Friday, September 8, 2017

Chick’n Rice Brings Americanized Thai Street Food to Downtown Berkeley

by Amyra Soriano
Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 10:02 AM

Khao mun gai tod and khao kha moo. - AMYRA SORIANO
  • Amyra Soriano
  • Khao mun gai tod and khao kha moo.
A new fast-casual restaurant centered around khao mun gai — a Thai street food traditionally consisting of poached chicken, rice, and a fragrant broth flavored with ginger, garlic, chilies, and soy sauce — opens tomorrow in Downtown Berkeley.

Chick’n Rice, located at 2136 Center Street (between Shattuck and Oxford), will offer not just poached chicken but also fried chicken and braised pork — all served with rice, cucumbers, cilantro, sweet-and-sour sauce, and a side of chicken broth. A vegetarian tofu option will also be available.

The restaurant is the vision of John Keh and Chavayos (Bob) Rattakul of Tenyuu Restaurant Group in Thailand, who met while Keh was traveling in Southeast Asia and fell in love with the chicken dish. Keh, along with co-owners Jason Wang, Shawn Tsao, and Vince Cao, are cofounders of Caviar, the food delivery app.

According to Keh, the team traveled around Thailand searching for the perfect flavor combinations.

“Some people might think it’s too spicy or the soybean paste is too strong,” Keh said at a media preview party on Wednesday, Sept. 6. After exploring the country, “Bob” and the team came up with the Chick’n Rice menu. “Our goal was to create something American fitting,” said Keh.
Co-founder John Keh in front of the restaurant. - AMYRA SORIANO
  • Amyra Soriano
  • Co-founder John Keh in front of the restaurant.
Aside from meat, rice, and broth, Chick’n Rice also offers ice cream with sticky mango rice and refreshments like Thai iced tea, lychee juice, and coconut water. Optional add-ons include a soy-marinated egg, greens, and extra of anything.

“We’ve created a menu for all types of taste palettes.” Keh said. “For something saltier, they can try the moo [braised pork] or for something sweeter, the gai tod [fried chicken].”

With its minimalist, farmhouse-chic decor and intimate seating just steps away from the UC Berkeley campus, it’s an ideal place to grab lunch between classes.

Keh says they’re hopeful their new restaurant will take off. “If all goes well with this, we’re hoping to open one up somewhere in the South Bay,” he said.

Chick’n Rice opens to the public today.




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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Savor Oakland Adds Fruitvale Food Tour

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Obelisco serves pozole with all the fixings. - COURTESY OF FERRON SALNIKER
  • Courtesy of Ferron Salniker
  • Obelisco serves pozole with all the fixings.

A few companies offer food-focused walking tours of various neighborhoods in the East Bay, but until now, no one ventured into Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

Thank goodness for Savor Oakland, because if there’s one district that truly deserves a tour, it’s Fruitvale. (Okay, and Chinatown, but it has one already!) Areas like Temescal and the “Gourmet Ghetto” have plenty of delicious eateries, but they also tend to be places widely covered by the media and attract tons of ratings on Yelp. Fruitvale is so dense that it can be tempting to find your taco joint and stick to it for the rest of your life.

As a tour company, Savor Oakland sets itself apart by focusing on the history of its neighborhoods in addition to its delicious eats. The just-launched Fruitvale edition is designed and led by local food writer Ferron Salniker, who shows off a range of neighborhood hubs, including a market, a 19-year-old tamale stand, a Mexican ice cream shop, and new independent businesses such as Reem’s and Red Bay Coffee. At a media preview tour, we sampled torta ahogada (a sandwich drowning in a mild salsa, stuffed with barbacoa) from the tucked away Pipirin Taco Stand and three styles of pozole (hominy soup) with organic tortillas from Obelisco, among other bites.

The most appealing part of the tour, though, was learning tidbits about Fruitvale’s history and culture: the enduring influence of Native Americans, the waves of immigration, and the factors that made it Oakland’s most diverse neighborhood.

