Bites: Amausaan Uji Matcha and Mad Seoul coming soon; Passione Caffè opens

Kashyo Uji matcha super parfait (left), Otake bamboo charcoal cake with matcha panna cotta and Musashi matcha shaved ice with lady finger from Amausaan Uji Matcha. Photos: Amausaan Uji Matcha

MATCHA LOVE A new Japanese sweet shop specializing in matcha is opening in downtown Berkeley early next year. Signs announcing the arrival of Amausaan Uji Matcha are up in the windows of the old Body Time storefront on Shattuck Avenue. The China-based international chain brought its dessert shops to Southeast Asia and recently started expansion into North America, opening its first western outpost in Toronto this September. Amausaan’s menu features a bevy of drinks and desserts that’ll make fans of Asian sweets, especially matcha lovers, swoon. Expect the potent powdered green tea in an array of formats, from freshly whisked bowls and lattes, smoothies, floats and sodas to shaved ice, ice cream, mousse, cakes, parfaits and more. If you’re not a green tea fan, Amausaan also offers some non-matcha drinks and desserts, including special seasonal desserts. A representative from Amausaan Uji Matcha told Nosh that they plan to open the Berkeley locale in February. Amausaan Uji Matcha will be at 1950 Shattuck Ave. (at Berkeley Way), Berkeley 

Mad Seoul, a new fast-casual Korean restaurant focusing on bibimbap, will open at 1801 C Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley early next year. Photo: Sarah Han

NEW SEOUL Taking over the space formerly occupied by Brazil Café Bistro will be a new fast-casual bibimbap restaurant called Mad Seoul. Nosh spoke with owner Aaron Kim, who said he hopes to introduce Korean food to a wider mainstream audience by offering a modern and more casual take on the dish, which traditionally features a base of rice and a variety of toppings that are mixed together with a raw egg and a gochujang sauce (bibim means to mix in Korean; bap means rice). Tweaking tradition, Mad Seoul will offer bimbimap in a Chipotle-style ordering format and some non-traditional ingredients. Customers order at the counter and choose toppings to add to a base of grains (rice, barley, quinoa) or salad (romaine lettuce, baby kale leaves). Marinated meats like bulgogi, chicken, as well as tofu will be offered, but Kim said the variety of cooked, raw and pickled vegetable banchan offered as toppings could be mixed and matched without a protein for an equally substantial bowl. But for those who prefer meat as the main item, the menu will likely offer a plate option, which comes with Korean BBQ, rice or other grain, and two or three sides.

Kim, who currently lives in Alameda, moved his family to the Bay Area from Chicago about three years ago. Formerly an architect, he decided to change careers to something he could do more independently. Growing up in Maryland, he had helped out at his parents’ Korean restaurant, and in the East Bay, he saw an opportunity to start his own restaurant, taking what he knew of the business and Korean food, but making it his own. He chose the space in Berkeley because of its diverse demographic — a mix of students, downtown workers and North Berkeley residents. He believes that Mad Seoul will cater to mostly to-go diners looking for a quick lunch option, although the restaurant will have table and countertop seating for up to 28 people, as well as outdoor patio seating.

The restaurant is wrapping up final construction, and if all goes well with inspections and hiring, Kim hopes to open Mad Seoul in January. It will be open daily for lunch and dinner. Mad Seoul will be at 1801 C Shattuck Ave. (at Delaware), Berkeley


Pastries at Passione Caffè in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Han

PASSIONE PIT As Nosh reported last month, a new Italian café has taken the place of now-closed PiQ. Passione Caffè soft opened today in the space, serving coffee and tea, and Italian eats, including pastries, panini, focaccia, salads, pasta and pizza. We stopped in this morning while workers were busy adding freshly baked pastries into the display cases and taking orders from customers who were happy to find the café open again. Passione Caffè has a similar vibe to PiQ, which is not too surprising, given that new owner Fabrizio Cercatore is close with the former cafés founder, Nicki Rivieccio, who we spotted giving a hand behind the counter this morning. Cercatore, who’s also the co-owner of Hot ItalianPassione Pizza and the upcoming Emporio Passione, has worked closely with Rivieccio over the years.

Passione Caffè will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily during its soft opening through December, but come January, will expand hours into the evening, when it will transform into an Italian wine bar. He also had news that it will soon have its own gelato shop inside, in the same space that PiQ used to serve Italian ice cream. Passione Gelateria Italiana is currently in construction, but Cercatore said it will be ready to serve scoops as soon as Dec. 19. Passione Caffè, 91 Shattuck Sq. (at University), Berkeley 

CAFÉ OHLONE EVENTS If you’ve tried to visit Berkeley’s Café Ohlone for a taste of indigenous fare, you’ve probably noticed its hours are still in flux. For now, owners Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino of Mak’-amham take to Twitter to announce the café’s schedule at the beginning of each week. And in the meantime, they’ve been hosting an ongoing series of lunchtime tasting events and bi-monthly Saturday evening dinners at the space. This week, they’ll offer two opportunities to sample their Ohlone food. First up, at 6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13, Medina and Trevino will head offsite to the West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library (1125 University Ave. at San Pablo), where they’ll give a presentation about, and serve samples of, pre-contact Ohlone foods and Native teas from the East Bay. But for a more intimate and (ful)filling experience, you’ll want to buy tickets for the next MUR, Evenings at Café Ohlone, on Saturday, Dec. 15. Guests at this the multi-course dinner event will not only try dishes like bay laurel nut truffles paired with watercress and dried wild strawberry, and venison and chanterelle stew, slow cooked with yerba buena and bay laurel, but hear stories and meanings behind the foods and drinks served from cultural revival leaders in the East Bay Ohlone community. The dinner takes place from 5-7 p.m. and is limited to 30 guests. Tickets are $95 (10 tickets will be sold at the door on the day of the event). Café Ohlone, in the back of University Press Bookstore, 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

