Food & Drink

Alice Waters’ ‘We Are What We Eat’

A revelatory read from a restaurant revolutionary It’s likely that many people will never dine under the hallowed recycled redwood ceiling of Berkeley’s revered Chez Panisse. Opened in 1971 by restaurateur, chef and food activist Alice Waters, the establishment’s upscale reputation and long waiting list for reservations is preventative for all but economically advantaged or determinedly patient diners. Practicing for 50 years “slow food movement” concepts—more on that later—the restaurant is heralded as the birthplace of California cuisine, or at least its kind-hearted, earnest, flea market decorated, food fetishizing, revolutionary MC. Created with fly-by-the-seat-of-your-soil 1960s-style radicalism, the Chez Panisse menu has long emphasized simple presentations, the meal as a multi-senso...

Here Be Beer

The Bay Area’s Fieldwork Brewing Company Legend has it that in ye olde days, people drank beer because it was safer than water. Albeit, this is a medieval-era myth, from an age of plagues and egregious class disparity. My, have times—not!—changed. Good thing is, we had beer to get us through the past 18 months, and Fieldwork Brewing Company helped us make it to the pandemic finish line. Established in 2015, Fieldwork Brewing Company is a craft brewery with a decidedly Bay Area footprint, with taprooms and beer gardens reaching from Corta Madera and Napa in the North Bay to Berkeley—where it’s brewed—and San Ramon in the East Bay to San Mateo in the South Bay, with Monterey and Sacramento thrown in for good measure. Fieldwork scored bonafides not just for its brews but for its business: Fie...

Delectable Decisions

Emeryville-based social enterprise Just Fare delivers At the rarest and best of times, a restaurant kitchen becomes a magical kingdom. Chopping fruits and vegetables; intoxicated by the scent of garlic, cumin, ginger, coriander and other spices in a sauce, soup or side dish; plating a finely seared steak or succulent seafood selection or lifting fresh bread from an oven; a person might find meaning and purpose. A dreamer prone to imagining feeding the underserved such simple, fresh and fine fare might act upon a burgeoning passion for community service thus kindled. The newborn chef’s cuisine may or may not be Soul Food, but it is surely food intended to feed not just bellies, but souls, too. Such was the revolutionary experience had by Gabriel Cole during his childhood and teenage years g...

San Ramon’s LB Steak

The very model of a modern American steakhouse Seated in San Ramon in front of an imported A5 Japanese Wagyu steak, a Midwest-sourced filet mignon, a whole Bronzino or the high profile of a thick, 32-day aged pork chop in the sleek surroundings of LB Steak’s newest location at City Center Bishop Ranch, a person can hope Chef Roger Rungpha will come out of the kitchen to introduce the meal. Having both achieved good fortune and won the gustatory lottery in life, you will listen, rapt in the storytelling as Rungpha recounts each step your meal has taken to arrive on your plate. A recent opportunity to hear his narration provides this example: Speaking in the hushed, reverential tones of a parent describing a child’s first steps or words, Rungpha said, “I went to the farm in Japan to follow t...

The Bowled and the Beautiful

Oakland’s Noodle Belly mixes ingredients and influences In his primary day job, Eugene Lee owns a roofing supply company. It’s not the first profession that comes to mind when I try the food at Noodle Belly. The concept is straightforward: Choose a vegetable and a protein to accompany a bowl of noodles and the housemade sauce. One can, for example, combine fried chicken and roasted carrots or barbecue pork belly and sauteed rainbow chard. The chewy noodles are plentiful, and as thick as chopsticks. The secret sauce tastes sweeter than a typical barbecue glaze, complementing—rather than overpowering—one’s chosen combination of vegetable and meat. Jorge Concha is the chef executing a shared vision with Lee and his business partner Kevyn Miyata. Lee describes the food at Noodle Belly as “Bay ...

Every Day Is Sunday

Sunday Family Group’s East Bay ‘Bakeshop’ concept The special at Sunday Bakeshop on National Donut Day is a banana milk donut. Chef Elaine Lau created it together with Deuki Hong, who she says loves banana milk. Lau tried the Korean drink, packaged in a juice box, because he had talked about it. She decided to combine her love of donuts with one of his favorite drinks. “It’s literally just bananas ground into milk,” Lau says. “Only it tastes more artificial. We roast real bananas in our version.” Hong is also a chef, but both he and Lau describe his present occupation as someone who “finds people who are passionate about food and then provides them with their own platform.” Sunday Bakeshop is just one culinary wing or “concept” from the Sunday Family group. But the hospitality group initia...

Bette’s Oceanview Diner: Berkeley favorite keeps it coming

Manfred Kroening is the tall, silver-haired Austrian who regularly greets customers at the front door of Bette’s Oceanview Diner. He and his late wife Bette (along with Sue Conley who went on to co-found Cowgirl Creamery) opened the diner on Berkeley’s Fourth Street in 1982. Fourth Street in the early 1980s was an unlikely neighborhood to start a homey, welcoming place for brunch. The nearby warehouse tenants were glassblowers and metalworkers in what was then an industrial neighborhood.  Speaking by telephone Kroening recalled that, “Back then, to work on Fourth Street, it was a bad zone at that time. Roaming dogs and upside-down shopping carts.” He felt that they were really taking a chance starting a business there. But they all thought, “Let’s try to work together and make a livin...

Grind On

Photo by Nathan Dumlao. Pattern recognition 101: Jack London Square, early morning. The steely grays of the sky and water meet the steely grays of the Bay Bridge in a fog dense enough to spatter my shoulders like rain—a fantastical composition of liquid; solid and vapor all in one color. By 10am the marine layer will be gone, replaced with high, brilliant skies. Beautiful in its own right, that high-def articulation of wave and girder, gesso-white gull feathers and grimy signage. But for now, nothing so crude as clarity. Glorious ambiguity, easy on the eyes, not revealing too much at once, leaving plenty to the imagination. That’s what we’re about around here at 6:30 in the morning, and the perfect beverage for that has to be the cappuccino, the beverage named for its supposed resemblance ...

Garagiste Bay

Photo by Road Trip with Raj I’m on a small stage in a swanky art gallery fashioned from an orphaned Wells Fargo branch—there’s a weird and wonderful installation in the vault, snacks are being served from the teller’s counter, paintings and sculptures spring up like a flush of tasty wild mushrooms from the decaying remains of Finance and all of this spells a metaphor we definitely need more of. A live jazz band pauses its set of bossa and old-school swing.  I’m pairing a flight of local wines with a flight of local poets, hoping to illustrate five characteristics common to both crafts: words like tension and structure and typicity. While each poet reads, the audience tastes a sequence of small-batch wines—a sauvignon blanc whose fresh grassiness strikes a surprising accord with certai...