Tours last three hours and cost $65 to $75 per person, depending
on the size of the group. Learn more at SavorOakland.com.


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Alice Waters Releases Long-Awaited Memoir

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 8:00 AM

9780307718280.jpeg
Alice Waters changed the way we eat.

In 1971, she opened Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, which became one of the most famous restaurants in the country. At a time when the food world was obsessed with speed and convenience, Waters slowed down in pursuit of perfection. She focused on fresh produce from local, organic farms long before it was trendy or expected.

She was also only 27 at the time. In her highly anticipated memoir, Coming to My Senses, Waters traces the events that led her to Chez Panisse: growing up in suburbia, traveling through France, and, perhaps most importantly, living immersed in the counterculture of 1960s Berkeley. The book comes out today via Penguin Random House.

Unlike other big-name chefs in the Bay Area, Waters never expanded Chez Panisse beyond its single location. Instead, she expanded into food activism, inspiring a flurry of vegetable gardens being planted in schools nationwide. Now, the focus of her Edible Schoolyard Project is school lunch reform. Imagine the possibilities if more chefs followed her lead.


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Friday, September 1, 2017

The Periodic Table and Fish Face Poke Bar Now Open in Public Market Emeryville

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 11:18 AM

The Periodic Table's design features Japanese patterns. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PERIODIC TABLE
  • Photo courtesy of The Periodic Table
  • The Periodic Table's design features Japanese patterns.

The Public Market in Emeryville keeps edging closer to completion.

The road work should be done by the end of October, and Portland-based grocery store New Seasons Market is set for a November opening. And next year will see the completion of the parking garage and retail buildings. That’s all according to Mark Stefan, co-founder and president of City Center Realty Partners, which owns and manages the market.

For now, stalls are still slowly filling up the food hall. The latest additions are the Periodic Table, which softly opened earlier this week, and Fish Face Poke Bar, which just opened today.

The Periodic Table is owned by the same team behind Shiba Ramen, which also maintains a stall in the market, and will be the first bar in the East Bay dedicated to sake. Yes, there are sushi restaurants with bars that carry the Japanese rice wine, but the Periodic Table holds immense promise as a destination for regular exploration of various sake styles. Sake tasting flights are the main draw, though the bar pours beer as well. Plus, unlike the other stalls, the Periodic Table isn’t just a walk-up kiosk; there’s actual seating inside the bar area, so folks can relish in the hip, modern space, which is punctuated by Japanese geometric patterns in laser-cut wood screens.

Meanwhile, Fish Face Poke Bar provides a welcome respite from the proliferation of mediocre poke bowls overloaded with fake crab salad. The mini-chain stems from Sacramento, where owner Bill Ngo also runs one of the city’s most heralded restaurants, Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine.

Expect raw fish that’s a cut above in quality, bathed in onions, sesame seeds, seaweed, and a sauce of your choosing. You have to pay for additional toppings, but that’s actually a good thing; the simplicity results in cleaner flavors, with the ocean really coming through. It steers the bowls closer to — albeit, not exactly like — what you’d find in Hawaii.


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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Humphry Slocombe Brings its Cult-like Following to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 9:19 AM

The new shop sells scoops as well as pints. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The new shop sells scoops as well as pints.

Hundreds braved the heat last Sunday afternoon for free ice cream from Humphry Slocombe, the San Francisco-based creamery known for its rare flavor combinations and silly names. The first East Bay location just opened at The Hive (2335 Broadway), the space in Uptown, Oakland that also hosts Calavera, Drake’s Dealership, and Firebrand Bakery. To celebrate, Humphry handed out free scoops, and the steady line stretched from the center of The Hive out to the street.

Clearly, there’s excitement.

The line didn't let up for hours. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The line didn't let up for hours.

