The Half Orange Turns Two (Saturday, July 30)

2ND ANNIVERSARY

A little over three years ago, my business partners Michael and Max and I decided to close our San Diego restaurant The Linkery, which was over eight years old at the time. It was a hard reality to come to terms with, but at the same time it was obvious that if each of us were going to achieve our personal goals, we’d have to start over in contexts that were more favorable.

That decision cast Katie and I full-time into the Bay Area, and into a crazy and exhausting series of living arrangements, jobs, projects, and discoveries as we went about building a life here. Often it still feels like we could sleep for a month and not get fully rested.

Somehow, in the middle of all that, we found ourselves recipients of a few very special gifts: a place to call home, a neighborhood we love, a wellspring of wonderful friends, and the opportunity to operate a casual restaurant in the middle of it all. We could not be more grateful.

This Saturday, July 30, we’re celebrating the 2nd anniversary of that restaurant, The Half Orange. Some unique treats on offer will include:

* A brand-new beer from Ale Industries brewed just for the occasion — a 6.2% patio pounder made in the style category of their own creation, “Glam Beer.” (When Morgan asked what kind of beer we’d like them to brew for the anniversary, I cheekily said “session glam beer”. Morgan is always up to meet a challenge.) This beer is called “Wham Glam Thank You Fam” and we’ll be pouring it all day (or until it runs out). It will pair excellently with…

* oak-smoked grass-fed tri-tip sandwiches on griddled rolls, and served with bacon-fat-cooked white beans. We’ll have a lot of this so it should be available all day and night.

* Late Summer Sumac Ale, a 12-month barrel-aged sour from our longtime friends at Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena. Our friend Sayre, who served as our personal one-man welcoming committee to Oakland, helped develop this beer, and the combination of our new friends and old seems like a perfect way to celebrate. Also, the beer is killer and not widely available, so, you know, come drink some.

* We’re going to bust out some turntables and records we haven’t played in a long time, and bask in the warmth of analog sound and the Fruitvale sun.

I hope you’ll join us, we’ll open at 11am and close at 10pm. Brunch and the regular menu served until 3pm, regular menu served after that.

We love you, have a great day!

On Rebecca Flint Marx on Michael Bauer

Rebecca Flint Marx’s piece in San Francisco Magazine on “The Michaels” that came out today is the most thorough examination I’ve yet read of the dynamic of our region’s Michael-Bauer-driven restaurant scene.

“What this is really about.” Marx writes,

is a city whose impact on the nation’s—and arguably the world’s—culinary culture stands in direct contradiction to its innate provinciality. San Francisco is a village, one that’s full of chefs who have spent their entire career under a single critic and have been conditioned to please him and to not, with very few exceptions, ask any questions.

As an outsider who’s now been in the business here for a couple years, including spending part of that time working on a restaurant that aspired to be in the circle of places that are well-reviewed by the area’s top-tier restaurant critics, I have some, you know, observations and thoughts.

The first is that, as far as I can tell, Marx’s assertion above, if anything, understates how influential Bauer’s preferences are to the development of the restaurant industry here. Prior to the opening of nearly every restaurant here that will appear on his radar, all operations, menu, and media strategy are run through the filter of “What Will Bauer Think?” Every publicist has as their first priority a good Bauer review, because that is the primary way to attract national press (and James Beard Awards). Every GM, chef and sommelier is keenly aware of how their decisions will likely be perceived by Bauer. And yes, absolutely everybody reads the well-circulated documents with his and his partner’s photos and preferences finely delineated. Even many investors want to know from the operating team, how do you plan to get a good Bauer review?

It’s clear that there is a certain type of restaurant that Michael Bauer prefers, and I think that, not unrelatedly, our restaurants of that type are superior to any other city’s collection of same. There’s an argument to be made — and to a great degree, Bauer’s accumulated writing makes this argument well — that by keeping an entire city focused on a single type of restaurant experience, Bauer has helped this region to punch above its weight, and helped bring a lot of fame and financial success to our best practitioners. Much like a small French village might become world-renowned for a single type of cheese or wine, so is the inner Bay Area widely acknowledged as a world-class restaurant city, based principally on its excellence at producing one signature style of restaurant.

