Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A New French Pâtisserie Is Coming to San Leandro

At Atelier Colibri, you’ll find croissants, macarons, crunchy-topped cream puffs, and more.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Dec 26, 2018 at 5:00 PM

Hawkins also plans to sell chocolate tarts. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ATELIER COLIBRI
  • Photo courtesy of Atelier Colibri
  • Hawkins also plans to sell chocolate tarts.

For Lori Hawkins, owner of San Leandro’s forthcoming French pastry shop, Atelier Colibri, baking is her third career. She worked for 18 years as a metallurgical engineer, and then went on to work as a bond trader for three years. But Hawkins is no stranger to working with food.

“I basically grew up in the back of a Chinese restaurant,” Hawkins said.

Growing up, her immigrant parents owned a restaurant, where she helped out after school. “I watched the chefs there cook, and I watched my mother cook, I watched my father cook. And as years went by, I learned to cook, and I loved to cook,” she recalled.

Then she got her first introduction to Western pastry during a junior high school home economics class. “Ever since then, I had a real interest in baking,” she said.

But she only recently decided to pursue baking as a career. “[In an] immigrant family, we were supposed to enter into certain professions. Medicine, engineering. ...And that’s what I did. I was not rebellious and did what my family expected me to do.”

Then she joined the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Studies program at the City College of San Francisco, where she learned to cook, bake, and manage the finances of a food business. She had become enamored with French pastries during her travels to Europe with her husband, and at City College, she learned how to make them. The experience she gained there gave her the courage to move forward with opening her own bakery.

“Two years ago, it occurred to me that I could finally do what I wanted to do at my age, rather than what I should be doing,” Hawkins said. “Finally, I was 59 and I decided, ‘Well, if I don’t do this now, it’s going to be never.’ And so I made the leap.”

Hawkins said Atelier Colibri means “hummingbird workshop” in French, named after the numerous hummingbirds she’s seen in San Leandro since moving there three years ago. She describes the bakery as a classic French pastry shop. She’ll sell traditional French pastries including well-known favorites like croissants, tarts, and macarons (though the macarons will come in some non-traditional flavors like green tea and black sesame). There’ll also be some more uncommon French pastries, like choux au craquelin (cream puffs with a crunchy, cracked top) and religieuse (two stacked choux buns stuffed with pastry cream and topped with ganache and buttercream).

She also plans to serve one completely non-traditional menu item: cruffins. For the uninitiated, a cruffin consists of croissant dough baked in a muffin tin, then filled with your choice of buttercream, jam, pastry cream, or fruit. “Everyone’s going crazy over cruffins now,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins is particular about the ingredients she uses. She prefers organic when possible and will use cage-free eggs. She’s even making a line of vegan pastries using Miyoko’s vegan butter. “I’m not vegan myself, but I made a batch of croissants with it, and I actually like it better,” Hawkins remarked.

Hawkins had planned on serving seasonal items this year, like bûche de Noël and peppermint macarons, but unfortunately, the bakery’s opening was delayed. In fact, the bakery has been a work in progress for nearly a year since she signed the lease last January.

Hawkins cited lengthy city and county permitting processes and a backlog of applications as the reason for the delay.

Hawkins expects that Atelier Colibri, located at 138 Pelton Center Way in San Leandro, will open Jan. 5.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Atelier Colibri was expected to open on Jan. 2, but it is now slated to open on Jan. 5.

Tara’s Organic Ice Cream in Temescal to Become I Scream Donuts

But don’t worry — you can still get Tara’s Organic Ice Cream at the new shop.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Dec 26, 2018 at 4:49 PM

The transition to I Scream Donuts has been a win-win for Tara Esperanza (left) and Katie Wages. - PHOTO BY NICK HEMPHILL
  • Photo by Nick Hemphill
  • The transition to I Scream Donuts has been a win-win for Tara Esperanza (left) and Katie Wages.

For Oakland ice cream lovers, changes are coming to Temescal. Tara’s Organic Ice Cream’s Temescal location (4731 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) is closing on Dec. 30, 2018 at 9 p.m., and will reopen sometime during January 2019 as I Scream Donuts.

Tara’s Organic Ice Cream owner Tara Esperanza decided to close her Oakland location in order to make more time for her art and to pursue her goal of showcasing her paintings in local galleries. (The Berkeley location at 3173 College Ave. will remain open.) Meanwhile, I Scream Donuts’ owner Katie Wages wanted to bring her favorite Sacramento treat, ice cream donuts, to the East Bay.

