Author Archives: Kate Williams

Rockridge Food Tour tells story of a neighborhood

La Farine: one of the stops on the Rockridge Food Tour. Photo: La Farine
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On a somewhat dreary day this fall, I walked up to Lauren Herpich and was immediately greeted with a big smile — as well as a sweet, flaky morning bun. Picked out fresh that morning from La Farine on College Avenue, the pastry was a lovely start to the the Rockridge Food Tour, for which Herpich is a guide.

Launched in June 2014, this trek is a relatively new addition to the East Bay’s line-up of food tours — Savor Oakland, Edible Excursions, and Dishcrawl all carve out their own neighborhood niches — and it is the first to feature the Rockridge neighborhood.

Herpich is no stranger to the world of food-focused excursions. Before moving to the area last January, she was a tour guide for Chicago Food Planet, which has been leading hungry diners around the Windy City since 2006. Chicago Food Planet emphasizes the inclusion of well-researched neighborhood history into their food tours, and Herpich has brought this focus to Oakland. … Continue reading »

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Bites: Haven re-opens, Kingston 11 shines, more

The newly designed interior of Daniel Patterson's Haven. Photo: Alanna Hale
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Openings, closings…

HAVEN REOPENS TONIGHT Haven, in Oakland’s Jack London Square, is reopening with a new concept tonight. The 3-year-old restaurant, part of the Daniel Patterson Group, gave Nosh and other food media a sneak peek last night, showing off its new décor in the form of greenery and glass votives hanging from the ceiling, and a new family-style menu. While previously diners had the option to order a tasting menu from Chef Charlie Parker (and Kim Alter before him), now that’s all they can order. It comes mostly family-style, with the exception of the entrée. … Continue reading »

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Bites: Box and Bells closes, Haven on pause, more

Meats with sauerkraut (Boudin blanc; corned beef with parsley sauce). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Openings, closings

BOX AND BELLS IS DONE After about 15 months of operation in Rockridge, James Syhabout’s Box and Bells has closed. (Nosh previewed the restaurant in 2013.) The restaurant shut down Wednesday, according to a notice on the company website. Box and Bells, at 5912 College Ave. in Oakland, featured dishes inspired by staff meals at Syhabout’s higher-end Commis — think hearty comfort food like poutine, fried chicken and burgers topped with cheese curds. In an official statement posted on Inside Scoop SF, Syhabout explained that “despite our greatest efforts, the concept simply did not resonate with the neighborhood and result in the success necessary to sustain the restaurant.” Operations at Syhabout’s other Oakland restaurants, the Michelin-starred Commis, Hawker Fare and The Dock at Linden Street, will continue. And the closure appears unlikely to slow him down: Syhabout is gearing up to open a new Hawker Fare location in San Francisco later this month. … Continue reading »

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Restaurant Weeks are back, and bigger than ever

Cook and Her Farmer
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January isn’t just a month for New Year’s resolutions. Here in the Bay Area, January brings not one, but two Restaurant Weeks.

Oakland’s Restaurant Week starts tomorrow and runs through Jan. 25, and is organized by Visit Oakland. In a big surge from last year’s offerings, close to 75 restaurants will be participating across the ten days. Those restaurants will offer lunch and/or dinner prix-fixe menus at $20, $30, or $40 per person. Reservations are available through Open Table, a Restaurant Week sponsor.

Just about every popular Oakland restaurant is offering Restaurant Week specials — expect menus from classic spots like Oliveto Café, Yoshi’s, and Flora as well as hot newcomers like The Dock at Linden Street, The Cook and Her Farmer, and Kingston 11. A full list of participating restaurants and menus can be found on the Visit Oakland website. … Continue reading »

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East Bay artisans show strong at Good Food Awards

Aaron and Monica Rocchino: their goal is to bring restaurant quality meat to the home cook
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Last Thursday night, the 2015 Good Food Awards ceremony showcased the most regionally diverse crowd in their five-year history, yet even with this abundance of talent from around the country, the East Bay had a definitive presence.

