Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Viridian, A Cocktail Bar Featuring Dim Sum-Inspired Desserts, Opens in Oakland

The menu includes tomato beef cocktails, Thai tea tiramisu, and rum po tat.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 2:38 PM

An all-star team has teamed up to open Viridian, a new craft cocktail bar in Uptown Oakland that opened last Tuesday. In the space that formerly housed Plum Bar (2216 Broadway), the drink menu features cocktails made with seasonal California produce and wines from seven different countries, while the food menu, inspired by the Asian-American experience, offers several dim sum-inspired snacks and plenty of desserts.

At Viridian, guests can enjoy unusual cocktails like the Tomato Beef, a savory drink made with Don Julio Blanco tequila, basil eau de vie, tomato water, and "not lime" (a lime juice substitute), garnished with a wild foraged pink peppercorn leaf. Or guests can sip on The Golden Triangle, made with gin, golden beets, Meyer lemon, quinquina (an aromatized wine), California poppy, and Suze, a French brand of bitters.

The drinks are designed to pair with the dessert-heavy menu. One of the star desserts is the Thai tea tiramisu, made with Thai tea flavored mascarpone, topped with a layer of crispy caramelized condensed milk, and served with roasted peanuts. There's also a blood orange semifreddo with pistachio crumb and cardamom, loosely inspired by the now-discontinued orange sherbet Flintstones Push-Up Pops that were so beloved in the '90s. Some desserts are inspired by dim sum treats, like the rum po tat (Portuguese egg tart) made with spiced rum, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Meanwhile, the savory menu includes snacks like cha siu bao, salt and pepper chicken nuggets, and chili garlic milk bread served with a dark green butter flavored with charred scallions and ginger butter.

Each member of the team behind Viridian boasts an impressive résumé. The roster includes co-owner and bar manager William Tsui (formerly of Lazy Bear and Rich Table), co-owner Raymond Gee (formerly of Noodle Theory Provisions and Hakkasan) and Jeremy Chiu (formerly of Shinmai and International Smoke). All three co-owners were born and raised in Oakland. The team also includes general manager Alison Kwan, who teamed up with Tsui to create the cocktail menu; Master Sommelier Andrey Ivanov, who created the eclectic wine list; and executive chef Amanda Hoang (Bird Dog) and consulting chef Alice Kim (Lazy Bear, Coi).

Beyond food and drink, Viridian is just a beautiful space to be in. The space was designed by Soon and Soon Studio, which includes Anna Lee and Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu's and Moongate Lounge in San Francisco. The design was inspired by the 1994 Wong Kar-wai film Chungking Express, which depicts a bygone era in Hong Kong. An abstract neon sculpture behind the bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant, while sculptures from Tsui's parents' home sit on the countertops, and portraits of dogs from local illustrator Cheeky Chong decorate the walls.

Plus, Viridian is hosting a special Lunar New Year celebration this Sunday, Feb. 16, from 4 p.m. until midnight. There'll be red envelopes, nostalgic childhood snacks, a photobooth at 7 p.m., and the chance to win commemorative bottles and specialty pins.

For more info, check out ViridianBar.com.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Shawarmaji to Open in Forage Kitchen

Mohammad Abutaha makes shawarma the way he ate it growing up in Amman, Jordan.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Shawarmaji, a new Jordan-style shawarma pop-up, is scheduled to open at Forage Kitchen in Uptown Oakland on Feb. 10.

It's the latest project from chef Mohammad Abutaha, who spent most of his childhood and young adult years living in Amman, Jordan. Abutaha comes from a food-loving family. "I learned how to eat in Jordan," Abutaha joked.

After moving to the States partway through college to study mechanical engineering, Abutaha found himself missing the food from back home and started cooking those dishes for himself. Meanwhile, a career in engineering didn't feel like the right fit. "I really wanted to open a restaurant one day," he said. "I really wanted to work with food."

So Abutaha took a job as a dishwasher. "Everybody [was] looking at me weird, like, 'Why are you a dishwasher when you're an engineer?'" Abutaha recalled. But Abutaha worked his way up the ranks, cooking at Bay Area restaurants including Maven, Reem's, and most recently, Noosh. He also hosted a series of Arab family-style pop-up dinners. He left Noosh in November after an ownership shakeup, and since then, he's been working on Shawarmaji, which previously operated as a pop-up at Reem's Fruitvale location on Sundays.

