Author Archives: Risa Nye
When you enter the world of the East Bay Spice Company, allow yourself to be transported to a place far beyond the edge of the Berkeley campus.
While the tree-lined west side of campus is clearly visible from the window that looks out on Oxford Street, the interior will remind you of anything you might have learned about the spice trade. Scattered along the shelves lined with spirits behind the bar, you’ll find blue and white porcelain spice jars, wooden mills, glass jars full of nutmeg and other spices, and a large old-fashioned brass scale — along with a variety of nautical-themed items we couldn’t readily identify.
On a Friday night at the beginning of a holiday weekend, every available table and barstool — inside, outside, and upstairs — seemed to be occupied. We came into the intimate space in a celebratory mood, owing to the spring weather, the holiday ahead, and finding a place to park right across the street. After a brief wait, we settled at the bar and studied the menu. We are fond of clever titles and literary references on drink menus, and found several here that intrigued us.
While we certainly care the most about the composition of our cocktails, we are initially attracted to a play on words, which is why we hesitated briefly when we saw the Last in Translation (Wild Turkey rye, Green Chartreuse, Star Anise Porter reduction, and lemon) — before settling on the more literary Portrait of a Lady (Anchor Hophead vodka, Tru Organic gin, Weiss Cream ale, honey, lemon, and fennel bitters), a book which we are determined to finish reading some day. … Continue reading »
A recent newcomer to Rockridge, Bourbon & Beef on College Ave. features cocktails with a Latin flair. The heat is apparent in the variety of plates — meant to be shared — on the menu, but it appears among the cóctel offerings too. The vibrant touches of red throughout the room carry out this theme in the décor. Even on a cool night, the room sizzles.
We settled in at the long wood bar, noting the bursts of color in the terrazzo border. Cool blue lights suspended above us contrasted with the striking red wall nearby. We visited somewhat early in the evening on a Sunday, and, by the time we departed, the room was full of patrons sharing plates and enjoying cocktails at the bar, at the tables for two in the center of the room, and around the communal table up front.
At a restaurant with bourbon in the name, we were not surprised to see an impressive array of bourbon and rye lining the shelves. The collection of bottles filled with amber liquids stretched across the wall in a glittering display. We were pleased to discover that our chosen cocktail for the evening, the Blood Orange Old Fashioned, featured one of our favorite bourbons: Angel’s Envy. … Continue reading »
It feels like a party at Penrose.
Only open since Thanksgiving, Penrose on Grand Avenue in Oakland already has a vibe going: warm, bright, and friendly. Festooned with party lights, Penrose is keeping the holiday spirit alive well into the New Year.
We advised the hostess we were going directly to the bar, and then wended our way past the lively groups seated around the communal tables spread throughout the spacious, brick-walled room. The wood-fired grill and the large, overhead fan-shaped fixture caught our eye immediately: industrial and welcoming at the same time. … Continue reading »
Risa Nye, perhaps best known to Berkeleyside Nosh readers as Ms Barstool, doesn’t spend all her time sipping cocktails in the wee hours. She also, like the rest of us, goes grocery shopping. And there’s one aspect of the preparation undertaken by some local stores towards Hanukkah that really, really gets her goat. Read on.
A letter to the manager of my local grocery store:
Dear person in charge of the all-purpose Jewish food display I saw in your store on Nov. 19, just over a week before Hanukkah starts:
Depending on what part of the world you come from, there are a variety of traditional foods associated with Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. The story of this holiday includes the miracle of a small amount of oil that kept a menorah burning for eight nights. (There is much more to this story, but I’m just summing up the part that has to do with latkes and oil.) … Continue reading »
Crowd-pleasing classics and improv behind the bar: Gather pulls it all together Several weeks ago, we were enjoying a cocktail at another East Bay establishment and engaging in conversation with the bar manager, when the gentleman on the next barstool chimed in. As it happens, this gentleman is a bar chef in his own right, and suggested we visit the bar at Gather in Berkeley. We discovered in the course of our discussion about cocktails and other important issues, that he used to be the star behind the bar at Hudson, a Rockridge favorite that closed a year or so ago. We filed away his suggestion, and finally made our way to Gather.
We visited on a Saturday evening, prior to an event at a local music venue. Once we let the host know we were just planning to visit the bar for cocktails, he directed us to the rear of the restaurant and promised us an enjoyable experience. The bar is cozy, with a small number of tables and barstools inside and a sheltered patio right outside. High shelves bordering the bar area contain jars of colorful pickled vegetables. … Continue reading »
Even though the Tribune Tavern has only been open since April 10, the marble sign over the entrance reads “Established in 1874.” The date refers to the Oakland Tribune, not the restaurant—but the building that houses the Tavern claims a fair bit of history itself: it was built in 1906, the year the big earthquake and fire drove many San Francisco residents to seek shelter in Oakland. Many of them probably sought a place to get a drink, too. Understandable.
