Last April, Beauty's Bagel Shop burst onto the scene with dense, ever-so-slightly-sweet bagels that were better than anything most of us long-suffering East Coast transplants had been able to get our hands on since — well, since we moved out West.
Still shopless at the time, Blake Joffe (then the sous chef at Pizzeria Delfina) and partner Amy Remsen (a server at the now-shuttered Addie's Pizza Pie) were baking Montreal-style bagels in the wood oven at Addie's during off hours and hawking their hand-rolled wares by way of two local delis: Wise Sons in the Mission and Saul's Restaurant & Delicatessen in Berkeley. All the while, rumors kept circulating about an actual brick-and-mortar bagel shop that was supposed to open in Temescal, at 3838 Telegraph Avenue.
So we, the bagel-obsessed, waited ... and waited. More than a year later, the shop still hadn't opened. This week, barring unforeseen circumstances, the wait finally ends: With one final hoop to jump through (the health inspection, which was slated for early this week), Beauty's Bagel Shop is set to softly open as early as Wednesday, August 22, or Thursday, August 23.
Remsen explained that the process of opening the shop was slow from the get-go. Wanting to maintain full creative control, she and Joffe had opted not to solicit funds from investors. As a result, the partners were hamstrung by a slow and complicated loan application process — and the fact that the actual construction work, and subsequent city-mandated inspections, couldn't move forward until said loans came through.
Finally, though, the build-out is complete, and Remsen and Joffe are ready to go. Almost everything they sell will be designed to come on a bagel. There will be chopped liver, lox and other smoked fish products, assorted cream cheeses and butters, vegetarian sausages, vegetarian pâté, and chicken scrapple. In keeping with the Jewish notion of an "appetizing store," where fish and dairy products — but no meat — are sold, Beauty's won't sell any beef or pork. If you want a pastrami sandwich, you'll have to go to a deli.
As far as the bagels themselves, the Montreal style has three defining characteristics: The bagels are rolled out by hand, boiled in sweetened water, and baked in a wood oven. Remsen said she and Joffe have tweaked their recipe a bit since they first started: They've added a 24-hour cold retardation period in order to allow the dough to develop more flavor and a crunchy exterior — though not as crunchy as, say, Baron Baking's bagels.
Now that Remsen have to pay for the higher overhead associated with running a brick-and-mortar shop, the Beauty's bagels will also be a little bit more expensive: $1.65 each (up from $1.25).
Of course, the bagel landscape in the Bay Area has changed since Beauty's first came on the scene. A year ago, there was no Schmendricks, no Baron Baking — no real competition. Now, all of a sudden, the market is flooded. Still, Remsen is optimistic.
"More people are talking about bagels and thinking about bagels, and I think that's awesome," she said.
Besides, Beauty's Bagel Shop will offer something none of the other new contenders can: a decent shot at a hot bagel. Remsen and Joffe will be baking all day, so you should never get a bagel that's more than a few hours old. Better yet, come into the shop, watch them bake a fresh batch, and snag your still-warm bagel right after they pull it out of the oven.
A Malaysian 'Guest Chef'
Yihshyong "Shy" Leong, the latest cook to "pop up" at Oakland's Guest Chef, did pretty well for himself during a three-week stint that just ended on Sunday: The chef drew rave reviews online and turned enough tables to get his gig extended beyond the restaurant's typical two-week time slot.
What's more, Leong shined a light on a cuisine that's little known to many Bay Area residents: the food of his native Malaysia.
Last week, I had a chance to check out Leong's cooking and came away impressed with food that was, as the chef put it, "powerful in execution yet gentle in delivery," with complex spicing and lots of lemongrass and galangal. I didn't like everything — a couple of items were too salty — but the best dishes were sublime: sophisticated, full of nuance, and super-labor-intensive.
I loved the delicate lemongrass flavor of the sup ikan, a shellfish-and-heirloom-tomato broth that had been poured, boiling hot, over crispy fried king grouper cheeks. And Leong's thousand-layer cake, a traditional Dutch-Indo-Chinese delicacy, was truly stunning: buttery and rich without being too sweet, and somehow both light and dense at the same time. Leong explained that each layer of the cake is broiled one after the other — not literally a thousand layers, but at least a dozen that I could count.
Leong, formerly the executive chef at the Trader Vic's flagship restaurant in Emeryville, is a popular instructor at the Berkeley cooking school Kitchen on Fire. If you want a hands-on experience with Malaysian cuisine, you can sign up for one of his classes — he's got one that focuses on vegetarian Malaysian dishes coming up on Tuesday, September 4.