OH NO, KONO When multi-national chain Kono Pizza opened in July, we wondered how well the novelty pizza cones would take with Berkeley diners. Turns out, not well enough. Nosh tipster Peter Shelton alerted us that Kono Pizza at 2282 Fulton St. has closed. We were unable to reach anyone at Kono’s U.S. HQ for comment, but it appears that the downtown Berkeley location shuttered sometime in late November.

LOCAL SPIRITS Whiskey fans will want to head to Benchmark Pizzeria in Old Oakland at 4 p.m., Friday, Dec. 14, when they’ll host “In Between,” a happy hour event featuring Oakland whiskey makers Wright & Brown Distilling Co. Guests who order a house-special Wright & Brown cocktail will taste free samples and talk to representatives from the distillery to get the lowdown on how their small-batch, barrel-aged spirits are made. If you’re more of a wine lover, head to Benchmark’s original Kensington restaurant for its upcoming dinner with Healdsburg’s Tessier Winery. On Dec. 20, an a la carte menu of dishes that pair perfectly with Tessier wines will be offered from 5-9 p.m. Founder-winemaker Kristie Tacey will be on hand, should you need a little more guidance. Benchmark Oakland, 499 Ninth St. (at Washington), Oakland; Benchmark Kensington, 1568 Oak View Ave. (at Colusa), Kensington 

Sales of the The Voyager’s Mainbrace cocktail and mai tai glasses will benefit a new charity every week at The Kon-Tiki in Downtown Oakland. Photo: The Kon-Tiki

TROPICAL BENEFITS Oakland tiki bar The Kon-Tiki has started a weekly charitable cocktail campaign. Every Wednesday, the bar will choose a new charity and raise money from sales of its signature cocktail The Voyager’s Mainbrace (made with Ford’s gin,guava, coconut and lime), which also has its own custom mai tai glass. Fifty percent of cocktail sales and 100% of glass sales go towards the chosen cause of the week. Co-owner Matt Reagan told Nosh that he and his business partner, Christ Aivaliotis, started the program a month ago to benefit Camp Fire recovery efforts (they raised more than $2000 for that cause).

Starting tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 12, the Kon-Tiki will be raising money for Restaurant Opportunites Center of the Bay, which works to improve working standards, racial equity and wages for people in the restaurant industry. Tonight is also the Kon-Tiki’s ugly sweater party, so make sure you wear your most hideous holiday sweater before heading out!  The Kon-Tiki, 347 14th St. (at Webster), Oakland

A VERY DOMINICAN CHRISTMAS DINNER Chef Nelson German is hosting a Christmas party at alaMar Kitchen + Bar featuring a buffet of his favorite Dominican dishes that he remembers eating at every family holiday gathering. The spread will feature pastelitos de queso (cheese empanadas), pernil de puerco (slow-roasted pork shoulder), pollo guisado (braised chicken) and bacalao con maiz y papa (salt cod stew), as well as sides of plantain, rice, red beans and roasted yucca. The Dominican Christmas Party takes place 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 16. Tickets are $48, which includes gratuity, but not drinks. alaMar Kitchen + Bar, 100 Grand Ave. (between Webster and Valdez), Oakland

SWEET HOLIDAY TIDINGS Last, but not least, here are three local dessert offerings to make your holidays even sweeter:

Oakland baker and Camino pastry chef Marykate McGoldrick is taking orders for her MK Gold Bakery Holiday Cookie Boxes. This year’s box features 12 cookies, a small bag of candied pink grapefruit peel and a custom gift tag. The baked treats come in six flavors, sealed in packages of two: sesame and yuzu owl sandwich cookies, ginger cats, buckwheat Breton cookies, rye and toasted caraway shortbread leaves, Seville orange marmalade cookies, and nut and seed bars. Boxes are $32. Email mkgoldbakery@gmail.com to pre-order; MK Gold Bakery Holiday Cookie Boxes will be available for pick-up Dec. 22 and 23 at Camino, 3917 Grand Ave. (between Jean and Sunny Slope), Oakland

This month, Fenton’s Creamery released several limited-edition winter flavors. From now until early January, the old-fashioned ice cream shop will offer eggnog, peppermint bark, peppermint, maple nut, spumoni and green tea ice cream. Fenton’s Creamery, 4226 Piedmont Ave. (at Glenwood), Oakland

Reem’s in Fruitvale is taking orders for Arab treats, like baklava, ghraybe (orange blossom shortbread), nammoura (semolina cakes with pistachio and coconut), knafeh (sweet cheese stuffed phyllo pastry with rose water syrup and pistachio) and ma’amoul (walnut and date stuffed semolina cookies). Orders must be made 72 hours in advance of pick-up. Reem’s, 3301 E 12th St #133 (between 35th and Fruitvale), Oakland

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