Paul Canales' Big Plans for Uptown 

Former Oliveto chef envisions a multi-purpose "free-form" space. Plus a community garden moves forward in North Oakland.

After fifteen years cooking at Oakland's much-beloved Oliveto, Chef Paul Canales wanted a place to call his very own. But he isn't just going to tweak the Italian-meets-Cal-cuisine template from his last gig; he plans to build something completely fresh, from the ground up.

"Oliveto suggests a certain way of eating, but I don't want to be stuck with a high degree of formality," says Canales. "I want something free-form."

He's not just talking about the food. In December, Canales signed a lease on a sprawling, 4,000-foot space in the heart of Uptown, in the same building as Flora and Xolo. His goal is to create a rollicking, multi-use venue based on a spot called Royal/T in Culver City. Royal/T, which bills itself as "A Playful Collision of Spaces," is part tea cafe, part French and Japanese fusion restaurant, part upscale boutique, part art gallery, and also serves as a venue for film screenings, live music, and other cultural events.

Canales' business partner/General Manager Rocco Somazzi last worked at Royal/T, and is helping provide direction for the new as-yet-unnamed project. Final building permits are still being obtained, but these are some elements Canales and Somazzi hope to incorporate:

Wine shop: Canales wants to open an on-site retail wine shop, piggybacking onto the restaurant in a sweet symbiotic relationship. His idea is that you could buy a bottle before dinner (at retail prices) and pay a minimal corkage fee.

Ice cream: Canales' wife Mary owns Ici Ice Cream, and he'll probably sell some shelf-stable items like ice cream sandwiches and pints. But contrary to prior reports, there are no plans to house an actual Ici branch.

Pop-up shops: Canales has friends in the art and design world, many without steady venues to showcase their wares. He hopes to open his new space to a showcase of pop-up artisan merchants.

Gallery: Visual art is a big part of the Royal/T experience, with big-name artists like Warhol and Basquiat gracing the walls at various times. The paintings aren't for sale, but they lend the space a cultural cachet that Canales hopes to replicate.

Music: Canales' creative talents extend beyond the kitchen; he has played guitar and other instruments for many years. Though he doesn't want to distract from the overall dining experience, Canales intends to set up a music mezzanine with a regular roster of performers. Expect an eclectic lineup: He knows members of Cibo Matto, Wilco, and a host of improvisational jazz groups.

Restaurant/bar: Despite all of Canales' big-eyed plans, he insists "food will come first." He's looking to cultivate an overall casual, conversational vibe, with lower price points than Oliveto and a loosely structured, accessible menu featuring dishes of various sizes (no antipasti, primi, secondi, etc.). The food will be a departure from the Italian template, but it won't veer far from Canales' ingredient-driven techniques. "It's not like I found a new religion somewhere," he said. "Don't expect any molecular gastronomy."

As far at the overall design, he's devoting three-quarters of the large space to the restaurant and bar, with drinking and eating spaces clearly delineated. He doesn't want the bar crowd to get bogged down by a spread of tables, and he doesn't want diners forced to deal with "butts in their faces."

The new project isn't slated to open until late summer at the earliest. Canales said he might add or subtract different elements as the space is built out.

Phat Beets Moves Ahead with Edible Landscaping Project

In honor of César Chávez Day last weekend, the Phat Beets Produce collective implemented the second half of its improvement plan for the Healthy Hearts Garden at Dover Street Park in North Oakland (57th and Dover streets). After receiving final city sign-off the week before, about fifty volunteers came together to complete the park's edible landscaping.

In 2010, Phat Beets partnered with the Neighbors of Dover Street Park to provide fruits and vegetables for the obesity reduction clinic at Oakland's Children's Hospital and Research Center. In mid-2011, the community garden project hit a snag when the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission voted that Phat Beets would need to obtain a $2,900 conditional-use permit to continue the operation.

This was no small chunk of change for a grassroots nonprofit, but the city finally ruled that Phat Beets could continue building the edible landscapes without obtaining the permit. The park is about one acre total, with a twenty-foot outer perimeter now entirely devoted to fruit trees and edible plants. The trees include apples, pears, plums, apricots, and white figs, while other plants include gooseberries, tomatillos, artichokes, and much more.

The garden's design incorporates a strong aesthetic sense, in addition to a focus on suitable produce for Oakland's particular climate. All the plants are volunteer-tended, with two work days a week on Sundays and Wednesdays. Produce still goes to the obesity reduction clinic, as well as a free weekly harvest for neighborhood residents and other noble programs. "We've never had a surplus," said Max Cadji of Phat Beets.

To get involved with the Healthy Hearts Garden (or any other Phat Beets project), email volunteer@phatbeetsproduce.org, subject "Volunteer."

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