Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’


Restaurant Report: Winter 2011

February 25, 2011

Wow, look at what happens when you take a few months off! Last time I posted on neighborhood restaurants was last May (good grief) and there’s been plenty happening since then. Here’s a very quick rundown of what’s opened or is opening soon in the ‘hood…

Temescal/Pill Hill

  • Homeroom, a new macaroni-and-cheese restaurant, is now open at 40th and Shafter. We have yet to try it but it sounds tasty and has been met with great fanfare—even my sister in Denver heard about it (though in fairness, she does work for the American Cheese Society, so it’s her kind of place!) Full report once we make it there.
  • CommonWealth has been open at 29th and Telegraph for a while now. Check out the details here. [Side note: One review of CommonWealth describes its location as “where Uptown meets Pill Hill.” Discuss.]
  • Remedy has been open since forever at Telegraph and 43rd, but I realized I forgot to include them in the last list. Which is bad, because they’re awesome!

Piedmont Avenue

  • Shimizu Sushi is now open at Piedmont and Echo. Haven’t been yet, but have heard good things!
  • It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve wandered down Piedmont, so I have a feeling I’m missing some changes. (Or maybe it really has been quiet?) Updates after we get a chance to walk down that way!

Grand Lake/Lower Grand

  • Ikaros (Greek) on Grand and Caña (Cuban, with a cabaret license, it looks like?) on Lake Park are both open as of this month. Yum! [Yes, I know the Ikaros link doesn’t work yet, but hopefully it will soon…]
  • Lin Jia Kitchen has been open on Lakeshore for a while now in the old L’Amyx space; still on the list of new places to try!
  • Room 389 opened this fall where the Golden Bear used to be.
  • Mimosa (at Santa Clara and Grand) has closed again after a brief revival, and is reportedly going to reopen under a new owner as a larger Ethiopian restaurant later this spring. Hopefully the third time’s the charm!
  • Sadly, Di Bartolo Café has closed, but happily,  Boot and Shoe will be taking over their space, expanding to include a patio and reportedly opening for brunch and lunch. Mmm doughnuts…
  • The Flip Side on Lakeshore, a project by the owners of Flavors of India, will be serving up gourmet burgers. (This is the old Adam’s location.)
  • Restoration of KwikWay on Lake Park is well underway at long last! Hoping they’ll be open by the summer, but that might be overly optimistic. Last I heard, the plan was still to do an upscale version of the old burger joint, but we’ll see.
  • Zoey’s Afghan Bistro has sadly closed, not too long after it opened.

Uptown/Upper Broadway

  • 3000 Broadway is now open at, umm, 3000 Broadway. Still haven’t been, but very curious!
  • Plum has been open for a while now, and is slated to open a bar soon. We checked it out when they first opened and are headed for a second visit soon, so I’ll write that one up soon.
  • Next door to Plum, the Punchdown opened quietly last fall in Franklin Square Wine Bar’s old space. Still need to check this one out too!
  • Next door to Mua, Nex is open. Check out the review here. (Can you tell how long it’s been since I’ve done one of these updates?!?)
  • Café Randevu is open too, just across the way from Mua and Nex. They have an eclectic menu spanning a number of cuisines.
  • Bar Dogwood, a new venture by the former owner of the House of Shields, is now open for  “cocktails and cured meats,” which is definitely up my alley! It’s at 17th and Telegraph.
  • Shuga Hill, the soul food truck-turned-restaurant that was originally eyeing a location at 29th and Broadway, has instead settled on a location at 27th and San Pablo that seems to be coming along nicely.
  • Xolo, the new taqueria from the Dona Tomas/Flora crew, is still under construction. Still. They’re also working on a bar in the space between Flora and Xolo.
  • Just up the street at 18th and Telegraph will be Oakland’s own branch of Brooklyn’s Weather Up. They’ll also be serving up cocktails and snacks.
  • Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café is opening its second location next-door to the Fox Theater. Apparently my wish for cocktails and brunch (no, not together…well, sure, why not together??) has been heard!

I think that’s it for now. I’ve undoubtedly missed a few openings and closings in these neighborhoods since I’ve been a bit out of the loop this fall and winter, so feel free to add them in the comments. And I promise to update this in a more timely manner next time around!


What we’ve been doing: Dining about Downtown Oakland

July 9, 2010

This weekend, many Oaklanders are trying to organize eat-outs in support of Downtown and Uptown Oakland restaurants to help support our local businesses in the wake of last night’s violence following the Mehserle verdict. So in the spirit of that effort, I’ll share some of my favorite downtown eating experiences from the past five months. (These restaurant reports are so overdue that I’m not even going to write them up on their own; when we make repeat visits to these spots, they’ll get their own posts, since things may well have changed in the past six months.) But in the meantime, here’s a little taste of the spots we tried this spring.

