Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mid-Week Menu: China Village, Grease Box, and James Syhabout’s New Restaurant

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Welcome to the Mid-Week Menu, our weekly roundup of East Bay food news.

1) Call it a mini-empire: James Syhabout’s third Oakland restaurant will open in Rockridge sometime next year. According to Inside Scoop, the chef’s newest project will be located at 5912 College Ave., in the 70-seat space recently vacated by Somerset. Details are still sketchy, but the basic concept is fun and casual with a full bar. The kitchen will be headed up by Benjamin Coe, who currently cooks at Commis.

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Mooncakes in Chinatown

Plus BART ads plug Meatless Mondays.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 4:00 AM

This year's Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Sunday, September 30, and for millions of Chinese people around the world, that means one thing: mooncake time.

Any holiday worth its salt is tied inextricably to something good to eat, and the East Asian harvest moon celebration is no exception. Nothing can beat the roadside barbecues that were a traditional part of the festivities when I lived in Taiwan — squatting with friends next to a jury-rigged grill made from the rim of an old tire, a Tupperware container full of marinated beef in one hand and a mosquito zapper in the other.

Short of those rollicking good times, there are always mooncakes, iconic pastries with a dense, sweet-bean-paste filling. Many of the Bay Area's Asian markets will carry attractive tins of the big-name imported brands, but you don't need to go any farther than Oakland Chinatown to find a freshly baked version.

If you haven't purchased mooncakes before, note that they come with different fillings. Red-bean paste is more familiar to Westerners, but amber-hued white-lotus-seed paste is more classic and luxurious, with a fragrant and slightly caramelly sweetness.

Each mooncake can also contain one or more salted-duck-egg yolks, which are symbolic of the full moon and add an appealing salty-and-sweet dynamic. The ornate imprint on top of each cake indicates (in Chinese) the type of filling and, sometimes, the name of the bakery. Any more than a single yolk inside and the mooncake will be square rather than round.

Last week, I picked up double-yolk white-lotus-seed paste mooncakes from two bakeries in Oakland's Chinatown — Wonder Food Bakery (340 9th St.) and Napoleon Super Bakery (810 Franklin St.) — and thought both were tasty. Priced at $5, Wonder's version was a dollar more expensive, but had the superior lotus-seed-paste filling; the Napoleon filling was somewhat drier and grainier. Then again, the pastry "crust" of Napoleon's mooncake was thinner and more delicate.

If you aren't a connoisseur, the biggest difference might be this: Of the two bakeries, only Wonder Food had English signs labeling the mooncakes. Napoleon had lower prices (and, consequently, longer lines), but the signs were all in Chinese — so you'd need to explain what you want.

Finally, a word to the wise: Don't pick the mooncake up and munch on it like it's a big cookie. The way to eat it is to cut it into thin wedges and serve with hot Chinese tea. One or two slices is all you'll want at a time.

Meatless Mondays

If you've taken BART his month, perhaps you've spotted a new ad meant to prick the conscience: an image of happy piglets frolicking in an open field juxtaposed with a shot of a few sickly-looking pigs locked up in cages. The tagline to the ad reads, "95% of people want farm animals to be treated well. 99% of farm animals are not. Help end cruelty by participating in Meatless Mondays."

The ad was created by Berkeley-based Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC), the organization that received second place in a Facebook poll sponsored by BART's sustainability-focused Blue Sky Program this past spring. The top three vote-getters, in a lineup of local nonprofits, got a month's worth of free advertising: 120 ads aboard the BART trains themselves and another 40 spread throughout the various stations.

Katie Cantrell, the UC Berkeley grad who founded the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition two years ago, explained that the organization's focus is on educating the public about the negative impacts of factory farming — on animals, workers, the environment, health, and so forth.

The group decided that encouraging people to abstain from meat once a week would be a way to empower participants to make a difference in all of those areas. "It's just a great and easy way for people to actually take action," Cantrell said.

The national campaign for Meatless Mondays was started in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins-based Center for a Liveable Future. The focus of the initial campaign was on reducing meat consumption as a matter of public health, but over the years many organizations have promoted the idea from a number of different angles — the effect that eating less meat would have on the welfare of farm animals, for instance.

According to Cantrell, the statistics cited in the BART ad are based on a 2007 nationwide phone survey on consumer preferences for farm-animal welfare (for the 95 percent figure) and an examination of the 2002 USDA Census of Agriculture results performed by the advocacy group Farm Forward (for the 99 percent calculation).

