Thursday, December 28, 2017

Oeste Bar & Kitchen Now Open in Old Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 10:51 AM

Oeste's main dining room, seen about a month before opening. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Oeste's main dining room, seen about a month before opening.

After construction delays and permit process woes, Oeste Bar & Kitchen (730 Clay St.) is finally open to the public.

The Old Oakland restaurant from Sandra Davis, Lea Redmond, and Anna Villalobos features a petite, daytime cafe with white tile and a few bistro tables. The main bar and dining area comes alive at night with a warm wood ceiling, funky beaded chandeliers, stunning marble bar, and plush booth seating. The rooftop deck isn’t ready yet, but it's coming.

The owners have recruited chef Peter Jackson to helm the kitchen. For the past five years, he’s worked as a private chef but he previously held executive chef titles at the now-closed Toast Kitchen + Bar in Rockridge and Miss Pearl’s Jam House in Jack London Square. He also used to own the small butchery Boucherie Meats, and he looks forward to making more of his own sausages and cured meats at Oeste down the line.

Salmon with legume ragout. - PHOTO COURTESY OF OESTE
  • Photo courtesy of Oeste
  • Salmon with legume ragout.

The opening menu is short and eclectic: Chicken and sausage gumbo ($16) and beef pastele made with taro, plantain, and yucca masa ($13) look like early highlights. The full bar notably focuses on wine and cocktails on tap. Right now, bar manager Che Freeman is pouring a prickly pear vodka lemonade ($10) and pineapple habanero margarita ($10). Meanwhile, the cafe is stocked with Roast Co. coffee and sandwiches, such as Spanish tuna and pork loin with apples. Or, as Redmond put it: “It’s grab-and-go, but it’s not ham and Swiss.”

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

San Leandro's Baked East Bay Launches Mobile Bakery

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 26, 2017 at 11:06 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Baked East Bay

In 2013, Keziah Stoner started Baked East Bay, an online, delivery-only bakery specializing in massive cookies and cupcakes. Classically trained, she graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and did intricate chocolate work worked at the now-shuttered Cosmic Chocolate in Oakland and Victoria Bakery & Cafe in Marin County. With Baked East Bay, Stoner opted to leave intricate chocolate work in favor of classic, homey treats.

“What kid doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies or Oreos or Hostess CupCakes? I definitely trend toward traditional American pastries like what grandmas would make,” she said.

Her latest expansion is the Baked East Bay food truck, which hit the streets for the first time earlier this month. In addition to the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies and homage to Hostess CupCakes, Baked East Bay serves fun twists like pecan pie cookies and churro cookies for about $3. “My cookies are like three or four times the size of normal cookies,” Stoner said. “If you’re going to do it, go for it.”

In the long term, Stoner said she might like to open a brick-and-mortar bakery one day but she’s more interested in slowly growing and seeing what happens organically. For now, she’s suspending her online delivery service while she focuses on the truck, which only serves San Leandro. Baked East Bay’s schedule is already packed. On Saturday, Dec. 30, find the truck parked at Oakes Blvd. and Bancroft Ave. from 10 a.m. to noon; Sunday, Dec. 31 at 21st Amendment Brewery (2010 Williams St.) from 2-5 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 6 at Siempre Verde Park (455 Park St.) from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 7, will mark the launch of an ongoing Beer Brunch from noon to 4 p.m. at 21st Amendment alongside La Poblana Taco Truck and Wheelys Cafe. Beer Brunch will go down at the same time and place every first and second Sunday of the month.

“We need more community- focused things in San Leandro — things that bring people together,” Stoner said.

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Nyum Bai Looks to Open Brick-and-Mortar in Oakland's Fruitvale Village

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 26, 2017 at 10:56 AM

Kuy teav, Cambodian noodle soup, at Nyum  Bai. - ANDRIA LO
  • Andria Lo
  • Kuy teav, Cambodian noodle soup, at Nyum Bai.

By now, many have been introduced to Nite Yun’s vision of Cambodian street food through her pop-ups and, more recently, Nyum Bai at Public Market Emeryville.

