Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Brown Sugar Kitchen Returns to Oakland

Plus, Cupcakin' expands to Swan's Market

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 7:57 PM

Lila Owens of Cupcakin'. - PHOTO BY CHRIS ANDRE
  • Photo by Chris Andre
  • Lila Owens of Cupcakin'.

Ever since chef Tanya Holland shuttered Brown Sugar Kitchen on Mandela Parkway in West Oakland last August, fans have been feeling the absence of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland's brunch scene.

But on Feb. 20, Holland opened the doors to Brown Sugar Kitchen's brand-new flagship location at 2295 Broadway in Oakland. Measuring 4,000 square feet with 85 total seats, it's a significant expansion over the West Oakland location, with a modern interior and a full bar. But for those loyal to the original location, the menu hasn't changed much. For brunch, Holland has retained her signature buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup, plus the popular barbecue shrimp and grits, beignets, and bacon-cheddar-scallion biscuits. For lunch, familiar dishes like smoked chicken and shrimp gumbo, blackened catfish, oyster po-boys, and pulled-pork sandwiches grace the menu. The restaurant is sticking to breakfast, lunch, and brunch for now, but plans on adding dinner service in the future.

The Oakland location follows just weeks after Brown Sugar Kitchen opened its new location in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. More expansion is already on the horizon: Holland plans to open a location inside Oakland International Airport later this year, and a location also is planned for the Warriors' Chase Center Arena in San Francisco.

Speaking of expansion, Cupcakin' Bake Shop has expanded from its location in Berkeley (2391 Telegraph Ave.) to a second outpost at Swan's Market in Oakland (538 9th St.), which opened on Feb. 22. For owner Lila Owens, the new Oakland location marks a kind of homecoming. "As an Oakland native, I'm thrilled to bring Cupcakin' to my hometown," Owens said in a press release. "It's particularly exciting to open at Swan's Market because it's such an important piece of Oakland's history."

At Cupcakin', dessert lovers will find cupcakes in classic flavors like red velvet, double chocolate, vanilla, and salted caramel. But the bakery also has become known for its pie-inspired cupcakes in flavors like Key lime and lemon cream pie, which feature a graham cracker bottom, citrus curd filling, and whipped cream frosting. The menu also includes cookies and cream cupcakes with an Oreo cookie bottom, plus vegan cupcakes and gluten-free cupcakes in flavors like raspberry chocolate chip. Along with cupcakes, customers will also find cakes perfect for celebrating special occasions. All of the treats at Cupcakin' are made with high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.

But Owens isn't done expanding. Plans are already in the works for a third flagship location in Berkeley, at the site formerly occupied by 65-year-old Virginia Bakery (1690 Shattuck Ave.) That location will serve as the commissary kitchen for all three locations of Cupcakin' Bake Shop, as well as Owens' catering business. The bakery will also serve some of Virginia Bakery's signature recipes, like sprinkle cookies. The third location is expected to open in June. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Dozen Cousins Wants to Bring Healthy Eating to a Wider Audience

The new Berkeley-based natural food brand believes healthy eating can be culturally relevant and taste good, too.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Three types of beans from a dozen cousins. - PHOTO COURTESY OF A DOZEN COUSINS
  • Photo courtesy of A Dozen Cousins
  • Three types of beans from a dozen cousins.

For A Dozen Cousins' founder Ibraheem Basir, food is inextricably linked with family. "Food was always a really big deal in my household," he said. "Food was what brought us together at the end of the days. It's also the way we celebrated; it's the way we marked different milestones."

Basir, along with his nine siblings, grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which he described as "a Black and Brown melting pot." His mother, who is from South Carolina, often made black-eyed peas or red beans for family dinners, but he also grew up eating dishes like Cuban black beans. Today, Basir has a daughter, plus 11 nieces and nephews, hence the name A Dozen Cousins. Those huge family dinners back in Brooklyn were the inspiration for A Dozen Cousins' first line of products: beans made using Black and Latino recipes. "A lot of what we do as a brand is to kind of just pay homage to that really diverse food culture," Basir said.

After graduating with an MBA in marketing, Basir worked for General Mills in Minneapolis, and then went on to work for Berkeley's Annie's. When Basir first moved to Berkeley a few years ago, he said, he was struck by the different approach many people took toward food.

