Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Marrow to Reopen as a New York-Style Pizzeria

Plus, where to eat on New Year's Day.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Dec 31, 2014 at 1:00 AM

The last time we heard from Jon Kosorek, he had just closed Marrow (325 19th St.), a miraculous little sandwich shop in Uptown Oakland where he would butcher a whole pig and turn it, variously, into porchetta sandwiches, tacos, and seared head-cheese breakfast plates. But Marrow never quite caught on the way that Kosorek had hoped, and a series of challenges in the chef's personal life helped solidify his decision to close in July.

Now, Kosorek is ready to reopen the restaurant, but this time with a more low-key concept that he believes is a better fit for the neighborhood. Buma's Pizzeria will be, in Kosorek's words, a "very simple frickin' New York-style pizzeria" that will serve slices, whole pies, and New York-style buffalo wings. The restaurant will also deliver to a fairly large portion of Oakland.

"There's nothing fancy about what we're going to be doing at all," Kosorek said.

Kosorek explained that after he closed Marrow, he had hoped to make a clean break and sell the space outright, recouping a chunk of the money he'd put into the restaurant. But he never got a reasonable offer, so Kosorek decided he might as well convert the space into what he'd come to believe it should have been all along. "You walk in those doors, and it just sort of feels like it should be a pizzeria," he explained.

Kosorek, a native of Albany, New York, said he grew up eating the kind of pizza he hopes to recreate at Buma's — with a crust that's crunchy and chewy, and that flops a little bit when you pick up a slice. The dough will be made with a long fermentation process, using a natural starter that Kosorek said he's been cultivating for the past three years. And, unlike the stereotypical California-style pizza shop, Buma's will keep things simple as far as toppings are concerned: "There will be no duck confit or pomegranate," he said. "Nothing weird."

Kosorek, who is also the former proprietor of the food truck Jon's Street Eats, explained that with his whole-animal ethos at Marrow, he felt at times like he was fighting the industrial food system just to make a point. As a result, he wound up serving food that many people in the neighborhood felt was too fancy and expensive. At Buma's, Kosorek said he'll still use good ingredients, but he doesn't want to push any agenda. "I want to take away all the bullshit," he said.

That's not to say that Buma's won't also be dedicated to a cause: The restaurant is named after Bahram "Buma" Morid, a close friend of Kosorek's who recently died after a long battle with brain cancer. One percent of the restaurant's gross sales will be donated to support brain cancer research.

Kosorek said he isn't planning a major renovation on the space, but he did have to install some new equipment — most significantly, a Marsal gas deck pizza oven. To help pay for that expense, he recently launched a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign that will run through midnight on New Year's Eve. As of Tuesday morning, the crowdfunding campaign had already exceeded its target.

If all else goes well, Buma's will open in early January.

New Year's Day Eats

So many column inches are devoted each year to the bacchanalian excesses of New Year's Eve, I won't waste your time with yet another roundup. (That said, by all means check out the Express' NYE roundup "Out with the Old, In with the New," 12/10/14.)

But what about when you wake up on New Year's Day, groggy-eyed and famished, your empty fridge staring you in the face like another year's worth of regret? When it comes to finding a restaurant that's open on New Year's Day, it's slim pickings to say the least, but here are a handful of East Bay options.

If we were to limit our search to restaurants I'd be happy to eat at even under normal circumstances, Oakland's Grand Lake Kitchen (576 Grand Ave.) would probably top the list. The lakeside restaurant-deli will be open on New Year's Day from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. as it is every Thursday, but to provide a sense of occasion, the restaurant's weekend brunch menu — pastrami Benedicts and all — will be available until 3 p.m.

Over on the other side of Lake Merritt, Lake Chalet (1520 Lakeside Dr.) — home to what are perhaps the nicest views of the lake in town — will open at 10 a.m. for an über-fancy New Year's Day brunch. (See my food event pick, "New Year's Day Brunch," for additional details.)

The Terrace Room (1800 Madison St.) is promoting its "New Year's Day Recovery Brunch," which starts at 10 a.m. and touts, among other allures, bottomless mimosas and bottomless Bloody Marys. This is another "view restaurant," with windows overlooking the lake, but brunch was the most enjoyable meal I ate there when I reviewed the place in 2012. And the Temescal wine bar Marc 49 (4915 Telegraph Ave.) will serve an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — $18 for adults, $10 for kids.

If your stomach is strong enough to endure a boat ride, Hornblower Cruises is doing a $72 champagne brunch cruise that will set sail from Berkeley Marina at noon on New Year's Day.

