Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Urbano Cellars to Close in April, Ushering in Maître de Chai

The small winery has been operating in West Berkeley since 2011 and is closing for retirement, making way for another winery from Napa to move in.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 10, 2019 at 2:30 PM

The owners and winemakers of Urbano Cellars in West Berkeley recently announced plans to retire and close Urbano Cellars by the end of April 2020. If you've been meaning to try Urbano Cellars' wine or stock up, now is the perfect opportunity — all bottles of wine are on sale, with prices as low as $15 per liter. But don't worry, West Berkeley isn't down a winery. Maître de Chai, a Napa winery, is taking over the Urbano Cellars space. It expects to open to the public for tasting room hours this summer.

Urbano Cellars traces its roots back to a San Francisco garage. Wine enthusiasts Bob Rawson and Fred Dick started out making wine in Rawson's garage (it was the bigger of the two, they say). When they founded Urbano Cellars in 2006, they worked out of small wineries in Oakland and Emeryville. In 2011, they moved to their current location at 2323 B Fourth St., where Rawson and Dick make all their wines and operate a weekend-only tasting room.

Urbano Cellars is known for its "food-friendly" wines, acidic enough to cut through oily foods without overwhelming the food. Urbano also is known for making unusual varietals of wine, shying away from zinfandels and chardonnays in favor of less well-known varietals such as Barberas and Terodelgos. Rawson and Dick run pretty much every aspect of the winery themselves, from the winemaking to the business side of things. When customers visit the winery, they'll usually find Rawson and Dick running the tasting room. They cited tiring six-day work weeks as part of their reason for retirement, though Rawson said he'll miss the strong community that Urbano Cellars built over the years.

"Being able to produce a product that we love to produce and that our customers really like, that has been quite satisfying," Rawson said. "We're really just thankful to our community and our customers over the years that have really, really supported us and have come here a lot — many of whom have become friends."

Meanwhile, Maître de Chai, which was established by winemakers Marty Winters and Alex Pitts in 2012, is making the move from Napa to Berkeley. This will be the winery's first space of its own; the wines are currently made in custom crush facilities in Napa.

Maître de Chai primarily makes its wine using grapes from dry-farmed, old-vine vineyards in California. "We saw some of these old vine sauvignon blanc or hundred-year-old zinfandel that people were kind of skipping over to make other different styles," Winters said. "We were amazed that some of these really noble and incredible vineyards that have a window into California's past were getting skipped over."

The winery also works with vineyards that are either organic or transitioning to organic. "Converting a lot of these old vine vineyards over to dry farming and organics is something that we really wanted to showcase," Winters said. The wines are also natural and low-intervention.

"We don't really add or take away anything. If a wine needs sulfur, we'll add it, and if it doesn't, we won't," Winters said.

Some of the winery's signature varietals include the Herron sauvignon blanc, a sparkling and still chenin blanc, and a chardonnay. To learn more about Maître de Chai, visit the website, MDC.wine or visit the winery on Instagram @mdcwine.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Three Indigenous Women Chefs Collaborate at Nourished

The dinner features Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah's Kitchen in Oakland, Tawnya Brant of Yawekon Foods in Ontario, and Elena Terry of Wild Bearies Catering in Wisconsin.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the Nourished dinner's new location, which will now take place at the Intertribal Friendship House at 523 International Boulevard in Oakland.

This Saturday, three indigenous women chefs, each representing a different part of Turtle Island, will collaborate on a special dinner for the first time.

The idea for this dinner has been brewing since chefs Crystal Wahpepah, Tawnya Brant, and Elena Terry met at the Great Lakes Food Summit, an indigenous food conference, a year ago. The three immediately found common ground as mentors and owners of indigenous food businesses. They decided to come together and host a dinner in Oakland, entitled Nourished.

"What better place to actually do a collaboration with two phenomenal woman chefs, especially in Oakland?" said Wahpepah.

