Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Paradise Park Cafe Brings All-Day Dining to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 3:45 PM

Paradise salad, with grilled asparagus, snap peas, pickled red onion, and chickpea tofu. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Paradise salad, with grilled asparagus, snap peas, pickled red onion, and chickpea tofu.

A new casual, all-day dining spot opens tomorrow in North Oakland.

Paradise Park Cafe (6334 San Pablo Ave.) is the first East Bay restaurant of the Park Cafe Group, which includes San Francisco’s Dolores Park Cafe, Precita Park Cafe, and Duboce Park Cafe. It takes over spaces previously occupied by Actual Cafe and Victory Burger.

San Francisco-based owners Rachel Herbert and Dana Oppenheim kept bits from the previous tenants, including Actual Cafe’s wall of stickers. Otherwise, the place has been spruced up with peacock-blue paint and industrial-chic touches. A cozy lounge sits in one corner beside a small play area for kids, with the surrounding walls home to work by local artists, which will rotate every three months. And the former Victory section will double as an events space for pop-ups.

Actual Cafe's sticker wall is still intact at Paradise Park Cafe. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Actual Cafe's sticker wall is still intact at Paradise Park Cafe.

With counter service and 49 seats, Paradise aims to be a chill gathering place for the neighborhood. The menu is mostly made up of sandwiches, burgers, and salads, along with organic juice blends and smoothies. Most meals cost between $9 and $12.

At a media event on Wednesday, I sampled a few items  all were tasty if unremarkable. What’s most impressive though is Paradise’s commitment to serving vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and generally health-conscious eaters. A few items come with an unusual “chickpea tofu,” a housemade, turmeric-tinged product made from chickpea flour instead of soy. Following national trends, you can order any salad as a “bowl” with quinoa and a poached egg.

Paradise’s signature dish is actually its dessert: an ice cream burrito. The gimmick takes vanilla ice cream, wraps it in a tortilla, and deep-fries the whole thing. The result is mostly just fun for Instagram. The off-menu affogato milkshake, however, is absolutely worth the calories.

Paradise Park Cafe, open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, 6334 San Pablo Ave., Oakland,

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Oakland's Belotti Ristorante Set to Expand

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 10:36 AM

Expertly prepared spaghetti at Belotti Ristorante e Bottega. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Expertly prepared spaghetti at Belotti Ristorante e Bottega.

The owners of Rockridge’s Belotti Ristorante e Bottega are preparing to expand with a new location Piedmont Avenue focused on to-go orders. Given Belotti makes perhaps the best pasta in the entire East Bay, this is a very exciting development.

The new spot will likely be called Belotti Bottega (4001 Piedmont Ave). As first reported by Berkeleyside, it will be located in the former Gregoire space. As opposed to the co-owners Joyce and Michele Belotti's original ristorante, bottega simply means "shop" in Italian.

The couple is shooting for a fall opening, with Belotti Bottega geared around fresh pastas and sauces for folks to assemble at home. Customers will also be able to order food — including regional Italian appetizers and snacks — online with a scheduled pick-up time.

Think of it as a similar arrangement as Homeroom and its neighboring Homeroom To Go. And like Homeroom To Go, Belotti Bottega will also have limited seating for those who want to eat on the spot.

Belotti Bottega, 4001 Piedmont Ave, Oakland,

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Friday, August 11, 2017

What We're Eating at Outside Lands

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Tartine Manufactory's mortadella hoagie. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Tartine Manufactory's mortadella hoagie.

For many festival-goers, Outside Lands is as much about the food as the music. In its 10th year, there is one notable new addition that’s probably already on every culinary-minded attendee’s hit-list: Tartine Manufactory.

Supporting an East Bay eatery here is a great idea, but if you're looking for the absolute most delicious — and new, only-available-at-OSL — meal this weekend, look no further than Tartine Manufactory's hoagie. In my five years of covering Outside Lands, it’s the best thing I’ve tasted.

