Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cook and Her Farmer Softly Opens Tomorrow

by Luke Tsai
Thu, May 15, 2014 at 4:00 PM

The inspections are passed, the beer and wine license is in, and the oysters are on the way: After a months-long buildout, The Cook and Her Farmer (907 Washington St., Oakland), the newest arrival at Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland, will softly open on Friday, May 16.

Co-owner Romney Steele, the “cook” in the name of the restaurant, has described The Cook and Her Farmer as an oyster bar that has roots in both the South and in Northern California’s local-and-seasonal-sourcing tradition. The menu will include, yes, plenty of oysters (shipped in fresh from Tomales Bay), but also things like gumbo and po’boy sandwiches. It’ll be a casual place, where customers order at the counter and then seat themselves in the market's communal dining area.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mid-Week Menu: Sausages and Beer in Fruitvale, a Bar in the Cathedral Building, and New Restaurants on Grand Avenue

by Luke Tsai
Wed, May 14, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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

1) Right on the heels of What the Fork’s post on longtime East Oakland favorite Taco Grill’s across-the-street move (and name change, to Obelisco), Berkeleyside Nosh reports that the restaurant’s old spot in Fruitvale Public Market has a new tenant: The Half Orange (3340 E. 12th St., Ste. 11), a sausage-and-beer joint owned by Jay Porter and Katie Mayfield. Porter and Mayfield are the husband-and-wife team behind Salsipuedes, a Mexican restaurant that they’re opening in North Oakland. It sounds like The Half Orange, which is slated to open sometime this summer, will be an updated version of The Linkery, the now-shuttered sausage-centric (and tip-free) restaurant that Porter ran for many years in San Diego.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A New Kind of Takeout

Plus, Charlie Hallowell launches a philanthropic dinner series, and Taco Grill — now Obelisco — moves and expands.

by Luke Tsai
Tue, May 13, 2014 at 5:45 PM

Perhaps you have a hankering for a rice bowl from Hawker Fare or a margherita pizza from A16 Rockridge, but are too lazy or preoccupied to leave your house — to deal with parking, wait for a table, or any of the other hassles of a formal restaurant dining experience.

If so, Caviar, a delivery service for restaurants that don't normally deliver, might be the solution you've been waiting for. Founded by four UC Berkeley alums, the company launched in San Francisco two years ago, and has been slowly rolling out its service to other major cities. Caviar just launched service in the East Bay last week, with a preliminary lineup of fifteen restaurants that includes some of the most popular spots in Oakland and Berkeley: Hopscotch, Phil's Sliders, Plum Bar, Hawker Fare, and A16, among others.

Here's how it works: Diners place an order from the restaurant of their choice, either "on demand" (for delivery within the hour) or up to a week in advance. Caviar then dispatches a driver and notifies the restaurant; delivery is guaranteed within the hour, and you can track the exact location of your food while it's in transit.

Customers pay a $9.99 flat fee for the service plus an automatic 18 percent gratuity, both of which go directly to the driver. Meanwhile, the company makes its money by taking a cut from the restaurant — usually between 20 to 25 percent of the sale, depending on the restaurant, co-founder Jason Wang explained.

Other notable features: Caviar's website features a photo of every single dish; there is no minimum (or maximum) order; and the delivery zone, which covers most of Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville, is notably large — there are restaurants on the list I'd never normally consider getting takeout from because they're just too far away.

Caviar recently took some heat from the tech-culture blog Valleywag, which criticized the company for not being up-front about the fact that it's really just offering a luxury service for people who are as lazy as they are wealthy — "Seamless for rich people," as the author put it, referring to the popular delivery service. But Wang said the idea that Caviar is mostly delivering food from expensive white-tablecloth restaurants is a misconception, pointing to the diversity of the restaurants represented. And it's true: Higher-end restaurants like Hopscotch and A16 are far outnumbered by places like Shan Dong, a Chinatown standby where nearly every dish costs less than $10.

According to Wang, quality is important to Caviar — the company only plans on partnering with what its founders consider to be "top" restaurants. But in most cases, that translates to low- to mid-range neighborhood spots that are extremely popular.