Each chef will bring a different set of knowledge and traditions to the table. Wahpepah, who was the first indigenous chef to appear on the TV show Chopped, is from Oakland and is a member of the Kickapoo tribe from Oklahoma. Terry is a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe from Wisconsin, while Brant is a member of the Mohawk Nation from Ontario, Canada. Each will make a dish featuring an ingredient from her home region. Terry will make wild rice and squash featuring rice from Wisconsin, while Brant will bring rose hips for tea. Wahpepah, meanwhile, will make her signature blue corn cookies, which features three different types of corn. The chefs are also collaborating on a braised bison dish and a sorbet made of sweet grass and huckleberries for dessert.

"It's all of us coming together and creating, and something that represents ourselves as women and ourselves from our tribes," Wahpepah said.

When Wahpepah first started on her mission to become an indigenous chef, there were few other well-known indigenous chefs she could look to for inspiration, much less collaboration. Since then, she's had the opportunity to collaborate with other indigenous chefs including Brian Yazzie (also known as Yazzie the Chef) and Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino of Mak'amham, but this is the first time she's ever collaborated solely with other indigenous women chefs. Along with a nourishing, delicious meal, the three chefs will also talk about their experiences as community mentors and indigenous food business owners.

"I'm just ready to embrace collaboration and just enjoy each other's company and each of our knowledges ... and see how the outcome is, which I think is very, very beautiful," Wahpepah said.

The Nourished dinner takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Intertribal Friendship House, located at 523 International Boulevard in Oakland. Tickets are available for purchase on Eventbrite for $75.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Oakland Assembly, a Massive Food Hall, Scheduled to Open Next Summer in Jack London Square

Star chefs like Reem Assil, Preeti Mistry, and Matt Horn have signed onto the project.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 3:09 PM

Massive change is scheduled to come to Jack London Square soon. Last week, Jack London Square announced that Oakland Assembly, an enormous 40,000-square-foot market hall, will be opening in summer 2020 at 55 Harrison St., with live entertainment, community events, and of course, food vendors. The food hall will also feature a large indoor stage, a second-floor banquet hall and balcony, and outdoor dining areas.

Some Bay Area star chefs are already slated to set up shop at Oakland Assembly. At her kiosk, Reem Assil plans to offer stuffed falafel and al pastor-style chicken shawarma. Preeti Mistry, formerly of Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen, will return to the Oakland restaurant scene with two concepts. Juhu Chinese will serve Indo-Chinese food — think dishes like Manchurian cauliflower, which was one of the most popular items at Juhu Beach Club. Juhu Snacks, meanwhile, will serve Indian desserts and snack food. Rising Bay Area barbecue star Matt Horn, who's currently busy getting ready to open Horn BBQ at the site of the former Brown Sugar Kitchen, will open a chicken-focused concept called KowBird. Meanwhile, okonomiyaki pop-up Okkon, owned by Satoshi and Sachi Kamamae, will get its first brick-and-mortar location at Oakland Assembly.

Other vendors will make their Oakland debut at the food hall. Santa Cruz chef Anthony Kresge will open a craft burger concept called Belly Goat, and he's also opening The Bull & The Bird, which will serve charcuterie, cheese, and panini. Lastly, Oakland Winery will offer a wine bar and mixing lab. Additional vendors are expected to be added in the future.

If news of a massive food hall coming to Jack London Square is giving you déjà vu, you're not alone. The idea of opening a food hall along the waterfront was first announced to the public about 15 years ago. The food hall has seen several possible iterations, but none have panned out. Its original iteration, Harvest Hall, was supposed to be the largest food hall in the country at the time and was supposed to feature a cooking school and fine dining restaurants. More recently, the project was supposed to open under the name Water Street Market. The person behind that project was Steve Carlin, who was also involved in the opening of the San Francisco Ferry Building and the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, but Water Street Market never materialized.

The developer behind the current project is John McEnery IV of Kinzie Bridge Holdings, who was the developer behind the San Pedro Square Market in San Jose and the Abbott Square Market in Santa Cruz. Here's to hoping McEnery can make this project happen for real this time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Hella Vegan Eats Has Evolved Into Gay4U

Following departure from Classic Cars West, one of the founders of Hella Vegan Eats has started a new vegan pop-up called Gay4U at Garden House in Oakland.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 3:49 PM

Good news for vegan food fans, the queer and trans communities, and their allies: Hella Vegan Eats has returned to Oakland, now in the form of a pop-up called Gay4U at Garden House.

