Tuesday, March 27, 2018

With Delegates, Downtown Oakland Gets an Affordable Daytime Restaurant

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 2:23 PM

The BBQ burger, topped with bacon jam, grilled mushrooms, crispy onions, and Swiss cheese. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUSTIN CHANG
  • Photo courtesy of Justin Chang
  • The BBQ burger, topped with bacon jam, grilled mushrooms, crispy onions, and Swiss cheese.

Downtown Oakland has a new, diner-inspired breakfast and lunch spot where nothing on the menu tops $8.

Owner and Berkeley resident Justin Chang grew up in his parents’ restaurants in Hayward, Newark, and Pleasanton. Last year, they decided to finally retire, but it didn’t take long for Chang’s dad to grow bored and convince Chang to open a place of his own. Earlier this month, Chang opened the doors to Delegates (578 14th St.) in the original Bhugay’s Katsu Curry location. Now, father and son run Delegates together.

Chang’s parents always operated diner-style, breakfast and lunch restaurants, so he decided to do the same. “That’s what I love, too,” he said. “I wanted to incorporate that menu and that kind of feel into this area.”

Aesthetically, though, Delegates bears no resemblance to a traditional diner. Instead, it’s about the food, vibe, and hospitality. “Strong coffee and good bacon, and having that familiarity,” Chang said. “You come in, we know what you want, we know your name — we want that kind of relationship.”

Chang painted and remodeled the space, adding a fridge area for grab-and-go salads for the office lunch crowd. (He also launched an online ordering system with local workers in mind.) There are 26 seats for those who prefer to dine-in.

The menu is short and simple. Breakfast features eggs, bacon, chicken fried steak, egg-cheese sandwiches, and avocado toast. For lunch, there are a few burgers and turkey sandwiches. Chang said he plans to expand the offerings within the next few weeks, focusing on additional meat and vegetarian options within the same general framework. He also wants Delegates to be a “community-conscious business” and is toying around with the idea of throwing fundraising art shows in the space.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Why North Oakland's Bar Underwood Became Bar 41

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Christopher Parks mixes drinks at his recently renamed Bar 41. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BAR 41
  • Photo courtesy of Bar 41
  • Christopher Parks mixes drinks at his recently renamed Bar 41.

Jack Kerouac owned an Underwood typewriter. As a huge fan of Kerouac and other beatnik writers, Christopher Parks was thrilled to buy North Oakland’s Cafe Underwood and turn it into Bar Underwood. “I really wanted to celebrate the idea that this is named after a classic typewriter,” he said, explaining his goal to slowly “transition to a 1920s Paris, Hemingway hangout.”

But for the past couple of months, customers kept assuming Bar Underwood was still Cafe Underwood. The staff changed, the food changed, and the espresso machine departed, and regulars were displeased. Parks realized he and his business partner Stacy Vella needed to change the name and truly define their efforts. Now, Bar
Underwood is Bar 41 (308 41st St.).

Among the changes: 29 wines by the glass, a dozen signature cocktails, and an expanded selection of scotch, rye, bourbon, and gin. The food program is still in a state of transition, as the team’s initial chef, Adam Hinojosa, recently left. Parks, Vella, and Hinojosa all opened Per Diem and Noir Lounge in San Francisco together.

While Hinojosa was passionate about classic French charcuterie, Parks said that never really found an audience with the neighborhood. Instead, Parks plans to move toward American comfort food, including light bites that pair well with a glass of wine. (Parks is also a sommelier.) In the future, Bar 41 will also open for lunch with sandwiches, soups, salads, and cheese and charcuterie boards.

“One of my main motivations is to be this bridge between a dive bar and a fine dining restaurant. I want you to come hang out and have an amazing glass of wine, stay until late or eat some amazing soul food,” he said, referring to Bar 41’s new soul food pop-ups going down every Sunday night.