"In Berkeley, everyone is super health-conscious, environmentally aware," he said. "And then I go back home [and] spend time with my family, and the conversations we were having around food were completely different. We were focused on seasoning, and does it taste good, is it gonna fill me up."

That got Basir thinking about how to combine the best of both worlds. "There was just this dichotomy. ... I'd think, there has to be a way to bridge the gap a little bit." He was particularly concerned about the fact that health food wasn't being marketed toward Black and Brown consumers, especially when food-related illnesses, such as diabetes, tend to disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. "That's the consumer that I would hope to help introduce into the space, and that's a lot of what the brand is built around," Basir said.

A Dozen Cousins beans come in three varieties, all of which are vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free: Cuban black beans with onions and bell pepper, Mexican cowboy beans with tomato and green chili, and Trini chickpea curry with cilantro and turmeric. The beans come pre-cooked in a BPA-free pouch, ideal for reheating for a quick work lunch or simple dinner or side dish. Right now, they're available on A Dozen Cousins' website and on Amazon, though Basir is looking to expand into more brick-and-mortar retailers soon.

The brand also hopes to make a broader social impact through food. Though Basir said the details are still under wraps, A Dozen Cousins plans to provide grants to support nonprofits that focus on solving food-related health disparities.

It's part of A Dozen Cousins' larger mission to get young people of color to eat healthier. "One of our founding beliefs is that you can't separate culture from food. They're linked together," Basir said. "And if we had a mission statement, it's just around, how do you harness the power of culture to get people to eat better?" 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Classic Cars West Parts Ways With Hella Vegan Eats

Plus, Crooked City Cider softly opens in the Jack London district

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

After nearly three years at Classic Cars West, Hella Vegan Eats, a trans-queer POC-owned restaurant, has been asked to leave at the end of February.

"We just have different styles and different values, and honestly it just hasn't been working out, even though it's been almost three years," said Silvi Peligras, who co-owns Hella Vegan Eats along with Tiff Esquivel.

"It just gets to a point where you realize you're not gonna be able to work together anymore," said Michael Sarcona, owner of Classic Cars West. Starting March 1, Sarcona will serve a new vegan menu with items like Impossible burgers, vegan sausage, salads, soups, and Creole-inspired fare. There'll also be vegan coconut gelato made in-house by Kokolato.

Hella Vegan Eats began about a decade ago when Peligras and Esquivel started selling vegan tamales at Oakland's Art Murmur. Today, the restaurant is best known for its comfort vegan food, with lunch and dinner options like the potsticker burrito and cauliflower tacos, and brunch dishes like chicken and waffles and chilaquiles. It served food in the beer garden at Classic Cars West, while the latter ran the car showroom, art gallery, and beer garden. Despite cooking and serving food in that space, however, Hella Vegan Eats did not have a formal lease. "We've invested a lot financially and also emotionally, but we're not protected under a lease at all," Peligras said.

Peligras said the restaurant hopes to find a new brick-and-mortar location in Oakland. "We're Oakland people," Peligras said. "Oakland's very much embedded in my DNA, personally. It's helped me become who I am."

Although Hella Vegan Eats formerly operated out of a food truck, Peligras said they don't plan to return to the food truck model. Peligras and Esquivel are also working to support their staff of about nine employees. The restaurant started a GoFundMe page to help cover relocation costs and to provide their employees with supplemental income beyond what unemployment benefits can offer. After just two days, the restaurant had raised over $8,000 of its $10,000 goal.

Peligras said the restaurant is trying to relocate as soon as possible, but "it's just been really difficult to find space here in Oakland." In the meantime, the displacement will be a major loss for the communities who love Hella Vegan Eats.

"All of the weirdos, the queers, the freaks, the trans people, the people of color who come support us because we're people of color, all the freaky vegans who dine with us who are down for radical politics and our wacky clown ways — we're a home base for so many of these people who come and eat with us all the time," Peligras said.

