Wednesday, February 28, 2018

With Minnie Bell's Soul Food Movement, Public Market Emeryville Gets a Fried Chicken Joint

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 2:20 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Fernay McPherson
  • Rosemary fried chicken.

After running a food truck, catering business, and roving pop-up series, San Francisco’s Fernay McPherson is ready to settle into a brick-and-mortar.

Her ultimate goal is to open a soul food restaurant in her native Fillmore district, where Black-owned restaurants are increasingly difficult to come by. But she hasn't been able to find a space. In the meantime, she’ll open Minnie Bell’s Soul Food Movement in Public Market Emeryville. On Thursday, March 15, she’ll take over Nyum Bai’s kiosk and hopefully follow in the Cambodian restaurant’s footsteps with her very own, full-fledged brick-and-mortar at the end of the one-year lease.

In Emeryville, Minnie Bell’s will function as a fried chicken joint. McPherson first started serving fried chicken from her old food truck and sticks to the same style. “It received a lot of great reviews,” she said.

Specifically, she brines her chicken in hot sauce, buttermilk, and fresh rosemary for 24 hours before dredging it in flour. But she dredges whole stalks of rosemary, too, and drops those in the fryer alongside the chicken to help infuse the meat with even more flavor.

Folks will be able to order chicken by the piece or as a meal — the smallest meal consists of two pieces with cornbread and a side for $9.75, or you could feed a family of four for less than $40. Southern sides, including classic mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens, will rotate. McPherson will also whip up seasonal specials, waffles with fruit on the weekends, and dessert, though she’ll feature sweet potato cheesecake from Oakland’s Crumble & Whisk as well.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen Brings Tonkotsu to Temescal

You no longer have to cross the bridge for their Hakata-style ramen.

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 8:04 AM

Hakata-style ramen with braised pork at Marufuku in San Francisco. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JON S. VIA YELP
  • Photo courtesy of Jon S. via Yelp
  • Hakata-style ramen with braised pork at Marufuku in San Francisco.

waits are common at Marufuku Ramen in San Francisco’s Japantown. The little shop opened last year to universal praise for its Hakata-style ramen — thin noodles in a cloudy, pork-based broth.

Now, Eat Bay fans of that restaurant won’t have to travel so far for its tonkotsu. Marufuku will expand into Oakland with a Temescal shop (4828 Telegraph Ave.) in the former Hina Yakitori space. After opening on Wednesday, Feb. 28, it will continue to serve dinner
Wednesday through Sunday. If the Berkeley opening of Ippudo — another Hakata-style restaurant — is any indication, you can expect a line.

Marufuku cooks its tonkotsu broth for more than 20 hours, and as with some other high-end ramen shops, you can specify the firmness of your noodles, level of spice, and even the thickness of the broth itself. The San Francisco restaurant also serves chicken paitan ramen, another milky style, along with a few rice bowls and izakaya-style appetizers.

The Hakata-style ramen with braised pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, corn, green onions, mushrooms, and bean sprouts costs $14.99, which is similar to an equivalent order at Ippudo. 

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Monday, February 26, 2018

With Dosirak Shop, Korean Fast Food Comes to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 12:55 PM

Dosirak Shop will serve rice bowls such as bibimbap. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DOSIRAK SHOP
  • Photo Courtesy of Dosirak Shop
  • Dosirak Shop will serve rice bowls such as bibimbap.

After spending years running Kamakura, a casual Japanese
lunch spot in San Francisco, and Danny’s Kitchen, an American cafe in Vallejo, the Kang family is finally launching a restaurant true to their roots. Brothers Daniel and Samuel Kang, alongside their parents, will open Dosirak Shop (366 Grand Ave.), a Korean eatery in Oakland’s Adam’s Point neighborhood — hopefully by mid-March.

“A lot of people are more familiar with the food, and it has become very popular. And, of course, we’re Korean,” Daniel said. “It’s about time we share something we’re passionate about and that’s part of us.”

The goal is to fill a niche for affordable, home-style Korean meals served in a quick-service setting. Instead of sitting down to a dozen banchan followed by an elaborate feast, you’re more likely to get a simple, one-bowl meal at Dosirak for about $12 to $15.

