Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Community Foods Market Targets Mid-May Opening in West Oakland

The market promises affordable fresh food, a community gathering space, health services, and more.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, May 7, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Brahm Ahmadi's quest to bring fresh food to West Oakland started in 2002, when he co-founded a nonprofit called People's Grocery. The nonprofit's truck made scheduled stops around the neighborhood four days a week, making produce and other necessities available to the community.

Still, Ahmadi knew it was a temporary fix for what West Oakland really needed: a full-service grocery store, complete with produce, dairy, and a meat and seafood counter. According to Ahmadi, West Oakland hasn't had a full-service grocery store since the 1970s. That means that, aside from the smaller grocery store Mandela Foods Cooperative, residents would have to either leave the neighborhood to shop, or rely on liquor stores for foods that are typically processed and overpriced. So in 2012, Ahmadi began working toward opening a neighborhood full-service grocery store — now known as Community Foods Market — which he expects will open on or around May 15.

Its aim is to offer affordable fresh food to promote healthier eating. There'll be some higher-priced local and organic foods alongside national brands, as well as some value-priced private label options. There'll also be a "Wall of Value," a warehouse-style area where the store will purchase bulk quantities of products and sell them directly from the pallets.

Ahmadi recognizes that being short on time is one of the biggest barriers to eating healthy and wants to offer solutions. At the meal station area, customers can pick up handouts featuring a recipe of the day, along with nutrition information. The ingredients for preparing the recipe will be at the meal station.

Customers can also dine in or pick up ready-to-eat meals at the Front Porch Cafe. The cafe will serve coffee, smoothies, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a la carte options. The aim is to have affordable options in every section of the menu and to offer a range of selections that reflects the diversity of the neighborhood.

The Front Porch Cafe will also serve as a neighborhood gathering space. The area can be used for live music, art exhibitions, movie screenings, and poetry readings.

"It's something we really heard from the neighborhood — that folks want experiences, and they want to do it in their own neighborhood without having to leave, and they're tired of that," Ahmadi said. "That's just not fair, and it's a loss to the economy of the local community."

In keeping with its mission of promoting neighborhood health, the store will partner with community health services to provide information and services on site. It's planning to host hypertension screenings with LifeLong Medical Care, food education workshops with 18 Reasons, and offer CalFresh outreach through the Alameda County Food Bank.

Traditional investors weren't interested in a store like Community Foods Market. So Ahmadi sold $2 million in shares to community members and California residents. For those investors, it was an opportunity to invest in a local, community-oriented business.

A grand opening block party will take place on June 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with live music, vendors, arts and crafts, and a resource fair.

"There's so many other parts of Oakland that are getting developed and things are happening, but not really here," Ahmadi said. "And this community deserves it just as much as those."

Community Foods Market, 3105 San Pablo Ave., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; cafe hours 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. For more information, visit CommunityFoodsMarket.com.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Top Hatters Kitchen Opens in San Leandro

The restaurant brings its eclectic menu to a former hat shop.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, May 1, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Diners chow down at Top Hatters Kitchen. - PHOTO BY EMILY NATHON
  • Photo by Emily Nathon
  • Diners chow down at Top Hatters Kitchen.

After a few years in the works, plenty of renovations, and a brief soft opening period, Top Hatters Kitchen celebrated its grand opening on April 24.

Chef DanVy Vu, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, Matthew Beavers, has wanted to open her own restaurant for years. But that wasn't always the case. Growing up, Vu's family rarely dined in restaurants; she recalled feeling uneasy and unsure what to do in a restaurant environment. As a college student at UC Berkeley, she went on a date at a fancy restaurant. Vu ordered pasta with toasted pine nuts, and she loved it. Back in her Berkeley student co-op, she recreated the dish for her peers — and received rave reviews.

"I realized, 'Oh, my gosh; this is what cooking's about. It's really about pleasing others,'" Vu said. She started cooking all the time and experimenting with different ingredients from Berkeley Bowl. And from then on, Vu loved everything about restaurants.

"I loved the atmosphere, the experience of a restaurant. This is where love happens. This is where relationships begin."