Wang said Caviar plans to add at least one new restaurant a week — the next two on the list are Ike's Lair and Homeroom. As an opening promotion, from now until May 25, the company will waive the $9.99 delivery fee for East Bay orders.

Sunday Suppers for a Cause

The Sunday Supper — a prix-fixe meal served on what is traditionally a slow night in the restaurant business — is seeing something of a revival in the East Bay. Charlie Hallowell (Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service, Penrose) is the latest restaurateur to launch a Sunday Supper series — this one with a philanthropic slant.

The idea is simple: For the next year, on the third Sunday of every month (except December), a prominent East Bay restaurant will host a $100 multi-course, prix-fixe dinner. Two-thirds of the proceeds from every dinner will go to a selected local nonprofit organization. So, with two 75-person seatings, each sold-out event represents a $10,000 donation.

Hallowell's Sunday Suppers series will kick off at Penrose (3311 Grand Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, May 18, with seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Proceeds from that dinner will benefit Oakland Leaf, which runs a variety of educational programs for youth.

The menu for Sunday's dinner at Penrose is still a work in progress, but the format will be a three-course family-style meal. The first course will consist of three different salads — a fancier composed salad, a leafy green salad, and a hot grilled salad. The second course will be a slow-braised meat, served with polenta and some kind of cooked spring vegetable. And there will be something for dessert. A house wine, likely donated by a local winemaker or wine shop, will also be included in the cost of the ticket.

Lauren Greis, an event coordinator who is helping to organize the Sunday Suppers, said that she and Hallowell picked the eleven nonprofit beneficiaries for this first year. Initially, Hallowell's three Oakland restaurants will see the bulk of the action, with a handful of others — Miss Ollie's, Box & Bells, and Chez Panisse — hosting dinners as well.

Tickets are available through BrownPaperTickets.com.

Taco Grill Moves, Expands

Taco Grill — purveyor of sustainably sourced meats and exceptional pozoles in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood — has moved across the street into a larger space, as first noted on Chowhound. The casual taqueria, which is now called Obelisco (3411 E. 12th St., Ste. 110), will keep its lunchtime order-at-the-counter service, and add sit-down table service for dinner, according to owner Leticia Chavez. She said she'll start serving two or three rotating entrée specials every night — things like birria (goat stew), cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), and chicken or pork in pipián (pumpkin seed sauce).

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Fruitvale's Taco Grill Is Reborn as Obelisco

by Luke Tsai
Mon, May 12, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Taco Grill — purveyor of sustainably sourced meats and exceptional pozoles in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood — has moved across the street, as first noted on Chowhound. The casual taqueria, which is now called Obelisco, took over into the space formerly occupied by Mar y Tierra (3411 E. 12th St., Ste. 110), another Mexican restaurant.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Caviar, Newly Launched in the East Bay, Delivers Food from Some of Our Favorite Sit-Down Restaurants

by Luke Tsai
Thu, May 8, 2014 at 3:09 PM

Perhaps you, like me, have occasionally had a hankering for a rice bowl from Hawker Fare or a margherita pizza from A16, but felt too lazy to leave your house — to deal with parking, or waiting on line for a table during the peak dinner rush, or any of the other hassles that go hand-in-hand with a formal restaurant dining experience.

If so, Caviar, a delivery service for sit-down restaurants, most of whom don’t normally deliver, might be the solution you’ve been waiting for. Founded by four UC Berkeley alums, the company launched in San Francisco two years ago, and has slowly rolling out its service to other major cities. Caviar just launched service in the East Bay yesterday, with a preliminary lineup of fifteen restaurants that includes some of the most popular and most beloved spots in Oakland and Berkeley: Hopscotch, Phil’s Sliders, Plum Bar, the aforementioned Hawker Fare and A16, and many more.

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Sunday Suppers for a Cause

by Luke Tsai
Thu, May 8, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The Sunday Supper — a prix-fixe meal served on what is traditionally a slow night in the restaurant business — is seeing somewhat of a revival in the East Bay. Charlie Hallowell (Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service, Penrose) is the latest restaurateur to launch a Sunday Suppers series — one with a philanthropic slant.