Hella Vegan Eats was a trans-queer POC-owned restaurant, founded 10 years ago by Sofi Espice and Tiff Esquivel. It began as a pop-up selling tamales on the streets of San Francisco, and it later operated out of a food truck. Most recently, the eatery operated out of the kitchen at the Classic Cars West Beer Garden in Oakland, where it served vegan dinner and brunch fare for three years. But at the end of February, Hella Vegan Eats was asked to leave, with both parties citing difficulty working together. It was a huge loss for the communities that supported Hella Vegan Eats. Thankfully, those communities rallied behind Hella Vegan Eats, raising over $17,000 in a GoFundMe meant to cover the costs of relocating and supporting employees as they transitioned to new jobs.

In October, Espice went solo and opened Gay4U at Garden House, a woman-owned weekday lunch spot at 380 15th St. in Oakland. Garden House itself recently went through its own transformation, having reopened in mid-October after two years of renovations. It now has a separate kitchen that's home to Aburaya Go, a new takeout outpost of the Japanese fried chicken joint. During evenings and weekends, Espice takes over at Garden House, transforming it into Gay4U. To help cover the costs of business going forward, Espice has also started another GoFundMe for Gay4U.

Espice describes Gay4U as an "evolution" of Hella Vegan Eats. Some of the dishes that Hella Vegan Eats was known and loved for are still on the all-vegan menu, like chicken and waffles — though Espice said many of the recipes are different. Other options include "friendship toast," French toast with strawberry-blueberry compote and cashew-coconut cream cheese, plus a Gay4U burger made with a seitan-chickpea patty.

Gay4U is also turning its focus toward health-conscious options, like a pepito salad and a kale-parsnip quinoa bowl. "[The menu] has a lot of fermented things and sauerkraut," Espice said. "I'm trying to continue what I've been doing, but just make it more health-conscious and make it more sustainable for myself. I want to be eating better than I did when I was 21 when Hella Vegan Eats started." The menu has been changing weekly, with additions like chicken tortilla soup in the increasingly cold weather. Keep your eye out for new additions like ramen, which is expected to arrive on the menu in spring.

What makes the menu stand out perhaps the most, however, is its offer of free meals for trans people of color. "Me being a trans person of color having survived the last 10½ years in the Bay, I know how hard it is. ... I've seen so many people in my community just vanish and have to go somewhere else," Espice said.

"I didn't have a stable mom or dad there for me or anything — my parents split as soon as I came out. So I wanna be there for other people in ways that I wish people could have been there for me."

Gay4U is located at 380 15th St. in Oakland. Hours are Thurs.-Fri. 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and Mon. 6 p.m.-9 p.m.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Spinning Bones, A California-Style Rotisserie, Opens in Alameda

This unique addition offers quality meats prepared with California sensibilities and Japanese-Hawaiian ingredients.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 3:13 PM

Downtown Alameda might be small, but its dining scene is incredibly diverse. Within just a few blocks' radius, you'll find Xi'an-style street food, a wide array of Vietnamese food, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, and what's likely the only Lithuanian restaurant on the West Coast.

Now, Alameda has another unique addition to its dining scene: a table-service rotisserie that's charmingly named Spinning Bones. The restaurant, which opened on Nov. 1, is the latest venture from experienced restaurateurs Mike Yakura and Danny Sterling. Up until now, Yakura and Sterling have focused their efforts in San Francisco — they also own Dobbs Ferry in Hayes Valley and Noodle Me in the Financial district. But as a resident of Alameda for the last decade, Yakura is excited to have a restaurant that's closer to home.

"I wanted to live and work in the same place," Yakura said. "I'm gonna feed the people I know. ... I love this community."

At Spinning Bones, Yakura and co-chef Lauren Lambert start with quality meats like Llano Seco pork, Allen Brothers beef, and 38 North chickens. The meat then gets marinated in shio koji, a Japanese mixture of fermented rice, water, and salt that Yakura says helps add umami, depth, and color to the meat. The meats are then roasted on one of the restaurant's eight spits. Each kind of meat gets dressed with a different seasoning and accompaniment.

