Bites: The Half Orange is closing, Umami Mart’s Matsuri Festival, La Marcha wines

The Half Orange in Fruitvale is closing. Its last day of service is Wednesday, Aug. 2. Photo: The Half Orange

HALF ORANGE CLOSING WEDNESDAY Sad news! Wednesday, Aug 2. will be the last of service for Jay Porter’s casual farm-to-table burger and craft beer spot The Half Orange in Fruitvale. The three-year-old eatery will be Porter’s second restaurant in Oakland to close — his critically acclaimed California-Baja restaurant Salsipuedes in Longfellow shuttered in April 2016 after a mere eight months of business, citing that it was unable to gain traction with the neighborhood (since its closure, The Kebabery, run by the owners of Camino, has taken its space). In May this year, Porter attempted to reboot The Half Orange with new hours and a more focused menu that honed in on customer favorites. Unfortunately, these amendments were too little, too late to keep The Half Orange afloat. Before moving to Oakland to open The Half Orange and Salsipuedes, Porter owned and ran sausage and beer spot The Linkery in his hometown, San Diego, the first no-tipping table service restaurant. Porter told Nosh in a phone interview this morning, “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m feeling less physically capable of what needs to be done [to keep the business going]. I was looking for ways to keep putting out a good product within the level of engagement I was capable of doing, but it requires a lot of work to do a good job. I’m not really able to do that in this industry right now.” Porter, who is 47, noted the extreme amount of work it takes to own and operate a small business, and said that he couldn’t imagine himself still doing it for another 10 to 15 years. “Everyone has an expiration date, and I’ve felt mine pass,” he said. Porter said he is now looking for a buyer for the space, and already has several interested parties. He told Nosh, “I really want to get a restaurant that’s going to be successful, and one we’ll want to go to.” Porter lives in Fruitvale, less than a mile away from The Half Orange. “That location is important to the community, so we want to steward in something that will be really good.” In the meantime, Porter will continue consulting with restaurants and is in the midst of creating restaurant software products, ones that will help other restaurant owner-operators handle the “tedious work” — the endless administrative paperwork — that can make the job so frustrating. He hopes to have a product on the market by the end of the year. Porter says that although his time running his own restaurant is over, he’s excited to see that there are many who are willing and ready to take on the trials and tribulations of running a food business. But for him, he’s done. So there it is folks — get your last taste of The Half Orange today and tomorrow (open 3 to 9 p.m.) before saying good bye forever. The Half Orange is at 3340 E 12th St. (at E. 33rd), Oakland.

Abura-ya’s Japanese fried chicken will be one of the food offerings at Umami Mart’s Matsuri Festival on Saturday, Aug. 5. Photo: Umami Mart

UMAMI MART’S 5th MATSURI FESTIVAL Old Oakland Japanese barware, boutique and bottle shop Umami Mart is celebrating a big anniversary this weekend — five years in business! Umami Mart — co-run by Kayoko Akabori and Yoko Kumano — first started as an international food blog in 2009, but opened a retail store on Broadway at Ninth Street in 2012, where it has continued to expand its offerings over the years beyond the pretty Japanese bar tools and cookware that it’s best known for. These days, you’ll also find fun and interesting snacks and cooking ingredients (like a whisky smoked shoyu), a self-published cookbook and an ever-expanding variety of hard-to-find and premium Japanese sakes and beers inside. Every year Umami Mart hosts a free matsuri (festival) to celebrate its birthday and this time it’s bringing its next door neighbors and frequent collaborators, Belgian beer bar The Trappist, on board. The Trappist will serve several Japanese beers (Hitachino Nest, Echigo, Yoho and Baird) and Momokawa sake on tap. There’ll also be non-alcoholic drinks like Suntory Free beer, yuzu soda and cold brew by Red Bay Coffee. For eats, you’ll find Japanese fried chicken from Abura-ya, spicy tan-tan men by Shiba Ramen and savory and sweet Japanese crepes by J-Shack. Entertainment will be provided by Emeryville Taiko and DJ Jody Stillwater. Although entry to the event is free, food and drinks will be sold by each vendor — drinks will be sold cash only, so hit the ATM before you go. And, take note, the party is 21+, so leave the kids at home. The fifth annual Matsuri Festival will take place from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5 in the Old Oakland parking lot behind Umami Mart and the Trappist, on Washington Street, between 8th and 9th, Oakland.  

