Thursday, August 31, 2017

Humphry Slocombe Brings its Cult-like Following to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 9:19 AM

The new shop sells scoops as well as pints. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The new shop sells scoops as well as pints.

Hundreds braved the heat last Sunday afternoon for free ice cream from Humphry Slocombe, the San Francisco-based creamery known for its rare flavor combinations and silly names. The first East Bay location just opened at The Hive (2335 Broadway), the space in Uptown, Oakland that also hosts Calavera, Drake’s Dealership, and Firebrand Bakery. To celebrate, Humphry handed out free scoops, and the steady line stretched from the center of The Hive out to the street.

Clearly, there’s excitement.

The line didn't let up for hours. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The line didn't let up for hours.

The new Oakland ice cream hub occupies a refurbished, bright-blue shipping container and serves a dozen flavors along with floats, sundaes, and pints. The most famous Humphry Slocombe flavor is probably Secret Breakfast, which pairs bourbon and cornflakes, though the creamery also crafts some more expected flavors — albeit with tongue-in-cheek names — such as Here’s Your Damn Strawberry! You’ll find sophisticated options like Earl Grey tea-plum sorbet and a wide variety of toppings, including hot fudge, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil with sea salt. There’s also an affogato collaboration with Oakland’s Red Bay Coffee, which has a shipping container cafe in the same courtyard.

Humphry Slocombe debuted in the Mission district in 2008, eventually expanding to San Francisco’s Ferry Building and adding a food truck. It’s often referred to as a “cult ice cream-maker” for its consistently long lines, constantly changing portfolio of surprising flavors, and massive Twitter following at 276,000.

In Oakland’s ice cream landscape, it’s definitely one of the pricier scoops at $4.50 for a single. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that another one of the most expensive ice cream shops in Oakland is Rockridge’s Smitten Ice Cream, another San Francisco-based company.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Former AQ Chef Mark Liberman Plans New Oakland Restaurant

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Aug 29, 2017 at 2:09 PM

Mark Liberman at work. - COURTESY OF ERICA GARLIEB
  • Courtesy of Erica Garlieb
  • Mark Liberman at work.

You're probably tired of hearing about San Francisco chefs and businesses pouring into Oakland. This one is a little different, though.

Reason number one: Chef Mark Liberman actually lives in Oakland. He moved here a year and a half ago from the Mission district to raise his daughter and fell in love with the community vibes, which he feels have been missing from San Francisco lately. Liberman was the chef of San Francisco’s AQ, the celebrated fine-dining restaurant that closed earlier this year.

Liberman plans to open his next restaurant here, somewhere. He’s focusing his search on Temescal, Uptown, Downtown, and Old Oakland, and hopes to open in spring 2018 — assuming he can find a venue by the end of the year.

If all goes according to plan, there won’t be a place quite like Liberman’s Mägo Restaurant in the East Bay.

“The premise is that it’s very much a dinner party,” he explained. “The kitchen is the focal point and the seats are around the kitchen.”

Like a dinner party, there will be lots of chatter. The idea is that diners will come in, sit down, and talk directly with the chefs. Cooks will run all the food, and only a couple of traditional servers will be on hand to handle drinks. The atmosphere will revolve around openness and transparency, with the kitchen providing live entertainment.

Unlike other restaurants with a vague dinner party concept — Lazy Bear in San Francisco or The Kitchen in Sacramento, for example — Mägo Restaurant will be far more casual and accessible in price point. The aforementioned restaurants are only prix-fixe affairs that cost hundreds of dollars and require hours of dedication. Liberman wants to ensure folks can stroll into his restaurant for a quick bite. 

The menu won’t have any traditional, entrée-sized plates. Instead, there will be snacks ($5-$9), mid-sized plates ($12-$20), and large entrées meant to feed two to four people — the prices of which will vary widely depending on what Liberman feels like cooking. He plans to change the menu every week with variations on “West Coast cuisine,” which again, basically just means whatever Liberman feels like cooking. He plans to always have pasta and vegetable-focused dishes, but he might throw in his own version of mole for fun.

It’s a big change from his tasting-menu-only restaurant AQ and reflects shifting preferences in the industry for more casual spots serving simpler food. He specifically said he wants to make sure Mägo isn’t “just for foodies.”

“There will be food a foodie can dissect,” he said, but he’s really going for “food that appeals to everybody.”

