Friday, November 30, 2012

A First Look at Uptown’s Sweet Bar, Home of the ‘Fauxnut’

by Luke Tsai
Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 4:58 PM

After a sneak-peek soft opening yesterday, today is the first full day of business for Uptown Oakland’s Sweet Bar (2355 Broadway), the highly anticipated artisan bakery from Mani Niall, the man perhaps best known for being a former personal chef to Michael Jackson.

When I stopped by this morning to check it out, who else would be on the speakers but the King of Pop? It turns out that today happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Thriller — a landmark event for American pop music, of course, but also one Niall credits with landing him that initial personal chef gig, and ultimately helping to launch his career in the food biz.

All and all, a fortuitous day to start this new project.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mid-Week Menu: Sea Salt’s New Name, a Former Express Critic’s Holiday Market, and Camino’s Crabby Mondays

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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

1) As noted a couple of weeks ago, Berkeley’s Sea Salt (2512 San Pablo Ave.) has been sold, and Diablo Dish offers a few additional details: The restaurant will operate as Sea Salt through the end of the year, but in January it will close for a week and then reopen as Eat, under the direction of the same chef, Quyen Vu, but with a less seafood-intensive menu. Then, probably sometime over the summer, the restaurant’s side dining room will be converted into a cocktail lounge — thus the eventual name, Eat + Lounge.

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This Winter, Scream Sorbet Does Breakfast (with Bagels!)

Plus, Beauty's serves up the bagel's oniony cousin, the bialy.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Winter is the cruelest season — especially if you're an ice cream shop or other purveyor of frozen treats. Even here in (relatively) balmy Northern California, the late-burning morning fog, sporadic rain, and chilly evenings don't tend to put a person in the mood for a cooling scoop of chocolate or vanilla. The folks at Oakland's Scream Sorbet (5030 Telegraph Ave.) have hit upon an innovative solution: For nearly a month, the sorbet shop has been opening early five days a week — Wednesday to Sunday, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. — as its newly launched "Winter Café."

In the mornings, instead of sorbet, Scream sells coffee and tea, a variety of house-made baked goods and nut butters, and a Manhattan-style bagel — boiled and baked in-house. In short, the shop has diversified. According to store manager Mena Kamel, Scream's sorbet sales plummet during the winter months, and, in turn, production gets drastically cut back as well — by about 50 percent, he estimated.

The cafe concept came about as a way for Scream to still offer its kitchen employees their full slate of hours during the winter months. The idea, Kamel explained, is to use all the ingredients they already have sitting around in their kitchen for something other than sorbet, so what you'll find at the Winter Café will vary from day to day. Recent (and delicious-sounding) offerings include apple fritters and roasted-pear-and-chocolate scones. Each of Scream's five kitchen employees is in charge of one day a week, and whoever's working on a given morning bakes whatever he or she wants.

That said, there will almost always be biscotti, some kind of cookie, and the bagels: "Manhattan-style, very small, and very chewy," according to Kamel. As noted, these are boiled first before baking, and are available in two permutations (salted or unsalted) at $2 each — $3 topped with a nut butter or fruit preserve.

About those nut butters: Kamel said they're made using a similar process as that used for the shop's highly acclaimed nut-based sorbets, and you'll find varieties you won't see sold at too many other places — macadamia-nut butter, cashew butter, and walnut butter.

Ultimately, the jury's still out on whether the cafe will become a long-term fixture at Scream. The early word seems promising, though, and, according to Kamel, business has been better than expected so far. He noted that if the shop can just break even on the venture, it will have been a successful winter.

Beauty's Bialys

Connoisseurs might differ in their opinion on which of the Bay Area's new crop of artisan bagel shops is best, but this much is indisputable: Up until a few weeks ago, it was nearly impossible to get a hold of a respectable bialy — that lesser known, mostly unheralded cousin of the bagel — in the East Bay.

Fortunately, Beauty's Bagel Shop (3838 Telegraph Ave.) has rectified that situation: For the past several weekends, the shop has been selling a small batch of bialys, and I'm happy to report that they're as tasty and authentic a version as I've had out here on the West Coast.

Just what is a bialy, you ask? Like bagels, bialys are a round, chewy bread product of Polish-Jewish origin. But otherwise they're a completely different animal: Unlike bagels, bialys aren't boiled first before baking, and so they're flatter and less dense — more delicate, when prepared properly. There is no hole in the middle of a bialy, just a slight indentation where — and this is key — there's a generous pile of diced-and-sautéed onions and poppy seeds.

At risk of sounding like a heretic, I have to admit that when I was growing up in New Jersey (that underrated bagel mecca) it was the bialys that most captured my imagination — still warm, slathered with an unconscionable amount of butter, and as oniony as you'd ever want any breakfast item to be. The problem is that most bagel shops around these parts don't make bialys at all — or if they do, they're just second-rate bagels cloaked in a bialy's "onion-strewn clothing," as one recent Food Republic article put it.

