Monday, October 16, 2017

Copper Spoon and Paulista Brazilian Kitchen Now Open in Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 11:51 AM

Crowds flooded into Copper Spoon as soon as it opened Sunday night. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Crowds flooded into Copper Spoon as soon as it opened Sunday night.

After months of buzzing and waiting, two high-profile restaurants finally opened in Oakland this weekend.

The owners of Copper Spoon (4031 Broadway) spent two and a half years renovating the former Art’s Crab Shak location in North Oakland, and it’s paid off. The space is barely recognizable, with tall ceilings, lots of natural light, an enormous wood bar, and all the hip accents you might expect. Owners Vita Simone Strauss and Carmen Anderson previously ran the quirky Sassafras Seagrass food truck, and truck favorites stud Copper Spoon’s menu, including the lamb merguez burger and salmon hand rolls.

Their eclectic approach to locally sourced California cuisine is taken a step further with executive chef Andre Hall, who has held positions at big-name spots in San Francisco such as Bar Tartine, Alexander’s Steakhouse, and Fifth Floor, and has a thing for Japanese cuisine.

You can that fondness for Japan in dishes like the soba noodles with miso dashi, wasabi, avocado, and a 62 degree egg. You can also see Hall's time at Eastern European-centric Bar Tartine in the country bread served with eggplant harissa, tomato-bacon jam, and a sweet potato-maple spread.

With its late-night hours — 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily — Copper Spoon is fittingly bar-focused. Strauss is a well-known fixture in the bar scene, having developed cocktails for Bar Dogwood, Prizefighter, and Kingston 11. Unsurprisingly, Copper Spoon’s cocktail menu looks bold and exciting, with mezcal heavily featured on opening night.

Meanwhile, Paulista Brazilian Kitchen & Taproom (4239 Park Blvd.) owners Jesse Madway and Alex Yamamoto have been teasing followers on social media all year with its progress in the Glenview neighborhood. Paulista is the first Brazilian restaurant of its kind in Oakland: an all-day destination focused on everyday Brazilian dishes and street food. In other words, it’s not an all-you-can-eat steakhouse.

It's still in soft opening mode, but today Paulista opened its cafe at 7 a.m., serving acai bowls, smoothies, and pastries. The taproom portion, focused on local beers, wines, and ciders, opens at noon. Dinner service starts at 5 p.m.

The opening weekend menu featured coxinhas, fried croquettes filled with cheese and chicken; pastel, a thin-crust pie filled with savory beef; and, of course, Brazil's national dish, feijoada, a black bean stew punched up with sausages, beef, and pork.

Copper Spoon, 4031 Broadway, Oakland,

Paulista Brazilian Kitchen & Taproom, 4239 Park Blvd., Oakland,

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Absinthia Brings Organic Absinthe to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 9:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Absinthia's Bottled Spirits
  • A new look for absinthe.

J. Absinthia Vermut first tasted neon green absinthe in 1996. A year later, she was already making her own.

“It fascinated me. I wanted to know why it was illegal for so many decades, why it was so loved and then so hated,” the Oakland resident said.

For years, Vermut worked on her absinthe and became known for serving the anise-steeped spirit at Burning Man parties. Someone gave her the nickname "Absinthia," and she identified with it so much, she made it her legal name. In 2007, the absinthe ban was finally lifted, and Vermut set her sights on launching her own small-batch absinthe brand using organic, West Coast ingredients. Now, it’s ready: Absinthia’s Bottled Spirits.

Absinthia is currently just selling blanche (white in French) absinthe, although a verte (green) version is in the works. Vermut recommends mixing roughly two-and-a-half parts water into one part absinthe, until the color turns milky. Compared to other absinthes I’ve tried, Absinthia’s Absinthe Superieure Blanche is lighter, cleaner, and exceedingly smooth. The other artisanal absinthe player in the region is Alameda's St. George Spirits, which makes an also delicious but very different version that’s more floral and intense. Absinthia’s recipe follows a traditional Swiss style, and it's even made in copper pot stills.

