Friday, March 27, 2020

Emeryville's Grocery Outlet Is Strategizing for the Covid-19 Outbreak

After a wildly successful 2019, the supermarket group is "purchasing aggressively."

by S. Rufus
Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Grocery Outlet

Emeryville-based Grocery Outlet has just announced this week that its earnings throughout the last fiscal year and 2019's fourth quarter surpassed all forecasted earnings goals.

The fiscal year saw net sales up 11.9 percent to $2.56 billion for the national supermarket group compared to $2.29 billion in 2018.

For last year's fourth quarter, which ended on Dec. 28, net sales surged 12 percent to $655.5 million from $585.2 million a year earlier, as reported by Supermarket News.

In a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, the company's CEO Eric Lindberg and president RJ Sheedy discussed Grocery Outlet's strategies for going forward through the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Due to our significantly higher customer demand, our buying organizations, supply chain teams, and IOs" — independent owners" — are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked for our customers. Our purchasing team is intently focused on working with our vendor partners to replenish the high-demand products for our stores,” Lindberg said in the conference call, as reported by Supermarket News.

Grocery Outlet maintains nearby stores in Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda.

“We have been working very closely with suppliers to purchase these basic needs, such as water, paper supplies, rice and beans, and canned goods. We are, amongst many others, experiencing some delay for those items. But broadly speaking, we continue to have good access to product and are purchasing aggressively to keep our warehouses full,” Lindberg said.

“As for the supply chain,” he added, “we are working hard to get products into stores as quickly as possible. We’ve made several adjustments in the past week based on sudden spikes in demand that we’ve seen.

"I want to recognize everyone in our logistics network for their dedication to supporting stores and customers. That includes our distribution center employees, our transportation fleet drivers, our third-party vendors, our DSD suppliers and their drivers, all of whom are working nonstop to keep goods on the shelves.”

At the end of 2019, Grocery Outlet had 347 stores in six states, up from 316 at the end of 2018. Ten more stores were exected to open before the end of March, chief financial officer Charles Bracher said during the conference call.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Would You Like a Cocktail to Go With That Take-Out?

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage & Control's COVID-19 Response: Cocktails To Go! 

by Daedalus Howell and Stephen Buel
Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 2:48 PM

Thanks to a recent relaxation of California alcohol laws, Margaritaville is closer than ever.

Cocktails can now be ordered to-go and delivered curbside to customers courtesy of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and its response to COVID-19.

The department enacted the regulatory relief to "support the alcoholic beverage industry in its efforts to assist California in slowing the spread of the virus while assisting the industry in dealing with the economic challenges it is facing as a result," it said in a statement.

The ABC arrived at this decision after careful consideration of the public's health safety or welfare and whether it be negatively affected. "Exercised on a temporary basis," the ABC thinks not. There are rules, however — to-go cocktails can only be purchased with a matching meal, whether that be through a drive-thru, pick up or delivery. Other adult beverages available in this manner include wine and beer.

"Any such alcoholic beverages must be packaged in a container with a secure lid or cap and in a manner designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap (e.g., no lids with sipping holes or openings for straws)," reads the ABC's "notice of regulatory relief."

Naturally, consumers acquiring cocktails and other alcoholic beverages are discouraged from drinking them while driving or break open container laws by allowing non-drivers to do so.

Even though breweries have always been able to provide take-out containers and delivery directly to people's homes, the rules change has prompted Original Pattern Brewing near Jack London Square to rethink its business practices, owner Max Silverstein said on Sunday.

"The changes the ABC made were really for bars and restaurants," Silverstein said. "Breweries have always been able to deliver direct to people's houses. We never did it before. Now we are."

Breweries are permitted to deliver cans, growlers, and "crowlers," which are basically giant 32-ounce cans of beer. But since growlers and crowlers are meant to be consumed right away, Silverstein said Original Pattern is delivering just cans.

"This last week, we were still delivering cans," he said. "We would deliver a keg but no one was ordering any. Some restaurants that used to get kegs are now ordering cans to go with their to-go food."

"People are coming in," he said. "It's definitely nowhere close to as busy as if we were open and people could hang out and drink. ... We have a lot of inventory that we expected to use over the next two weeks."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Restaurants and Cafes Take Steps to Combat Coronavirus

Some places ban cash and reusable cups, while others have ended dine-in services or have closed temporarily.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Mar 17, 2020 at 3:36 PM

Attempting to curb the spread of coronavirus via social distancing has hit large gatherings hard, from the suspension of the NBA season to the sudden cessation of performances of Hamilton to the closing of Bay Area public schools.

