Norikonoko back, Westbrae Biergarten is hot

Noriko Taniguchi, co-owner of Norikonoko in Berkeley, which is reopening after a fire forced it to close last fall. Photo: Anna Mindess

Openings, closings…

tiny-fish
Photo: Anna Mindess

NORIKONOKO Norikonoko, the much-loved gem of a Japanese restaurant, at 2556 Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, is re-opening after it was shuttered by a fire in October 2013. Owner Noriko Taniguchi told the East Bay Express she’s aiming to open officially by the middle of June, but will be in soft-opening mode before then. Taniguchi serves home-style Japanese cooking in a tiny, cozy space that resembles a typical Japanese countryside inn, adorned with innumerable tiny treasures, like miniature tea sets and teensy origami cranes. The menu will continue to feature the restaurant’s most popular dishes, but be pared down as Taniguchi and her husband, Takumi, will run the restaurant as a two-person operation, reports the Express. Expect offerings such as ramen, udon, pork curry and onigiri (rice balls). About 90% of the new menu will be gluten-free. Read more about the restaurant and its history in Berkeleyside’s November 2012 interview with Taniguchi.

Photo: Free Juice
Photo: Free Juice

FREE JUICE A new East Bay juice business called Free Juice is holding its grand opening party June 6 at the company’s “new summer location” at 352 17th St. in Oakland. The party takes place from 4:30-8 p.m. Free Juice is headquartered in Berkeley and is committed to a deeply local philosophy, buying produce from farmers within 100 miles, and hiring workers who live and study in the East Bay. The new bodega popup will be in place for three months before it moves on to a new location. The company has signed on with Flux Coffee, which it calls “probably the best cold brewed coffee out there,” and The Cookie Department for the launch. More vendors will be added, too. The grand opening party is free, and attendees will have a chance to sample the company’s juices: “We are also launching some great new products including a line of delicious Superfood bars; fresh wheat grass shots and ginger drinks.” Connect with the Free Juice event page on Facebook for more details. Learn more about Free Juice here.

WESTBRAE BIERGARTEN We reported last week that the much-anticipated Westbrae Biergarten on the corner of Gilman and Curtis streets in Berkeley would be quietly opening before its official June 12 launch. Well, quiet wasn’t quite the word to describe the scene May 28 when a large local crowd turned up to baptize the new outdoor spot. Steven Donaldson, who lives in the neighborhood, shared the video below. “It was quite amazing,” he said. “I anticipated a few folks, there were over a hundred! Great weather, good vibes by all. It actually took about 30 minutes to get food and a beer but it allowed for great conversations with neighbors. It just shows how much we’ve needed some community gathering spaces for friends and family.” Find Westbrae Biergarten at 1280 Gilman St.

TIDBITS This weekend is slated to be the final one for Zaki Kabob House (1101 San Pablo Ave., Albany), which was unable to renew its lease and is closing at the end of the day Sunday, June 1. Curbside Creamery in Oakland is set to open its brick-and-mortar shop — finally! — in early June in Temescal Alley, reports the East Bay Express. Owner Victoria Wentworth says it will be kid-friendly, with a focus on classic, nostalgic flavors. Vegetarian restaurant Encuentro has opened in a new location at 550 Second St. in Oakland. The restaurant promises “Bites, delicious salads, full entrees and mouthwatering desserts. All you have grown to love at the wine bar but with more seating, more parking, more deliciousness and, we don’t even know how this is possible, but more LOVE.” Regular dinner service hours began Thursday, and lunch is planned in the next few months. NB: As of earlier this week, the restaurant was still awaiting its alcohol license. Also, we hear from Susie Wyshak that there are five days left in her Kickstarter campaign to teach kids how to “become ‘smart cookies’ with a book about how to start a cookie business.” Um, Chocolate Chip Cookie School, you say? Why wasn’t this around when we were young?


Mosswood Distillery whiskey. Photo: Mosswood Distillery
Photo: Mosswood

MOSSWOOD WHISKEY COMING TO BERKELEY In case you missed it, a San Francisco-based whiskey business hopes to open in West Berkeley this summer. Mosswood Distillers, run by Therese Agnew and Jake Chevedden, is currently based on Treasure Island. But their month-to-month rental agreement has made it hard to plan for the future, said Chevedden, which prompted the desire to move. Chevedden said the couple is still waiting for the green light from the state licensing department but, if successful, hopes to move their operation to West Berkeley by July. Learn more on Berkeleyside Nosh.

