Friday, November 17, 2017

Hasta Muerte Serves Coffee with a Side of Resistance

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 6:01 PM

The five-person collective behind Fruitvale's newest gathering space. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HASTA MUERTE COFFEE
  • Photo courtesy of Hasta Muerte Coffee
  • The five-person collective behind Fruitvale's newest gathering space.
A Latinx-owned, collectively run coffee shop is set to debut in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

After years of plotting, Hasta Muerte Coffee (2701 Fruitvale Ave.) — a third-wave cafe, radical bookstore, and community events space — will hold its grand opening at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19. While hip coffee shops are often thought of as gentrifying sources, the Hasta Muerte collective is working to actively subvert that notion. Its five members — who have experience in community organizing, activism, art, music, and bikes — were primarily drawn to coffee as a way to bring people together. Another element working in their favor is that three of them actually live in Fruitvale.

“The first step is offering coffee, community, and solidarity,” worker-owner Matt Gereghty said. After normal coffee-consuming hours, Hasta Muerte plans to organize cultural events like film screenings, workshops, and art shows — “things that are centered on holding down our various and vibrant cultural identities,” Gereghty said.

A small bookstore within the cafe is curated with an eye toward decolonizing struggles.

“What trends can history teach us about making it through the present moment and times to come? We want to add fuel to the flame of resilience and resistance,” Gereghty said.

There’s a conference room in the back, which Gereghty said Hasta Muerte plans to lend to community groups in need of meeting space. The main, 600-square-foot cafe space seats about 25 people and features a robust play area for kids.

On the coffee side of things, Hasta Muerte members linked up with a roaster in Berkeley to learn more about direct sourcing and roasting. The goal is for Hasta Muerte to handle these aspects independently within the next few years. Together, collective members developed a medium-roast blend that’s darker and more full-bodied than what most third-wave roasters are putting out right now. Worker-owner Melanie Garza described it as smooth with notes of chocolate and fruit.

“I wanted something that my grandparents would want to drink,” she said. “A lot of coffees right now are super bright and floral, and I really like that, but it doesn’t feel familiar.”

One thing the group has wrestled with is pricing. A cup of black coffee at a trendy cafe can go for as much as $3.50, which isn’t exactly an affordable, everyday expenditure for many Oakland residents. But the collective also wants to build a sustainable business model for themselves. They landed on an 8-oz cup of coffee for $1.60, pastries for less than $3, and a kids' menu, including fruit smoothies for $3.50 and hot cocoa for $2.25. The most expensive item is the $5.50 Argentine-style empanadas, which are large enough to function as a light meal. There are meat and vegetarian variations, with a gluten-free option still to come.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Claremont Spa & Club's Meritage to Close

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Meritage's swanky lounge. - COURTESY OF MERITAGE VIA YELP
  • Courtesy of Meritage via Yelp
  • Meritage's swanky lounge.
Meritage, the flagship restaurant at the Claremont Spa & Club, will close in early January.

According to spokesperson Julie Abramovic Kunes, the Meritage space (41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley) will be become another, to-be-announced restaurant concept in early 2018. Limewood Bar & Restaurant will take over Meritage's daily breakfast duties in addition to its usual lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch services. She said she couldn't elaborate on why Meritage will close or what will replace it.

Last year, the Berkeley hotel similarly shuttered Dominique Crenn's high-end, under-performing Antoinette (after just two months in business) and moved the more casual Limewood into the space. The switch from Antoinette to Limewood took five months.

Before it shutters, Meritage is hosting a slew of holiday events and special meals. Click here for a full list.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Chinatown's New Tiki Bar The Kon-Tiki Nears Grand Opening

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 3:56 PM

The new bar features classic tiki kitsch. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KON-TIKI
  • Photo courtesy of The Kon-Tiki
  • The new bar features classic tiki kitsch.

Oakland’s newest tiki bar is here: The Kon-Tiki will hold its grand opening party on Saturday, Nov. 11.

