Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Free Range Flower Winery Celebrates Its First Anniversary

The Oakland winery is holding three celebratory events this week at alaMar, Revival Bar & Kitchen, and Wine & Design.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 2:56 PM

Say cheers to first anniversary for Free Range Flower Winery. - PHOTO BY LOUISA SPIER
  • Photo by Louisa Spier
  • Say cheers to first anniversary for Free Range Flower Winery.

This week, Free Range Flower Winery in Oakland is celebrating its first anniversary in business with events at alaMar, Revival, and Wine & Design. It's one of the few flower wineries in the country — and the only in California, according to Free Range Flower Winery's owner and winemaker Aaliyah Nitoto, who founded the business along with former Express contributor Sam Prestianni.

For the uninitiated, flower wine is made entirely from flowers rather than grapes. Though many people today have never tried flower wine, it's actually part of a longstanding tradition of garden wines that were made in many parts of the world — often by women. According to Nitoto, flower wines were actually the earliest wines made in the United States. In the past hundred years or so, flower wines have become virtually unknown, and Nitoto is part of the movement to bring them back.

Free Range Flower Winery currently offers three types of flower wines. "L" Lavender Wine, which was the first wine Free Range Flower Winery produced, is a dry, lightly effervescent wine made of lavender flowers, with notes of licorice and juniper. There's also a Sunset International Wine Competition Silver Award-winning wine called RoseHybiscus, made of a blend of rose petals and hibiscus flowers for a flavor that's earthy, rounded, fruity, and herbal. For the anniversary, Flower Winery will also be offering tastes of the newest "R" Rose Petal wine, which Nitoto describes as having a "spicy flavor that's more on the smoky side." A marigold wine is also in the works and is expected to be released in time for the holiday season.

Nitoto said that after a year in business, the community has received her flower wines even better than she expected. At the very first pop-up, she sold out of lavender wine. Ever since then, the small-batch winery has "just been trying to play catch up with the momentum," she said. Part of the appeal, Nitoto said, is that flower wines are such a unique experience for many customers.

"When I serve it to people, I preface it by saying, what I want you to do is take any expectation that you have about wine out of your mind and just let the experience tell you what it is. Let the wine tell you what it is. When they drink it, they're like, 'Oh my god, you're right, this is like nothing I've ever had before."

To celebrate the winery's anniversary, three events will take place in Oakland and Berkeley. The first is a dinner on Thursday, July 11, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at alaMar in Oakland (100 Grand Ave., Suite No. 111). Chef Nelson German has created a special menu of dishes like charred heirloom carrots and braised oxtails, which are designed to pair with each of the three wines. There's also a dinner on Friday, July 12, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Revival Bar & Kitchen in Berkeley (2102 Shattuck Ave.) featuring dishes from Chef Amy Murray like trout roe deviled eggs and beet and burrata salad. Lastly, there'll be a tasting event on Sunday, July 14, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Wine & Design in Oakland (204 Broadway) where guests can taste flights of wine accompanied by cheese and charcuterie plates from Piece & Love Meals, and even paint their own wine glasses for an extra fee. Reservations are recommended; to reserve, visit FreeRangeFlowerWinery.com.

Photo by Louisa Spier

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Matcha, Shaved Ice, and Taro Balls, Oh My!

Amausaan Uji Matcha in Berkeley and Meet Fresh in Oakland offer two new ways to get your frozen dessert on.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jul 2, 2019 at 3:06 PM

The pudding and Q mochi shaved ice at Meet Fresh — yummy­. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE HAMILTON
  • Photo by Katherine Hamilton
  • The pudding and Q mochi shaved ice at Meet Fresh — yummy­.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've never needed an excuse to eat dessert. But here are two, in case you needed them: Two new dessert shops have opened in the East Bay in recent weeks, and both offer desserts that are rarely found elsewhere in the East Bay.