Beauty's co-owner Amy Remsen got her bialy recipe from her friends at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in San Francisco, who in turn got it from a baker in Los Angeles. According to Remsen, the recipe is as simple as can be — just flour, yeast, salt and water. But the trick is in the execution. Remsen said she only tweaked the recipe to make her bialys a little smaller and puffier — less crispy than the Wise Sons version. For now, Beauty's is offering a small batch of about forty bialys on Saturdays and Sundays only. They're priced at $1.50 — same as the Beauty's bagels — and you can substitute them for the bagels in any of the various bagel sandwiches that the shop has on the menu. Or, for $2.25, you can have them as Remsen likes to eat them: topped with butter and a little bit of sea salt.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finally Available in Oakland: An Authentic Bialy

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Connoisseurs might differ in their opinion on which of the Bay Area’s new crop of artisan bagel shops is best, but this much is indisputable: Up until a few weeks ago, it was nearly impossible to get a hold of a respectable bialy — that lesser known, mostly unheralded cousin of the bagel — in the East Bay.

Fortunately, Beauty’s Bagel Shop (3838 Telegraph Ave.) has rectified that situation: For the past several weekends, the shop has been selling small batches of bialys, and I’m happy to report that they’re as tasty and as authentic a version as I’ve had out here on the West Coast.

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This Winter, Scream Sorbet Does Breakfast (with Bagels!)

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Winter is the cruelest season — especially if you're an ice cream shop or other purveyor of frozen treats. Even here in (relatively) balmy Northern California, the late-burning morning fog, sporadic rain, and chilly evenings don't tend to put a person in the mood for a cooling scoop of chocolate or vanilla.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mid-Week Menu: Pop-Up Meatballs, Victory Burger, and Berkeley’s New Underground Breakfast Club

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 11:04 AM

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

1) Everyone seems to love a good pop-up dinner these days, and the one that Oakland’s Hopscotch (1915 San Pablo Ave.) is hosting in a couple of weeks sounds like a doozy: On Monday, December 3, from 5 p.m. until midnight, the proprietors of NYC’s Meatball Shop, Michael Chernow and Daniel Holtzman — formerly the chef at San Francisco’s SPQR — will be on hand to cook up a variety of meatballs and Italian heroes. First come, first served.

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Ronca's Kitchen: Chicken and Waffles Pop-Up in Temescal

Plus the Lake Merritt neighborhood gets a deli, Grand Lake Kitchen.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Good news for Temescalians: For the past several Mondays, Beauty's Bagel Shop (3838 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) has played host to a chicken-and-waffles spot called Ronca's Kitchen — a new pop-up enterprise serving legitimately tasty waffles and a Bakesale Betty-worthy fried chicken sandwich you don't have to stand in line outside for.

Ronca's is the brainchild of Ingrid Ibarra, a St. Helena-based personal chef, and her daughter Julia Ibarra, who is a friend of Beauty's co-owner Amy Remsen. Since the bagel shop is normally closed on Mondays, and since it is already equipped with a fryer, the Ibarras saw this as the perfect opportunity.

Julia Ibarra said her mother drew inspiration for the chicken-and-waffles concept from Thomas Keller's Yountville restaurant, Ad Hoc, which is famous for its high-end Monday-night fried chicken dinners and which occasionally serves chicken and waffles for Sunday brunch. ("Ronca" is the mother's nickname — a Spanish endearment for someone with a deep, loud voice.) Ronca's serves chicken sandwiches and waffles for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and fried chicken with waffles, coleslaw, and corn bread for dinner (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

In addition, the pop-up serves a vegetarian fried "chicken," made from a textured soy product from the Layonna Vegetarian Health Food Market (Oakland Chinatown's fake-meat emporium), that Ibarra said tastes "just like real chicken."

"I'm definitely not vegetarian, and I almost always get it," she said.

There are also a savory prosciutto waffles and seasonal waffle specials.

When I had lunch at Ronca's a couple weeks ago, I ordered a half-and-half combo ($9.75), which came with a waffle and half a sandwich. The sandwich falls roughly into the Bakesale Betty school of fried-chicken sandwiches, with crunchier bread (an Acme torpedo roll): Here, too, you get a lightly battered boneless breast and a vinegar-based cabbage slaw. Ronca's uses Mary's Organic chicken that's brined for several days, and the slaw has a pleasant, lingering heat.

The waffle, on the other hand, had a satisfying heft to it — dense and chewy and a completely different animal from, say, the light-as-air version everyone goes crazy for at Brown Sugar Kitchen. Ibarra said the style is similar to a Brussels waffle, characterized by its crispiness and large pockets.