The over-the-top kitschy offering in Chinatown comes from Christ Aivaliotis and Matthew Reagan. Aivaliotis used to work at Oakland’s Flora and his cocktail developing skills have taken him to San Francisco’s Hawker Fare and Holy Mountain.

At The Kon-Tiki (347 14th St.), Aivaliotis has developed a familiar tiki menu — Singapore Slings, Navy Grogs, and, oh yes, Volcano Bowls — made with premium ingredients and prices to match. Most drinks go for $13.

Atmosphere-wise, Aivaliotis and Reagan had a solid base to work with as the space was most recently home to the tiki bar Longitude. Much of the decor looks the same, but now there’s even more of it — more fake ferns, more colorful lights, more vaguely Polynesian aesthetics.

The Kon-Tiki also has a full kitchen, and Manuel Bonilla, formerly of Oakland’s Hawker Fare, is on board. His menu includes the expected tiki bar small plates and components but in more intriguing preparations. Crab rangoon is now a dip with fried wonton skins as chips, for example. Grilled short ribs flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil come with macaroni salad and Hawaiian sweet rolls. But there are also more ambitious surprises, such as roasted octopus with fermented chili mayo, lemongrass, and breadcrumbs. Keeping with tiki tradition, there’s a pupu platter with a rotating sample of dishes for $35. Otherwise, plates range from $5 to $17.

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Former Chez Panisse Chef David Tanis Releases Cookbook Inspired by the Farmers' Market

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 12:16 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Alice Gao of Kinfolk Magazine
  • David Tanis in his New York home.
It may feel a little counterintuitive to buy a book that’s all about cooking from whatever looks good at the farmers’ market — a style that doesn’t exactly lend itself to recipes. To go to the market with an exact list of ingredients in mind is exactly what David Tanis argues against in his new book, David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations Ingredient by Ingredient (Artisan, $40). Yet with a little time, home cooks can reach that level of confidence, he says, and we all have to start somewhere.

Tanis was the head chef at Chez Panisse for 25 years, so he knows a thing or two about coaxing tremendous flavor out of the humblest of vegetables, such as the dirt-stained beet that graces the cover. He ultimately left the Berkeley restaurant to shift into a food writing career in New York, penning cookbooks as well as the popular “City Kitchen” column for The New York Times. In David Tanis Market
, his largest and most comprehensive cookbook to date, his words read as patient, funny, and understanding — the ideal companion on your seasonally focused culinary journey.


The book is divided by ingredient, devoting pages just to garlic, onions, and salad greens. At a time when famous chef-driven cookbooks are becoming more and more like aspirational coffee table books — beautiful but full of eight-hour, six-component recipes you’ll probably never work through — it’s a delight to return to straight-forward simplicity and accessibility. You’d expect that from the former Chez Panisse chef, just as you’d expect the welcomed emphasis on vegetables. But given Chez Panisse’s French and Mediterranean leanings, you might not expect such an international palette of flavors from Tanis. He surprises with the likes of Moroccan-spiced carrot salad, Japanese eggplant with miso, and Lebanese caramelized onions. In our restaurant-obsessed era, mixed in with Blue Apron conveniences, David Tanis Market Cooking
makes a compelling case for staying home and cooking from scratch.

Tanis has been in town promoting his book. Tickets are still available for a dinner party at Camino (3917 Grand Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, Nov. 12. They cost $110 include a three-course meal, drinks, and tip, and copies of the cookbook will be available to have Tanis sign. Tanis is actually Camino owner Russ Moore's mentor, as Tanis hired Moore at Chez Panisse 30 years ago. You could also attend special dinner with Tanis at his old stomping grounds, Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The $140 meal includes a signed copy of the book. Call (510) 548-5525 for reservations. 

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Small Wonder's Fate Uncertain As Owner Faces Sexual Abuse Charges

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 5:16 PM

Small Wonder is known for its eclectic decorations. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAYLA B. VIA YELP
  • Photo courtesy of Shayla B. via Yelp
  • Small Wonder is known for its eclectic decorations.