Please go out and eat this weekend!

D. still hasn’t been here, so this is just my take; my parents and I stopped in during a visit in March, not long after Trueburger opened. We had milkshakes, burgers, and fries, in classic form. Overall, our take was that Trueburger is good, though not the best burger-n-fries we’ve ever had (but then, that’s a pretty high bar!) Burgers were tasty, but they’re only cooked one way and the day we visited, this was well-done (though I think it’s typically more like medium, so I’ll try again at some point). Fries and milkshake were both tasty; next time I’ll try some milkshake mix-ins. My parents thought it was a bit pricey; I thought it was just right given the restaurant’s commitment to using sustainable meat, dairy, and produce. I’d probably still rather get a burger at Wood Tavern, where I can have it alongside a Manhattan and pretend I’m having a fancy meal. But Trueburger isn’t trying to be Wood Tavern; it’s more like a high-end version of In-N-Out. As someone who doesn’t eat fast food meat because of issues with its questionable sources, I love that there’s now a spot in my neighborhood where I can finally satisfy the burger-and-shake craving. Yay! They are apparently in the process of getting a beer-and-wine license, too, so we’ll check it out again after that’s in place.

Grade: B+
Price: $-$$

Okay, so it’s been so long since we had dinner here (just after they opened!) that I almost shouldn’t include this report at all. But it was tasty, and I hear it’s gotten even better since then, so I’ll put this in for now, and write a real report once we’ve tried them again. We tried Hibiscus the week after a friend who knows her Caribbean food had given it an overwhelming thumbs up (one of the only places in the Bay Area that passed muster for her!) So we gave it a pre-Fox run one Saturday. Tasty spots included the split pea fritters, the seafood and grits [it’s crab now, but I seem to remember it being shrimp when we visited, though that may be my memory playing tricks on me], and the fried chicken, although I remember thinking that in the future we should try not to load up on quite so many fried dishes. The fried plantains, which I ordered on a whim, were good but a little much with all the other food. Ah, well. And while the salad was good as simple green salads go, it seemed inordinately expensive for lightly dressed greens. (I don’t think the version we had is on the menu anymore, though.) The only really odd spot was the phone call we got with five minutes to go before our reservation. It’s the restaurant, wondering if we’re coming. I assure the woman that we’re outside locking up and will be there in a moment. Weird, but I’d made the reservation online, and maybe people flake out on online reservations a lot. So I head inside, where the woman behind the bar is telling someone that she just talked to me and I claimed we were parking, but she’s sure I was just saying that and we’ll be late. Err…?? I pipe up that yes, in fact I’m here. She just looks at me for a minute and then seats us; service was lovely from there on out. But so strange. Still has me wondering!

Grade: A-
Price: $$-$$$

LAKE CHALET (Uptown/Lake Merritt)
Oh, Lake Chalet, how I long to love you! I was so excited when this spot opened: housed in the historic city boathouse and renovated as part of the Measure DD project along the lake, it’s gorgeous, with a drop-dead beautiful view. The drinks are excellent. But for some reason, it’s plagued with inconsistency on the food front. We first tried Lake Chalet a month after it opened, and had a bizarre mix of fabulous and pretty blah dishes, so we hadn’t made it back. But this spring, D.’s mother and sister hosted my bridal shower there, and Lake Chalet did an outstanding job. The food was wonderful—I’m still dreaming about the fish and chips!—and the meal convinced me that they had finally figured things out. In fact, we were collectively so impressed that several of us independently made plans to go for dinners and brunches in the weeks that followed. And sadly, we all had the same experience: decidedly mediocre meals. Overcooked eggs, cold soggy french fries, ingredients that just didn’t meld. It just wasn’t there. It’s odd, because generally special events are taxing enough that an otherwise good restaurant might falter; it’s not usually the other way around! I’m now thoroughly convinced that Lake Chalet can do exceptional food; they just need to figure out where the hangup is, whether it’s in the kitchen or in the menu planning. Notably, the restaurant is huge, with 450 seats; that’s potentially a challenge. (The funny part is that almost everyone said “well, I guess I’d still come back here anyway, since the view is so good and the drinks were great.” C’mon, we can have a higher bar than that!) But fair enough. I’ll jump on the bandwagon: I still recommend this spot for drinks with a view, and hey, try the food and you might luck out. (Honestly, I hesitate to even make a list of the things we liked there, since the preparation can vary from visit to visit. So just explore the menu and see what happens.) Fingers crossed that in the months to come, they work out the kinks, because I think this spot has the makings of greatness. Update, 07/13/10: Lake Chalet’s chef has left, and the Chalet empire, which also includes Park Chalet and Beach Chalet in San Francisco, has hired a new executive chef to oversee all three restaurants beginning this summer. So watch for some changes…