“I am really excited to bring one of my favorite desserts from Sacramento to the Bay Area! As a Bay Area native that was half raised in Sacramento, my heart naturally lies in both places. I noticed that ice cream donuts hadn't made their way to the East Bay, so I thought it would be a great addition,” Wages said in a press release.

Tara’s Organic Ice Cream was originally established in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2005. The Berkeley shop opened in 2008, and the second location in Temescal opened in 2010. The shop makes ice cream with high-quality, organic ingredients in a unique array of flavors including Bay laurel Chinese five spice, Darjeeling tea, saffron, and ylang ylang — earning the shop an Express Best of the East Bay award in 2009 for Best Ice Cream Flavors.

Coincidentally, Tara’s Organic Ice Cream is also Wages’ favorite ice cream shop, so at I Scream Donuts, you’ll be able to get Tara’s ice cream and vegan sorbets served inside a warm donut, or in a cup or cone. And Wages also plans to continue hosting monthly art shows — a tradition that started at Tara’s.

The transition to I Scream Donuts is not only a win-win for both parties, but has also resulted in a connection and friendship between Esperanza and Wages. “When we first met, the energy was right. I knew she was the right person to take over the space, and it’s been amazing to make a friend in the process,” Esperanza said. “It’s a joy to have another woman in business here in Temescal. And I think she has the next food trend, here in the Bay Area. I Scream Donuts is going to be amazing.”

A Model for Food Recovery and More

Alameda nonprofit Food Shift not only gives away recovered food but it now trains formerly homeless people and disabled people as apprentices in its kitchen.

by Momo Chang
Wed, Dec 26, 2018 at 4:28 PM

Food Shift is also looking for more catering gigs. - PHOTO BY MOMO CHANG
  • Photo by Momo Chang
  • Food Shift is also looking for more catering gigs.

Food Shift, an Alameda nonprofit, recently celebrated its seven-year anniversary. Food Shift receives thousands of pounds of donated produce each week, from several places, including Imperfect Produce and the San Francisco Produce Market. It’s become a hub for recovered produce and food, and it redistributes the produce. Half of it goes to the Alameda Food Bank, just across the street from Food Shift (677 Ranger Ave.).

“The cosmetic standards in grocery stores and markets are so high that if an apple or lemon has any blemish, it would be taken off the shelf,” explained Dana Frasz, founder and executive director, referring to the donated produce that they receive.

Food Shift staffers also send food to City Ministries in downtown Oakland. Each week, hundreds of pounds also go to Earth Freedom Collective’s free food stand, which takes place on Wednesdays in front of Resilient Wellness in West Oakland (2461 San Pablo Ave.).
They give away produce and some prepared foods for free (they encourage people to bring their own bags, containers, and utensils) in a neighborhood known for having few options available for fruits and vegetables.

About 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Frasz has been working on food recovery issues since she was 18 and has been thinking of solutions for years. She realized that recovering food alone was not enough.

What started as a waste reduction and food recovery program has now grown into a larger mission of feeding people and creating jobs. For the past two years, Food Shift has been working with Alameda Point Collaborative, hiring its tenants, who are formerly homeless or have disabilities or disabled family members, as apprentices in the Food Shift kitchen.

Frasz said 75 percent of those who graduated from their job training program are either now working or back in school. Over several months, the trainees are paid minimum wage and learn cooking and job skills.

“Saving food and feeding people with the food that would otherwise be thrown out was rewarding,” said Regina Oliver, who graduated from the program in January and now works at UPS.

  • Photo courtesy of Food Shift

Nonprofits and corporations have been hiring the graduates for catering. Food Shift’s catering menu is entirely vegetarian, and almost nothing is bought from the grocery store.

On a recent fall weekday, staff, apprentices, and a group of volunteers were cooking a red enchilada casserole made from cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, corn tortillas, and potatoes, along with some nutritious side dishes: sautéed bok choy and kale spiced with cumin and garlic, and pinto beans. They were cooking food for a three-day Green Peace conference.

Suzy Medios, culinary instructor and head chef of catering at Food Shift, works with whatever vegetables they get and does not seem fazed — and is, in fact, excited — by the challenge. “All the vegetables we are getting are in season and at their prime,” Medios said. They also keep dry staples like beans and rice, and many of the spices and oils are also donated.