Abutaha has tried shawarma all over the Bay Area, but none reminded him of what he ate back in Amman. In Jordan, Abutaha said, "We also have hummus and falafel, we have mana'eesh. ... But shawarma is king. Everybody eats shawarma all day, all night." At Shawarmaji, he makes the Jordan-style shawarma he couldn't find anywhere else.

"It goes back to the fact that I'm a cook because I want to eat, not because I want to cook," Abutaha laughed.

What sets a Jordan-style shawarma apart from the rest? According to Abutaha, his shawarma sandwiches are minimalist and simple — just yogurt-marinated, spiced chicken roasted slowly on a spit, wrapped up with cucumber pickles and garlic sauce and griddled until crisp. The resulting creation is long and thin, not burrito-like as many other shawarma sandwiches can be. For unusual twists on shawarma that are popular in Jordan, Abutaha offers one with melted cheddar and a hot sauce called shatta; there's another with fries stuffed inside.

Abutaha also serves a shawarma sandwich platter that comes with a sliced-up sandwich, fries, olives, pickles, and a generous amount of garlic sauce for dipping. "We love the garlic sauce, and we try to put it on everything," Abutaha said.

Other unusual Jordan-style offerings include vegan falafel sandwiches served on a French roll, with the option to add fried eggplant and potatoes. 

Shawarmaji will be open at Forage Kitchen (478 25th St., Oakland) Monday through Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Where to Carry On Lunar New Year Celebrations

There's still time to celebrate before the holiday ends in both traditional and not-so-traditional ways.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 28, 2020 at 3:38 PM

Lunar New Year celebrations kicked off last Friday, which was New Year's Eve according to the lunar calendar. But the festivities last for more than two weeks, so if you missed last weekend's celebrations, there's still plenty of time to celebrate the Year of the Rat at local restaurants, bakeries, and cultural centers.

At Top Hatters Kitchen in San Leandro, chef-owner DanVy Vu has created a six-course meal in honor of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

"Growing up in Southern California near Little Saigon, Tet was such a big deal," Vu said via email. "You didn't have to know the dates of [Lunar New Year] — you can just feel it everywhere you go. I miss it and hope I can bring some of that energy up here."

The menu, which costs $66 per person, starts off with a warm drink of toasted jasmine rice nog with coconut cream, cardamom, and jasmine tea powder. The menu also includes an awe-inspiring whole fried branzino in tamarind sauce with peanuts and fried shallots, pomelo and tangerine salad with preserved plum dressing, pork dumplings wrapped in cabbage in a gingery bone broth, and grilled gai lan with housemade oyster sauce. For a sweet end to the meal, there'll also be fried sesame mochi in ginger syrup with tapioca and coconut cream. The special Tet dinner is available now through Feb. 9; diners can also order from the regular menu.

Over in West Berkeley, Third Culture Bakery is offering a special black sesame version of its famous mochi muffin that was previously sold only at its pop-up in Japan. It's made using Japanese sesame seeds that are ground for 72 hours for a purer flavor, then decorated with a drizzle of white chocolate and a sprinkle of raspberry so it resembles a cherry blossom branch. The black sesame mochi muffins will be available in limited quantities until Feb. 8.

Noodles are often eaten for Chinese New Year because they symbolize longevity. For Chinese New Year, birthdays, and special occasions alike, my family heads to Bay Fung Tong in Oakland for lobsters plucked live from the tank and served Cantonese-style in ginger and green onion sauce over thick, chewy e-fu noodles. Some parts of China favor dumplings, and New Dumpling in El Cerrito offers a variety you won't find anywhere else, with options like zucchini and shrimp or tomato and egg. Both restaurants offer these dishes year-round, so you don't necessarily need to visit during Lunar New Year — but it sure is a good excuse.

For a broader look at Lunar New Year traditions beyond food, head to one of Oakland's museums and cultural centers. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center will hold a Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 2, which will include tai chi performances, lion dancing, guzheng music, literature readings, guided meditations, the chance to make your own red envelopes, and more. The Oakland Museum of California is hosting a two-day celebration on Feb. 8 and 9, which includes traditional dance performances, martial arts, crafting opportunities, cooking demonstrations, and a chance to learn about the gongfu cha tea ceremony. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Highlights of the Inaugural Bay Area Cider Week

Get in the competitive spirit, pair cider with food, meet cider makers, and taste new ciders.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 21, 2020 at 4:16 PM

Cider lovers, mark your calendars for the first-ever Bay Area Cider Week, which takes place Jan. 26-Feb. 2. While Bay Area Cider Week events are taking place all over the Bay Area, some of its most exciting events are happening in the East Bay.