Meet Fresh (362 8th St., Unit C, Oakland), a Taiwan-based dessert chain, recently opened its first Oakland location in Chinatown after months of anticipation. There's a massive selection of desserts on offer, ranging from shaved ice, taro balls served hot or cold, grass jelly served hot or cold, tofu pudding, red bean soup, purple rice desserts, and small bites like mochi and mung bean cakes. You'll also find a full menu of drinks, ranging from wintermelon tea to milk tea to herbal tea and "fluffy" tea.

One hot afternoon, I went for the pudding and Q mochi shaved ice, which is listed as one of Meet Fresh's five most popular desserts. What I received was an impressively tall shaved ice — too big even for two ambitious eaters to finish — with a scoop of ice cream precariously balanced on top. The shaved ice comes drizzled with brown sugar syrup and condensed milk, giving it a refreshing creamy, caramelized flavor. Toppings surround the mountain of ice, including entire rounds of egg pudding and almond pudding, jelly noodles, white and black logs of mochi, and mini purple and orange taro balls. True to its name, the toppings — especially the jelly noodles and mochi — have that satisfying "Q" texture, meaning they're springy and chewy like boba. Flakes of coconut on top, meanwhile, add a hint of crispy texture and toasty flavor. At nearly $10, it's not a cheap treat, but the portion size and taste justify the price if you bring along a couple of friends to help you finish it.

Meanwhile, over in downtown Berkeley, Amausaan Uji Matcha (1950 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), a Chinese chain, specializes in all things matcha — think crepe cakes, hot and cold drinks, matcha ice, parfaits, and soft-serve ice cream. Guests are greeted at the door by a statue of a rabbit wearing a red kimono and holding a matcha parfait. It's primarily a table service spot, and you'll find adorable rabbit-themed decor throughout the restaurant.

I tried the uji matcha soft serve, which comes in your choice of a regular cone or an Instagram-worthy black cone. The black cone earns more style points than flavor points. My server informed me it was colored with charcoal, though the charcoal wasn't intended to add any flavor. Still, the cone was crisp and slightly sweet, with a hint of vanilla flavor. It's a good complement to the matcha soft serve, which was packed with grassy, slightly bitter, toasty matcha flavor. The soft serve definitely leans toward light and refreshing rather than rich and heavy, making it perfect for a summer treat.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Coworking and Cal-Italian Cuisine Come Together

The Lede, a new casual eatery inside Old Oakland’s Studiotobe coworking space, is expected to open this summer.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 4:10 PM

There’s a comfy patio at The Lede. - PHOTO BY MIKE MAGES
  • Photo by Mike Mages
  • There’s a comfy patio at The Lede.

Ever wished you could work remotely while snacking on some quality tinned fish, chowing on a duck leg, or drinking a negroni? Meet The Lede, a new Cal-Italian, casual restaurant that's expected to open inside Old Oakland's Studiotobe this August.

The restaurant is a partnership between Cal Peternell, who was a chef at Chez Panisse for 22 years until leaving his post in 2017 (he's also the author of the 2019 James Beard Award-nominated cookbook Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta) and Kit Taylor of Emeryville's Prizefighter, who will lead the restaurant's bar program. The cuisine is described as Cal-Italian — "like California-Italian ... but it's also [Cal's] name," said Taylor.

The menu will feature bar snacks like tinned fish and fried snacks, a few pastas, a seasonal vegetable, and a duck leg. As for drinks, expect a couple Italian classic cocktails like a negroni and a spritz, a short and sweet menu of five signature cocktails, and an Italian-heavy wine list, all of which are designed to complement the food menu. The menu is intended to be flexible, ideal for those looking for anything from a light snack to a cocktail to a full meal. It's a big departure from Peternell's fine dining past, but Peternell said he's looking forward to the change.

