Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pho King to Set Up Shop in Merritt Bakery’s Former Digs

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Coming very soon. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Coming very soon.

One of Eastlake’s most popular pho spots is moving into the Lucky Supermarket’s plaza by Lake Merritt, in part of the original Merritt Bakery space. The latter has been an Oakland institution, creating hamburger-shaped birthday cakes and serving fried chicken, spaghetti, and more for decades. (Merritt Bakery is now located on Lake Park Avenue.)

The former Merritt Bakery location has been empty after being severely damaged in a fire just over five years ago. Now, Pho King will be the first tenant to move into part of the space, in a unit closest to the Lucky side. There are two other empty units.
The new location (207 E. 18th St., Oakland) is scheduled to open in August. The Eastlake location will remain open until the new Pho King opens.

There is typically a line out the door at Pho King (638 International Blvd., Oakland), but the homey, hole-in-the-wall spot always serves its dishes fast. After many years in the same location and with a lease coming to an end, the restaurant’s owners decided to move.
“We were looking for spaces to rent and stumbled upon Merritt Bakery, which is a good location,” said Mark Nguyen, a Pho King employee. The restaurant is owned by Lieu Nguyen and Phuoc Ta.
The International Boulevard location is a bit cramped with limited parking options. “We wanted to expand out business a bit,” Nguyen said.

The new digs will have double the seating space, holding 90 guests, and a large parking lot. “People will have more time to sit down and enjoy their food. We serve our food very fast. It’s going to be the same over there. It will be a much nicer experience overall,” Nguyen said.

They plan to keep their menu the same, with new menu additions down the line. Some of those additions are expected to be vegetarian dishes, such as their vegetarian spring rolls, which is available at the International Boulevard location but as an off-menu item.

The restaurant is known to be vegetarian-friendly, with a standout vegetarian mi quang, a bowl of noodle soup typically made from thick rice noodles, pork, and shrimp. Their veggie version is fairly unique and not commonly found in other restaurants in the East Bay. Other standout dishes are bun bo hue, a spicy beef and pork noodle soup with vermicelli noodles, that is a lighter take than versions found at other restaurants. Or the classic, kid-friendly pho ga (chicken pho).

Pho King’s clientele is mostly families and older folks, and primarily Chinese and Vietnamese American. With the new location, Nguyen said they expect their customers to be more mixed.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Free Range Flower Winery Brings Lavender Wine to Oakland

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 12:20 PM

It looks like sparkling rosé, but this flower wine is something else entirely. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FREE RANGE FLOWER WINERY
  • Photo courtesy of Free Range Flower Winery
  • It looks like sparkling rosé, but this flower wine is something else entirely.

A new Oakland-based winery is set to debut this week with
a one-of-a-kind concept: small-batch wine made from flowers. Free Range Flower Winery’s founders are Aaliyah Nitoto and Sam Prestianni, who folks might recognize from the local music scene. The couple had been toying with the idea of turning Nitoto’s passion for making flower wines into a bona fide business for several years, and now it’s happening.

The winery is starting with a lavender wine, made with locally and organically grown lavender and lemons. It’s best compared to a sparkling rosé, with complex flavors and a subtle sweetness. But it’s unlike anything most folks have tasted before.

There’s a history of these so-called “garden wines.” Osmanthus and chrysanthemum wines are made in China and Korea, and dandelion wine is referenced in literature. It’s an old tradition that hasn’t taken hold at all in the contemporary United States. If all goes well, Free Range Flower Winery hopes to change that. “Our goal is to change the conversation around wine,” Nitoto said. Since they don’t have a tasting room, they will be partnering with local creatives, artists, and other makers on events to get their beverages out there. They also will be providing their wines to two local restaurants and bottle shops. The effervescent wine pairs well with brunch foods and savory dishes (though not acidic foods like tomato sauces) when served chilled.

The winemaker is Nitoto, who is an herbalist and biologist. Nitoto started making her own flower wines and sharing them with the couple’s friends several years ago. “Making wine from flowers is something that I really enjoy,” she said. With Prestianni’s support and encouragement, they decided to turn it into a winery.