Many of the events pair cider with games to get you in the competitive spirit. On Jan. 26 from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Crooked City Cider is hosting the Cider Olympics, where contestants can enjoy unlimited pours of Eden Cider and play games like bobbing for apples. Crooked City will also be hosting a cider trivia night on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. in conjunction with Two Rivers Cider, where participants can test their knowledge of all things cider. Meanwhile, Blindwood Cider is hosting a Mario Kart tournament on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. over at Telegraph Beer Garden. A purchase of a pint of cider gets you a token to play Mario Kart on the big outdoor screen.

Other events focus on pairing cider with food. On Jan. 28 at 8:45 a.m., there'll be an East Bay Food & Cider Tour, where participants will taste food pairings and ciders and learn what goes into a great pairing. Stops include Crooked City Cider in Oakland, Tag & Jug Cider on Treasure Island, Far West Cider in Richmond, and Redfield Cider Bar & Bottle Shop in Oakland. Rosamunde Sausage Grill is serving a special brats and sausage pairing menu on Jan. 30 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m, and natural wine and cider shop Minimo will host a pairing with Oakland's Belcampo charcuterie on Jan. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, other events are focused on cider education and industry pro meet-and-greets. For die-hard cider industry professionals, CiderCon is taking place at the Oakland Marriott City Center from Jan. 28 to Jan. 31. But even if you're not a cider industry professional, you can still enjoy some of the cider pro-led workshops like the Elements of Cider on Jan. 28 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., where you'll learn about different taste elements — sweet, tart, and tannic — and discover how the different elements interact and how to quantify them. You'll also get to meet cider makers at various events. Sláinte is hosting a meet-and-greet with Irish cider makers on Jan. 29 starting at 5 p.m., and you can meet women cider makers at Crooked City Cider on Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m.

Just looking to taste cider? There are plenty of opportunities to do that, too. Some of the most intriguing ones include a tropical cider tasting at The Good Hop on Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m., a tasting of English ciders from Oliver's Cider and Perry at Redfield Cider Bar & Bottle Shop on Jan. 30 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and a cider cocktail party at Crooked City Cider on Jan. 31 from 4 p.m. tp 8 p.m.

For full event listings and details, visit BayAreaCiderWeek.com.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Alameda, Berkeley, and El Cerrito Restaurant Week Deals

Even more opportunities for bargain bites.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 14, 2020 at 2:42 PM

Last week, we wrote about some of the best restaurant week deals to be had in Oakland — and starting this week, Alameda, Berkeley, and El Cerrito are following suit with their own restaurant weeks.

For Alameda Restaurant Week, which takes place from Jan. 16-26, many of the island's best restaurants are offering discounted deals or restaurant week exclusive dishes. Spinning Bones, which I recently praised in the Express for its succulent steak, ribs, and unique takes on sauces, is offering rotisserie ramen for $20, which is made with rotisserie cha siu and a shoyu egg, and comes served with sweet potato croquettes and edamame. Mama Papa Lithuania has offered exceptional Restaurant Week bargains in the past, and this year is no different. The two-course $12 lunch special, with options including red borscht, cabbage soup, flour dumplings, and chicken goulash is an especially good deal. German biergarten Speisekammer also has an intriguing lunch deal on tap, which comes with your choice of split pea soup or salad, a mini schweinebraten sandwich, a mini wiener schnitzel sandwich, and fries or bacony roasted potatoes. For dinner, Afghan-French-California bistro Angela's Kitchen has a $34 three-course dinner that includes a Mediterranean salad, short ribs, and lemon panna cotta for dessert. For the full scoop, visit AlamedaRestaurantWeek.com.

El Cerrito Restaurant Week, which also runs from Jan. 16-26, also has some appealing deals. We're especially into the $19.99 three-course meal at the already very reasonably-priced Peruvian restaurant El Mono, which also comes with a free drink. Larb Thai Food & Tapas also has a solid deal for $25 that gets you half a lemongrass chicken with Thai papaya salad and sticky rice. Deals haven't been published yet for Himalayan restaurant Zomsa and multi-regional Chinese noodle specialist Noodles Fresh, but they merit a visit, restaurant week or not. Visit El-Cerrito.org/939/Restaurant-Week for more information.