Grade: B [A based only on drinks, views, happy hours, and special events]
Price: $$-$$$

COCINA POBLANA (Jack London Square)
I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that, although I’ve eaten at Cocina Poblana in Emeryville a couple of times, I had never set foot in the Oakland restaurant until last year, when bizarrely I went to two group events in quick succession there. Both were excellent, and when D.’s family wanted to plan a welcome dinner for our wedding earlier this year, we got in touch with owner Lito Saldana. He suggested we all come by for a tasting, so we did. Now, we went to several tastings over the course of wedding planning, and usually “tasting” means “sample a few of our strongest dishes.” At Cocina Poblana, it means “sample everything on our menu and see what you like!” Quite literally. We had food for four at the tasting, and then they packed up the leftovers and sent it home with us to make another two lunches and four dinners. Insane! And amazing! The restaurant specializes in food from the Puebla region of Mexico, home to mole sauces and other tastiness. Lito described each of the moles the restaurant offers, including its history, as we tried each in turn. (We each had different favorites, too, so you should really try them all.) The chile relleno was one of the best I’ve had. The pork melted right off the bone. The homemade tortillas? Fabulous. We did host our dinner here in the end, and we’re still hearing about how amazing the food was. I offer this little review with the very big caveat that I have still never eaten a normal meal here, but we plan to do this soon, since Lito and his team can clearly cook! And the margaritas are to die for (I love the cucumber and tamarind, but really, you should taste them all to find your own favorite!)

Grade: A
Price: $$-$$$

MISS PEARL’S JAM HOUSE (Jack London Square)
This is another spot we tried for the first time as we were debating where to host a dinner for friends and family staying at the Waterfront Hotel. I’ve been intending to check out Miss Pearl’s for a while, so it was great to finally make it there. We had a late weekday lunch here, so the restaurant was relatively quiet, with only a few people left. We tried the catfish po’boy, the cubano, the crab cakes (no longer on the menu), and the steak sandwich. All were good; the po’boy was especially tasty, as were the sweet potato fries, which they brought in abundance. The service was pretty strong except when they forgot about us near the very end of our meal (but in fairness, it was well beyond the lunch hour at that point, and they were clearly transitioning to the dinner staff). The dinner menu is a bit different, so we’ll have to go back at some point and see what the vibe is like then, but I’d definitely go back for lunch.

Grade: B+
Price: $$-$$$


Restaurants coming out my ears (or: the spring restaurant report)

May 11, 2010

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted any restaurant news….which means there’s a whole lot happening to report! Here’s a quick pass at what’s coming up. (I’m quite sure I’m missing a bunch of stuff, since I haven’t been paying much attention to much of anything but work and wedding planning this spring….but I promise to catch up this summer!)

Temescal/Pill Hill

  • Little Mac, a macaroni-and-cheese restaurant (?!? sign me up!) that will also have craft beer and tasty sounding salads and desserts, is slated to open at 40th and Shafter this fall.
  • Commonwealth is due to open later this month at 29th and Telegraph, and will be a British-style pub. If they have good fish and chips, we will be regulars!

Piedmont Avenue

  • Sparky’s is indeed open. And it is indeed an extension of the burger place up in the hills.

Grand Lake
Grand Lake is kickin’ this spring!

  • Mimosa reopened as Mimosa Ethiopian Restaurant at Santa Clara and Grand.
  • YaYu Ethiopian is also now open on Lakeshore where Vine used to be.
  • La Taza de Cafe plans to reopen (yay!) where the Grand Lake Neighborhood Center used to be on Lake Park. There will apparently be a small Cuban takeout place next to a larger cabaret, says the Splash Pad newsletter.
  • Good Chemistry Baking, a gluten-free bakery, will open where Daily Delectables used to be.
  • Yogofina, another of the trendy tart yogurt shops, is coming soon on Lakeshore (and also to Montclair Village).

Uptown/Upper Broadway
…but not as much as Uptown!