Nitoto and Prestianni also realized it was something missing from the Bay Area food and drink scene — not a flower-infused drink, but wine actually made by fermenting flowers and other minimal ingredients in pressurized tanks. The alcohol level is 13.5 percent, which is about average for domestic wines. 

In the future, they plan to make wine from other flowers like rose, hibiscus, lilacs, and elderflowers. “Lavender is one of my favorite herbs,” Nitoto noted, adding that it’s a familiar food flavor nowadays with lavender cupcakes, lavender kombuchas, and lavender lemonade all commonly available.

Nitoto and Prestianni will launch the new business on Friday, July 13, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Crooked City Cider/Two Mile Wines (477 25th St., Oakland). Customers can taste the wine and purchase bottles from their first 25-gallon batch — and the $30 bottles are discounted if you pre-order by July 12. Pre-orders can be picked up at the launch party or be home-delivered for free in Oakland and Berkeley with the purchase of three or more bottles through July 15. To keep track of upcoming events and tastings, sign up for their newsletter at FreeRangeFlowerWinery.com.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated pre-orders would be accepted through July 15. The correct date is July 12. The Express also removed the founders' band names due to privacy concerns.

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With Its Relocation, Vegan Eatery The Butcher's Son Expands Its Scope

The new space comes with a market area stocked with takeout food.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 9:11 AM

The new menu includes vegan catfish. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BUTCHER'S SON
  • Photo courtesy of the Butcher's Son
  • The new menu includes vegan catfish.

Your favorite vegan deli just got an upgrade.
The Butcher’s Son, the Berkeley restaurant and takeout spot, re-opened last Thursday at 1954 University Ave., right across the street from the former location.

The new space, which is 1,300 square feet bigger, comes with a market area stocked with takeout food, more vegan meats and cheeses, and take-and-bake items like faux-chicken pot pies and lasagnas. They’ve also partnered with Curbside Creamery for custom ice cream flavors, debuting last week with an espresso brownie made with the Butcher’s Son’s brownies and Timeless coffee, and a chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream made with Butcher’s Son cookie dough.

Started by brother-and-sister duo Christina Stobing and Peter Fikaris about two-and-a-half years ago, the Butcher’s Son has been extremely popular ever since. They had been thinking about a second location when Maker’s Common closed across the street in March. Instead of opening a second location, they decided to expand on what they already have going on and make it even better.

The Butcher’s Son makes almost all of its vegan meats and cheeses in-house, and offers an extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, and other offerings. Between the pulled pork sandwich, chicken parmesan in a garlic bread roll, and tuna melt, the Butcher’s Son ensures that vegans do not miss real meat. Everything on the menu is free of animal products — the house-made cheeses are cashew-based and other common ingredients are almonds, gluten, coconut, and soy (their menu comes with a large warning sign for allergies).

The shop’s cheeses are one of the standouts. The cheeses they make, from buffalo mozzarella to pepper jack, have an incredible texture that even melts like dairy cheese — a far cry from most grocery store-bought vegan cheeses. They also carry Violife’s cheddar cheese, which is free of common allergens like gluten, soy, and nuts.

The updated menu includes vegan fish, which wasn’t previously offered — smoked whitefish and catfish, to be exact, which both come in sandwich form like their blackened Cajun catfish. Fish can be added to salads, too. Brunch is still happening, including the whimsical house-made vegan doughnuts served inside a waffle. In addition, an omelet bar will be added in the upcoming weeks.

The space is now split in half, with the restaurant on the right and the market on the left. There’s also more outdoor seating, with a parklet space in the front and a few dedicated picnic tables in the back. The backyard garden space, shared with other local businesses, is a great place to enjoy a little tranquility during a lunch break or brunch. (The shared courtyard is dubbed the “rose garden,” not to be confused with the actual Berkeley Rose Garden.)

On opening day of the Butcher’s Son 2.0, the takeout area offered all sorts of goodies, including cheesecake, Timeless Coffee beans, and “Twix” bars. In the upcoming weeks, they’ll also expand their grab-and-go section.

