November 12, 2004

Chicken Secret

As emphasized in earlier Lunch Series entries, there is no doubt to the importance of taking some time out of the office for lunch. However, lunches need not be particularly fancy like at Central Park in order to be restful or otherwise beneficial. The Comeback Cafe, located on Christie Avenue in Emeryville, CA, is such a place. What it lacks in cloth napkins, plush carpets, wood panelling and formalities it makes up for with good food and a clean, cheery atmosphere. Whereas Central Park felt corporate and somewhat austere (though still pleasant), the Comeback Cafe feels intimate--a gathering place for regulars. Being locally owned and family-run also contributes on that end.

Matt Levine and I made our separate ways down from Berkeley and met each other at the MacArthur BART station. Then, we took the free Powell Street Emery-Go-Round shuttle to the Comeback Cafe.

Upon arriving, we were warmly greeted by the owner and the cashier/sandwich maker. The Comeback cafe serves a large variety of dishes. Ranging from breakfast foods like "egg mits" to sandwiches and salads, to daily specials such as chicken pho or other Asian dishes. I sidled up to the counter and ordered one of the specials, the much-hyped Fire-roasted chicken. Served with salad and a choice of white or brown rice, it makes for a satisfying and nutritious lunch. Matt ordered the Vietnamese Chicken Salad, served with a piece of a baguette. We split and order of shrimp spring rolls, filled out with lettuce and thin rice noodles and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.

The spring rolls tasted clean and fresh, and the shrimp were surprisingly tender and sweet, as often they are bland and rubbery in spring rolls. Matt's Vietnamese Chicken Salad consisted of shredded chicken, shredded cabbabge and shredded carrots, tossed in a bright soy, sesame and citrus-based dressing. Since the salad does not skimp on the chicken, it makes a good, light lunch.

I had the Fire-roasted chicken upon the cashier's recommendation and the fact that it has a "secret recipe." The chicken is truly a thing of beauty. It was cooked to my liking; the thigh and drumstick were marinated in what I think is a blend of sesame, soy sauce, and maybe a little garlic, ginger and sugar, and then roasted until just starting to fall off the bone. The resulting chicken had reasonably crisp and well-seasoned skin, and luscious, juicy meat. Matt, a fan of Zankou Chicken, which is regarded as some of the best roasted chicken in Los Angeles, if not the West Coast, also deemed the Fire-roasted chicken "excellent." I craned my neck around to look inside the kitchen for a rotisserie, but I could not find one. Thus, the Comeback Cafe's Fire-roasted chicken's origins will continue to remain a delicious secret.

Gentle Readers, it is now time for full disclosure. Toakase Latu, one of my roommates, is the cashier/sandwich/salad maker at the Comeback Cafe. On Sunday, 11/7/04, Toa and I were treated to dinner at Tomatina by the Comeback's owner, Minh. The lunch was not free (I paid). In light of this, I have remained as objective as possible while writing this week's post.

Our meal concluded with a bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans given to us by Toa and Minh. Evidentally, Minh had purchased a large bag of jelly beans earlier in the day. Her mother, who also works at the cafe, did not want her to eat all of them, so she made her give them away to customers. This sort of joyous, humorous tomfoolery probably does not happen much elsewhere.

The Comeback Cafe offers more than a variety of well-executed dishes. It is an alternative to the rest of Emeryville, which is largely corporate-run chain restaurants (Chevy's, Lyon's, Denny's) and big-box retail. It offers a relaxed, friendly atmosphere in which you can enjoy them, and a colorful staff and management.

Fire-roasted chicken with salad and brown rice, Comeback Cafe. Posted by Hello


At 11/14/2004 10:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's great. You ate that on Friday. You know what I had? Poop in a cup. I hate this coast.

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