In the meantime, Liberman will host a series of pop-ups to build buzz for the new project. The first one will take place on Friday, Sept. 8, in Temescal and feature eight courses for $45. The event, "Mélange of tomatoes burst," highlights tomatoes as well as fun ingredients such as smoked beets, wild seaweeds, and preserved roses. Find tickets to this and future pop-ups here.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

In Advance of Neo-Nazi Rallies, Far-Right Supporters Blast Local Baker

Ashley Shotwell’s business page was flooded with false reviews by members of the alt-right.

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 10:11 AM

This cake caused quite the stir. - COURTESY OF ASHLEY SHOTWELL
  • Courtesy of Ashley Shotwell
  • This cake caused quite the stir.

Wednesday started like any other day for Ashley Shotwell. The local baker specializes in elaborately decorated cakes, particularly vegan ones for Hella Vegan Eats, and often posts videos of the decorating process to Instagram. This most recent creation was a black-and-red cake with big, white letters spelling out “Kill Nazis.” A shiny gold bat and chain complete the look.

It was specifically requested by a client, who was inspired by a cake Shotwell made a week earlier: a flashy, purple edition with the words “Resist Fascism.”

“I was like, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t even think twice about it,” Shotwell said.

You can probably guess what happened next.

The video made its way to Facebook and was shared to a bunch of alt-right groups, whose members flooded Shotwell’s business page with falsified negative reviews. Shotwell estimates getting 200 over the course of a few hours on Wednesday night.

“They were saying there were maggots in the cake, it was spoiled, there was a rat in the cake, a bike lock in the cake,” Shotwell said. “They were all fake. Some complained about bad customer service in my bakery but I don’t even have a storefront.”

Most of these falsified reviews have already been removed  although there are still a lot of one-star reviews, blank except for a few photos of the same cake emblazoned with a swastika, which was not actually made by Shotwell. Clicking through to profiles often reveals positive references to Donald Trump or Nazis.

While they delivered personal insults, no one directly threatened Shotwell’s safety. Still, she made sure to scrub her pages clean of addresses and contact information.

In the meantime, hundreds of Shotwell’s friends and supporters raced to counter the negative reviews. The initial outpour of digital hate was overwhelming, but Shotwell isn’t going to shy away from politically charged cakes in the future.

“Personally, I don’t like the word ‘kill,’ so I probably won’t use that again, but I’m down to make more cakes against fascism,” she said.

Her overall takeaway from the experience? Neo-Nazi supporters are highly organized and dangerous.

“I think we live in a bubble in the Bay Area. We know they’re there but we don’t have to interact with them personally… This made them so much more real to me,” she said. “I hadn’t really considered how easy it is to become a target.”

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Gio's Pizza & Bocce Pays Homage to Berkeley's Giovanni

The restaurant is now open, slinging Sicilian pies, calzones, and lots of vermouth.

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The downtown Berkeley haunt is alive again. - COURTESY OF ADRIAN GREGORUTTI
  • Courtesy of Adrian Gregorutti
  • The downtown Berkeley haunt is alive again.

Until a fire shut down Giovanni two years ago, the family-owned restaurant had been serving Sicilian pizzas, calzones, and other Italian favorites in downtown Berkeley since 1961.

Now, the space is alive again. With tonight’s grand opening, Gio’s Pizza and Bocce (2420 Shattuck Ave.) will show off its fresh approach to Italian food and drinks as well as some throwbacks to the old Giovanni.

Gio’s comes from first-time restaurant owners Xin and Michele Jin and Nathan George, who all went to UC Berkeley and come from real estate backgrounds. The managing partners are Joel DiGiorgio and Adam Stemmler of Farm League Restaurant Group, which also helped launch the East Bay Spice Company, Shinmai, and Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack, among others.

Gio’s is calling itself a new-school Italian joint. It’s serving Italian food, yes, but in a huge, 4,000-square-foot industrial space with a bocce court. It’s boisterous, hip, loud, and purposefully lacking red-and-white tablecloths.

“We’re not Italian,” Stemmler said. “We’re not necessarily trying to create a traditional Italian experience.”

In the kitchen is chef de cuisine Fred Oliveira, formerly of the esteemed Boulevard in San Francisco and now-shuttered Sea Salt of Berkeley, who will oversee a short menu including appetizers, salads, and pastas. The main attraction will be calzones and Sicilian-style pizzas, which are rectangular slabs characterized by their soft, focaccia-like dough.

That’s one ode to the original Giovanni, but there are more homages in the space. Giovanni’s neon signs were salvaged and brought into the dining room, which join Giovanni’s big, red leather booths. The private room known as “the boat room” was also basically untouched by the fire. Gio’s will use it primarily for private parties, special dinners, and amaro tasting events. It’s accessed through a secret door of sorts, constructed from 56 Partana Olive Oil tin cans.