Meanwhile, the marketplace sells ingredients for those who want to replicate some of Butcher’s Son dishes and use products from local businesses. Bagels come from gluten-free Odd Bagels; breads from Mariposa Bakery and Young Kobras; locally made tempeh from Rhizocali; the Butcher’s Son’s salad dressings; the house-made meat substitutes and cheeses; and jars of spices from Oaktown Spice Shop. “We want people to be able to make their own [dishes] at home using the same ingredients we use on our menu,” Stobing said.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

East Bay food truck Nissa Espresso & Gelato Bar Set to Debut

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Alex Nerguizian comes to the food business from a financial background. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NISSA ESPRESSO & GELATO BAR
  • Photo courtesy of Nissa Espresso & Gelato bar
  • Alex Nerguizian comes to the food business from a financial background.
What’s not to love about a gelato and espresso truck in one? For one, if it’s hot, you can have a cold treat. If it’s cold, you can get a piping-hot espresso drink. If you’re undecided, you can get the best of both worlds with an affogato.

That’s the idea from Alex Nerguizian, who dreamed up the idea of Nissa Espresso & Gelato Bar (@nissatruck on social media). The new food truck debuts July 4 at the Berkeley Marina fireworks celebration and will serve affogatos, alfajores, espresso drinks, and plenty of gelato.

The Berkeley resident is a financial consultant, and he also teaches entrepreneurs and nonprofits about financial education and asset-building. “Little by little, I started getting this itch of starting a retail business,” Nerguizian said. “Even though I’m self-employed, it’s different being a consultant than to have an actual retail business.”

His truck will serve locally made gelato and feature coffee made from San Leandro’s Proyecto Diaz Coffee Roasters. Alfajores, the dulce de leche sandwich cookies, and other baked goods will come from Oakland’s Wooden Table Baking Company. All are locally owned, small businesses, and the gelato maker and bakery are run by Argentinian Americans.

“I’m from there, so I wanted to incorporate the country in some way, without really flashing the flag,” Nerguizian said.

While the truck will initially feature gelato made by another local company, the goal is for Nerguizian to make his own gelato. The name Nissa comes from a combination of his two daughters’ names.

This is his first food business, and Nerguizian believes that by doing and learning, he can teach and help others down the line.

“I’m a true believer in action,” he said. “I feel like we all talk about things we want to do in life. I asked myself, ‘What’s the boldest move I could take today?’ And I said, ‘Alright, I gotta buy a truck. Then I have to build it.’ I bought a delivery truck and it got built out. I didn’t buy an old food truck. I got a shell, and we built it from square one.”

Nerguizian also believes more entrepreneurs will use mobile spaces like a food truck because of the high cost of real estate in the Bay Area — from food vendors to tattoo artists to clothing retailers.

The financial consultant and entrepreneur said he has already started developing a workshop on how to start a food truck business based on his experience so far. “I’m showing my students that in the end, you gotta try and you gotta do,” he said. “As much as you think you can study every angle and be super prepared, you have to take action.”

In addition to the Fourth of July event, Nissa plans to cater private events and be at other public events where food trucks are featured.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misstated that Proyecto Diaz Coffee Roasters was also owned by an Argentinian American.

Ambitious Project 7th West to Bring Jeepney Guy's Filipino Eats, Beer Garden, and Dog Park to West Oakland

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 12:44 PM

Murals wrap around the building, including this piece by brothers Jared and Ian Jethmal. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 7TH WEST
  • Photo courtesy of 7th West
  • Murals wrap around the building, including this piece by brothers Jared and Ian Jethmal.

A brand-new restaurant, bar, and community event and art space is coming to West Oakland. Called 7th West, the space will include a permanent kitchen for Filipino food purveyor Jeepney Guy, an outdoor beer garden, a small dog park, and Filipino-inspired cocktails.

Located across from the Crucible, the POC-owned 7th West (1255 7th St.) is a whopping 8,500 square feet, with about half of it being an indoor warehouse space that’s part art gallery, bar, restaurant, and arcade. The space will open later this summer.