Given the spirit’s relatively recent legalization, plenty of people have still never tasted absinthe. Vermut, who is also behind the popular Caged Heat cocktail syrup, is ready to educate. She hopes people won’t cling to their initial reaction, which is often that absinthe’s anise makes it taste like black liquorice.

“Of course, everyone hates those cheap, nasty candies,” she said. “That’s the first association people have but it’s not correct.”

Certainly, it's an herbaceous drink, full of fennel, coriander, lemon balm, and, yes, wormwood.

Absinthia's Blanche is available in 375ml bottles for $35 — Vermut decided to go for smaller bottles and a lower price point than the norm in an effort to convert new drinkers. Similarly, she moved away from absinthe’s more typical imagery of evil, death, and darkness. Instead, her bottles sport a minimalist look.

“I really wanted to make it alive and approachable. People have been scared off for a long time,” she said. “It’s such a misunderstood, demonized product. … I want to see it as popular as it was at the end of the 1800s.”

In the East Bay, find Absinthia at Alchemy Bottle Shop (3256 Grand Ave., Oakland), Crown Liquors (6125 Medau Pl., Oakland), Eddie’s Drive In Liquors (5491 College Ave., Oakland), Ledger’s Liquors (1399 University Ave., Berkeley), Savemore Market (4219 Park Blvd., Oakland), and Sidebar (542 Grand Ave., Oakland).

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chilli Padi, the East Bay's Only Malaysian Restaurant, Closes

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 9:46 AM

Chilli Padi served dishes popular in Malaysia, such as Hainanese chicken. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Chilli Padi served dishes popular in Malaysia, such as Hainanese chicken.

Depressing news out of Oakland Chinatown: Chilli Padi has closed.

Chilli Padi was the only Malaysian restaurant in the East Bay, and it was a good one. Anyone who is from Malaysia or has visited Malaysia knows the country’s cuisine is among the best in the world, with its exhilarating blend of Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Thai flavors. It’s deep and varied, full of wonderful noodle soups, curries, flatbreads, and stir-fries.

It takes time for a cuisine unfamiliar to most of the population to gain traction in the United States. Burmese food has recently taken off, but not too long ago, few had experienced a tea leaf salad before.

According to Hoodline, Chilli Padi’s Malaysian owners blamed the realities of the changing restaurant industry on why they decided to rebrand their restaurant. Now, as Hotpot Factory (366 8th St.), it specializes in individual-sized hot pot, similar to Tasty Pot or Boiling Point. It’s an already popular concept, and Hotpot Factory serves versions loaded with clams, corn, fish cakes, beef, mushrooms, and so forth. Most lean Chinese, but one is flavored with kimchi and processed cheese. In other words, there are no more Malay flavors in sight.

Hotpot Factory, 366 8th St., Oakland, (510) 891-8862.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wooden Table Cafe to be Oakland's Home for Argentine Treats

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 8:35 AM

Andreas (left) and Citabria Ozzuna at Wooden Table’s commercial bakery. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS COSTADONE
  • Photo courtesy of Luis Costadone
  • Andreas (left) and Citabria Ozzuna at Wooden Table’s commercial bakery.
After six years of distributing her alfajores to wholesale clients such as  Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods, Andreas Ozzuna of Wooden Table Baking Co. is finally opening her own space.

“I’ve always wanted to have direct contact with people and hear their feedback,” Ozzuna said.

She and her wife, Citabria Ozzuna, will debut Wooden Table Cafe (2300 Broadway) on Sunday, Oct. 22, in Uptown Oakland. The grand-opening party from 1-5 p.m. will include live music, tango performances, prizes, and lots of free samples.

Wooden Table’s signature is alfajores, the traditional treats from Andreas’s native Argentina. They consist of thick dulce de leche sandwiched between two light, crumbly shortbread cookies. At the cafe, she’ll experiment with new flavors every month in addition to her core fleet of about a dozen alfajores, which includes non-traditional flavors such as lemon ginger, snickerdoodle, and chipotle chocolate. After living in the United States for 20 years, Andreas calls her style “Argentinian-American fusion.”