Parks also has big plans for the space itself. Underwood already had a nice patio, but Parks wants to add flowers and vines and make it feel like a true garden space. Eventually all the old furniture will go, while the redwood, steel, and brick will stay. He wants to turn the mezzanine bar into a library and generally create a “rich, old, classic den, library feel.”

"We have so much we want to do,” he said, laughing. “It’s going to take forever.”

Once the mezzanine is done, he imagines hosting classes, tastings, and other events there. That might look like pickling workshops or winemakers coming in to create a typical tasting room experience. Since Bar 41 has a retail license, folks will be able to buy bottles to go, too.

Parks also intends to start hosting queer events on a regular basis.

“There’s such a strong community here in Oakland,” he said. “I just want them to know they have one more option. It’s a declared safe space, trans inclusive.”

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Bardo Lounge & Supper Club to Replace Oakland's Michel Bistro

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 11:12 AM

It's time to say goodbye to Michel Bistro. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VICTOR TALLEDOS
  • Photo courtesy of Victor Talledos
  • It's time to say goodbye to Michel Bistro.

Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated Michel Bistro will close on April 14 to make way for a new, mid-century-themed cocktail bar and restaurant called Bardo Lounge & Supper Club.

Seth and Jenni Bregman bought Michel Bistro (3343 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland) about a year ago with the intention of eventually turning it into the lounge of their dreams. They were attracted to Michel’s location — just a mile from their home — and the bones of the building. Michel’s top-notch chefs Anthony Salguero and Brian Starkey were a welcomed bonus, and they’ll stick around for Bardo Lounge.

“They had been doing Michel for a long time,” Seth said. “Once we got to know them and they got to know us, it was an organic conversation about them wanting to do something different as well.”

Prior to cooking at the Grand Lake area’s popular French bistro, Salguero and Starkey held stints at fine dining powerhouses Sons and Daughters, Commonwealth SF, and Plumed Horse. They’re still working on the menu for Bardo, but Seth said to expect a mix of small bites, full-scale dinner, and late-night options, all inspired by 1960s American dinner parties.

That’s really where the Bregmans are coming from with Bardo. Seth’s passion for making drinks turned into home entertaining and then a cocktail catering company called Bardo Cocktails. “There’s something about this old-school style of hospitality,” Jenni said, explaining their vast collection of vintage glassware, mixing sticks, coasters, punch bowls, cocktail books, and party guides from that era. They’ll contribute to the vibe at Bardo.

“We’d like to bring some of that fun quality of how people were doing cocktail parties not that long ago,” Seth continued.

Seth has been polishing his chops as a bartender at Stookey’s Club Moderne, the acclaimed post-Prohibition cocktail bar in San Francisco. At Bardo, he wants to mix time-honored traditions with new techniques. That might look like a fun interpretation of the Long Island Iced Tea, but Seth assured there will be no cheesy flavored vodkas. “There’s so much really great talent in the Bay Area and so much innovation,” he said. “I think we’d like to bring some of that as well into a classically focused program.”

The Bregmans hired Arcsine, the design firm behind Duende and Calavera, to create the feel of a mid-century living room. They hope to open in May.

But first, Michel Bistro fans have a chance to say goodbye to their beloved neighborhood restaurant. Starting today, Michel will offer a revised menu that digs into old favorites as well as new items, such as burgundy escargot, bison tartare, and the classic lamb burger. A final farewell party will take place Saturday, April 14.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Oakland Coliseum to Serve Meat-Free Impossible Burgers

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Mar 21, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Impossible Burgers offer a plant-based alternative to beef. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Impossible Burgers offer a plant-based alternative to beef.

Oakland A's fans can now order Impossible Burgers, vegan patties that look and taste remarkably like beef, on game days at the Coliseum.

The Coliseum is the first professional sports stadium to carry Impossible Burgers, which are manufactured in East Oakland just minutes from the ballpark. "What a perfect pairing," said Effie Speigler, the executive chef of Spectra Food Services & Hospitality, which manages the Coliseum's concessions.