Meat options include a half chicken with Japanese tare sauce, orange salt, tossed greens, and roti; black pepper flank steak with chimichurri, umami salt, broccoli, and sesame oil; pork shoulder with garlic-jalapeño garum and smashed cucumber pickles; and St. Louis pork ribs with yellow curry salt, Japanese potato salad, and pickled jalapeños. Groups looking to try a little of everything can opt for the Trip's Triple, a combo plate that includes all four meats.

The sides also offer a departure from your typical rotisserie accompaniments. Some options include blistered shishito peppers; corn with shoyu, noru, tofu dressing and scallions; and "party rice" with green tea, hijiki seaweed, carrots, and firm tofu. Rounding out the menu is a selection of starters, including mochiko fried chicken nuggets and a sampler with cashew cheese, smoked baba ganoush, lemongrass falafel, seasonal veggies, and roti. There are also a few salads, plus a rotating selection of desserts like butter mochi and peanut butter granola torte. And contrary to what the restaurant's name might suggest, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan offerings, as well as dairy-free and gluten-free options available. There's also beer and sake on tap, plus a list of wines, bottled beer, and sake.

At first, Yakura described Spinning Bones as an Asian or Hawaiian-style rotisserie — and yes, the kitchen uses plenty of Asian ingredients. But now, Yakura prefers the descriptor "California-style." "These are the flavors that we grew up with that we just cook at home," Yakura said. "Soy sauce, sesame, furikake — all those small ingredients ... definitely feel Asian, but then when you get them across the table, they just feel Californian."

Spinning Bones is at 1205 Park St. in Alameda and is open for dinner 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Online delivery will be available starting this week. Look out for future dinner hours on Mondays, plus counter-service lunch hours and catering coming soon. There's also a back patio, which is expected to open this spring. For more information, visit SpinningBones.com.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

First Edition, a Comic Book-Themed Bar, Now Open in Uptown Oakland

Brought to you by the folks behind Jackalope in San Francisco, the new bar promises a craft cocktail experience in a fun, unpretentious atmosphere.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 4:04 PM

Calling comic book lovers and craft cocktail aficionados alike: There's a new bar in Uptown Oakland that might be right up your alley.

First Edition, a comic book-themed craft cocktail bar, celebrated its grand opening on Friday. It's the first East Bay venture from owners Cory Hunt and Javier Ortiz, who also own Jackalope in San Francisco. Both Hunt and Ortiz are pop culture experts who take more interest in the villain than the hero.

"Villains, they're more fun than superheroes," Hunt said. "They're usually darker and sexier."

The two were originally intending a villain-themed expansion of Jackalope, but when plans fell through, they headed to Uptown Oakland. The new space measures in at 4,000 square feet. Above the bar is a series of large comic book-style panels from artist and designer Michael Brennan. Speech bubble-shaped light fixtures hang from the ceiling. Brennan's sinister-looking clown sculpture, nicknamed "Chuckles," greets guests above the mezzanine. One of the bar's two mezzanines features a DJ booth, while the other has a full bar, rooftop access, and plenty of space for hosting private events. Meanwhile, the rooftop offers space for events; the bar owners also hope to eventually add a projector for movie screenings.

Aside from the bar's unique look and layout, the cocktail menu is also laid out differently from most other bars. First Edition's beverage director, Napier Bulanan, was inspired by the James Beard award-winning book Cocktail Codex. The menu is based on the concept that all cocktails are derived from six different types of "root" cocktails: old fashioneds, martinis, daiquiris, sidecars, highballs, and flips. For each of the six cocktails, customers can order three styles: the root, a classic twist, and a First Edition original, which scale from simple to more complex. For example, the root martini features gin, dry vermouth, and lemon; the classic twist is a Manhattan made with overproof rye, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, angostura, and orange bitters; and the First Edition original, entitled the N.E.W. Gotham, contains Infanta Lambanog, bonal, Mr. Black Coffee, and chocolate bitters. A selection of low-ABV and nonalcoholic cocktails are also on the menu, along with an all-East Bay beer list.