LA MARCHA WINES WINS BIG Berkeley’s La Marcha has something to boast about. It recently won Wine Spectator’s 2017 Award of Excellence, which is given to restaurants that offer at least 90 high-quality or noteworthy wines that pair well with its cuisine. In the case of La Marcha, chefs and co-owners Sergio Monleon and Emily Sarlatte offer 90 wines, including more than 30 sherries, sweet wines and other fortified wines, that pair especially well with their menu of tapas, cheeses charcuterie, paellas and other dishes. La Marcha expanded its beverage offerings earlier this year, after Monleon and Sarlatte traveled to Spain to gain more knowledge about the country’s wines, ciders and beers. Nosh recently visited La Marcha for a sherry-pairing dinner, where we got an introduction to the Spanish fortified wine from the Andalusian region of southern Spain — a beverage that more wine lovers are (re)discovering as something beyond its outdated reputation as a sickly sweet aperitif. At the pairing dinner, we learned how differences in fermenting and aging processes affect flavors, viscosity and sweetness, and how different sherries can marry with Spanish cuisine quite well. La Marcha offers eight sherry flights, so if you’re total sherry newb, the flights can be an easy (and boozy) introduction. La Marcha is at 2026 San Pablo (at University), Berkeley. 

Bonny Doon founder and winemaker Randall Grahm. Photo: Gather

GATHER WINEMAKER DINNER While we’re talking wines in Berkeley, take note that Gather is hosting Bonny Doon founder and winemaker Randall Grahm for a wine-paired dinner next week. As part of its ongoing Wine Wednesday series, this “Evening on the Patio” event will feature no host cocktails and a five-course dinner prepared by Gather’s executive chef Charis Wahl in collaboration with Bonny Doon Winery. The menu will include the following pairings: grilled shrimp with creamed corn and spicy pepper relish paired with a 2016 Picpoul; seared albacore with ponzu, sungold cherry tomato, shaved cucumber and horseradish with a 2013 Le Cigare Blanc, roasted duck sausage with smoked Jimmy Red grits, pickled bing cherry, corn salsa and basil with a 2015 Clos de Gilroy; lamb barbacoa with creamy spiced eggplant, grilled Santa Rosa plums and hoja santa with a 2013 Syrah; and a peach and almond crostada with whipped chevre, caramel, smoked olive oil and sea salt with a 2013 Vinferno. The “Evening on the Patio” wine-pairing dinner takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 9. The dinner is $130 per person (tax and gratuity included) and is limited to 18 guests. Reservations require a credit card guarantee, and can be made by calling (510) 809-0400. Gather is at 2200 Oxford Street (at Allston Way), Berkeley.

EVEN MORE WINES IN BERKELEY! One last wine update. On Sunday, Covenant Wines in Berkeley, which specializes in California Kosher wines, is hosting an all you-can-eat-and-drink wine tasting and BBQ, and most notable, an “odd-lot” wine sale, where bottles will be on sale for 50% off. A sample of what you’ll find include Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Mensch Roussane and Zinfandel and Landsman wines. The event is 21+ and costs $20 a person to attend. The BBQ and wine sale take place from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6 at Convenant Wines at 1102 Sixth St. (between Red Oak and Harrison), Berkeley.

PARTY UNDER THE PALMS CUESA and the United States Bartenders Guild are bringing their favorite cocktail event series, Cocktails of the Farmers Market, to Jack London Square this Wednesday evening. Party Under the Palms will feature East Bay bartenders and chefs making inventive cocktails and bites to highlight the best in-season produce from the Jack London Square Farmers Market. That means stone fruit, melons, berries, tomatoes and more summertime fruits and vegetables! Tickets are $55 and include three full-sized signature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and unlimited sample-size drinks. Speaking of the farmers market… if Jack London Square is where you do most of your weekend produce shopping, you’ll want to pay attention to this last bit of news: Starting on Sunday, Aug. 6, the Jack London Farmers Market, run by CUESA, is moving! Formerly at 472 Water St., the market will be moving just a few steps from its previous location to Jack London Square’s Palm Plaza. As always the Jack London Square Farmers Market is open from 10 to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Party Under the Palms takes place from 5:30-8 p.m. at Jack London Square Palm Plaza, Webster Street between Water and Embarcadero, Oakland.

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