Most restaurants' capacities fall well under the 250-person event maximum that Governor Gavin Newsom called for last week. But as community gathering spaces, many restaurant owners are taking extensive steps to keep customers and food service workers safe.

On March 12, The Lumpia Company announced via Instagram that it would temporarily stop accepting cash. Al Pastor Papi, a San Francisco-based taco truck that vends at Temescal Brewing on Thursdays, also announced that it would accept credit cards only, and that all areas would be thoroughly disinfected every 15 minutes. Al Pastor Papi also offered to provide gloves to customers upon request.

And while several cafes started encouraging customers to bring reusable cups and charging customers for disposable cups earlier this year, it looks like some cafes are concerned about the safety of reusable cups. Subrosa announced last week that all food and drinks would be served in to-go containers. Farley's East also announced that it would no longer accept reusable cups, and that utensils and hot sauce would be handed to customers rather than self-serve.

Some restaurants have shut down their dine-in services entirely, opting for delivery or take-out options instead. Last Thursday, Monster Pho announced that its Oakland location would only be offering food through takeout and Door Dash, and offered 10 percent off all to-go orders. La Marcha in Berkeley also offered a special promo, offering 40 percent off of bottles of wine ordered to go. Meanwhile, other restaurants, including Binney Park in Oakland and La Note in Berkeley, are offering customers the option of drive-by pickup.

Food events have been hit hard, too. Taste of Temescal announced last week that its March 17 event would be postponed, likely until May. Oakland First Friday also canceled its upcoming April 3 event, with plans to return on Friday, May 1.

Some restaurants have decided to temporarily close down for the safety of all involved. Superhero Desserts in Alameda announced that it would be closed starting March 16, and Hangar One Distillery announced that its tasting room would be closed until further notice. Last week, Nick's Pizza announced via Instagram that it would be closed until at least the end of the week. "Safety of our community is top priority and the shop is too small for safe distances," the post read. "If you go out to eat/shop please give service people physical space, they are dealing with hundreds of people a day. Wash your hands, sanitize your credit cards, don't touch anything you don't need to."

Unfortunately, other restaurants were forced to temporarily close due to financial repercussions from the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that two large Oakland Chinatown restaurants, Peony Seafood Restaurant and Buffet Fortuna, are temporarily closed, with no scheduled date for reopening. In that article, Carl Chan, the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, reported that business in Oakland Chinatown restaurants had dropped by 50 to 75 percent on average since the onset of coronavirus fears.

Looking to support your local restaurants during this trying time while staying at home? Consider purchasing a gift card as a way to help local small businesses stay afloat.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sobre Mesa Now Open in Uptown Oakland

Plus, Flint's BBQ schedules another pop-up — tickets are selling out quickly.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 2:41 PM

Sobre Mesa, the highly anticipated cocktail bar from chef Nelson German of alaMar, opened its doors to the public last Thursday.

Describing itself as an Afro-Latino cocktail lounge, the cocktail menu and tapas menu draw inspiration from chef German's Dominican-American heritage, as well as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and more. The signature drink, the Sobre Mesa ($14), is made with light rum from Berkeley's Mosswood Distillers, Dominican rum, lime, grapefruit, and smoke, with the addition of housemade mamajuana — a Dominican drink made by soaking a blend of botanicals in rum. The menu also offers drinks for groups to share, as well as some nonalcoholic options.

On the tapas menu are small dishes like housemade Dominican salami with mustard greens, cilantro mayo-ketchup, katsu-style Fontina cheese, and milk bread, as well as patatas bravas with guava barbecue sauce. Medium-size plates include dishes like sweet plantains stuffed with olives, Impossible meat, and salsa criolla; bacalao fritters; empanadas stuffed with white cheddar and plantains; and pernil pork belly with mofongo, garlic mojo, and black bean puree. Larger plates include peri peri petite wings and mussel toast.

The hip, tropical-inspired space is divided into three separate areas, with a lounge at the front and bar stools available for walk-ins as well as a more formal dining area with tables available by reservation only. At the back is a private room reserved for groups of up to 12 for spirit tastings, complete with a personal bartender.

Sobre Mesa is open Wed., Thu., and Sun. from 4 p.m. to midnight and Fri. and Sat. from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. There's also a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Check out for more info.

