Thursday, November 30, 2017

Oaktown Spice Shop Expands to Albany

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 1:41 PM

Erica Perez and John Beaver outside their new shop. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN SCOTT
  • Photo courtesy of Erin Scott
  • Erica Perez and John Beaver outside their new shop.
Oakland's most beloved specialty spice shop recently opened a second location in Albany.

The new Oaktown Spice Shop (1224 Solano Ave.) is a roomy 1,000 square feet, featuring custom shelving, worktables, and a counter built from reclaimed wood. Apothecary-style glass jars are filled with fresh spices so you can buy the exact amount that you need. As with the original Oaktown Spice Shop, the new location features custom spice blends and knowledgable staff.

To celebrate, owners John Beaver and Erica Perez are hosting a grand opening party on Sunday, Dec. 10, from 2 to 6 p.m. with snacks, mulled cider, and bubbly.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cheeseboard Alumni Launch Dimond Slice Pizza

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 9:12 AM

Pizza with corn, chile pasilla, onions, mozzarella, feta, and limes. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DIMOND SLICE PIZZA VIA YELP
  • Photo courtesy of Dimond Slice Pizza via Yelp
  • Pizza with corn, chile pasilla, onions, mozzarella, feta, and limes.
Cheeseboard’s influence has officially reached the Dimond District in Oakland. Cheeseboard alumni Artemio Maldonado and Dwight Ferron (formerly of Sliver in Berkeley) opened Dimond Slice Pizza (2208 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland) a couple of weeks ago, baking pizzas with a similar, sourdough crust and one set of toppings each day.

As with Cheeseboard, Dimond Slice is vegetarian with vegan options. You can order by the slice ($3.50), half pie ($10.50), or whole pie ($20). Toppings so far have definitely felt Cheeseboard-esque: fresh corn, cremini mushrooms, caramelized onions, herbs, and various cheeses.

It’s a no-frills sort of space — no booze but plenty of seating and, because it’s not actually Cheeseboard, no long lines.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

The Pain Shop Brings Tartine-Level Bread to Temescal

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Baguettes at The Pain Shop. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Baguettes at The Pain Shop.
For East Bay residents, Tartine Bakery feels prohibitively far away. And Pizzaiolo often sells out of its similarly styled country loaves by 10 a.m. Thankfully, there’s a new bread destination in Oakland: The Pain Shop (482B 49th St.).

That’s pain, as in the word for “bread” in French, not physical discomfort. On the contrary, The Pain Shop’s loaves may singlehandedly lift moods.

Davey Surcamp launched Pain Bakery about two years ago in San Mateo, selling his loaves wholesale to small grocery stores. Before that, he was hired to help launch the bread program at Pizzaiolo. The Pain Shop is his bakery’s first formal brick-and-mortar, coincidentally located around the corner from his old stomping grounds in Temescal Alley.

It’s a tiny spot intended for grabbing bread to-go, but manager Meagan Ranes said The Pain Shop will start serving all-vegan sandwiches in the coming weeks. It’ll be an eclectic mix, with plant-based riffs on Philly cheesesteaks and banh mi, for example. Certainly, the bread will be the highlight of the sandwiches. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Surcamp taught himself to bake from the Tartine cookbooks. While a side-by-side comparison would probably reveal differences, the overall technique and resulting eating experience are similar. The dough is unusually wet, stretched rather than kneaded, and becomes superiorly soft with huge air bubbles and thick, dark crusts.