One of the main challenges in food recovery and food security, Frasz added, is finding funding. The services they provide, from buying a van and hiring a driver to picking up produce every day, costs money. Recently, Imperfect Produce started to foot a portion of the bill for transportation, and Frasz believes more food companies that are wasting food should contribute financially to food recovery efforts.

Food Shift currently is in its final stretch of a year-end fundraising campaign so it can keep programs like the food apprenticeship program going. The nonprofit has had success with catering, including clients such as Kaiser, Clif Bar, and LinkedIn, and is looking for more ongoing catering gigs such as at a senior center, school, or corporate meal service. Food Shift also offers other services that generate funding, including consulting for companies and nonprofits for waste-free events.

To find out more about Food Shift, visit and

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Farewell to El Sabrosito, A Pupuseria on Wheels

Plus, Arizmendi’s Emeryville location is closed until further notice due to a fire.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 1:46 PM

This week will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food. - PHOTO BY MARIA ZAVALA
  • Photo by Maria Zavala
  • This week will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food.

Shortly after celebrating its three-year anniversary, Salvadoran food truck El Sabrosito reported on Dec. 10 via social media that the truck’s last day of business will be Saturday, Dec. 22.

The business is owned by sisters Maria and Claudia Zavala, who opened the truck in December 2015. Maria said they are closing the business for a “change of careers.”

The mobile pupuseria brought pupusas, tamales, bean soup, and other Salvadoran eats to Jack London Square during weekdays, as well as to Temescal Brewing on Saturdays. The truck also appeared at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire on the first Sundays of the month. El Sabrosito also garnered praise from the Express in 2016 for being an old-school food truck serving up comforting, homestyle food rather than catering to trends.

One of the most unique items on El Sabrosito’s menu was the Lola’s special: a pupusa of the customer’s choice topped with a fried egg, curtido, and Salvadoran chorizo. The dish is named after Maria and Claudia’s mother, Lola, who created the dish. “She was living with me for a while, and she actually made it for me one day when I was in a hurry. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast,” Maria recalled.

During its last week of operation, El Sabrosito will be open during its normal hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays at 333 Broadway in Oakland, and Saturday from 1 p.m.-8 p.m. at Temescal Brewing at 4115 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.

This Saturday will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food. According to Maria, they don’t have plans to relocate or reopen.

“It’s a good business, it works, but it does have some limitations, with the food setup and costs being the way they are,” she said. “Who knows what the future has, but for the time being, we’re not moving elsewhere.”

Maria expressed gratitude for the Oakland community. “The community here was very welcoming. Even though it’s a big city, everybody just makes it feel like it’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. They’ve just always been very supportive. I’m very thankful for everybody.”

…News of another closure also rattled the East Bay on Dec. 10, when cooperative bakery Arizmendi Emeryville (4301 San Pablo Ave.), known for its daily vegetarian pizza slices and corn-cherry scones, announced that it was closed due to a fire that occurred that morning. According to an Alameda County Fire Instagram post, multiple cars collided in the parking lot, causing one of the vehicles to hit the bakery’s back wall. A gas line was hit, causing a fire to erupt. One person sustained minor injuries but declined medical treatment. The bakery is closed until further notice.

On Dec. 13, Arizmendi Emeryville updated their webpage with a note stating that they will re-open in the future, but asked for space as they grieved for their communal workplace.

“The bakery is not just a workplace, it is a community space: a second home for us. Every day we meet there. We commune. We commiserate. We have conversations about so many things beyond just our products and our business. We are friends. We are loved ones. We all care deeply about one another as human beings,” the note read.

Cam Huong in Oakland Chinatown to Become Cam Anh

The sandwich shop will have a similar menu with more vegetarian options and may open as early as January.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 11:03 AM

Anh Nguyen.
  • Anh Nguyen.

Anh Nguyen’s dream was 28 years in the making.

Nguyen left Vietnam as a young adult on a boat for refugees, ending up in Hong Kong and then eventually reuniting with her brothers in Oakland. One day, one of her brothers brought her to eat breakfast at a modest shop in Chinatown, called Cam Huong. She remembers getting caphe (Vietnamese coffee) and a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich).