Though First Edition doesn't have its own kitchen, it shares a back wall with Xolo, the Mission-style taqueria located on Telegraph Avenue. First Edition offers an abbreviated version of Xolo's menu, focusing on tacos and burritos with meat, pescatarian, and vegetarian options.

Though First Edition is new to the neighborhood, Hunt said he's received nothing but support from nearby bar owners. Each bar, he said, fills a different void. Hello Stranger is great for dancing, while Bar Shiru and Here's How offer quieter environments for cocktail sipping. Hunt hopes First Edition will be somewhere in-between, combining a laid-back, fun neighborhood bar atmosphere with the drinks you'd typically find at an upscale cocktail bar.

"It's a pretty tight-knit community here. I think we all understand that we don't see each other as competition," Hunt said. "The cliché is the rising tide floats all boats, and I think that that'll continue to be true."

First Edition is at 1915 Broadway, Oakland, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

With House Kombucha, People's Cafe Transforms Into a Kombucha Taproom

House Kombucha founder Rana Lermer-Chang envisions kombucha as a social alternative to alcohol.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 29, 2019 at 3:46 PM

A decade ago, Rana Lehmer-Chang was a cash-strapped recent law school graduate who started making her own kombucha in the sluggish economy. As it turned out, Lehmer-Chang had a natural knack for making kombucha, which she watched her mom brew growing up. Soon, she started selling her kombucha at farmers markets and in bottles.

Since then, House Kombucha has grown and grown, and its kombucha is available in bottles and kegs in stores and cafes all over the Bay Area. But Lehmer-Chang's vision was always to open a zero-waste kombucha cafe. Last Saturday, her dream came true with the grand opening of the House Kombucha taproom in partnership with People's Cafe in Berkeley.

People's Cafe, at 61 Shattuck Square, now offers eight varieties of kombucha on tap. The rotating flavors served are exclusive to the cafe. Current options include winterberry pie, blueberry litchi, coconut peach ginger, strawberry lavender, and jasmine grape. There's even a CBD kombucha. Customers can order kombucha by the pint ($4.95 for regular, $5.95 for CBD) or by the growler ($12 for regular, $16 for CBD).

Lehmer-Chang envisions People's Cafe as an alternative to a bar, where people can socialize over kombucha rather than alcoholic beverages. She's a member of the Bahá'í faith — which prohibits the consumption of alcohol — and believes kombucha is a healthy, probiotic-filled alternative. (Note that kombucha does, however, contain a small amount — less than 0.5 percent — of alcohol.) It also fills a niche that can't be filled by coffee, which many don't like to drink late at night due to its caffeine content. Lehmer-Chang's kombucha is relatively low in caffeine, particularly her white tea varieties.

To facilitate kombucha's role as a non-alcoholic social beverage, People's Cafe is now open until 8 p.m. Lehmer-Chang said the cafe may extend hours depending on demand. She's also increased the menu to include vegan ramen at an introductory price of $8.95, with a shoyu-based broth and toppings like black garlic oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and spinach. Also on offer is zero-waste boba, available in black or green tea varieties and served in glass jars with metal straws.

Lehmer-Chang also plans to host social events at the cafe. In the works are a Thanksgiving vegan prix fixe menu and an annual kombucha making contest; she'd also like to host monthly interfaith song circles.

Meanwhile, Lehmer-Chang also plans to use the cafe as a testing ground for her upcoming zero-waste grocery store, Eternal Foods. She plans to offer non-perishable products in reusable containers, including olive oil and maple syrup. She also currently has a side project, Eternal Catering, which offers zero-waste catering services (including vegan ramen) at a mid-range price.

To learn more, visit PeoplesCafe.com and HouseKombucha.com, or follow them on social medimedia.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Food Shift Looks to Raise Funds, Broaden Impact

The nonprofit is dedicated to reducing food waste, combating climate change, and reducing social inequality.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 22, 2019 at 2:25 PM

It's no secret that food insecurity is a huge issue, especially when it comes to access to fresh produce. But though 50 million Americans struggle with food insecurity, 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted, according to Food Shift, which has a way to address food insecurity and food waste while also fighting social inequality at the same time.