The Tavern, its U-shaped bar lit up in Oakland A’s green on a recent game night, may be on its way to becoming as much an Oakland fixture as the historic Tribune tower itself. The tower, a well-known landmark atop the building at Franklin and 13th, was added to the building in 1923, right in the middle of Prohibition. Alfie, the bar manager, says the history of the building is part of the philosophy behind the bar menu, which harkens back to the “whiskey and gin” era. … Continue reading »
We often get tips about new places to try from the bartenders we meet. When a couple of people mentioned Prizefighter in Emeryville, we decided to give it a try.
Located at 6702 Hollis St. near the Berkeley-Emeryville border, in what used to be known as Butchertown, Prizefighter fits right in with the industrial feel of the neighborhood. The stockyards and meat-packing plants of yesteryear were replaced by steel mills and factories, which in turn have been replaced by enterprises of a different nature today. … Continue reading »
Are you confident about choosing a cantaloupe? Do you have an appreciation for apricots? Need a refresher on freshness?
If you’ve ever wondered what a professional chef looks for when choosing produce, come along with local caterer, teacher and cookbook author Linda Carucci as she cruises the aisles of Berkeley Bowl West in search of ingredients for her roasted chicken salad with raspberry vinaigrette.
To save time in the store, Carucci keeps her shopping list organized by area: Perishables are always on the sides of the store and non-perishables in the middle. (Tip: Any time you walk into an unfamiliar store looking for milk, you can figure that it will be on one side or the other, where the power sources are.) … Continue reading »
When we entered Build on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way in Berkeley, we decided to bypass the pizzeria side and make a beeline for the bar. We had heard great things about Build’s bar program, and wanted to see for ourselves where the magic happens.
The bar menu has a decidedly Italian flair. We had a hard time choosing, but ultimately we were swayed by the allure of the Autunno a Costiera Amalfitana (Autumn on the Amalfi Coast), made with vodka, Buddha’s hand citron, Campari, lemon, grapefruit, basil and prosecco.
Actually, the entire cocktail menu makes for an entertaining read. While we typically choose our drinks based on the components, we are sometimes tempted to try something with a clever name. (Unlike betting on a horse using this same logic, we are more likely to pick a winner at the bar. It should be noted, however, that our companion for the evening chose to order a Bitter Old Man, made with bourbon, rye, bitters and a blend of vermouths.) … Continue reading »
Like many Bay Area locals, we seldom make the time to play tourist in our own town. So we decided it was high time to enjoy a cocktail and a sunset at the Paragon Restaurant & Bar, located at one of the most recognized landmarks in Berkeley: the Claremont Hotel & Spa. The view may be better from the Campanile, but Paragon’s setting and its service are hard to top.
We only hesitated a moment before deciding to forgo our typical barstool perch inside the spacious restaurant for the luxury of sitting outside on the deck near the swaying palms. The long bar and comfortable seating indoors didn’t deter us from our mission to soak up a few rays.
And the view was irresistible on this windswept afternoon: the bay sparkled and the Golden Gate Bridge glowed orange in the reflected light. We watched as fog rolled under the bridge and the sun arced toward Mt. Tamalpais. We commented on the beauty of where we live, and then turned our attention to the drink menu. … Continue reading »
A friend who had joined us for a Ms. Barstool adventure several months ago recommended the cocktails at Boot & Shoe Service on Grand Avenue in Oakland. We welcome such suggestions, and decided to see for ourselves what the bar had to offer. While we have been to known to order and appreciate the pizza and other dining options at Boot & Shoe, we had somehow missed the fact that there is a bar in the back. Such oversights must be remedied, and so one recent evening, we walked down the high-ceilinged brick-walled corridor on the left and made a beeline for the bar.
Like the weather in the East Bay these days, the cocktail menu at Boot & Shoe changes weekly. We like this idea, since we can anticipate new choices on subsequent visits. On the evening we visited, the featured cocktails were the Monk’s Garden (gin, lime, grapefruit, St. Germain, yellow chartreuse, and Peychaud’s bitters) and the Diablo Cocktail (tequila, ginger, lime and crème de cassis). We were tempted by the Deadly Sin (bourbon, carpano antica, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters) and braced ourselves for the possibility of a Gunpowder Punch (Navy strength rum, lime, cane syrup and Angostura bitters). … Continue reading »
We recently joined the ranks of those felled by the flu-like cold that’s been going viral throughout the East Bay. Finally on the mend, we couldn’t think of a better way to lift our spirits than to get back on the barstool in search of a cure for what ailed us. The cure turned out to be cocktails at Picán.
The menu offerings at Picán are described as “Southern Infused California Cuisine,” and that Southern influence is present behind the bar as well. We decided to forego the bourbon flights on this visit — next time perhaps? — and perused the list of cocktails instead.
But which drink to try? The obvious choice would be the Mint Julep, made with bourbon, rock candy syrup, fresh mint and bitters. But that would mean passing up the Southern Peach Squeeze and the Devil Went Down to Georgia, both of which include a teasing taste of summer with peach purée or peach whiskey. We were intrigued by the mysterious Black Hand (Wild Turkey, basil, balsamic syrup and ginger beer) and startled by Rosemary’s Baby (gin, fresh rosemary, agave nectar, lime juice). When in Uptown, we mused, shouldn’t we try the Uptown Manhattan? Our thoughts were muddled. … Continue reading »