In 2011, Vu opened a food truck called Go Streatery, which billed its style of cuisine as "peasant food." It's a "way of life," she said, that she learned from her father growing up. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees living in Orange County, Vu said her parents sometimes boarded up to 18 people in their four-bedroom house to make ends meet. Vu's father taught her to cook, and from then on, it was Vu's job to cook for everyone.

"We didn't ever have fancy cuts or anything, but food was just so good, regardless of ingredients," Vu said. "I always refer to my dad as a modern-day peasant; he was able to create really delicious dishes under limitations, and everything was made from scratch."

While Top Hatter's Kitchen doesn't limit itself to a single ethnic cuisine, the concept of peasant food continues to drive the menu. One dish on the menu is Vietnamese-style cabbage rolls, stuffed with pork, wood ear mushrooms, glass noodles, bone broth, and country wild rice. It's a dish Vu's father made for her growing up, though customers of various backgrounds have told Vu that they ate something similar growing up. You'll also find oxtail and grits, a holdover from the Go Streatery days that customers across many cultures might have eaten some variation of as a kid. Even the zeppole, or Italian doughnuts, are essentially fried dough — something a lot of different cultures have in common.

The menu also includes family-style platters for sharing. Plus, Vu uses San Leandro products whenever possible — bread from As Kneaded Bakery, beer from Cleophus Quealy and Drake's Brewing, and many vegetables from her own garden. There's even a list of cocktails named after hats.

Vu hopes that her eclectic menu will appeal to a diverse customer base. After all, Vu said, she's aiming to be a true neighborhood restaurant that reflects not only San Leandro, where she and her husband live, but also neighboring Oakland. "Both of our cities are in the top 10 most diverse cities in America ... so I think the menu has to reflect that," Vu said. Vu also hires staff members from San Leandro and Oakland. Her staff members even include high school students from San Leandro High School, and she plans to hire students from Oakland.

Vu hopes that everyone feels at home at Top Hatters Kitchen — even those who may not be accustomed to upscale dining. "In our cultural training, I tell our staff, 'Listen, just remember young DanVy. .... Our menu may look and sound elevated, but we cannot act like that.' ... I want people to feel comfortable here."

Top Hatters Kitchen is at 855 MacArthur Blvd., San Leandro. Hours are Tue.-Thu. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m., and Sun. 5-10 p.m., with plans to add lunch and brunch service. For more information, visit TopHattersKitchen.com.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mar Z Pan Bakes Up Danish and Filipino Flavors

From Danish lingonberry sandwich cookies to calamansi-glazed sourdough donuts.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Marianna Zapanta of Oakland bakery Mar Z Pan bakes up Danish and Filipino-inspired treats no one else is making.

Her vegan sourdough donuts come in flavors ranging from Filipino buko pandan to Scandinavian lingonberry. She also makes pandesal, a Filipino roll typically eaten for breakfast or snack, in its traditional plain form, as well as stuffed with Nutella or marzipan.

The marzipan pandesal, in many ways, is Zapanta's signature product. Zapanta's mother is Danish, and her father is Filipino. As she was formulating the name and concept for her bakery, friends and family suggested using a name with the word "marzipan" in it, since it sounded like a play on her name. So Zapanta decided to stuff pandesal with marzipan. The name and the concept fit, and Mar Z Pan was born. The bakery, a cottage food business, opened in October 2018.

But Zapanta said she didn't intentionally set out to create one of the few, if not the only Filipino-Danish bakery in existence. Instead, she was driven by her tastes in desserts. "Selfishly, what I wanted to do was put out things I would want to eat myself," she said. "A lot of the flavors I gravitate towards are flavors of stuff I grew up with." Many of her recipes are based on ones she got from her paternal Filipino grandmother and her maternal Danish grandfather (or Morfar as she calls him in Danish).

Take, for example, her pandesal. Zapanta based this off her grandma's "recipe" that she found in a recipe box one Christmas. Zapanta also offers a Nutella version, which has become one of her most popular products. "I feel like it's something that a lot of Filipino kids, if they had access to, would just want to have all the time," Zapanta said.