The founders are all Oakland business owners: Pancho Kachingwe is a cofounder of The Hatch, Assan Jethmal is the founder of Good Mother Gallery, and Kevin Pelgone and Donna Brinkman are both from the Overlook Lounge.

Together, they came up with the idea of having open, outdoor space that can host community events as opposed to a typical bar. “More of a social hub, and we want it to be accessible,” Kachingwe said. “A lot of spaces charge a lot of money to have events. That’s not what we’re going for.”

In addition, there will be a dog run outside. “We want to be so inclusive that even your pets will want to come and hang out,” Pelgone said.

Filipino food lovers will rejoice in the fact that longtime Bay Area food truck Jeepney Guy, run by Dennis Villafranca, will serve
mouth-watering crispy lechon (pork belly), rice, lumpia, and kale salad, plus French fries, chicken wings, and some vegan options at 7th West.

The bar will include some Filipino-inspired drinks on the menu. (Jethmal, Pelgone, and Brinkman are all of Filipino descent; Kachingwe is from Zimbabwe.) Down the line, they hope to also serve halo-halo, the Filipino shaved ice dessert made with ube ice cream, coconut, sweet beans, and more.

The original, commissioned artwork that abounds inside the building and outside is colorful and represents the diversity of the artists and their styles. All of the current murals are by local Oakland artists, including Timothy B of the Lower Bottoms Crew, and the artwork is curated by Good Mother Gallery. There’s a particularly striking indoor painting of Bruce Lee. The plan is to rotate the art every several months or so.

West Oakland was once a thriving arts district flush with African American blues and jazz venues, but many local Black-owned businesses were pushed out with the creation of the BART station, the post office, and the elevated freeway, as well as more recent redevelopment. The founders of 7th West say they hope to beautify the neighborhood and pay homage to the history of 7th Street.

“We really wanted to do something that revitalized the area, but we’re also cautious of what the area used to be, and not create a space that gentrifies the area, but supports the area,” Kachingwe said.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Belcampo Debuts Giant Flagship Restaurant in Jack London Square

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 12:01 PM

The grilled skewers appetizer includes beef heart and raw egg yolk for dipping. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The grilled skewers appetizer includes beef heart and raw egg yolk for dipping.

At first glance, Belcampo Restaurant and Butcher Shop (55 Webster St.) might look like a shiny new outsider capitalizing on the “new Oakland,” but the company’s local roots run deep. Co-founder Anya Fernald has lived in the East Bay for a dozen years, creating the much-beloved Eat Real Festival in 2009 and Belcampo Meat Co. in 2012. Fernald went on to launch seven Belcampo storefronts up and down California, along with its farm in Shasta County that sources all of the restaurants with organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised meat. Yesterday, it finally opened its flagship restaurant in Jack London Square, right next to its business headquarters, in what Fernald called “a magical marriage.”

The new restaurant, a 7,000-square-foot spot with a 12-foot butcher counter, “inspired a real, next-level growth,” Fernald said. “The product is ready for Oakland.”

It’s been a long time coming. While Belcampo ultimately signed the lease on the former Bocanova space last year, the company had announced it would open in the Jack London area in 2016 at a building that’s still being developed. The new location sports waterfront views, plush seating, a marble topped bar, and a modern farmhouse aesthetic.

The dry aged chicken comes with cabbage slaw, salsa verde, and a cup of vinegar. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The dry aged chicken comes with cabbage slaw, salsa verde, and a cup of vinegar.

Leading the kitchen is chef Brett Halfpap from Belcampo Santa Monica. While the menu features some staples like Belcampo’s 100-day dry aged burger, about 80 percent of it is unique to Oakland and showcases global inspirations. That element stemmed from Fernald wanting to expose her kids to more international flavors. “That was my idea: Here are some of the world’s best meat dishes made with what I humbly think is the world’s best meat,” she said.