The idea is simple: For the next year, on the third Sunday of every month (except December), a prominent East Bay restaurant will host a $100 multi-course, prix-fixe dinner. Two-thirds of the proceeds from each dinner will go to a selected local nonprofit organization. So, with two 75-person seatings, each sold-out event represents a $10,000 donation.

More …

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mid-Week Menu: Coloso Coffee Opens, The Growlers’ Arms to Replace Marzano, and Zaki Kabob Says Goodbye

by Luke Tsai
Wed, May 7, 2014 at 9:48 AM

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

1) There’s another new destination for coffee fiends in Uptown Oakland: Coloso Coffee opened last month at 1715 Webster Street. Owners Jose Posadas, Renzo Gianella, and Maggie Servais are serving Sightglass drip coffee and espresso drinks, as well as a small selection of pastries from San Francisco’s Sandbox Bakery (they of the excellent croissants). The cafe eventually plans to start roasting small batches of coffee in-house as well, importing the beans from a coffee farm in Peru that Posadas’ brother owns.

Posadas told What the Fork that the name Coloso — Spanish for “colossal” — is somewhat tongue-in-cheek: The standing-room-only cafe is decidedly not colossal in size, though Posada said he likes to think that what he and his partners have done is to launch a big idea in that small space. Current hours are Monday to Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (Hat tip: @andytheohr.)

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When Trombonists Brew Beer

Plus, Charlie Parker is Haven's new chef.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, May 7, 2014 at 1:00 AM

How often does the trombonist trade in the slide lubricant and spit valves of his main trade for the siphons and bottling buckets of the home brewer? How often does the oboist set aside her handcrafted reed to take up the ancient art of winemaking?

Perhaps more often than you'd think. For years now, several members of the Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) have spent their off hours doing just that — creating homemade brown ales and setting up garage wineries. On Saturday, May 17, from 6 to 9 p.m., members of the orchestra will be sharing their liquid creations with the general public, in a first-time event they've dubbed "Bach & Brew." The event, a fundraiser for the OEBS, will take place at the Linden Street Brewery (95 Linden St., Oakland), and give attendees the opportunity to sample an assortment of beverages that can't be purchased in any liquor store — all of them created by the orchestra's "musician-brewmasters" and "musician-winemakers" — as well as some craft beers by Linden Street head brewmaster Adam Lamoreaux.*

Andrea Plesnarski, the organizer of the event and the orchestra's principal oboist, is an amateur winemaker herself, along with her husband Tom Nugent, who also plays the oboe professionally.

Plesnarski explained that the idea for Bach & Brew came about when the orchestra was trying to brainstorm new ways to reach out to the community. An alarming number of people don't even know that Oakland has an orchestra, Plesnarski said. And it's true: A big boisterous party where beer and wine enthusiasts get to geek out over some trombonist's home-brewed English ale certainly seems like it might break new ground.

But while Plesnarski always knew that a few of her orchestra-mates shared her interest in home fermentation, she said she was surprised to find out just how many there were — at least 8 members of the 74-member orchestra. In other words, a larger-than-you'd-expect proportion of people who are members of one rarefied profession are spending an inordinate amount of their free time participating — obsessively, in some cases — in a somewhat obscure hobby. It's enough to make a person wonder whether there's some connection between the two.

Rena Urso-Trapani — who plays the flute for OEBS and enjoys brewing "extract"-style beer — said she thinks it's an interest in the creative process that draws musicians to home brewing. "A lot of musicians that I know love to bake and love to cook," she said. At Saturday's event, Urso-Trapani will share a "Coffee Cantata Stout," a beer inspired by Bach's "Coffee Cantata" — a piece, she said, that every professional flute player knows well.

Urso-Trapani's husband, Steve Trapani, a trombone player who specializes in brown ales, has been brewing beer at home since 2008, after fellow OEBS trombonist Bruce Chrisp first turned him on to the hobby during the Nineties. But Trapani couldn't say for certain why five of the six home brewers who are participating in next Saturday's event are members of the orchestra's lower brass section — three trombonists, a tuba player, and a French horn player. (Urso-Trapani, the flutist, is the sixth.)