Like all things Tartine, this sandwich is deceivingly simple — and depends on fantastic bread. It’s stuffed with mortadella, provolone, herbs, mayo, lots of pickled vegetables, and even more olive oil. Take note: Outside Lands signage states Tartine’s amazing morning buns are only available in the VIP section. Thankfully, those signs are lying.

Pro tip: you can order both of Itani Ramen's izakaya items in one dish. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Pro tip: you can order both of Itani Ramen's izakaya items in one dish.

For new-to-the-fest, Oakland-based eats, Itani Ramen debuted a second, izakaya-style stand. There were rumors of the festival adding a Japan Lands section soon, and indeed, Itani is basically a trial run for the concept. There's no sake, but the fried chicken gyoza and, even better, kurobuta sausage with spicy mustard are great snacks to share. You can get three of each for $9.

Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with pizza and burritos for ease of eating on the run. Del Popolo, Mozzeria, Senior Sisig, and Curry Up Now are all good choices — and all have vegetarian options. I can’t vouch for Dabba’s “ethnic confusion burrito.”

Jacobi White finally comes onto the Gastro Magic stage. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Jacobi White finally comes onto the Gastro Magic stage.

Food lovers should also keep the Gastro Magic stage in mind for killing time with irreverence between sets. The stage, which pairs celebrity chefs with live entertainers, got off to a rocky start this year. Chef Chris Cosentino was paired with former A Tribe Called Quest member Jacobi White and San Francisco’s Jazz Mafia band. The hip-hop-inflected jazz band played a rockin’ set before a stalling Cosentino finally admitted White hadn’t arrived yet. His flight was delayed due to “Karl the Fog.” You know, Karl. About an hour after the scheduled start time, Jacobi rushed in, threw on an apron, and chatted about his bacon vinaigrette with frisee — for about five minutes, and then it was time to prep for the next act. Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Tribe Called Quest had to reschedule its set for 7 p.m. tomorrow due to travel issues.

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After 28 Years, Colonial Donuts Faces Closure as Uptown Oakland Rents Continue to Rise

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Andy Ung, as pictured on his doughnut shop's final day in business. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Andy Ung, as pictured on his doughnut shop's final day in business.

On Thursday afternoon, few treats remained at Colonial Donuts: a couple of buttermilk bars, a chocolate twist, a plain old-fashioned. That's because fans of the longstanding Franklin Street shop know time is running out to get their morning doughnut fix.

On the heels of Henry’s Gallery Cafe’s closure, Colonial Donuts, located just across the street at 1636 Franklin Street, will permanently shut its doors on Saturday, August 12.

Colonial Donuts is one of those no-frills, Cambodian-owned doughnut shops that keeps California running. Andy Ung opened the place 28 years ago, long before Uptown became “Uptown.” His sister owns the Colonial Donuts on Lakeshore Avenue, which Ung said isn’t in imminent danger.

For many years, Ung signed five year leases. At a certain point, he opted to go month-to-month since he always had a strong relationship with the landlord. But about a year ago, New York-based, global real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank acquired the building. Ung said the company refused to issue Colonial Donuts a new lease and, last month, gave Ung 30 days to vacate the building. Newmark has yet to comment for this story.

“I don’t want to play with big companies,” he said, shrugging.

Ung looked for another location, but determined starting over would cost too much money. Instead, he’ll take a rare vacation after serving his final doughnuts this weekend.

“I’ve never had a break,” he said. “I’ll wait two weeks, and then see.”

Newmark Knight Frank has plans to remodel the building, but it will continue to have at least one tenant: Barbers Oakland Men’s Fine Grooming, a hip spot that opened two years ago. Owner Osi Umunna said his business was the only one to have an actual lease when Newmark bought the building. Umunna explained he was presented with the option of paying 25 percent more in rent or vacating. He signed on for another three years.

“I don’t really have a choice,” Umunna said. “We invested almost $50,000 into the shop, and we gotta get our return.”

He’s worried about business dropping once the building empties out and the renovations begin.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole block. It’s gonna be dead,” he said. “It helps to have foot traffic. The construction doesn’t help, either.”

