This group, known as “Crypto-Jews”, practiced their religion in secret. They were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition, but many viewed the opportunity to come to the new colony in Mexico as a way to maintain their identity in secret further from the intense scrutiny of the Spanish crown and the church. Most of this initial wave of immigrants ultimately assimilated fully into Mexican society, discarding their Jewish identity. While few of them practice the religion, 20,000 modern-day Mexicans have traced their heritage back to these “Crypto-Jews” or “Conversos”- persons who had converted to Catholicism to avoid death. The surnames Mendoza and Garza were common names among Jews in Spain, and those in Mexico with such surnames today are likely descended from “Conversos”.
A second wave of Jewish immigrants arrived during the second half of the 19th century, after religious freedom was granted in Mexico. The majority of the 50,000 or so Jews that identify as such today are descended from immigrants that arrived between 1881 and 1939. Two distinctive groups, Ashkenazi Jews that fled pogroms in Russia, and Sephardic Jews fleeing from the collapsing Ottoman Empire in Syria and Turkey (they had previously fled here from Spain during the inquisition) arrived during this period, setting up their own communities and following their differing customs.
While there are Jewish communities today in Tijuana, Guadalajara, and San Miguel, 75% of Mexican Jews live in Mexico City. While initially settling in the historic center of the city, after establishing themselves as merchants many moved to the tree lined suburban neighborhoods known as La Condesa and Roma, two of the hipper neighborhoods in modern day DF.
Hannukah is definitely one of the lesser Jewish holidays, but its chronological proximity to Christmas and the sense of exclusion among American Jewish children has built it up in American culture beyond its historical importance. The holiday celebrates a small band of soldiers known as the Maccabees who defeated their much more powerful Greek rulers. Amidst the siege occurred a miracle: what should only have been enough oil to keep the eternal lamp lit for one night in the temple lasted for eight days and nights. It is for this reason that Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights, and why a candle is lit on the menorah each night. The oil is represented in the foods that are eaten as well. Fried foods are called for, such as potato latkes and donuts.
Passover Dinners have become a yearly tradition at Comal. This year, we will be hosting 2 nights of Hannukah dinners. Taking the lead from the Jewish immigrants in Mexico, the idea is to create a mash-up of traditional dishes and Mexican flavors. This is a fun, secular event; the dinner will not be kosher, but obviously no shrimp or pork will be served. Dinner will be served family style in our private dining room, “Abajo”. Seating will be limited to 20 per night on Monday, December 7 and Tuesday, December 8. Purchase your tickets early, as based on the popularity of past Passover dinners, it will likely sell out quickly. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, and hopefully some new ones too.