"I don't know why. Maybe it's because we're all friendly; maybe we hang out more than the other sections," Trapani said. "For whatever reason, there's a lot of home-brewing going on in the trombone world."

Meanwhile, Plesnarski and Nugent have been making wine in the garage of their Oakland home for the past twelve years. Nugent, the primary winemaker, said he just enjoys the physicality of the process, and the opportunity to experiment with the science of flavor. For Plesnarski, the biggest connection between music and winemaking is the sense of community that each creative process fosters. "When you're making wine with other people and sharing it with them, it's a lot like making music," she said. "You're working with other people — making something organic that may or may not turn out well, but often does."

Plesnarski also noted that in France, the oboe canes that are used to make the reeds of their instruments actually grow among grapevines. Coincidentally — or perhaps not — all of the featured musician-winemakers play the oboe.

Of course, no gathering of talented classical musicians would be complete without a performance of some kind, and Saturday's event will feature two — a performance of several of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, led by symphony director Michael Morgan on keyboard, and a soul and gypsy-jazz crossover performance by the cello group Dirty Cello.

There will also be plenty of food available for purchase, courtesy of several popular Bay Area food trucks. The current lineup includes D.O.G. Truck (hot dogs and chili), No Worries (vegan Filipino food), Fist of Flour (pizza), and Ippo Ramen. Tickets to the event are $25.

Charlie Parker Returns to Oakland

Like a favorite son come home, Charlie Parker — the opening chef at Plum — has returned to Oakland. Daniel Patterson's restaurant group announced that Charlie Parker — who presided over the Patterson-owned Uptown Oakland restaurant's early heady days in 2011 — started as the new executive chef at Haven (44 Webster St.), Plum's Jack London Square sister restaurant, on Monday, May 5.

A spokesperson for the restaurant told What the Fork that Parker will eventually revamp Haven's menu, but that he'll take it slow as he adjusts to a new kitchen and a new team. Parker's short-lived brunch menu at Plum was, in my estimation, one of the very best in the Bay Area, so that will be something to look for, as Haven recently expanded brunch service to include Saturdays as well as Sundays.

Parker's most recent gig was at Freddy Smalls Bar and Kitchen, in Los Angeles. Chris Johnson, the previous chef at Haven, has moved back to Patterson's flagship, Coi, where he cooked for two years before his recent stint in Oakland.

*UPDATE: Due to a last-minute permitting issue, Bach & Brew will be unable to serve wine. Beer service remains unchanged.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Updated: When Trombonists Brew Beer

by Luke Tsai
Tue, May 6, 2014 at 11:30 AM

How often does the trombonist trade in the slide lubricant and spit valves of his main trade for the siphons and bottling buckets of the home brewer? How often does the oboist set aside her handcrafted reed to take up the ancient art of winemaking?

Perhaps more often than you’d think. For years now, several members of the Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) have spent their off hours doing just that — creating homemade brown ales and setting up garage wineries. On Saturday, May 17, from 6 to 9 p.m., members of the orchestra will be sharing their imbibable creations with the general public, in a first-time event they’ve dubbed “Bach & Brew.” The event, a fundraiser for OEBS, will take place at the Linden Street Brewery (95 Linden St., Oakland), where attendees will have the opportunity to sample an assortment of beverages that can’t be purchased in any liquor store — all of them created by the orchestra’s “musician-brewmasters” and “musician-winemakers” — as well as some craft beers by Linden Street head brewmaster Adam Lamoreaux.

More …

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Charlie Parker, Plum's Opening Chef, Is Now the Chef at Haven

by Luke Tsai
Mon, May 5, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Like a favorite son come home, Charlie Parker — the opening chef at Plum — has returned to Oakland.

Daniel Patterson's restaurant group announced via a press release sent out early this morning that Parker, who presided over the Patterson-owned Uptown Oakland restaurant's early heady days in 2011, will start today, May 5, as the new executive chef at Haven (44 Webster St.), Patterson's Jack London Square restaurant.

Parker's most recent gig was at Freddy Smalls Bar and Kitchen, in Los Angeles.

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