Meanwhile, the Berkeley group created a different advertisement for BART stations that's based on another eye-catching statistic: It takes thirteen times more fossil fuels to produce a pound of beef than a pound of plant-based protein. The ad goes on to encourage viewers to forego meat on Mondays as a way to "ensure a sustainable future." Cantrell said both ads should stay up through the first week of October.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mooncake Time

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM

This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Sunday, September 30, and for billions of Chinese people around the world that means one thing: mooncake time.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

BART Ads Plug ‘Meatless Mondays’

by Luke Tsai
Mon, Sep 24, 2012 at 8:00 AM

If you’ve ridden BART his month, there’s a decent chance you spotted a new ad that’s meant to prick the conscience: an image of happy piglets frolicking in an open field juxtaposed with a shot of a few sickly-looking pigs locked up in cages.

“95% of people want farm animals to be treated well. 99% of farm animals are not,” the tagline reads. “Help end cruelty by participating in Meatless Mondays.”

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mid-Week Menu: Splash Pad Pod, Nido, and the Return of Sochia Kojima

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Welcome to the Mid-Week Menu, our weekly roundup of East Bay food news.

1) This weekend the fourth annual Eat Real Festival hits Jack London Square with a lineup of over sixty food vendors and a slew of assorted contests and chef demos. Yesterday, I previewed a few of this year’s highlights, but I think this bit of news bears repeating: The festival will mark the debut of Youki, an all-organic ramen venture from Sachio Kojima, the San Francisco sushi legend. From what I can gather, in the Nineties and early Aughts, when Kojima was behind the counter at his first restaurant, Kabuto A&S, he was maybe the most well-respected sushi chef in the city. More recently, Kojima did a short stint at Hecho (the sushi-and-tequila joint near Union Square), but it looks like ramen is his new thing. No word yet on whether Youki will morph into a brick-and-mortar operation.

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What to Do (and Eat) at this Weekend's Eat Real Festival

Plus a meat retreat comes to Oakland.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The fourth annual Eat Real Festival kicks off this Friday at Jack London Square. By now, the three-day extravaganza of street food, local brews, and assorted food-related DIY demos almost needs no introduction. Admission is free, and every food item will be priced at $5 or less.

But with more than sixty different vendors and lines that can stretch to ungodly lengths, we figured we'd help you make the most of your time. Here are five recommendations:

1. Meatopia: For the first time, Eat Real will launch with a ticketed event, and it's a doozy: the first-ever West Coast rendition of Meatopia, the chef-driven, meat-centric event founded by New York City food writer Josh Ozersky. The opening night party (5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday) will feature grilled meats cooked by about ten of the country's most acclaimed barbecue pitmasters — that $50 admission will buy you all the meat (and sides) you can eat, plus two cocktails.

Meatopia will continue on Saturday with a Pro/Am barbecue competition, and on Sunday with a $5-a-plate brunch of milk-fed baby animals — veal, lamb, and suckling pig — cooked by Daniel Patterson (of Coi, Plum, and Haven fame).

2. Forge: Part of Eat Real's mystique has to do with all the restaurants that made their first big splash there. This year, Forge, the new wood-fired pizza place coming to Jack London Square, will make its debut. Jeff Krupman (aka the Pizza Hacker), the restaurant's pizza consultant, will be on hand all three days to dish out his now-legendary pies.

3. Youki: One of the Bay Area's most acclaimed sushi chefs, Sachio Kojima, will make his first appearance as a ramen chef at the festival. His stall, Youki, will be serving regular wheat-flour, whole-wheat, and gluten-free ramen — all made with organic ingredients — on Saturday and Sunday. Kojima is best known as the original sushi chef at San Francisco's Kabuto A&S, where his sushi garnered rave reviews. But when Kojima's wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, he sold the restaurant and committed himself to cooking only healthy, all-organic food. He is dedicating the new ramen business to his wife, who recently passed away.

4. Satellite Republic: On Sunday, another promising newcomer, Satellite Republic — the venture of Boris Portnoy, a former pastry chef at Michelin three-starred Meadowood — will be serving Georgian (as in the country, not the state) and Chechen street food out of a converted moped that's hitched to a big tandoor oven.