Minneapolis news outlets are reporting that Jason McLean, the owner of Oakland’s Small Wonder, has fled to Mexico amid sexual abuse charges.

According to the Star Tribune, McLean faced five lawsuits alleging sexual abuse filed against him from his time as a children’s theater teacher. McLean failed to appear in court, leading a judge to enter a default judgment of $2.5 million for sexually abusing a 15-year-old student when he was 29 years old back in 1983. The suit alleges “in multiple instances McLean inflicted harmful, offensive and unpermitted sexual contact.”

Molly Burke, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Star Tribune that she believes McLean is on the run in Baja California, Mexico. “He has a sale pending on a $1.5 million house,” she said.

Small Wonder is a bar and cafe known primarily for its eclectic decorations. It opened in Uptown, Oakland last year, though McLean had also opened a restaurant in the same location, Loring Cafe, in 2013. The Express stopped by today and spoke with a man who identified himself as a manager but would not state his name. He said the fate of Small Wonder “remains uncertain.” He declined to comment on the last time McLean has actually been at the bar or in contact with the bar staff.

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Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 4505 Burgers & BBQ Hold Delivery Pop-ups in East Bay

Caviar is picking up the pace on its delivery-only food pop-ups.

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 9:37 AM

No need to go to Chicago. Honey Butter Fried Chicken is popping up in Oakland. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAVIAR
  • Photo courtesy of Caviar
  • No need to go to Chicago. Honey Butter Fried Chicken is popping up in Oakland.

Caviar is picking up the pace on its delivery-only food pop-ups.

You might remember the company partnered with San Francisco’s Souvla to hold its first pop-up for East Bay residents. Now, Caviar has lured 4505 Burgers & BBQ to participate in a long-term delivery pop-up as well as Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the popular Chicago restaurant, on a one-off in the East Bay.

First, the 4505 details: you can now order meals from the San Francisco favorite from 5-9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until 4505 eventually launches its first East Bay brick-and-mortar. That location, at 3506 MacArthur Blvd. in the Laurel district, is expected to open in spring 2018.

Delivery options include 4505’s famous “Best Damn Cheeseburger” — at a time when $15 burgers are gracing far too many restaurant menus, it’s a steal at $9.95. There are also smoked meat plates, other sandwiches, and the “Frankaroni,” a deep-fried block of mac ‘n’ cheese with a hot dog tucked inside.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken, meanwhile, is a chef-driven fast-casual restaurant known for its Midwestern spins on Southern fare and cult-like following. Executive chefs and owners Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski will both be at Oakland’s Forage Kitchen (478 25th Street) frying up birds for their delivery pop-up Thursday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 12. Choose between a basket of fried chicken strips with whipped honey butter or a fried chicken sandwich. Either way, you’ll probably want to add a side of pimento mac ‘n’ cheese. See the menu and order here. You can also pick up at Forage if you are skeptical about how well a fried chicken sandwich travels.

This is Caviar’s first time bringing a restaurant pop-up to the East Bay from another state, and it’s definitely not going to be the last.

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People's Kitchen Collective is Taking It to the Streets

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 8:12 AM

Clockwise, starting from the left: Saqib Keval, Jocelyn Jackson, and Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANA JAVERI KADRI
  • Photo courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri
  • Clockwise, starting from the left: Saqib Keval, Jocelyn Jackson, and Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik.
The People’s Kitchen Collective wants to feed 500 people on the streets of West Oakland. It’s the culmination of a year-long project uniting food, activism, and art in the name of healing. Like the group’s past events, this one will also center on the experiences of people of color.

Members Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Jocelyn Jackson, and Saqib Keval have been organizing community dinners in Oakland for years, but they recently shifted gears in their thought process. Instead of viewing their meals merely as dinners — granted, always with a social justice and historical storytelling bent — they began to see them as social art projects. With this in mind, they applied for a grant through the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Open Spaces Program to put on four in-theme events over the course of 12 months. They got it, and the first event was held earlier this year.