After months of anticipation, Crooked City Cider's taproom softly opened on Feb. 6 in the Jack London district (206 Broadway, Oakland). The tap list features dozens of ciders, including several from Crooked City, plus guest taps from Hidden Star Orchards, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, and Richmond's Far West Ciderhouse, among others. You'll find ciders both sweet and dry, as well as some with fruit infusions like raspberry, pineapple, and cherry. There's a rotating food menu featuring bar bites like deviled eggs and heartier offerings like meatball subs. Photos of owner Dana Bushouse's Prohibition-era moonshine-producing great-uncles, Peter and John Bushouse, overlook the seating area. There's even a selection of board games, pinball machines, and dartboards. Soft opening hours are Monday through Thursday 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m.-midnight, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to midnight.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Let’s Talk About Diversity in Bay Area Craft Beer

Temescal Brewing, Oakhella, and Los Angeles’s Dope & Dank are collaborating for Hella Halftones, a SF Beer Week event.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 2:25 PM

L-R: Seneca Scott of Oakhella and Joshua Diggs and Sam Gilbert of Temescal Brewing. - PHOTO BY ALEX MILLER
  • Photo by Alex Miller
  • L-R: Seneca Scott of Oakhella and Joshua Diggs and Sam Gilbert of Temescal Brewing.

Who are some of the biggest producers and consumers of craft beer? An image of a bearded white man might pop into your head. But Temescal Brewing, Oakhella, and Dope & Dank are looking to change that.

“For years, craft beer has known there’s a diversity problem,” said Sam Gilbert, founder and owner of Oakland’s Temescal Brewing. “And everyone pays lip service to diversity, but nothing happens, or it doesn’t move past that.”

But Hella Halftones, at a Feb. 8 event to be held at Temescal’s Outpost in Jack London Square (621 Fourth St.), aims to talk about why diversity is so lacking in the craft brewing scene and come up with solutions for how to change that.

One of Temescal Brewing’s founding bartenders and event organizers, Joshua Diggs, took the lead in organizing Hella Halftones. Diggs got his start in the world of craft beer as a brewery tour guide and says he can count maybe three or four other people of color working in the craft beer industry in the Bay Area.

Temescal Brewing has hosted events aimed at making craft brewing more inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community, but this is the first public conversation they’ve hosted about racial diversity. “If you’re really genuine about a topic, it’s not gonna come to your front door,” Diggs said. “You have to go out there and be uncomfortable and talk to people. If people are feeling excluded, you have to go out of your way to make them feel included.”

A couple years ago, Diggs met Teo Hunter, one of the founders of Los Angeles Dope & Dank along with Beny Ashburn. So Diggs asked Hunter and Ashburn to get involved and come speak on the panel at the Hella Halftones event. Dope & Dank, whose motto is “Black People Love Beer,” was created to bridge the gap between communities of color and the craft beer community. Hunter came up with the idea when he was in line for a beer festival a few years ago and noticed there were no other black people at the event. “It was jarring,” Hunter said.

Craft brewing, Hunter said, has traditionally been something practiced in more rural areas. But as gentrification has seen more craft breweries opening in cities like Oakland — particularly in Black and Brown communities — the lack of diversity in who’s consuming and making beer is particularly concerning.

Hunter thinks part of the diversity problem is due to the way beer is advertised to communities of color. “The big beer companies have done a damn good job at just pandering and creating this image of what our relationship should be with beer, which is malt liquor, which is cheap, extremely high-octane, poorly made beer.”

But it can also be difficult to learn the lingo of craft beer, especially in an environment that’s dominated by white men. Diggs said he loves working at Temescal Brewing because it’s a place where anyone can learn about craft beer. “I have so many people from Oakland that grew up in the neighborhood that come and bring their friends. They tell me, ‘I like coming here because I feel welcome here … I don’t feel like I have to be a beer snob in order to walk through the door. If I … don’t know about beer, I can ask, and someone’s gonna help me.”

Knowing how to talk about craft beer doesn’t just help with enjoying craft beer — it can also lead to jobs in the growing industry. “We really started to have to shift to looking to see what we could do in terms of helping people understand how they can gain entry to the industry … [and] the way that they describe and break beer down, so they can potentially get more opportunities in taprooms, at craft breweries, in their community,” Hunter said.

But the event is also focused on making craft beer appealing and exciting to everyone. “Our Dope & Dank platform was created to … talk about craft beer not only in the way that all the craft beer geeks do it, but in a way that someone that loves hip-hop would talk about it,” said Hunter. The event will kick off with beer and food from Oakland’s Roderick’s BBQ. The founder of Oakhella, Seneca Scott, will be speaking on the panel along with Gilbert, Diggs, Ashburn, and Hunter. Oakhella, which is known for throwing day parties at community gardens in West Oakland with great food and music, will also be hosting an after party, with DJs Drow Flow and M.C. K~Swift.

