Tuesday, February 5, 2013

food: gourmet food? at a sporting event?

Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, made with bread fresh from Bui-phong Bakery in Oakland, and your choice of marinated braised pork, plancha-seared chicken or tofu. Lettuce cups with wok-seared tofu, red cabbage and fresh cilantro (a dish that's gluten-free and low fat). Curried chicken lavash wrap, with green onion and celery. House-made vegi burgers, made with black beans, brown rice and spices. Seasonal choices like fresh made clam chowder. Are these menu items from downtown Oakland's latest hip restaurant? Nope. How about at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (aka the Oracle Arena), available at Warriors' games, concerts and other events?

It's a general expectation: food at sporting events won't be that great, or may even be downright bad. But it's sports, right? Go to a game, get a boiled hot dog. Many Bay Area venues have more diverse food menus that reflect the wants of the fans, but even with variety, they're not generally known for great food. Executive chef Tim Radack is working to change that.

Tim has been in charge of the food at the Arena for the last 4 months, and is passionate about food. Between events, he works on improving the food. During events, he can frequently be found checking with diners to make sure things are OK. He leads a team with one other chef, 2 or 3 supervisors and 20 or so cooks who all work out of a surprisingly small kitchen. They produce tasty food for a lot of people in short amount of time. Not only do they produce food for the 72 suites, but for the various stands around the arena, too.

Before coming to work at the Arena, Tim worked in Chicago as the executive chef at an arena there. "There's a lot more variety in the tastes here [in the Bay Area]. There it was definitely more a 'meat and potatoes' mindset for a lot of people." In keeping with people's taste for variety, there are a lot of choices. On the club level alone, Tim gave a quick count of nearly 30 different items. The variety of the tastes of fans is a challenge, but one that Tim seems to enjoy. That doesn't mean all the fans are gourmands; hot dogs and chicken tenders are still some of the biggest sellers. But Tim is working to improve those, too. In partnership with Kaiser Permanente, there are also some healthier choices available at special "Healthy Picks" stands around the arena. These include low-fat and low-salt items as well as other tasty treats like fruit.

I tasted a wide variety of the food and everything I had was great. As with most sports venues, prices are a bit higher than elsewhere, but not terribly so. Here's a sampling of some of the foods, their cost, and where they can be purchased in the Arena:
  • Banhwich Sandwiches - $8.50 (main concourse)
  • Gluten Free, Wok Seared Lettuce Tacos – $10.00, comes with 3 lettuce tacos (club level)
  • Levy’s Housemade Black Bean Veggie Burger – $9.00 (at all grill stands)
  • Warriors Cuban Sandwich - $11.50, comes with dill pickle spear, bag of kettle chips (club carve stands)
Next time you're at an Arena event, consider your options before you just buy a hot dog. I'll definitely be looking for the Banhwich sandwich stand.

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