Dosirak means “to-go box” in Korean, and these bento box-esque dishes will be a focus at the restaurant. Each dosirak will offer rice, meat, and different sides in separate compartments. Folks can also order similar items as a rice bowl instead. Meat options will include bulgogi beef, barbecued chicken, and spicy pork belly in gochujang. Given their Japanese restaurant experience, the Kangs will also dabble with some Japanese offerings, such as tempura and sashimi.

“There aren’t many fast service restaurants for Korean food,” Daniel said. “There is at the mall but that’s mall food. We want to make it good, quality food.”

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Umami Mart Now Stocks Shōchū and Japanese Whisky in Old Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 11:02 AM

Yoko Kumano surrounded by sake at Umami Mart. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson/File Photo
  • Yoko Kumano surrounded by sake at Umami Mart.

Umami Mart (815 Broadway) has become the go-to bottle shop in Oakland for Japanese beer and sake, but thanks to a recently upgraded liquor license, Japanese whisky and shōchū can now be added to that list.

“We always wanted to be the first shōchū shop in America,” said Yoko Kumano, who owns the shop with Kayoko Akabori.

While sake has become fairly easy to find in the Bay Area, shōchū has required more effort. To folks in the United States, it still feels like a new alcohol, even though it’s been made in Japan since at least the 16th century. Shōchū can be distilled with all sort of ingredients — the most common are rice, barley, and sweet potato, but Umami Mart already carries versions distilled with sugar cane and green tea.

According to Kumano, the rice shōchūs taste the most like sake, while barley shōchūs have a whiskey-like flavor profile. The sweet potato versions are more earthy and funky — great for lovers of natural wine, Kumano said. Prices will range $25-$100 for a bottle. (Umami Mart’s liquor license allows for to-go purchases only.)

So far, Umami is just carrying whiskies from Suntory and Nikka, but the plan is to expand the selection in the future. In two weeks, folks will be able to purchase shōchū and whisky on Umami Mart’s website, too.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Oakland's Authentic Bagel Company Faces Uncertain Future

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Feb 19, 2018 at 8:27 AM

  • Janelle Bitker
After seven years of boiling, baking, and slinging bagels, Authentic Bagel Company founder Jason Scott is taking a break. And it might be permanent.

Scott launched the Oakland business with his brother Mark, but Mark left three years ago, leaving Scott the sole proprietor — and on some days, the barista, line cook, and delivery driver, too.

“I’m at the point of needing help. The company’s gotten too big for me to do it by myself,” he said. “I have no quality of life.”

Scott closed the Jack London district bagel shop and wholesale business earlier this month. Now, he’s reevaluating and looking for investors. Ideally, he’d find new partners to help out with management and remain the majority owner, but he’s staying open-minded.

Changing Authentic Bagel into a full-fledged delicatessen is one idea to stay competitive. Another is to take the wholesale business to another city — expanding with multiple locations has always been the plan, and Scott isn’t so sure the Jack London area is the best fit. “There’s no foot traffic. No one is really around,” he said, echoing restaurant owners who have left in recent years.

Construction hasn’t helped matters, nor has the arrival of a flashy Starbucks across the street. He worries a Noah’s Bagels might be next as surrounding storefronts remain empty, and that more chains will drive up rents further. “I’m not feeling that vibe,” he said.

While certainly not his goal, Scott could close Authentic Bagel entirely. It’ll all depend on how meetings with potential investors pan out in the coming weeks.

“I’d love to stay here,” he said, sitting at the quiet shop counter. “It’s been like my home.”

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Chow Oakland Brings Restaurant, Market, and More to Piedmont Avenue

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 3:16 PM

  • Janelle Bitker

This week marked the debut of Chow Oakland Cafe, Bakery, & Market, a sprawling grocery store and all-day dining destination all rolled up into one.

This is the first Chow to open in the inner East Bay, although Tony Gulisano has opened versions in San Francisco, Lafayette, and Danville dating back to 1997. Chow Oakland (3770 Piedmont Ave.), however, takes his gourmet comfort food concept further into the grocery realm. After dining at the Chow restaurant, you can pick up produce, meat, and pantry goods to cook at home the rest of the week — or opt for some pre-made meals, such as chicken Parmesan or mac ‘n’ cheese, to heat up later.