In other food news, the Flint's BBQ revival is scheduled to return May 16 with a pop-up from noon to 6 p.m. at 675 41st St. in Oakland. This time, the $40 ticket gets you a four-way combo with chicken, ribs, brisket, and beef links (one of Flint's most popular items back in the day), plus sides of mac 'n' cheese, baked beans, string beans, potato salad, bread, and a drink. Tickets went on sale on Eventbrite last Friday. The pop-up sold out quickly last time, so we suggest grabbing tickets ASAP if you're interested.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

La Frontera Mexican Restaurant Takes Over the Former Talk of the Town

It offers quesabirrias, dollar taco specials, free Tuesday night dancing, drag brunches, and is a gathering place for the LGTBQ community.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Mar 3, 2020 at 3:45 PM

Taqueria Morelia, often known as Talk of the Town thanks to the bar next door, may have closed long ago, but nostalgic Oaklanders still mourn its famous burritos. Now, a new restaurant called La Frontera is bringing new life into the restaurant space.

La Frontera Mexican Restaurant is the first restaurant venture from Valentino Carrillo, also known as Valentino Presents, who was for 14 years the head promoter at the recently closed LGBTQ clubs Club BnB and Club 21 in Oakland. He's currently the promoter at The Port Bar and the White Horse, two other LGBTQ venues in Oakland. Carrillo was originally planning to promote events at the bar and nightclub next door, also named La Frontera, when he heard that the restaurant was available and decided to give restaurant ownership a shot. "I have aspirations myself of opening a nightclub in the near future, and ... this could be a good stepping stone to be able to eventually own the nightclub that I want," Carrillo said.

La Frontera's specialty item is the quesabirria, the very of-the-moment taco stuffed with tender beef birria and melted cheese inside a crisp orange shell. It's one of the few places in Oakland that serves quesabirrias every day. "We sell out like crazy almost every day," Carrillo said. Other menu items include street tacos (which go down to just $1 on Taco Tuesdays with an RSVP), burritos, quesadillas, tortas, and enchiladas as well as a seafood menu that includes items like aguachiles, camarones a la plancha, and camarones a la diabla. On weekends, you'll find brunch items like pozole, with plans to add chilaquiles and huevos rancheros soon. Pupusas, burgers, and chicken wings also are in the works. Next door at the bar, customers also can order margaritas, micheladas, and several flavors of mimosas.

Carrillo has a host of exciting events planned for the neighboring La Frontera nightclub. There'll be free dance lessons every other Tuesday from 7-8 p.m., featuring styles including bachata, salsa, and possibly even samba. Afterward, a DJ will take over, and there'll be free social dancing for all. Carrillo says that La Frontera has had a strong Latinx trans community for years, and his LGBTQ-focused events will be a natural fit for the venue. On Fridays, Carrillo hopes to host go-go dancers and drag shows. Every other Saturday, Carrillo plans to host a drag brunch called Tacos y Tacones (Tacos and High Heels), which also will feature 10 varieties of pour-your-own bottomless mimosas. Carrillo hopes that La Frontera will become a destination for the queer Latinx community.

"I'm gay ... so I want this to be a very gay-friendly venue for people to come out to, hang out, do LGBTQ fundraisers, stuff like that," Carrillo said. "There's very limited options for people, especially for the Latino community, because there's really no club for them to go to for events out there. ... It's basically a spot where you can all hang out, meet your friends — especially the friends you haven't seen in a while, because there's no clubs for you to go and hang out in."

La Frontera Mexican Restaurant is at 4481 International Blvd. in Oakland. For more info, follow @quericotacos on Instagram or check out

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sesame, A Tiny Bakery Coming to Berkeley

Fans of Marykate McGoldrick's cake pop-ups will soon be able to find her cakes at a brick-and-mortar bakery.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 4:35 PM

Maybe you first encountered Marykate McGoldrick's pastries when she left her teaching job nearly 10 years ago to head the dessert program at Namu Gaji, a now-closed Korean fusion restaurant in San Francisco. Or maybe you first tasted her desserts at Camino, where she was the pastry chef until its closure in 2018. Maybe you're one of the followers of her ongoing cake club, where she serves slices of cake at pop-up locations and allows subscribers to reserve whole cakes for pickup.

But for fans of McGoldrick's cakes, as well as those who have never tried her cakes before, there's good news: McGoldrick plans to open her first brick-and-mortar bakery soon, hopefully this summer. The small bakery, adorably named Sesame, A Tiny Bakery, will share a roof with The Kebabery's upcoming South Berkeley location, which will be at 2969 Shattuck Ave.

