Flavor, a new restaurant in Berkeley, is the kind of place I typically don’t write about. The 3-month-old spot doesn’t serve Jewish food, and while a blurb on its website touts “authentic ingredients” and “unique specialties” from Israel, it also includes Italy, Turkey, Morocco and “and beyond” in the same sentence.
So why am I covering a “seasonal Mediterranean” place in Epicurious Garden, a food court steeped in its Gourmet Ghetto location? Because of executive chef Ezra Malmuth.
Not only was Malmuth a member of the second graduating class (2006) at San Francisco’s Jewish Community High School of the Bay, but he and his friend, Nate Barnett, started the “Barbecue and Philosophy Club” in order to do a meat-eaters’ end run around the school’s vegetarian cafeteria. (More on this in a bit.)
Also when they were students, they organized and cooked a 70-person dinner, which raised $4,500 for JCHS, at Bar Ristorante Raphael, the former kosher eatery in Berkeley. More recently, they ran a food truck together in Denver called Stick It to Me; its slogan was “Fine cuisine on a stick.”
And, oh, by the way, Malmuth interned at Chez Panisse. At age 17.
After high school, Malmuth went on to earn a university degree in culinary nutrition. But more important, he spent a lot of time globetrotting, and not just sampling different cuisines but also having experiences such as: farming a vegetable garden at a health spa in Spain, and then becoming the spa’s chef; landing cooking gigs at a one-star Michelin French restaurant in England and at L’Espalier, a well-known French–New England fusion restaurant in Boston; and spending prolonged periods in Israel (with his sister) and Istanbul.
Malmuth, 25, grew up Modern Orthodox in North Berkeley and now lives in Oakland. He attended Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito and Oakland Hebrew Day School, and nonkosher food never touched his lips until “I decided I wanted to be a chef and had to understand different things about food.”
By age 14, he was working with some East Bay kosher caterers. His internship at Chez Panisse’s downstairs restaurant was under chef David Tanis, now an author and columnist for the New York Times.
“I learned so much, but I also learned how much I had to learn,” Malmuth said. “That’s where the travel bug helped — it allowed me to think about Bay Area cuisines and then get inspired by world cuisine.”
At Flavor, he said, “the concept is quick-service Mediterranean” — it’s in an upscale food court, don’t forget — “with an eclectic menu inspired by Turkish mezze” (salads and small plates). Ingredients that might make you think of Israel, such as sumac, zatar, tahini and date syrup, are utilized, and if you visit on the right day, you can get chicken-and-lamb shwarma sliced from a vertical rotisserie. Falafel, however, is not on the menu, and the food is not kosher.
“My mother is Italian and my father is a Jew from Los Angeles, so I grew up kind of having this conflict, this bridge of where Ashkenazi Jew meets Italian food,” Malmuth said. “Flavor is another kind of bridge: the freshness and simplicity of Western cuisine accented with Mediter-ranean spice.”
As for the “Barbecue and Philosophy Club” he co-founded a decade ago in high school: Ostensibly, its members would discuss things like food justice and the laws of kashrut, “because we had to tie it into Judaism.” But its real function was to cook up the chicken and hot dogs that the kosher-vegetarian-organic cafeteria didn’t offer.
“We were young and we wanted meat, and we convinced the school to buy us two Weber grills,” Malmuth recalled with pride. “Also, it was a good way for us to create something on our own. And it still exists, so that’s pretty cool.”
1511 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, closes at 8 p.m. on Sundays
www.flavorberkeley.com, www.facebook.com/flavorberkeley, @flavorberkeley on Twitter
MILLER’S TIME: The appearance of Miller’s East Coast Deli on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in early September has increased business 30 percent at the deli’s San Francisco location and 20 percent in San Rafael, reports owner-chef Robby Morgenstein.
“At the beginning, we had a ton of people from other parts of the country show up — some who had seen it on TV in their hotel rooms and come right over,” Morgenstein said.