There’s also a robust grab-and-go area with basic sandwiches and salads. Organic kale with oranges, goat cheese, almonds, and farro goes for $5.50. The grocery area features mostly high-end and organic products, including local brands such as Baia Pasta and Cafe Fanny Granola.

The lodge-like restaurant serves brunch all day as well as lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. There are sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pastas, and mains — primarily American and Italian dishes, although the menu dabbles in Thai, French, and Mexican flavors as well. Most items cost $10-$15. After dinner, you can explore the bakery, ice cream selection, or full bar, with a decent wine list, six beers on tap, and simple cocktails.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

James Beard Award Semifinalists Include Four East Bay Nominees

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 12:16 PM

Reem Assil is a first-time James Beard Award semifinalist. - MELATI CITRAWIREJA/FILE PHOTO
  • Melati Citrawireja/File Photo
  • Reem Assil is a first-time James Beard Award semifinalist.

The James Beard Foundation released its list of award semifinalists today, and the East Bay is unusually well represented.

In the coming weeks, more than 600 judges will pare down the list to a group of finalists, and then, on May 7, the winners will be announced at a gala that functions as the Oscars of the food world.

Chez Panisse is the lone East Bay restaurant to have taken home James Beard awards, including for outstanding restaurant, outstanding chef, and outstanding pastry chef.

This year, Berkeley's Great China is a contender for its  wine program. Lance Winters of St. George Spirits in Alameda is once again a semifinalist for outstanding spirits professional. And Oakland's Reem Assil (Reem's) and Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club) were both nominated for best chef in the west, covering California, Hawaii, and Nevada. The award goes to a chef who has "set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions."

In the past couple of years, East Bay semifinalists have included Winters, Mistry, James Syhabout (Commis), and Christian Geideman (Ippuku), but none have advanced to the next round.

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Nyum Bai Opens in Fruitvale with Traditional Cambodian Food and Tunes

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 10:04 AM

Fish amok at Nyum Bai. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Fish amok at Nyum Bai.

From pop-up to Emeryville kiosk to full brick-and-mortar, the ascent of Nyum Bai has been swift. Nite Yun’s Cambodian restaurant softly opens today, with an official debut Saturday, Feb. 17, in the former Half Orange space (3340 E. 12th St., Suite 11) in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village.

Yun was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents fled the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime that killed an estimated quarter of the population in Cambodia. Eight years ago, she returned to the country for the first time and realized that exposing the Bay Area to Cambodia’s rich food and music history needed to be her future.

While there are a few Cambodian restaurants in the East Bay already, most of them round out their menus with Thai food or generic stir-fries and leave off many of Cambodia's most popular dishes. Nyum Bai’s menu is unusually expansive, traditional, and completely Cambodian — much more so than even her own past pop-ups and year-long stand at Public Market Emeryville.

While lunch will focus on simple one-plate meals, dinner will emphasize family-style feasts — Yun is aiming for a price point of $11 to $15 per person. The menu features a mix of dishes you’re likely to see at sit-down restaurants, street stands, family homes, and even weddings in Cambodia. The country’s most famous dish, fish amok, comes soft, custardy, and aromatic, with coconut cream and kroeung, the Cambodian spice paste used to flavor just about everything.

Other staples include prahok kitss, a funky pork dip with coconut milk and prahok, Cambodia's fermented fish paste; koh, caramelized pork belly with hardboiled egg and palm sugar; and kuri saramann, a velvety Muslim-Cambodian curry featuring braised short ribs, peanuts, and cardamom. There will also be weekly specials, house-made desserts, and drinking snacks to pair with local beers on tap.

The cozy space has been completely renovated and now wears a contemporary yet retro look with pops of pastel pink and blue. Surfy Khmer rock tunes from the '60s blare on the speakers. There’s also a lot of outdoor seating, though you’d be remiss to not stare at a wall displaying original Khmer album covers — an homage to the artists who were targeted and killed during the genocide.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lucky Food: Oakland Chefs Share Lunar New Year Traditions

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 10:39 AM

Monster Pho's Tee Tran with his mom Dung Le. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Monster Pho's Tee Tran with his mom Dung Le.