At Belcampo, the Thai larb comes with minced lamb shoulder, the shawarma with lamb tongue, and the Korean barbecue with a whole beef rib. Thanks to the company's business model, the meat-centric menu — even the salads promise eight ounces of meat — offers plenty of unusual cuts and preparations, such as beef heart yakitori dipped in raw egg yolk, seared lamb heart tartare with fermented harissa, steak aged in a block of tallow, and chicken dry aged for seven days, a process that enrichens the flavor and gives it a crispier texture. It's a surprising dish you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In Richmond, Nobilis Restaurant Aims to Offer Approachable Waterfront Dining

Lunch options will include fried oysters and a fried chicken sandwich.

by Janis Hashe
Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 8:03 AM

The updated diner used to be the historic Galley Cafe. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NOBILIS RESTAURANT
  • Photo courtesy of Nobilis Restaurant
  • The updated diner used to be the historic Galley Cafe.

One evening, chef Todd Corboy and co-owner Yaella Frankel
were brainstorming what to call their restaurant when a sign appeared — specifically, the signage of an old fishing vessel called Nobilis that had ended up inside the derelict diner, nearly obscured by ham radio equipment. “It means ‘rising to nobility in your lifetime,’” revealed Frankel. “Perfect.” Nobilis Restaurant, the newly revamped, renewed, re-everything eatery, will open July 7 at San Pablo Bay Harbor in Richmond’s Point Molate, in what used to be the historic Galley Cafe.

Its tagline, “Finer Diner,” is Corboy’s inspiration. Formerly of San Francisco’s Delfina Restaurant Group as well as 20 Spot, Corboy is young, well traveled, and dedicated to creating a restaurant with a casual, convivial vibe, which at the same time features “the best, most flavorful, healthiest ingredients that I can get,” he said. These will be locally sourced as much as possible. Meats are coming from Richmond’s Golden Gate Meats, seafood from San Francisco’s Water2Table Fish Co., produce from nearby farmers’ markets, and coffee from Richmond’s Catahoula Coffee Company. When Nobilis gets its beer and wine license, likely by opening, beer choices will come from top Richmond brewers Benoit Casper and East Brother.

At first, Nobilis (1900 Stenmark Dr.) will be open only daylight hours: lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. This is probably an excellent decision for first-time travelers on the narrow, windy road that leads to the harbor off the 580 Freeway. Both lunch and brunch will riff on “diner concept” menus, said Corboy, but this is far from the fisherman’s greasy spoon given Corboy’s fine dining background.

The clam chowder is enlivened with parsley oil. - PHOTO BY JANIS HASHE
  • Photo by Janis Hashe
  • The clam chowder is enlivened with parsley oil.

Lunch options include fried oysters dredged in cornmeal flour, served with charred fennel tartar sauce and sea beans ($9); a fried chicken sandwich with picked red onion and Little Gem lettuce on a house-made spiced potato bun ($12); and the “Har-Burger,” made from meat blended to order for Nobilis by Golden Gate Meats, on a potato bun with caramelized onions, aioli, “pickled things,” and fontina cheese ($12). The cosmic North Coast Clam Chowder ($6), with clams, milk, fennel, potato, and house-made parsley oil, might alone be worth a visit.

Corboy will include seasonal specials, like a stone fruit salad with arugula, shaved cucumber, and za’atar-spiced yogurt, and roasted summer squash with whipped ricotta and pistachios.

Then there’s brunch, featuring biscuits with house-made jam or sausage gravy, a baked egg dish, house-made granola, pancakes and fried chicken (“Our version of chicken-and waffles”), “Breakfast Swine” incarnations of bacon, and, naturally, mimosas.

At opening, Nobilis will seat 50, including the counter’s red vinyl stools, outside tables, and bar with view of the harbor. As Corboy put it, “You eat with all of your senses.”

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Handmade Noodles Star at West Oakland's Soba Ichi

by Cirrus Wood
Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 3:04 PM

Soba Ichi specializes in handmade buckwheat noodles. - CIRRUS WOOD
  • Cirrus Wood
  • Soba Ichi specializes in handmade buckwheat noodles.
With all the attention given to ramen and udon, it might be easy to overlook soba, the thin, spaghetti-like Japanese buckwheat noodles that can be served both hot or cold. West Oakland’s new restaurant Soba Ichi (2311 Magnolia St.) aims to give soba a boost to diners unfamiliar with the dish.