5. Kraut-a-thon: Finally, Eat Real's "Kraut-a-thon" (Saturday at 12:30 p.m., on the main stage) isn't a new event, but this year's version will be on a grand scale: More than one hundred people will have a chance — first come, first served — to get up on the festival's main stage for a sauerkraut-making lesson. Every participant goes home with two big jars.

Butcher's Guild Retreat

Thirty top butchers from around the country will descend on Oakland's Jack London Square this Wednesday for the first-ever Butcher's Guild Retreat — what's billed as an unprecedented gathering of sustainability-minded meat professionals.

In 2010, Tia Harrison (co-founder of Avedano's Holly Park Market, a San Francisco butcher shop) and author and food activist Marissa Guggiana founded The Butcher's Guild as a fraternity of butchers who are committed to breaking down whole animals — not prepackaged parts — and adhering to a particular moral code. The guild has focused most of its efforts on helping members establish a sustainable business model.

"We saw that everyone right now is screaming about bacon and watching butchery demos," Harrison said. "But what happens in five years when all these people open businesses, but aren't making a living wage and are working twelve to fourteen hours a day? That is a formula for failure."

In that sense, Butcher's Guild Retreat will be about bookkeeping and finances as much as anything else — financial sustainability being, after all, a prerequisite for any other kind of sustainability. There will be a class on managing profit margins (taught by a CPA) and another on PR. Even sessions dealing with the physical acts of whole-animal butchery will have an economic focus: how to break the animal down into retail cuts so as to maximize profits and minimize waste.

For Monica and Aaron Rocchino, who opened The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood last year, the challenge of selling "clean meat" is that they're paying twice as much for their product as the supermarket across the street, and, because they're working with whole animals, they also have to factor in all of the highly skilled labor that's needed. How do they convince the customer that their higher prices are worth it?

The Rocchinos said they're both attending this week's retreat — Aaron will attend the sessions that have to do with cutting meat; Monica will learn everything she can about marketing and finances and all the rest.

"I'm just really excited to meet people that are in similar circumstances," she said.

Meanwhile, it's no accident that the retreat is taking place the same week as the Eat Real Festival. From the beginning, Harrison wanted to tie the retreat to some kind of butchery competition, which Eat Real has featured since its inception. This year the full slate of contests will be run by The Butcher's Guild. In addition to the usual speed-oriented spectacles (e.g., breaking down a whole pig in 45 minutes), the guild is introducing a new contest called the Master Case Competition: Teams will have three hours to break down a pork forequarter, a beef short loin, and a leg of lamb and fill a display case, as attractively as possible, with ready-for-purchase cuts of meat.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What to Do (and Eat) at this Weekend’s Eat Real Festival

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM

It’s that time of year again: The fourth annual Eat Real Festival kicks off at 1:00 p.m. this Friday at Jack London Square. At this point, the three-day extravaganza of (local, organic, and sustainable) street food, local brews, and assorted food-related DIY demos almost needs no introduction. If you’ve attended any of the previous years, you know the drill: Map out a game plan and bring plenty of cash. The best part is that entry is free and all of the street food items are priced at $5 or less.

But with more than 60 different vendors and lines that can stretch to ungodly lengths, we figured we’d help you make the most of your time. Here are a few recommendations, with an emphasis on things that are new to the festival this year:

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Butcher's Guild Holds a Meat Retreat

by Luke Tsai
Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Thirty top butchers from around the country will descend on Oakland’s Jack London Square this Wednesday for what’s billed as an unprecedented gathering of sustainability-minded meat professionals.

The first-ever Butcher’s Guild Retreat will feature two days of intensive meat education, as participants hone their skills in wielding cleavers and handsaws — but also learn about marketing and managing profit margins.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

[UPDATED] Mid-Week Menu: Berkeley’s T-Rex Sold (Jimmy Bean's to Follow?), Uptown’s Bakesale Betty Closed

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 1:21 PM

Welcome to the Mid-Week Menu, our weekly roundup of East Bay food news.

1) The observant restaurant watchers at Chowhound were the first to spy changes afoot in Haig and Cindy Krikorians’ K2 restaurant mini-empire, citing a rumored ownership switch both at BBQ joint T-Rex and the casual cafe Jimmy Bean’s. Inside Scoop confirms that Matt Sturm, co-owner of San Francisco’s Fly Bar and Solstice, has purchased T-Rex — he offers the assurance that “Everything will stay the same.”