Fans can order the burger at Concession Stand 123 or Shibe Park Tavern. Stand 123 will serve French onion sliders with caramelized balsamic onions, oil-cured tomatoes, and brie spread on brioche. Shibe, meanwhile, will offer a breakfast burger featuring a runny egg, ghost pepper cheese, bacon aioli, applewood-smoked bacon, and oil-cured tomatoes.

Speigler said adding Impossible to the selections speaks to Spectra's "wanting to be part of the future of food."

"We have ideas and visions to be doing other applications with this product," he continued. Spectra manages about 175 stadiums around the country, so the Oakland-made faux meat could have a much further reach very soon.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Berkeley's Sobremesa Guides Food-Focused Trips to Spain, Japan

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Escalivada, a traditional Catalan dish, from one of Sobremesa's cooking classes in Barcelona. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SOBREMESA
  • Photo courtesy of Sobremesa
  • Escalivada, a traditional Catalan dish, from one of Sobremesa's cooking classes in Barcelona.

For the past four years, Camila Loew has been catering, teaching cooking classes, and organizing pop-ups with a focus on Spanish cuisine. She started her umbrella company, Sobremesa, after moving from Barcelona to Berkeley.

Last year, she added another branch to her company: Sobremesa Culinary Tours. The idea came from her own students.

“A lot of times in my classes people were asking, ‘Don’t you want to run trips to Spain?’ It was something I had never really thought of until people said it enough times,” Loew said.

After a year of research, she launched in 2017 with tours to Barcelona and San Sebastian — experiments of sorts largely with folks she already knew from Sobremesa. This summer, she’s repeating those trips and adding one in Japan. Given Loew’s professional background, her trip itineraries are definitely for food lovers. They’re full of markets, specialty product tastings, gourmet restaurants, farms, and cooking classes. (No prior culinary experience is required.) On one day in Barcelona, there’s a second breakfast of chocolate con churros.

“Barcelona is a city overrun with tourism right now. It’s really, really hard for tourists to penetrate the surface,” Loew said. “I allow people to see my vision of the city.”

She expanded to Japan due to her personal passion for the culture
— “It’s like my elected heritage,” she said. Still, she promises experiences that would be difficult or even impossible for a typical tourist to attain, such as a trip to a mountain village that’s not even listed in major guidebooks, where guests will learn how to make miso from the locals.

Loew hopes to eventually transition away from teaching and catering to focus more on Sobremesa Culinary Tours, all the while maintaining her commitment to small, intimate tours of eight people or less — and the general feeling of Sobremesa. It’s a Spanish word that’s somewhat hard to translate, but in Loew’s words: “The leisurely time after we’ve finished eating, but before we get up from the table. Time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying. Certainly, not rushing.”

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Edible Excursions Launches Brunch Walking Tour Through Downtown Berkeley

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 10:15 AM

Beignets and chicory coffee at Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Beignets and chicory coffee at Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen.

It feels like food tour companies cover just about every
restaurant-dense neighborhood in Oakland these days, but Berkeley hasn’t received the same level of attention. The main player has been Edible Excursions with its long-running Gourmet Ghetto tour, and now, it’s taking on downtown Berkeley for Sunday brunch.

Starting March 25, Edible Excursions will lead groups through six restaurants — a mix of old favorites and trendy new haunts.

While downtown Berkeley is known for its rich diversity in cuisines, this tour does keep things Eurocentric. This is brunch in the American sense of the tradition, fueled by mimosas, carbs, and butter.

On a sample tour, Edible Excursions founder Lisa Rogovin guided folks to Gather for pizza and a lesson on sustainability; Babette Cafe for avocado toast and striking architecture; Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen for fluffy beignets and chicory coffee; Revival Bar + Kitchen for shakshuka and house-made guava soda; Maîson Bleue for seemingly endless crepes and flaky pastries; and Gio’s Pizza and Bocce for an amaro history lesson and tasting. All the while, Rogovin offered up fun facts and architectural notes as the group strolled through some of Berkeley’s busiest blocks. While Rogovin lives in San Francisco, she collaborated with the Downtown Berkeley Association on the tour and spent months researching (read: eating through) the neighborhood.