For other mom-and-pops in the neighborhood, the rapid gentrification is worrying.

Happy Burrito, which sits just a block from Colonial Donuts, has been a local standby for affordable lunches since 1981. Two years ago, Happy Burrito’s landlord doubled the rent from $3,500 to $7,000 per month, according to co-owner Julia Contreras.

“We just barely make it,” she said.

Lately, Contreras said the landlord has been sending complaints about the noise emanating from the kitchen, but she can’t afford to make any upgrades. Like Colonial Donuts, Happy Burrito is clinging on month-to-month without any security. Every month, Contreras hopes she can stay in business.

“They’re just kicking out all these people who were here with their businesses when the city was down,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Monday, August 7, 2017

Diamond Dogs Brings Affordable Dining to Oakland's Jack London Square

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 8:11 AM

  • Courtesy of Lea Bruno Photography
  • Hot.

Jack London Square is a flurry of activity these days, between Grocery Cafe returning and the farmers market moving and, last month, Diamond Dogs quietly opening.

Diamond Dogs started out as a pop-up by Rob Wertheimer, formerly a bartender with the Double Standard. In July, it opened at 468 Third Street, specializing in gourmet hot dogs.

The menu is cutely divided into two sections: hot dogs and not-hot-dogs. There are five hot dogs with set toppings as well as the option to build your own. The aptly-titled Bourgeois Dog ($9), for example, comes with white cheddar bechamel, garlic confit, fried leeks, and watercress. All dogs can be made with an Evergood Beef Frankfurter or vegan Field Roast Veggie Frankfurter and arrive on a bun via Starter Bakery. Vegan and vegetarian options are clearly labeled.

On the other half of the menu, there’s a hot chicken sandwich ($11), corn dog studded with jalapenos ($6), and churro sundae with dulce de leche ($7). These mostly single-digit prices notably make Diamond Dogs among the more affordable dining options in the Jack London area.

In the kitchen is chef Steve Balzanto, who Wertheimer says has cooked up and down the West Coast for the last decade. He held stints at fancy steakhouses and Cal-French restaurants, but Diamond Dogs is the first spot where he has real creative control. Eventually, Wertheimer plans to put his Double Standard experience to good use and incorporate a full bar. For now, Diamond Dogs just serves beer, wine, and low-octane mixed drinks.

And yes, Wertheimer did name the pub after David Bowie.

Diamond Dogs, 468 Third St, Oakland; open Wed.-Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2-9 p.m.,

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Red Bay Coffee Roastery & Bar Now Open in Oakland's Fruitvale

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 2:06 PM

The entrance to Red Bay Coffee Roastery & Bar, which recently opened to the public. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The entrance to Red Bay Coffee Roastery & Bar, which recently opened to the public.

Red Bay Coffee already made a name for itself with its radical profit-sharing model, and now the primarily wholesale coffee company has a retail location as bold as its ethos.

Roughly three weeks ago, Red Bay Coffee Roastery & Bar softly opened, featuring a new coffee bar inside its production warehouse. The 6,000-square-foot behemoth falls in line with the prevailing industrial-chic trend sweeping cafes and breweries alike across the country, but feels unique for its Fruitvale neighborhood.

“We built out the space to roast coffee and conduct our business,” explained owner Keba Konte. “It’s sort of become a venue for parties, events, lectures, film screenings. … The idea was always to open a coffee shop as part of the experience.”

Inspired by the blend of manufacturing and retail of Mast Brothers, the chocolate company in Brooklyn, New York, Konte wanted a space that promoted transparency in coffee. Now, folks can come in and see the whole production process when they order a latte. And unlike the smaller Uptown location, the Fruitvale warehouse can continue to host lots of events, including educational cuppings and classes.

The spacious warehouse fits lots of seating in addition to Red Bay's production needs. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The spacious warehouse fits lots of seating in addition to Red Bay's production needs.

There’s also a garden area across the street, with tomato plants, lavender, 300 little fishies, and bamboo trees.

“Red Bay started in my garage in my home, surrounded by a lush garden. … We just yearned for some of those original garden vibes,” Konte said.