The Feb. 8 event kicks off at 5 p.m. with food and beer; the panel will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $3. To purchase tickets, visit EventBrite.com.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Meet The North Light

Temescal’s hybrid cafe, bar, bookshop, and record store.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 12:42 PM

The North Light will eventually be open seven days a week. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SAVAGE BUREAU
  • Photo courtesy of The Savage Bureau
  • The North Light will eventually be open seven days a week.

Ever wished you could sip coffee, wine, or a craft cocktail, plus shop for books and vinyl at the same time? At The North Light (4915 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), Temescal’s newest bar, cafe, bookstore, and vinyl shop, which opened on Jan. 17, guests can do just that.

Dan Stone, one of the North Light’s owners, lives in the Temescal district, just steps away from the North Light. He and co-owner Lee Smith created the concept based on what they felt was missing in the district. “The whole model of what we were doing was inspired by what we thought this neighborhood would be happy to have,” he said.

The North Light is open from 7 a.m. to midnight every day except Monday (North Light will eventually be open seven days a week), so you’ll find suitable refreshments for any time of day. The food menu comes from chef Ronnie New, who was the opening chef at Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco’s Mission district. Though the kitchen is limited, Stone said, “It’s sort of like writing formal poetry, you have to work within constraints — and sometimes if you do that, the results can be even better than if you had everything you wanted.” The menu is primarily Mediterranean-influenced, and many of the plates encourage sharing.

For breakfast, you’ll find things like a breakfast sandwich with bacon, pepper jelly, a soft-boiled egg, and Manchego cheese, and a breakfast scramble made with patatas bravas. The lunch menu features a meatball sandwich, plus plenty of vegetarian options like a little gem salad with grapefruit and avocado, or baby beets with harissa. There’s also a daytime menu with bites like avocado toast, and a kids’ menu offering grilled cheese. Along with coffee, there are unusual drinks like a Cafe Du Monde shakerato, lavender-matcha soda, and cereal milk horchata. For those visiting in the evening, there’s a menu of bar snacks like sardine crostini and deviled eggs with blue crab and bacon. On the heavier side, there are plates like a whole roasted cauliflower, ricotta meatballs, and a flat iron steak.

Stone said The North Light is primarily a bar, so you’ll also find a Mediterranean-inspired bar menu designed by bar manager Den Stephens. There’s an amaro-heavy list of cocktails, suitable for both day and night, plus a wine list featuring wines from France, Spain, Italy, and Greece.

But Stone and Smith also love books and music. Stone is a writer, and he also founded and edited Radio Silence magazine, which merged literature and rock ’n’ roll. “This bar is sort of the physical embodiment of that magazine,” Stone remarked. Smith, formerly of Bill Graham Presents and Live Nation, is the founder of Prescient Entertainment.

On the literary side, you’ll find a curated collection of books from a wide range of authors, like Samin Nosrat and Michael Chabon. In keeping with The North Light’s kid-friendly attitude, there are also children’s books. Guests will be able to hear records being played all day long, and when the vinyl selection is officially rolled out in the next couple of weeks, it’ll feature a collection curated by Pat Spurgeon, the drummer of Oakland band Rogue Wave.

“There aren’t many places open in the afternoon here for somebody to go get a cup of coffee and work, or get a glass of wine and meet a friend,” Stone said. With cozy indoor tables and a bar, plus a covered outdoor patio, The North Light looks like a good place to do just that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

California's New Food Laws

The following legislation went into effect this month.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 11:54 AM

Food prepared by a former Josephine home cook in Oakland. - PHOTO COURTESY OF C.O.O.K. ALLIANCE
  • Food prepared by a former Josephine home cook in Oakland.

A slew of new food-related regulations went into effect this month in California, including a law concerning home cooking vendors, a plastic straw restriction, and required overtime pay for farmworkers.

Assembly Bill 626, by Rep. Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, regulates “microenterprise home kitchens” and allows cities and counties to decide on how to regulate food made in home kitchens. The law potentially impacts an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 home cooks and entrepreneurs. However, each jurisdiction still needs to opt-in in order for home cooks to legally sell their goods.

Senate Bill 1164, by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, increases the amount that craft distilleries can produce and allows distillers to sell products directly to the public. Another Skinner bill, SB 1138, requires hospitals, nursing facilities, and prisons to offer plant-based, vegetarian meals.