Most of her doughnut flavors lean Filipino, too. Zapanta uses a vegan sourdough base, which she said is easier to digest and compliments the flavor of the sweet glazes. All glazes are made in-house, with flavors like calamansi (Filipino citrus), ube (purple yam), buko pandan (coconut pandan), and — on the more Danish side — lingonberry. Non-vegan ube doughnuts are also available.

Zapanta also offers Danish sandwich cookies. The outsides are classic Danish butter cookies made using her morfar's recipe. Zapanta stuffs these with tart lingonberry jam, putting her own Danish twist on a traditional Danish dessert.

Macarons might be French in origin, but Zapanta puts her twist on those, too. Filipino-inspired flavors include ube, calamansi, buko pandan, and coconut. There's also lingonberry.

Additional products include sourdough bread, available in plain and rosemary-garlic varieties, flourless mini chocolate cakes, and custom cakes available in chocolate, vanilla, or Filipino flavors. There's even a bread club, where customers can sign up for weekly, biweekly, or monthly deliveries of sourdough bread or pandesal.

At first, business spread mostly by word-of-mouth, but now Zapanta said she's getting lots of business through Yelp. As word about Mar Z Pan has spread, there's been one unexpected result: Zapanta has had other Filipino-Danish people reach out to her. "Growing up, I didn't know any Filipino-Danish people other than myself and my sister," Zapanta said. "It's such a sort of unique thing ... someone you can talk about both of those things with."

Eventually, Zapanta's goal is to open a brick-and-mortar bakery, where customers could walk in and buy a single Nutella pandesal on a whim. But for now, customers can order her bread and pastries online at MarZPan.com.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Eat and Drink Your Cannabis the East Bay Way

These edibles (and drinkables) are all made in the East Bay.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Apr 17, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Nowadays, there are seemingly endless ways to consume marijuana — vaping, dabbing, topicals, tinctures, even Epsom salts for a relaxing THC-infused bath.

But let's not overlook the growing number of ways to eat and drink cannabis. Looking to keep it local next time you consume cannabis? Here's a guide to just a few of the commercially produced edibles made in the East Bay. To find retailers that carry these products, visit the manufacturers' websites.

Chocolate from Défoncé

Oakland's Défoncé Chocolatier takes both chocolate and cannabis very seriously. Défoncé, which means "stoned" in French, sources its chocolate from Belgium and its sun-grown cannabis from California farms that don't use chemical pesticides. Its chocolatiers, who have years of experience, produce the cannabis chocolate in a 40,000-square-foot facility in Oakland — the largest cannabis confectionery facility in the world. The chocolatier has become known for its full-size chocolate bars, which contain 18 servings of 5 milligrams of THC each for a total of 90 milligrams of THC per bar. There are nine flavors, ranging from straightforward dark, milk, and white chocolate to more unusual options like matcha tea white chocolate and hazelnut dark chocolate.

This month, the chocolatier also announced new additions to its lineup. The company now offers single-serving squares containing 5 milligrams of THC each, as well as a new line of "bites" containing just 1 milligram of THC. Varieties of bites include dark chocolate blueberries, milk chocolate almonds, milk chocolate hazelnuts, and milk chocolate espresso beans. Defonce.com.

Kikoko Tea Sampler

Emeryville's Kikoko was founded by two middle-aged women, Amanda Jones and Jennifer Chapin. The women were inspired when one of their friends, who was battling cancer, turned to cannabis for relief, but didn't like smoking and found that edibles got her too high. Meanwhile, some of their other friends relied on pharmaceuticals for sleep, anxiety, pain, and mood issues, and found that cannabis was a healthier alternative. Jones and Chapin chose tea as a vehicle for cannabis, thanks to its history in the women's suffrage movement.

Kikoko's Taste of Tea box contains samples of four of cannabis teas. Tranquili-Tea is supposed to help with insomnia; Positivi-Tea with boosting mood; Sympa-Tea with pain relief; and Sensuali-Tea with sex. Each blend contains varying amounts of CBD and THC. Teas are organically grown, and all cannabis is sun-grown and sourced from Mendocino County. Kikoko.com.