  • Pakxe is going in at Broadway and 30th where Union Auto used to be on Auto Row. This is super exciting because it’s the first reuse of an auto space on the main Auto Row drag. (Mua also reused an auto space for their Webster Street place.) No clue what kind of food it will be, but the name suggests Laotian.
  • Plum, Daniel Patterson’s new restaurant,  is coming soon where Louisiana Fried Chicken used to be—and will be expanded in the coming months to include a bar where Franklin Square Wine Bar used to be. This is exactly what I was hoping for in this space. (Well, okay, I didn’t necessarily have a chef in mind, but broadly, it was the perfect timing to combine the two spaces and really make use of Franklin Square’s plaza, as FSWB was doing.) Go Uptown! Also, it is named after a William Carlos Williams poem that was one of my favorites in high school, which bodes well…
  • Xolo, the new taqueria from the Dona Tomas/Flora crew, is still under construction.
  • Uptown Café & Crêpes is now open at 21st and Franklin.
  • Bakesale Betty is open at Broadway and Grand! (Woohoo! Now if only they had weekend hours…)
  • More pizza! Hurray! (Because, in case you haven’t figured this out, D. and I really, REALLY like pizza.) Mua is expanding into the space where the short-lived Cafe Noir used to be on Webster, and will be making pizza for me (okay, and everyone else in town…) (Cafe Noir had a wood oven, so I presume it stayed with the space.) No details yet. (Incidentally, is this Uptown? Or Upper Broadway? Or still Auto Row? Curiouser and curiouser….one of our neighbors predicted we’d live in Uptown in ten years’ time, and I do have to say that it seems to be creeping this direction!)

And falling off the radar…

  • The third Pizzaiolo location in Uptown now has a “for lease” sign back in its window, which I presume means that project is toast. Boo. (But at least we’ll always have Boot and Shoe…)
  • Kotobuki Sushi on Piedmont has moved to Montclair.

The very long overdue winter restaurant (and bar!) update

February 16, 2010

I realized it’s been months and months since I did a restaurant rundown, which is no good! Here’s a very quick summary of food news in the ‘hood…

Already here or coming soon in Grand Lake:

  • Zoey’s Afghan Bistro, the newest addition to the growing Middle Eastern scene in the neighborhood.
  • Boot and Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo’s sister restaurant. Yay for pizza even closer to home!
  • Yayu, a new Ethiopian spot on Lakeshore, is coming soon to the spot that housed the short-lived Vine.
  • Heart and Dagger Saloon: There’s a changing of the guards happening at what used to be the Serenader, one of the last remnants of the old Grand Lake. This new bar is due to open this Friday, February 19th, and I’m super curious to see what they do with the space! (If Yelp is to be believed, they will have pinball, video games, and pool. Maybe they can be kinda like the Chatterbox Pub in Minneapolis—a city that has the art of neighborhood bars mastered—except without the 3.2 license….that would make me happy!)
  • Mimosa Café, under new ownership: Rumor has it that this Grand Lake spot isn’t gone for good, but is merely changing hands. We’ll see.
  • Kwik Way, the Sequel: A yet-to-be-named replacement for the long-closed Kwik Way Drive-In on Lake Park by the owners of Somerset is finally under construction. No ETA, though.

Already here or coming soon in Uptown:

  • TrueBurger: Former BayWolf sous chefs do burgers, milkshakes, and fries. Reviews say “better than In ‘n Out”—but with sustainable meats! How can you go wrong?
  • Hibiscus: It’s open! Yay! We have reservations to try the Caribbean food later this month, so I’ll report back then.
  • Era: Okay, it’s a bar, not a restaurant, but still. We’ve been eyeing their empty* windows forever, so I’m glad they’re finally open! Full report once we’ve tried their cocktails out. (*Okay, not actually empty, but filled with cool teasers, which is why we were eyeing them! Let’s go with “vacant” windows instead.)
  • Bakesale Betty: Someday, someday this will come off the “coming soon” list, if the stars are aligned in our favor. I hope. April is the current ETA on this, and there’s activity and a hole in the paper on the windows, so we’re ever hopeful.
  • The other Pizzaiolo sister restaurant, name TBD. They have the beginnings of a liquor license, though it’s still in process. But that’s promising! (I don’t speak ABC so I can’t say exactly why it’s on hold or what that means, though.)

Already here or coming soon on Lower Telegraph:

  • Phat Matt’s BBQ: Loved him at the Grand Lake market? Now he’s got his own spot! We haven’t made it here yet, but it’s just a few blocks away so it’s high on the list. I’m also excited to see more restaurants staking out this stretch of Telegraph, which has struggled to keep retail for years. With Oasis Market opening just down the street a few months ago and several small coffee shops, it’s finally starting to fill out. Yay! Look for him next door to Neldam’s.
  • Remedy Coffee is trying its best to open soon—and you can help out! You can prepay set amounts ($1000, $750, $500, or $250) and get a percentage back in a setup similar to Awaken’s credit system. Check their Facebook page for details. Their sidewalk cart is already up and running, too.
  • SR24: Okay, I can’t believe I missed this one given the name! Anyway, this comfort food spot popped onto the scene this week, replacing Bear Naked Burgers in the little mini-mall across the street from the Temescal library branch.