Food Shift is an 8-year-old East Bay nonprofit headed by executive director and founder Dana Frasz. Food Shift recovers fresh produce that would otherwise be wasted, then redistributes some of that produce to food banks and other organizations. Meanwhile, Food Shift also runs a paid culinary job training program for people struggling with homelessness, addiction, or histories of incarceration. The rest of the food is used by trainees to gain cooking skills or to fulfill catering orders for Food Shift's vegetarian catering business. Most of those catering orders are provided to local nonprofits at cost; other catering orders come from businesses like Clif Bar that believe in Food Shift's model and are able to pay full cost. The revenue from catering orders, in turn, helps keep Food Shift going.

Aside from feeding people, reducing waste, and creating job opportunities, Food Shift is also combating climate change by rescuing food — a total of 120,000 pounds a year — that would otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Frasz, Food Shift's food recovery efforts also save 90 million liters of water per year and reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 70,000 miles of driving.

"Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change," Frasz said. "There's so much methane going into the air from this rotting food because most of it doesn't get composted and recycled."

For the past three years, Food Shift has been based at the Alameda Point Collaborative, a supportive housing community dedicated to combating homelessness and cycles of poverty. Since then, 25 APC residents (out of a total of 200 adult residents) have graduated from Food Shift's six-month job training program. Food Shift continues to support participants after graduation, and many of those graduates have gone on to pursue careers in the food and service industry. Food Shift also recently partnered with the Oakland Private Industry Council, which will allow Food Shift to support a broader pool of participants beyond Alameda.

But as Food Shift looks to expand the reach of its job training efforts, the nonprofit needs more kitchen space access. The kitchen at APC is shared by several other organizations, so in order to support more trainees, offer more job training time, and fulfill more catering orders, Food Shift would either need to rent out the APC kitchen full time or move to a bigger kitchen space. A bigger kitchen would also allow Food Shift to recover even more produce, further reducing water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

To support Food Shift's increased kitchen access, Food Shift launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on Oct. 22 with a fundraising goal of $40,000. As a token of thanks, donors will also be invited to Food Shift's annual celebration on Dec. 14, where Food Shift advisor and food recovery activist Robert Egger will be a guest speaker. To learn more about Food Shift, donate to its crowdfunding campaign, or request catering services, visit FoodShift.net.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Vegan Mob Is an Overnight Hit in the Former Kwik-Way Building

Oakland's new vegan barbecue and soul food joint sold out on its first day in business.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 6:13 PM

Last week, Oakland got a new destination for vegan barbecue and soul food — and it's proven to be an instant hit.

Vegan Mob opened for business in the former Kwik-Way building at 500 Lake Park Ave. on Oct.5. On its first day in business, the brand new restaurant fulfilled over 900 orders, selling out entirely.

Part of Vegan Mob's immediate popularity might be due to its friendly and charismatic owner and chef, Toriano Gordon. Born and raised in the Fillmore, Gordon started cooking at the age of 5 and grew up in a family of San Francisco restaurateurs.

But he's also equal parts chef and rapper. "I don't know what came first — rapping or cooking," he said. Prior to opening Vegan Mob, Gordon was in graduate school studying psychotherapy with a focus on hip-hop therapy. But some self-reflection led Gordon to leave graduate school and pursue a career in the restaurant industry instead.

"I was doing some soul searching, because in psychotherapy programs, they make you think and check in a lot," Gordon said. "I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to do barbecue because my uncle, who passed away, always said ... San Francisco doesn't have real barbecue. He's from Houston. And so I said, you know what, I want to do some barbecue. But then I realized, I don't eat meat!" Gordon laughed.

That's how the concept for Vegan Mob was born. Gordon opened his first pop-up in April. Gordon himself is vegan for health reasons, and at Vegan Mob, he wants to promote healthy eating in his community and beyond.

"We grew up eating things that killed us," Gordon said. "I could bring the ... food [that] my people and other people are used to eating and just make it healthier, make it easier to transition to a better life."