The episode included host Guy Fieri savoring a “Latke Delight” (pastrami and corned beef piled atop a latke, with sour cream and applesauce). Not surprisingly, that’s what many people came in and ordered.
One interesting thing was the timing of the episode: shortly after Rosh Hashanah. A lot of people picked the first Saturday after the holiday to try Miller’s, but that was Yom Kippur.
The crew “told people to come back at sunset and we’d be open,” Morgenstein said. “But most of the tourists didn’t really get it. They couldn’t understand how we could be closed.”
REUBENS ’N’ LIVER: Sorry for the late notice, especially if you love Reuben sandwiches, but Max’s restaurants have been celebrating 35 years of their “famous Reubens” this month. The special menu through Oct. 31 includes nine options, including uncommon ones such as an Oktoberfest Reuben (with a bratwurst), Reuben balls with fried pickles, and a Southern Reuben (with, ahem, pulled pork).
On a sadder note, all Max’s except the Van Ness Avenue location in San Francisco stopped serving chopped liver about six months ago. (Upon being summarily dismissed, the chopped liver was heard to ask, “What am I? Chopped liver?”)
Max’s owner-president Dennis Berkowitz said there just wasn’t enough of a demand. “It didn’t sell, and it goes bad so quickly that we had to throw out more than half of it,” he said. “It’s too bad. I always have it at home, and at least there’s a good demand for it at the Opera Plaza [Van Ness Avenue] location.”
Save room for …
There are plenty of fish in the sea, and here are three new ripples in the Bay Area:
L’chaim Sushi. The 2-month-old kosher sushi operation now has four or five types of fresh rolls available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the JCC of San Francisco’s café. There’s a bigger menu for ordering in advance and picking up at a location in the city’s Sunset District. www.lchaimfoods.com.
Amba Restaurant. The kosher but no longer fully vegetarian spot in Oakland’s Montclair district is now serving fish and chips, and two accompanying Israeli dipping sauces. The fish is tilapia or flounder. www.ambafalafel.com.
Saul’s Restaurant & Deli. Sign up for the Berkeley deli’s newsletter and check the box to become a member of the “Smoked Fish Society.” You’ll get email notifications whenever fresh chubs, whitefish, sable and salmon belly are available. Sign up at www.saulsdeli.com.
The menu at Ari Feingold’s new San Francisco restaurant, Proposition Chicken (1750 Market St.), includes “chicken soup with crispy matzah balls.” Crispy? Feingold said they are rolled in seasoned flour, then fried and sprinkled with fresh dill. The soup, he added, is his mother’s recipe and is served with Osem’s shkedei marak (soup nuts) on the side. “I grew up eating them with my soup and thought it would be great to introduce to our guests,” added Feingold, who also owns the carnival-themed S.F. restaurant Straw … In a talk this month at the Contemporary Jewish Museum to promote his new book “The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home,” co-author Michael Zusman was semi-harangued by a senior about “how you just can’t find” things like pickle lox and pletzel (a Jewish flatbread) anymore. “These kinds of comments have become a virtual automatic at every talk I’ve done since the book came out: older Jews nostalgic for the foods from bygone days lamenting the absence of their historic favorites,” Zusman said. “After all these queries, I’ve decided there is only one adequate response: ‘You can’t compete with a memory’” … Wise Sons Deli will make a rare Saturday Ferry Building appearance at the farmers market on Oct. 26 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, the owners told me this week that they will not be starting dinner service at their Mission District restaurant until 2014 … Chabad of Napa Valley is offering the second vintage of its of Cuvée Chabad, this one a 2012 Zinfandel described as “fruit-forward and lush-textured” in an email. For more information, call (707) 320-2348 or visit www.covenantwines.com/cuvee-chabad … Typically closed for Thanksgiving, Saul’s Deli in Berkeley will be open this year from 9 a.m. to noon for latkes, sufganiyot and coffee, co-owner Peter Levitt said, since it’s also the first day of Hanukkah … the glatt kosher Jerusalem Grill and Bar in Campbell celebrated its second anniversary on Oct. 10. — andy altman-ohr
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