East Bay food judges were present in all categories. Alice Waters held court on the stage all night, along with fellow food leaders Ruth Reichl and Nell Newman. Mark Bittman, who is to lead Cal’s Edible Education class this spring, delivered the keynote speech. And longtime East Bay businesses, Market Hall Foods and Fra’Mani won awards amid a youthful crop of food artisans. … Continue reading »

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Farm Burger brings Southern flair to East Bay scene

Farm Burger did a popup grill serving burgers at the grand opening of Gilman District recently. Photo: courtesy Farm Burger
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Think the East Bay has its fair share of burger restaurants? Think again.

Starting early next month, West Berkeley will welcome the fifth location of Farm Burger, a grass-fed burger franchise from Atlanta, Georgia. Farm Burger will join Philz Coffee, Doughnut Dolly, and Whole Foods in the brand-new Gilman District development at 10th and Gilman.

Farm Burger started with a stroke of luck. Founders George Frangos and Jason Mann originally met when Frangos ran a reference check for one of Mann’s old employees. At the time, Mann was at the helm of the Athens, GA farm-to-table restaurant, Farm 255, and Frangos was managing restaurants in Atlanta, GA and Portsmouth, NH. After meeting, Mann hired Frangos to consult on his restaurant.

“He and I were just sitting around one day looking at the business model for his restaurant and we realized that what really sold were a lot of burgers,” said Frangos. “At one point I thought, ‘We should just open up a grass-fed burger place, raise all the cattle, and call it a day.’ The idea stuck with me.” … Continue reading »

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Tanya Holland: A soul food pioneer in West Oakland

Tanya Holland. Photo: Jody Horton
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You’d be hard-pressed to venture down Mandela Parkway late morning and not see a line tumbling out of Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen. Since its opening in 2008, the truly soulful West Oakland restaurant has garnered a loyal following. Some slip in for a cup of coffee soon after it opens its doors, others brave the long lines for a brunch of fried chicken and waffles, and still others come in for a late lunch of gumbo or pulled pork. There’s really not a bad choice on the menu.

Holland has been working in kitchens since she was in college at the University of Virginia, and she formalized her skills at a culinary school in France and with a stint at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. While her face may be familiar to some outside the Bay Area after a run on the Food Network’s “Melting Pot” television show, she is most well known here for her transformation of two small West Oakland storefronts — Brown Sugar Kitchen and San Pablo Avenue’s B-Side Barbecue. Holland has just released a new cookbook, Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland, and it’s chock full of recipes from both of her restaurants.

Berkeleyside NOSH sat down with Holland to learn more. You can meet Holland at Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, organized by Berkeleyside, on Oct. 24 and 25. (Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

When did you land on the soul food concept?

When I was living in New York before I went to cooking school, I never really saw examples of soul food restaurants where the food and the room and the ambiance and the service all came together. I either felt like people would try to put their cuisine in sort of a high-end venue but it didn’t really deliver on all fronts, or else they’d serve their cuisine in a really low-end venue where people just went for the food, not caring about the service or the vibe. … Continue reading »

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Burmese deliciousness at Rangoon Super Stars

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Most of us in the East Bay have a Burma Superstar story. Usually: a long wait, followed by a good or even memorable meal in a crowded dining room. A first taste of tea leaf salad. An exploration of flavors and textures surprising to a palate primed for sweet Thai dishes or numbing Sichuan flavor. But Burma Superstar is no longer the only game in town. Back in September, U Win Aye, the former executive chef of Rangoon Ruby and Burma Superstar, opened his first restaurant on a stark block of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Called what seems to be a portmanteau of his previous gigs, Rangoon Super Stars, the friendly restaurant is a fine antidote to all of those lines further down the road. … Continue reading »

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Mr. Espresso: A company with roots stays relevant

Di Ruocco Family (from L-R) Laura Zambrano (Sister), Alex Zambrano (Laura's husband), Marie-Francoise Di Ruocco (Mother), Carlo Di Ruocco (Father), Luigi, and John Di Ruocco (Brother).
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You may not know it, but it’s the coffee you drink at the Cheese Board, as well as Café Rouge, Saul’s Deli, Oliveto, Sweet Adeline Bakery, Picante, Lalime’s, Dopo, À Côte, Bette’s Ocean View Diner — and many other highly regarded and much loved Bay Area restaurants. It’s the coffee made by the Oakland-based Mr. Espresso.