Vegan Mob's most popular menu items include vegan gumbo made with vegan shrimp and sausage; combination plates with vegan brisket, ribs, or fried shrimp plus sides including vegan "smackaroni and cheese," collard greens, and slaw; and a fried shrimp po-boy. The menu also features a number of "fusion" items like the barbequito — a burrito stuffed with vegan brisket and smackaroni — and fried spring rolls stuffed with Impossible burger meat and vegan cheese.

Eventually, Gordon hopes that Vegan Mob will grow into an international chain, where he can spread not only his love for hip-hop and plant-based diets, but also a message of positivity and hope. Gordon has struggled with addiction in the past, and though he's no longer planning to pursue a career as a therapist, he still wants to help young people.

"I'm not just serving food, but I'm serving Oakland," Gordon said. "I want people to know that they can do this. I was an Uber driver six months ago, and I was not rich ... and I believed in myself and had faith — and guess what happened?"

"I want to not only spread around Vegan Mob, but the energy of Vegan Mob." 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Chef Tu David Phu’s New Pop-Up, BanhMi-Ni, Softly Opens in Oakland

At the lunchtime-only pop-up at Copper Spoon, the Oakland chef is breaking all the rules and putting his own spin on banh mi.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 4:00 AM

In case you weren't familiar, Vietnamese-American, Oakland-raised chef Tu David Phu is one of Oakland's culinary stars. His culinary career started out fairly traditional, attending culinary schools and working in renowned fine dining restaurants. Eventually, he left that world to start his own series of moderately-priced pop-up dinners called An, where he turned his focus toward Vietnamese tasting menus. From there, Phu began to gain all kinds of recognition and accolades, including being named one of the San Francisco Chronicle's Rising Star Chefs of 2017 and competing on Top Chef Season 15.

But as he reflected upon An, Phu realized he wanted to focus on offering food at a more affordable price. "I started doing more stuff in the nonprofit space, especially with inner city youth and incarcerated folks," he said. "Me being a native of Oakland, I wanted to do stuff where Oakland natives and Oakland folks can enjoy the food."

Last Thursday, Phu softly opened BanhMi-Ni, a weekday lunch-only banh mi pop-up at Copper Spoon. At BanhMi-Ni, Phu offers a creative menu of Vietnamese sandwiches with options like shoyu-poached chashu pork, pastrami, ginger-scallion turkey, and hoisin chicken. All come with housemade chicken paté and shredded carrot and daikon — the ingredients that Phu said are essential to a banh mi. For vegetarians, there's also a paté-less sandwich made with Beyond Meat and ginger-scallion sauce. The sandwiches clock in at $9.95 and come with a side of spicy cucumber slaw or banana blossom and cabbage salad. Housemade drinks like lemongrass, ginger, and mint-infused lemonade and Vietnamese cold brew are also available, plus desserts like banana bread pudding and coconut sticky rice.

Asked why he decided to focus on banh mi, Phu replied, "I'm a really big fan of street food. I really enjoy eating with my hands more than eating on a plate and silverware." Plus, Phu said, he identifies with banh mi on a personal level.

"I'm a third-culture baby — I'm a byproduct of being of two different worlds. Banh mi is definitely a reflection of me," he said. "Banh mi, like myself, is a third-culture product as well, too. You have the French and the Vietnamese, and that comes together and you get banh mi. Without either, you wouldn't have banh mi. I can fold other 'nontraditional, non-authentic' things into that."

One of the biggest departures Phu makes from so-called "traditional" banh mi is with the bread. Rather than using light, crusty banh mi bread, Phu uses a hero roll, which is similar to the bread you'd find on a Mexican torta. "I love banh mi, but I hate all the crumbs that it creates when you eat a banh mi. It kind of gets everywhere," he said.

The bread then gets pressed like a panini, and the sandwich is served warm. That's the origin of BanhMi-Ni's name, which is a portmanteau of banh mi and panini. Yes, it's a nonconventional banh mi — and that's exactly what Phu is aiming for.

"In this sandwich concept, I wanna throw [out] all the rules and just have a good time — as long as the cultural identity of banh mi is still there," Phu said.

BanhMi-Ni is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. (or sold out) at Copper Spoon at 4031 Broadway in Oakland. For more information, visit EatBanhMiNi.com.

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