Already here or coming soon on Piedmont:

  • Sparky’s (maybe?) Something is happening with the space at 4151 Piedmont, which has been vacant forever. Way back in December 2008, a restaurant called Sparky’s (which may or may not be related to Sparky’s Giant Burgers up near the Mormon Temple) had a plan for this space, but there’s been no movement since then, though ABC says they got their liquor license in October. So possibly this is Sparky’s coming back from the dead, or maybe something new is afoot. Keep an eye out!
  • César Latino: Okay, this is really just Piedmont staple César, but the restaurant has reinvented itself as a Latin American hot spot featuring South and Central American dishes, rather than the Spanish tapas it has traditionally featured. So it’s almost like a new restaurant to try!

And leaving us are:

  • Café Noir: This closed eons ago, shortly after it opened. But now they are definitively gone. Not sure what went wrong here, as they weren’t open long enough to even get their feet wet…maybe a change of heart. But a great spot for a new coffee shop, which are in short supply in our neighborhood, so hopefully there’ll be some takers!
  • Louisiana Fried Chicken: This place always seemed busy, so possibly this is just a victim of rising rents. I never ate there, so can’t say I’ll miss the food, but I did think it was going to be funny when there was a quadrangle of fried chicken in Uptown (with variations served at Luka’s, Pican, Bakesale Betty, and LFC). Ah, well.
  • Mimosa Café: I never managed to get to this spot either (maybe all of these restaurants are dropping at my hands?!?) but they had a brunch that was widely loved in the ‘hood. It will supposedly reopen under new ownership soon (see above).
  • Franklin Square Wine Bar: Don’t know details here, but I’m sorry to see Uptown losing one of its newest spots. That means two wine bars have come and gone in the neighborhood in as many years…maybe Oakland isn’t the spot for these? With luck, maybe this will be the magic time for a new restaurateur to come in, lease both the FS Wine Bar and LFC spaces, and take down the wall between the two, since one challenge Franklin Square did have was its tiny, narrow seating area. We’ll see… (Incidentally, not in the neighborhood, but I did recently notice that Wood Tavern in Rockridge, one of our favorites, is doing just this: taking over the adjacent storefront and growing out a bit.)

Coming soon to an avenue near you! (Okay, or at least to one near me…)

October 7, 2009

…otherwise known as the fall restaurant update! It’s been a rough year for a lot of small local businesses and restaurants, so I was excited to see a bunch of new spots show up on the horizon this summer and fall to fill the empty spaces. It’s been a while since I last did a restaurant rundown, so here’s the latest and greatest.

On Piedmont Avenue:

  • The widely-anticipated Commis opened at the end of June to much fanfare. We finally checked them out earlier this month, and were duly impressed.
  • A new La Farine branch is coming soon now open! where Piedmont Lighting used to be. (I know, I’ve mentioned this several times already—but I’m so, SO excited to finally have good baguettes within walking distance!) The cases are in and the signs are up, so they should be open any day now.
  • Caffe Trieste is actually open! They’ve been in limbo for so long over the cabaret permit (longer than we’ve been in the house!) that I hadn’t even bothered including them in my “coming soon” list. But they’re here!!
  • Lush Gelato opened earlier this summer where Tango Gelato used to be.
  • Tutti Frutti, a tart frozen yogurt chain, is now open in that stretch of Piedmont, too.

On Grand and Lakeshore Avenues (Adams Point/Grand Lake):

  • The new Pizzaiolo spot where DiBartolo used to be on Grand is still “coming soon.” opening in early December! It will be called Boot and Shoe Service (though the website isn’t live yet).
  • Taste of Joy Southern Bistro has moved over to Upper Grand from Lakeshore, and is now in La Taza de Cafe’s former location.
  • …which, of course, means that La Taza de Cafe has closed, as has their brand-new tapas bar. Go figure.