The grand finale will be “To the Streets” in May of 2018: a free, sit-down dinner for 500 people on a long table spanning three blocks in West Oakland. With it, they want to amplify the presence of Black and brown folks in the community and provide a healing space “in these times of gentrification and white supremacy,” said Jackson. These aren’t necessarily new ideas for the People’s Kitchen, but this is easily the most ambitious format.

They chose West Oakland because it’s the collective’s home base — it started operating out of Alena Museum on Magnolia Street two years ago.

“We’ve taken ownership of the area that has welcomed us,” Jackson said. “It’s also the perfect place to speak to gentrification. On the blocks we’re setting tables, people are being displaced. Even if transition is happening, it’s important to claim the space as home, otherwise the history is lost.”

Despite its size, the dinner is intended to feel intimate and foster discussion about self-determination and building social movements. Or, in Jackson’s words: “What does it mean to be made invisible-ized? What does it mean to have one’s home taken and still maintain a connection to the place?”

The People’s Kitchen is reaching out to about 20 local organizations — urban farms, youth centers, and immigrant support agencies, among them — to create a specific audience for the event. Some spaces, however, will be accessible and free for the wider public.

Jackson said the menu will be the last detail figured out. It will be inspired by stories and discussions leading up to the May event as well as collaborations with local farmers. She expects that she and her collective mates will spend at least three days prepping — by now, they’re used to feeding hundreds of folks at a time.

“That’s our joy, knowing our hands and hearts are in the pots,” Jackson said.

Despite the grant from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, they still need about $30,000 to make the event possible; permits, food, and all sorts of rentals add up fast. Find the crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo or

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Monday, November 6, 2017

New Report Seeks to Improve Racial Equity in Restaurants

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Nov 6, 2017 at 11:43 AM

Erin Wade, owner of Homeroom, found success with the toolkit's recommendations. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RESTAURANTS OPPORTUNITIES CENTERS UNITED
  • Photo courtesy of Restaurants Opportunities Centers United
  • Erin Wade, owner of Homeroom, found success with the toolkit's recommendations.

Racial disparities have long plagued the restaurant industry. White men tend to own the restaurants and hold the highest-level positions, while people of color often occupy low-paying dishwashing and line cook positions.

With this landscape in mind, Restaurants Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), Race Forward, and the Center for Social Inclusion teamed up on a report released today, "Adding Racial Equity to the Menu: An Equity Toolkit for Restaurant Employers." It provides case studies, strategies, and guides to help restaurant owners and human resources managers identify implicit racial biases in their operations and create plans to eliminate barriers for people of color.

The three organizations recruited two Bay Area restaurants to test-run their methodology: Oakland’s Homeroom, the bustling mac ‘n’ cheese haven in Temescal, and San Francisco’s Alta, Daniel Patterson’s upscale restaurant that he’s also bringing to Jack London Square in the coming months.

For six months in 2016, the organizations worked with Alta to decrease its racial segregation between the higher-paying front-of-house and lower-paying back-of-house. Changes included actively pursuing people of color instead of relying on word-of-mouth to fill vacancies; prioritizing internal promotions for management positions; and subsidizing a new bilingual training program for both English- and Spanish-speaking staff in an effort to remove language as a barrier to promotions. By the end of the pilot period, Alta’s front-of-house saw an uptick of people of color from 29 to 57 percent.

“The energy in the restaurants has been really incredible and positive since we made the changes,” Patterson said in the report. “I think this is a powerful paradigm that can change our industry. And since so many people work in restaurants, that means it can change the country.”

Since then, Patterson has expanded these racial equity efforts to Plum Bar in Oakland.

Homeroom, meanwhile, already demonstrated a commitment to hiring people of color, but owner Erin Wade sought to increase the number of Black staff to better reflect the restaurant’s neighborhood. Now, Homeroom actively works with nonprofits that support marginalized communities when hiring. The restaurant also created a multi-racial group of non-management staff to be present — and paid — during the hiring process to increase transparency and accountability. Over the course of eight months, people of color on staff increased from 75 to 82 percent and Black front-of-house staff increased from 11 to 25 percent.