The new Oakland ice cream hub occupies a refurbished, bright-blue shipping container and serves a dozen flavors along with floats, sundaes, and pints. The most famous Humphry Slocombe flavor is probably Secret Breakfast, which pairs bourbon and cornflakes, though the creamery also crafts some more expected flavors — albeit with tongue-in-cheek names — such as Here’s Your Damn Strawberry! You’ll find sophisticated options like Earl Grey tea-plum sorbet and a wide variety of toppings, including hot fudge, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil with sea salt. There’s also an affogato collaboration with Oakland’s Red Bay Coffee, which has a shipping container cafe in the same courtyard.

Humphry Slocombe debuted in the Mission district in 2008, eventually expanding to San Francisco’s Ferry Building and adding a food truck. It’s often referred to as a “cult ice cream-maker” for its consistently long lines, constantly changing portfolio of surprising flavors, and massive Twitter following at 276,000.

In Oakland’s ice cream landscape, it’s definitely one of the pricier scoops at $4.50 for a single. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that another one of the most expensive ice cream shops in Oakland is Rockridge’s Smitten Ice Cream, another San Francisco-based company.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Former AQ Chef Mark Liberman Plans New Oakland Restaurant

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Aug 29, 2017 at 2:09 PM

Mark Liberman at work. - COURTESY OF ERICA GARLIEB
  • Courtesy of Erica Garlieb
  • Mark Liberman at work.

You're probably tired of hearing about San Francisco chefs and businesses pouring into Oakland. This one is a little different, though.


Reason number one: Chef Mark Liberman actually lives in Oakland. He moved here a year and a half ago from the Mission district to raise his daughter and fell in love with the community vibes, which he feels have been missing from San Francisco lately. Liberman was the chef of San Francisco’s AQ, the celebrated fine-dining restaurant that closed earlier this year.


Liberman plans to open his next restaurant here, somewhere. He’s focusing his search on Temescal, Uptown, Downtown, and Old Oakland, and hopes to open in spring 2018 — assuming he can find a venue by the end of the year.


If all goes according to plan, there won’t be a place quite like Liberman’s Mägo Restaurant in the East Bay.


“The premise is that it’s very much a dinner party,” he explained. “The kitchen is the focal point and the seats are around the kitchen.”


Like a dinner party, there will be lots of chatter. The idea is that diners will come in, sit down, and talk directly with the chefs. Cooks will run all the food, and only a couple of traditional servers will be on hand to handle drinks. The atmosphere will revolve around openness and transparency, with the kitchen providing live entertainment.


Unlike other restaurants with a vague dinner party concept — Lazy Bear in San Francisco or The Kitchen in Sacramento, for example — Mägo Restaurant will be far more casual and accessible in price point. The aforementioned restaurants are only prix-fixe affairs that cost hundreds of dollars and require hours of dedication. Liberman wants to ensure folks can stroll into his restaurant for a quick bite. 


The menu won’t have any traditional, entrée-sized plates. Instead, there will be snacks ($5-$9), mid-sized plates ($12-$20), and large entrées meant to feed two to four people — the prices of which will vary widely depending on what Liberman feels like cooking. He plans to change the menu every week with variations on “West Coast cuisine,” which again, basically just means whatever Liberman feels like cooking. He plans to always have pasta and vegetable-focused dishes, but he might throw in his own version of mole for fun.


It’s a big change from his tasting-menu-only restaurant AQ and reflects shifting preferences in the industry for more casual spots serving simpler food. He specifically said he wants to make sure Mägo isn’t “just for foodies.”


“There will be food a foodie can dissect,” he said, but he’s really going for “food that appeals to everybody.”


In the meantime, Liberman will host a series of pop-ups to build buzz for the new project. The first one will take place on Friday, Sept. 8, in Temescal and feature eight courses for $45. The event, "Mélange of tomatoes burst," highlights tomatoes as well as fun ingredients such as smoked beets, wild seaweeds, and preserved roses. Find tickets to this and future pop-ups here.