The location of Tomo's used to be an Indian spot. What will it become next? Image: Google Maps
The location of Tomo’s used to be an Indian spot. What will it become next? Image: Google Maps

TOMO’S CLOSED West Berkeley’s Tomo’s Japanese Cuisine, at 2026 San Pablo Ave., has closed after about a year in business. According to a woman who identified herself as a former server at the restaurant, owner Tomo Owada was “swallowed whole by variables he could not anticipate.” She posted on Yelp on April 23 that the restaurant had closed. Reviews from Yelpers ranged from “exceptionally homey and authentic Japanese” to “just OK sushi.” There’s a rumor that the owner may be opening a new restaurant in San Francisco, but we weren’t able to confirm it as of press time. Let us know if you hear anything. The restaurant’s website appears to have been shut down.

Image: Bay Grape
Image: Bay Grape

BAY GRAPE MAKES HEADWAY Oakland’s Bay Grape Wine Shop, which aims to open at 376 Grand Ave., got a much needed use permit from the city planning commission May 20. According to business owners Josiah Baldivino and Stevie Stacionis, it was a unanimous decision by the commission. Building permits are next on the list. The husband-and-wife team describe the business as “a wine shop focused on community. In addition to wine, we also offer beer, specialty sodas and a small selection of local, artisanal foodstuffs. All products are sold retail, available ‘to go’ yet can also be opened and enjoyed ‘picnic style’ at the counter or communal table in the shop.” The couple has also partnered with Capay Valley Farm Shop to offer wine and produce boxes weekly. Those who are interested can write to Bay Grape for details. Connect with the business on Facebook.

CUPCAKES IN BERKELEY Cupcakin’ Bake Shop is planning to have its soft opening this Saturday, May 31. The shop, at 2435 Durant Ave. in Berkeley, will open at noon, and won’t close “’til the cupcakes are gone.” Owner Lila Owens, a former caterer, will sell a wide variety of cupcakes, including gluten-free, vegan and mini-cakes. All the baked goods will be free of GMOs, Owens added. Read more about Cupcakin’ on Berkeleyside Nosh.

What else is going on…

Image: Pollinate Farm & Garden
Image: Pollinate Farm

POLLINATE ANNIVERSARY Oakland’s urban homesteading shop Pollinate Farm & Garden is holding its one-year anniversary party Saturday. Learn about chickens, bees, tool care and seed starting in sessions that will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2727 Fruitvale Ave. There will be refreshments and hourly drawings for “exciting farm and garden prizes.” To top it off, all chicks and brooding supplies will be 10% off all weekend long. Learn more about Pollinate Farm on Berkeleyside. Connect with Pollinate on Facebook.


GET TO KNOW YOUR ALCOHOL The Barrel Room in Oakland and Honor Kitchen & Cocktails in Emeryville are holding special events in June for those who want to get informed about what they’re drinking. The Barrel Room event comes June 6, with an “evening showcasing the Scacciadiavoli winery,” which was founded in 1884. Get the details here. The Barrel Room opened in December and features “educational tasting flights and a wine-friendly food menus by Chefs Manuel Hewitt and Abraham Ibarra that changes every twelve weeks.” Later in the month, June 25, Honor will host “Partida Tequila Night.” Guests will be able to enjoy $5 cocktails and complimentary appetizers, and learn how Partida is made. Honor opened in January 2012 and aims to offer an “acclaimed selection of classic, contemporary and signature cocktails prepared with artisanal products and housemade syrups.”

Hear about local food news scoops or curious about changes you notice in the local restaurant scene? We want to hear from you. Send tips and photographs to tips@berkeleyside.com

Catch up with more great Nosh stories:
Bauman College grads boost local food community
Berkeley farm kills chickens despite activist protest
Bites: Westbrae Biergarten open, as is The Cook and Her Farmer
Nosh on the Town: Doukkala in Temescal
Food, culture, campus: The best of downtown Berkeley
Mosswood whiskey distillery aims for West Berkeley move
Scarlet City Espresso brings sci fi vibe to Emeryville

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