“I was happy that there was good Vietnamese comfort food in Oakland and always thought that it would be a dream to own such a restaurant,” Nguyen said, adding that the place reminded her of home. “It’s always busy, there’s excitement and activity going on.”

She put that dream on hold as she became a business owner in Oakland. For the past 20 years, she’s worked at Folks Art — originally on Piedmont Avenue, and recently relocated to the Montclair Village (6123 La Salle Ave.). The shop, which was founded by 14 local artists 43 years ago, and which Nguyen now owns, is a retail jewelry and gift store — including many handcrafted holiday ornaments right now.

Still, Nguyen never let go of the dream of owning the sandwich shop. She visited Cam Huong many times over the year. When she found out that Cam Huong in Chinatown was closing in September because the matriarch, Huong Luu, was retiring (the Cam Huong on International Boulevard remains open, as does the bakery), she was sad, like many loyal customers.

  • File photo by Momo Chang

She reached out to the owner of the building to inquire about leasing the space. “The keys dropped in my hands,” Nguyen marveled. She credits her family, friends, and the owner of Cam Huong, “who believed in me,” she said. “Sometimes, you want something so bad, you make it happen. I’m still blown away. I still can’t believe my dream is coming true.”

If you walk by now, you may see workers remodeling the restaurant. She hopes to freshen up the shop and open it in January. Fans of Cam Huong (920 Webster St.) — which were many, during the more than three decades it was in Chinatown — will be happy to know that much of the menu will remain the same, but with an upgraded interior. “I plan to keep the spirit of Cam Huong,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen will also add her touches, such as more vegetarian options, and for tea, using honey instead of sugar. (Nguyen has run more than 40 marathons and is very health-conscious.) “My goal is to make it the most healthy place in Chinatown, if I could,” Nguyen said.

And the store will be renamed Cam Anh. If her current business, Folks Art, is any indication, Nguyen is set for success. As customers walk in, she greets each one warmly, remember faces and what individual customers like. “Never give up on your dreams,” Nguyen added.

… In other news, one of the only Mongolian restaurants in the East Bay, Togi’s in downtown Oakland, has closed, according to Eater SF.

Friday, December 14, 2018

This Weekend, Mercado Latinx Comes to the Jack London Square Farmers Market

by Katherine Hamilton
Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 11:39 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Mercado Latinx
In case you need another reason to go to the Jack London Square Farmers Market this weekend, here’s one: this Sunday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., CUESA is partnering with Mercado Latinx Bay Area. Along with the usual farmer’s market produce stands and food stalls, there’ll be a total of 27 Latinx vendors selling handmade holiday gifts and refreshments.

More information about the Farmers Market is available at

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where to Eat Dungeness Crab

Seven East Bay restaurants serving up the seasonal delicacy.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 11:59 AM

Time to get cracking! - PHOTO BY DENISE HUYNH OF TAY HO
  • Photo by Denise Huynh of Tay Ho
  • Time to get cracking!

We’re nearly a month into Dungeness crab season — and if you’re not sure where to find crab this season, there are plenty of restaurants serving up the prized crustaceans. As you’d expect from the East Bay’s diverse food scene, the types of preparations are endless, including Oaxacan mole, Vietnamese tamarind-garlic sauce, and Italian garlic and lemon. Time to get cracking!

1. On weekends, Oaxacan hotspot Agave Uptown (2135 Franklin St., Oakland) will be serving market-price Dungeness crab with mole sauce and seasonal vegetables. Round out the meal with Oaxacan specialties like the tlayuda: a gigantic thin, crispy tortilla topped with Oaxaca cheese, black beans, and your choice of meat or vegetables. There’s also a mezcal-driven cocktail menu to complete the Oaxacan dining experience.

2. Lake Chalet in Oakland (1520 Lakeside Dr.) offers views of Lake Merritt, along with Dungeness crab in all shapes and forms. On the smaller side, there’s a Dungeness crab tostada topped with blood orange mango salsa, habanero crema, and avocado, and a Dungeness crab bisque made with brandy, chives, and crème fraîche. If you’re looking for a full meal, there’s also a crab melt made with truffle cheese, a squid ink rigatoni topped with Dungeness crab and calamari, a filet mignon topped with butter-poached crab and crab-infused Béarnaise sauce, and a whole oven-roasted crab with garlic, lemon, and parsley.

