Tiyo Shibabaw got her start in the food biz back in 2007, when she helped Burma Superstar, the insanely popular Burmese restaurant in San Francisco's Richmond district, expand its tea leaf salad empire to the East Bay — first to Alameda and then, later, to Oakland. For about ten years, she worked as a manager at those two restaurants, running the front of the house and even helping to create some new dishes.
The thing that's somewhat unusual? Shibabaw isn't Burmese. And, in fact, she hadn't had any experience with the cuisine prior to her Burma Superstar stint. She's Ethiopian — and lived in Ethiopia until she was seventeen.
"It took a while to get used to fish sauce and shrimp paste," Shibabaw said.
Suffice it to say that she learned her way around a Burmese kitchen. And now, Shibabaw is taking those skills and branching out to open her own place: Teni East Kitchen — a Southeast Asian eatery with an Ethiopian name. (It's named after Shibabaw's mother, whose nickname is "Teni.") Located in a former sushi spot at 4015 Broadway, next door to Clove and Hoof in Oakland's booming 40th Street Corridor, the restaurant has been softly open for a little more than a week now. It will have its grand opening on Wednesday, June 1.
Teni East Kitchen isn't a Burmese restaurant per se, but instead focuses more broadly on the herbs and spices of Southeast Asia — the turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and balachaung (a Burmese dried-shrimp chili sauce). Perhaps taking a page out of Burma Superstar's playbook, Shibabaw said she has taken traditional Southeast Asian recipes and adapted them to suit American palates — and to take advantage of the produce that's available in Northern California. So, the menu includes samosas filled with sweet potato instead of regular potatoes, and Indian curries that are lighter on spice than is traditional.
As for the most well known Burmese dish, Shibabaw's tea leaf salad features kale — the most Californian of the leafy greens. While it may not be "authentic," Shibabaw claims the kale actually makes the funky flavor of the fermented tea leaves stand out even more.
Many of us have been mourning the loss of Genova Delicatessen ever since the ninety-year-old Italian deli in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood shut its doors earlier this spring. Now, there's a new place to get your prosciutto-and-mozzarella fix, but at a somewhat unexpected location: in West Oakland's San Pablo Avenue Corridor.
Stay Gold Deli (2635 San Pablo Ave.) sits in the spot formerly occupied by a barbecue joint called Shuga Hill, which closed in 2012. Softly open for about a week, the business was conceived as a cross between a East Coast-style Italian deli, a coffee shop, and an old-fashioned country store.
The inspiration was the kind of small, mom-and-pop grocery store you'll find all over the South, explained Stella Lane, the chef and co-owner. The idea, Lane said, was for Stay Gold to be the kind of place where customers can buy a sandwich, pick up some milk and eggs, and maybe play a quick game of pool while they're at it. (Yes, there's a pool table, as well as four pinball machines, a foosball table, and a Pac Man console.)
Stay Gold's initial menu evokes New York's Little Italy — with a meatball sub and a classic Italian cold-cut sandwich among the early best-sellers. But the business also has roots in New Orleans: Lane is a Bay Area native who first honed her cooking chops at a New Orleans sausage parlor called Barracho. Another co-owner, Jason Herbers, is the former proprietor of the punk rock dive bar Eli's Mile High Club, which was briefly home to a New Orleans-style Cajun po'boy shop. Michael Dright, the third partner in the business, grew up in West Oakland.
For now, the most prominent feature of the food menu is about eight different sandwiches, with a handful of vegan options in the mix. Lane said that her areas of expertise include pickling, smoking, and charcuterie making. For now, Stay Gold uses Molinari and Boar's Head deli meats, but Lane hasn't ruled out the possibility of curing some of her own meats in-house. The restaurant has a fully functional smoker that's grandfathered into the building, and Lane said she has big plans for smoking an assortment of meat, fish, and vegetables.
According to Herbers, once the restaurant gets its beer and wine license, he wants to set up a little beer garden. Eventually, he wants to do "Pintxo Nights" as well, which means Stay Gold will likely be the first place in West Oakland to ever Basque-style bar snacks.
All of this might sound awfully upscale for this particular stretch of West Oakland, which doesn't have much in the way of restaurant options. But Lane said she's conscious of wanting to keep the prices affordable for folks in the neighborhood. For instance, most of the sandwiches on the menu are in the $8–$9 range.
As for the name? Readers of a certain generation will probably recall the refrain from The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton's classic tale of wrong-side-of-the-tracks teenage angst: "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold."