Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The (Coffee) Revolution Will Be Live

Plus, Hawker Fare's new family-style dinner menu puts sticky rice front and center.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 4:00 AM

In these days of the Bay Area's coffee revolution, the so-called "third wave," with its emphasis on lighter roasts and direct relationships with coffee growers, is so entrenched that it's rare to find a place doing something truly new. I was excited, then, to pay my first visit to Artis (1717B Fourth St., Berkeley), a new cafe and coffee retailer whose owners say their distinctive "live roasting" approach is poised to usher the coffee movement into the future.

At Artis, instead of having a separate roasting facility, green coffee is roasted right at the cafe, in exceptionally small batches — often just a single pound at a time — in one of three hot-air roasters, where you can watch the beans rattle around like popcorn kernels until they reach the customer's desired level of brownness. The whole process is computer-controlled, takes about six minutes to complete, and, most revolutionary of all, allows coffee buyers to customize each batch to his or her own preferred roast point — a level of personalization previously only available to the ambitious home-roast hobbyist.

Artis CEO Alex Lowe, a Navy veteran, said he first encountered this kind of "live roasting" at coffee shops he visited when he was stationed in Tokyo, where the practice is fairly widespread. When he and two classmates in his MBA program, James Gutierrez and Elvis Lieban, came up with the idea for Artis, part of what they wanted to do was redefine what it means to offer "fresh" coffee. Certainly, I don't know any other coffee shop where you can pick out green beans and walk out of the store less than ten minutes later with a bag of still-warm roasted coffee.

But Artis' other innovation is in the degree of customization it offers. The prevailing idea in the coffee business, Lowe explained, is that the roastmaster knows best — that it takes years of highly specialized training to know how to get a batch of beans dialed in to just the right roast level.

With the vintage Probat roasters favored by companies like Blue Bottle, that's true: Most coffee shop employees, to say nothing of the typical home coffee drinker, don't have the technical expertise to finesse one of those mammoth machines. But as far as finding the "correct" roasting level is concerned, Lowe's views are more democratic. He believes a given coffee varietal can yield great coffee at several different roast levels, and that personal taste ought to be a bigger consideration than dogma: "I think what we're saying is that most coffees taste good across the spectrum. There is no magic roast point."

At Artis, the equipment itself makes it easy for customers to experiment. The cafe's Java Master roasters are made by a Detroit company whose machines are mostly used at various East Coast locations of Whole Foods — to Lowe's knowledge, the supermarkets use them in order to offer fresh coffee, but not to roast the coffee "live" to a customer's preferences. Once you've selected your beans and decided how dark you'd like to roast them, it's just a matter of the barista punching a few buttons on the machine.

When I visited the store, I was drawn to a coffee from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi whose recommended roast point is 420 degrees. The coffee was described as having "low acidity, full body, and rustic earthy notes" — right in my wheelhouse — but I wondered if the beans might show a little bit more of their personality, and distinctive flavor notes, if roasted just slightly lighter. Why not try 415, the helpful employee suggested.

Why not, indeed. For the record, after the recommended 24-hour de-gassing period (needed to allow some of the carbon dioxide to dissipate after roasting), the Sulawesi beans yielded some damn delicious coffee when I brewed them at home in my French press.

According to Lowe, another selling point of the "live roasting" approach is that it will go over well in any urban center — not just the third-wave, light-roast-skewed hubs on either coast. And so, he and his partners don't plan on settling for a single shop. Next up will be a location in San Francisco. After that? Maybe the world.

Hawker Fare Gets Sticky

Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St., Oakland), James Syhabout's Uptown rice-bowl joint, launched a new dinner menu last week, replacing the meal-in-a-bowl simplicity that had been the restaurant's stock-in-trade with a more traditionally Eastern, family-style approach: "aahaan kap khao," or food meant to be shared and eaten with rice. Hawker Fare will continue to serve its lineup of rice bowls for lunch.

Despite the move away from the rice-bowl format during dinner service, rice — specifically, sticky rice — will still be at the heart of the new menu. Indeed, Syhabout told What the Fork that part of the motivation behind the change was his desire to "do right" by the Southeast Asian staple, which he feels gets a bad rap in the West, largely because most diners don't eat it properly. The key, he said, is to hold the sticky rice in one's hands and use it to scoop up meats and vegetables, much in the same way that Mexicans eat tortillas.