There’s also an argument to be made that this condition is not necessarily the best situation for the region’s community of diners. Relative to many other major cities, San Francisco’s group of well-regarded restaurants offers, in my experience, a somewhat startling lack of diversity. Even where the cuisine may vary to, say, French- or Japanese-inspired cooking instead of the more familiar “Cal-Ital” farm-to-table, our restaurants often feel as though they have a very similar soul — the guest experience, philosophy, approach, often even the ingredients themselves are very familiar from place to place. To spend even just a few days in a city like Boston or Los Angeles is to be reminded that there are lots of other ways to do restaurants, and those other approaches offer great and unique experiences that people love and that can also achieve excellence. The many of us who love cities and dining out would, surely, enjoy the development of a more eclectic, even chaotic, community of great restaurants.

Caveats. There’s a lot of them. Here’s some. 1) Despite what I perceive as a general lack of diversity in approach here, there are of course restaurants of the type I’m discussing — the type that make “best new restaurant” lists, for shorthand — that are clearly outside of the dominant paradigm. FuseBOX is one example that comes immediately to mind, and there are certainly others. Oakland seems to be growing more of them; this might be in part encouraged by the overtly egalitarian approach of the East Bay’s most prominent restaurant critic, Luke Tsai. 2) As restaurants mature (and over time become less influenced by reviews), they tend to develop their own unique being. A successful Bay Area restaurant that has 7 or 10 years under its belt is pretty far removed from its planning stages, and will more reflect the core intentions of its operators and team than the context in which it opened. 3) There are plenty of mom-and-pop shops, including many immigrant-owned places, that are delivering absolutely excellent cuisine and diverse experiences outside of the type we associate with Bauer reviews. 4) There are plenty of parts of the Bay Area, including East Oakland where we operate The Half Orange, where the vast majority of diners would not expect the area’s restaurants to have a Bauer review, and as a result his preferences are unlikely to be shaping these areas significantly. 5) Restaurants here, of all styles, are really good, and I’m glad to be living here. There’s not many places that have it this good, even if there are, perhaps, ways it could be better.

ZeeroBells

Please Clean Your Lines!

From the time I started drinking beer until the time I got into the craft beer industry myself, I basically avoided drinking draft beer as much as I could, and stuck to bottles. Because draft beer almost always tasted totally gross.

I’ve since learned that the reason for this is that, as far as I can taste, almost all the draft beer lines in most American cities are not clean. And when I say they are not clean, I mean they are chock full of nasty shit, like this.

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I found this line a while back at a very good restaurant where I was helping them do a little work on their system. They had put in all new draft lines only 9 months previously, but regular line cleaning at some point got lost during a management transition. So this buildup occurred in probably only about a few months of inadequate cleaning. When you think about how many draft lines in your town haven’t been cleaned in years (hint: probably a lot) you get a sense of what’s going into much of the beer being served near you.

(To be fair, of the eight lines I saw on this occasion, only this and one other line had this sort of buildup; two others had visible residue and four were visually mostly clean, although it’s hard to say for sure that nothing was going on inside them.)

We replaced the line shown here, of course, and then the beer on that tap tasted great. I’m confident that this restaurant will stay on top of it, now that they’ve seen both sides of the possibilities.

If you pour beers off a draft system, I hope this is helpful! It’s fairly easy to buy a line cleaning canister and line cleaner (we use PBW that costs about $25 for 4 pounds), and to clean each line at a keg change or every week or two. We’ve also found it good to do a deep clean (overnight soak) of each line periodically, and to change the lines out fully after some number of months (the industry recommendation I’ve heard is every six months). It’s a little extra time and expense, but isn’t great beer worth it?