New From Om Edibles

Om Edibles, a woman-run Berkeley company, is releasing a special pack of gummis just in time for 4/20. The special edition tropical fruit mélange pack includes strawberry hibiscus, key lime, mango, and guava. The pack contains 12 gummies, each containing 5 milligrams of THC and less than 2 milligrams of CBD.

Om Edibles' raw CBD cacao, which is sweetened with raw agave, has won plenty of best edible awards. Blend it with water or a milk of your choice for a CBD-infused hot chocolate, or try it with strawberries.

For those who prefer their cannabis on the savory side, there's even extra virgin olive oil infused with 200 milligrams of THC and 25 milligrams of CBD per bottle. Drizzle it on salad or use it to make elevated garlic bread. OmEdibles.com.

Dosies Miracle Mints

In creating Dosies, the first edible product from Oakland's Sublime Canna, the company brought on board experienced candymakers, including an executive from Ferrara Candy Company, which makes Lemonheads and Laffy Taffy. The orange-flavored candy coated mints, which come in a portable package, contain 2 milligrams of THC each, are ideal for microdosing on the go. SublimeCanna.com.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Going Local at Salt Point Seaweed

Most seaweed consumed here is imported from farms in Asia. Salt Point Seaweed aims to change that.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Salt Point Seaweed’s three women founders. - PHOTO BY SHAUN WOLFE
  • Photo by Shaun Wolfe
  • Salt Point Seaweed’s three women founders.

It's easy to find fresh, local produce in the Bay Area. But seaweed? That was largely a different story, up until Salt Point Seaweed came along in June 2017.

The Oakland company was founded by three Bay Area women: Tessa Emmer, Catherine O'Hare, and Avery Resor. According to Salt Point Seaweed, over 90 percent of seaweed eaten in the United States is imported from Asia — often from commercial seaweed farms. But importing seaweed across the ocean produces a big carbon footprint, so the women of Salt Point Seaweed decided to harvest and sell local seaweed to help offset that.

The three founders of Salt Point Seaweed currently harvest all their seaweed themselves from Mendocino County. The company offers three varieties: California kombu and California wakame (both of which are kelps, or brown seaweed) and nori. The seaweed is similar, but not quite identical, to the varieties that are imported from China, Korea, or Japan. "They're technically different species, but because they're both Pacific Ocean algaes, they're very similar in taste and use," O'Hare said.

The company is sustainability-minded, so the women are also careful about the way they harvest their seaweed. They prune the seaweed, allowing it to regrow and regenerate instead of harvesting the whole thing. They also won't touch species like giant kelp, which are in decline. "We're always adapting our harvesting techniques and monitoring how we're harvesting," O'Hare said. "Because of how fast growing seaweed is, it can be harvested — if it's done right — in a really sustainable way."

Eventually, Salt Point Seaweed also hopes to sell locally farmed seaweed, which would make it one of the first places in the country to do so. The company is currently wrapping up a pilot project with Hog Island Oyster Company, where it grew its own seaweed and monitored the resulting carbon and nitrogen levels in the water. "We're hoping to show those numbers to regulatory agencies like Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Commision to help make the case that seaweed farming can be done with a really low impact and actually help improve the ecosystem," O'Hare said.

But O'Hare said the road to starting a seaweed farm is long and arduous, thanks to the regulatory processes required to get an aquaculture license. In the meantime, Salt Point Seaweed is focusing on expanding its line of seaweed products. The current lineup includes dried kombu and dried wakame for cooking, as well as toasted and ground seaweed flakes for garnishing. For those who don't cook with seaweed or want to take their seaweed to go, the company also recently released a ready-to-eat product called Surf Snack. It's a savory-sweet snack made with a mixture of California wakame and California nori, organic maple syrup, organic toasted sesame oil, and a blend of organic seeds including sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and more. The company recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for equipment to produce Surf Snack more efficiently, and the campaign has already raised over $30,000.