Also on tap: chocolate bon bons filled with dulce de leche; little cone shaped Argentine confections called conitos, chocolate cookies topped with a mound of dulce de leche and covered in dark chocolate; small cookies in flavors such as chai tea, lavender, and rose water; and empanadas.

On the drinks side, Wooden Table will have an espresso bar in addition to some beverages traditional to Argentina. That includes submarino, a hot chocolate style in which a whole bar of chocolate lands in your cup of warm milk, and yerba mate service with bombilla, the traditional straw-like filter.

“In Argentina, mate drinking is a community thing — you have a minute to sit and you share it with family and friends,” Andreas said.

Wooden Table will be small at 500 square feet, but there is indoor and outdoor seating — enough, Andreas hopes, to cultivate a similar feeling of community.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Donato & Co. Opens with Rotisserie Meats and Stuffed Pasta in Berkeley's Elmwood

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 10:06 AM

Donato Scotti serves up a whole lot of pork. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NADIA ANDREINI
  • Photo courtesy of Nadia Andreini
  • Donato Scotti serves up a whole lot of pork.

Chef Donato Scotti has a little empire on his hands.

The owner of Old Oakland’s Desco is ready to launch Donato & Co. (2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley) alongside chef-owner Gianluca Guglielmi on Wednesday, Oct. 11. With Desco and two spots in Redwood City, this will be Scotti’s fourth restaurant in the Bay Area.

While Desco leans simple and casual, Donato & Co. will act as a slightly more upscale, detail-oriented counterpart with a more contemporary vision.

Scotti and Guglielmi both hail from Italy  Guglielmi much more recently. Scotti actually recruited his longtime friend to the Bay Area specifically to work on this project.

“We’ve been wanting to do something together the past 20 years and we finally made it happen,” Scott said. “We’re pretty much in sync with everything so far.”

Guglielmi brings to the team experience at multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy. He was also the executive chef and vice president of the Bay Area’s A.G. Ferrari Foods.

Donato & Co. sits in the spacious Elmwood location formerly occupied by The Advocate, the high-profile restaurant owned by the Comal team that closed after just one year. It’ll feature an open kitchen and open-fire cooking with a Tuscan rotisserie as its centerpiece. The walls have been painted burnt orange and slate gray, and copper pots and pans double as decorations. Otherwise, the space looks about the same.

On Friday, folks poured in for the grand opening party and feasted on a whole roasted pig, housemade charcuterie, and filled pastas.

“We want to create a concept that’s a little bit unusual with respect to other Italian restaurants around here,” Scotti said. “Really Italian but unusual in certain ways.”

How, exactly? Scotti was a little skimp on the details, but he pointed to the menu’s structure as one example. Rather than the usual appetizers, pastas, pizzas, and so on, Donato & Co. will have sections such as “Farm & Field” to dictate vegetable-based dishes or “Iron & Fire” for those rotisserie meats. There will be four sections and five to eight dishes within each one, all ranging in size and price. Scotti hopes to keep everything less than $30.

Otherwise, the key “unusual” aspect seems to be the kitchen’s focus on ingredients rather than traditional Italian dishes. For that reason, there won’t be any regional focus.

Now that Guglielmi is in the area, Scotti said they hope to continue to collaborate on future projects and build the empire.

Donato & Co., 2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley,

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Brown Sugar Kitchen Earns Michelin Nod

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 11:55 AM

Brown Sugar Kitchen's fried oyster po'boy. - CHRIS DUFFEY
  • Chris Duffey
  • Brown Sugar Kitchen's fried oyster po'boy.

The Michelin Guide unveiled its latest Bib Gourmand list for the Bay Area today. These restaurants don’t get the distinction of Michelin stars, but they are being recognized for offering excellent value. That means $40 or less for two courses and wine or dessert.

