Monday, April 30, 2018

La Marcha Owners to Open New Wine Shop The Mile Limit

by Momo Chang
Mon, Apr 30, 2018 at 1:21 PM

Sergio Emilio Monleón (left) and Emily Sarlatte have already found success with La Marcha. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PHI TRAN
  • Photo courtesy of Phi Tran
  • Sergio Emilio Monleón (left) and Emily Sarlatte have already found success with La Marcha.

Sergio Emilio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte, chefs and owners of Berkeley’s popular La Marcha Tapas Bar, plan to open a new wine shop that would cater to millennials, seasoned wine connoisseurs, and everyone in between.

The new shop and retail space, The Mile Limit, will be located at
 San Pablo Ave., on the same block as La Marcha, and will carry a curated selection of wines from around the world. It should open in late summer or early fall.

“The concept is kind of like a neighborhood, approachable wine shop for the younger generation that wants to come and explore and learn about wine,” Monleón said.

While La Marcha specializes in Spanish-style tapas and paella feasts, The Mile Limit will not be limited to Spanish wine. The owners do, however, plan to feature some Spanish influences, though they’re still figuring out what exactly that will look like. Monleón and Sarlatte have spent significant time in Spain.

The goal is to highlight wines from parts of the world that are underrepresented in the wine industry and Bay Area retail spaces. One such place is Portugal, which Monleón says produces specific bottles he hopes to carry. They will also carry rare varietals that may be on the verge of extinction. (Varietals are typically wines made from a single type of grape.) Because most people ask for familiar wines — their Rosés, Chardonnays, Cabs, and Merlots — the smaller varietals that are lesser known and less carried in restaurants sometimes stop being produced. The owners are excited to introduce these to the public — and perhaps save them from extinction.

“We’re looking for unique finds that you can’t find in the larger chains or supermarkets,” Monleón said. 

The other focus is on California-made wine. The Mile Limit plans to carry ones from wineries run by immigrants, “who came over from Mexico and worked their way up, and now run their own wineries,” Monleón said.

Their goal is to educate people about wine and engage both connoisseurs and folks who are new to the wine world. Monleón is not sure yet if the new shop will include food, too.

The name of the shop refers to the Prohibition era in the late 1800s, when a California law banned the sale of alcohol within a mile of UC
Berkeley just a few years after the new campus was completed. (The Mile Limit space is located just over a mile from campus). And though national Prohibition ended in 1933, the one-mile dry zone law in Berkeley wasn’t repealed until about 100 years after it was implemented, in the 1970s.


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Friday, April 27, 2018

What Berkeley's 'Disposable-Free Dining' Plastics Ban Would Mean for Restaurants

by Momo Chang
Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 8:42 AM

Children from the Oxford School spoke about why they support the Disposable-Free Dining ordinance. Their classroom is a zero-waste class. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Children from the Oxford School spoke about why they support the Disposable-Free Dining ordinance. Their classroom is a zero-waste class.

First, it was Styrofoam. Then it was plastic bags and plastic straws. Now, the City of Berkeley is proposing a ban on all single-use, non-recyclable plasticware.

According to a study from Oakland-based nonprofit Clean Water Action, containers from restaurants is the biggest source of street litter; much of it gets washed down the storm drain into waterways and is sometimes eaten by marine animals.

A new proposed ordinance from Berkeley, dubbed Disposable-Free Dining, is likely the most sweeping and comprehensive plastics ban legislation in the country. It’s co-authored by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

So, what exactly does the ordinance state? First of all, all dining-in experiences will use real silverware and plates. Second, any takeout containers will need to be either compostable or recyclable, and the recyclables will need to comply with a city-approved list. Customers will also be charged for to-go cups or containers at 25 cents apiece. Finally, straws, utensils, condiments, and the like will only be given upon request. (There’s an opt out for businesses who can’t make the changes due to financial circumstances, giving them an extension of up to three years, and customers on WIC or CalFresh won’t be charged for not bringing their own containers). The goal is to encourage people to bring their own takeout containers, similar to what’s been happening with the ban on plastic bags at grocery stores.

Berkeley hopes to be a zero-waste city by 2020, and this is one move toward that goal. But another reason is that much of the cheap, recyclable plastics was shipped to China in the past; in January, China announced that the country will no longer accept our recyclables. “We’re used to exporting our plastics overseas,” said Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center, the nonprofit recycling center for Berkeley. “Why aren’t we handling our own problems in California?”