You can find Salt Point Seaweed's products in East Bay stores including Preserved, Cro Cafe, Oaktown Spice Shop's Oakland location, and Third Culture Bakery's Berkeley showroom. You'll also find people cooking with Salt Point Seaweed's products at Gather, Good to Eat Dumplings, Abrothacary, and Broth Baby.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Dashe Cellars Is Leaving The Jack London District

After fifteen years in Oakland, the winery is moving to Spirits Alley in Alameda.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Alameda Point beckons for Dashe Cellars, which is leaving Oakland behind. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DASHE CELLARS
  • Photo courtesy of Dashe Cellars
  • Alameda Point beckons for Dashe Cellars, which is leaving Oakland behind.

It's Oakland's loss, but Alameda's gain. Dashe Cellars is moving from its current home in the Jack London District and relocating to Spirits Alley in Alameda Point.

The winery, owned by married couple Mike and Anne Dashe, was founded in 1996. The winery settled into its current home in the Jack London District at 55 4th Street in 2004. When the winery first moved in, Mike Dashe said, it was one of the few wineries in the Jack London district. Eventually, other wineries followed suit, and Oakland became something of an urban winery hotspot.

But when the winery's lease ended and the landlord increased the rent three-fold, Dashe said they had no choice but to relocate. The last day of service at the Oakland location will be on May 12, and the first day of service at the pop-up tasting room at their new location in Alameda (1951 Monarch Street, Suite 300) will be on May 18.

Dashe expressed disappointment about having to leave their Oakland warehouse, especially after spending a significant amount of money to improve the building. But he also expressed disappointment at having to leave behind the community Dashe Cellars had built in Oakland. "We were really supported by the community," he said. "We really felt embraced by Oakland. We're very sad to have to leave it."

There's plenty to celebrate about the new location, though. The new winery will be located inside an 18,000-square-foot hangar, which will be shared with Urban Legend Winery. Best of all, there's a great view of the bay. Plans are in the works to construct a family and dog-friendly deck for sipping wines and enjoying the view. "When we saw the view of the San Francisco skyline and sailboats sailing in the backyard, we knew that we needed to jump on the space," Dashe said in a press release.

Dashe Cellars produces a wide array of wines but specializes in Zinfandels. The wines are made with native yeast fermentation, meaning that only the wild yeasts on the grapes are used in the fermentation process — no industrial yeasts added.

To bid farewell to the Jack London space, Dashe Cellars is throwing a series of weekend events Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., starting with a spring release party from Apr. 18-21. Apr. 25-28 is rosé release weekend, and May 2-5 is Zinfandel release weekend, where they'll be pouring the wines that Dashe is best known for. On May 11 from noon to 6 p.m., there'll be an official farewell party, featuring live music, Mexican food from the Canasta Kitchen food truck, and of course, plenty of wine. They'll be pouring Zinfandels, red blends including "The Comet" and "Ancient Vines," biodynamically-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon, lighter reds from the Les Enfants Terribles collection, and Methode Champenoise sparkling wine.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ruth Reichl's New Memoir Debuts

Patterson to be a panelist at GGRA conference, ReGrained wins NEXTY, and The Perennial and its warehouse close.

by S. Rufus
Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 6:03 PM

  • Photo by Michael Singer
  • Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, the longtime New York Times restaurant critic, bestselling author, and former Gourmet Magazine editor-in-chief — who largely launched her culinary career in Berkeley — has a new book out.

Launching in April from Random House, Reichl's new book, Save Me the Plums: A Gourmet Memoir, chronicles her decade as editor-in-chief at Gourmet — a job she initially declined, not wanting to be a boss, but then accepted as she had begun reading the magazine at age 8. During the early 1970s, New York City native Reichl was a chef and key member of Berkeley's Swallow Restaurant collective, a forerunner in the creation of California Cuisine.

A press release calls this new book "the story of a former Berkeley hippie trying to navigate corporate America without losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement forever changed the way that we eat."

Famous figures appearing in the book, which is an American Book Association 2019 Indie Next pick, include Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, Anna Wintour, David Foster Wallace, and many more.

Reichl will do a reading at Book Passage in Larkspur on April 8.

