Bites: Wine So Cru in West Berkeley; Hella Vegan Eats’ last service; Valentine’s Day eats

Wine So Cru, a new wine merchant and lounge in West Berkeley has a posh, cozy living room vibe. Photo: Sarah Han

CRU TO YOU A new wine shop and lounge has opened in West Berkeley. Wine So Cru was launched by Berkeley resident and wine lover, Kamolnutt “Nu-Beer” Putthongvilai, who is hoping to offer a comfortable hangout for fellow wine lovers in the area. This is Putthongvilai’s first business; she previously managed Thai restaurants in San Francisco but got into wine about four years ago. She took her passion to the next level by becoming a certified sommelier in 2016. On visits to wine country and on travels to Europe, she and her husband enjoyed stopping into smalls wine bars and tasting rooms that had a more cozy lounge-like vibe inviting guests to stay a while.

Putthongvilai modeled Wine So Cru on these spots, creating a relaxing, yet posh atmosphere. There are several plush couches and chairs set throughout the space, along with a long bar where guests can participate in tastings or order wines by the glass. Along the walls are bottles for sale that guests can purchase to take home (or enjoy on-site for a $10 corkage fee, if that particular wine isn’t on the menu). Wine So Cru offers both imported and local wines, focusing on small production wineries. Putthongvilai said, “I’m more focused on quality than the name of the producer.”

As Wine So Cru is still in soft launch, its inventory is not at full capacity, and Putthongvilai said she plans to tweak the offerings based on customer feedback. She hopes to have more selections in about two weeks, including some Berkeley-based and natural wines, as well as a small prepared food menu (expect charcuterie). All ages may enter the retail area, but the lounge is for ages 21+ only. Hours are noon to 7 p.m., Sunday through Monday; noon to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Wine So Cru, 800 University Ave. (at Fifth), Berkeley

[Updated at 12:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m.] HELLA BUMMER NEWS Oakland’s trans-queer and POC-owned vegan restaurant Hella Vegan Eats took to Instagram last night to announce its final day of service will at the end of this month. The post read, “we are heartbroken to have to tell you all that we are being displaced and our final day of service is going to be on February 28th.” For the past three years, Hella Vegan Eats, which started as a mobile food business in 2009 selling vegan tamales at Art Murmur, has had a permanent spot at the Classic Cars West Building (411 26th St.) beer garden, but owners Sylvee and Tiff Esquivel say they were asked by the venue to leave. In an email to Nosh, the founders said, “It’s pretty clear that we have very different styles and values as two businesses shoved together and it’s honestly just not working out for either party. CCW holds the lease and owns the bar and will be taking over the kitchen when we leave.” Hella Vegan Eats has started a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for moving costs and to pay staff while they figure out next steps. In the meantime, Esquivels are looking for a new location.


As for Classic Cars West, owner Michael Sarcona told Nosh he has already hired a new vegan chef and will likely start service with a limited menu on March 1. The beer garden will also soon be home to Kokolato Vegan Gelato.

HK-FARE TO EMERYVILLE Oakland’s Hong Kong Canto-western food spot Baby Café is expanding. According to the E’ville Eye, you’ll soon be able to get its specialties, like curry fishballs, condensed milk toast and HK-milk teas at several more locations in the East Bay, including a new stall at the Public Market Emeryville. Currently, Baby Café has restaurants in Oakland Chinatown, Alameda and Union City, and will soon venture into Newark and Hayward, too. Baby Café plans to open its Public Market kiosk, found across from Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, in mid-2019. Baby Café will be at Public Market Emeryville, 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville

Ocean View Brew Works in Albany. Photo: Scott Hoshida

REAL PARTY ANIMALS Scott and Vonnie Davidson, Albany locals and co-owners of Ocean View Brew Works, are celebrating the first anniversary of their small, but mighty brewery-taproom this weekend. From noon to 6 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 10, guests will be treated to live music by The Missing Man and The Mercy Kit and snacks from Oakland Gelato and Auntie’s Bakery & Supply Co. Ocean View is known to be a family-friendly spot, so expect activities for the kiddos and a Valentine’s-making station.