East Oakland Eats

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Also, apparently there’s a pot of gold near the intersection of 38th Ave and San Leandro

It seems that Oakland has been recently attracting more and more attention for being a culinary capital of the US.

Many pieces about Oakland food that you’ll read from national — or even Bay Area regional — publications focus on a very small swath of the city running from Jack London Square, through downtown and Uptown, and ending in the northernly areas of Rockridge, Temescal, Piedmont Ave, and Grand Lake.

There’s plenty of great food to eat in those nabes, to be sure. That said, East Oakland, including Fruitvale where I live and work, is the city’s largest area, and it’s also one of the most diverse areas of the country I’ve ever seen or heard of. As you might imagine, we have a ton of great restaurants here. I’ve only lived here less than 3 years, and there’s lots of places I still need to try. But I’ve definitely found more places I love to eat here in East Oakland than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, or even visited for a long time.

And, since you’re (at this point, at least) unlikely to read too much about these places in the latest Oakland-is-the-new-Brooklyn listicle, I thought I’d share a few with you. The people who operate these restaurants work hard and are awesome, and I hope it’s helpful to shine some light their way, however little it may be. So, here’s an incomplete, non-authoritative list of eateries I often patronize, on the sunny side of the Lake.

Coffee
Oakland is deservedly well-known for coffee because of its excellent roasters like Blue Bottle, Highwire (technically in Emeryville) and Roast Co. However, when it comes to a retail coffee experience, I prefer cafés closer to my home. Here are three of my favorites:

Cafe 3016. Very small — the husband and wife owner are almost always the ones working. They serve Wrecking Ball coffee, Authentic Bagel Company bagels and delicious sandwiches. Their coffee is basically always perfect, as far as I can tell.

Haddon Hill Cafe. A nice little spot in a posh part of the region up near the lake. Four Barrel coffee and great pastries (both house made and from Starter Bakery).

Hive: the place to bee. A chill laptop-friendly hangout with Highwire coffee and delicious breakfast sandwiches.

Fruitvale also has its own quality coffee roaster, Red Bay coffee. They expect to open a retail shop at their roastery in the future, which I’m very looking forward to.

American
American diner-style food is among the least-represented cuisines I’ve seen in East Oakland, which gives you a sense of our embarrassment of riches here. But we do have quite a few places, particularly old-school burger joints. And we have some newer-school places, two of which I eat at a lot.

Sequoia Diner. If there’s a better version of the classic American breakfast/lunch diner somewhere, I want to go yesterday. Approachable and familiar dishes, moderate prices, daily-changing menu from local ingredients, and delicious cooking. Plus fresh squeezed orange juice and carafes of Highwire Coffee. What more could you want before noon?

The Half Orange. Since you’re reading this on my blog, you probably are familiar with this joint. If not, this article is a good start.

Mexican
Fruitvale, our neighborhood in East Oakland, is one of the centers of Mexican cuisine and culture in the whole Bay Area. The Mexican food here is superb.

Taqueria Campos. Probably the most famous eatery on this list, being covered by both multiple regional and national media. But you wouldn’t know it from the cozy old six-table dining room and warm hospitality. And the cooking is astounding. It’s not really a taqueria in the Mission burrito sense — they specialize in Jalisco-style stews and other homestyle dishes.

Tacos El Paisa@.com As documented here, these are my favorite tacos in the US. Get the tripa.

La Torta Loca. It’s a Mexico-City style torta shop in the foyer of a laundromat, which itself is awesome, but not as awesome as the tortas are! I also like their “flautas” (which are basically what we expat San Diegans call “rolled tacos”).

El Huarache Azteca. These folks are wizards with the masa-based dishes of Mexico City such as huaraches, sopes and (thick corn masa) quesadillas. Their blue masa tlacoyo really scratches an itch for me.

