Shiba Ramen – Soymilk Ramen
Burma Superstar – Vegetarian Noodles
Imperial Tea Court – Hand-Pulled Noodles
Shandong – Handmade Noodles
Nom Eez (CLOSED) – Jap Chae
Sobo Ramen – Coconut Soy Ramen
Jamaican – Brown stew jackfruit, curry, rice and peas, calaloo, hot sauce, and sorrel
Separated by physical distance, against all odds, communities have drawn closer together in the face of extreme adversity. This is how we survive; together, collectively, this is how we win.
Early Spring – Stewed red lentils with berbere, roasted beets with poppyseed dressing, rice pilaf, and potato chowder
Deftly shifting gears from in-person dinner events and cooking lessons, chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor began offering takeout and delivery without missing a beat. Now those same world-class meals arrive direct to diners’ doors, with new menus offered twice a week. Critics are raving not just about the food, but the service itself. At a time when the world is shutting down, the fact that such a service can continue without any perceptible decline in quality is a testament to the chef himself.
Sichuan – Mapo tofu, hot and sour soup, kung pao cauliflower, garlic choy sum, pickled daikon, mung bean sprouts, and chili oil
Generous donors have gone above and beyond the order form to afford those less fortunate with free meals, too, myself now included. Just being able to mark the calendar with the event, looking forward to this gift, has given me a reason endure another interminable, grueling week.
Ital – Roots soup, rice and peas, jerk cauliflower, stewed black eyed peas, sorrel, and oatmeal cookies
Receiving a warm bundle of homemade of Jamaican jerk cauliflower, or fiery Sichuan mapo tofu, or Ital coconut stew is absolutely life-affirming. Nothing lifts the spirits like a staycation in a spoon. Tasting the world without leaving home is a true luxury, especially when you may or may not even find plain dry rice on grocery store shelves.
Cantonese – Tofu with choy sum soup, black bean asparagus, ginger gai lan, pickled daikon, mung bean sprouts, and chocolate chip cookies
No matter the culinary destination, it’s impossible to go wrong with Phil’s food. Pitch-perfect every time, for a comforting dinner at home, with all the finesse of a chef’s touch.
Indian-Jamaican Fusion – Roasted asparagus with cumin, dal, stewed jackfruit, rice and peas, and oatmeal cookies
Fresh menus are posted regularly on Facebook. Don’t check DoorDash or UberEats or GrubHub or whathaveyou; it’s one-stop shopping with dedicated, unaffiliated delivery to Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Walnut Creek, Concord, and Danville Alamo. Send Phil an email to give yourself, someone you love, or someone that’s struggling the same delicious gift today.
Sichuan – Mapo tofu, ginger gai lan, pickled daikon and lotus roots
Thriving in the waterway between the Oakland International Airport and Alameda for over 40 years, the infamous Watermelon rock remains as bright and juicy as ever. Mysteriously maintained and repainted before the colors can ever fade, this beloved slab of concrete is a fixture of the otherwise anonymous stretch of industrial wasteland.
It didn’t begin life as a melon, though. One fateful summer day in the early 80’s, someone called to complain that the quirky painted rock ruined the natural beauty of the shoreline. The park district’s solution wasn’t to remove it, but paint it black instead.
Setting off a chain reaction alongside outrage among artists, shortly after, it morphed into various citrus fruits, from a lemon to an orange wedge, before returning to it’s previous watermelon glory.
Oakland, CA 94621
Macadamia stuffed date, pomegranate
Endive, chive walnut cheese, pear
Potato nettle croquette, hedgehog mushrooms
Baby Bloomsdale spinach, broccoli, tahini, nettle gomasio salad
Baby mixed greens, beets, fennel cara cara orange, hazelnuts, macadamia cheese
Black eyed peas, smoked tomato, collard greens
Broccoli soup, panisse, cauliflower, black olive, Meyer lemon
Black trumpet mushroom lasagna, spinach, herbed cashew cheese, spring garlic marinara, rapini
Lemon cloud cake, lemon curd, vanilla custard, lemon coconut whip, cara cara orange, macadamia crunch
Chocolate bread pudding, vanilla anglaise, blood orange caramel
Encuentro; a meeting, a reunion, a match, or place to gather. Encuentro in Oakland, CA is all that and more, providing a place in the heart of the bay area to celebrate plant-based cuisine and carefully curated wines. Previously existing as a daily restaurant, Encuentro now hosts monthly tasting menus where chef Lacey Sher showcases her culinary creativity. Seasonally inspired and locally sourced, no two menus are alike. The exact dishes on offer are almost besides the point, taking the complete experience into account, because the ending is always the same. If you’re lucky enough to snag a ticket for these limited seatings, there’s no doubt you’ll meet enticing bites upon arrival, a rich, flavorful entree that satisfies with substance and style alike, sweet morsels for dessert, and perhaps a new friend along the way.