The Emeryville kiosk is set to close at the end of the year as Yun prepares to open her first full-fledged brick-and-mortar. This bigger, more traditional Nyum Bai will be inspired by 1960s Cambodia, the country’s golden era of rock ’n’ roll and prosperity right before a brutal regime slaughtered a quarter of the population. It’s set to take over the former Half Orange space (3340 E 12th St., Suite 11) in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village in early 2018 — assuming Yun can raise the funds.

Yun hopes to crowdfund $35,000 via Kickstarter by Jan. 6. At press time, she still needed about $22,000. For updates, find Nyum Bai on Facebook or Instagram.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Albany's Cafe Eugene to Make Way for Cantina Del Sol

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 1:02 PM

Shortcake (left) and braised pork with grits at Cafe Eugene. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Shortcake (left) and braised pork with grits at Cafe Eugene.

Changes are coming to Albany’s Solano Avenue with Cafe Eugene set to close at the end of the year.

The Pacific Northwest-inspired restaurant lasted about two years. It’s owned by 1100 Group, the same Albany-based restaurant group that runs The Star and Little Star pizza restaurants as well as Boss Burger.

“I can say that we all truly gave our best to make Eugene a successful long term neighborhood restaurant,” Michael Petrilli, 1100 Group’s director of operations, wrote to the Express by email. “We simply were not receiving enough customers to make it sustainable.”

The restaurant group is holding onto the 1175 Solano Ave. space, though, and already developing its next concept. It’ll become Cantina Del Sol, a full-service spot with a full bar serving traditional Mexican comfort food. The executive chef will be Luis Rodriguez, formerly of Berkeley’s Picante, who will collaborate with 1100 Group culinary director Chris Laramie and owner Jon Guhl on the menu. It's expected to open in January.

“Our goal is to have a warm and welcoming environment, with the best Mexican food and margaritas,” Petrilli wrote.

It’s been a rough patch for East Bay restaurants, with several eateries abruptly closing this month, including Sacred Wheel in Temescal, Diamond Dogs near Jack London Square, DESCO in Old Oakland, and Izzy’s Steak & Chop House in Uptown.

Stay tuned for more details on Cantina Del Sol.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

A Girl Named Pinky Bakery Pops Up in Old Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 10:59 AM

A custom vanilla bean cake with Swiss meringue buttercream. - PHOTO COURTESY OF A GIRL NAMED PINKY
  • Photo courtesy of A Girl Named Pinky
  • A custom vanilla bean cake with Swiss meringue buttercream.

When Tina Stevens was in the throes of planning her wedding, she
left multiple cake tastings unimpressed. A longtime home baker —  the Berkeley resident has been at it for about 20 years now — Stevens decided she’d make her own wedding cake.

It took lots of reading, testing, and attending classes, but she was thrilled with the final product: a three-tier cake decorated with a basket weave effect in chocolate, carrot, and vanilla bean with lemon curd. After the wedding, family members and friends all rushed to have Stevens make their wedding and birthday cakes, too.

Two years ago, those efforts formally became A Girl Named Pinky, a custom bakery business operating out of La Cocina in San Francisco. While she makes cookies and other treats, Stevens most adores returning to her roots via wedding, birthday, and other big celebration cakes. “I’m in the happy business,” she said, laughing.

Now, she has her first pop-up, located in Old Oakland’s E14 Gallery (472 9th St.). Stevens serves cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, and brownies in her pink corner of the space from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Her most popular items are her cupcakes stuffed with lemon curd and cookies and cream cupcakes, which feature Oreos baked into the cupcake itself and blended into the buttercream topping. They go for $3.50.

The holiday pop-up will come to an end Dec. 30. But now that Stevens is interacting with customers on a daily basis for the first time, she’s eager for more. In addition to continuing custom orders, she hopes to participate in farmers’ markets and festivals across the Bay Area.

“It’s wonderful. Everyone is so nice,” she said. “Definitely, I plan to get myself out there more.”

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Oakland's dosa by DOSA Opens Tomorrow with South Indian Fare Served All Day

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 10:22 AM

The mural of Chandni Chowk dominates the room. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The mural of Chandni Chowk dominates the room.

When the first DOSA opened in San Francisco in 2005, the concept of upscale Indian food — with detailed plating, spice-driven cocktails, and a hip setting — was radically novel. The restaurant also introduced many to the wonders of South Indian cuisine.