3. Benchmark Pizzeria in Old Oakland (499 9th St.) might be best known for its wood-fired, Cal-Italian style pizza. But during Dungeness crab season, the restaurant will serve half crabs roasted in their wood-burning pizza oven, along with lemon, potatoes, and aioli, for $24. Or if you’re in the mood for fresh pasta — Benchmark makes it all in-house — there’s also a Dungeness crab pasta available for $18.

4. Oakland’s Tay Ho (344 12th St.) serves up regional Vietnamese specialties you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Oakland — and through the end of the year, they’ll also be serving Dungeness crab for dinner nightly. Choose from a whole crab with caramelized garlic and shallot sauce or tamarind garlic sauce, along with your choice of garlic noodles or gluten-free garlic rice for $38. Owner Denise Huynh recommends calling ahead (510-836-6388) to reserve your crab, since quantities are limited.

5. And let’s not forget the bay fung tong style crab at Bay Fung Tong in Oakland (1916 Franklin St.), which former Express staff writer Luke Tsai named as one of his favorite meals of 2016. It’s cut into pieces and fried, then topped with a heap of crunchy garlic, fermented black beans, and chilis. A variety of other preparations are also available, including a ginger-green onion sauce, fried salt and pepper crab, or golden egg crab, which is coated in a savory fried crust made from preserved duck egg yolks. Crab is sold at market price, which was $19.99 per pound at the time of writing.

6. In Berkeley, Trattoria La Siciliana (2993 College Ave.) will be serving up its famous Italian-style cracked crab marinated in lemon, garlic, parsley, and olive oil for $35. If that’s not reason enough to head to Elmwood, then the complimentary bread dipping sauce — a magical mixture of olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, and more — should be.

7. Or if pasta is more your style, Donato & Co. (2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley) will be serving squid ink tagliatelle with Dungeness crab and toy box tomatoes for $26. There’s also an all-Italian wine list and a full bar where you can enjoy classic Italian cocktails, like a Negroni.

Marshawn Lynch’s Restaurant, Rob Ben’s, Expects to Open Friday

Plus, a farewell to Ici in Berkeley, and Pinky & Red’s secures its place at Cal’s MLK Student Union.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Fans of Scend’s Restaurant on the Oakland/Emeryville border (3627 San Pablo Ave.) are scheduled to see the restaurant get new life soon — this week. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marshawn Lynch purchased the soul food restaurant in summer 2017 when its 80-year-old owner, Cassie Nickelson, decided to retire — effectively saving the restaurant from permanent closure. The restaurant now goes by the name Rob Ben’s; according to the Chronicle, it’s named in honor of Lynch’s best friend Robert Benjamin, who was shot and killed in Oakland in 2007 at the age of 25.

Now, after over a year in the works, restaurant staff told the Express that they expect to open to the public on Friday, Dec. 14. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner (although restaurant staff noted there will be no difference between the lunch and dinner menus). While the former Scend’s restaurant served fried catfish, fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, and red beans and rice, details regarding the new menus at Rob Ben’s are still in the works.

Meanwhile, Eater SF broke the story last week that Ici’s two Berkeley locations in downtown Berkeley and the Elmwood district closed abruptly on Nov. 29. Ici announced the closure via Instagram.

Ici ice cream in Berkeley closed abruptly on Nov. 29. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE HAMILTON
  • Photo by Katherine Hamilton
  • Ici ice cream in Berkeley closed abruptly on Nov. 29.

“After 12 amazing years/We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts/For the love, support and community/It’s been a wonderful ride/We couldn’t have done it without you/With gratitude — au revoir!!!/Mary and all that was Ici Ice Cream,” read the Instagram post. Similar signs were posted in the papered-up windows of the Elmwood location.

Ici’s original location at 2948 College Ave. opened in September 2006 under the ownership of Mary Canales, who worked as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse for nine years. The storefront drew lines for its small-batch ice cream, sorbet, and ice cream cakes made using quality local ingredients. The shop set itself apart with flavors like Earl Grey and cardamom-rose-pistachio, as well as its hand-rolled, chocolate-filled cones. A smaller second location opened in downtown Berkeley at 2079 University Ave. in November 2017.

The reason for the closure is unclear. The Express reached out to Canales for more information about the closure, but did not receive a response.