Finally, there's Oakland Chinatown, which, like the bulk of the East Bay's authentic Asian eateries, pays no mind to the Western holiday calendar. For something quick and simple, head straight to Tian Jin Dumplings (989 Franklin St., Ste. B) for some pork buns or a few dozen dumplings. Of course, it's traditional to eat dumplings for Chinese New Year — but why not get off to an early start?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Where to Eat on New Year’s Day

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Brunch at Grand Lake Kitchen (via Facebook).
  • Brunch at Grand Lake Kitchen (via Facebook).
So many column inches are devoted each year to the bacchanalian excesses of New Year’s Eve, I won’t waste your time with yet another roundup. (That said, by all means check out the Express’ NYE roundup.)

But what about when you wake up on New Year’s Day, groggy-eyed and famished, your empty fridge staring you in the face like another year’s worth of regret? When it comes to finding a restaurant that’s open on New Year’s Day, it’s slim pickings to say the least, but here are a handful of East Bay options.

More …

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Bites of 2014

Fried chicken necks, convenience store sandwiches, and a whole lot of Asian comfort food.

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Dec 24, 2014 at 1:00 AM

One of my favorite holiday traditions is compiling my annual list of top ten East Bay bites. It's a time to scroll through hundreds of blurry cellphone food pics and make myself very, very hungry in the process. For whatever reason, this year's batch of favorites skewed heavily toward Asian comfort food — steaming bowls of soupy noodles and the kinds of dishes best enjoyed over white rice.

With apologies to the steamed surf clams at Great China and the tsukune at Ippuku, I limited my list to East Bay restaurants that opened within the past twelve months, with a couple of notable exceptions. Here are my picks, arranged in rough chronological eating order.

"Ocean Umami" at Iyasare

1830 Fourth St., Berkeley

If you took all of the ingredients in this dish — the sweet raw Hokkaido scallops, marinated salmon roe, lobes of uni (sea urchin), and seaweed-infused ponzu sauce — and served them to me fruit-salad-style, out of a paper cup, I'd still be happy to eat it on a daily basis. The fact that chef Shotaro Kamio's creation is also plated as beautifully as a piece of gallery-worthy abstract art is the cherry — or the, um, uni — on top. For anyone who loves the briny, umami-laden flavors of the deep sea, this is about as luxurious as it gets.

Curry Goat at Kingston 11

2270 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

At Kingston 11, the lively Jamaican joint that has quickly cemented its place as one of Uptown Oakland's gathering places, the crowd favorite is probably chef Nigel Jones' succulent, smoky-as-all-get-out version of jerk chicken — which, truth be told, would also be a worthy selection for this list. But the dish I keep coming back to is the curried goat (available Thursday through Saturday) — a dish that's so well seasoned, with the meat slow-simmered to such lush, tender perfection, that even diners who don't think they like goat meat will likely become converts.

Idiot Noodles at Dragon Gate

Bar and Grille

300 Broadway, Oakland

This year saw a mini-revival of Taiwanese cooking in Oakland, with the openings of Taiwan Bento in Uptown and Dragon Gate in the Jack London neighborhood. The latter is a loud, gaudy kind of place with swank karaoke rooms and servers bedecked in slinky, thigh-length Mandarin gowns, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that the restaurant's Taiwanese dishes were so homey and comforting. Perhaps my favorite was the charmingly named "idiot" noodles, which combined yusong (dried-fish floss), assorted pickled vegetables, half a soy-sauce-braised egg, and a Bolognese-like braised pork belly meat sauce — so many satisfying flavors and textures in a single bowl.

Steamed Clams with Kimchi at

The Dock at Linden Street

95 Linden St., Oakland

In a city that's positively teeming with beer-friendly eats, The Dock sits at the very top of my current list of go-to spots to grab a brew and a few plates of tasty food. As conceived by chef-owner James Syhabout, The Dock adheres to no stylistic or national boundaries, so one visit might yield crinkle-cut fries topped with Texas-style queso while the next offers head-on shrimp grilled on the plancha in the manner of a seaside tapas bar in Spain. Best of all was this bowl of clams, bacon, and fresh napa cabbage kimchi in a fragrant broth. Because the kimchi was fresh, not fermented, the overall effect was supremely mild and soothing — just the thing to ladle over a big bowl of rice.

