Bites: Nokni Upstairs, Wild Rabbit Bakery, Lao noodle-making workshop

Catch up on the latest East Bay food news and events.

A ssam dinner from Nokni.
Cal-Korean pop-up Nokni will open a restaurant called Nokni Upstairs on Piedmont Avenue, where it’ll offer ssam sets, like this one. Photo: Nokni

ON THE UP AND UP A dining hotspot is quickly forming at the former Chow compound on Piedmont Avenue. Joining Doña, which opened last month, will be Pomella (the new iteration of Ba-Bite) and as the Chronicle was first to announce, a permanent outpost for chefs Julya Shin and Steve Joo’s excellent Cal-Korean pop-up, Nokni. According to the Chron, Nokni Upstairs will be open for lunch and dinner, serving rice bowls, noodles soups and set meals based around ssam (a style of eating by wrapping food, usually with leafy greens). Expect Nokni Upstairs to start service this summer. Nokni Upstairs will be at 3770 Piedmont Ave. (at Yosemite Avenue), Oakland

NORTH BERKELEY SCOOP A new ice cream shop is coming to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in North Berkeley, taking over the former tiny annex space that was once home to Mr. Mopp’s book shop (now located at 1401 MLK Way). According to a Little Ralph’s employee, the shop is still determining which brand of ice cream it’ll be serving; it’s currently in talks with Double Rainbow. An opening date has not yet been determined, but Little Ralph’s is hoping for a spring opening date. We’ll have more details in the coming days.

Learn to make this bowl of Lao chicken noodle soup at an upcoming workshop in Oakland Chinatown.
Learn how to make this bowl of kao piak sen, or Lao chicken (or vegan) noodle soup, at an upcoming workshop in Oakland Chinatown. Photo: Malina Syvoravong

FOR THE LOVE OF LAOS About five years ago, Oakland-based food stylist and art director Malina Syvoravong felt a strong urge to connect with her Lao heritage. She started by cooking the food she grew up eating, including kao piak sen, a comforting chicken noodle soup made with fragrant lemongrass and tapioca and rice flour noodles. Positive feedback from friends and the realization that she loved making Lao food inspired her to start a cooking workshop. In early December, Syvoravong held her first kao piak sen noodle-making class in Oakland Chinatown. The sold-out event was such a success, she’s decided to host another this month. Taking place at 5 p.m. Jan. 19, the event includes snacks and drinks, a lesson on making the noodles, a recipe e-card and a meal of kao piak sen (with chicken or a vegan option) with the noodles made that night. Tickets are $65 and are available by payment to Syvoravong through Venmo (Malina-Syvoravong) or Paypal. Exact location and the evening’s program will be sent directly to guests after payment is made.

MORE NOODS NEWS When chef Tu David Phu started serving chicken pho at his BanhMi-Ni pop-up, he started with Saturdays only. But a succession of sold-out Saturdays led Phu to rethink his menu and hours. So, starting this month, soup (and banh mi) is on from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. BanhMi-Ni at Copper Spoon, 4031 Broadway (at 40th Street), Oakland


NEW FORMAT FOR MUNCH Another local restaurant that has started the new year rethinking its menu is Berkeley’s Munch India. Chef Diana Afroza, who started Munch India as a food truck, opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant in November 2018, where she focuses on serving high-end Indian regional cuisine. In an interview with Nosh in 2018, Afroza and her husband/co-owner Nick Ahmed, said she wanted to introduce Bay Area diners to more Indian cooking styles and flavors, including dishes from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other neighboring South Asian countries, using ingredients from local farms. Last September, Afroza experimented with serving a set menu in the early evenings, and starting this month, she’s decided to change Munch India to an entirely prix-fixe format. In a post on Instagram, Afroza explains the reasons for the change: Going prix fixe gives the chef greater control over the vision and narrative she wants to tell through her food, allows her to experiment and expand on her repertoire of classical and contemporary dishes, and minimizes waste. Munch India, 3015 Shattuck Ave. (at Emerson Street), Berkeley