Berkeley Restaurant Week takes place Jan. 21-31. Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya wasn't even open at the time of writing, but we've been eagerly anticipating the opening based on the photos posted on Instagram. The $40 per person four-course menu includes offerings like smoked cod roe potato salad, chicken karaage, veggie tempura with matcha salt, sea bream over rice with dashi broth, Berkshire pork hotpot, and homemade ice cream for dessert. The dinner menu at Henry's at The Graduate looks like a decent bargain at $30, which includes a salad with fennel, radish, and blood orange vinaigrette, a choice of lamb shank or fish of the day, and crème brûlée. The dinner deal at La Marcha, a pick from last year, has gone from $35 to $40 this year, but you still get a lot of choices for a moderate price. Take your pick of several options for each of the five courses, including crispy potatoes with crab, wild boar meatballs, and calamari and squid ink paella with truffle aioli. Check out VisitBerkeley.com for details.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Oakland Restaurant Week Is Back for the 10th Year

Our picks for some of the best restaurant week deals plus the scoop on special events.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Jan 7, 2020 at 1:35 PM

This week marks the beginning of Oakland's 10th annual Restaurant Week. It's a great opportunity to snag a multi-course meal from an Oakland restaurant at a bargain price, all while supporting the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

Scouring all the deals that restaurants have to offer can be time-consuming, so we've done the work for you and picked out the tastiest and best prix fixe meal bargains.

At The Damel in Uptown Oakland, chef and former professional soccer player Oumar Diouf combines Argentinian, Senegalese, and Brazilian influences to tell the story of his life living in all three countries. For restaurant week, The Damel is offering $20 prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. The deal includes your choice of appetizer (with options including but not limited to acarajé, the black-eyed pea fritters that we loved in our September 2019 review), your choice of main including dibi (Senegalese grilled meat) or moqueca (Brazilian seafood stew) with two sides, and dessert options including a beignet, pudim (Brazilian flan) or thiakry (Senegalese sweet millet).

Homeroom also has a bargain for two that includes two of the restaurant's signature Gilroy Garlic macs, two strawberry limeades, and a Homeroom Oreo to share, all for $30. The garlic mac on its own is usually $11.99 and the limeades are $3.50 each, so you save a few bucks off list price. We're also intrigued by the $20 per person brunch, lunch, and dinner menu at Dosa, which gets you an appetizer of tandoori prawn salad with mango-chile dressing, a sweet potato dosa, and spiced mini cookies for dessert. Co Nam is also offering a $30 per person four-course dinner menu that includes an amuse bouche, appetizer (including the excellent banh bot loc or bo la lot), a main (including a Co Nam burger or a grilled river prawn with housemade squid ink noodles), and dessert.

There are also some solid lunch-only deals. Brotzeit Lokal is offering you a choice of sausage (or Lokal Wurst, as it's called) with fries or salad for $10 or a meal-sized salad with potato, croutons, bacon, egg, and avocado for $10. Zachary's Pizza is also offering a personal thin-crust or stuffed pizza with a Caesar salad for $10, plus there are drink specials on offer — two pints or two house cocktails for $10. The offer is only available at Zachary's Grand Avenue location.

A number of special events are also booked for this year's restaurant week. The Just Call Me Chef dinner series celebrates female chefs in Oakland. The first dinner on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. will take place at Dyafa with chef Mona Leena Michael, while the second dinner on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. will feature chef Kanitha Matoury of Spice Monkey Restaurant & Bar. There are also a number of food tours available, but we're particularly interested in the Hide and Go Eat scavenger hunt, a three-hour adventure starting at 1 p.m. on Jan. 12 that leads participants through a number of Oakland's best eateries while solving riddles and puzzles along the way. Tickets for special events can be purchased on Eventbrite.

For more information, check out VisitOakland.com.

Monday, December 30, 2019

What 2019's Restaurant Openings Can Tell Us

The year's biggest food trends focused on underrepresented cuisines, new takes on California cuisine, a shift away from traditional fine dining, and vegan food galore.

by Katherine Hamilton
Mon, Dec 30, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Each year brings new food trends, some of which I hope will die as quickly as possible (ahem, activated charcoal in food) and others that I hope will continue to grow and evolve. This year marked a big growth in representation for underrepresented cuisines, fresh takes on so-called "California" cuisine, and a big shift away from fine dining toward counter service. It's also a better time than ever to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet — and these are all trends I hope will continue to grow and evolve in 2020.