4 Caminos. Maybe it’s just the name, but the breakfasts here evoke my old favorite Mexican breakfasts at El Correcamino’s in the Valle de Guadalupe. I get the machaca con huevos.

Lao
We’ve got at least two great Lao restaurants in these parts, and I’ve heard of a third (here in Fruitvale) but I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. The two below also serve Vietnamese and Thai dishes. We always stick to pretty much our favorite order at either: Nam Kao (rice ball salad), avocado/shrimp spring rolls, Lao sausage, and maybe one other item. The food at both of these places is dependably very delicious.

Vientiane Cafe. This is in the Allendale neighborhood, doesn’t serve beer or wine, and usually (in my experience) does not have a wait for seating. We generally order to-go because we like to enjoy some wine with our meal.

Champa Garden. Regionally famous (Michelin Bib Gourmand) and usually a wait for a table. They offer some interesting beers (I like the Beer Lao dark) and a selection of Navarro wines. It’s closer to the lake on 8th Avenue in the San Antonio/Clinton neighborhood.

Pizza

Fists of Flour. One of the best pizzerias in the Bay Area, and they deliver. So, you know, perfect.

BBQ & Soul Food

Ginny’s BBQ. A genuine wood-fired BBQ and soul food joint with equally genuine hospitality. The BBQ is very good (I particularly enjoy the ribs and brisket) but I crave the fried chicken. I also love the stacks of firewood in the dining room.

Ice Cream

Nieves Cinco de Mayo. Our neighbor in the Fruitvale Public Market, Luis Abundis is an dessert alchemist who makes hand-cranked ice cream flavored with fresh produce and other honest ingredients. He’s been doing it for 25 years and his family did it for years before that in the state of Jalisco. It’s really good.

Beer

Beer is food, right? Here in the Fruitvale/Jingletown neighborhood, we’ve got our own delightful brewery, Ale Industries. Their tasting room is open daily and is well worth a visit. Some favorite brews of mine include Cherry Kush, Uncle Jesse, Rye’d Piper, East Bay IPA, Beast Oakland, and Pink Drank.

Temporarily Closed

Bun Mam Soc Trang. Even though it’s been closed for a few months since suddenly losing its lease, I can’t not include it, because the restaurant was/is amazing. They specialize(d) in a seafood-based Vietnamese soup called Bún mắm, and everything on their menu was/is impeccably awesome. I’ve heard from the owner that they do expect to open again somewhere in East Oakland, and I have a feeling it will be packed when they do, from all the pent-up longing for their food!

Like I said above, this list is totally incomplete and clearly reflects the fact that I spend most of my time in the area between 23rd Ave and High Street, and haven’t been here that many years to begin with. I’ve heard/read about of some great-sounding places in the more eastern parts of East Oakland, that I’m looking forward to trying. This part of the city is a big area with enough great food options that everyone can and will experience it differently. Which, in my opinion, is kind of the signature of an ideal food town.

Salad Days and More at The Half Orange

With apologies to the Cod, Anchower, I know. But during the time I’ve been not rapping at you, I’ve been hard at work with the Half Orange team, coming up with all sorts of new treats for you. Peep ‘em:

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KATIE’S SALAD
greens medley, poached egg, crumbled chicken cracklins, avocado, tangy viniagrette, chive and mint

PlanchaWedge*
PLANCHA WEDGE
grilled iceberg, blue cheese, bacon bits, strawberries macerated in maple syrup

SpringSalad2
SPRING SALAD
organic greens, organic strawberries, marinated fennel, herbed goat cheese puffs, green goddess

And a couple brunch items:

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THE BEAT
bacon, egg, avocado, tomato on sourdough rye

Omelet3*
BIG CITY OMELET
four eggs, house cured jowl bacon, cheddar cheese, mornay sauce, grilled onions

Additionally, we’ve brought in Heidrun Meadery methode champenoise mead, made from California orange blossom honey, poured by the glass at brunch, and a nice selection of Eastern European wines including some delightful affordable selections by the glass. You can see our current wine list here.