In Uptown/Lake Merritt (Grand, Broadway, Telegraph, and San Pablo Avenues):

  • The Lake Chalet opened with much fanfare last month. Mmm—local brews on a deck overlooking Lake Merritt, walking distance from our house! We went for the first time last week, and were impressed—while the food isn’t out of this world, it’s solid, and the location is top-notch. (You have to wait long enough for a table as it is, so I almost think it’s a blessing in disguise that the food isn’t A+ quality…)
  • Farley’s East opened earlier this summer on Grand near Broadway, hopping on the Uptown bandwagon. We checked it out a few weeks back; my latte was great, while D.’s gibraltar was a bit on the milky side. Haven’t tried the drip yet, though. They hope to extend their evening hours in the future, so if that happens we’ll be able to hit them a bit more often.
  • Down the street, there’s now an Oakland Specialty’s location at Grand and Harrison for lunchtime sandwiches and cookies.
  • Mimosa Champagne Lounge is now serving dinner, desserts, and cocktails (and, of course, champagne!)
  • Still under construction: the second Bakesale Betty location, which now has an ETA of February March 2010. (I really am going to stop asking, I swear!) I’m almost afraid to ask these days, since every time I do it gets pushed back another few months…
  • In the space of a month, Café Noir on Auto Row got its liquor license, opened for dinner, and then abruptly closed “for renovations.” Umm. I really want to love these guys—they have tasty pizza and beer and great coffee, and they’re just down the street!—but they desperately need to get their act together. Let’s hope they’re really just closed for renovations (but really…what could they possibly be renovating?!?) and not for good, since the place was just oozing with potential….
  • Hibiscus, a nouveau Caribbean spot, is going in where Sweet Jimmie’s used to be on San Pablo between 17th and 18th, and sounds like it’s going to be excellent! (Their website doesn’t have much up yet, but their Facebook page has a running list of information on potential dishes and renovations.)
  • And another Pizzaiolo spin-off is going into Uptown, too. Still all papered up, but the liquor license notice went up in October—promising!

On Telegraph Avenue (Pill Hill/Mosswood/Temescal):

  • Subrosa Coffee is now open on 40th at Webster next to Manifesto Bicycles. Haven’t been yet, but I’m hearing good things—yay! Hours are 6:30 to 7 on weekdays, 7 to 7 on weekends.
  • Remedy Coffee is coming soon on Telegraph at 43rd, but is already selling out of a cart in front of their new storefront. They’ll be brewing Ritual beans.
  • Oasis Food Market, technically a small Middle Eastern grocery store, is getting some buzz for great prepared food as well. They’re across the street from Alta Bates  Summit on Telegraph at 30th. Hours are 6 am to 11 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 11 pm on weekends. We tried them for the first time this week—yum! And they have a small but complete and good-looking section of fresh fruits and vegetables, too, which means they’re a great late-night grocery option since the other local groceries all close by 8 pm. More on the food later….

So that’s the story for now….as usual this list just includes places I can walk to, so it doesn’t take into account the many (many!) new spots coming soon in other parts of the city, including Jack London Square, which is hopping these days. (I’ve spent more time there in the past two months than in the rest of the years I’ve lived here combined….and when Blue Bottle finally opens, it will be hard to tear myself away!)


Food and the city

August 25, 2009

(Or, perhaps more accurately, “Food and The Town”…)

Urban food is back in a big way in my little city. The Oakland restaurant scene, which has been gathering energy for the past several years in spite of—or perhaps because of?—the bleak economic times, finally seems to be hitting its stride, and is making splashy news with features in GourmetSunset, Fortune, the New York Times, and other national publications. And the urban agriculture trend in town—from city chickens and bees to rooftop gardens to urban foraging—is getting some press time, too. The nice part, of course, is the positive publicity for Oakland. It’s been a pretty rough year for national media attention here amidst several tragedies. I thought we’d been thrown a small bone when the New York Times did a May “36 Hours” feature on Oakland that acknowledged the city’s reputation and bad press, but also called out some of the hidden gems. But that seemed to jump-start a sea of other articles. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there were articles on Oakland, and especially on Oakland food. But maybe it’s just that I notice those articles more. So I waited to see.

It started out slowly. First, while we were on a visit out East, my dad asked offhandedly if we lived anywhere near “that T neighborhood” that This Old House had recently dubbed one of the best old house neighborhoods in the country. (We pointed out that not only did we live just south of the Temescal, but they had even been to several restaurants there the last time they visited!) Just a few days later, wandering through bookstores in Manhattan, we spotted Novella Carpenter’s new book, Farm City, out front and center in several displays. Novella runs (and blogs about) a tiny urban farm about ten blocks from our house (although it feels like a world away given the freeway in between, so we haven’t actually been to check it out yet—soon!) At a cupcake shop in the East Village, the owner spotted my “I Hella ❤ Oakland” t-shirt and gushed over Oakland coffee, promising to trade me cupcakes for beans if I’d bring some on my next visit. (Granted, she actually asked for Peet’s—which is technically roasted just across the Oakland line in Emeryville, and which I was astounded to discover you can’t get in New York, since you can buy it in Boston!—but I told her I’d send some Blue Bottle instead.)