Several East Bay establishments already comply with the new ordinance. Eric Fenster, owner of Gather in downtown Berkeley, said his restaurant opened in 2009 with this ethos and that he wholeheartedly supports the ordinance, but he also understands that other restaurants may have challenges. More and more fast-casual restaurants, for example, are focused on takeout and
delivery — some even serve food exclusively in disposable containers. “It’s tricky, I recognize,” Fenster said. “I think the key to this is really going to come with the right resources for businesses so that it’s not hard for them to make the shift. Businesses are already so hard to run.” He hopes to push it even further with his own establishment, and may use reusable, to-go containers down the line.

A few cases studies from Clean Water Action show that businesses can actually save money in the long run — anywhere from $1,000-$22,000 a year when customers use reusable plates, cups, and forks instead of disposable ones. There might be more upfront costs, such as buying reusable plates, silverware, and even a dishwasher in some cases, but in the long run, it may lead to savings. “There’s a return on that investment,” said Samantha Sommer, waste prevention program manager at Clean Water Action.

The new law still needs to be voted on, likely in the fall, by Berkeley city councilmembers. The authors hope that it will go into effect in 2019.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

East Bay Restaurants — and Restaurants Rocked by Sex Scandals — Make Michael Bauer's Top 100 List

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 1:10 PM

Mi Quang at The Temple Club, which made Michael Bauer's best restaurants list for 2018. - MELATI CITRAWIREJA / FILE PHOTO
  • Melati Citrawireja / File photo
  • Mi Quang at The Temple Club, which made Michael Bauer's best restaurants list for 2018.

San Francisco Chronicle
restaurant critic Michael Bauer's annual Top 100 Restaurants list came out today. While it has long been the most important single restaurant listicle in the Bay Area, this year's edition is interesting for another reason: it includes a few local restaurants whose owners have been accused of sexual harassment.

The owners of previous Top 100 list-makers Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service (though it was recently sold), Tosca Cafe, Coqueta, and Bottega have been widely accused of inappropriate behavior and fostering unsafe workplace environments. While Bauer decided to eliminate Oakland's Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service, he kept the remaining San Francisco and Napa establishments.

Earlier this month, the Chronicle released a series of essays from writers on staff, including Bauer, on that very topic. While three writers firmly stated the newspaper shouldn't reward said restaurants when there are plenty of other worthy options, Bauer wasn't so sure. Now we know where he landed.

While the list is always heavy on San Francisco fine dining, it also includes several Oakland and Berkeley restaurants this year. Camino, Chez Panisse, Commis, Ippuku, Iyasare, Nido, Ramen Shop, and Vik's Chaat returned. Comal and Tastee Steam Kitchen were removed. And The Temple Club, the East Oakland Vietnamese restaurant, was one of this year's new additions.

See the full list here.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Delage Owner Opens Utzutzu, Bringing Prix-Fixe Sushi to Alameda

by Momo Chang
Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:35 AM

Needle fish and blue fin tuna nigiri at Utzutzu's soft opening. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Needle fish and blue fin tuna nigiri at Utzutzu's soft opening.

Utzutzu means “reality” in Japanese. And in reality, it’s a wonder. Located along Alameda’s busy thoroughfare Park Street, the restaurant has a tiny footprint and is halfway hidden, tucked away in an upstairs dining room.

The location’s previous restaurant, Yume Sushi, closed last year when chef Hideki Aomizu retired. Utzutzu is a riff on the meaning of Yume: “dream” in Japanese. Aomizu tapped Chikara Ono, chef and restaurateur of AS B-Dama and Delage in Oakland, to open a new restaurant in Yume’s space.

Utzutzu (1428 Park St., Ste. B) softly opened this week to just a few customers — it seats seven people at the intimate sushi bar — and will have its grand opening on Saturday, April 28.

In line with Delage, Ono’s set-menu restaurant in Old Oakland, the restaurateur’s newest place provides a cozy food experience. Expect exquisitely plated sushi, with most of the seafood flown in from Japan, and locally sourced, seasonable vegetables. During the soft opening phase, the okimari (prix-fixe) meal is $80 per person and will be bumped up to $100 once it officially opens.