While you can depend on your favorite Chinese restaurants to stay open on Christmas and Thanksgiving, they will most likely be closed this Friday, Feb. 16 — and potentially through Sunday — for Lunar New Year. The holiday is celebrated in a number of East and Southeast Asian countries and represents a time to come together over a lavish, often highly symbolic meal.

Traditions vary by region. My own Chinese roots are in Hong Kong, so I have strong memories of going to grandma’s house for nine course dinners that would always end with tea, oranges, and the unveiling of a plastic red-and-gold candy box.

Vietnamese families also pay attention to that lucky number nine. Tee Tran, owner of Monster Pho in Oakland and Emeryville, described his mom Dung Le’s weeklong ritual involving nine bowls of fruit, lighting incense, and burning items for dead ancestors. On New Year’s Day, the whole family descends for a full day of eating. Le usually prepares bitter melon stuffed with pork; shrimp and bamboo salad; crab bamboo soup; chicken curry; pickled cabbage; and sweet rice dyed in a series of colors for dessert. As with Chinese families, the Trans always wear red.

Born in Ho Chi Minh City, Tran moved to East Oakland as a kid and fondly remembers the audible presence of other Asian families celebrating at the stroke of midnight. “You’d hear fireworks in every neighborhood,” he said.

Angie Lin, Stacey Tang, and Tony Tung, the three Taiwanese women behind the Good to Eat Dumplings pop-up, throw a big Lunar New Year party every year in Oakland. “Because we all grew up in different cities in Taiwan, we have slightly different traditions,” Lin explained.

There are a few common mainstays, though, which all carry distinct meanings. A whole, uncut chicken symbolizes a stable home. Two identical fish dishes on separate plates demonstrate an abundance of resources. Dumplings, containing both meat and seafood, indicate good fortune. “It has to be very luxurious and you need to have the best possible ingredients,” Lin said, emphasizing that these are not your everyday dumplings.

There’s also always soup served in a round pot — and other dishes shaped into lucky circles — as well as rice cakes for dessert, which are believed to help eaters progress in their careers.

For immigrant families, these traditions keep them rooted to
their cultures.

“My mom always tries to remind us, ‘Don’t forget where you came
from,’” Tran said. “It lets us know who we are.”

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Augie's Montreal Deli to Bring Smoke Meat to Berkeley

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 2:17 PM

That's a lot of smoke meat. - PHOTO COURTESY OF AUGIE'S MONTREAL DELI
  • Photo courtesy of Augie's Montreal Deli
  • That's a lot of smoke meat.

The Bay Area’s first Montreal-style deli is set to open Wednesday, Feb. 14, in Berkeley.

Augie’s Montreal Deli (875 Potter St.) owner Lex Gopnik-Lewinski grew up on smoke meat sandwiches, a staple Jewish deli food unique to Quebec. A musician and audio engineer by trade, he talked his way into staging at Smoke Meat Pete just outside Montreal. For three weeks, he learned techniques and recipes that he’ll carry over to his Berkeley spot.

The signature sandwich will star beef brisket that’s been rubbed, cured, smoked, and baked, in true Montreal fashion. “It’s like pastrami and corned beef had a baby,” Gopnik-Lewinski said.

Other highlights include traditional and vegetarian poutine; meat platters with pickles, mustard, and a vinegar-based coleslaw; and latkes bound together with rye breadcrumbs. From Smoke Meat Pete, Gopnik-Lewinksi learned how to triple-fry red potatoes at a low temperature — a Quebec style that he said results in a crispier, fluffier French fry.

Augie’s promises to have an old-school, Jewish deli feel with lots of subway tile, mosaic work, and photos of beloved Montreal delis on the walls. Eventually, it will serve beer and wine in the hopes of becoming the official hockey bar of the East Bay.

For Gopnik-Lewinski, it’s important to provide value in this kind of setting. His 8 oz. brisket sandwich will go for $14.

“I hate the fact that when you go to some delis you can’t afford to bring your family. You’re paying $16 for a 4 oz. sandwich,” he said. “That’s not what this food is for. It was made for working-class people.”

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