McGoldrick is known for her unique, not-too-sweet layer cakes, many of which feature fresh seasonal fruit, homemade jams, and light, airy frostings. Past cakes have included pluot cake made with pluot jam, buckwheat chiffon cake, creme fraiche whipped cream, and fig leaf pastry cream; and peach cake with fresh peaches, noyau pastry cream, black cardamom chiffon cake, and creme fraiche whipped cream.

"I think a lot of people get scared around having a big slice of cake, like there's gonna be too much frosting, or it's gonna be too sweet," McGoldrick said. "So I like to also reintroduce cake in a way that it can be satisfying without making you feel kind of terrible after."

At Sesame, McGoldrick plans to offer two different cakes by the slice each day: one made with seasonal fruit, and one year-round cake. Whole cakes will also be available for special order. Eventually, McGoldrick plans to offer other desserts, too, like fresh fruit tarts, cookies, and plated desserts.

Last week, McGoldrick launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Sesame. She's hoping to raise $20,000 to make necessary improvements to the space, pay for permits and licenses, and purchase baking equipment.

Sesame may be small, but for McGoldrick, who's dreamed of opening her own bakery for years, it's perfect.

"I always have just loved the ingredient sesame, and I love the idea [of] being this tiny little seed. And this space is a very tiny little place, and hopefully it'll grow into something else."

To learn more, check out, or follow McGoldrick on Instagram @sesametinybakery. Curious about her cakes? Mark your calendar for March 8, when McGoldrick will be holding her next Cake Club pop-up at The Kebabery's Oakland location at 4201 Market St.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Halalicious and Donut Petit Arrive on Alameda's West End

They're bringing shawarma, falafel, and artisanal donuts to the Webster Street area.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 18, 2020 at 4:50 PM

In the past few weeks, Webster Street on Alameda's West End has welcomed two newcomers — Halalicious and Donut Petit — bringing much-needed shawarma, falafel, and made-from-scratch doughnuts to the neighborhood.

Halalicious, at 1606 Webster St., is the first restaurant from Isam Lashuel and Yassin Homran, who had always dreamed of opening their own restaurant and found their ideal location in Alameda. The restaurant specializes in Middle Eastern-style chicken shawarma, made fresh on a spit twice a day, and Yemeni-style fava bean falafel made from scratch. After selecting a protein, diners can choose to have it served in a pita, in a rice bowl, or as a salad. Guests can also add one of the house-made sauces including tahini, garlic sauce, spicy garlic sauce, cucumber yogurt sauce, and Halalicious hot sauce. If you're lucky, there might even be basbousa for dessert — a Middle Eastern cake made with semolina flour, yogurt, and rosewater syrup. So far, Homran reports that the restaurant has been selling out of food every day.

"It took us a while to open, but we feel like we made the right decision even though we left our jobs," Homran said. "We like the community here." Halalicious is currently softly open from 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, and will celebrate its grand opening on March 1.

Just off of Webster Street, an adorable French-inspired doughnut shop, Donut Petit, opened its doors at 711 Santa Clara Ave. It's the newest business from Alameda entrepreneurial couple Joann Guitarte and Bobeck Parandian, who also own Cafe Jolie, J Gallerie, and J Couture.

Plans for Donut Petit have been in the works for four years, when Guitarte noticed a lack of artisanal doughnut shops in Alameda. At Donut Petit, Guitarte wakes up at 4 every morning to craft flavors like old fashioned doughnuts with salted caramel flavored cake, topped with roasted pecans and Himalayan salt. Other specialty flavors have included pistachio cake doughnuts with pistachio icing, strawberry shortcake doughnuts, and crème brûlée doughnuts. You'll also find tried-and-true favorites like crullers and raised doughnuts with chocolate icing. Coffee and espresso drinks are also available.

Starting April 4, Guitarte plans to offer a full brunch menu, which will include Donut Madames and Donut Monsieurs made with sourdough doughnuts. The dough undergoes a two-hour fermentation process, and the tangy doughnuts get dressed with sugary glaze. "The flavor is just out of this world between the sour and the sweet," Guitarte said.

Guitarte hopes that Donut Petit, along with her other businesses in Alameda's West End, will help usher new life into the neighborhood, where she and her husband have lived for the past 17 years.

"I just want to really be the pioneer of reviving it and having it be a destination," Guitarte said.