The restaurant had its grand opening last week, and occupies the space formerly held by Korean-fusion restaurant FuseBox. But aside from geography, Soba Ichi shares little with its predecessor.

“Soba” is Japanese for buckwheat, and the restaurant prepares its soba noodles by mixing a ratio of about 80 percent buckwheat flour to 20 percent wheat. (Soba Ichi also makes some gluten-free, 100-percent buckwheat noodles.) Water is then added and the mix is kneaded, pressed flat, sliced thinly, and boiled for only a few moments before it is either set aside to cool and serve with a side of dipping sauce, or else mixed with a splash of broth for those who like it hot. Dishes range in price from $14 seiro, a standard 150-gram serving of soba with broth or sauce, to $22 tenseiro, a regular-size portion of seiro served with assorted tempura.

Diners can also order small plates such as nukazuke (seasonal pickled vegetables), vegetable kakiage (mixed vegetable tempura), and nishin misoni (miso-simmered herring), all in the range of $5 to $12. Though the street-facing terrace, with its shaded patio tables and burbling fish pond, is not branded specifically as a “beer garden,” it might be hard for patrons to resist the allure of a pint. On draft, Soba offers an IPA from Berkeley’s Hoi Polloi, as well as a pilsner from West Oakland newcomer Ghost Town Brewing. There are also sakes and shochus on the menu, the majority of which are imported from Japan.

  • Cirrus Wood

Soba Ichi is a joint venture of owner Shinichi Washino and chef Koichi Ishii, in partnership with Christian Geideman and Paul Discoe, the owners of Berkeley’s much-lauded izakaya, Ippuku. Washino and Ishii had previously worked as cooks at Ippuku, where the quartet first connected. Discoe also designed the minimalist space, which is dominated by pale wood.

The hot and cold menu selection makes Soba Ichi suitable for both balmy Bay Area days and foggy Bay Area nights. But for now, Soba Ichi is only open lunchtime hours, from 11 a.m. until the noodles run out, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We are planning to open dinner time ASAP, but we have only one person who can make soba noodles,” Washino wrote in an email. “He has to come really early morning like 5 o’clock and amount he can make is not that many. If we open dinner time, he will die.”

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why a Cofounder of Homeroom Now Hosts Free Pasta Friday Dinners

The goal is to serve a different pasta dish every week for a year.

by Cirrus Wood
Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 10:44 AM

Pasta makes it easy to feed a crowd. - LANCE YAMAMOTO
  • Lance Yamamoto
  • Pasta makes it easy to feed a crowd.

As a crowd casually socialized around her, Allison Arevalo mixed ingredients on the kitchen island of her Rockridge home. Arcs of olive oil and fat blobs of cheese landed on a casserole dish holding five pounds of cooked pasta. Finished, she climbed a chair and announced the evening’s menu. “Spaghettoni del Leone with Sicilian red pesto, English peas, and burrata,” she said. The audience approved, applauded, and then uttered soft groans of desire at the word “burrata.”

There was also, this evening, a salad of young lettuce, fried lemon, chorizo, and corona beans. And instead of a final topping of croutons or grated parmesan, Arevalo shredded an entire loaf of bread, toasted it, and mixed the crumbs with diced pancetta. There were cheers, and then the mumbled din of 30 adults and 15 children assembling, slurping, and enjoying their meal.

The event was part of Pasta Friday, a near-weekly series of dinners Arevalo began hosting in August of last year. The goal is to serve a different pasta dish every week for a year — 52 dishes in all — culminating in a cookbook of the same name. This evening’s event marked number 30.

Arevalo cofounded Temescal’s popular mac ’n’ cheese restaurant Homeroom in 2011 with Erin Wade. Though rewarding, the experience left her feeling isolated from her community. “After opening a restaurant and having kids, it just became really hard to have a social life,” she said.