I only tried Pain’s classic country loaf — a spongey, slightly tangy bread that required no adornment —  but the shop also sells a few specialty styles, including whole wheat, olive, sesame, walnut, and oat porridge. Those special loaves go for $9.75, the country loaf for $9, and half loaves and baguettes for $5. Pick them up from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated Surcamp started the bread program at Pizzaiolo, implying he did so independently. In fact, he was hired and trained by owner Charlie Hallowell and Josey Baker.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Food Handlers Cafe Merges Restaurant with Classroom

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 11:53 AM

Rauch Grant seriously knows how to slice fruit. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FOOD HANDLERS CAFE
  • Photo courtesy of Food Handlers Cafe
  • Rauch Grant seriously knows how to slice fruit.
Food Handlers Cafe (1260 Rumrill Blvd., San Pablo), a new restaurant just outside Richmond, mixes classic Southern cooking with a unique business model. Most diners probably won’t look past the extremely affordable American breakfast spreads, barbecue platters, and burgers — the price point is about $8.50 per person — but in the kitchen, class is in session.

Restaurant workers all need to take a ServSafe food handlers course, and managers need to pass a 90-question exam on food safety. Rauch Grant launched Food Handlers Cafe so he could teach eight-hour, ServSafe-approved courses for hopeful managers in a realistic setting instead of a sterile room. “They learn in the live kitchen,” Grant said.

Grant has cooked in San Francisco hotels and served as the food production supervisor for the West Contra Costa Unified School District for about a decade. He has also operated a Servsafe online course and exam under the name Food Handlers Cafe, but combining it with a brick-and-mortar has been a longtime goal.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Mama's Royal Cafe Reopens Under New Ownership

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 2:08 PM

A slightly new setup at Mama's. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • A slightly new setup at Mama's.

Mama’s Royal Cafe is back under new ownership.

Longtime owner George Marino sold the beloved, 40-year-old restaurant (4012 Broadway, Oakland) to Soroush and Houshi Ghaderi. The brothers have decades of restaurant experience — most notably, Houshi opened The Vault Cafe in Berkeley in 1997. Soroush managed The Vault for years and has moved over to act as Mama’s manager.

Recognizing Mama’s venerable history, the Ghaderis maintained much of what has been popular at the funky Oakland restaurant, including its vintage decor, menu staples, and napkin art competition.

Mama’s has been closed for about a month while the Ghaderis made renovations and reconfigured the space a bit. Fans will notice a new granite-topped counter and pass-through window, for example, but the essence of the place feels the same. The entire staff was offered continued employment, so faces both in the kitchen and on the floor will look as familiar as the retro radios. The biggest modernization is, for many, a welcomed one: Mama’s finally accepts credit cards.

Mama’s softly opened today and will hold its grand opening on Friday, Nov. 24.

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Poor Planner? It's Not Too Late to Contribute to Thanksgiving Dinner

Three places where you can still pick up orders.

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 2:06 PM

It's not too late to get your turkey from Clove & Hoof. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RUOCALED VIA FLICKR
  • Photo courtesy of Ruocaled via Flickr
  • It's not too late to get your turkey from Clove & Hoof.

Thanksgiving is a mere three days away — and maybe you still have no idea what you’re bringing to dinner. Don’t panic. There are still a few East Bay spots willing to help.

Check out Clove & Hoof’s (4001 Broadway, Oakland) online holiday shop. In addition to free-range turkey, brine mix, and gravy, the indie butcher shop is selling some pre-made appetizers such as chicken liver mousse, pâté, and pork terrine loaded with black truffle. Pick up some crackers and you’re good to go.

You have until Tuesday, Nov. 21, to pre-order from Flip ‘n’ Soul (2101 14th Ave., Oakland). This is a great option for huge gatherings, as the Filipino and soul food eatery is selling by the half tray (up to 20 eaters) and full tray (up to 30). Choose from more expected offerings like mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans, dressing, mashed potatoes, and candied yams, or go for Flip’s chicken adobo, pancit, or smothered pork chops.

It’s too late to pre-order your meal from Market Hall Foods (5655 College Ave., Oakland), but the store should still have some items available. The full menu includes all the traditional sides, mains, starters, and desserts. Arrive early for the best selection.