AB 1884, by Rep. Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, bars full-service restaurants from giving out single-use plastic straws unless one asks for them. Fast food joints are excluded.

AB 1066, by Rep. Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, requires farmworkers to be paid overtime if they work more than 9.5 hours a day, or over 55 hours a week. Eventually, farms will be required to pay overtime at the standard more than eight hours per day and 40 hours a week.

AB 1976, by Rep. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, requires employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a space for lactating employees in a room or private space that is not a bathroom. A previous law required employers to provide break time and space other than a toilet stall (including inside a bathroom), to express milk.

SB 946, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, decriminalizes sidewalk vendors.

AB 1192, by Rep. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, prohibits restaurants from offering soda or juice as the default option for kids’ meal drinks. They can still be requested by the customer.

AB 2914, by Rep. Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, prohibits restaurants and bars from selling cannabis-infused cocktails, citing that “mixing alcohol and cannabis can lead to dangerous interactions, including a compounding impairment effect.”

… In other food news, Community Foods Market was able to buy the land that the new grocery store is being built on, from the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, their community development partner. “Purchasing our property has enabled Community Foods Market to eliminate the risk of losing a lease in the future and empowers our social enterprise to become a long-term anchor in the West Oakland community,” the market noted in a newsletter.

And, it looks like Meet Fresh, a Taiwanese dessert, bubble tea, and shaved ice chain, will be opening soon in Oakland Chinatown; it recently put up its sign. l

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Alameda Serves Up Red-Hot Restaurant Week Deals

The restaurant week is only in its second year, but there are some excellent deals to be found.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 1:11 PM

At Trabocco, you'll get a four-course dinner for $40. - PHOTO BY ALAIN MCLAUGHLIN
  • Photo by Alain McLaughlin
  • At Trabocco, you'll get a four-course dinner for $40.

Alameda Restaurant Week is only in its second year, but there’s already an impressive list of about 40 restaurants to choose from — some of which are offering big savings on their menus. Deals are available starting Thursday, Jan. 17 and run through Sunday, Jan. 27. I’ve gone through participating restaurants’ menus and picked out the best (and tastiest) deals just for you. For more information, head to AlamedaRestaurantWeek.com.

Mama Papa Lithuania
You certainly won’t find Lithuanian cuisine at any of the other East Bay restaurant weeks — in fact, Mama Papa Lithuania (1241 Park St.) has claimed to be the only Lithuanian restaurant in the West. Nor will you find a deal so good anywhere else. The restaurant is offering a three-course lunch and dinner special for just $12. There are two menu options available. The first begins with a cabbage and vegetable soup, followed by a main course of handmade dumplings stuffed with mushrooms, sauerkraut, onions, and potatoes. Dessert is a homemade butter cookie. Or go with the second menu, which consists of pea soup topped with bacon, wild cod fillet with mashed potatoes, and a slice of Lithuanian lazy pie for dessert. Both meals also come with herbal hot tea. The lazy pie alone would normally run you $6, so this is a great deal.

German restaurant and biergarten Speisekammer (2424 Lincoln Ave.) is offering solid lunch and dinner deals this year. The lunch special, which is also offered on the weekend, will run you just $15. It includes a starter of either pickled vegetable salad or potato-bacon soup, your choice of two mini sandwiches (bratwurst, weiner schnitzel, or schweinebraten), plus your choice of fries or roasted potatoes as a side. The three-course dinner special for $30 includes a starter of fried brussels sprouts, your choice of one of three main courses (beef goulash with spätzle, wild boar hunter’s pie, or grilled trout with rice pilaf), and a dessert of apple strudel with vanilla ice cream. End the meal with the included apple schnapps. A full-sized dinner entrée alone at Speisekammer would normally run you about $20, so $30 for three courses looks like a pretty good deal.

West End diner Neptune’s (630 Central Ave.) is serving up a three-course brunch for $22. For starters, choose from longanisa-stuffed lumpia, housemade ricotta toast, or avocado-furikake toast. Entrée choices include a West End omelet with bacon, cheddar, tomato, mushroom, and avocado; a sweet waffle topped with ricotta, fruit, honey, and almonds; a smash burger with umami mayo and all the fixings, plus a side of fries; or market veggies with black turtle beans, tomatoes, and home fries. And for dessert, you’ll have to somehow decide between an affogato with macapuno (young coconut) ice cream, or banana lumpia with caramel sauce. Depending on which options you pick, this deal gets you a savings of about $5 compared to normal menu prices.