I’m touring the Mr. Espresso factory in the hopes of understanding how this company, one of the oldest in the business, has managed to stay so successful while remaining relatively under the radar. Their oak-roasted beans are perhaps less attention-grabbing than their local third-wave counterparts like Blue Bottle, Bicycle and Flying Goat, but, unlike most Bay Area coffee start-ups, their coffee has roots.

The first thing Luigi DiRuocco, the vice-president of Mr. Espresso, says to me as I walk into the Mr. Espresso showroom is “Would you like some coffee?” It’s 2 p.m. — far later in the day than I, generally a non-coffee drinker, normally sip caffeine. We’re standing in a room filled with a playground of espresso machines, some new and practical like top-of-the line Faemas, and others decidedly less so: in one corner stands a giant Rube Goldberg-like gizmo that doesn’t make coffee, but it sure has its share of whirly-gigs, levers, and pulleys. … Continue reading »

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Bauman College grads boost local food community

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On Berkeley’s University Avenue, between Ninth and 10th streets, there is a small oasis of calm amid the honking cars and dollar stores. Tucked between the two imposing Premier Cru buildings is the Berkeley campus of Bauman College, a holistic nutrition and culinary school. It has sat quietly in this space since 2011 when it made the move from a small building on Grayson Street.

Both the college’s natural chef and nutrition consultant programs are certificate programs, and graduates are able to work as chefs and health educators in restaurants, hospitals or as consultants for small businesses. Other graduates go on to work as private nutrition consultants or private chefs.

Chances are good there’s a Bauman grad working nearby; they’ve spread across the Bay Area into myriad fields.
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Berkeley’s Iyasare: A game-changer for the East Bay

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One bite of Ocean Umami and I was hooked.

This dish, a highlight on the stellar menu at the new Iyasare on Berkeley’s Fourth street, is indicative of chef Shotaro Kamio’s intricate Japanese-American cuisine. Its appearance alone is stunning—each colorful element comes together into a bold, oceanic painting. Yet nothing feels arbitrary or decorative. This plate is artistic “tweezer food” at its best: a single bite brings forth the scent of the ocean and the rich, lingering flavor of seaweed. Tart umeboshi plum gel and salty bursts of soy-marinated ikura salmon roe provide a drumbeat of brightness to the tender, fresh scallops. Slivers of rich uni are matched with brilliantly green chive and extra-virgin olive oils. Pickled wasabi leaf and nori-infused ponzu ground the dish. Even after finishing off each individual orb of roe, I wanted to lick the plate clean. … Continue reading »

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Bakers, cooks, cakemakers thrive at Berkeley Kitchens

 

This month, the final nails will be hammered into the walls of The Berkeley Kitchens, a revolutionary new hub for artisanal food manufacturing in West Berkeley. Conceptualized by local sculptor and real-estate developer Jonah Hendrickson, the building is home to some 15 local food businesses, from bakers to caterers, and everything in between.

[Take a tour of The Berkeley Kitchens in the slideshow above. Photos by Tracey Taylor]

Hendrickson didn’t intend to make his name building kitchens. His first development project was a collection of artist studios in West Oakland that has been home to the Shotgun Players, Oaklandish, and “all kinds of really neat people,” he said. … Continue reading »

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Kingston 11: Come for the party, stay for the chicken

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Kingston 11 is the perfect place for a party. Take one step into the expansive, friendly dining room of this new Jamaican restaurant in Uptown Oakland, and you’ll feel the warmth, the friendliness, and the smiles emanating from both diners and servers. The food that graces the tables is fun and deeply satisfying. Drinks are generous, and cheap to boot.

On a recent weeknight, there were at least three parties already in full swing. Tables of friends laughed over rounds of cocktails and bowls of hearty meat stews. Smaller groups of two and four were also peppered throughout the room, leaning closely to hear each other over the jovial din that encompassed the space. … Continue reading »

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