Okimari, Ono explained, is more like what prix-fixe means in the United States, particularly for sushi restaurants in Japan. The set meal is based on what the chef selects — the best and most fresh — with a set price. Currently, the restaurant doesn’t have a menu published ahead of time. Instead, you just trust what the chef makes, and everyone gets the same thing. (Omakase is also chef’s choice but doesn’t necessarily include a set price). Okimari is usually considered the best bang for your buck. There will be no separate, a la carte menu.

Seven seats wrap around Utzutzu's sushi bar. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Seven seats wrap around Utzutzu's sushi bar.

The interior has been remodeled under Ono’s careful eye — almost completely with antique furniture from the 1920s to ’50s —and is larger than the previous Yume space. One wall was knocked down to build a lounge area, where Ono hopes to serve food and sake tastings in the future.

The sushi chef at Utzutzu is Joji Nonaka, who comes from ICHI Sushi in San Francisco. The chef is Asuka Uchida, previously at AS B-Dama, who makes the appetizers, salads, soups, and cooked items, plus the dessert. Ono will remain the chef at Delage.

The meal includes about 16 pieces of sushi and an appetizer, salad, soup, and dessert. Sushi may include akami (blue fin tuna) or sayori (needle fish), with rice from Japan lightly seasoned with red vinegar. Nonaka also makes a few vegetable-based sushi bites. During the soft opening, the chefs also prepared a salad with asparagus, peas, radish, Brussels sprouts, and quail egg; a grilled clam; and strawberry ice cream for dessert.

Reservations can be made through Resy or through Delage. The remaining soft opening dates are currently full, though it may be worth checking for last-minute cancellations. Starting Saturday, April 28, the restaurant will begin offering two seatings each night.


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Friday, April 20, 2018

With Community Foods Market, West Oakland Gets a New Grocery Store

by Momo Chang
Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 10:09 AM

A rendering of West Oakland's upcoming grocery store. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOWNEY ARCHITECTURE
  • Photo courtesy of Lowney Architecture
  • A rendering of West Oakland's upcoming grocery store.

Years in the works, a full-service grocery store is finally being built in West Oakland. Community Foods Market, formerly called the People’s Community Market, broke ground last Friday and is slated to open in October.

The 14,000-square foot space — about half the size of a traditional supermarket — is being built in a neighborhood long considered to be a food desert. The space, on the 31st block of San Pablo Avenue, was previously a granite and tile warehouse, and before that, a Harley Davidson shop built in the ’40s.

The old building has now been razed to the ground. Standing in front of the construction site last week, Brahm Ahmadi, who is helming the project, said that community members are excited about the new market. On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ohlone, African American, and Mexican American elders will bless the space, and community members are invited to plant beads in the ground to represent their wishes for the market. “I want to start with a sense of clarity and purpose,” Ahmadi said.

Ahmadi, who co-founded the People’s Grocery in 2002, had experimented over the years with a mobile market, largely run by local youth, as well as agricultural development. But for all those years, Ahmadi says West Oakland residents just wanted a grocery store. “It was always the dream,” he said.

Brahm Ahmadi at the site of Community Foods Market. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Brahm Ahmadi at the site of Community Foods Market.

A market study showed that West Oakland residents spend about $60 million on groceries, and that 70 percent of that money is spent outside of Oakland. There were offers for other places in former warehouses for the market, but they were in locations that were less friendly to locals who may rely on public transit or have mobility issues. “A smaller footprint is what works for a neighborhood shop,” Ahmadi said. “We could’ve built in a warehouse years ago, but who can get to that who doesn’t have a car?” The current location at 3105 San Pablo Ave. is within a half-mile distance from about 9,000 residents. Access to healthy, affordable, and fresh food was most important, Ahmadi said. They hope to create 60 jobs once it’s up and running.

The market will include a deli as well as the Front Porch Cafe and Social Hall with breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. The social hall will be a gathering place for community events such as live music and poetry readings. Down the line, Ahmadi hopes to partner with nonprofits and healthcare providers for health and nutrition services, such as offering diabetes screenings. He also hopes to include classes for seniors, many of whom live along the San Pablo corridor.

Ahmadi said he was careful about taking on this project, his first big grocery venture, since he is already invested in the community and wants it to succeed. “If it doesn’t succeed, the community gets blamed for it,” he said. Community Foods Market is currently leasing the land from Oakland-based East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bread & Butter to Bring Vegan Baked Goods and Other Daytime Fare to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 8:48 AM

This plant-based riff on banh mi uses tofu instead of meat. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ALICIA SMILEY
  • Photo courtesy of Alicia Smiley
  • This plant-based riff on banh mi uses tofu instead of meat.