In the final days of the year, it’s natural to look back, taking stock of the previous twelve months, preparing to move forward anew. Rather than unleashing another navel-gazing list of top ten greatest hits, I want to take a moment to remember the dearly departed. 2019 saw the untimely demise of hundreds of restaurants across the nation, fickle business that it is, but it feels particularly poignant when it hits so close to home. The bay area has lost some bright stars this round, which deserve to be properly honored and mourned.
Early in February, while we were still recovering from winter’s torrential rains, Hella Vegan Eats shocked the east bay with a controversial departure from Classic Cars West. After fighting tooth and nail to graduate from their colorful food truck to a static brick and mortar space, it was a huge blow. No more pot sticker burritos, no more mega babe burgers! The same style of ballsy, down home comfort food has resurfaced in the form of Gay4U, revived by partner Sofi Espice at Garden House in downtown Oakland as a regular pop up.
Meanwhile, chef Adina Butler took up the reins in the freshly vacated space left behind by the duo, slinging hearty sandwiches, burgers, and fried delights to compliment the casual outdoor space. Sadly, that too was not long for this world, folding seven months later under unknown circumstances. What remains is a very vegan-unfriendly menu, and many unanswered questions.
Perhaps most devastating to the dining scene at large was the closure of Sanctuary Bistro, one of the very few high-end eateries that offered an entirely plant-based experience, in addition to a completely gluten-free menu. Owners Barry and Jennifer Jones Horton promise that in time, the sanctuary will rise again in Charlotte, NC, to delight diners on the opposite coast anew. Birth announcements have yet to be released.
Longstanding greasy spoon Saturn Cafe seemed indestructible, weathering the ups and downs of Berkeley politics and pricing for over a decade, proving itself beyond the typical short lifespan of the average eatery. It, too, fell to economic pressures, serving up its last plate of scrambled tofu and pancakes in July. The original Santa Cruz location, established in 1979, still soldiers on, but NorCal denizens are left in the dark for their midnight milkshake cravings.
Eatsa launched in San Francisco back in 2015 as an innovative, tech-centric concept centered around one humble grain: quinoa. Served in cubbies reminiscent of the automat experience of yore, without any human interaction, it was slated to be the next big thing. At its height, the company had six locations across multiple states, but soon ran into difficulties. No amount of pricing incentives and recipe reconfiguration could save it. One by one, all outposts quietly turned out the lights, and didn’t return. Supposedly, in addition to the empty retail spaces, they left behind a reported $24,000 in unpaid rent.
In a world already lacking sweetness, the departure of D&H Vegan Ice Cream comes as a particularly devastating blow. Without warning or explanation, the scoop shop was suddenly wiped off the map overnight. The soy based scoops melted away faster than I had time to get in a single lick, sweetening the Lake Merrit area for just a hot minute.
The prize for shortest run goes to Collective Kitchen & Bar, however, surviving on shaky footing for only three months of operation. A spinoff from three members of Juice Bar Collective, the offerings largely reflected their fresh pressed heritage, squeezing out juices, salads, and rice bowls with apparent success. Landlords don’t care about social media reviews, though, and an irreconcilable dispute forced a premature end for the venture.
Not a restaurant per say, but the source of noodle enlightenment to many, Baia Pasta was renowned for its superlative noodles. Selling directly to consumers from its storefront in Jack London Square and restaurants for their comforting carb creations, the cost of doing business became too much for founder Renato Sardo to bear. Unwilling to sell the company at the cost of quality, the legacy of this peerless pasta ends here, while the master returns to Italy for a simpler life.
Finally, some good news to mix in and lighten all the bad; Pizza Moda, purveyors of fine pies with an eye towards seasonal ingredients and vegan alternatives, has turned off the pilot light on their pizza oven, but not for long. Celebrated brother and sister duo Peter Fikaris and Christina Stobing, responsible for The Butcher’s Son, have taken on the project, seeking to revive the fine Italian dining experience in a fully vegan format. With the promise of even greater eats on the horizon, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2020.
Which losses do you feel most acutely, at home or abroad? Restaurants come and go, but their memories (and Yelp pages) live on forever, if the community remains.
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