Lastly, but certainly not least, today (Saturday April 2) at 11am, we’re tapping keg of Fieldwork Brewing‘s latest Northeastern-style IPA, Galaxy Juice. Come check it out!

Dinner with Chef Jair Téllez at Salsipuedes, Sunday February 28

Link to buy tickets is here.

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Chef Jair Téllez pop-up at El Take It Easy, September 2012

I’m extremely pleased to announce our first visiting chef (and, as it happens, winemaker) at Salsipuedes. Our good friend, internationally acclaimed chef, and natural winemaker Jair Téllez will be joining Salsipuedes chef Marcus Krauss for a very fun night of food, drink, and celebration. Mark your calendar for Sunday, February 28th.

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Jair at the pre-opening of Verde y Crema

Jair is the chef/owner at three restaurants that you’ll generally see on any “best restaurants in Mexico” list: Laja in the Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico’s wine country, a restaurant sometimes referred to as “the French Laundry of Mexico”; Merotoro in Mexico City (where he partnered with Gabriela Cámara, known locally for opening Cala in San Francisco); and Verde y Crema, a contemporary farm-to-table gastropub in Tijuana.

Bichi
Nebbiolo vineyard at Bichi winery in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico

Jair also recently partnered with Louis-Antonie Luyt to turn Jair’s family winery in Tecate into Mexico’s first (I believe) commerically producing natural winery. The wine is called Bichi (border slang for “naked”) and we have their Nebbiolo at Salsipuedes. We’ll be pouring it at the dinner, of course, along with some other treats.

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Cory Cartwright of Selection Massale at Ordinaire admiring Jair’s proposed tattoo

The dinner will feature multiple small plates, a couple entrees, and plenty of beverages (non alcoholic options available). It’s $49 per person, including all beverages and tips. Seatings at 6pm and 8:15pm, both on Sunday, February 28. You can buy tickets here.

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See you on the 28th!

Valentine’s Day Dinner with Fieldwork Brewing at The Half Orange

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buy your tickets here.

Sure, lots of restaurants do special prix fixe dinners on Valentine’s Day. But for a Valentine’s Day beer dinner with the sexiest new brewery in the East Bay, you have to come to the Half Orange.

We’re hosting our friends at Fieldwork Brewing for a 6 beer, four-course (plus a couple treats) dinner. It’s 45 bucks per person (including tip/service), and it starts at 6:00pm.

It’s on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the menu

– Amuse –
Black Thai Porter

– 1st Course –
Ascender IPA
paired with pomelo salad & scallop crudo

– 2nd Course –
Rancher Farmhouse Ale
paired with Posole Ramen, quail egg, shies, chicken skin cracklins

– 3rd Course –
Delta Hoppy Red
paired with smoked lamb kalbi, ancho sauce, guajillo chimichurri

– Palate Cleanser –
Chocolate Milk Brown

– Dessert –
Amarilloweisse
Chapssal, dark chocolate, passionfruit ganache

You can buy tickets here.

VDay

SF Beer Week: East Oakland Beerstravaganza with Ale Industries and Beast Oakland at The Half Orange, Wednesday January 27

Join Ale Industries — “Just Another Brewery From East Oakland”, Beast Oakland, and us on Beer Week’s hump day, for a celebration of beer, food, beer, beer and East Oakland. Oh, also, it’s before and during a Warriors home game, so you can stop on your way to the game or watch it with us.