Don’t let Trabocco’s location (2213 S. Shore Ctr.) in the South Shore Center fool you — it’s by far my favorite Italian restaurant in Alameda, and one of my favorites in the East Bay. The lunch special on offer this year — three courses for $28 — is a good value. You’ll get your choice of the soup of the day or a kale, lemon, and bean salad, an entrée of housemade oxtail ravioli, chicken salad, or tuna salad, plus tiramisu for dessert. Compared to normal menu prices, you’re essentially getting a tasty tiramisu at no extra cost. Or for dinner, you can get four courses for $40. For the antipasti course, choose between soup or a winter salad with chicory, grapes, pears, gorgonzola, and Prosecco dressing. The primi course offers a choice between crab cakes in a lobster-brandy cream sauce or braised pork belly with a lentil-farro pilaf. Choose from three main course options: a wood-fired half chicken with potatoes, grilled Scottish salmon and potatoes, or housemade butternut squash ravioli. And of course, the dinner deal includes tiramisu for dessert.

Berkeley Restaurant Week Is Back

There’s no better time to visit your favorite Berkeley eateries — or try out a new one.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 10:08 AM

Longbranch is offering a three-course prix fixe menu for $35. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT BERKELEY
  • Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley
  • Longbranch is offering a three-course prix fixe menu for $35.

Starting Thursday, Berkeley Restaurant Week is back for its seventh year. From Jan. 17-27, more than 45 Berkeley restaurants will offer prix fixe menus ranging in price from $25 to $35. Here are some of the best values and most interesting deals. For more information, check out VisitBerkeley.com/Dine.

This year, Longbranch (2512 San Pablo Ave.) is offering a three-course prix fixe menu for $35 with four options for each course. For appetizers, choose from butternut squash soup topped with crème fraîche and pepitas; a citrus salad with chicories, blue cheese dressing, and pomegranate; a goat cheese and beet brioche tart; or roasted bone marrow with Acme levain and quince-chile jam. Next, pick from entreés including stuffed honey butternut squash; boudin blanc with cabbage and pancetta; seafood risotto with saffron and smoked tomato; or braised leg of lamb with orecchiette and pumpkin seed pesto. Wrap up the meal with your choice of dessert: a pecan s’more, chocolate pot de creme, coconut chiffon cake, or apple upside-down cake. Plus, this deal is a pretty good value. Salads go for about $12, while entrees are priced around $21-28, and desserts at $8 — so you’re looking at savings of up to approximately $13.

Saha (2451 Shattuck Ave.) is a hotspot for reinvented Middle Eastern food and classic Yemeni dishes. The restaurant week deal gets you three savory courses for $35 — a savings of $5-10 over their daily vegetarian and meat/seafood prix fixe menus, respectively. There are too many options to list here — I counted 12 options for the second course alone — but here are a few highlights: First courses include choices like a chicken liver salad, seared octopus salad, fattoush, or stuffed avocado. For your second course, select from dishes like a lobster or wild mushroom knafeh, ginger-orange scallops, chicken or duck bastilla, or Yemeni okra. And for the main course, there are options like a spicy seafood tagine, crispy-skin branzino, or the Saha ravioli stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a mango-mint sauce. Bonus points: There are plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free selections to satisfy most dietary needs.

La Marcha
You’ll certainly get the most courses for your money at La Marcha (2026 San Pablo Ave.), a tapas bar. For $35 per person, the prix fixe menu includes a whopping five courses. Start with a plate of sheep’s milk cheese with quince paste, Marcona almonds, and olives. The next course is a trio of tapas including a Spanish tortilla with chorizo aioli, cheese-stuffed mushrooms, and a clam and bone marrow croqueta. The meal continues with a chicory and kale salad, followed by wild boar meatballs. Last but not least, there’s paella made with chorizo, pork belly, and pork shoulder, pasilla peppers, and chickpeas. A sharing size portion of paella would normally cost about $32-36, so this is a great opportunity to sample a large portion of the menu at a relatively low price.

