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Grasshopper (Oakland) revisited

Ruth Lafler | Jul 22, 200204:16 PM

In the neighborhood, I stopped into Grasshopper last night for an early dinner.

I've linked my report from our chowhound dinner there a little over a year ago. Having read it, my main comments are that the food is still great, but the prices have gone up considerably: for example, the calamari that I thought was such a bargain at $5.75 is now $8. Last year it appears the plates topped out at $7.50; now they start around $6 and go up to $9.50. The plates also didn't seem to have as many accompaniments on them, but that may be a misperception based on me ordering badly (more later).

The calamari with lime sambal is the only dish that was on the menu from last year. I suspect there would be a revolt among the customers if they removed it; the waiter confirmed that they "sell a lot of it." Before I had this dish, I'd always wondered what the deal was with calamari, but I've been thinking about it ever since! The lime sambal is a perfect accompaniment to the small, tender battered rings and delicate tentacles. A must order.

The mistake I made was choosing the 12-spice pork ribs as my other selection. I asked the waiter if anything came with the pork ribs, and he said no. Then I asked what he recommended of the grilled meats, and he recommended the ribs. I'd already ordered the calamari, and a really on the ball waiter would have pointed out -- especially since I'd asked about the accompaniments -- that the calamari didn't come with any veggies either. But he didn't and on his recommendation I ordered the ribs. I took one bite and realized it was a mistake: not only did I have an all-"meat" meal, but the 12-spice on the ribs clashed with the flavors of the calamari dish. Fortunately, another server stopped by to check on my meal. I had her box the ribs for later (eating them now over lunch), and after more consultation with her ordered the salad of marinated eggplant with taro chips.

This turned out to be a delicious choice -- the flavors just exploded in my mouth. The Japanese eggplant had been peeled and cooked, then marinated in something (lime juice?) and piled with shredded cabbage, red onion, peanuts, cilantro, toasted coconut flakes, and fried taro strips cut in a tiny julienne (and probably other stuff I'm forgetting), with a lime juice-fish sauce dressing. The fresh, bright flavors were perfect with the calamari and for the sunny summer evening.

In short, Grasshopper is still turning out delicious food, but is not quite the bargain it was a year ago.


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