Of course, you could just hit up these spots on your own and save a lot of money. But what you get with a tour is a knowledgeable guide as well as access to owners, chefs, and longtime employees. And some of these tour spots, such as Revival and Angeline’s, are among the most popular in downtown Berkeley. That means it can normally be tough to snag a table at prime brunch times. With a tour, seats are reserved and waiting for you, and the food is ready within moments.

Since most local food tours offer just one bite per restaurant, Rogovin said she really wanted to expand the offerings this time. The result is a full-on, leisurely feast with multiple tastes at each stop. And yes, there were mimosas made with freshly squeeze orange juice.

The tour takes place Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for four to 12 guests. Dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated — a gluten-free guest on the sample tour, for example, chowed down on buckwheat crepes at Maîson Bleue and New Orleans-style pecan pralines at Angeline’s. The price may seem steep at $110 per person, but that’s about the norm for similar local food tours, and there’s a $20 discount through May.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Charlie Cart Project's Carolyn Federman Releases New Cookbook for Kids

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 12:09 PM


Berkeley food educator Carolyn Federman has published her first cookbook, New Favorites for New Cooks, out Mar. 20 on Ten Speed Press.

In 2014, Federman launched The Charlie Cart Project, a mobile kitchen and nonprofit, in Berkeley. At a certain point, she realized a cookbook would be a great extension of the program — something for parents to take home and continually cook from with their kids.

The result is a compact, colorful, and playful collection of more than 50 simple recipes that kids could prepare on their own. But it’s not full of stereotypical kid food, either. Think along the lines of pan-fried flatbreads with spiced butter, mini meatballs with tomato sauce, and sausage-white bean soup — and Federman says most recipes are suitable for kids 8 and up to try solo.

That’s partially because New Favorites includes detailed, basic tutorials on subjects like knife safety as well as an immensely helpful glossary in the back. To make sure the book was truly friendly for all ages, Federman got almost 30 children and teens to test the recipes.

“What I learned was kids want you to be really specific, and I think this is where a great adult cookbook really differs from a great children’s cookbook,” she said. “An adult’s might say, ‘Add a little salt.’ Kids want to know exactly how much.”

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Oakland's Planted Table Delivers Vegan Meals Without the Waste

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 11:07 AM

Salads ready to go in glass containers. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PLANTED TABLE
  • Photo courtesy of Planted Table
  • Salads ready to go in glass containers.

The Bay Area is swimming in food delivery startups, but Oakland’s newest entry, the all-vegan Planted Table, may be the first one that’s zero waste.

Meal delivery services and food kits often involve loads of plastic containers and trash. Planted Table avoids wastefulness by delivering meals entirely in glass, picking up and washing dirty containers every week.

The business launched earlier this year out of Encuentro, the former Jack London district vegan wine bar that now operates on a pop-up basis. Sisters (and vegans) Lauren Mahlke and Megan Scott got the idea after Mahlke, a chef, started catering meat-free events for Scott, who worked in public relations. Scott said folks would always comment afterwards on how delicious the meal was and how they wished Mahlke could cook for them all the time. Last fall, Mahlke and Scott finally sat down and drafted a business plan.

“We can help more people go plant-based who don’t know how,” Scott said.

With Planted Table, folks sign up for a regular meal plan. There’s a wide range of options suitable for single folks or families of up to four — individual meals range from $7 to $13 each. In addition to lunches and dinners, subscribers can add on smoothies, desserts, and kids’ meals.

Planted Table’s other unusual aspect is that they keep a plant-based nutritionist on staff. She goes through the menu each week to make sure it’s as nutrient dense as possible and is also on call for subscribers to ask any diet-related questions.