Then D.’s mother called to tell me she’d seen an article in the New York Times about all the Oaklanders who were jumping headfirst into the city farming movement, raising vegetables and chickens in the backyard. “There are lots of people like you!” she exclaimed. She sounded relieved. (The best part? I’m not even sure which article she was talking about, since the Oakland urban food movement was featured in the Times not once but twice this summer—the first piece focused on the Forage Oakland project, while the second talked about the urban homesteading trend in Oakland, where, in the best line from the article, “backyard menageries and D.I.Y. charcuterie are the new garage band.” I guess you know your neighborhood is officially “in transition” when you have all three, complete with a fleet of single-speed hipster bikes!)

None of this is news to Oaklanders, of course. The urban farming bug bit many people here years ago, especially because our temperate weather means that just about anything grows here. The city’s community gardens continue to have long waiting lists. (There are only eight to serve this city of 420,000—and that includes gardens reserved for OBUGS programs with youth.) And more and more friends have been jumping on the chicken wagon in recent years. (In fact, not long after we moved into our house, our neighbors got together and started planning a cooperative chicken coop for the block, though we have yet to make much progress on it! It’s near the top of the 2010 Resolutions list, though.)

Big Daddys Complete Rejuvenating Garden, a community garden and art project on the Emeryville/Oakland border. (Photo from Oakland Geology)

Big Daddy's Complete Rejuvenating Garden, a community garden and art project on the Emeryville/Oakland border. (Photo from Oakland Geology)

Neither is the urban homesteading trend unique to Oakland. Concerns around energy consumption and climate change, the local food movement, community health, and the global recession have sparked an immense flood of interest in creating more self-sufficient, healthier communities. Victory gardens are back in cities across the country. People are walking and biking more. They’re joining CSAs. This year’s Maker Faire, a big do-it-yourself event held annually in the South Bay, included an entire area devoted to food and gardens, with booths on everything from beekeeping to cheese making to urban foraging. Perhaps most importantly, organizations committed to food security and equitable food systems have been growing in recent years, too. Somehow, the convergence of the Bay Area’s foodie scene, culture of civic engagement and social justice, and a renewed interest in urban living have fostered a pretty vibrant urban food and agriculture community.

By July, we were awash in local food news. The Oakland Food Policy Council, one of only a few dozen city-run food councils nationwide, formally launched this summer, creating a space to bring together Oaklanders interested in food policy, infrastructure, and equity, from backyard gardens to restaurants to commercial farms to processing plants along the Estuary. (One of the OFPC’s major projects will be a strategic plan for food access and security in the city, which is critical, because thus far the “eat local” movement has not been especially accessible to lower income Oakland residents, and there are huge swathes of the city that remain underserved by grocery stores and farmers markets in spite of the sizable number of both that have opened in the central parts of the city in recent years.)

In August, PolicyLink and its partners released a new report on building viable urban food systems

In August, Oakland-based PolicyLink released a new report on building viable and fair urban food systems.

Not far away, Urban ROOTS, a new organization focused on creating cooperative “microfarms” throughout Oakland as a path to food security, was just getting rolling. In Old Oakland, Oakland Roots—a “school of urban sustainability”—had set up shop on a vacant downtown lot, and across town, Oakland Sol (Sustaining Ourselves Locally) spent the summer tilling their own vacant lot garden in the Lower San Antonio. This fall, Oakland Food Connection is getting ready to launch an after-school urban agriculture program at an East Oakland charter school where they built a rooftop vegetable garden last year, and I noticed recently that all three of the elementary schools near our house now have raised beds in their schoolyards, as does Mosswood Park. A message just came across our neighborhood listserv today about an effort to organize Oakland’s PTAs to advocate for major changes to the Child Nutrition Act to promote healthier school lunchs when it comes up for reauthorization this year. Everywhere you turn, the energy is building.

And last but not least, coming up this weekend is the Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square. Taking place on Friday the 28th through Sunday the 30th, the festival purportedly started as an effort to bring the local food movement to the masses by celebrating street food, beer, and the other simple pleasures in life after last year’s Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco got some flack for coming across as a little too high-brow (and prohibitively expensive) for many local residents. The Eat Real Festival, in contrast, is free (except for the Beer Shed, where tickets for all-you-can-drink beer are $20 in advance or $25 at the door). It’s grown into a pretty massive undertaking, though. The three-day schedule now features everything from street food to a special farmer’s market to to a butchering contest to outdoor movies and live music to a canning and foraging demonstration and food swap. There are accompanying dinners to raise funds for local nonprofits, bike tours of food in the city, and even a tour of Novella Carpenter’s Ghosttown Farm, complete with a chicken slaughter (not sure I’m up to that quite yet!) and a how-to-raise-goats session.