"I had a great time there [at Chez Panisse] and I learned a lot and made lots of great contacts and lots of great friends," he said. "I was sorry that more of my friends couldn't really afford to eat there. ... So I felt like if I were to ever open another restaurant, it would be something more casual, more affordable, and more accessible. And fun. And delicious."

For those unfamiliar with Studiotobe, it's a coworking space focused on podcasting, storytelling, and journalism opened in April 2018 in the former Pacific Coast Brewing space (906 Washington St.). Joaquin Alvarado, Ken Ikeda, and Kristen Belden founded the coworking space, which currently has about 50 members. Podcasts like Snap Judgment and Peternell's cooking-centric podcast Cooking By Ear are produced there. It's a fitting space for journalism given that the Oakland Tribune once called this block home.

In a nod to the space's journalistic past and present, The Lede is named after the journalism term "lede," meaning the introduction or main point of a story. Taylor and Peternell hope The Lede will help introduce the public to Studiotobe through its food and drinks. But the name also acknowledges the ties between food and storytelling and a hope for how the two businesses will work together. During lunch and dinner service, Studiotobe members and the public alike will be able to grab a bite to eat side-by-side, offering members of the public the opportunity to talk with journalists, storytellers, and podcasters.

"I've always been attracted to the way that food and drink can engender storytelling and storymaking," Peternell said. "What we want to do is serve people delicious food and drinks that allow them to connect around the table and tell their stories — and maybe make new stories."

Friday, June 14, 2019

Flint’s BBQ Is Coming Back to the Town

The historic, long-shuttered beloved Oakland BBQ joint is returning this summer as a pop-up.

by Katherine Hamilton
Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 3:33 PM

Granddaughter Crystal Martin is leading the revival. - PHOTOS BY CRYSTAL MARTIN
  • Photos by Crystal Martin
  • Granddaughter Crystal Martin is leading the revival.

Ask any longtime Bay Area resident about Flint’s, and they’ll tell you a story. Maybe they used to wait in line for Flint’s after parties or concerts at the Coliseum. Maybe they even drove from as far away as San Francisco, San Jose, or Sacramento to get their Flint’s.

Flint’s BBQ opened in 1968. At its peak, Flint’s had a total of three locations in Oakland, with lines that often wrapped around the block. The last Flint’s BBQ closed in 2010. But for those who thought they’d never experience the taste of Flint’s legendary barbecue sauce again, there’s good news: Flint’s is coming back to Oakland this August as a pop-up.

“There’s history, and then there’s Flintstory,” said Steve Dorsey, spokesperson for Flint’s BBQ. “And that’s the impetus to bring it back.”

The person leading the Flint’s revival is Crystal Martin, the granddaughter of one of the original owners, Willie Flintroy, and the step-granddaughter of the last living original owner, Margaret Flintroy. With the blessing of Margaret Flintroy, Martin is bringing back the original recipes for loyal Flint’s fans to enjoy.

Some might simply see it as a return of some of Oakland’s most legendary barbecue. But Dorsey suggests the return of Flint’s signifies something bigger. It’s a throwback to the time of Tower of Power, the Black Panthers, and the Festival at the Lake, before Oakland’s most recent wave of gentrification.

“So much negative over the years has been written about Oakland,” Dorsey said. “But it doesn’t talk about the people who make up Oakland. Here’s a positive light for Oakland that Oakland lit. ...It started in Oakland, but it was the Oakland love, it was the Oakland loyalty that lit the fire. ...It’s the work ethic, it’s the pride. And that’s what this is all about. We want to bring something that is Oakland back.”

In keeping with its Oakland roots, the first pop-up will take place in West Oakland at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 1023 Peralta Street, on Sunday, August 4, from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance on Eventbrite for $33. The ticket includes a dinner plate with ribs, chicken, mac and cheese, baked beans, string beans, potato salad, bread, and a drink. In true Flint’s tradition, diners can also select from mild, medium, and “hella” hot sauce. Margaret Flintroy will be present at the pop-up to talk about Flint’s, and there’ll also be a DJ for all to enjoy.