And Pinky & Red’s, a Black-owned La Cocina eatery located in UC Berkeley’s MLK Student Union, has secured its place in the food court for another semester. The business is owned by Bernadine Sewell and Sicily Sewell-Johnson, a mother-daughter duo, and serves dishes like burgers and fried chicken sandwiches.

A petition created by Cal’s Black Student Union stated that Pinky & Red’s was being threatened with potential eviction by the ASUC Student Union in order to make room for the nonprofit Berkeley Student Food Collective, even though Pinky & Red’s is profitable and had quickly gained a following within the Cal community.

“The ASUC Student Union has additionally tried to push P&R [Pinky & Red’s] into verbal agreements without legal knowledge of the situation, has given mixed, changing messages to the owners since September, and has offered little to no certainty to a family that relies on that certainty in order to survive and thrive,” the petition read.

The petition to keep Pinky & Red’s in the student union gained over 1,700 signatures within a week. On Instagram, Pinky and Red’s called for supporters to sign the online petition, write letters of support, and show up to the ASUC’s discussion on Thursday, Dec. 6. Later that day, the petition was updated to announce that ASUC had unanimously voted to keep Pinky & Red’s in the student union for the spring semester.

“Because of you all, we have retained one of the very few Black businesses in Berkeley,” the update read.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mixiote and E.E. Cummings-Inspired Cocktails

At Plum Bar, Mixiote, a La Cocina pop-up, has taken up temporary residence serving Mexico City-style mixiotes, as the bar debuts its first in a series of poetry-inspired cocktail menus.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 11:39 AM

Mixiote will be at Plum Bar through February. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIXIOTE
  • Photo courtesy of Mixiote
  • Mixiote will be at Plum Bar through February.

Alma Rodriguez is now bringing mixiotes to the masses at Plum Bar in Oakland. What’s a mixiote, you might ask? Rodriguez, who began her business through the San Francisco food business incubator program La Cocina, wanted to serve mixiotes because they were hard to find in Bay Area restaurants.

“We wanted to bring something a little bit different from Mexican cuisine,” said Rodriguez’s son Arturo Marin, who was a partner in Mixiote — a La Cocina pop-up now at Plum Bar — in the beginning but has recently stepped back to work on other projects. “Even in Mexico it’s kind of rare to find it, because it’s a really tedious preparation.” Marin said that while you can sometimes find mixiotes on the street in Mexico, they’re commonly served at special occasions like quinceañeras, weddings, and family gatherings.

Rodriguez is originally from Mexico City. Her mixiotes are slow-cooked meats or vegetables marinated with dried chiles including guajillo and pasilla, then wrapped in banana and avocado leaves and cooked for several hours. The mixiotes are served along with handmade tortillas, nopales, black beans, and pickled onions.

According to Marin, the lamb and chicken mixiotes, which are marinated in a red chile sauce, are relatively traditional. But Rodriguez is also creating her own interpretations of the mixiote, such as the pork in a green marinade. “That’s really not traditional at all,” said Marin. There’s also a mixiote made with king trumpet mushrooms and vegetables, which Marin said is also unusual.

“I’m trying to innovate the menu here at Plum Bar,” said Rodriguez. Mixiote has popped up at locations including Cala in San Francisco and at the UC Berkeley Student Union, and at Plum Bar (2216 Broadway), where Rodriguez continues to experiment with her menu. She’s serving small plates, including tortitas de papa: fried potato cakes stuffed with cheese and encrusted with bread crumbs. Marin said they’ve been a hit with customers. “It’s more of a homey dish,” Marin said. “She used to make those for us when we were little.”

Mixiote is still in the incubation stage at La Cocina in San Francisco. While Rodriguez originally planned to open a food truck, she’s now shied away from that idea and is deciding whether to operate Mixiote as a brick-and-mortar or as a catering business. The Plum Bar pop-up, Marin said, is an opportunity for Mixiote to gain experience running a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and they’re thankful for the opportunities that La Cocina and Plum Bar have provided. Plum Bar is currently hosting a series of La Cocina pop-ups, each lasting three months.

“Thank you for La Cocina,” Rodriguez said. “This is my dream, you know… [to] introduce our dish.”

Mixiote opened in Plum Bar on Nov. 12 and will stay through February. Kitchen hours are Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

  • Photo by Vanessa Solis
  • Chris Mansury.