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Friday, August 25, 2017

In Advance of Neo-Nazi Rallies, Far-Right Supporters Blast Local Baker

Ashley Shotwell’s business page was flooded with false reviews by members of the alt-right.

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 10:11 AM

This cake caused quite the stir. - COURTESY OF ASHLEY SHOTWELL
  • Courtesy of Ashley Shotwell
  • This cake caused quite the stir.

Wednesday started like any other day for Ashley Shotwell. The local baker specializes in elaborately decorated cakes, particularly vegan ones for Hella Vegan Eats, and often posts videos of the decorating process to Instagram. This most recent creation was a black-and-red cake with big, white letters spelling out “Kill Nazis.” A shiny gold bat and chain complete the look.

It was specifically requested by a client, who was inspired by a cake Shotwell made a week earlier: a flashy, purple edition with the words “Resist Fascism.”

“I was like, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t even think twice about it,” Shotwell said.

You can probably guess what happened next.

The video made its way to Facebook and was shared to a bunch of alt-right groups, whose members flooded Shotwell’s business page with falsified negative reviews. Shotwell estimates getting 200 over the course of a few hours on Wednesday night.

“They were saying there were maggots in the cake, it was spoiled, there was a rat in the cake, a bike lock in the cake,” Shotwell said. “They were all fake. Some complained about bad customer service in my bakery but I don’t even have a storefront.”

Most of these falsified reviews have already been removed  although there are still a lot of one-star reviews, blank except for a few photos of the same cake emblazoned with a swastika, which was not actually made by Shotwell. Clicking through to profiles often reveals positive references to Donald Trump or Nazis.

While they delivered personal insults, no one directly threatened Shotwell’s safety. Still, she made sure to scrub her pages clean of addresses and contact information.

In the meantime, hundreds of Shotwell’s friends and supporters raced to counter the negative reviews. The initial outpour of digital hate was overwhelming, but Shotwell isn’t going to shy away from politically charged cakes in the future.

“Personally, I don’t like the word ‘kill,’ so I probably won’t use that again, but I’m down to make more cakes against fascism,” she said.

Her overall takeaway from the experience? Neo-Nazi supporters are highly organized and dangerous.

“I think we live in a bubble in the Bay Area. We know they’re there but we don’t have to interact with them personally… This made them so much more real to me,” she said. “I hadn’t really considered how easy it is to become a target.”


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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Gio's Pizza & Bocce Pays Homage to Berkeley's Giovanni

The restaurant is now open, slinging Sicilian pies, calzones, and lots of vermouth.

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The downtown Berkeley haunt is alive again. - COURTESY OF ADRIAN GREGORUTTI
  • Courtesy of Adrian Gregorutti
  • The downtown Berkeley haunt is alive again.


Until a fire shut down Giovanni two years ago, the family-owned restaurant had been serving Sicilian pizzas, calzones, and other Italian favorites in downtown Berkeley since 1961.

Now, the space is alive again. With tonight’s grand opening, Gio’s Pizza and Bocce (2420 Shattuck Ave.) will show off its fresh approach to Italian food and drinks as well as some throwbacks to the old Giovanni.

Gio’s comes from first-time restaurant owners Xin and Michele Jin and Nathan George, who all went to UC Berkeley and come from real estate backgrounds. The managing partners are Joel DiGiorgio and Adam Stemmler of Farm League Restaurant Group, which also helped launch the East Bay Spice Company, Shinmai, and Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack, among others.

Gio’s is calling itself a new-school Italian joint. It’s serving Italian food, yes, but in a huge, 4,000-square-foot industrial space with a bocce court. It’s boisterous, hip, loud, and purposefully lacking red-and-white tablecloths.

“We’re not Italian,” Stemmler said. “We’re not necessarily trying to create a traditional Italian experience.”

In the kitchen is chef de cuisine Fred Oliveira, formerly of the esteemed Boulevard in San Francisco and now-shuttered Sea Salt of Berkeley, who will oversee a short menu including appetizers, salads, and pastas. The main attraction will be calzones and Sicilian-style pizzas, which are rectangular slabs characterized by their soft, focaccia-like dough.