Morgan and the gang from Ale Industries will be on hand, of course, to chat beer and Oakland with you. And they’ll be pouring these beers:

Beast Oakland – kolsch-style ale produced in collaboration with Beast Oakland
East Bay IPA – Probably the most popular IPA, and certainly the localist, beer we sell at The Half Orange. Great label/tap handle, too.
This Is The Shit That Killed Elvis – barrel aged brown ale, probably did not actually kill Elvis
Golden State of Mind – California tea beer, a gruit made with chamomile, orange peel, and coriander
Pink Drank – American wild (sour) blonde ale with raspberries
Cherry Kush – my go-to beer for refreshment, day or night. A gruit with tart cherry juice added.
Aussie Kiss – sour golden ale dry hopped with Australian Galaxy Hops

For food we’ll be featuring Buckets of Buches — fried chicken necks with your choice of sauce — Korean Fried Chicken, Kimchi Waffles, and macaroni salad, and anything else we think of. Our full menu will be available as well.

Beast Oakland will be in the house with their fantastic gear on offer, too. Basically this is an event you can’t miss. We’ll see you here!

SF Beer Week: Parade of Pork and Lagers with Ol’ Republic Brewery at The Half Orange, Sunday January 24

Pork&Lagers

Join us and Ol’ Republic Brewery at the Half Orange on Sunday, January 24 for our inaugural Parade of Pork and Lagers. We’ll all be in our beer garden serving:

Pork Poutine
Pork Confit Nachos
Porkburgers slathered in pork chili (add bacon!)
Pork belly tacos
Pulled pork sandwich
Anything you want, fried in lard!
Pigskin (NFL Playoffs on the outdoor and indoor TVs)

And Ol’ Republic’s killer lagers including:

HELL BEER Helles-style lager
FONTIER AMBER California common
DUNKEL dark lager (new special release!)
BLÄK black lager
LUCKY JOE IPA (totally not a lager!)

We’ll start at 11am, our full brunch and regular menus will be available also, and the football games start at noon. The brewers from Ol’ Republic (they’re in Nevada City, just up the freeway a bit) will be here enjoying your company and their beer. Admission is free. We can’t wait to see you!

SF Beer Week: Dinner with “Beer and Soul”‘s Sayre Piotrkowski and Chef Marcus Krauss at Salsipuedes

Back to our roots! Salsipuedes Chef Marcus Krauss pairs with “Beer and Soul”‘s Sayre Piotrkowski for a 4-course dinner featuring 8 beers — a mix of aged and fresh beers — from some of the best breweries in the West. If you went to the original Salsipuedes pop-up in December 2014, you got a taste of Sayre and Marcus working together. Here’s what they’ve got in store this month:

COURSE ONE: 1903 vs. 1904

“1903,” Craftsman Brewing, Pasadena, CA Pre-Prohibition Style American Lager
“1904” Brasserie St. James, Reno, NV American Brett Beer
Paired with: Roasted poussin, jalapeno cornbread, Thai basil coconut milk

COURSE TWO: “Death and Taxes” vs. “Fall Back”

“Death and Taxes,” Moonlight, Santa Rosa, CA black lager
“Fall Back,” Craftsman, Pasadena, CA sour black ale
Paired with: heirloom beans, wild mushroom, Japanese turnip

COURSE THREE: “Frontier Amber” vs. “Ursa Minor”

“Frontier Amber,” Ol’ Republic, Nevada City, CA Amber California Common/Steam Beer
“Ursa Minor,” Craftsman, Pasadena, CA Tart California Biere De Garde
Paired with: dairy bavette steak, sweet chili beef jus

COURSE FOUR: “Triple White Sage” vs. “White Downs”

“Triple White Sage”, Craftsman Brewing Co, Pasadena, CA Belgian Style Tripel with Hand-Harvested Aromatic White Sage
“White Down,” Brasserrie St. James, Reno NV Tart Saison with Butternut Squash and White Sage and Spices
Paired with: fennel-rosemary microwave sponge cake, Mexican candied squash, pine cream.

This dinner is Monday, January 25. We’ll have two seatings.

6:15 seating $59
8:45 seating $79 (this seating includes an additional tasting of barleywines)
Ticket prices include food, beer, tax and tip.

Buy your tickets here. See you then!