"You can't eat it with utensils; it's almost impossible," Syhabout said, noting that holding the rice in your hand is what keeps it moist; if it's left sitting on the plate, it will get hard within minutes.

Syhabout and chef de cuisine Manuel Bonilla have added several new dishes, such as yum khai dao (fried-egg salad) and laab nuea diep (beefsteak tartare), while reformatting others to fit within the family-style concept. For instance, the gai yang is now a grilled half-chicken (instead of the boneless chicken on the lunch menu), and the sausage entrée now features a Northern Thai-style pork sausage with lots of fresh turmeric and herbs, served in its casing.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The (Coffee) Revolution Will Be Live

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 10:36 AM

In these late days of the Bay Area’s coffee revolution, the so-called “third wave,” with its emphasis on lighter roasts and direct relationships with coffee growers, is so entrenched that it’s rare to find a place doing something truly new. I was excited, then, to pay my first visit to Artis (1717B Fourth St., Berkeley), a new cafe and coffee retailer whose owners say their distinctive “live roasting” approach is poised to usher the coffee movement into the future.

At Artis, instead of having a separate roasting facility, green coffee is roasted right at the cafe, in exceptionally small batches — often just a single pound at a time — in one of three hot-air roasters, where you can watch the beans rattle around like popcorn kernels until they reach the customer’s desired level of brownness. The whole process is computer-controlled, takes about six minutes to complete, and, most revolutionary of all, allows coffee buyers to customize each batch to his or her own preferred roast point — a level of personalization previously only available to the ambitious home-roast hobbyist.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Our East Bay Guide to SF Beer Week

by Julian Mark
Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 4:54 PM

SF Beer Week kicks off tomorrow and will include a wide variety of events offering — but not strictly limited to — delicious beer. From February 7-16, local breweries, tap rooms, and restaurants will offer both classic and little-known brews from all over California, as well as the opportunity to explore food and beer pairings and meet expert brewers.

There are so many events in the East Bay that choosing which ones to attend is no easy task. It really depends on what kind of beer enthusiast you are. But whether you love beer and food, beer and bikes, beer and music, or just beer and more beer, there’s something for you. Here are our top picks:


SFBW2014_Logo_6thAnnual.jpg

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mid-Week Menu: Off the Grid Returns to North Berkeley, Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen Reopens on San Pablo Ave., and Adesso Launches Its Morning Coffee Program

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 12:44 PM

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

1) It seems like every week marks the launch of a new Off the Grid outpost. According to Berkeleyside Nosh, the food-truck-gathering empire’s latest move marks a return to North Berkeley, after the Gourmet Ghetto market location was closed down (in part because of complaints from nearby brick-and-mortar shops). Hopefully, that won’t be an issue OtG’s new spot, in the North Berkeley BART parking lot, which is pretty far removed from the city’s main retail and dining districts. The new, ten-truck North Berkeley Off the Grid market will take place every Sunday from 5-8 p.m., starting this Sunday, February 9.

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Hawker Fare Puts Sticky Rice Front and Center

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 9:55 AM

As first reported by Inside Scoop, Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St.), James Syhabout’s Uptown Oakland rice-bowl joint, launched a new dinner menu last night, replacing the meal-in-a-bowl simplicity that had been the restaurant’s stock-in-trade with a more traditionally Eastern, family-style approach: “Aahaan Kap Khao,” or food meant to be shared and eaten with rice.

Hawker Fare will continue to serve its established lineup of rice bowls for lunch.

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Uptown's Pioneering New Takeout Window

Kitchener Oakland looks to bring its artisans' food to the street.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Sophia Chang, the proprietor of Kitchener Oakland (372 24th St.), never intended to give up her office. But then one of the food entrepreneurs at her Uptown Oakland commercial kitchen came to her with a crazy idea: Convert the two big windows in the office into takeout windows to sell all the delicious food that the 36 artisans based at Kitchener were cooking every day — a sort of hyper-local snack bar.

So was born the Kitchener Takeout Window Project, which could be the most innovative food-business model to hit the Bay Area since Guest Chef shut its doors last year.