The Davidsons are big pet lovers, so before they celebrate themselves, they’re hosting a benefit for Berkeley Animal Care Services (BACS). On Saturday, Feb. 9, Ocean View will be collecting kongs and other pet toys, jars of peanut butter (make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol, though) or straight up donations for BACS. There’ll be a kissing booth to receive appreciative licks of appreciation from an adorable pup. In addition, pet owners can bring in a photo of their beloved furry (or feathered, scaly, etc.) friend to commission a line-drawing pet portrait by Ocean View Brew Works logo artist, Scott KimballOcean View Brew Works, 627 San Pablo Ave. (at Castro), Albany

Chefs Julya Shin and Steve Joo of Nokni. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

CAMP FIRE BENEFIT Since early January, Oakland’s Boot & Shoe Service has been hosting a private dinner series to benefit community members affected by the Camp Fire in Butte County. Owners Jen Cremer and Richard Clark have brought on a crew of heavy-hitters, chefs like Cal Peternell, Tu David Phu, Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions) and Brandon Jiu (Mister Jiu’s), to cook for the series made up of six intimate gatherings. Each event seats a maximum of 10 guests who’ll dine at a large communal table and hear directly from the chefs as they bring out each course of a wine-paired meal. The next event takes place Wednesday, Feb. 13, with Steve Joo and Julya Shin’s Cal-Korean project, Nokni. The menu is still TBD, but Joo and Shin plan to serve a four-course dinner with wines from Bedrock Wine Co. Tickets are a steep $250, but 100% of funds go to the North Valley Community Foundation’s Camp Fire Evacuation Relief Fund. Get tickets and see the full series schedule at Brown Paper Tickets. Boot & Shoe Service, 3308 Grand Ave. (between Mandana and Lake Park), Oakland

On Valentine’s Day, Benchmark Oakland will make a heart-shaped pizza upon request. Photo: Benchmark Oakland/Facebook

VALENTINE’S DAY EVENTS

Here are five East Bay restaurants and one local food tour offering V-Day specials. Feb. 14 is coming fast and space will be limited, so make reservations ASAP!

Agave Uptown in Oakland will serve its regular a la carte menu of Oaxacan specialties, plus a $45 three-course prix fixe with a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Main course choices are salmon, ribeye steak, scallops, a vegetarian dish, chicken or lamb. Agave Uptown2135 Franklin St. (at 22nd), Oakland

Benchmark Oakland in Old Oakland will offer its regular a la carte menu, but will give diners the option to order their pizza shaped like a heart. Guests who order a bottle of wine will receive a complimentary buttermilk panna cotta dessert. Benchmark Oakland, 499 9th St. (at Washington), Oakland

Copper Spoon in North Oakland will serve its regular a la carte menu and offer a $55 three-course prix fixe meal that comes with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine. First-course choices include beet poke or a deconstructed citrus salad; second-course options are scallops with coconut dashi, Moroccan braised short rib with rosemary risotto, or acorn squash gratin. For dessert, choose between chocolate lava cake with miso butterscotch or an Earl Grey Szechuan ice cream sandwich. Add an optional aphrodisiac cocktail pairing for $30, or share a cocktail with your valentine, served in a vintage couples punch bowls for $36. Copper Spoon, 4031 Broadway (at 40th St.), Oakland

Donato & Co. in Berkeley’s Elmwood District will serve a three-course Italian meal: house-cured smoked ahi tuna, arugula and pomegranate salad; Nebbiolo-braised beef short ribs with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and sautéed organic chicories; and chocolate and fruit for dessert. $55 per person. Donato & Co., 2635 Ashby Ave. (at College), Berkeley

Homestead on Piedmont Avenue will serve a decadent four-course prix fixe dinner. First course: local oyster and caviar, beef tartare; second course: ricotta cavatelli with Perigord black truffle, artichokes Barigoule; third course: duck roasted in the fireplace; and four different desserts! Dinner is $115 per person; an optional wine pairing can be added for an additional $65. Homestead, 4029 Piedmont Ave. (at 40th), Oakland

And last but not least, Local Food Adventures is bringing back its Valentine’s Day Rockridge Ice Cream & Gelato tour. This one-hour guided walking tour stops at three notable frozen dessert spots in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. You’ll learn a little Oakland ice cream history and lick a few scoops too. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for kids. Tour starts at 7:30 p.m. at Dreyer’s Ice Cream Parlor & Cafe, 5925 College Ave. Oakland