Food & Drink

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...

Leading With Lifestyle

Ayesha Curry’s Sweet July At Sweet July, fashion and design are represented by far more than clothing and home goods. The new one-stop retail shop and café, opened in downtown Oakland in January 2021 by restaurateur and best-selling cookbook author Ayesha Curry, houses a lifestyle. Within the store’s luminous space, the tale of a beautiful life lived in graceful and inclusive harmony in which peace, fellowship and kinship prevail is narrated in part with carefully curated products delivered largely by Black-owned businesses as well as products created by Bay Area-based makers, mostly women. The “story” of a well-designed, fashionable life is staged in the store’s quietly sophisticated brick-and-mortar interior setting designed by Curry and Christine Lin of Bay Area design firm Form +...

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...

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