That’s one ode to the original Giovanni, but there are more homages in the space. Giovanni’s neon signs were salvaged and brought into the dining room, which join Giovanni’s big, red leather booths. The private room known as “the boat room” was also basically untouched by the fire. Gio’s will use it primarily for private parties, special dinners, and amaro tasting events. It’s accessed through a secret door of sorts, constructed from 56 Partana Olive Oil tin cans.

“It’s pretty much a time capsule,” Stemmler said.

The industrial interior still maintains the original restaurant's murals. - COURTESY OF ADRIAN GREGORUTTI
  • Courtesy of Adrian Gregorutti
  • The industrial interior still maintains the original restaurant's murals.

The bar program is where things really get interesting. Gio’s claims to have one of the largest collections of rare and vintage vermouth and amaro in the country. Much of that stems from Stemmler’s own private collection, born out of a love for fernet early in his bartending career. Some bottles go back to the 1950s.

“We thought it’d be fun to drink history as well,” he said.

Stemmler expects those to appear for special dinners and tasting events, though the bar will emphasize vermouth and amaro around the clock. In addition to original cocktails, there’s a series of pre-mixed and kegged spritzes served on tap. Stemmler said many of these are inspired by Italian soda flavors — for example, strawberry-fennel shrub mixed with Cocchi Americano and cognac — and ideal for serving large groups quickly. Note apertivo hour, which takes place from 5 to 6 p.m. daily, offers spritzes for a discounted $6.

For now, the kitchen will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily, with the bar extending to midnight at the earliest or 2 a.m. at the latest, depending on how business goes. In two or three weeks, Gio’s plans to unroll Italian-inspired brunch service, fueled by espresso and prosecco cocktails.


Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, 2420 Shattuck Ave., giosberkeley.com.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

San Francisco's Souvla to Pop Up in the East Bay, Sort of

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The holy trinity of meat, salad, and bread. - COURTESY OF KASSIE BORRESON
  • Courtesy of Kassie Borreson
  • The holy trinity of meat, salad, and bread.

Every single day, Souvla employees field requests from East Bay residents on the phone, by email, or on social media: “Please, open a Souvla in Oakland!” “Bring Souvla to Berkeley!”


That’s according to Charles Bililies, founder and CEO of the popular, fine-casual Greek restaurants in San Francisco. Bililies isn’t working on launching an East Bay branch — sorry, everyone — but Souvla is popping up on our side of the bridge for the first time this week. Unlike the Monday night dive bar pop-ups we’ve grown accustomed to, Souvla’s pop-up will be delivery-only and fueled by tech.


Here’s the deal: From 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, August 24 through Sunday, August 27, you can order Souvla through the delivery app Caviar. Prices will all be the same as in the San Francisco restaurants, plus Caviar’s standard delivery fees. Souvla cooks will operate out of a commercial kitchen near downtown Oakland, which comes equipped to handle all of Souvla’s menu — think meats slowly roasted on a spit, tucked into fluffy pita — except its Greek frozen yogurt. For permitting reasons, Souvla also won’t be able to deliver wine for this pop-up.


Souvla shouldn’t run out of food too fast, unlike some frenzied pop-ups. Bililies is prepping for a standard night of service, meaning up to 150 orders, with an average of three to four items each. The delivery radius encompasses San Leandro to the south and El Cerrito to the north.


Is this the future of pop-ups, ordered through your smartphone and eaten in front of Netflix? Delivery is definitely growing at a rapid rate. Bililies told the San Francisco Chronicle that Souvla didn’t do any delivery in 2014, and now, delivery makes up 24 percent of its business.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for other restaurants to expose their brands to other parts of the Bay Area or other cities in a way that’s fun,” Bililies said.

In other words, yes, expect delivery pop-ups to become a thing.


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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, paradiseparkcafe.com.



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