OAKLAND -- It is the hardest thing in the world to heed the number-one suggestion of Dishcrawl organizers: pace yourself.
That's what about 20 foodies learned last week at the very first of four restaurants highlighted at the Temescal Dishcrawl event, the Red Sea Restaurant and Bar. Participants were treated to Eritrean delights such as spicy bamiya made with okra and potatoes and zingni, soft beef chunks, all wrapped in tangy injera bread. Diners piled on the food to delight in each of the flavors presented at this small but popular restaurant just off Telegraph Avenue.
"I love the beef dish," said Laura Takao, a special-education teacher in Hayward who lives near Lake Merritt. "It's soooo good."
Dishcrawl is a company with events all over the United States and Canada. They bring gleeful eaters to restaurants in neighborhoods they may have never experienced before, offering them chances to feast on top dishes and desserts.
There is mystery in the experience. Participants plop down the $20-to-$50 fee for the event and are told where to meet just two days before the evening splurge. They are then led to the next Dishcrawl choices by foot, knowing only where they're going once they get there.
"It's something fun to do after work and try out something I've never tried before," Montclair resident and Children's Hospital physician Natalie Cuijanovich said. "There are so many new places and a lot of things to try."
Dishcrawl leaders, like Wednesday night's "Oakland Ambassador" Kealoha Pomerantz, tell eaters stories about the families who own the restaurants and about the history behind the dishes they are about to stuff their faces with.
"We feature delicious places that aren't so well known, so booming, so media-crazed but still have really good food," said Pomerantz, a UC Berkeley grad and restaurant host and server.
The Temescal event was $45 and featured dozens of dishes at three restaurants and a dessert at a fourth. After the initial meeting and eating at Red Sea, diners were drawn to La Calaca Loca Taqueria where they were offered ensalada, mini tacos especiales of beef, chicken and fish and a party tray's worth of nachos.
"I am a big foodie," Monique "Mo Mo" Allen, of Vacaville, said as she noshed on a taco at La Calaca. "I always take pictures of the food, and I rate it. I say it gets 'two Mos up' if it's good."
Allen said she's never been a fan of Eritrean food the three other times she's visited such an eatery but she loved Red Sea's fare.
"I would go back," she added.
While some diners finished sipping on margaritas and cervesas at La Calaca, Pomerantz moved the party on down the street to the Temescal's famous Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub where the crew was introduced to the restaurant's Herbivore and Heartstopper specialties, one a generous slice of vegetarian pizza and the other a delicious mess of bacon, Gorgonzola, roasted garlic and spinach.
"This is pretty awesome," new mom Michelle Bautista of Oakland said while wheeling her 3-week-old daughter around the crawl while her husband worked. "I am actually an Oakland native and really familiar with the Temescal so it's nice seeing it in a different way. I have my favorite restaurants and it's a way to remind me to go to different ones to check out what they have to offer."
The party ended at the M 49 wine bar where they topped off their gut-busting dinner with a bite of chocolate brownie and a smidgen of chocolate mousse.
"For the distracted eater, this is great," Bautista said. "It's a taste here, a taste there. The big challenge is really pacing yourself."
Dishcrawl comes to Alameda April 9. Visit dishcrawl at www.dishcrawl.com.