Understandably, it was an immediate hit, spawning a second San Francisco location and, now, dosa by DOSA (2301 Broadway) in Uptown, Oakland's The Hive. It opens Friday, Dec. 15.

The fast-casual companion to DOSA still focuses on its namesake dosa — the paper-thin, South Indian pancake made of rice and lentils — but also whips up crowd-pleasing wraps, rice bowls, salads, and street food-inspired small plates. Eating with your hands is encouraged, and the most expensive items on the menu are $13.95. Vegans and gluten-free eaters also have plenty of options here.

Dosa-making in action. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Dosa-making in action.

Owners Anjan and Emily Mitra wanted to channel the energy of open air markets in India with dosa by DOSA's design. There’s an enormous mural of Chandni Chowk, one of India’s most famous markets, and an open kitchen centered on the dosa grill. With its high ceilings and sharp edges, the place is certainly loud like a market, but it’s also a little too gorgeous and modern for the comparison to feel accurate. It’s easily the most upscale-looking “fast-casual” restaurant I’ve seen in Oakland.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, dosa by DOSA makes hot masala chai, a variety of lassis, sugarcane juice, and an impressive host of cocktails via bar manager Nora Furst (Lolinda, Delarosa) with ingredients such as green curry leaf, coconut, and fenugreek. At the opening party Wednesday night, the drinks were impressively balanced and the spicy dishes packed serious fire. Even though the Mitras are going fast-casual, it doesn't seem like they're watering down their flavors.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Oakland Museum of California Explores Food System in New Exhibit Take Root

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 11:03 AM

Rodney Spencer of City Slicker Farms is featured in the exhibit. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OAKLAND MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA
  • Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California
  • Rodney Spencer of City Slicker Farms is featured in the exhibit.
A new exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California dives into how,

why, and where food is grown in Oakland. Take Root: Oakland Grows Food will be on display Dec. 16 through Jan. 13, 2019.

For curator Sarah Seiter, creating a food-focused exhibit was only a matter of time given the rise in urban farming and the conversations surrounding food justice issues. Taking a natural sciences perspective, the exhibit goes deep into garden ecosystems with plenty of interactive elements for kids. Think along the lines of a National Geographic-style video on beneficial insects, a building-blocks game exploring how species interact, and a garden-themed felt play space where kids can roam freely. There are also video interviews with local urban farms, including City Slicker, Acta Non Verba, and New Roots, which offer stories behind why people decide to grow food.

“A big shared thread is people are often growing not just because they like vegetables but because of a lack of access,” Seiter said.

The exhibit approaches growing through both micro and macro lenses. The really big picture deals with food deserts and Oakland’s housing crisis. Seiter hopes folks leave the exhibit contemplating politics and culture, not just soil science and bugs. “Food access isn’t as universal as we want it to be,” she said.

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Oakland's Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop to Permanently Close

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 9:12 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Sacred Wheel via Facebook

After seven years in business, Sacred Wheel Cheese and Specialty Market is closing this month.

Owner Jena Davidson cited the East Bay’s increasingly high cost of living as the main driver behind her decision to leave the Temescal, Oakland shop behind — but the whole story is a bit more complicated.

Last year, Davidson put Sacred Wheel (4935 Shattuck Ave.) on the market in the hopes of finding buyers who wouldn't change the shop too drastically. She and her mom had decided it was time to move the family back to the more affordable East Coast. According to Davidson, two of Sacred Wheel’s employees wanted to buy it and keep it just as Davidson had hoped.

When a business is sold, the new owners need to bring the space up to code, which can be particularly expensive with older restaurants. During the sale process, Davidson encountered some unexpected structural issues with Sacred Wheel’s building, which would have cost more than $50,000 to bring it into compliance with the city.

“Unfortunately neither myself and mother or the new buyers could afford to take on the extra expenses so we've had to make the very difficult decision to say goodbye,” Davidson wrote to the Express by email. “I take pride in the fact that Sacred Wheel has been a very special place for customers, neighbors, and employees for 7 years and I hope everyone can understand how hard it is for us to walk away.”

Sacred Wheel’s last day will be Saturday, Dec. 23. Over the years, the shop didn’t just build a loyal following for its well-curated selection of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, fancy oils, and local spreads; rather, Sacred Wheel also functions as a beloved neighborhood restaurant. The slabs of mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Pabst Blue Ribbon-infused tomato soup are particularly delicious — and the uninitiated still have a couple of more weeks to try them.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Oakland's Sana Javeri Kadri Seeks to Decolonize Turmeric with Spice Company Diaspora Co.