The August pop-up in Oakland is the first of what Martin hopes will be a series of pop-ups around the entire Bay Area. As a lifelong Oakland resident, Martin also wants to do something about the homelessness crisis in Oakland, and will host several giveaways for unhoused people. Eventually, she plans to open a food truck, and someday, open another Flint’s BBQ brick and mortar. Dorsey says Flint’s will be back better than ever.

“Let’s just roll up our sleeves and really make this something even more special than it was,” he said. “Not sitting on your past laurels, but really believing in setting a new standard.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

La Cocina Releases a Cookbook

'We Are La Cocina' Features the recipes of some of the East Bay's best-loved food entrepreneurs.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 3:44 PM

Eric Wolfinger, Caleb Zigas, and Leticia Landa collaborated on the new cookbook. - PHOTO BY ERIC WOLFINGER
  • Photo by Eric Wolfinger
  • Eric Wolfinger, Caleb Zigas, and Leticia Landa collaborated on the new cookbook.

It's no secret that some of the Bay Area's most beloved chefs are graduates of La Cocina, the San Francisco incubator that helps low-income women, immigrants, and people of color start their own food businesses. Last week, La Cocina released its first cookbook entitled We Are La Cocina, which features over 75 recipes and stories from over 40 of its successful entrepreneurs — including many in the East Bay.

If you've ever wondered how to make the kuy teav Phnom Penh from Nite Yun's restaurant Nyum Bai or the mac and cheese and rosemary fried chicken from Fernay McPherson's restaurant Minnie Bell's Soul Movement, look no further. Other East Bay food entrepreneurs featured in the cookbook include Reem Assil of Reem's with her recipes for muhammara, fattoush, and sfeeha; Dionne Knox of Zella's Soulful Kitchen with a recipe for cream biscuits and strawberry-hibiscus jam; Dilsa Lugo of Los Cilantros with recipes for sopes and esquites; Tina Stevens of A Girl Named Pinky with her carrot cake recipe; and Hang Truong of Noodle Girl with recipes for pho bo and ca kho to (braised fish).

Those who miss the mixiotes from Alma Rodrigues of Mixiote (back in its days as a pop-up at UC Berkeley and at Plum Bar) will also find her recipe here, and those who can't wait for Lamees Dahbour's new kiosk at the Emeryville Public Market will encounter her recipe for maqluba (an upside-down rice dish that she prepares with vegetables). Readers will also come across stories from Tiffany Esquivel and Sylvee Chitica of Hella Vegan Eats and Antoinette Sanchez of Endless Summer Sweets.

The cookbook is authored by Caleb Zigas, executive director of La Cocina, and Leticia Landa, La Cocina's deputy director. The book also features over 200 photos by award-winning photographer Eric Wolfinger and a foreword by Isabel Allende.

We Are La Cocina is published by San Francisco publisher Chronicle Books and retails for $29.95. All of the authors' proceeds from sales of the book go to support La Cocina. The national book tour is making three more San Francisco stops this summer: June 17 at Commonwealth Club, June 26 at the CUESA Ferry Building, and July 18 at 18 Reasons. To learn more, visit LaCocinaSF.org or ChronicleBooks.com.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Mandela Grocery Marks 10 Years in West Oakland

A free party celebrates a decade of fresh produce and the cooperatively owned grocery store.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Mandela Grocery turns 10 in style. - PHOTO BY FOX NAKAI
  • Photo by Fox Nakai
  • Mandela Grocery turns 10 in style.

Prior to 2009, residents of West Oakland had to drive or take public transit to get groceries, or else resort to dollar stores and liquor stores for their grocery needs. Some might call it a food desert. Mandela Grocery calls it a site of "food apartheid" — that is, a place where systemic racism has shaped the neighborhood's lack of access to fresh food.