Munch India
Newcomer Munch India (3015 Shattuck Ave.) has only been open since November, but chefs Diana Afroza and Nick Ahmed bring decades of cooking experience, plus their experience running the Munch India food truck for the past few years, to the kitchen. Here, the rotating menu features a selection of regional Indian dishes you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Their three-course restaurant week menu is priced at $35. The menu includes an appetizer of urulai kizhangu bonda, breaded potato-vegetable balls served with chutney. For mains, choose from vegetarian shahi aloo gobi (sauteéd cauliflower with potato fondant) or lazeez murgh khatta dopyazia (broiled chicken in cumin-tomato gravy with double onions). You’ll also get an order of rasmalai — cottage cheese balls soaked in saffron — for dessert. (Note: We just learned that Munch India has closed temporarily due to a family emergency. Please check their Twitter feed @MunchIndia for updates.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Five Soups to Help Warm Up This Winter

Looking for comfort food? Here are five Oakland picks for warming winter soups.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 8, 2019 at 11:51 AM

Kuy teav Phnom Penh is the dish that put Nyum Bai on the map. - FILE PHOTO BY ANDRIA LO
  • File photo by Andria Lo
  • Kuy teav Phnom Penh is the dish that put Nyum Bai on the map.

It seems like ever since December hit, I’ve been craving soup a lot  more often. When you want to tuck into a bowl of steaming soup, here are a few suggestions to help you stay warm in Oakland.

Kuy teav Phnom Penh from Nyum Bai
Kuy teav Phnom Penh is the dish that put Nyum Bai on the map back in its days as a pop-up, and for good reason. The rich pork broth is simmered for seven hours, resulting in a broth that’s sweet, salty, garlicky, and a little funky. The soup is chockfull of rice noodles, pork, and shrimp, topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, and a wedge of lime. Pro tip: I usually order mine with extra noodles, and I like to add a little smoky chili sauce. And if you’re visiting with vegan or vegetarian friends, I’m also a huge fan of the vegan machoo manor soup, a sweet and sour broth filled with fried tofu, pineapple, tomatoes, and mushrooms.

3340 E. 12th St., Ste. 11, Oakland, (510) 500-3338

Green pozole from Obelisco
Just across the plaza from Nyum Bai in Fruitvale Village is Obelisco, a place I’ve been visiting for years for its pozole, ever since it was known as Taco Grill. The pozole here comes with a red, green, or clear broth — one for each of the colors in the Mexican flag. I’ve tried them all, and in my opinion, the green one with pork is the best. The spicy green chile broth is sure to warm you up, and the squeeze of lime on the side adds an enjoyable hint of acidity.

3411 E. 12th St., Ste. 110, Oakland, (510) 534-3752

Jook from Gum Kuo
Whether you call it jook, congee, or porridge (as it’s listed on the menu here), it’s basically liquid comfort in a bowl. If you can’t get it homemade, Gum Kuo is the next best option, and there are enough varieties of jook here to make your head spin. My favorites are the salted pork and preserved egg porridge, the abalone and chicken porridge, and the sliced fish and pork ball porridge.

388 9th St., Ste. 182, Oakland, (510) 268-1288

Short rib stew from Pyeongchang Tofu House
Pyeongchang Tofu House is known, of course, for its excellent soft tofu stew. But I’ve also been a longtime fan of its short rib stew, which is listed toward the end of the menu. The clear bone broth is so rich that it almost tastes like it’s made with butter. The short rib meat is tender enough to cut with a spoon, and the cabbage adds hearty crunch. Plus, you get a complimentary extra “soup” — ask your server to pour hot tea into the crisp rice that’s left in the stone bowl at the end of your meal.

4701 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 658-9040

Carne en su jugo from Tortas Ahogadas Mi Barrio
Just a few weeks ago, I went to Tortas Ahogadas Mi Barrio to try their namesake tortas ahogadas — but I was pleasantly surprised to find carne en su jugo on the menu. It’s a soup popular in Guadalajara that’s typically made by simmering tomatillos and beef in bacon fat. Pinto beans and chunks of bacon are then added to the soup, which is served with tortillas on the side. Beware, the carne en su jugo is only available on Saturdays and Sundays, and it tends to sell out.

4749 International Blvd., Oakland, (510) 434-9454

Oakland Restaurant Week Is Just Around the Corner

It’s your chance to grab a multi-course meal at a discounted price — and maybe even for a good cause.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 8, 2019 at 11:40 AM

Chef Nelson German of alaMar. - PHOTO BY MELATI CITRAWIREJA
  • Photo by Melati Citrawireja
  • Chef Nelson German of alaMar.