“It’s pretty much a time capsule,” Stemmler said.

The industrial interior still maintains the original restaurant's murals. - COURTESY OF ADRIAN GREGORUTTI
  • Courtesy of Adrian Gregorutti
  • The industrial interior still maintains the original restaurant's murals.

The bar program is where things really get interesting. Gio’s claims to have one of the largest collections of rare and vintage vermouth and amaro in the country. Much of that stems from Stemmler’s own private collection, born out of a love for fernet early in his bartending career. Some bottles go back to the 1950s.

“We thought it’d be fun to drink history as well,” he said.

Stemmler expects those to appear for special dinners and tasting events, though the bar will emphasize vermouth and amaro around the clock. In addition to original cocktails, there’s a series of pre-mixed and kegged spritzes served on tap. Stemmler said many of these are inspired by Italian soda flavors — for example, strawberry-fennel shrub mixed with Cocchi Americano and cognac — and ideal for serving large groups quickly. Note apertivo hour, which takes place from 5 to 6 p.m. daily, offers spritzes for a discounted $6.

For now, the kitchen will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily, with the bar extending to midnight at the earliest or 2 a.m. at the latest, depending on how business goes. In two or three weeks, Gio’s plans to unroll Italian-inspired brunch service, fueled by espresso and prosecco cocktails.

Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, 2420 Shattuck Ave.,

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

San Francisco's Souvla to Pop Up in the East Bay, Sort of

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The holy trinity of meat, salad, and bread. - COURTESY OF KASSIE BORRESON
  • Courtesy of Kassie Borreson
  • The holy trinity of meat, salad, and bread.

Every single day, Souvla employees field requests from East Bay residents on the phone, by email, or on social media: “Please, open a Souvla in Oakland!” “Bring Souvla to Berkeley!”

That’s according to Charles Bililies, founder and CEO of the popular, fine-casual Greek restaurants in San Francisco. Bililies isn’t working on launching an East Bay branch — sorry, everyone — but Souvla is popping up on our side of the bridge for the first time this week. Unlike the Monday night dive bar pop-ups we’ve grown accustomed to, Souvla’s pop-up will be delivery-only and fueled by tech.

Here’s the deal: From 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, August 24 through Sunday, August 27, you can order Souvla through the delivery app Caviar. Prices will all be the same as in the San Francisco restaurants, plus Caviar’s standard delivery fees. Souvla cooks will operate out of a commercial kitchen near downtown Oakland, which comes equipped to handle all of Souvla’s menu — think meats slowly roasted on a spit, tucked into fluffy pita — except its Greek frozen yogurt. For permitting reasons, Souvla also won’t be able to deliver wine for this pop-up.

Souvla shouldn’t run out of food too fast, unlike some frenzied pop-ups. Bililies is prepping for a standard night of service, meaning up to 150 orders, with an average of three to four items each. The delivery radius encompasses San Leandro to the south and El Cerrito to the north.

Is this the future of pop-ups, ordered through your smartphone and eaten in front of Netflix? Delivery is definitely growing at a rapid rate. Bililies told the San Francisco Chronicle that Souvla didn’t do any delivery in 2014, and now, delivery makes up 24 percent of its business.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for other restaurants to expose their brands to other parts of the Bay Area or other cities in a way that’s fun,” Bililies said.

In other words, yes, expect delivery pop-ups to become a thing.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Paradise Park Cafe Brings All-Day Dining to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 3:45 PM

Paradise salad, with grilled asparagus, snap peas, pickled red onion, and chickpea tofu. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Paradise salad, with grilled asparagus, snap peas, pickled red onion, and chickpea tofu.

A new casual, all-day dining spot opens tomorrow in North Oakland.

Paradise Park Cafe (6334 San Pablo Ave.) is the first East Bay restaurant of the Park Cafe Group, which includes San Francisco’s Dolores Park Cafe, Precita Park Cafe, and Duboce Park Cafe. It takes over spaces previously occupied by Actual Cafe and Victory Burger.

San Francisco-based owners Rachel Herbert and Dana Oppenheim kept bits from the previous tenants, including Actual Cafe’s wall of stickers. Otherwise, the place has been spruced up with peacock-blue paint and industrial-chic touches. A cozy lounge sits in one corner beside a small play area for kids, with the surrounding walls home to work by local artists, which will rotate every three months. And the former Victory section will double as an events space for pop-ups.

Actual Cafe's sticker wall is still intact at Paradise Park Cafe. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Actual Cafe's sticker wall is still intact at Paradise Park Cafe.

