If you are from Oakland, you tend to identify as an Oaklander. If you are from São Paulo, Brazil, you are a Paulista. When a Paulista met an Oaklander on the schoolyard of their kids’ elementary school six years ago, little did they know that a restaurant partnership would be in their future. Years of conversations about what the Glenview neighborhood was missing eventually turned into a business plan, and in October 2017 co-owners Alexandre Yamamoto and Jesse Madway opened Paulista Brazilian Kitchen and Taproom. This ambitious café, restaurant and taproom is Oakland’s newest iteration of a community gathering space and all-day hub tucked in the lower hills of Oakland.
The large restaurant space on the corner of Park Boulevard and Wellington Street has seen many names above its door over the years. The Spanish-style building once held a traditional Mexican joint, Cantina and Compadres Bar & Grill. The owners of À Côté in Rockridge took over the space in 2011 and opened Rumbo Al Sur, a Latin fusion restaurant that had a lifespan of four years. Yamamoto and Madway took over the location in April 2016 with a large-scale remodel in mind.
If you visited any of the previous restaurants you will be blown away by the changes that have been made. Dark and partitioned spaces have been replaced with one bright and open room. Yamamoto took the lead on design, working with firms Studio M Merge and Bunton Mousavi Architecture, with the goal to create a space that would be inviting; its intent is to foster community and gathering. Natural light now streams into the space, highlighting the restaurant’s warm wood tones, modern concrete floors and bright yellow accents. The only remnant of its prior design is the rustic wood doors left intact near the front entrance.
The variety of dishes across the daily menus at Paulista is extensive. All the recipes are created by Yamamoto, the Paulista of this restaurant partnership. His inspiration is a combination of popular items found on the São Paulo culinary scene, as well as the kitchens of his youth. Yamamoto told me that his goal is to replicate the afternoon aromas and flavors of weekend gatherings from his upbringing.
The café opens at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sundays) and serves local Red Bay Coffee, açaí bowls, housemade empanadas and small bites. Freshly blended sucos naturais (natural juices) are also available, as is a scoop or two of non-dairy ice cream from local Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery.
During my visit, I noticed that Paulista seems to be living up to its desire to be a gathering space for many different members of the community. Free wi-fi and ample outlets had several people scattered throughout on laptops. A group of three held an informal meeting. A mom popped in with a toddler in tow who quickly took up some of the open floor space with paper and a bucket of crayons. A gentleman quietly sipped a midday beer.
I sampled Paulista’s açaí bowl. The açaí berry is indigenous to Brazil, though lately the thick smoothie that’s made with the berry and served in a bowl to be eaten with a spoon has become a popular menu item even at non-Brazilian restaurants due to the berry’s purported health benefits. At Paulista, the açaí berry is blended with guarana, another Brazilian berry. The serving is large, and the blended berry mixture is thick with a nice balance of creamy and tart. The banana, berries and granola that top the açaí mixture are spot on.
In addition to the all-day offerings, you will also find breakfast, lunch and dinner fare. Prior to 11:30 a.m., you can order dishes like an omelette or a breakfast sandwich. Lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m. and stretches all the way until 5 p.m. I popped in to taste some of its offerings on a recent weekday lunch break.
I chose to sample a few of Paulista’s classic Brazilian dishes; a plate of four traditional coxinhas to start ($9). Not typically served at lunch (although in my opinion, they should be, as a few folks looked at my plate with envy), these crunchy teardrop shapes of soft dough are filled with chicken, onions, parsley and cream cheese. What makes them all the better is the punch of the cilantro dipping sauce served on the side.
Next on my list was the salada de palmito ($13), a mix of hearts of palm, tomatoes, olives and red peppers atop mixed greens. Served with the same cilantro vinaigrette, the mix of flavors and textures were good, but the hearts of palm chunks were a bit large and required a knife and fork. The briny flavors of the olives and peppers meant the salad needed little dressing, which was appropriately served on the side.
I tried the feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew of black beans and beef, pork ribs and sausage served in a small clay pot ($15). It comes with traditional accompaniments of jasmine rice, sauteed collard greens, farofa, orange slices and a vinagreta, which resembles a chunky pico de gallo. I followed Yamamoto’s advice and spooned bites of the stew onto the rice, sprinkling the farofa on top. Farofa is a toasted cassava flour mixture that is commonly served with dishes in Brazil. I found it added a thickness to an already dense stew, so I chose to skip it. What I really liked was the vinagreta, as the freshness was a nice complement to the richness of beans and meat. I wish I had more than what was given in the small dish. The collards were thinly sliced and perfectly cooked, and the orange slices were a nice finisher.
The evening menu is more expansive. In addition to feijoada, you will find bobó de camarão, a creamy chowder of shrimp, a cassava-and-coconut-milk blend and veggies. A nod to Brazilian steakhouses is, of course, present with the grilled New York steak served with rice and french fries. As Paulista is very family-friendly, there’s a kids menu, too, which includes a junior size açaí bowl, ham & cheese sandwich, coxinhas or a simple grilled chicken plate.
The taproom at Paulista features 24 handles and is managed by Madway, an avid home brewer and self-described craft beer nerd. His goal is to offer a well-rounded selection, one that he strives to keep 70% local. While you will find several of the ever-popular IPAs, you will also find lesser known styles such as dark lagers or goses. Madway hopes to have something for everyone. Pours range from $6-$8, with a $1 off during Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. In addition to its rotating kegs, Paulista also has a house pilsner, the “Paulista Pils,” brewed for the taproom by Novo Brazil Brewing Company, based in Chula Vista. While beer is at the forefront, Paulista also offers six wines on the drink menu; a balance of reds, whites and a sparkling offering.
What Yamamoto and Madway have created with Paulista is a nice addition to the Glenview neighborhood; a local taproom that’s a great complement to another doing something similar, Degrees Plato in the nearby Laurel District. I just hope the pair can maintain the momentum with the restaurant’s ambitious schedule and large space to fill.
While I enjoyed my foray into these Brazilian dishes, I will be curious to see if Paulista will draw a steady, returning clientele, especially as the warmer months hit and our desire for rich and heavy dishes wanes. In a follow-up with Madway, I was assured that the menu will adjust with the seasons.
I look forward to a return visit, family in tow, for a pint and a bite in this welcoming community-centric spot.