That portion isn’t ready quite yet, but Konte promised it will be finished by Friday, August 11, Red Bay’s grand opening party. At that point, the cafe should also be stocked with pastries from Firebrand Artisan Breads, Starter Bakery, and Yahshi Bakes. The party, from 4 to 8 p.m., will feature a deejay, beer from Ale Industries, raffles, and plenty of coffee.

In the fall, Konte hopes to launch regular weekend brunch pop-ups from a cast of rotating chefs. He also envisions adding a pour-over bar to the garden area. He has big expansion goals, both in terms of offerings in his current locations and far beyond.

“We have a very ambitious vision that’ll take us international,” he said.

Red Bay Coffee Roastery & Bar, 3098 E 10th St,

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Resurrected Grocery Cafe Finally Opens in Jack London Square

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Nan gyi thoke, as seen at Grocery Cafe's opening night. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Nan gyi thoke, as seen at Grocery Cafe's opening night.

The sign still reads “Hahn’s Hibachi,” but inside the Jack London Square restaurant space, Grocery Cafe is finally open for business.

The Burmese restaurant's former East Oakland location was shut down by the health department last year, and in February, news arrived that Grocery Cafe owner William Lue would resurrect the business in a much more prominent location.

The following months involved a few false starts and opening announcements that never quite materialized, but last night Grocery Cafe served dinner, and it was glorious. Today, it opens for lunch, as well.

Lue kept the look of Hahn’s Hibachi mostly intact, with wood furnishings and colorful light fixtures. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide plenty of natural light.

The menu is roughly the same as Grocery Cafe’s previous iteration, although the prices are generally a couple bucks higher. The famed tea leaf salad went up to $13; the nan gyi thoke (rice noodle salad with chicken) to $14. The most expensive item now is the oxtail stew with squash at $18. Portions remain generous.

At the soft opening, Lue worked the room in high spirits as regulars funneled in, remembering the old fondly but clearly excited about the new.

Grocery Cafe, 90 Franklin St, open Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

CUESA Brings Summer Cocktails Series to Jack London Square

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jul 31, 2017 at 8:05 AM

Fun under the sun, CUESA style. - COURTESY OF VALTER FABIANO
  • Courtesy of Valter Fabiano
  • Fun under the sun, CUESA style.

For nearly a decade, CUESA hosted its Cocktails of the Farmers Market series solely in San Francisco. Now, it’s venturing across the bridge to Jack London Square.

It’s fitting, given that CUESA is the non-profit operator of the Jack London Square farmers’ market. And with the farmers’ market moving to Jack London Square’s Palm Plaza Sunday, August 6, Oakland's first Cocktails of the Farmers Market — taking place Wednesday, August 2 — will double as a housewarming of sorts for the market’s new location.

Dubbed “Party Under the Palms,” the event will see East Bay bartenders working with peak-season peaches, plums, berries, and more from the farmers' market. CUESA would typically host these outdoor happy hour events three times a year in San Francisco, and the goal is to continue them in Oakland based on interest.

Tickets cost $55, with proceeds supporting CUESA’s education initiatives and United States Bartenders Guild’s development programs. Guests will receive three full-size cocktails, unlimited sample-size drinks, and hors d’oeuvres.

The lineup is stacked, with bartenders from the likes of Penrose, Sidebar, and Starline Social Club. Belcampo (which is opening in Jack London Square later this year), Blind Tiger, and Le Cheval are among the restaurants providing grub.

Wednesday, August 2, 5:30 p.m., Jack London Square Palm Plaza, tickets available here.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Prop C Heads to Lakeshore Avenue With All the Fried Chicken

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 8:09 AM

Fried chicken meets kale salad. - COURTESY OF PROPOSITION CHICKEN
  • Courtesy of Proposition Chicken
  • Fried chicken meets kale salad.

San Francisco fast-casual restaurant Proposition Chicken has its sights set on Oakland.