Don Blanc, a Korean BBQ restaurant specializing in pork, will open at Koryo Plaza in Temescal.
Don Blanc, a Korean BBQ restaurant specializing in pork, will open at Koryo Plaza in Temescal. Photo: Sarah Han

THIS LITTLE PIGGY Don Blanc, a new Korean BBQ restaurant specializing in pork is coming to the Koryo Plaza in Temescal. Although a sign hangs above the restaurant’s gated entry (in the former Koryo Korean BBQ restaurant space), Don Blanc appears to be a work in progress (its beer and wine license is still pending, too). We’ll keep you in the loop when we hear more details. Don Blanc will be at 4390 Telegraph Ave. (at 42nd Street), Oakland

HOT ITALIAN; PASSIONE EMPORIO Both remaining locations of Hot Italian — in Sacramento and Emeryville — closed late last month. According to the Sacramento Business Journal, some of the restaurant’s investors blame co-founder Andrea Lepore for the closure, alleging she “drained the company of its reserves by expanding the brand.” Lepore founded Hot Italian in 2009 in Sacramento, with chef Fabrizio Cercatore; the duo opened a second location at Public Market Emeryville in 2012 and a third in Davis in 2016. Lepore and Cercatore, aka Tutto Possibile LLC, were removed as managers of the first two locations in 2017 when a dispute with the investors arose following financial difficulties at the Davis location (which shuttered shortly after, in 2018). Lepore is currently one of the founders of Solomon’s Delicatessen in downtown Sacramento; Cercatore is behind Passione Pizza, a wholesale production company, and is preparing to open a new pizza restaurant in West Berkeley. In December, Cercatore told Nosh that Passione Emporio will open the second week of February, a week after its executive chef, Albano Bovo, moves to the Bay Area from Venice, Italy. Passione Emporio will be at 2326 5th St. (at Bancroft), Berkeley

CHEESE BOARD ON BREAK Speaking of pizza in Berkeley… you may have noticed the Cheese Board (both the bakery/cheese shop and pizzeria) is currently closed. Don’t worry, the collective is just taking its regular winter break; it will reopen Jan. 14. And according to the Cheese Board’s website, the collective is taking “the opportunity to move our construction project forward” during this time off. As Nosh reported last year, the Cheese Board took over the former Produce Center storefront.

Brioche loaves at Wild Rabbit Bakery.
Brioche loaves at Wild Rabbit Bakery in Oakland. Photo: Wild Rabbit Bakery

HOPPY NEWS Taking over the former Fog City Bakehouse location on Grand Avenue in Oakland is Wild Rabbit Bakery, which quietly opened last month. Splash Pad News reports that the bakery comes from three owners: Michael Addison, Janet Bennett and Brian Hardie. Addison, who formerly worked at Peet’s in Berkeley before becoming one of the founding members of the Arizmendi on nearby Lakeshore Avenue, is the head baker at Wild Rabbit, but all three contribute in making the selection of sweet and savory goods, including brioche, muffins, scones, canelé, cookies and other baked goods. Wild Rabbit also serves coffee and savory café foods, like organic green salads and pita with hummus. Hours are 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday. Wild Rabbit Bakery, 3249 Grand Ave. (near Santa Clara Avenue), Oakland


REDFIELD TURNS ONE Over in Rockridge, Redfield Cider Bar & Bottle Shop is celebrating its first anniversary this Saturday. The free party takes place all day, from noon to midnight, when the shop will offer special bottle pours and releases, including ‘field Blend, a new limited cider from Sonoma County-based small-batch cidermaker Tilted Shed Ciderworks. Redfield Cider Bar & Bottle Shop, 5815 College Ave. (near Oak Grove Avenue) Oakland