Meanwhile, a phone call over to Jimmy Bean’s confirmed that a new ownership team will likely be announced there, too, within the next few weeks. Stay tuned for further details.

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'Berkeley Kitchens' Take Shape in Historic West Berkeley Building

Plus the 25th Street Collective proposes food cart rental program.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 4:00 AM

A long-abandoned historic building at the corner of West Berkeley's Eighth and Carlton streets is about to receive new life as what the owner says will be a first-of-its-kind food production facility. Construction is underway on what will eventually be twelve commercial incubator kitchens under a single roof, each one leased to an up-and-coming food entrepreneur. The tentative name for this unique facility: The Berkeley Kitchens.

The project is the brainchild of Jonah Hendrickson, a professional sculptor-turned-real estate redeveloper. Hendrickson, who grew up in Berkeley, said he first became aware of the demand for commercial kitchen space during a prior redevelopment project, when he got a flood of inquiries from food producers who were tired of paying by the hour to use a shared commercial kitchen — tired of squeezing into inconvenient time slots and packing their stuff up in Tupperware to wheel in and out on a dolly.

As an artist, Hendrickson said he was especially sympathetic to their predicament: "I know what it is to have your own space as a small business."

The twelve kitchens will include eleven standard commercial kitchens — each between 500 and 1,000 square feet in size — and one certified dairy production facility, which will be leased to a maker of artisan cheeses. Each unit will come equipped with a commercial hood system and the required array of sinks, but the overall approach is "plug and play": Each tenant will need to bring his or her own kitchen furniture and appliances; pay his or her own utilities bills; and obtain his or her own health department certification.

The site was originally home to Standard Die & Tool Company and later to the Nexus Institute, an art collective that vacated the building in 2006. During World War II, cluster bombs were manufactured there.

Hendrickson, who purchased the building two years ago, noted that the space comes with several challenges: It requires a seismic renovation and the construction of a (currently nonexistent) sidewalk, and there are limitations as to what can be done to the facade because of the building's historical designation.

He stressed that the space will be geared toward up-and-comers. So far, those who have shown interest in leasing a kitchen include the cheese maker, a nut butter producer, a catering business, and a couple of mobile food vendors.

No leases have been finalized, but Hendrickson estimates that about eight of the eleven standard commercial kitchens are already accounted for. He expects construction to be completed by January.

For more information, email Hendrickson at JonahHendrickson at Mac dot com.

Rent-A-Food-Cart

The conventional wisdom is that starting a food truck or food cart business is far less expensive than opening a restaurant, and that's true. But the fact is, it's expensive to start any food business from the ground up. For many first-time mobile food entrepreneurs, the thousands (often tens of thousands) of dollars in up-front permitting fees and overhead make it a cost-prohibitive proposition.

But what if aspiring food vendors could just rent a cart — one that's fully equipped and permitted? The 25th Street Collective, a sustainable business incubator and artisans' collective based in Oakland's Uptown, is hoping they'll be able to make such a rent-a-cart program a reality.

Hiroko Kurihara, the organization's founder, explained that the collective was created for the express purpose of helping small, fledgling businesses share their resources. So when two collective members, the proprietors of a mobile coffee cart called Art Is In Coffee, applied for mobile food vending permits from the City of Oakland recently, Kurihara saw up-close how challenging and costly that process can be.

So she came up with her rental program idea, which is still in its early planning phase. The upshot is that the collective would purchase a cart, equip it, insure it, and obtain all the necessary permits. Vendors would then pay the collective to use the cart.

Esperanza Pallana, coordinator of the Oakland Food Policy Council, said the proposed program would "help new entrepreneurs pilot their business without going all in and going for broke" — it would be akin to Rockridge's Guest Chef, but for mobile food.

Meanwhile, Pallana and the collective have organized a series of workshops designed to educate prospective mobile food vendors. This Saturday, September 15, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., there will be a food safety certification class held at the collective's home at 477 25th Street. The $150 cost of the class comes with a food handler's certificate that will last five years.

Kurihara explained that the collective is exploring options for funding the purchase of the cart, but that she hopes it can be up and running within the next six months. What also still needs to be hashed out: when, where, and the exact terms under which a rented cart would be able to operate legally, in compliance with Oakland's current regulations.

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