Meanwhile, Nov. 12 also marked the launch of Plum Bar’s first poetry-themed cocktail menu, based on the poems by E. E. Cummings. Plum Bar’s new bar lead, Chris Mansury, developed the menu along with Alta Group beverage director Aaron Paul.

“There are pages of poetry lining the walls,” Mansury said, but Plum Bar’s previous cocktail menu didn’t reference poetry at all. Mansury decided to change that. He loves reading poetry, and the first book of poetry he owned was by Cummings. “[It] was gifted to me by my mother. It was kind of my introduction to poetry at a young age.”

Mansury also believes Cummings’ poems are still strikingly relevant today. One cocktail on the menu is called etcetera, made with Laird’s apple brandy, Liquore Strega, and Amaro CioCiaro. It’s named after the poem “my sweet old etcetera,” which is about the experience of a soldier’s family while he was away at war. “I think it kinda reflects a lot of what’s going on right now, where things are difficult, and there are so many people out there that just have a hope for something.”
Mansury said the E. E. Cummings menu is the first in a series of poetry-inspired menus, and the Cummings menu will be available until mid-January.

Mochi Donuts, a Force for Good

The owners of Third Culture Bakery hope to bring joy through their new mochi delight — and through their signature mochi muffins.

by Momo Chang
Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 11:29 AM

All the donut glazes are natural with no food coloring. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THIRD CULTURE BAKERY
  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery
  • All the donut glazes are natural with no food coloring.

Third Culture Bakery in West Berkeley is not your average Instagram-worthy donut destination. To be sure, there are photo-ops to be had. But the bakery, located in The Berkeley Kitchens (2701 Eighth St.), also hopes to be a sweet beacon of light in these dark times.

Owners Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu want to bring some joy through their popular mochi muffins and mochi donuts. The two initially met at a bakers’ brunch, started dating, then launched their new business together in 2017.

“We are two outward-facing gay bakers,” said Shyu, the bakery’s brand director. “We just want everyone to feel safe in our space. We see Third Culture and our mochi muffins and donuts as a symbol of acceptance and welcome, and a force for good.”

  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery

Culinary Director Butarbutar is formerly of Sam’s Patisserie while Shyu ran We the Minis, a bakery catering business in Oakland. Home of the Original Mochi Muffin, which Butarbutar and Shyu patented, Third Culture Bakery also recently started making mochi donuts. The business has expanded quickly and is now selling 12,000 pieces of pastries a week. They’re in about 60 retail locations now, including many cafes and shops in the East Bay.

But a visit to the West Berkeley storefront — which they call their showroom — is worth it. There, you can find an expanded menu and get a first peek at their experimental flavors, like a jasmine milk tea, ube coconut, and strawberry mochi donuts, or their savory, takoyaki-inspired mochi waffles. They also sell custard cakes as well as tea and coffee drinks; their coffee is made with 1951 Coffee Company roasts.

“Customers come in and see all that it takes,” Shyu said. “It is such a labor intensive process.” On a recent visit, their staff members were dipping, by hand, hundreds of donuts into a luminous purple glaze (all their glazes are all natural and with no food coloring, Shyu noted).

  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery

How did the mochi muffin and mochi donut come to life? When Butarbutar started selling pastries at pop-ups and events, people were asking for gluten-free options as alternatives to his croissants and tarts. He started making the mochi muffins, first selling them in 2014. From there, the mochi muffins took on a life of their own. (Note that the custard cakes have some wheat flour, while the other mochi products are gluten-free).

The muffins and donuts are made with mochiko (rice) flour, from Koda Farms using an heirloom rice and the only sweet rice flour growing in California. The mochi muffin was inspired by a Hawaiian dessert, a baked butter mochi, and Butarbutar infuses Indonesian flavors (he is from Jakarta and New York, while Shyu is from Taiwan and Los Angeles).

“I want our pastries to tell a story,” Butarbutar said.

“We’re third culture kids — immigrant kids who grew up in a different culture from our parents,” Shyu added.
(Note: Third Culture Bakery will be closed Dec. 23-Dec. 27).

…In other food news, Free Range Flower Winery is throwing a holiday party at alaMar Kitchen & Bar (100 Grand Ave., Oakland) and pouring free samplers of its lavender wine, “L,” and introducing the new rose hibiscus wine. Saturday, Dec. 8, 5-10 p.m. (free admission).

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