Now, the worker-owned grocery store is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The anniversary comes at a time when the co-op is undergoing a lot of exciting change. The market was recently renovated and got a brand-new logo. And since long-term subletter Zella's Soulful Kitchen moved, Mandela Grocery has taken over the space's commercial kitchen, called The Co-op Kitchen. It offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches like turkey cheddar and chickpea salad, plus coffee. Plans are in the works to offer green smoothies, espresso drinks, hot foods like rotisserie chicken, and plenty of plant-based options.

"It feels like a new beginning with all the transition that we're in," said Adrionna Fike, one of the co-op's 10 worker-owners.

The 10-year celebration takes place this Friday, 3-8 p.m., on Center Street between Seventh and Eighth streets in Oakland (across from West Oakland BART). The free party will feature around 15 food vendors and live music. The Pop Up Village, in the process of becoming a worker co-op, will be making an appearance. Booths will include healing massage, acupuncture, yoga, herbal medicine, cooking demonstrations, blender-bike smoothies, a women's refuge trailer, free books, free barbers, and more. There will be free vision screening and glasses for kids 5-18 (or 24 in continuation school.)

Meanwhile, Mandela Grocery is also helping to spread the model of the worker-owned cooperative grocery store. In order to support new cooperatives, Mandela Grocery will offer training programs in its store for the members of a new grocery cooperative currently known as The East Oakland Grocery Co-op. The new cooperative is spearheaded by Aya Jeffers-Fabro of Acta Non Verba, an urban youth farming program in Deep East Oakland. The store will carry produce from Acta Non Verba's urban farms right in East Oakland. While Fike said the cooperative is still searching for a location, the store is expected to open in fall 2020.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Oakland-Produced Podcast 'Copper & Heat' Wins a James Beard Award

Katy Osuna, a former cook at three-Michelin-starred Manresa, sheds light on issues of gender in fine dining kitchens.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, May 28, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Katy and Ricardo Osuna with the James Beard Award. - PHOTO COURTESY OF COPPER & HEAT
  • Photo courtesy of Copper & Heat
  • Katy and Ricardo Osuna with the James Beard Award.

“Be A Girl," the first season of the Oakland-produced podcast Copper & Heat, took home an award last month for Best Podcast at the James Beard Media Awards in New York City. "Be A Girl" focuses on issues of gender in fine dining kitchens.

The team behind the podcast is Katy Osuna and her partner, Ricardo Osuna. Katy serves as the host and executive producer, while Ricardo is a producer, composer, and sound designer.

Katy's been working in the restaurant industry since her senior year in college in Idaho, when she took a job at a gastropub. There, she was the only woman working in the kitchen. Eventually, she moved to California to attend culinary school, then went on to stage at Manresa, a fine dining restaurant in Los Gatos with three Michelin stars. When she started, she was the only woman working on the savory side of the kitchen. She worked her way up the ranks at Manresa, eventually becoming a chef de partie.

Having studied anthropology and sociology in college, during her time at Manresa, Katy often found herself thinking about the gender disparities in the restaurant industry at large. As the media started to call public attention to sexual harassment in fine dining kitchens as part of the Me Too movement, Katy found herself talking with her coworkers at Manresa about these topics. "It started these larger conversations around sexism, misogyny, patriarchy in general in the kitchen," she said. In 2017, she left Manresa and started Copper & Heat.

The podcast offers an insider's look into the structure of a fine dining kitchen and some of the forces behind why women are so underrepresented in fine dining kitchens. The podcast cites that women make up about half of food service employees in general (combining both front-of-house and back-of-house positions) and a little over 50 percent of students graduating from culinary school. In the back of the house, women make up 30 percent to 50 percent of the staff. But as you move up the ranks, women only make up 19 percent of chefs and 7 percent of head chefs. The podcast's first episode, "Brigade," explains the structure of the brigade system used in kitchens, which originated in France based on the hierarchy of a military brigade. The second episode, "Oddity," discusses how traditionally feminine traits often aren't valued in the kitchen. Throughout the season, Osuna provides her own perspective while including the voices of many other cooks — many of them her former coworkers at Manresa.