Bun Rieu at Bun Mam Soc Trang

1326 E. 18th St., Oakland

Bun Mam Soc Trang has been around for a few years now, even if it's little known outside of the local Vietnamese community. But this noodle shop hidden in an obscure stretch of East Oakland was probably my favorite discovery of the year, so it seems only fitting to give it another shout-out. As great as the restaurant's namesake noodle soup — the bun mam — is, one of my favorite bites of the year was the restaurant's version of bun rieu — a rice vermicelli soup that featured silky cubes of pork blood, cloud-like pork meatballs infused with all of the rich juices from a crab's head, and a hit of pungent mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste).

Breakfast Corn Dog at Handlebar

984 University Ave., Berkeley

At Handlebar, brunch — served Saturday through Monday — is the most decadent meal of the day. And the most decadent dish of all is chef Roland Robles' take on a pig-in-a-blanket: an oversized breakfast sausage that gets dipped in pancake batter, deep-fried, and served on a stick, with plenty of maple syrup-infused butter for slathering. Those who truly want to go big should order this object of all-American ingenuity with a side of the best hash brown patties in the East Bay.

KFB at The Half Orange

3340 E. 12th St., Ste. 11, Oakland

Not to take anything away from the American South, but it's a well-established fact at this point that Koreans know how to fry chicken as well as anyone. Hence, The Half Orange's most triumphant creation, Korean-fried buches, which combines a popular Tijuana taqueria's love of the chicken neck and the Korean cook's precise double-frying technique. The result? The gochujang funk and unparalleled crunch of Korean fried chicken, plus the tactile pleasures you get from gnawing away at a chicken wing until you've stripped off every last bit of skin and meat. Add a cold beer to the mix, and you've got a match made in heaven.

Menudo at Norma Meat & Deli

3630 Barrett Ave. (inside Val-Mar Market), Richmond

Here's another spot that has been around for a few years, but was such a fun discovery — given its hidden-away, back-of-a-convenience-store location — that I wanted to highlight it again. If you only visit owner Norma Muñoz's little deli counter one time, the dish to eat is one of her compact, well-griddled pupusas, each one made to order by hand. But if you're lucky enough to stop by on a Saturday or Sunday, you shouldn't pass up on the opportunity to try Muñoz's weekend-only menudo. Rich, clean-tasting, and chockfull of tripe and beef feet cooked until they're unspeakably tender, this was one of the best bowls of menudo I've ever tasted.

Pork Adobo Sandwich

at POP Sandwich

378 17th St. (inside Chez Mado), Oakland

Indeed, this has been quite a year for the inside-a-convenience-store genre of restaurant, which also introduced me to some of my favorite sandwiches of the year: Ian De Leoz's banh-mi-inspired creations, sold from the deli counter in the back section of an Uptown Oakland vape shop. Almost all of De Leoz's sandwiches were worthy contenders, but I was particularly smitten with his pork adobo sandwich, which combines his mother's traditional adobo recipe, fork-tender pork, and a sambal aioli that added just the right touch of chili heat.

Hari-Hari Nabe at AS B-Dama

907 Washington St., Oakland

Finally, in a year filled with comfort food from Asia, perhaps no dish was as comforting as this bowl of soup at AS B-Dama, Old Oakland's wonderful Japanese izakaya. Is there anything that will warm you up like this combination of tofu, thinly sliced pork belly, mizuna, and wholesome miso broth? As long as winter sticks around, this is a dish I'll be keeping in my regular rotation.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Jon Kosorek to Reopen Marrow as a New York-Style Pizzeria Called Buma’s

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 5:33 PM

photo-1024x768.jpg
The last time we heard from Jon Kosorek, the chef had just closed Marrow (325 19th St.), the miraculous little sandwich shop where he’d butcher a whole pig and turn it, variously, into porchetta sandwiches, tacos, and seared head-cheese breakfast plates. But the Uptown Oakland spot never quite caught on the way he’d hoped, and a series of challenges in Kosorek’s personal life helped solidify his decision to close Marrow in July.

More …

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Best Bites of 2014

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 1:11 PM

BERT JOHNSON / FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson / file photo
One of my favorite holiday traditions is compiling my annual list of top ten East Bay bites. It’s a time to scroll through hundreds of blurry cellphone food pics and make myself very, very hungry in the process. For whatever reason, this year’s batch of favorites skewed heavily toward Asian comfort food — steaming bowls of soupy noodles and the kinds of dishes best enjoyed over white rice.