Work-Life Balance

Oakland resident, chef, and restaurateur Daniel Patterson — whose restaurants have included San Francisco's Coi and Oakland's Haven and Plum, among others — will be part of a panel discussion during the Golden Gate Restaurant Associations' April 15-16 conference. The SF event brings together restaurant-industry stakeholders to discuss the hottest trends, tools, topics, and technologies.

This year's discussions will revolve around robots, food delivery, surburban expansions, and the potential obsolescence of mid-tier full-service restaurants in a scene increasingly dominated by high-quality fast-casual spaces.

Patterson will be one of several speakers in a panel titled "Being Hospitable to Oneself: Mental Health & Work/Life Balance in the Hospitality Industry."

ReGrained Wins NEXTY

Berkeley's ReGrained, which manufactures sustainable snacks using upcycled grains rescued from the beer-brewing process, won a coveted NEXTY Award recently at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim.

Joining a line of chewy bars, the company's new savory puffed snacks in chef-driven flavors also are made with ReGrained's patented technology.

"These four products represent the future of the natural products industry where sustainability and transparency are the norm," said Jessie Shafer, content director at New Hope Network and one of the NEXTY judges.

Restaurant, Greenhouse Close

Sustainability-focused San Francisco restaurant The Perennial, which opened in 2015 and grew its own greenhouse crops in West Oakland, has closed.

"We always tried to embody and imagine a new way forward ... always open to the challenge of dreaming the impossible into existence," an Instagram post read, as reported at ProduceGrower.

Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint started Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth before founding The Perennial. Its "Director of Living Systems," Nathan Kaufman, helmed the restaurant's 1,000-square-foot greenhouse and 2,000-square-foot outdoor production space in West Oakland, growing a global array of produce.

A 2017 article in ProduceGrower revealed his highly sustainable strategy: "Kaufman takes leftover food prep that the back-of-house staff has divided into two categories (the first being produce and the second being being meat, dairy, and bread) and composts it. He uses worms to break down the produce and black soldier flies to break down the meat, dairy and bread. In turn, he feeds the fly larva to sturgeon and catfish that power aquaponic systems."

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Bushka's Kitchen Debuts a New Line of Ready-to-Eat Meals

Avid backpacker Deana Del Vecchio founded Bushka's Kitchen to give consumers a nutritious option for freeze-dried meals.

by S. Rufus
Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 1:00 AM

The unstuffed pepper at Bushka's Kitchen. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ETHAN RIGHTER
  • Photo courtesy of Ethan Righter
  • The unstuffed pepper at Bushka's Kitchen.

Bushka's Kitchen is making a new line of ready-to-eat meals in Oakland. Seeing a need in the industry for freeze-dried meals so nutritious and tasty that she would happily choose them herself, avid backpacker Deana Del Vecchio founded Bushka's Kitchen last year.

"Consumers have become accustomed to opening a pouch and seeing a lump of unidentifiable ingredients that reconstitute into a meal that has little depth in flavor or texture. We are changing that with our products," Del Vecchio said in a press release. "When you open one of our pouches, you can immediately identify an apple or a Brussels sprout - which is how food should be. All of our meals are made in small batches in our Oakland kitchen. We chop, cook, and freeze-dry our ingredients and then hand-package each pouch."

The new meals include two vegan choices: Citrus Chia Morning (creamy citrusy chia pudding topped with coconut, pineapple, and kiwifruit) and Zesty Noodles (parsley-avocado sauce with zucchini, pasta, tomatoes, and fennel), as well as two meat options: Unstuffed Pepper (seasoned ground beef in tomato sauce with quinoa, red bell peppers, and green onion) and Harvest Bowl (ginger-spiced wild rice and pork with roasted Brussels sprouts, caramelized onion, and apple).

An "obsession with quality and detail allows us to produce the absolute best possible meal-in-a-bag experience," Del Vecchio said.

Yummy Tacos

A new taco spot, Rico Rico Taco, has landed at 3205 Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland and appears to quickly be gaining fans. Hoodline.com reported the taqueria opened Feb. 15 in a former Subway outpost. Yelp reviewers have complimented it for its tasty fish tacos, crispy carnitas, and fresh homemade tortillas.

