For all its food-loving extravagance, the Bay Area has little in the way of Moroccan cuisine. But if you ask Jamal Zahid, whose family has owned a Moroccan restaurant in Oakland’s Temescal district for 13 years, he’ll tell you there’s a natural connection between the local, sustainable culinary ethos of California and the traditional foodways of his native Morocco.
Oakland’s celebrated Camino is named for the fire over which its food is cooked—“camino” means “fireplace” in Italian—but it may as well be named for the discernible route each ingredient takes to your table. And there are other, more circuitous roads being mapped at the wide-open, woody Grand Avenue restaurant. “One of the things that makes this place unique,” says bartender Martha Chong, “is the relationship between the kitchen and the bar and the pastry department, all sharing ingredients.”
Certain food combinations are inextricably associated with specific locales. Fish and chips. Red beans and rice. Certain partnerships are so particular, so otherwise obtuse, as to evoke all by themselves the look, feel, history, and heritage of somewhere. That’s why Manchego con membrillo leads the dessert list at Venga Paella, a laid-back slice of Spain in industrial West Oakland.
Poems to peaches are common enough. Google “ode to a peach” and there are plenty of hits. But odes to nectarines, their smoother-skinned cousins? They’re fewer and farther between. But they are just as deserving of elevated praise, especially ones from organic orchards like Blossom Bluff, a family farm in Parlier.
Dining out in Alameda, Uptwon, Rockridge, and North Oakland.
Where we've been lately: Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House, Lola’s Chicken Shack, Iyasare, Molcajete Cocina Mexicana.
Paul Manousos blipped onto my radar more than a decade ago, when my primary gig was writing about music and his was recording and touring as a singer-songwriter (with a sound that brought Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen to mind). Sometime in 2007, I crossed paths with Manousos in the Alameda Marketplace, where he was working alongside Jeff Diamond at Farmstead Cheeses & Wines. Then, in spring 2010, I watched from afar as Manousos, inspired in part by a trip to Italy and encouraged by Diamond, took over a back corner of the Marketplace (when Feel Good Bakery moved into larger digs), installed an imported Mugnaini wood-fired oven, and launched East End Pizza Co.
Weddings are supposed to be a celebration. And yet, observes bartender Jessica Moncada, “The most celebratory aspect is often overlooked.” Moncada was surprised to discover that with the high-end, eco-friendly weddings she assists in planning, the bar was often an afterthought. So she and Zoe Carrasco—who met when they were the first female bartenders to be hired at Flora—started Doble Bar to provide special events of any size with customizable, highly personal cocktail experiences.
In May, the fragrance of strawberries drifts through local farmers markets. Follow the scent, and you may find yourself at the Swanton Berry Farm stand. Swanton is one of a number of excellent organic strawberry farms serving the East Bay, but this grower stands out with its distinctive blue boxes overflowing with Chandler strawberries, which are very much the strawberries of our dreams—red all the way through and juicy.
Korea’s national dish, bibimbop, combines within each mouthful many different textures (tender, crunchy, chewy, gooey) and flavors (fresh, sweet, smoky, starchy, tangy, salty, fiery). And in its modest simplicity, this farm-fresh family favorite also manages to be many different dishes—even different courses—all at once.