She sold her share of Homeroom in the fall of 2017, shortly after she began Pasta Friday, a combination chef’s table, supper club, and salon. “Friends that I used to see every six months I now get to see every week.”

A sponsorship from pasta maker Rustichella d’Abruzzo ensures that not only is Arevalo sure to never repeat a dish, she is likely to never repeat a shape. The company offers more than 120 different varieties. “They really were into the idea of the 52 dinners and their pasta is just amazing,” said Arevalo.

Pasta Friday is a free event. The point for Arevalo isn’t to build up a business, but a community. “Everyone tells me that we should start charging for this,” she said. “But I feel like that’s not really the spirit of what we’re doing right now.”

Space is a limiting factor, though, even if cost isn’t, and attendance is restricted to just how many people the chef can comfortably fit in her house. “More than around 30 and people don’t socialize so much,” she said. But, she adds, the number could go up if she were to prepare a Pasta Friday in a bigger house — in other words, if any East Bay residents were open to handing over their kitchen for an evening.

For those who can’t make it to one of Arevalo’s dinners — or who prefer to play host themselves — the chef makes it easy to throw your own with weekly newsletters. Subscribers get tips, recipes, and notifications of upcoming meals, all of which come free of charge. Money may make the world go round, but pasta can be at least one of the things to hold it together.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Pâtisserie Rotha to Bring Traditional French Sweets to Albany

by Cirrus Wood
Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 11:52 AM

A new bakery promises to be a destination for flaky, buttery croissants. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ROTHA IENG
  • Photo courtesy of Rotha Ieng
  • A new bakery promises to be a destination for flaky, buttery croissants.

The word Proustian may be among the more overused in the food world, but it’s not wrong to think that smells, textures, and flavors can recapture the past and return the eater to a state of nostalgic innocence. Those looking to sample literature’s most famous teacake can find it at Pâtisserie Rotha (1051 San Pablo Ave., Albany), a new traditional French pastry shop scheduled to open June 30.

Pâtisserie Rotha is the venture of pâtissier Rotha Ieng, a relative newcomer to the East Bay food scene and a graduate of the Ecole Ferrandi, a culinary school in Paris. Ieng also trained under Pierre Hermé, a Parisian pastry chef renowned for presenting the season’s sweets with the pluck of haute couture. (The only stateside location for Hermé’s confections is at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The macarons are flown in daily from Paris.)

For those looking for Parisian quality without having to endure frisking from the TSA, Rotha will offer such classically French confections as pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and chausson aux pommes (apple turnovers). The menu also offers a few outliers from well outside the 20em arrondissement, such as pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), canelé (caramelized yet custardy cakes from Bordeaux), and the very much en vogue kouign-amann, a Breton butter pastry, folded into a cup shape and strewn with layers of caramelized sugar. And for those with a yen toward recreating Proust’s epiphany and reclaiming lost time, there will also be madeleines.

This will be Ieng’s first business, and while the chef is still finding his way in the culinary world, he has settled firmly on sweets. “It seems to me that I have the talent with pastry instead of the other stuff,” he said. “Pastry gives me the ability to think about creativity and come up with different things. I have to be alert all the time.”

Ieng previously worked as a data administrator at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, the multilingual (but mainly French) private school in West Berkeley. At the school’s annual market event, Ieng would offer some of his home experiments, which were received with much enthusiasm from the Francophone community, who encouraged him to turn the hobby into a profession. Ieng took the advice to heart and left his position with the school last week to focus on pastries full-time.

Ieng plans to vary the menu throughout the year, keeping pace with the calendar. Patrons can expect bûche de Noël in December and galette des rois in January. After the grand opening on June 30, the patisserie will be open on weekends only from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended weekday hours to come later this summer. Private vendors have already expressed interest in entering contracts with Rotha, but he has yet to accept. At least for now, the only place to get Ieng’s pastries will be at Pâtisserie Rotha itself, which may just make it one of the sweeter excuses for a drive up San Pablo.

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