According to an ROC national study, workers of color are only 73 percent as likely as equally qualified white applicants to be offered a job. Workers of color also earn 56 percent less income on average than equally qualified white workers. ROC also conducted an observational study of 133 fine-dining restaurants nationwide and found that 81 percent of the management positions and 78 percent of higher-level positions were held by white employees.

For the full report, including step-by-step ways for restaurant owners to incorporate racial equity into their policies, click here.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Coracao Chocolate Seeks to Expand as Demand Soars for Health-Conscious Sweets

by Nichole Bloom
Fri, Nov 3, 2017 at 1:53 PM

Coracao's confections are sweetened with coconut sugar. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JACK MARTIN
  • Photo courtesy of Jack Martin
  • Coracao's confections are sweetened with coconut sugar.

Chocolate is one of our favorite
guilty pleasures. Oakland’s Sean Jewell wondered if he could take the guilt out of chocolate, moving the food’s connotation from a dessert to a neutral pleasure. With that in mind, he launched Coracao Chocolate, an Oakland-based chocolate company that crafts fair-trade and more healthful chocolates for the East Bay.

Jewell said dark chocolate shares similar health benefits to red wine. “Cacao, in its pure form, is great for vascular health, particularly improving heart health and function,” he said.

The primary reason chocolate is often coined as a junk food is due to the addition of artificial ingredients; in mainstream chocolate bars, corn starch and cane sugar often make up a large percentage of the candy’s formula. Coracao diverges from this by using 81 percent cacao in its classic chocolate recipe, “putting as much of the good stuff in as possible,” Jewell said.

Additionally, the chocolates are sweetened with coconut sugar — a natural sweetener that's 50 percent lower on the glycemic index than cane sugar.

The East Bay is quite literally eating up these health-focused chocolates, with Berkeley grocers confirming that the confections are flying off the shelves. The shift toward healthier and organic ingredients is nothing new in the Bay Area, but the trend is more recent for the chocolate industry. Even though Coracao has been around since 2008, Jewell is seeing an explosion in demand as consumers increasingly prioritize nutritional value and sustainability.

 “People want to eat the foods they love while still making health a priority,” Jewell said, adding that “obesity and diabetes are on Americans’ radar now more than ever before.”

In effort to chase this demand for “purer” chocolate, Coracao launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for new production machinery. Jewell’s goal is to increase production efficiency so products can drop in price, as the company’s products are currently made by hand and sit on the higher-end of the chocolate scale.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on Nov. 9 at 9 a.m.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lucia's Adds Cicchetti Menu with Italian-Style Tapas

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 11:42 AM

A few cicchetti. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LUCIA'S
  • Photo courtesy of Lucia's
  • A few cicchetti.

Already one of the best Neapolitan pizza hubs in the East Bay, Lucia’s (2016 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) is now introducing the region to cicchetti.

Cicchetti are small bites traditional in Venice, Italy, designed to pair with ombra, usually a small glass of local white wine. Similar to Spanish tapas, cicchetti make for a nice snack or, if you order a few,  a full meal.

While the East Bay is home to Italian restaurants serving similar small plates, Lucia’s purports to be the first to package them as cicchetti with a focus on Venetian dishes. Menu items include bruschetta, frito misto, meatballs with ragu, chicken liver on bread, and salted cod. If you go for happy hour, you can partake in ombra for $6 — it will always be a Venetian or other Italian wine.

Lucia’s has also been slowly, methodically adding larger plates and hand-made pastas to its arsenal, such as Roman-style porchetta and lasagna. These will eventually be added to the permanent menu, but for now, they function as rotating daily specials. The keenly observant might notice that Lucia's also dropped the "Pizzeria" from its name in recent months. In other words, the Berkeley restaurant is growing more and more ambitious.

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