Donut Petit's soft opening hours are 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Stop by Donut Petit's grand opening on March 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., where the mayor, vice mayor, and several members of Alameda's city council will be hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony. There'll also be a performance by the Dancing Donuts, a team of eight choreographed dancers donning doughnut costumes. Following the grand opening, Donut Petit will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Viridian, A Cocktail Bar Featuring Dim Sum-Inspired Desserts, Opens in Oakland

The menu includes tomato beef cocktails, Thai tea tiramisu, and rum po tat.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 2:38 PM

An all-star team has teamed up to open Viridian, a new craft cocktail bar in Uptown Oakland that opened last Tuesday. In the space that formerly housed Plum Bar (2216 Broadway), the drink menu features cocktails made with seasonal California produce and wines from seven different countries, while the food menu, inspired by the Asian-American experience, offers several dim sum-inspired snacks and plenty of desserts.

At Viridian, guests can enjoy unusual cocktails like the Tomato Beef, a savory drink made with Don Julio Blanco tequila, basil eau de vie, tomato water, and "not lime" (a lime juice substitute), garnished with a wild foraged pink peppercorn leaf. Or guests can sip on The Golden Triangle, made with gin, golden beets, Meyer lemon, quinquina (an aromatized wine), California poppy, and Suze, a French brand of bitters.

The drinks are designed to pair with the dessert-heavy menu. One of the star desserts is the Thai tea tiramisu, made with Thai tea flavored mascarpone, topped with a layer of crispy caramelized condensed milk, and served with roasted peanuts. There's also a blood orange semifreddo with pistachio crumb and cardamom, loosely inspired by the now-discontinued orange sherbet Flintstones Push-Up Pops that were so beloved in the '90s. Some desserts are inspired by dim sum treats, like the rum po tat (Portuguese egg tart) made with spiced rum, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Meanwhile, the savory menu includes snacks like cha siu bao, salt and pepper chicken nuggets, and chili garlic milk bread served with a dark green butter flavored with charred scallions and ginger butter.

Each member of the team behind Viridian boasts an impressive résumé. The roster includes co-owner and bar manager William Tsui (formerly of Lazy Bear and Rich Table), co-owner Raymond Gee (formerly of Noodle Theory Provisions and Hakkasan) and Jeremy Chiu (formerly of Shinmai and International Smoke). All three co-owners were born and raised in Oakland. The team also includes general manager Alison Kwan, who teamed up with Tsui to create the cocktail menu; Master Sommelier Andrey Ivanov, who created the eclectic wine list; and executive chef Amanda Hoang (Bird Dog) and consulting chef Alice Kim (Lazy Bear, Coi).

Beyond food and drink, Viridian is just a beautiful space to be in. The space was designed by Soon and Soon Studio, which includes Anna Lee and Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu's and Moongate Lounge in San Francisco. The design was inspired by the 1994 Wong Kar-wai film Chungking Express, which depicts a bygone era in Hong Kong. An abstract neon sculpture behind the bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant, while sculptures from Tsui's parents' home sit on the countertops, and portraits of dogs from local illustrator Cheeky Chong decorate the walls.

Plus, Viridian is hosting a special Lunar New Year celebration this Sunday, Feb. 16, from 4 p.m. until midnight. There'll be red envelopes, nostalgic childhood snacks, a photobooth at 7 p.m., and the chance to win commemorative bottles and specialty pins.

For more info, check out

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Shawarmaji to Open in Forage Kitchen

Mohammad Abutaha makes shawarma the way he ate it growing up in Amman, Jordan.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Shawarmaji, a new Jordan-style shawarma pop-up, is scheduled to open at Forage Kitchen in Uptown Oakland on Feb. 10.

It's the latest project from chef Mohammad Abutaha, who spent most of his childhood and young adult years living in Amman, Jordan. Abutaha comes from a food-loving family. "I learned how to eat in Jordan," Abutaha joked.

After moving to the States partway through college to study mechanical engineering, Abutaha found himself missing the food from back home and started cooking those dishes for himself. Meanwhile, a career in engineering didn't feel like the right fit. "I really wanted to open a restaurant one day," he said. "I really wanted to work with food."

So Abutaha took a job as a dishwasher. "Everybody [was] looking at me weird, like, 'Why are you a dishwasher when you're an engineer?'" Abutaha recalled. But Abutaha worked his way up the ranks, cooking at Bay Area restaurants including Maven, Reem's, and most recently, Noosh. He also hosted a series of Arab family-style pop-up dinners. He left Noosh in November after an ownership shakeup, and since then, he's been working on Shawarmaji, which previously operated as a pop-up at Reem's Fruitvale location on Sundays.