Tornado galbi omurice features a twisted scrambled egg over vegetable and short rib fried rice and demi-glace.
Tornado galbi omurice features a twisted scrambled egg over vegetable and short rib fried rice and demi-glace at Kitchen Story in Rockridge. Photo: Sarah Han

STORY TIME Also in Rockridge: On Jan. 2, Kitchen Story on College Avenue soft opened. As reported in December, this second location from prolific restaurateur Steven Choi has a Korean-focused menu. Nosh stopped in for lunch yesterday, and we were happy to see the quaint dining room layout — with cozy booths and cute bar — from former Duchess restaurants was mostly unchanged. The menu offers a variety of breakfast foods, burgers and sandwiches, salads and other dishes, many which have a Korean flair with ingredients like kimchi, galbi (Korean short ribs), and KFC (Korean fried chicken). Kitchen Story is in soft opening mode until its grand opening Jan. 13. Lunch is served from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; dinner from 5-9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Choi is also in the midst of bringing a third location of his Asian-inspired dessert restaurant, U :Dessert Story to downtown Berkeley. U :Dessert Story aims for a February opening, and like its two San Francisco locations, will offer confections and drinks inspired by Korean, Japanese and Thai sweets, such as bingsoo (Korean shaved ice), mochi and mango sticky rice toast. U :Dessert Story will join a nearby group of other downtown spots offering Asian-focused sweets, including Choi’s other Berkeley restaurant, Berkeley Social Club (which serves bingoo), Amausaan Uji Matcha (a Japanese-style dessert shop), Lucky Bird (a Thai restaurant that offers bingsoo and Southeast Asian sweets) and Tamon Tea (a Japanese snack shack, which sells mochi). Kitchen Story, 5422 College Ave. (at Kales Avenue), Oakland; U :Dessert Story will be at 1849 Shattuck Ave. (near Hearst Avenue), Berkeley

Packages of Prime Roots faux meat products.
Prime Roots creates koji-based products that mimic meat. Photo: Prime Roots

MORE FAUX MEATS As first reported by Oakland Magazine, plant-based meat and seafood company Prime Roots will open a 12,000-square-foot facility in West Berkeley. The company, previously known as Terramino Foods, was founded at UC Berkeley’s Alternative Meat Lab by Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon in 2017, and got its start by creating the first plant-based salmon burger. Prime Roots uses a fungus called koji to make its products. Koji — which is prevalently used in Japanese cooking to make soy sauce, miso and sake — gives the meat alternatives “umami notes and meaty texture,” according to the press release. (You may also recall that Nosh wrote about a Berkeley-based alternative dog treat company called Wild Earth that uses koji as the base of its products.) At the new Berkeley facility, Prime Roots will create koji-based products that mimic salmon, tuna, lobster, bacon, chicken, and more. Products will be available via the Prime Roots website early this year. When it opens, Prime Roots will join several other alternative meat companies, including Memphis Meats (San Leandro), Air Protein (Berkeley), Impossible Foods (based in Redwood City, but with a facility in Oakland) to open production facilities in the East Bay.

SENEGALESE EATS Slow Food East Bay’s Cultural Food Traditions dinner series continues this month, with a dinner taking place Jan. 26 with chef Nafy Flatley at Kingston 11 in Oakland. Flatley is a La Cocina alumna who runs Teranga Juice, a business selling bottled baobab fruit juice, but for the dinner, she’ll be cooking up traditional Senegalese dishes, like mafe (nut stew) and fonio (a West African grain). In addition to the meal, Flatley will discuss what it’s like to be an immigrant parent of first generation American children. Part of proceeds will go to Street Level Health Project, an Oakland nonprofit offering healthcare, food access, job safety training and legal and health social service referrals. Tickets are $45-$85 sliding scale. Kingston 11, 2270 Telegraph Ave. (at 23rd Street), Oakland 


Sarah Han is Nosh editor at Berkeleyside. Email: sarah@berkeleyside.com.