Opening a restaurant is a risky investment, and in the past, restaurateurs (understandably) tended to focus on cuisines that were already widely known. Raben Lama, originally from Nepal, dreamed of opening a Himalayan restaurant, but without a big enough local Nepalese and Tibetan community, Lama worried that he wouldn't be able to draw in enough customers. But with a growing number of diners looking to sample unfamiliar cuisines, Lama's dream finally came true when he opened Zomsa in El Cerrito in May. Try the sukuti bento box, which includes house-smoked grass-fed wild bison with housemade pickles, crispy rice flakes, and crunchy dried soybeans. Or try the jhol momos, which are stuffed with ground bison and served in a creamy cashew sauce with the slightest hint of Sichuan peppercorn.

Persian food is also a rare find in the East Bay, but thankfully, this year marked the opening of two new Persian restaurants. Daryoush Persian Cuisine in downtown Berkeley offers a full menu of kabobs, ghormeh sabzi (herb stew with lamb and kidney beans), and khoresht fesenjoon (pomegranate and walnut stew with meatballs), plus all kinds of fragrant rice dishes.

Meanwhile, Komaaj also opened its first brick-and-mortar location at Cafenated Coffee Co. in North Berkeley. There, chef Hanif Sadr takes Northern Iranian dishes rarely seen in any restaurant in the United States and translates them for the fast-casual cafe. Some favorites are the rice bowl with pomegranate-glazed smoked trout, herbed smoked rice, goat cheese, a poached egg, and veggies, along with the namesake komaaj cake made with rice flour and honey.

But 2019 also brought a wave of new restaurants that refuse to be pigeonholed into any single cuisine. One of my favorites was Top Hatters Kitchen, a hip yet elegant-feeling restaurant where chef DanVy Vu draws from Vietnamese, Italian, and Mexican cuisines to create her own brand of California cuisine. Chopped clams with Vietnamese herbs are a standout, as are the oxtail grits with citrus gremolata. For dessert, the buttermilk panna cotta with citrus granita and tallow shortbread is a must-try, as is the Vietnamese egg coffee.

This year continued to mark a shift away from traditional fine dining, perhaps best exemplified by two counter-service restaurants headed by former Chez Panisse chefs: FAVA and The Lede. At FAVA in North Berkeley, Jeremy Scheiblauer and Sylvia Osborne-Calierno took over the tiny former Juice Bar Collective space, serving up their signature housemade flatbread sandwiches topped with stewed lamb and an almost outrageous amount of fresh herbs. The food is best taken to go, unless you're lucky enough to snag one of the outdoor tables. At The Lede in Old Oakland, Cal Peternell serves his signature Cal-Italian fare in a building that doubles as a coworking space for journalists during the day. Seasonal veggie fritters, tinned sardines, and a rotating selection of pastas are perfect for enjoying alone or with friends, along with an Italian-inspired cocktail, a Californian or Italian wine, or a local beer on tap.

This year, more and more diners turned toward plant-based diets for ethical, health, and environmental reasons. And it seems like being vegan in the East Bay is just getting better and better. At Gay4U, the reincarnation of the now-shuttered Hella Vegan Eats, Sofi Espice serves up vegan fried chicken and waffle sandwiches, veggie burgers, breakfast burritos, and pepita salads. Meanwhile, over in the former Kwik-Way building, Toriano Gordon draws long lines daily for his vegan barbecue and soul food at Vegan Mob. If reducing your meat and dairy intake is in your plans for 2020, Gordon's smackaroni and cheese and vegan brisket have you covered.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sobre Mesa, an Afro-Latino Cocktail Lounge, Is Coming to Oakland

It's the newest project from Chef Nelson German of alaMar.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 24, 2019 at 1:09 PM

Last week, Chef Nelson German announced that he's opening a new Afro-Latino cocktail lounge in Oakland called Sobre Mesa. The lounge will be in Uptown Oakland, taking over the spot formerly occupied by The Payback (1618 Franklin St.) and is expected to open in early 2020.

German is best known as the chef-owner at alaMar in Uptown Oakland, which opened in 2014. There, he serves up a seafood-heavy menu that draws from his roots as a Dominican-American born and raised in Manhattan's Washington Heights. Some of his signature dishes include his build-your-own seafood boils, honey garlic shrimp sopes, and braised Angus oxtails. Over the years, alaMar has earned accolades including the Express' Best of the East Bay, Michelin guide recognition, and a recent rave review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The name "sobre mesa," which means "over the table," refers to the conversations that take place after a meal is over. At Sobre Mesa, German will turn his focus away from entrees and toward cocktails and tapas-style plates. German plans to take inspiration from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other Latin American countries. According to a recent press release, the cocktail menu will focus on small-production spirits with a story: rum made from sugarcane from a small family farm in Louisiana, rum made in the Dominican Republic by Cuban masters, and Träkál, a Patagonian spirit made from indigenous botanicals and fruits.