More …

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Lucky Three Seven’s ‘Non-Profit’ Day

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 8:22 AM

CHRIS DUFFEY / FILE PHOTO
  • Chris Duffey / file photo
Free food alert! The proprietors of Lucky Three Seven (2868 Fruitvale Ave.), East Oakland’s most happening Filipino takeout spot, have declared today a “non-profit” day. They’ll give out free meals all day long.

More …

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mid-Week Menu: Nightly Ramen, the Loss of a Mural, and a Juice Bar Inside a Senegalese Restaurant

by Luke Tsai
Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 12:11 PM

The original mural, via Rische-Baird.com.
  • The original mural, via Rische-Baird.com.
Welcome to the Mid-Week Menu, our roundup of East Bay food news.

1) The much anticipated permanent brick-and-mortar location of Kronnerburger (4063 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) has come under fire from a local neighborhood association over the removal of a beloved mural, Inside Scoop reports. The Our Oakland blog was the first to notice that a large section of the Key Route Plaza mural — artist Rocky Rische-Baird’s tribute to the historic trolley line that used to pass through the restaurant site — had been removed. Chef-owner Chris Kronner expressed regret for the loss, but said that the inside of that particular section of the wall was covered with black mold. According to Kronner, the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League never offered a realistic plan to save the mural.

In the meantime, when I spoke to Kronner recently, he said the recent rains have set him back several weeks. He’s now aiming to open Kronnerburger around the third week of January.

More …

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Hatch: Beer, Burgers, and the Return of a Long-Lost Chef

Plus, the Kwik Way lives again (for a while, anyway).

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 7:12 PM

These are heady times for the Oakland beer buff: It seems like an interesting new brewery, beer garden, or craft beer bar opens its doors in The Town almost every week. The Hatch (402 15th St.), which opened in downtown Oakland last month, offers a compelling trifecta. The bar offers the kind of East Bay-centric beer list that locavores have come to expect, plus live entertainment, and, as an added bonus, the return of a beloved Oakland chef. Rico Tiongco, the former chef-owner of Rico's Diner, is a partner in the venture, and he'll be getting back behind the grill to run The Hatch's beer-friendly food program.

Co-owner Pancho Kachingwe has had plenty of experience managing bars and restaurants (including the original Bissap Baobab in San Francisco's Mission District), but The Hatch is the first place of his own. Kachingwe wanted to open a bar that was intimate and communal, with good food and a space where small acts — particularly bands that don't necessarily have a huge following — could perform. He said the two-story space on 15th Street, a former Hawaiian Walk In Restaurant, was perfect because of its small upstairs loft, at which The Hatch has already been hosting a variety of live performances and open mic nights.

"We want it to be a place where musicians can feel at home," Kachingwe said.

As for the food, Kachingwe said he met Tiongco through a mutual friend and approached him about putting together a simple food program — "nothing crazy." As it turns out, The Hatch is located right next door to Tiongco's former restaurant, Rico's Diner, which is now occupied by Hi-Life, a late-night pizza and beer spot. He'll be competing with Hi-Life for some of that late-night business, too: One of The Hatch's features will be a late-night takeout window.

I wasn't able to speak to Tiongco prior to this printing, but Kachingwe told me that for the first month the bar has only been selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs — similar to the ones sold by street vendors in the Mission. Soon, though, Tiongco will expand the menu to include items such as sliders, French fries, and tater tots. Fans of the elevated diner fare at Rico's will be happy to know that there's a very good chance that Tiongco's legendary milkshakes will make an appearance.

Meanwhile, the beer list includes twelve taps, mostly local, including beers from Linden Street Brewery, Line 51, Trumer Pils, and Prohibition Brewing Co. Kachingwe is also looking to add some local wines.

Kwik Way Redux

If you've been mourning the death of Oakland's Park Way Drive In (500 Lake Park Ave.), aka the Kwik Way, here's good news and bad news: Despite a developer's plans to tear the building down and turn it into an apartment complex, the old-school burger restaurant will reopen in the meantime, albeit not strictly as a burger joint and only on a temporary basis.

The Contra Costa Times reports that Alex and Charles Hahn, the owners of the Kwik Way building, have made a temporary arrangement with Merritt Bakery — another iconic, if recently beleaguered, Oakland restaurant — while they finalize their plans to sell the building to an unnamed developer. The bakery has already put up signs in the Kwik Way window and will open the restaurant as a second Merritt Bakery outpost sometime this month.

It's unclear how long Merritt Bakery will occupy the space, but the Hahns told CCT that it would take the developer one to two years just to secure permits for the proposed construction project. (Whether the city will actually allow the historic Kwik Way building to be torn down completely remains to be seen.)