The 2018 edition features just one new East Bay name, though it’s very familiar to us: Brown Sugar Kitchen (2534 Mandela Parkway), Tanya Holland’s soul food spot in West Oakland. Why did the Michelin critics suddenly decide Brown Sugar Kitchen, which has been open since 2008, is worth the praise? Who knows. It does mark the latest in a particularly exciting year for Holland, though, as she embarks on expansion into Uptown, Oakland and The Ferry Building in San Francisco.

FIVE, the American restaurant inside the Hotel Shattuck in Berkeley, didn’t make the cut this time. Otherwise, the 2017 cast remains: China Village, Comal, Corso, Great China, Ippuku, Michel Bistro, Millennium, Tacos Sinaloa, and Wood Tavern.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

C CASA Joins Lineup at Public Market Emeryville

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 3:40 PM

  • Courtesy of Public Market Emeryville
  • Tacos are loaded at C CASA.

Public Market Emeryville just nabbed its latest tenant: C CASA, which you might recognize from Oxbow Public Market in Napa.

This will be C CASA’s second location. The spot is known for its contemporary spins on taqueria classics featuring grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and local produce.

“We were really drawn to the vision for this new destination,” said C CASA’s chef-owner Catherine Bergen in a statement. “It reminded us a lot of Oxbow — a central gathering place that is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.”

The Emeryville stall will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with wine, beer, and cocktails once it opens, which is expected to be in January 2018. It’ll be the only Public Market venue offering Mexican food and one of a few serving booze. Public Bar, a new concept from San Jose’s Blush, is slated to open later this fall with cocktails, wine, and beer as well.

In Napa, C CASA serves rotisserie meats, produce-focused small plates, and big breakfast plates. Tacos are filled with unusual combinations such as spiced lamb with goat cheese and mint; ground buffalo with black beans and chipotle aioli; and white beans with spinach, avocado, and cotija. The prices are definitely high: One taco costs between $4.75 and $9.

C CASA will be located at 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville,

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Alameda's Boichik Bagels is a Game-Changer

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 9:03 AM

Smaller, tighter, better. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY WINSTON
  • Photo courtesy of Emily Winston
  • Smaller, tighter, better.

Boichik Bagels makes the best bagel in the East Bay, and I don’t say this lightly.

Granted, there isn’t a ton of competition. At this point, most folks point to Baron Baking, Beauty’s Bagels, or Authentic Bagel Company as their choice for morning carby goodness. For years, I didn’t hesitate in naming Baron as my go-to in all of California. Boichik is a game-changer.

Boichik officially debuted at September’s Eat Real Festival. Alameda’s Emily Winston had been working on her bagel recipe for seven years in the hopes of recreating New York’s most famous bagel.

Winston grew up in New Jersey surrounded by good bagels, but every so often, her father would make a pilgrimage to New York City and return with something from H&H Bagels. When Winston moved out to California for grad school at UC Davis, she stopped eating bagels and instead looked forward to H&H-filled visits back home.

“It just had the most delicious flavor to me,” she said. “It was perfectly chewy … and particularly sweet.”

But in 2011, H&H closed. Where was Winston going to get that perfect bagel?

With zero experience cooking or baking, Winston decided to bring her favorite bagel back to life. Many failed experiments later, Winston landed on a process that includes a pre-fermentation period and slow retard in the fridge for up to 24 hours. And then she boils and bakes them, unlike commercial brands out here such as Noah’s Bagels.

For now, this is all done out of her home kitchen via a cottage food license. She is only just getting Boichik off the ground after trying to determine whether there is even demand for a super-premium bagel in the Bay Area.

If Eat Real was any indication, the answer is yes.

“People were crazy about them,” she said. “Even picky New Yorkers didn’t have anything bad to say.”

I’ve never tasted the original H&H bagel, so I can’t say whether Winston has achieved a true replica. But compared to other East Bay bagels, Boichik bagels taste significantly sweeter and more malty. With a smaller frame and tighter texture, it also boasts a great chew and blistered crust — untoasted, of course. There is no need to toast a bagel this good.