Marica Is Back

After a short go as an upscale pizza house called Pizza Marica that debuted in November, Marica, the longtime Rockridge seafood-forward restaurant, has returned to its tried-and-true seafood ways, according to Berkeleyside's Nosh. On Yelp, co-owner Nedda Cheung wrote, "After doing pizza for about a month, we had many more requests to bring back our old menu, seafood and classic dishes."

Funds for Back to the Roots

Oakland organic food-and-gardening outfit Back to the Roots announced recently that it has raised $3 million in new series C funding — led by Central Garden & Pet, a major lawn/garden/pet company, and joined by new investor Blue Scorpion investments.

Founded in 2009 by then-UC Berkeley students Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, Back to the Roots aims to "undo food" with organic cereals, DIY indoor gardening kits, and other products. Back to the Roots will use the capital to "fuel its growth" and has a dozen-plus new products lined up to launch in 2019, according to a press release.

"It's a really exciting time for the company," Arora said after the funding was announced. "What started off as a college project has grown into a national brand that's re-connecting millions of families back to where their food comes from. Our whole team is incredibly inspired by the opportunity to help every family and kid experience the magic of growing their own food. As we look to 2019 and beyond, we're excited to offer Back to the Roots in even more national retailers and make organic gardening accessible to all — no backyard or green thumb needed."

Last year, the brand formed a partnership with Ayesha Curry and increased its national retail footprint with a launch into Target stores. Central Garden & Pet, meanwhile, "is continually looking for innovative and passionate companies to invest in and help take to the next level. Back to the Roots embraces the future of both of our segments," said CG&P's CEO George Roeth.

In Other News ...

A new Porky's Pizza Palace restaurant is opening in Pleasanton. Having thrived for 30-plus years in San Leandro, the family-owned restaurant is coming to a Hopyard Road space that formerly housed Straw Hat Pizza. The Valenziano family will serve the same menu as at their original San Leandro location.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tasting Collective's San Francisco Chapter Expands to Oakland

The members-only dining community gives chef-owners an opportunity to tell their stories, experiment with new dishes, and gain valuable feedback from guests.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Patrons can hear chefs talk at the Tasting Collective. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TASTING COLLECTIVE
  • Photo courtesy of the Tasting Collective
  • Patrons can hear chefs talk at the Tasting Collective.

Ever wished you could sit down for a leisurely six-course meal and, in between courses, hear from some of the most acclaimed chef-owners in Oakland? Tasting Collective might be able to help.

Tasting Collective is a membership-based dining community that was started in New York City by founder Nat Gelb, who felt that dining experiences in the city were missing an important element of human interaction. Many restaurants, Gelb said, rely on a business model that requires them to turn over as many tables as they can in one night, meaning that there's little opportunity for chefs to share their stories.

But at Tasting Collective events, which take place approximately every two weeks, members take over an entire chef-owned restaurant — typically on one of the restaurant's slower nights — and enjoy a six-course family-style meal. The experience gives chefs a chance to showcase the restaurant's most popular dishes, try out some experimental dishes, and tell their stories. After the meal, guests provide their feedback to the chef and participate in a Q&A with the chef. Tasting Collective has since expanded to several cities across the country, including San Francisco in June 2018 — and recently, the San Francisco chapter has begun to partner with chef-owned restaurants in Oakland.

In January, Tasting Collective's San Francisco chapter held its first Oakland event at Pucquio, the Rockridge Peruvian restaurant led by chef-owner Carlos Moreira. The menu featured a couple of Moreira's classic cebiches, plus dishes like a five-spice poussin and a marinated pork loin with pork shoulder beignet. On March 6, Tasting Collective returned to Oakland once again, this time at chef-owner Kyle Itani's Uptown Japanese-influenced American restaurant Hopscotch. The menu there included Hopscotch's signature Yonsei oyster and buttermilk fried chicken, as well as black cod with roasted broccoli rabe and beluga lentils and andouille sausage and shrimp gumbo. The next Oakland restaurant in the lineup is chef-owner Silvia McCollow's Mexican restaurant Nido, though the menu and date are still being finalized.