In an email, Charles Griffis, who runs the 62-year-old Merritt Bakery, told me that he plans to open the restaurant as the Merritt Bakery Kwik Way "Bakery Department" as early as this week. Initially, the Kwik Way outpost will only sell cakes and other baked goods for the holidays, but Griffis said that, starting in January, the original Merritt Bakery location on East 18th Street will be closed for three months in order to install a city-mandated fire sprinkler system. At that point, Griffis said, the equipment used to cook the restaurant's most acclaimed item, its fried chicken, will be transferred over to the Kwik Way — welcome news for those looking for an alternative to the KFC located a few doors down. Griffis didn't respond to a request for further menu details, so it's unclear whether burgers and milkshakes will be served as well.

The collaboration brings together two restaurant entities with tumultuous histories. The Kwik Way, of course, sat empty for years before restaurateur Gary Rizzo reopened it in 2011, only to close it again abruptly this past August: The kitchen was stripped of all equipment overnight, and an accusatory note directed toward the landlords, presumably written by Rizzo, was left on the window.

Meanwhile, Merritt Bakery has suffered serious financial difficulties. In recent years, the restaurant was bailed out by a series of loans from the City of Oakland, and the latest renovation project comes in the wake of a major fire that temporarily shut the restaurant down last May.

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The Hatch: Beer, Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs, and the Return of a Long-Lost Chef

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Beer taps at The Hatch (via Instagram, @thehatchoak)
  • Beer taps at The Hatch (via Instagram, @thehatchoak)
These are heady times for the Oakland beer buff: It seems like it’s almost every week that an interesting new brewery, beer garden, or craft beer bar opens its doors in The Town. The Hatch (402 15th St.), which opened in downtown Oakland last month, offers a compelling trifecta. The bar offers the kind of East Bay-centric beer list that locavores have come to expect, live entertainment, and, as an added bonus, the return of a beloved Oakland chef.

Rico Tiongco, the former chef-owner of Rico’s Diner, is a partner in the venture, and he’ll be getting back behind the grill to run The Hatch’s beer-friendly food program.

More …

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Monday, December 15, 2014

The Return of the Kwik Way

by Luke Tsai
Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The Kwik Way is back (sort of). Via Facebook.
  • The Kwik Way is back (sort of). Via Facebook.
If you’ve been mourning the death of Oakland’s Park Way Drive In (500 Lake Park Ave.), aka the Kwik Way, here’s good news and bad news: Despite a developer’s plans to tear the building down and turn it into an apartment complex, the old-school burger restaurant will reopen in the meantime, albeit not strictly as a burger joint and only on a temporary basis.

The Bay Area News Group reports that Alex and Charles Hahn, the owners of the Kwik Way building, have made a temporary arrangement with Merritt Bakery — another iconic, if recently beleaguered, Oakland restaurant — while they finalize their plans to sell the building to an unnamed developer. The bakery has already put up signs in the Kwik Way window and will open the restaurant as a second Merritt Bakery outpost sometime this month.

It’s unclear how long Merritt Bakery will occupy the space, but the Hahns told BANG that it would take the developer one to two years just to secure permits for the proposed construction project. (Whether the city will actually allow the historic Kwik Way building to be torn down completely remains to be seen.)

In an email, Charles Griffis, who runs 62-year-old Merritt Bakery, told What the Fork that he plans to open the restaurant as the Merritt Bakery Kwik Way “Bakery Department” as early as this week. Initially, the Kwik Way outpost will only sell cakes and other baked goods for the holidays, but Griffis said that starting in January the original Merritt Bakery location on East 18th Street will be closed for three months in order to install a city-mandated fire sprinkler system. At that point, Griffis said, the equipment used to cook the restaurant’s most acclaimed item, its fried chicken, will be transferred over to the Kwik Way — welcome news for those looking for an alternative to the KFC located a few doors down. Griffis didn’t respond to a request for further menu details, so it’s unclear whether burgers and milkshakes will be served as well.

The collaboration brings together two restaurant entities with tumultuous recent histories. The Kwik Way sat empty for years before restaurateur Gary Rizzo reopened it in 2011, only to close it again abruptly this past August: The kitchen was stripped of all equipment overnight, and an accusatory note directed toward the landlords, presumably written by Rizzo, was left on the window.

Meanwhile, Merritt Bakery has suffered serious financial difficulties. In recent years, the restaurant has been bailed out by a series of loans from the City of Oakland, and the latest renovation project comes in the wake of a major fire that temporarily shut the diner down last May.

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