Oakland’s Pill Hill neighborhood is likely to get a cozy breakfast and lunch spot serving primarily vegan fare later this year.

Bread & Butter comes from chef Alicia Smiley, a classically trained chef who worked at critically acclaimed San Francisco restaurants such as Boulevard and Bix before launching her own plant-based catering company, well.fed. If all goes according to plan, this will be her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, which she hopes to open on Oct. 1. (Smiley said she can’t reveal the exact location yet, because it’s still being secured.)

For Smiley, the 800-square-foot, 16-seat space with some outdoor seating is an ideal fit. She expects to retire her catering company after opening Bread & Butter. “I’ve never wanted a large restaurant,” she said, explaining why she’s declined other opportunities in the past. “This will be small and intimate, and that’s more the feeling I like: feeding people personally.”

Bread & Butter will serve desserts, breakfast pastries, toasts, focaccia loaded with toppings, salads, and “really nurturing, quality entrées,” Smiley said, all in an industrial-chic setting full of greenery. Though Smiley is passionate about plant-based cooking, she might offer some egg options as well. “It’ll be at least 99 percent vegan,” she said.

One of her plant-based specialties is seeded breadsticks made out of a slowly fermented dough, which sits for a few days before being rolled in seeds and vegan Parmesan. She also makes what she calls “hippie bread,” a sandwich loaf sweetened with agave that forms the base for thick-sliced avocado toasts.

With the aim of inclusivity, Smiley also plans to offer a daily “community meal,” an entrée served with a side of bread that she won’t take any profit from. In the morning, it might be oatmeal with fruit and nuts. For lunch, it might be a simple curry with vegetables over rice. Smiley wants to keep it around $5 with a donation jar also available for folks who can’t pay the full amount.

“It’s really important to me,” she said. “I want it to be accessible to everybody. I don’t want anyone to feel priced out of nutrition.”

She’s also excited to showcase a wealth of locally made vegan products, such as those from the Butcher’s Son in Berkeley. The standard butter of Bread & Butter, though, will be Miyoko’s vegan European-style cultured butter, which is made from a mix of oils and cashews. Smiley decided to include “butter” in her restaurant name partially with this vegan alternative in mind.

“I love to challenge people’s ideas. Butter doesn’t just mean dairy butter. There’s also almond butter, peanut butter, coconut butter,” she said. “Also, I like the double meaning, that it’s my daily bread and butter. I like the idea of the daily sustenance you need to live your life.”


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Monday, April 16, 2018

In Alameda, Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream Changes Hands

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Apr 16, 2018 at 8:44 AM

The new Tucker's ownership team, from left to right: Lauren Zimmerman Cook, Joshua Cook, Erika Zimmerman, and Stephen Zimmerman. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIKA ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo courtesy of Erika Zimmerman
  • The new Tucker's ownership team, from left to right: Lauren Zimmerman Cook, Joshua Cook, Erika Zimmerman, and Stephen Zimmerman.

As the COO of Alameda’s senior care agency AEC Living, Stephen Zimmerman has celebrated a lot of 100th birthdays. And that’s one way he knows how important Tucker’s Ice Cream is on the Island.

“It’s pretty amazing when a 100-year-old requests a specific spot,” he said. “Not just an ice cream cake, but a Tucker’s ice cream cake.”

Tucker’s Ice Cream has been a downtown Alameda institution since 1941, beloved for its traditional scoops, extra-thick milk shakes, and community spirit. For the past 28 years, it’s been run by Kate Pryor and David Lee. When Pryor announced her desire to retire, Zimmerman had a minor freak-out: What if someone bought Tucker’s and changed it? What if someone moved it? What if Tucker’s would no longer be Tucker’s?

He talked it over with his sister, Lauren Zimmerman Cook, CEO of AEC Living, and their spouses, Erika Zimmerman and Joshua Cook, and decided to buy Tucker’s in the hopes of preserving its legacy. “We would hate for someone to take it over and not do all the amazing things Kate was doing,” Stephen said. “It’s truly a cornerstone of the community.”