So there’s a lot to do and a lot to think about (and a whole lot to eat!) around Oaktown—and in cities across the country—these days. Here’s a little taste!

Oakland food organizations:

Recent Oakland restaurant coverage in the national press:

General Oakland coverage:


Spring restaurant updates

May 27, 2009

Yeah, it’s not like I’ve actually made much progress on my growing list of new places to try—though we did finally make it to Picán last week!—but there are so many to add that I figured another post on this was in order. (Luckily, we have several waves of family coming into town this summer, so there should be some good opportunities to finally work down this list!)

Now open in my ‘hood and the surrounds:

  • Bacheeso’s, the second location of the West Berkeley Mediterranean spot, is now open on Lower Grand. Not sure how the menu compares to the original, but I’m guessing there are cheap brunch/lunch/dinner buffets at the new location as well—probably worth checking out for the respective $9 and $12 price tags. They also have a little patio overlooking Grand that looks cute, and seem to sell gelato.
  • Café Gratitude opened an outpost in, of all places, the Oakland Whole Foods. There’s a counter for dining in, and you can buy (and often sample) their raw vegan goodness to go, as well. It’s pricey, but, well, it is Café Gratitude.
  • Burma Superstar is now open on Telegraph in Temescal.
  • Café Noir is finally open next to Mua on Webster Street along Broadway Auto Row—woohoo! I haven’t been yet but it’s high on my list to try. This place has been under construction for almost as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area (and way longer than we’ve lived in our house). They’re serving Ritual Coffee, crepes, and wood-fired pizza….could only be better if they add Blue Bottle to the mix! Currently open 7 to 3, but they apparently plan to open for dinner once a wine and beer license is in place. (Looks like the sign is already up.)
  • Bar Andalucia, which is a project of La Taza de Café, is now open on Upper Grand for dinner and weekend brunch. Same location as the original restaurant (which is still open), but a new chef and a much-appreciated “affordable” theme—tapas range from $3 to $8, and on Fridays there’s a five-course prix fixe dinner for $40. They also have an awesome discount program for OUSD employees, and on Sunday nights OUSD students can eat for free (one student per table, and the rest of the fam must eat too!) if they bring a report card or school ID. High on our list to try.

Coming soon(ish):

  • Dubai Food Market is about to open on Telegraph on Pill Hill, right across from Summit. I’ve been watching the renovations because it’s right across the street from the 1R bus stop, and they’ve rehabbed the building with a gorgeous tile exterior. The inside is set up with tables and will, I think, be a combination market and restaurant. Looks quite nice, so hopefully the food will be up there as well—a much needed addition to this forlorn stretch of Telegraph.
  • Farley’s, a San Francisco-based independent coffee shop, is opening an Oakland location on Grand in Uptown in the heart of Art Murmur country. I’ve never been to their San Francisco location, but hear good things from my city friends.
  • A new Pizzaiolo venture is going in on Grand where DiBartolo’s (which closed a few weeks back, sadly) used to be. (Coffee shop is still open; just the restaurant closed.) [UPDATE: Apparently this new spot is in addition to, not instead of, the Uptown location!] (I’m also way impressed with their Craigslist ad for cooks—sounds like a fab place to work!) I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the new spot will also do the coffee-and-pastries morning gig that Pizzaiolo has going on in Temescal, because I’m mildly addicted to the buttermilk doughnuts rolled in sugar. By “mildly,” I mean “have given up Bakesale Betty’s sticky buns for.” (Okay, actually maybe I should be hoping that they won’t have these….)
  • The Splashpad newsletter also reports that Lanesplitter is getting ready to open up shop on Lake Park (the little street by the farmer’s market that connects Lakeshore and Grand), though just for delivery and takeout. Apparently Grand Lake is the new pizza district, with longtime champ Arizmendi already well established… (There is also now a Lanesplitter sign up on San Pablo in Emeryville near the West Oakland line, which is equally exciting for that area!)
  • The Grand Tavern is opening up on Upper Grand where Señor Nero’s used to be. No info on that except that they’re apparently looking for a good bartender….hope they find one!
  • Bakesale Betty‘s second location at Grand and Broadway in Uptown has also been coming soon forever (okay, not as long as Café Noir!), but word on the street is that they finally have all their permits and are gearing up for a September opening. Hooray!
  • Mimosa Champagne Lounge is taking shape in the old Saturn dealer (now the Packard Lofts) on the corner of 24th and Broadway. Not sure what the ETA is, but it looks close to complete.

That’s all for now, though I imagine the summer may bring some progress on places like the Lake Chalet and Commis, too.