With counter service and 49 seats, Paradise aims to be a chill gathering place for the neighborhood. The menu is mostly made up of sandwiches, burgers, and salads, along with organic juice blends and smoothies. Most meals cost between $9 and $12.

At a media event on Wednesday, I sampled a few items  all were tasty if unremarkable. What’s most impressive though is Paradise’s commitment to serving vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and generally health-conscious eaters. A few items come with an unusual “chickpea tofu,” a housemade, turmeric-tinged product made from chickpea flour instead of soy. Following national trends, you can order any salad as a “bowl” with quinoa and a poached egg.

Paradise’s signature dish is actually its dessert: an ice cream burrito. The gimmick takes vanilla ice cream, wraps it in a tortilla, and deep-fries the whole thing. The result is mostly just fun for Instagram. The off-menu affogato milkshake, however, is absolutely worth the calories.

Paradise Park Cafe, open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, 6334 San Pablo Ave., Oakland,

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Oakland's Belotti Ristorante Set to Expand

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 10:36 AM

Expertly prepared spaghetti at Belotti Ristorante e Bottega. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Expertly prepared spaghetti at Belotti Ristorante e Bottega.

The owners of Rockridge’s Belotti Ristorante e Bottega are preparing to expand with a new location Piedmont Avenue focused on to-go orders. Given Belotti makes perhaps the best pasta in the entire East Bay, this is a very exciting development.

The new spot will likely be called Belotti Bottega (4001 Piedmont Ave). As first reported by Berkeleyside, it will be located in the former Gregoire space. As opposed to the co-owners Joyce and Michele Belotti's original ristorante, bottega simply means "shop" in Italian.

The couple is shooting for a fall opening, with Belotti Bottega geared around fresh pastas and sauces for folks to assemble at home. Customers will also be able to order food — including regional Italian appetizers and snacks — online with a scheduled pick-up time.

Think of it as a similar arrangement as Homeroom and its neighboring Homeroom To Go. And like Homeroom To Go, Belotti Bottega will also have limited seating for those who want to eat on the spot.

Belotti Bottega, 4001 Piedmont Ave, Oakland,

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Friday, August 11, 2017

What We're Eating at Outside Lands

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Tartine Manufactory's mortadella hoagie. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Tartine Manufactory's mortadella hoagie.

For many festival-goers, Outside Lands is as much about the food as the music. In its 10th year, there is one notable new addition that’s probably already on every culinary-minded attendee’s hit-list: Tartine Manufactory.

Supporting an East Bay eatery here is a great idea, but if you're looking for the absolute most delicious — and new, only-available-at-OSL — meal this weekend, look no further than Tartine Manufactory's hoagie. In my five years of covering Outside Lands, it’s the best thing I’ve tasted.

Like all things Tartine, this sandwich is deceivingly simple — and depends on fantastic bread. It’s stuffed with mortadella, provolone, herbs, mayo, lots of pickled vegetables, and even more olive oil. Take note: Outside Lands signage states Tartine’s amazing morning buns are only available in the VIP section. Thankfully, those signs are lying.

Pro tip: you can order both of Itani Ramen's izakaya items in one dish. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Pro tip: you can order both of Itani Ramen's izakaya items in one dish.

For new-to-the-fest, Oakland-based eats, Itani Ramen debuted a second, izakaya-style stand. There were rumors of the festival adding a Japan Lands section soon, and indeed, Itani is basically a trial run for the concept. There's no sake, but the fried chicken gyoza and, even better, kurobuta sausage with spicy mustard are great snacks to share. You can get three of each for $9.

Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with pizza and burritos for ease of eating on the run. Del Popolo, Mozzeria, Senior Sisig, and Curry Up Now are all good choices — and all have vegetarian options. I can’t vouch for Dabba’s “ethnic confusion burrito.”

Jacobi White finally comes onto the Gastro Magic stage. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Jacobi White finally comes onto the Gastro Magic stage.

Food lovers should also keep the Gastro Magic stage in mind for killing time with irreverence between sets. The stage, which pairs celebrity chefs with live entertainers, got off to a rocky start this year. Chef Chris Cosentino was paired with former A Tribe Called Quest member Jacobi White and San Francisco’s Jazz Mafia band. The hip-hop-inflected jazz band played a rockin’ set before a stalling Cosentino finally admitted White hadn’t arrived yet. His flight was delayed due to “Karl the Fog.” You know, Karl. About an hour after the scheduled start time, Jacobi rushed in, threw on an apron, and chatted about his bacon vinaigrette with frisee — for about five minutes, and then it was time to prep for the next act. Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Tribe Called Quest had to reschedule its set for 7 p.m. tomorrow due to travel issues.

