Food & Drink

Chef James Syhabout’s Commis

At the start of a weeknight meal service, a young, curly-haired commis, or assistant chef, asked his boss if he was plating an oyster dish correctly. Chef James Syhabout studied the plate for a nanosecond before directing the commis to rearrange the layers. Unlike a reality TV kitchen, the Michelin-starred chef of Commis didn’t shout at or berate his employee. Syhabout answered the question simply, neutrally, without an emotional flourish. The commis nodded, replied with an affirmative acknowledgment and returned to his station for a second attempt.

The Rendez-Vous

The Rendez-Vous is a new Frenchified boîte on the other side of Temescal.

Specialty Bakeries

“A party without cake is just a meeting,” Julia Child purportedly said, and we’d have to agree. Allow us to present the following specialty bakeries in the East Bay for your next big gathering or special day.

Pastrami Paradise

The kids in Stranger Things wouldn’t feel out of place if they traveled forward in time to eat at Delirama. Advancing beyond retro chic into a warm embrace of kitsch, the interior doesn’t look like it has been touched since 1979. For a brand new restaurant, this seems like an extraordinary approach. On one hand, Delirama looks like it has been in business for decades, which provides a sense of easy informality and homey déjà vu. You think to yourself, “Have I already eaten here, or just other places exactly like this?”

Holiday Catering

Hearing the buzz of the 2022 holiday season picking up, and with COVID-19 on the wane or rendered less severe due to vaccines and boosters, party and event catering companies welcome the return to something resembling pre-pandemic normal.

The Man Who Ate Too Much

In last year’s fact-packed documentary, Julia, viewers learn every last darn thing about the celebrated television chef, Julia Child. Her life turns out to be an open book. The new HBO series, also called Julia, imagines her private persona and provides the same sense of intimacy that Meryl Streep performed in Nora Ephron’s film, Julie and Julia (2009). In this new iteration, the British actress Sarah Lancashire (Last Tango in Halifax) asserts Child’s identity without overdoing that familiar, trilling accent. In equally rationed out portions, she expresses Child’s hesitancy and self-doubt, as well as her verve and ambition. The series revisits the arc of Child’s stardom, beginning with the origin story of her television career. Julia slows her biography down to the culinary equivalent of a...

Green House Bakery

On a hilly street in Oakland, Rachel Caygill’s bakery is in the middle of a suburban block. She runs Green House Bakery out of her, you guessed it, green house. Under California’s cottage food law, her licensed pop-up kitchen operates out of a built-out basement. Having tasted one bite of her strawberry buttermilk layer cake, any doubts about trying a home cook’s baking skills are immediately quashed. After a particularly bad day, Caygill’s layer cake turned my blue mood into a cheerful strawberry pink one.   Two things surprised me most about the pastry box I picked up—her mastery of several types of dough and the quality of her finishing techniques. Some bakers excel at pies or cakes, but as I made my way through every pastry, it seems like Caygill can make it all—from a fruity...

The Salad Bar That Could

We don’t drink boba milk tea to lessen our sugar intake. It’s popular because the texture is creamy and the taste is sweet. Add in a handful of tapioca balls and we’ve got our dessert in a tall plastic cup. Yezi Sha, the owner of One Plus in Berkeley, said that most boba shops use a non-dairy creamer to achieve that familiar sensation of creaminess. But non-dairy creamers contain a long list of unwholesome ingredients such as corn syrup and sodium. When Sha opened her cafe in the summer of 2020, she was determined to use whole organic milk in her tea drinks. Her menu is, of course, inclusive of milks for the lactose intolerant. Customers can substitute oat, almond, soy, or lactose-free milk. Additionally, customers get to choose the sugar level for their tea from a range of 0% to 150%. Sha...

Alfresco Eats

’Tis the season for outdoor eating As the Omicron tide arrives on our shores, dining indoors might not be at the top of our to-do list this month. Atmospheric rivers notwithstanding, there are plenty of outdoor mall or mall-like settings to grab a bite at on the way to a Tennessee Valley or Marin Headlands hike. If you’re starting a northward journey from the East Bay, Berkeley’s 4th Street (fourthstreet.com) is an ideal stopping place for shopping, morning coffee and morning buns. Although the 4th Street Bagel shop closed down during the pandemic, Bette’s To Go toasts them up with the usual fixings, including lox. By noon, they’ve usually sold out. In case that happens, turn your attention to their egg-filled breakfast sandwich, frittata or in-house selection of pastries. Bette’s also sel...

Tarocco is Tops

The Mediterranean via the East Bay Sequoia Del Hoyo laughs at the suggestion that she’s building a mighty, GOOP-like lifestyle brand. In 2015, she and Chef Andrew Vennari opened Sequoia Diner together in Oakland’s Laurel District. The diner had a profound impact on what was formerly a rather sleepy neighborhood. Within a year, people from all over the Bay Area lined up outside to try the revelatory brunch menu, which led with homemade jam, biscuits and Sequoia’s welcoming demeanor. While her soon-to-be ex-husband Vennari curated hearty-yet-refined breakfasts, Del Hoyo made the diners feel right at home. If Malcolm Gladwell had lived nearby, he wouldn’t have failed to notice that the arrival of Sequoia Diner marked a tipping point. Gladwell wrote in his 2000 bestseller, “The success of any ...

Alone for the Holidays

Hiding in plain sight Is this holiday season finally going to allow us to gather back together with our families after nearly two years of lockdowns and disappointments? Starting in early October, White House medical adviser and face of Covid, Dr. A. Fauci, made it clear that while Covid is not beaten yet, the conditions look good for a return to some sense of normalcy for the holiday season. Hurray! Oh wait, is this not the time of year when decades of family tension starts to peak, our collective gut sinks when the RSVPs come in “YES” and even the good parties with people we actually like to be around add stress and overwhelming preparation timetables? In short, are we already feeling the need to get away? Here are fun, fashionable and totally believable pretexts for finding some time fo...

Sweet Condesa

Reimagined Filipino- and Latin-inspired desserts Bibingka is one of the desserts Melody Lorenzo associates with Christmas in the Philippines. “Bibingka is a traditional rice cake,” the chef and owner of Sweet Condesa says. “It’s cooked in banana leaves in a clay pot.” Lorenzo says she made her version of it last year, and she’s bringing it back again. “I took the idea and turned it into a coconut custard pie,” she says. The chef also adds cream cheese, and tops it with a salted egg. “It has a sweet and salty flavor.” Lorenzo also transforms queso de bola, a.k.a. Edam cheese, by infusing it in a custard filling for another Christmas pie. The desserts at Sweet Condesa can be summed up by the hashtag Lorenzo came up with—#BayAreaFilipinoPies. Her Instagram feed, @sweetcondesapastries, shows a...

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