The second Prop C location will open at 3260 Lakeshore Avenue on September 13, offering a mix-and-match menu centered around air-chilled Mary’s free-range chicken. It's also likely to be the first in a series of expansion moves — the owners are looking at Lakeshore to become a model for future locations around the Bay Area.

Prop C comes from Ari Feingold, Elizabeth Wells, and Maxwell Cohen. Feingold and Cohen both own the popular carnival-themed, comfort food hub Straw in Hayes Valley. Wells owns Southpaw BBQ and Brewery in San Francisco’s Mission district.

  • Courtesy of Proposition Chicken
  • Wing me.

The Lakeshore location will operate in the same fashion as the original. Diners will first select fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, or crispy tofu (here known as fake chicken). That protein is then either stuffed into a sandwich with spicy slaw; placed on top of a kale salad; or served alongside a cucumber-tomato salad and buttermilk biscuit. Other options include wings, chicken strips, and matzoh ball soup. Expect to pay $10-$13 for your meal.

The team is also testing out some to-go family meal options (read: a whole chicken), which might be ready when the restaurant opens or be added down the line.

Aesthetically, the Lakeshore restaurant will feel similar to the San Francisco location but feature some unique additions, mostly playing on the chicken theme. For example, there promises to be a giant chicken photograph by artist Ernest Goh and a wall of eggs made of apple crates filled with white egg cups.

You might still be thinking, “What the hell is air-chilled chicken?” Most processed chickens are cooled down a la cold water, which washes away some of the flavor. So, in theory, air-chilled chickens should be tastier.

Proposition Chicken is scheduled to open September 13, 3260 Lakeshore Ave,

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Japanese Ramen Legend Ippudo Opens in Berkeley

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Jul 27, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Karaka Spicy ramen at Ippudo. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Karaka Spicy ramen at Ippudo.

For ramen geeks, Ippudo hardly needs an introduction. The chain first opened in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1985, eventually expanding into 13 countries. The Ippudo in New York City opened in 2008 and remains legendary for its long lines and milky, Hakata tonkotsu ramen.

On Friday, July 28, Ippudo opens for the first time on the West Coast. The Berkeley branch, located at 2015 Shattuck Ave., will be the 17th Ippudo in the world, and likely the first of several in California. Another is already planned for San Francisco. Ippudo regional director Masaki Ogawa said the company’s goal is to open 300 restaurants outside of Japan by 2025, including more in the United States.

The Berkeley restaurant sports a contemporary, industrial look with wood, red, and black accents, and a kitchen strikingly enclosed in glass. Think of the atmosphere this way: The restaurant bills itself as “Japanese ramen noodle brasserie.”

At a media event yesterday, Ogawa emphasized that Ippudo is all about the marriage of ramen and premium sake. Ippudo will offer eight sakes by the glass along with other Japanese beers and beverages.

Ippudo's most popular appetizer, the pork belly buns. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Ippudo's most popular appetizer, the pork belly buns.

Four ramens form the core of Ippudo’s menu: shoyu ($13) and three variations on tonkotsu, the broth of which is made by boiling pork bones for 18 hours. You can go classic ($14), “modern,” topped with an umami-rich miso paste ($15); or spicy ($16). Of course, all bowls come with pork belly, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and scallions, with options to add extras that could easily up the price $20. All versions are served in heavy bowls intended to keep its contents piping hot.

There are also a slew of appetizers, rice bowls, and desserts. The most famous of the non-ramen offerings are the steamed pork belly buns ($9), a lighter take on the Taiwanese classic.

There is nothing on the menu that is unique to the Berkeley location yet, but Ippudo representatives said new items might be added down the line.

While most local ramen houses use the ubiquitous Sun Noodle brand, Ippudo makes its own thin, straight noodles inside the Berkeley restaurant. It’s a complicated process — including intense monitoring of the temperature and humidity — until the noodles are finally cut and rested for two days before landing in a diner’s bowl.

A final note: Ippudo won’t provide to-go containers for leftovers, so if you’re a dainty eater, bring your own tupperware.

Ippudo opens to the public July 28, 2015 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley.

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