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After 28 Years, Colonial Donuts Faces Closure as Uptown Oakland Rents Continue to Rise

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Andy Ung, as pictured on his doughnut shop's final day in business. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Andy Ung, as pictured on his doughnut shop's final day in business.

On Thursday afternoon, few treats remained at Colonial Donuts: a couple of buttermilk bars, a chocolate twist, a plain old-fashioned. That's because fans of the longstanding Franklin Street shop know time is running out to get their morning doughnut fix.

On the heels of Henry’s Gallery Cafe’s closure, Colonial Donuts, located just across the street at 1636 Franklin Street, will permanently shut its doors on Saturday, August 12.

Colonial Donuts is one of those no-frills, Cambodian-owned doughnut shops that keeps California running. Andy Ung opened the place 28 years ago, long before Uptown became “Uptown.” His sister owns the Colonial Donuts on Lakeshore Avenue, which Ung said isn’t in imminent danger.

For many years, Ung signed five year leases. At a certain point, he opted to go month-to-month since he always had a strong relationship with the landlord. But about a year ago, New York-based, global real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank acquired the building. Ung said the company refused to issue Colonial Donuts a new lease and, last month, gave Ung 30 days to vacate the building. Newmark has yet to comment for this story.

“I don’t want to play with big companies,” he said, shrugging.

Ung looked for another location, but determined starting over would cost too much money. Instead, he’ll take a rare vacation after serving his final doughnuts this weekend.

“I’ve never had a break,” he said. “I’ll wait two weeks, and then see.”

Newmark Knight Frank has plans to remodel the building, but it will continue to have at least one tenant: Barbers Oakland Men’s Fine Grooming, a hip spot that opened two years ago. Owner Osi Umunna said his business was the only one to have an actual lease when Newmark bought the building. Umunna explained he was presented with the option of paying 25 percent more in rent or vacating. He signed on for another three years.

“I don’t really have a choice,” Umunna said. “We invested almost $50,000 into the shop, and we gotta get our return.”

He’s worried about business dropping once the building empties out and the renovations begin.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole block. It’s gonna be dead,” he said. “It helps to have foot traffic. The construction doesn’t help, either.”

For other mom-and-pops in the neighborhood, the rapid gentrification is worrying.

Happy Burrito, which sits just a block from Colonial Donuts, has been a local standby for affordable lunches since 1981. Two years ago, Happy Burrito’s landlord doubled the rent from $3,500 to $7,000 per month, according to co-owner Julia Contreras.

“We just barely make it,” she said.

Lately, Contreras said the landlord has been sending complaints about the noise emanating from the kitchen, but she can’t afford to make any upgrades. Like Colonial Donuts, Happy Burrito is clinging on month-to-month without any security. Every month, Contreras hopes she can stay in business.

“They’re just kicking out all these people who were here with their businesses when the city was down,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Monday, August 7, 2017

Diamond Dogs Brings Affordable Dining to Oakland's Jack London Square

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 8:11 AM

  • Courtesy of Lea Bruno Photography
  • Hot.

Jack London Square is a flurry of activity these days, between Grocery Cafe returning and the farmers market moving and, last month, Diamond Dogs quietly opening.

Diamond Dogs started out as a pop-up by Rob Wertheimer, formerly a bartender with the Double Standard. In July, it opened at 468 Third Street, specializing in gourmet hot dogs.

The menu is cutely divided into two sections: hot dogs and not-hot-dogs. There are five hot dogs with set toppings as well as the option to build your own. The aptly-titled Bourgeois Dog ($9), for example, comes with white cheddar bechamel, garlic confit, fried leeks, and watercress. All dogs can be made with an Evergood Beef Frankfurter or vegan Field Roast Veggie Frankfurter and arrive on a bun via Starter Bakery. Vegan and vegetarian options are clearly labeled.

On the other half of the menu, there’s a hot chicken sandwich ($11), corn dog studded with jalapenos ($6), and churro sundae with dulce de leche ($7). These mostly single-digit prices notably make Diamond Dogs among the more affordable dining options in the Jack London area.

In the kitchen is chef Steve Balzanto, who Wertheimer says has cooked up and down the West Coast for the last decade. He held stints at fancy steakhouses and Cal-French restaurants, but Diamond Dogs is the first spot where he has real creative control. Eventually, Wertheimer plans to put his Double Standard experience to good use and incorporate a full bar. For now, Diamond Dogs just serves beer, wine, and low-octane mixed drinks.

And yes, Wertheimer did name the pub after David Bowie.

Diamond Dogs, 468 Third St, Oakland; open Wed.-Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2-9 p.m.,

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