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 9:12 AM

A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANA JAVERI KADRI
  • Photo courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri
  • A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric.

In February, Sana Javeri Kadri quit her cushy marketing job at San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Grocers and bought a one-way ticket to her native Mumbai, India.

At the time, Javeri Kadri was wondering where her ideal place might be within the world of food as a queer woman of color. And she was having a lot of conversations about turmeric. In 2016, turmeric dramatically rose in popularity in the United States, largely thanks to the health food movement. Turmeric-flavored “golden lattes” began to grace every hippie cafe menu in the region. It bugged Javeri Kadri — especially the widespread lack of context. “Turmeric was worthy of the attention if it came from Gwyneth Paltrow, not if it came from Indian immigrants,” she said.

Certainly, the frustration also stems from Kadri’s upbringing in Mumbai, where American fruit roll-ups reigned supreme on the playground.

“There was a huge glorification of American fast food. What I saw growing up in India was a total loss of Indian regional cuisine and understanding Indian food history,” she said. “Most urban Indians are developing diabetes and are more likely to know how to cook pasta than Indian food.”

In response, Javeri Kadri dedicated herself to turmeric. She conducted informational interviews with direct-trade spice companies and showed up at the Indian Institute of Spices Research, learning about various strains of turmeric, visiting a dozen spice farms, and developing a partnership with a young Indian farmer growing some of the best turmeric around. In August, the Oakland resident formally launched her online spice company, Diaspora Co.

Diaspora’s current turmeric is a pragati heirloom strain with 4.7 percent curcumin content — that’s the stuff known for health benefits — grown in southeastern India. I taste-tested Diaspora's turmeric against Oaktown Spice Company's turmeric in three different recipes, but really, you could just smell the difference. It was more intense and earthy, and had a bolder golden hue.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Indian farmer is being adequately compensated. With most other spice companies, “the producer makes very little money, there are a ton of middle men, the trader makes a lot of money, and the consumer is getting a final product completely removed from the original product,” said Javeri Kadri, who added that the average Indian spice farmer earns 35 cents on a kilo of turmeric. On Amazon, you can buy the same
amount for $35.

You can order some of Diaspora Co.’s turmeric online until Dec. 17. In February, Javeri Kadri will return to India for the next turmeric harvest. And one day, she might not only return with turmeric. Her dream? “Having a pantry one day that’s all Diaspora spices.”

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Hawker Fare Spin-off Hawking Bird Opens in Temescal

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 2:25 PM

Khao mun ghai at Hawking Bird. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Khao mun ghai at Hawking Bird.

Few Oakland restaurant closures caused as much devastation as Hawker Fare.

James Syhabout’s seminal Thai Isaan and Lao eatery in Uptown Oakland closed in February when the building was sold — Syhabout chose to leave before getting pushed out. But there was a glimmer of hope all along. He told reporters he hoped to open something else like Hawker Fare in Oakland in the future.

That “something else” opened today: Hawking Bird (4901 Telegraph Ave.), a fast-casual spot centered on khao mun ghai. Khao mun ghai is the Thai poached chicken and rice dish that many East Bay diners first fell in love with at the original Hawker Fare. At Hawking Bird, it comes with cucumber, cilantro, and a gingery fermented soy bean sauce and costs $11.95. You can ramp it up with a crispy fried egg or a bowl of chicken broth.

The Hawking Bird is a fried chicken thigh, here served in sandwich form. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The Hawking Bird is a fried chicken thigh, here served in sandwich form.

Otherwise, Syhabout keeps the offerings short: chicken double fried in rice flour or a tofu equivalent served as a sandwich, over rice, or in a salad. There are also extras like tater tots, garlic noodles, and pickled vegetables.

The Temescal space was most recently Blackwater Station, and the general layout remains the same. Teal, white, and yellow paint keep the look fun and funky — just as you’d expect from a Hawker Fare spin-off.

For now, Hawking Bird is only open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until Blackwater Station’s liquor license transfers over. Then, the restaurant will open for dinner with its mighty impressive full bar.

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