This Friday marks the start of Oakland’s ninth annual Restaurant Week. From Jan. 11-20, select Oakland eateries are offering special restaurant week deals on prix-fixe menus ranging in price from $10 to $70. These are my picks for the best restaurant week deals on offer this year. New restaurant deals are constantly being added, so check the Oakland Restaurant Week website for the latest.

Plus, Oakland Restaurant Week is partnering this year with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Some restaurants are donating a portion of restaurant week proceeds to the food bank, and all restaurant week customers are encouraged to make a donation. The food bank will use the proceeds to distribute fresh food and alleviate child hunger in schools and the greater community. To view more information about participants or to donate, visit OaklandRestaurantWeek.org.

Chop Bar
Chop Bar (247 4th St.) is offering a three-course dinner with a glass of Urban Legend Wine Company tap wine for $30. For starters, choose from an arugula salad with Point Reyes blue cheese, candied walnuts, and fruit, or the soup du jour. For mains, choices include meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and trotter gravy, polenta with smoked pork shoulder and Brussels sprouts, or veggie pasta with goat cheese. For dessert, choose between banana rum chocolate chip bread pudding or a fruit crisp. This deal offers some serious savings; the meatloaf entreé will normally run you $22, and the salad will run you $12.

Clove & Hoof
For $20, Clove & Hoof (4001 Broadway) is offering its famous cheesesteak, made with thinly sliced sirloin, onion confit, mushrooms, matchstick-cut turnips, and a warm beer cheese fondue on a hero roll. The deal also includes beef tallow French fries, a chocolate chip cookie, and a restaurant week-exclusive rosemary Meyer lemonade. The cheesesteak and fries alone would normally cost $20, so you’re essentially getting the lemonade and cookie at no extra cost.

Copper Spoon
Copper Spoon (4031 Broadway) is offering an exciting $40 three-course dinner menu with plenty of choices. After an amuse bouche, choose from three appetizers: roasted garlic hummus with homemade pita chips, chicory Caesar salad, or bean and kale soup. For mains, go for crab and shrimp gumbo with jalapeño cornbread and strawberry-persimmon jam, or choose honey-smoked glazed chicken with lentil-eggplant purée and a grilled persimmon-celery root salad dressed with chimichurri. There’s also peanut tempeh mafe with black eyed peas and chickpea croquettes. But dessert may be the hardest choice of all. You’ll have to decide between chai tea shortbread cookies with hot cinnamon milk, rosemary olive oil cake, or vegan coconut ice cream with pomegranate syrup. Copper Spoon’s entreés typically run $22-27 and salads run $12-14, so three courses for $40 looks like a good deal.

This year, alaMar (101 Grand Ave., Ste. 111) is offering deals for every time of day. For lunch, Tuesday through Friday, the $10 deal includes your choice of fish tacos or chicken tostadas, both served with a mixed greens salad and soft drink. Or head over on a weekend for brunch. For $20, you’ll get a pineapple mimosa, plus your choice of red velvet pancakes with wings or a fried oyster hash with poached egg. The deal also includes a side of sweet plantains, lemon pepper spiral fries, or andouille sausage. Or for dinner (excluding Saturday, Jan. 19), there’s a $30 two-course menu. Start with shrimp sopes or wings. Entrées include chicken with mango salsa or oxtails with rice, black beans and plantains, or shrimp with crema criolla sauce, potatoes, and chorizo. Brunch is a particularly good value; the pancakes with wings normally cost $13, and the lemon pepper fries typically cost $8, so you’re saving a little money and getting a mimosa, too.

Brotzeit Lokal
Waterfront biergarten and German restaurant Brotzeit Lokal (1000 Embarcadero) is offering a $10 lunch deal that includes a sausage with fries or salad, or a lunch salad topped with potatoes, bacon, egg, and avocado. Or there’s a $40 dinner prix fixe that includes your choice of appetizer (including potato pancakes), an entrée (think goulash or a game sausage platter), and dessert (apple strudel or bread pudding, anyone?), plus a signature cocktail. If you order the prix fixe dinner on Saturday, Jan. 12, Brotzeit will donate a portion of those proceeds to the food bank. There’ll also be live music that night for diners to enjoy.

Correction: The original version of this report misstated the prix fixe dinner at alaMar. It's $30, not $40.

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