That means folks can continue to expect ice cream flavor contests, local library summer reading programs, birthday celebrations, and
support for organizations such as Meals on Wheels. Erika, a self-proclaimed ice cream fanatic, said she has no plans to suddenly introduce a slate of trendy flavors. She and Joshua will run Tucker’s day-to-day, and they’ve received ice cream lessons and recipes from Pryor and Lee. That said, the new ownership team, who are all in their 20s and 30s, do plan to make some small changes here and there.

“I love that Tucker’s is very classic with all the classic flavors,” Erika said. “I would like to introduce maybe one to two new flavors every month and maybe at the end of the year have the community vote on what to bring back.”

Other potential changes Stephen mentioned were adding a fresh coat of paint, opening up the vast upstairs area again, and offering more ice cream carts for off-site parties. The family has already worked with Pryor and Lee on bringing the place up to code, which included upgrades such as a new kitchen sink, a bigger freezer, and a remodeled bathroom. “It’s going to be a difficult balance of upgrading it up but keeping the charm,” Stephen said.

During this transition, the Zimmermans said they plan to look to their staff — some of whom have been at Tucker’s for 13 years, and all of whom were offered to keep their jobs — to ensure the essence of Tucker’s remains.

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling, going there so much as a kid,” Stephen said. “And now, we’re going to be running it.”


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Friday, April 13, 2018

Celebrate Neapolitan Pizza Week in Berkeley

by Anneli Star Josselin Rufus
Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 2:17 PM

A Neapolitan-style pizza from Lucia's. - COURTESY OF LUCIA'S PIZZERIA
  • courtesy of Lucia's Pizzeria
  • A Neapolitan-style pizza from Lucia's.
Lucia's Pizzeria (2016 Shattuck Ave.) in downtown Berkeley is the only East Bay restaurant participating in Neapolitan Pizza Week, a Bay Area-wide initiative running this week until Sunday, April 15, which includes pizza-making demonstrations, a photo exhibition, panel discussions, and tastings of the tender-crusted, tomatoey, mozzarella-cheesy treat at numerous pizzerias.

Created by the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco and Dress in Dreams Movie & Costume of Rome, the celebration follows a recent decision by UNESCO to inscribe the art of Neapolitan pizza-making into its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Other intangibles on the extensive list include Saudi Arabian falconry, Brazilian capoeira, Azerbaijani carpet-weaving, and the Namibian marula-fruit festival.)

Other collaborators in the initiative include the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco, Italy's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), based in — well, Naples, per natura.

Events include a performance of Italian funk music Friday night at San Francisco's Bar Fluxus by local band Sonamò, led by Neapolitan pianist Giuseppe Pinto; and a pizza-appreciation discussion featuring visiting AVPN representatives at Terun Restaurant & Pizzeria in Palo Alto on Saturday evening. See the full schedule here.

At Lucia's — whose motto is "Live, Love, Eat Pizza" and whose wood-fired oven was crafted brick by brick old-schoolishy by third-generation ovenmaker Stefano Ferrara, then shipped here from Naples — co-owner Alessandro Uccelli is offering 20-percent discounts on Pizza Napoletana, Margherita with mozzarella di bufala, and Pizza Marinara from 5 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. on Sunday. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free versions are available.

'The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook' Highlights the Unusual Produce Found in Familiar Aisles

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 10:45 AM

Indian bitter melon brings the astringency to this tonic. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN SCOTT
  • Photo courtesy of Erin Scott
  • Indian bitter melon brings the astringency to this tonic.

One day, Oakland dietician Laura McLively bought Indian bitter melon at Berkeley Bowl. She’d never heard of Indian bitter melon before, but she loves bitterness in coffee and figured she’d enjoy the savory fruit.

“When I tried it, I was like, ‘What on earth am I going to do with this thing?’ It’s really medicinal,” she said. “It kind of tastes like crushed up Aspirin.”

At first, she tried hiding it in a spicy curry, but the intense astringency still shone through. “I realized I had to go with the bitterness rather than try to mask it,” she said.

She finally found a recipe that worked: tonic. Mixed with grapefruit, lemon, juniper berries, and sugar, the bitter melon becomes bright and bittersweet. It’s one of more than 100 vegetarian recipes in her first book, The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by the Extraordinary Produce of California’s Most Iconic Market, which comes out April 17 via Parallax Press.

It all started when McLively first moved in the Bay Area in 2002 as a college student. She quickly sought out Berkeley Bowl — a grocery store that’s won praise from international culinary stars like Mark Bittman and Yotam Ottolenghi — and has been a loyal shopper ever since. In 2015, she launched what would become a popular food blog, My Berkeley Bowl, which chronicles her attempts at cooking with unusual discoveries at the grocery store, such as burdock root, prickly pear, and mizuna.