The only wrinkle is that Boichik doesn’t have a shop yet, nor any wholesale clients, nor a real bakery where Winston could produce some real volume. For now, interested parties should sign up for Boichik’s mailing list at to receive information on future pop-ups and delivery opportunities. Fair warning: At $3 a pop, these are pricier than other bagels in the region.

Winston’s big vision, though, would bring something very new to the local bagel scene. She wants to open a brick-and-mortar, but it would only be secondary to a large-scale delivery service similar to a CSA — only this
would be CSB, as in “community-supported bagels.” Folks would create an account online and set up a recurring order, such as a dozen bagels with cream cheese every other Sunday.

“New York brunch in a box, delivered to your doorstep,” Winston said.

Ideally, she’d cover the entire Bay Area out of one central facility — because San Francisco doesn’t have a bagel this good, either.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Local Baker Says Walmart Stole Her Work

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 10:14 AM

The original photo in question. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGELICA RUBALCABA
  • Photo courtesy of Angelica Rubalcaba
  • The original photo in question.

A local baker says Walmart used her work without permission.

Angelica Rubalcaba runs AngelicaMadeMe, a blog and custom-decorated cookie business in Oakland. A few days ago, a photo of a pair of leggings from Walmart’s No Boundaries brand started circulating on social media. The leggings are printed with Halloween-themed cookies, most of which other bakers across the country say have been used without their permission.

The baker behind LilaLoa is the first who found her cookie on a pair of Walmart leggings. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGANNE BELL
  • Photo courtesy of Georganne Bell
  • The baker behind LilaLoa is the first who found her cookie on a pair of Walmart leggings.

If the leggings merely portrayed identical cookie designs to the ones on the various baking blogs, copyright infringement would be difficult to prove. However, Rubalcaba said she believes that Walmart took the bakers’ actual photos, which would be protected under copyright law.

“They should have systems and teams in place to address copyright before it gets to this point,” Rubalcaba said. “Maybe because we’re not a big band or company, they thought no one would notice.”

Rubalcaba contacted Walmart, which has since told Rubalcaba that an internal investigation is taking place. Walmart sent a brief statement to the Express: “We take claims like this seriously and appreciate it being brought to our attention. We’ve reached out to the supplier and they are looking into it.”

What now? Probably nothing, Rubalcaba admitted.

“I talked to the other bakers, and we all agree this sucks but we also can’t afford a lawyer,” she said. “I hope they’ll find some way to make it right.”

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Clove & Hoof to Expand with Old-School Soda Fountain

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 8:28 AM

John Blevins and Ana Gosnell at Clove & Hoof. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRENCE MCCARTHY
  • Photo courtesy of Terrence McCarthy
  • John Blevins and Ana Gosnell at Clove & Hoof.

The team behind Clove & Hoof is working on an old-fashioned soda fountain set to open in December.

Co-owners John Blevins and Ana Gosnell will launch The Fountain (4001 Broadway) right next to their popular butcher shop in North Oakland. They plan to deck it out in retro nostalgia, from the design to the menu. Details are a little vague right now but expect milkshakes, sundaes, malts, egg creams, and sodas, with an interesting lean toward savory flavors.

Sodas are currently the main focus for Blevins, who will make all the tinctures and bitters. He’s collaborating with Oakland's Five Flavors Herbs in the hopes of unveiling some hand-foraged root beer, for example. Other flavors he’s contemplating: lavender honey cream, Douglas Fir maple, and celery.

The Fountain might make its own ice cream down the line, but for now, it’ll scoop Strauss. The fixins are likely where Blevins will get creative. “I like spins on classics, but you’re not gonna see a banana split,” he said.

It’s a small, 700-square-foot space, which means there won’t be any seating. Instead, Blevins will perform his “alchemy” from behind a big, wraparound bar, where customers are meant to stand. The idea is that it’s relaxed and social — you can chat with Blevins like you would with a bartender mixing your craft cocktails.

“It’s gonna be a super fun space — more of the same that we do at Clove & Hoof but applied to liquids,” he said.

The Fountain at Clove & Hoof will be open Wed.-Mon. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Tue. 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 4001 Broadway,

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