All waffles are served with organic butter and a side of Vermont maple syrup — a nice bonus — unlike, ahem, at certain other waffle purveyors in town, where there's an upcharge for real maple syrup.

Grand Lake Kitchen

Two weeks ago, Oakland's Lake Merritt neighborhood welcomed the newest addition to its ever-improving dining scene: a deli called Grand Lake Kitchen (576 Grand Ave.). It's the first restaurant venture for husband-and-wife owners Dave Wasem and May Seto — previously, Wasem was sous chef at San Francisco's Park Tavern; Seto was general manager at Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina, also in San Francisco.

According to Seto, Grand Lake Kitchen is neither an old-school East Coast deli nor a traditional Russian-Jewish deli.

"We try to have a little of everything for everyone," Seto said, pointing out that the menu stresses local and seasonal ingredients but also includes traditional deli items like an old-fashioned potato salad.

The overall concept was rooted in what Seto and Wasem saw as a lack of "fast and delicious" options in a neighborhood largely populated by sit-down restaurants. "So [the restaurant] was actually born out of the two of us being hungry," Seto said.

One of the most prominent features of the place is a deli case full of interesting salads and other prepared foods: an escarole salad with capers and Castelvetrano olives, and a non-vinegary macaroni salad with tuna and mayo.

As for the sandwich menu, Seto said she and Wasem are especially proud of a cheddar bratwurst sandwich (featuring 4505 Meats sausage and pickled red onions) and the "Oyako," an open-faced egg salad sandwich topped with mache and crispy chicken skin. I've tried both — the former was tasty; the latter immediately moved near the top of my personal pantheon of all-time great egg salad sandwiches.

The deli also has a small grocery section stocked with house-made pickles and granolas and a carefully curated selection of healthful snacks. Beer and wine are also available.

The project has been in the works for some time now, previously under the name "La Grande Jatte Kitchen." Seto said the construction process ended up taking nine months, as she and Wasem had to install a full kitchen in what had been an office space.

The completed restaurant boasts a twelve-seat diner-style counter and a handful of seats out front — good for people-watching on Saturday, when the nearby farmers' market is in full swing. The location is also fortuitous in that it's just a few steps away from Gold's Gym — lots of foot traffic, and lots of folks looking for a quick post-workout meal or snack.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Chicken and Waffles Pop up in Temescal

by Luke Tsai
Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Hey Temescalians, here’s an antidote for your Monday morning blues: Today, Beauty’s Bagel Shop (3838 Telegraph Ave.) will play host to a chicken and waffles spot called Ronca’s Kitchen — a new weekly pop-up enterprise serving legitimately tasty waffles and a Bakesale-Betty-worthy fried chicken sandwich you don’t have to stand in line outside for.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Coming Soon: SO MANY NEW BARS

by Ellen Cushing
Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 3:11 PM

Look, new places to get inebriated! Let's take a journey together, dear reader:

PARLIAMENT, 811 Washington St., Oakland: According to this place's paperwork, it will be a slightly head-spinning coffeeshop/bar/nightclub hybrid, with the coffeeshop portion of the operation running from 6 a.m.-3 p.m., and then the bar taking over thereafter for a happy hour followed by "a disc jockey, playing music appealing primarily to customers in their 20s and 30s." I couldn't track down the owners, Christopher Newell, Davina Dickens and Jason Bradford, but based on the state of construction at the previously-vacant Old Oakland storefront, I'm estimating it'll be about two or three months until it's open.

LOST AND FOUND BEER GARDEN, 2040 Telegraph Ave., Oakland: This latest venture from the husband-and-wife team of nightlife genuises behind The Layover will be "a beer garden-slash-cafe with emphasis on the garden," according to co-owner Christi Vaughn, but it's also got a distinct good-times-for-a-good cause thing going on: In addition to having twenty beers on tap, a smallish food menu, and plenty of room, the (kid-friendly) space will also act as a job-creation and training hub for organizations that support at-risk youth and recently released felons. "It'll be one of the most relaxing, beautiful places in downtown," Christi said. "If you're into nature, at least." Opening is, appropriately, planned for springtime.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mid-Week Menu: Oysters and Caribbean Food Come to Swan’s Market, the Krikorians Sell Sea Salt, and Le Rose Bistro Moves to Concord

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 7:48 AM

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

1) Looks like Miss Ollie’s (901 Washington St.) is finally almost ready to open up shop at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland. Eater has a preview based on recent updates to the Caribbean restaurant’s Facebook page, where chef-owner Sarah Kirnon has been documenting her progress: vintage enamel dinner plates procured, tabletops and Wolf range installed, floor polished, etc. The working menu includes fried chicken (on Tuesdays), curried goat (on Wednesdays), cou cou (a cornmeal porridge and the national dish of Barbados) with steamed fish and spicy tomato broth, and crispy aubergine with tamarind sauce.

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