Most bakeries have closed pre-orders for pies, but PieTisserie (1605 2nd Ave., Oakland) promises to have plenty of options for walk-in customers this week. The Thanksgiving menu includes pumpkin in a chocolate crust, black bottom walnut, and spiced apple.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Hasta Muerte Serves Coffee with a Side of Resistance

A Latinx-owned, collectively run coffee shop debuts in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 6:01 PM

The five-person collective behind Fruitvale's newest gathering space. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HASTA MUERTE COFFEE
  • Photo courtesy of Hasta Muerte Coffee
  • The five-person collective behind Fruitvale's newest gathering space.
A Latinx-owned, collectively run coffee shop is set to debut in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

After years of plotting, Hasta Muerte Coffee (2701 Fruitvale Ave.) — a third-wave cafe, radical bookstore, and community events space — will hold its grand opening at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19. While hip coffee shops are often thought of as gentrifying sources, the Hasta Muerte collective is working to actively subvert that notion. Its five members — who have experience in community organizing, activism, art, music, and bikes — were primarily drawn to coffee as a way to bring people together. Another element working in their favor is that three of them actually live in Fruitvale.

“The first step is offering coffee, community, and solidarity,” worker-owner Matt Gereghty said. After normal coffee-consuming hours, Hasta Muerte plans to organize cultural events like film screenings, workshops, and art shows — “things that are centered on holding down our various and vibrant cultural identities,” Gereghty said.

A small bookstore within the cafe is curated with an eye toward decolonizing struggles.

“What trends can history teach us about making it through the present moment and times to come? We want to add fuel to the flame of resilience and resistance,” Gereghty said.

There’s a conference room in the back, which Gereghty said Hasta Muerte plans to lend to community groups in need of meeting space. The main, 600-square-foot cafe space seats about 25 people and features a robust play area for kids.

On the coffee side of things, Hasta Muerte members linked up with a roaster in Berkeley to learn more about direct sourcing and roasting. The goal is for Hasta Muerte to handle these aspects independently within the next few years. Together, collective members developed a medium-roast blend that’s darker and more full-bodied than what most third-wave roasters are putting out right now. Worker-owner Melanie Garza described it as smooth with notes of chocolate and fruit.

“I wanted something that my grandparents would want to drink,” she said. “A lot of coffees right now are super bright and floral, and I really like that, but it doesn’t feel familiar.”

One thing the group has wrestled with is pricing. A cup of black coffee at a trendy cafe can go for as much as $3.50, which isn’t exactly an affordable, everyday expenditure for many Oakland residents. But the collective also wants to build a sustainable business model for themselves. They landed on an 8-oz cup of coffee for $1.60, pastries for less than $3, and a kids' menu, including fruit smoothies for $3.50 and hot cocoa for $2.25. The most expensive item is the $5.50 Argentine-style empanadas, which are large enough to function as a light meal. There are meat and vegetarian variations, with a gluten-free option still to come.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Claremont Spa & Club's Meritage to Close

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Meritage's swanky lounge. - COURTESY OF MERITAGE VIA YELP
  • Courtesy of Meritage via Yelp
  • Meritage's swanky lounge.
Meritage, the flagship restaurant at the Claremont Spa & Club, will close in early January.

According to spokesperson Julie Abramovic Kunes, the Meritage space (41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley) will be become another, to-be-announced restaurant concept in early 2018. Limewood Bar & Restaurant will take over Meritage's daily breakfast duties in addition to its usual lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch services. She said she couldn't elaborate on why Meritage will close or what will replace it.

Last year, the Berkeley hotel similarly shuttered Dominique Crenn's high-end, under-performing Antoinette (after just two months in business) and moved the more casual Limewood into the space. The switch from Antoinette to Limewood took five months.

Before it shutters, Meritage is hosting a slew of holiday events and special meals. Click here for a full list.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Chinatown's New Tiki Bar The Kon-Tiki Nears Grand Opening

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 3:56 PM

The new bar features classic tiki kitsch. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KON-TIKI
  • Photo courtesy of The Kon-Tiki
  • The new bar features classic tiki kitsch.

