For the past couple of years, we've heard murmurs about how Oakland has emerged as America's next great food city, which isn't exactly news for those of us who eat here every day. But heck, if New York Times shout-outs aren't enough to convince you, then how about this: In the not so distant future, tourists from far-flung locales might travel to Oakland for the express purpose of participating in a walking food tour of the city.
At least that's what Oakland residents Carlo Medina and Geneva Europa are envisioning. Next week, the husband-and-wife tandem will introduce Savor Oakland, a new food tour business designed to celebrate the city's food, culture, and history — and to help rehabilitate its image.
The company's first neighborhood-specific walking tour, of Jack London Square and the Warehouse District, will launch on Friday, October 26, and will run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday thereafter, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of the guided tour, which includes multiple food- and wine-tastings, will be $45 a person.
Medina explained that he and Europa drew inspiration for their fledgling business from a six-month trip to Central and South America that the couple recently took. He said they were moved by the time they spent in Colombia, which he described as "the safest country we went to" and a place that was buzzing with energy and a great food scene — but that, like Oakland, suffers from an image problem, in that case because of the drug cartels.
Likewise, Medina and Europa felt that of Oakland's more than fifty neighborhoods, only three or four ever made the headlines — almost always for something bad. Their food tour business is meant, in part, to act as a counterpoint and will promote not just Oakland's food culture, but also its rich history and diversity. The underlying theme will be, "How does the food renaissance fit into the big picture of Oakland trying to move forward?"
As far as food and drink are concerned, Medina said the tour won't be a buffet, but that, all told, the tastings will make for a filling brunch. The current lineup includes Home of Chicken and Waffles, Chop Bar, Bocanova, Miette, and the Urban Legend Cellars winery.
Medina expects that tourists will form a part of Savor Oakland's customer base, but that, in fact, the majority of tour participants will be locals.
For more information or to sign up for a tour (advance purchase is required), check out SavorOaklandFoodTours.com.
When What the Fork spoke to Javier Sandes last year, he'd just shut down arguably the most badass mobile food business in the Bay Area: Primo's Parrilla, a streetside operation wherein Sandes grilled beef tri-tips and whole spitchcocked chickens over an open flame on top of said parrilla (an Argentinian-style grill). The City of Emeryville had cried foul, and Sandes decided he would instead introduce Argentinian asado — barbecue — to the East Bay through a brick-and-mortar restaurant of his own.
So Sandes started scouting out locations, and that was the last we heard about his plans — until a couple of months ago, when these tasty Argentinian-style empanadas began appearing at Room 389 (389 Grand Ave., Oakland). A little bit of poking around revealed that the man behind the empanadas was none other than Sandes, who recently launched a wholesale and catering business called Javi's Cooking.
Sandes said he's working out of a commercial kitchen space at the Uptown food startup incubator The Kitchener. His catering menu also features homemade chimichurri sauce and alfajores (a kind of dulce-de-leche-filled cookie). But empanadas form the backbone of the business — six kinds: beef, chicken, ham-and-cheese (for breakfast), and three different vegetarian versions.
You can't go wrong with the classic beef empanada, which has bits of green olive and hard-boiled egg. But I've been especially impressed by a vegetable empanada filled with potatoes, green peas, onions, and roasted red peppers: comforting vegetarian repast in a neat, self-contained package.
The empanadas, which sell for $4 apiece at Room 389, are larger than the typical appetizer-size empanadas you'll see around town — a single pastry makes for a modest, but reasonably filling, lunch. Room 389 also sells Sandes' alfajores ($3 each).
Sandes said he's in the process of expanding the wholesale business, but for now the only ways to buy the empanadas are at Room 389 or pre-ordered by the dozen (via JavisCooking.com or 510-852-9463) and picked up at The Kitchener (372 24th St., Oakland).
As for opening the Bay Area's first brick-and-mortar parrilla restaurant, Sandes has put those plans on hold for now, though he said, "That's my dream, to have a barbecue place in Oakland."
In the meantime, Sandes still does outdoor grilling with his parrilla for weddings and other private events — often, he'll team up with tango musicians to provide a full-on Argentinian experience.