Abutaha has tried shawarma all over the Bay Area, but none reminded him of what he ate back in Amman. In Jordan, Abutaha said, "We also have hummus and falafel, we have mana'eesh. ... But shawarma is king. Everybody eats shawarma all day, all night." At Shawarmaji, he makes the Jordan-style shawarma he couldn't find anywhere else.

"It goes back to the fact that I'm a cook because I want to eat, not because I want to cook," Abutaha laughed.

What sets a Jordan-style shawarma apart from the rest? According to Abutaha, his shawarma sandwiches are minimalist and simple — just yogurt-marinated, spiced chicken roasted slowly on a spit, wrapped up with cucumber pickles and garlic sauce and griddled until crisp. The resulting creation is long and thin, not burrito-like as many other shawarma sandwiches can be. For unusual twists on shawarma that are popular in Jordan, Abutaha offers one with melted cheddar and a hot sauce called shatta; there's another with fries stuffed inside.

Abutaha also serves a shawarma sandwich platter that comes with a sliced-up sandwich, fries, olives, pickles, and a generous amount of garlic sauce for dipping. "We love the garlic sauce, and we try to put it on everything," Abutaha said.

Other unusual Jordan-style offerings include vegan falafel sandwiches served on a French roll, with the option to add fried eggplant and potatoes. 

Shawarmaji will be open at Forage Kitchen (478 25th St., Oakland) Monday through Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Where to Carry On Lunar New Year Celebrations

There's still time to celebrate before the holiday ends in both traditional and not-so-traditional ways.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 28, 2020 at 3:38 PM

Lunar New Year celebrations kicked off last Friday, which was New Year's Eve according to the lunar calendar. But the festivities last for more than two weeks, so if you missed last weekend's celebrations, there's still plenty of time to celebrate the Year of the Rat at local restaurants, bakeries, and cultural centers.

At Top Hatters Kitchen in San Leandro, chef-owner DanVy Vu has created a six-course meal in honor of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

"Growing up in Southern California near Little Saigon, Tet was such a big deal," Vu said via email. "You didn't have to know the dates of [Lunar New Year] — you can just feel it everywhere you go. I miss it and hope I can bring some of that energy up here."

The menu, which costs $66 per person, starts off with a warm drink of toasted jasmine rice nog with coconut cream, cardamom, and jasmine tea powder. The menu also includes an awe-inspiring whole fried branzino in tamarind sauce with peanuts and fried shallots, pomelo and tangerine salad with preserved plum dressing, pork dumplings wrapped in cabbage in a gingery bone broth, and grilled gai lan with housemade oyster sauce. For a sweet end to the meal, there'll also be fried sesame mochi in ginger syrup with tapioca and coconut cream. The special Tet dinner is available now through Feb. 9; diners can also order from the regular menu.

Over in West Berkeley, Third Culture Bakery is offering a special black sesame version of its famous mochi muffin that was previously sold only at its pop-up in Japan. It's made using Japanese sesame seeds that are ground for 72 hours for a purer flavor, then decorated with a drizzle of white chocolate and a sprinkle of raspberry so it resembles a cherry blossom branch. The black sesame mochi muffins will be available in limited quantities until Feb. 8.

Noodles are often eaten for Chinese New Year because they symbolize longevity. For Chinese New Year, birthdays, and special occasions alike, my family heads to Bay Fung Tong in Oakland for lobsters plucked live from the tank and served Cantonese-style in ginger and green onion sauce over thick, chewy e-fu noodles. Some parts of China favor dumplings, and New Dumpling in El Cerrito offers a variety you won't find anywhere else, with options like zucchini and shrimp or tomato and egg. Both restaurants offer these dishes year-round, so you don't necessarily need to visit during Lunar New Year — but it sure is a good excuse.

For a broader look at Lunar New Year traditions beyond food, head to one of Oakland's museums and cultural centers. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center will hold a Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 2, which will include tai chi performances, lion dancing, guzheng music, literature readings, guided meditations, the chance to make your own red envelopes, and more. The Oakland Museum of California is hosting a two-day celebration on Feb. 8 and 9, which includes traditional dance performances, martial arts, crafting opportunities, cooking demonstrations, and a chance to learn about the gongfu cha tea ceremony. 

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