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!
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.
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.