Kitchen 388 (388 Grand Ave.) is a popular brunch spot in Oakland's Adams Point district that's known for its fried chicken and waffles and for serving about a dozen pounds of bacon on any given Sunday. So it was with a certain sense of mischievousness that chef Kevin Schuder chose the cafe to be the site of his new vegetarian dinner series, which he's dubbed Veg 388 — a vegetarian pop-up that takes over the normally meat-heavy restaurant five nights a week.
At Veg 388, the seasonal menu of "inventive and inspired vegan and vegetarian cuisine" might feature a salad of koji-marinated carrots or house-made pasta served with a lobster mushroom ragout. Every dish is served vegan by default, though customers can add a poached egg or grated cheese to certain dishes if they want.
Schuder isn't vegetarian himself; he eats sustainable seafood and, on occasion, meat. But the chef explained that he cut his teeth working as a line cook at Millennium, San Francisco's most well-known high-end vegan restaurant. And when it came time to develop his own restaurant, he decided that he wanted to promote some kind of environmentally sustainable idea. But when he looked around at the other vegetarian and vegan food that was out there, Schuder felt that much of it wasn't very good — or, at the very least, it wasn't being done in a way with which he could identify.
"What we don't do is label food in quotation marks," he explained, referring to the practice of many vegetarian restaurants to describe dishes in relation to meat-centric cuisine: "chicken" parmigiana or shiitake mushroom "bacon." As Schuder put it, "'Chicken,' in quotation marks, isn't chicken."
"I guess I do want [the food] to shine on its own merits. People shouldn't shy away from good produce," he said.
What that means, from a practical standpoint, is that Veg 388 serves significantly fewer beans and soy products — which are traditionally deployed to emulate the taste and texture of meat — than your typical vegan restaurant. In addition, a foam that Schuder makes with fermented cashews is listed on the menu, simply, as "cashew foam" — not "sour cream," in quotes.
Schuder's resumé is dotted with such prominent San Francisco restaurants as AQ, Izakaya Yuzuki, and, most recently, Bouli Bar. But Schuder said he identifies most with two of the city's best-known permanent pop-ups, Mission Chinese Food and Pink Zebra — known for their punk rock, modern edge.
According to Schuder, what he shares with the chefs of those establishments is a fine-dining background that he's decided to apply in a more casual, accessible setting — "to strip away the pomp and circumstance of it." Like the chefs at those pop-ups, Schuder uses a blend of traditional and modernist cooking techniques. He does a lot of smoking, drying, and fermenting. But he'll also add xanthan gum to a pasta sauce to make it adhere better to the noodles, and he uses an iSi canister to aerate the aforementioned cashew foam. Several of those techniques, old and new, come together in a dish Schuder says is his current favorite: a salad that features baked sunchokes, smoked apples, cashew foam, and rosemary oil. He explained that eating the dish, which is made up of various ingredients you might find together in nature, is "kind of like having a campfire in the woods."
Veg 388 is now open for dinner from Thursday to Monday, from 6–9 p.m. Schuder also just launched Kitchen 388's new happy hour program, which includes food and drinks, and isn't strictly vegetarian, from 4–6 p.m. those same nights.
Twinkies Go Gourmet
Kate McEachern, the cupcake maestro behind the CupKates food truck, said the idea for her newest business venture came about after her brother had a baby and started waxing nostalgic about the desserts of his youth, such as Twinkies and Oreos. Wouldn't it be great if he could introduce his kids to those sweets — if they weren't made almost entirely out of garbage ingredients?
McEachern didn't need to be asked twice. She and her husband, Casey McEachern, have opened a new brick-and-mortar bakery in Berkeley called Stateside Bakery (3001 Telegraph Ave., Ste. E) that's wholly dedicated to new and improved versions of the snack cakes and other desserts typically associated with the American childhood experience. Located on the first floor of a new luxury apartment complex, in a tiny storefront formerly designated to become an ATM vestibule, the bakery quietly opened for business last week. The official grand opening will be on Wednesday, November 12.
McEachern explained that as a pastry chef, her natural response to her brother's question was to start experimenting with using natural ingredients to make versions of the desserts of her youth. Soon she came up with a Twinkie filled with Madagascar bourbon vanilla cream — the vanilla, extracted just down the street from her production kitchen, is about as fresh as it could possibly be. She made an "Oreo" that consists of chocolate shortbread cookies (made with high-quality Valrhona cocoa) and a not-too-sweet vanilla cream filling. She's developed a version of a Nutter Butter and a whole line of French macarons with distinctly American flavors: pumpkin pie, cake batter, and S'mores. On weekends, she serves homemade pop tarts.
None of the desserts at Stateside are meant to taste exactly — or even remotely — like the originals, McEachern stressed. (She said her early convenience store runs to establish a baseline for comparison just wound up grossing her out.) Nothing is overly sweet. And most prices range from $2.50 (for a macaron) to $4.50 (for two Twinkies).
Oh, and fans of CupKates shouldn't panic: McEachern said her two trucks will continue to operate, and she'll usually offer one cupcake option at the bakery as well.