While Guest Chef was in some ways a more ambitious, higher-risk project — since, as a sit-down restaurant, there were higher overhead expenses — Kitchener's new initiative addresses a similar problem: For many food entrepreneurs, the cost of opening a brick-and-mortar shop is simply too high. At Guest Chef, chefs only needed to commit to a two-week stint, paying the restaurant owner a cut of their profits in exchange for the opportunity. In the case of Kitchener, the idea is for the incubator kitchen's food businesses to pool their resources to create a shared brick-and-mortar outlet. Each participant will pay $5 to $10 an hour to rent a window — money that will go almost entirely toward utilities, maintenance, and advertising. Chang explained that since the space is so tiny — just 200 square feet — it won't cost much to keep it running, so she doesn't feel a need to take an additional cut. Participants will keep 100 percent of their profits, making the snack bar a much more palatable proposition financially than, say, selling at a farmers' market or a food truck gathering.

For those who live and work in the area, the snack bar will provide a much-needed takeout option. Chang said she'd like the snack bar to be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with individual food businesses taking three- or four-hour shifts at each of the two takeout windows. Variety will be a big perk, as every few hours the sign outside will change to indicate which food artisans are in the house — like the marquee at a movie theater, Chang explained. Occasionally, the snack bar will also host pop-ups from other local chefs who aren't part of Kitchener.

Chang said the project will technically be permitted as a snack bar rather than as a takeout window, which means that food can only be reheated, not cooked on-site — not a major hindrance, however, given that the main kitchen will only be a few steps away.

Javier Sandes, of Javi's Cooking, who came up with the idea originally, explained that his initial inspiration was the kioscos (small kiosks) that are a ubiquitous feature of cities in his native Argentina. In Buenos Aires, for example, they sell all kinds of goods and services: candy, milk, cheese, and even shoe repair.

Sandes noted that about 70 percent of his empanada business comes from wholesale contracts, a model that only allows him to take a small cut of the profits from each sale. For him, the takeout window model presents an opportunity to take more control over his business — but without the risk inherent in leasing a brick-and-mortar space of his own.

Another entrepreneur at Kitchener Oakland, Shawn Walker-Smith of Tart! Bakery, said that his company's baked goods are mostly only available at Temescal's Arbor Cafe, his largest wholesale client. According to Walker-Smith, the lack of a storefront is one of the biggest hindrances to the growth of his business: "Whenever I have a pop-up, that's almost invariably the first question: 'Oh, where can I find your stuff?'"

Being able to list a permanent location and specific hours on his business' website and Facebook page would be a step in the right direction, Walker-Smith said. Plus, he plans to experiment with different kinds of offerings — say, panna cotta, flan, or certain composed desserts — during the snack bar's evening hours as a test run for his ultimate dream: a late-night dessert bistro of his own.

Kitchener has launched a Kickstarter campaign, which, as of this printing, has raised about one-third of its $25,000 fundraising goal. The money will help cover the cost of equipping Chang's soon-to-be-converted office (the installation of hand-washing sinks, warming ovens, and so forth) as well as significant changes to the building's facade, including an awning that will allow for interchangeable signs (to clearly mark which artisans' "shift" it is) and an eye-catching, circus-lights-style "Kitchener" marquee, which should be a literal beacon of light in what has previously been a somewhat dimly lit area at night. Other plans include having a pay-what-you-can option during certain hours, allowing folks who are hard up get "a hot meal with dignity," Chang said. And, further down the road, she'd like to turn the area outside of Kitchener into a parklet, complete with a beer-and-wine permit.

If all goes well, the snack bar will launch in April.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Uptown’s Pioneering New Takeout Window

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Sophia Chang, the proprietor of Kitchener Oakland (372 24th St.), said she never intended to give up her office. But then one of the food entrepreneurs at her Uptown Oakland commercial kitchen came to her with a crazy idea: Convert the two big windows in the office into takeout windows to sell all the delicious food that the 36 artisans based at Kitchener were cooking every day — a sort of hyper-local snack bar.

So was born the Kitchener Takeout Window Project, which could be the most innovative food-business model to hit the Bay Area since Guest Chef shut its doors last year.

More …

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