German has already announced a few of his signature cocktails. The Sobre Mesa will feature rum, mezcal, pandan syrup, falernum, soursop juice, and lemon, while the The Latin Quarter will blend brandy, sherry, celery, orange, and bitters. The Mama Juan, a drink inspired by German's father, will contain Dominican rum, Cocchi Americano, Punt e Mes, nocino, yerba mate spiced honey, and ginger. No details on the tapas menu yet, but the items promise to be seasonal and designed to pair well with the drink menu.

The atmosphere is meant to be tropical and lush, making guests feel like they're on vacation. German hopes the cocktail lounge will be fun and vibrant, yet also welcoming and accessible.

"I'd like to start another renaissance for people of color by revealing Oakland's stylish, sexy side," German said in a press release. "Oakland gave me my first restaurant, and I'll always be indebted to the city for that."

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

At Superhero Desserts, Buying Sweet Treats Goes Toward Good Deeds

The new Alameda bakery raises funds for homeless outreach, needle cleanup, free self defense classes, and more.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 3:32 PM

Supporting a good cause couldn't be any sweeter than at Superhero Desserts. At the newly opened bakery in Alameda, purchases of treats like lemon poppyseed drizzle cake, tres leches cake, and Guinness stout bundt cake go toward important causes like homeless outreach, needle cleanup, and self defense and CPR classes that are free and open to all.

The folks behind Superhero Desserts are married couple Edwina and Mike Phillips, who have been involved in homeless outreach for many years. Edwina said she's been helping others as long as she can remember, following her mom's example. Her mother has since passed away, but Edwina carries on the same spirit of giving.

"She was always putting together baskets or something ... she'd give money without any hope of repayment. ... Ever since I was a kid, that's what she showed us."

Eight years ago, Edwina and Mike founded the San Francisco chapter of The Initiative, a worldwide organization that performs good deeds like outreach, needle cleanups, self-defense classes, and more. In five years, they've cleaned up over 7,000 needles from the streets of San Francisco. They're also members of the Real Life Superhero community in which they don superhero costumes and perform outreach under their superhero names, NightBug and Rock N Roll. Edwina also authored a book under the name Roxanne Cai called A True Origin Story: How to Be a Real-Life Superhero in 12 Steps. Edwina's efforts even have been recognized in People and Vanity Fair.

Up until recently, Edwina and Mike performed all their real-life superhero deeds using funds out of their own pockets. But Edwina also has fostered a lifelong love of baking, thanks to — you guessed it — her mother.

In order to support their outreach efforts, Edwina and Mike started baking and selling desserts under the name Superhero Desserts. The bakery began as a pop-up over a year ago, and their brick-and-mortar shop opened about a month ago, sandwiched between Calafia Taqueria and The Fireside Lounge.

At the bakery, Edwina and Mike sell a variety of desserts, including a selection of core favorites that are available year-round as well as some seasonal treats. Some desserts, like the orange cranberry bundt cake and the caramel apple cake, are made using Edwina's mother's recipes. Others, like the lemon poppyseed drizzle cake, are inspired by Edwina's love for The Great British Baking Show. Guinness stout bundt cake (the bakery's best-seller) and tres leches cake are available year-round. Fall features lots of pumpkin treats, while winter offers flavors like peppermint and gingerbread; this summer, they plan to serve orange creamsicle cake. They also strive to offer desserts that accommodate a variety of diets, such as a vegan dark chocolate zucchini cake, vegan and gluten-free Rice Krispy bars, and even keto-friendly options.

Along with beautiful baked goods, Superhero Desserts is also bringing the neighborhood plenty of opportunities to get involved. At the most recent Second Sunday Homeless Outreach event, over 40 people of all ages showed up to make 250 burritos, which were delivered to homeless camps in Oakland. The next event is on Jan. 12. Anyone is also welcome to attend the free monthly self-defense classes held at Tapout Fitness across the street. For more information on Superhero Desserts' upcoming events, follow the couple on Facebook or Instagram @superherodesserts, or visit SuperHeroDesserts.com. The Initiative is also always looking for new volunteers; the time commitment is as low as three hours a month. For more information, visit InitiativeCollective.com.

Interested in supporting Superhero Desserts? The bakery is at 1449 Webster St. in Alameda. Hours are Thu. 1-9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 1-10 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Desserts are also available for pre-order. The bakery also is collecting donations via GoFundMe to offset the costs of equipment, with a goal of raising $7,380.

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.

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