Because while gender and sexual harassment in the kitchen are becoming a more common topic among high-profile chefs, cooks are often left out of the conversation. That's another key part of Copper & Heat's goal: to make sure the voices of cooks are heard.

"I just want cooks to start talking about some of this stuff more," she said. "I think until the cooks, until it actually kind of seeps into the cooks, it's not really going to change."

Katy described her reaction to learning she had won a James Beard award as "complete disbelief."

"We kind of applied on a whim," she said. The James Beard Foundation's decision this year to waive the fee for first-time submissions, Katy said, was a huge factor in their decision to apply.

Now the pair are working to expand the listener base and preparing material for Season 2. For the next season, they plan to focus on the finances and economics of being a cook.

To learn more about Copper & Heat, visit CopperAndHeat.com.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mama Lamees Is Coming This Summer to the Emeryville Public Market

Meanwhile, Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement is moving to a bigger spot in the food hall.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, May 22, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Lamees Dahbour started cooking Palestinian cuisine at age 11. - PHOTO BY E. PUYAN
  • Photo by E. Puyan
  • Lamees Dahbour started cooking Palestinian cuisine at age 11.

If you've ever been to the Emeryville Public Market, it's hard to miss the petite corner kiosk, formerly home to long-term La Cocina pop-up Nyum Bai and currently home to Minnie Bell's Soul Movement. Last week, the Emeryville Public Market announced the upcoming occupant for the space: a Palestinian eatery called Mama Lamees.

The kiosk has served as an important stepping stone for participants in La Cocina, the San Francisco food business incubator program that supports low-income food entrepreneurs — particularly women of color. After a successful run at that kiosk, Nyum Bai moved into its own space in Fruitvale Village. Minnie Bell's is planning to move to a larger space in the Public Market, where chef Fernay McPherson will expand her menu beyond her current offerings of rosemary fried chicken, mac 'n' cheese, greens, red bean and rice salad, and brown butter cornbread.

Meanwhile, newcomer Mama Lamees is headed by La Cocina participant Lamees Dahbour. Dahbour is of Palestinian descent and was born in Kuwait. She's been cooking Palestinian cuisine since the age of 11. Though she's always loved to cook, Dahbour never thought she'd have her own food business. For 16 years, she worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, where she assisted refugees. But she was also in an arranged marriage to a husband who was physically abusive. After moving to San Francisco, Dahbour divorced her husband and raised her three kids as a single mom. Dahbour joined La Cocina in 2015, an experience that she says has been transformative for her.

"La Cocina is really an amazing nonprofit organization," Dahbour said. "As an immigrant, low-income ... a single mom, a domestic violence victim ... I end[ed] up having this resource to be on the right track. It's not just being a chef. ... It's being a leader for your business, besides being a chef."

Since then, she's sold her Palestinian food at events like Off the Grid, as well as through her catering business. She was also featured in an episode of KCET's The Migrant Kitchen entitled "Man'oushe," where she discussed Palestinian food alongside La Cocina alum and chef Reem Assil. Dahbour's menu focuses on traditional Palestinian dishes that are hard to find in many restaurants in the Bay Area.

"Most of the restaurants are serving ... hummus, baba ganoush, and falafel, and shawarma," Dahbour said. "When I started [at] La Cocina, I told them, there's really traditional, authentic Palestinian food ... this food is kind of unique, and you can't find it in the market."

At the kiosk, Dahbour plans to feature several favorites from her catering menu. She'll make musakhan, a flatbread topped with caramelized onions, almonds, and sumac. There'll also be finger food like ejja, fritters made of cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and onion. For entrées, she plans to feature mansaf, a dish made with bread, rice, and lamb braised in labneh (yogurt), and maqloubeh, a rice dish with veggies and optional lamb or chicken that's flipped upside down out of the pot and topped with almonds. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options will be available. Because the Public Market is a food court, Dahbour also plans to serve some more portable options like falafel and shawarma wraps.