Oakland’s newest tiki bar is here: The Kon-Tiki will hold its grand opening party on Saturday, Nov. 11.

The over-the-top kitschy offering in Chinatown comes from Christ Aivaliotis and Matthew Reagan. Aivaliotis used to work at Oakland’s Flora and his cocktail developing skills have taken him to San Francisco’s Hawker Fare and Holy Mountain.

At The Kon-Tiki (347 14th St.), Aivaliotis has developed a familiar tiki menu — Singapore Slings, Navy Grogs, and, oh yes, Volcano Bowls — made with premium ingredients and prices to match. Most drinks go for $13.

Atmosphere-wise, Aivaliotis and Reagan had a solid base to work with as the space was most recently home to the tiki bar Longitude. Much of the decor looks the same, but now there’s even more of it — more fake ferns, more colorful lights, more vaguely Polynesian aesthetics.

The Kon-Tiki also has a full kitchen, and Manuel Bonilla, formerly of Oakland’s Hawker Fare, is on board. His menu includes the expected tiki bar small plates and components but in more intriguing preparations. Crab rangoon is now a dip with fried wonton skins as chips, for example. Grilled short ribs flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil come with macaroni salad and Hawaiian sweet rolls. But there are also more ambitious surprises, such as roasted octopus with fermented chili mayo, lemongrass, and breadcrumbs. Keeping with tiki tradition, there’s a pupu platter with a rotating sample of dishes for $35. Otherwise, plates range from $5 to $17.

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Former Chez Panisse Chef David Tanis Releases Cookbook Inspired by the Farmers' Market

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 12:16 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Alice Gao of Kinfolk Magazine
  • David Tanis in his New York home.
It may feel a little counterintuitive to buy a book that’s all about cooking from whatever looks good at the farmers’ market — a style that doesn’t exactly lend itself to recipes. To go to the market with an exact list of ingredients in mind is exactly what David Tanis argues against in his new book, David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations Ingredient by Ingredient (Artisan, $40). Yet with a little time, home cooks can reach that level of confidence, he says, and we all have to start somewhere.

Tanis was the head chef at Chez Panisse for 25 years, so he knows a thing or two about coaxing tremendous flavor out of the humblest of vegetables, such as the dirt-stained beet that graces the cover. He ultimately left the Berkeley restaurant to shift into a food writing career in New York, penning cookbooks as well as the popular “City Kitchen” column for The New York Times. In David Tanis Market
, his largest and most comprehensive cookbook to date, his words read as patient, funny, and understanding — the ideal companion on your seasonally focused culinary journey.


The book is divided by ingredient, devoting pages just to garlic, onions, and salad greens. At a time when famous chef-driven cookbooks are becoming more and more like aspirational coffee table books — beautiful but full of eight-hour, six-component recipes you’ll probably never work through — it’s a delight to return to straight-forward simplicity and accessibility. You’d expect that from the former Chez Panisse chef, just as you’d expect the welcomed emphasis on vegetables. But given Chez Panisse’s French and Mediterranean leanings, you might not expect such an international palette of flavors from Tanis. He surprises with the likes of Moroccan-spiced carrot salad, Japanese eggplant with miso, and Lebanese caramelized onions. In our restaurant-obsessed era, mixed in with Blue Apron conveniences, David Tanis Market Cooking
makes a compelling case for staying home and cooking from scratch.

Tanis has been in town promoting his book. Tickets are still available for a dinner party at Camino (3917 Grand Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, Nov. 12. They cost $110 include a three-course meal, drinks, and tip, and copies of the cookbook will be available to have Tanis sign. Tanis is actually Camino owner Russ Moore's mentor, as Tanis hired Moore at Chez Panisse 30 years ago. You could also attend special dinner with Tanis at his old stomping grounds, Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The $140 meal includes a signed copy of the book. Call (510) 548-5525 for reservations. 

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