“For us, it’s not just that people are buying food,” Scott said. “They’re investing in their health.”

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Oakland Community Floods Hasta Muerte Coffee with Support Amid Controversy Over Police Officers

Lines poured out of the East Oakland cafe over the weekend.

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Mar 12, 2018 at 10:48 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Hasta Muerte

Late last week, word got around that Oakland's Hasta Muerte Coffee refuses to serve armed police officers in uniform — and the cafe has been met with an outpouring of in-person support as well as online threats.

Local television stations, national websites, and conservative media outlets blasted the story, sending the alt-right into a tizzy. On Thursday, Hasta Muerte (2701 Fruitvale Ave.) had about 30 Yelp reviews and an average 4.5 star rating. Now, there are well over 500 reviews reaching an average of 1.5 stars.

Most of these new, one-star reviews come from accounts freshly made outside of the Bay Area. Some claimed Hasta Muerte was infested with rats (it’s not) or uses canned coffee (it doesn’t), while others were more direct with their qualms: “I hope one day you need the police and they forget your address!”

But the local community response has been equally massive. Lines poured out of the East Oakland cafe over the weekend. Customers doodled fan art — one posted up by the cash register reads, “Thank you for providing a space for the people. The ones with melanin, who face oppression, who need a space to work, relax and feel at home.” Outside, folks chatted up strangers, encouraging them to head to Hasta Muerte in solidarity. “Have you gotten your coffee today? I got my coffee today.”

That Hasta Muerte has chosen to take a stand against police officers shouldn’t be a surprise. The 4-month-old, Latinx- and cooperatively- owned cafe in East Oakland built its business model around resistance. It sells books focused on social justice and activism-oriented art prints. There’s a framed photo of a protester holding up a hand-drawn sign, “Police get away with murder.” Outside, a large mural portrays Oscar Grant.

Hasta Muerte’s worker-owners have not responded to any comment requests from media, but they did explain their policy on Instagram: “We know in our experience working on campaigns against police brutality that we are not alone in saying that police presence compromises our feeling of physical [and] emotional safety.” They went on to state that the Oakland Police Department’s enlisting of officers of color “does not reverse or mend its history of corruption, mismanagement, and scandal, nor a legacy of blatant repression.”

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Likha to Bring Filipino Flavors to Upcoming Emeryville Sports Bar Hometown Heroes

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 10:09 AM

A past Likha pop-up spread. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LIKHA/FEASTLY
  • Photo courtesy of Likha/Feastly
  • A past Likha pop-up spread.

After a year and a half of intermittent appearances, Likha, Oakland’s modern Filipino pop-up, has found a permanent home.

Likha will manage the kitchen when Hometown Heroes, the South San Francisco sports bar, takes over the recently vacated Propaganda space at 4000 Adeline St., Emeryville. According to Likha’s Jan Dela Paz, the bar should open in May.

Dela Paz and Robert Punla are the two Filipino-American chefs behind Likha, which means “to create” in Tagalog. Classically trained, they both currently cook at Oakland’s Ramen Shop. “It’s fun to bring fine dining experience into this kind of endeavor,” Dela Paz said.

Given the setting, Likha will serve classic bar food with Filipino influences. Dela Paz plans to start with dinner and hopes to add brunch — the space includes a sunny patio — with a mix of small plates and full-sized mains. Expect to see some traditional Filipino dishes and contemporary interpretations of Filipino fare as well.

“I like doing traditional food but I think for those who are not really familiar with Filipino food, it alienates them,” Dela Paz said. “We’re going to throw in both, and some in the middle.”

At Hometown Heroes, Dela Paz plans to bring back some favorites from past Likha pop-ups, such as adobo fried rice, Spam burgers, and longanisa, sweet pork sausages — at a maximum of $15 per person. Keep up to date on Instagram (@LikhaOakland).

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