Gelb said he's excited about the San Francisco chapter's expansion to Oakland, where he believes the often less-expensive real estate prices make it possible for more independent, chef-owned, creative restaurants to operate at Tasting Collective's $50 price point. Plus, Gelb added, he's excited for chef-owners in Oakland to be able to share their stories.

Annual membership fees for Tasting Collective normally cost $165, but are currently $115 in San Francisco. Once they've paid the annual fee, members can purchase tickets to brunch events for $35 and six-course dinner events for $50, not including tax and tip. (Gelb added that Tasting Collective runs entirely on membership fees, and doesn't make any money off the tickets — all ticket sales go directly to the restaurants.) Tickets for nonmembers are available for $25 more, though nonmembers must be accompanied by a member. Memberships also include special perks at partner restaurants, such as a discount, free drink, or dessert, which can be redeemed when visiting those restaurants outside of Tasting Collective events. To learn more, visit TastingCollective.com.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What's New at Third Culture Bakery

An expansion to Colorado, a new pop-up from Kimchee Jeanius, and a new spring menu.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 1:00 AM


Muffin and donut fever have hit the Bay Area hard. All over social media, it's hard to miss Third Culture Bakery's colorfully glazed mochi donuts, artfully drizzled custard cakes, signature sesame-studded mochi muffins, and artfully layered matcha and cold brew drinks that taste just as good as they look.

Third Culture Bakery's pastries have become so popular in the Bay Area that it's easy to forget that the formerly wholesale-only bakery, open since 2015, opened its first showroom in Berkeley less than a year ago in June 2018, while expanding to nearly 60 retail locations.

And now the bakery is expanding to Aurora, Colo. According to Wenter Shyu, co-founder of Third Culture Bakery along with his business and domestic partner Sam Butarbutar, expansion has been part of the plan "since day one."

"We were always looking to expand," Shyu said. "We were always waiting for when ... our operations here in Berkeley would be stable enough for expansion, and now it has."

The Colorado location will feature largely the same menu as in Berkeley, with the addition of a full espresso bar. Most of the ingredients, including the mochiko rice flour from California's Koda Farms, the bakery's in-house brand of matcha, and coffee beans from Berkeley's 1951 Coffee Company will remain the same, but Shyu said the Colorado bakery will likely use locally sourced dairy products.

Along with delicious donuts and muffins, Third Culture Bakery is also hoping to expand the safe space and welcoming community it created in Berkeley as two gay bakers who are also "third culture kids" — the children of immigrants.

"So much of it is ingrained into our company culture. ... We do want to instill all of these great philosophies and create the safe spaces, and create these comfortable environments for our customers and our staff," Shyu said. "Hopefully that resonates with everyone in Colorado, too."

For those of us here in the Bay Area, Third Culture Bakery is offering up some exciting new things, too. The bakery recently teamed up with Kimchee Jeanius, a pop-up from kimchi maker Jean O. O recently moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles, where she was a fermentation consultant for chef Ricardo Zarate at Rosaliné. Being of Korean descent, O grew up eating kimchi, but never thought much of it. Her interest in learning to make kimchi piqued when she began to read about its health benefits, and she began watching her mother make kimchi — using sugar, anchovy paste, shrimp paste, and lots of salt.

"I was thinking ... if there's a way to actually prepare kimchi in ways that we can eliminate the sugar or the shrimp paste, maybe just add enough salt ... and see if I can come up with a recipe, that would be super cool."

After many test batches and taste tests among friends and family members, O then began selling kimchi to friends and family members. On Feb. 16, O held her first pop-up at Third Culture Bakery, where she was able to share her kimchi with a wider audience.

The first pop-up was a success. "We're super excited to have her," Shyu said. In fact, Shyu was so impressed with the kimchi that he's considering incorporating it into a savory waffle as part of Third Culture Bakery's new spring menu, which will feature several new donuts and waffles and is expected to launch March 15.

O's plant-based, no sugar added Napa cabbage kimchi (also known as baechu) will be available for $10 for a 16-ounce jar at Third Culture Bakery in Berkeley (2701 Eighth St.) every first and third Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. until kimchi is sold out. The next pop-up date is March 16.

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