Mama Lamees is expected to take over the kiosk at the Emeryville Public Market at 5959 Shellmound Ave. in mid-summer.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mago to Open Soon on Piedmont Avenue

The first solo venture from chef Mark Liberman, formerly of AQ, TBD, and Fenix, is expected to open May 22.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, May 15, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Grilled chicken livers with wood sorrel and sesame. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ISABEL BAER
  • Photo courtesy of Isabel Baer
  • Grilled chicken livers with wood sorrel and sesame.

Mark Liberman, owner of Piedmont Avenue's upcoming restaurant Mago, cut his teeth in the fine dining world. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Liberman moved to Paris, where he staged at a Michelin two-star restaurant, then returned stateside, where he opened San Francisco restaurants AQ and Fenix.

Now, with Mago, he's hoping to cut the pretenses of fine dining and throw a good dinner party.

Like a dinner party, the person who's cooking your food will likely also be the person serving your food. And like a dinner party, guests gather where all the action takes place — the kitchen.

"When I go to dinner parties ... they kind of gravitate toward the kitchen," Liberman said. "So the kitchen's very open .... I want the cooks and the chefs to be able to talk to the guests, tell them what they're doing."

At the 45-seat restaurant, guests will be seated at a counter around the hearth, where live-fire cooking will take place. Using primarily local ingredients — many of which Liberman grows, forages, and ferments himself — the restaurant draws inspiration from Liberman's French and Italian training, as well as his Colombian and Jewish/Polish roots. The menu is also seasonally inspired, drawing from Northern California's 52 micro-seasons. That means the menu will essentially change every week, though some favorites may stay on the menu longer.

In a departure from his fine-dining résumé, Liberman is taking a more straightforward approach at Mago. "I really wanted to make food that was really craveable — food that I want to go eat on my day off," Liberman said. "I'm really focusing on simple food that's done in an innovative way and interesting way." Most plates will feature no more than three or four ingredients.

Liberman says affordability is a big component of Mago's mission, but he won't cut costs when it comes to quality. "We're still using sustainable farms and using really good fish, but instead of using the prime cuts of all those animals, we'll probably use other cuts." All plates, except for the family-style plates, which feed two to four people, will ring in at under $24.

The menu will be divided into three categories: snacks, plates, and family-style entrées. On the opening menu, snacks include strawberry aguachile with fresh cream, focaccia with seaweed, and yakitori with sorrel. Plates will include beet salad with pine nut labneh, spring garlic soup with new potatoes, and cacio e pepe with Meyer lemon and pink peppercorn. On the family-style menu is a lamb shoulder, which is cooked in its own fat and then cooked over the coals to order. There'll also be a menu of seasonal cocktails from bar director Adam Chapman, a menu of wines from all over the world from wine consultant Allegra Angelo, desserts from consulting pastry chef Robert Hac, and even a program of fresh juices.

As an Oakland resident, Liberman also wants Mago to be a neighborhood-friendly bistro. While the restaurant will accept reservations on Resy, a number of seats will be reserved for walk-ins — something that Liberman feels is essential to a neighborhood restaurant. There'll also be a patio where guests can relax and enjoy cocktails and a menu of smaller bites. Plans are in the works to offer lunch — possibly a fast-casual concept — and maybe breakfast, too. Liberman also has a young daughter, so Mago is kid-conscious. Children's books, a patio play area, and a kids' menu will all be available, as well as a changing table in the bathroom. Liberman also plans to offer cooking classes for all skill levels, and his wife, Theresa, will offer cheese classes for kids and adults.

Mago is at 3762 Piedmont Ave. Once open, hours will be Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m.

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.

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