“This book is just about having fun. It’s about taking away intimidation,” McLively said. “You’d think by looking at the crazy fruits and vegetables on the cover, ‘Oh, this looks hard and inaccessible.’ But they’re pretty technically simple. I’m just a home cook.”

With her blog, McLively challenged herself to experiment with dozens of ingredients she’d never seen before. She’d try them raw, cook them in different ways, figure out their best properties, and design recipes that highlighted them. Her favorite recipes made their way into The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook, complemented by colorful photography by Berkeley’s Erin Scott. There’s an almond torte made with starfruit, banana blossom salad with glass noodles, and limeade infused with shiso.

The book is a trove of educational information. In the back, there’s an invaluable ingredient key, so you can see exactly what these raw goods look like side by side. And each recipe details the ingredient’s availability — both based on season and what kind of store might carry it — as well as how to choose and store it. If you really like the sound of the sigua paneer curry but just can’t find the young luffa plant, McLively also lists appropriate, easier-to-find substitutions. (In this case, zucchini.)

But part of the joy of The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook as a local reader is learning a little bit more about Glenn and Diane Yasuda, the tireless couple who founded Berkeley Bowl in 1977. Not only do the Yasudas and their son, Gen, still run the business today, but Glenn continues to drive across the bridge at 2:30 a.m. every day to sample produce himself.

McLively will sign books and hand out bites at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, at Berkeley Bowl West (920 Heinz Ave.) and 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 15, at Berkeley Bowl (2020 Oregon St.). She’ll also speak on a panel at the Bay Area Book Festival on Sunday, April 29, at The Magnes (2121 Allston Way, Berkeley).






Thursday, April 12, 2018

Reem Assil's New Oakland Restaurant, Dyafa, Opens Tomorrow in Jack London Square

by Anneli Star Josselin Rufus
Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 3:16 PM

Chef Reem Assil. - MELATI CITRAWIREJA/FILE PHOTO
  • Melati Citrawireja/file photo
  • Chef Reem Assil.
James Beard Best Chef semifinalist and La Cocina grad Reem Assil, who launched the Fruitvale bakery Reem’s last year, is opening her second Oakland restaurant.

Located in Jack London Square and operated in partnership with Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group, Dyafa (44 Webster St.) will offer Arab fare inspired by Assil's Palestinian-Syrian heritage and her travels in that region that infects fine dining with a lively community atmosphere. The restaurant, located in the former Haven space, will open for lunch service tomorrow, with dinner to follow later this month.

"I want to cultivate more diversity in the fine dining space,” said Assil, who spent ten years working as a community and labor organizer before embracing a culinary career. “The food that I grew up with is incredible, and everyone should be able to share in that.”

At lunch, Dyafa — whose name derives from the Arab word for hospitality — will offer shareable snacks, dips, grain bowls, and salads. Lunch will also include flatbread wraps featuring the signature bread from Reem’s, baked on the traditional convex griddle known as a saj.

Dinner features heart-baked specialty breads alongside wajbat khafeefa (small bites) including kabees (pickles) and an Arab-style charcuterie plate with fresh-baked pita; as well as cold and warm mezze plates such as muttubal (charred eggplant with garlic, lemon, and tahini) and zidbiyat gambari (shrimp-tomato claypot stew) and larger-format dishes such as shakriah (braised lamb shank) and musakhan (sumac-spiced chicken confit).

Weekend brunch at Dyafa will feature fare such as ful medames (fava bean and chickpea stew with poached egg) and um ali (sweet phyllo milk porridge) as well as shakshuka (tomato-poached eggs with peppers).

Middle Eastern flavors and Reem’s collection of classic Arabic cookbooks inspired bar manager Aaron Paul's cocktail program. A concise wine and beer list will feature selections from California and Lebanon.

Warm hues bringing to mind those of the Arab world animate the 105-seat restaurant, whose design elements include a walnut bar, indigo paneled partitions, lush greenery, and vibrant geometric floor tiles. An exposed woodframe ceiling reveals an intricate grapevine canopy and suspended bamboo light fixtures from noted New Zealand designer David Tunbridge.

Dyafa, 44 Webster St., Oakland, 510-250-9491, Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.



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