Goodbye feta, hello shwarma.
Amba Restaurant in Oakland, which has been serving up vegetarian, kosher, Israeli cuisine since January 2010, is less than three weeks away from becoming a glatt kosher restaurant, owner Jonathan Wornick revealed last week.
“The demand has been there for at least a year,” Wornick said of his decision to make his fast-casual eatery a meat establishment. “I’m not necessarily a gambling man, but I think this is a smart move.”
As a kosher restaurant, Amba would have been shutting down for Passover anyway. So it will close early on Monday, April 14, and then re-open on Monday, April 28, Wornick said, with a menu that will include beef kabobs, chicken shwarma (cut from a vertical spinning rotisserie) and chicken schnitzel (the breaded, fried, Israeli favorite).
Gone will be the feta cheese in the Israeli salad, a grilled cheese pita called a tostim, a kids’ pita pizza and baklava that was made with butter. Largely, the menu will remain similar, with items such as hummus bowls, falafel, sabich, salads, shakshouka, fries, pita chips and desserts. Fried fish will be served sporadically, as it has been for awhile. There will be no lamb.
“I’ve struggled with this decision,” Wornick said. “It’s much easier to operate a dairy restaurant. You don’t need a mashgiach [kosher supervisor] to be there at all times, and with meat, you have to maintain very high standards for the meat and sourcing. I was interested in avoiding that from the start.”
Not only that, but Wornick and his wife are ethical vegans and are extremely uneasy about selling meat.
“However, this is also a business,” he continued. “And essentially, this restaurant has survived for four years not because it’s been a success, but because I’ve chosen to keep it open to serve the community.”
The transition won’t be an easy one.
“It’s a big change from dairy to meat,” said Rabbi Ben-Tzion Welton of Sunrise Kosher, also known as Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California. The Montclair neighborhood restaurant will have to undergo a “deep cleaning, and we’ll have to kasher everything,” he added.
And that’s just for starters. Wornick also has had to hire a full-time mashgiach, one who will be there during all open hours, and he will be replacing a lot of cooking equipment. Moreover, he will need additional refrigeration units to handle the meat (as well as a new brand of pita that he is ordering frozen from Israel) and a vertical broiler for the shwarma.
“It’s a big gamble in term of equipment and labor,” Wornick said. “But I’m hoping that there will be lines out the door that will make it worthwhile.”
His analysis: When observant Jews want to eat dinner out, many are comfortable with a variety of vegetarian restaurants, so Amba has been just one of many options. But many of those same diners would love to eat a kosher meat dinner out — and Amba will be the only East Bay place to do that (Oakland’s Holy Land dropped its kosher status in 2012).
Wornick is devoted to Jewish peoplehood and Zionism, and is very active with AIPAC, serving as East Bay political chair, for example. He views Amba as part of his devotion to the Jewish community.
“This comes down to my belief in supporting Jews and the Jewish people,” he said, “and I’m hoping that people will follow.”
6464 Moraga Ave., Oakland
11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, closed Saturday (510) 339-8000 • www.ambafalafel.com
FEATURING MILLER’S: Originally slated to open April 29 was a new café at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael called “Plaza J Café featuring Miller’s East Coast Deli.” (In an email sent out Friday, April 25, the JCC noted: “Unfortunately, we will have to delay the opening due to unforessen staffing and equipment issues. We will update you as soon as we have a new opening date. We appreciate your patience during this time! Please enjoy our complimentary coffee, tea and water in the lobby every morning during the transition.”)
Miller’s Deli will be the primary food vendor for the grab-and-go operation, supplying premade sandwiches, matzah ball soup, chili, salads and baked goods, including babka and black-and-white cookies. The sandwich lineup will include pastrami, turkey, corned beef and tuna, most of them on rye.
All of the items will be prepared and/or baked in Miller’s San Rafael restaurant and provided fresh daily. Other items from local vendors and suppliers also will be available at the café, which will be run and staffed by the JCC. Challah made by Miller’s will be available on Fridays.
Miller’s Deli also will be part of the JCC’s Marin Alfresco Culinary Festival Under the Stars on May 31, along with 30 or so other food, beverage and wine purveyors. For more information on the event, which benefits scholarships at the Marin JCC, visit www.marinjcc.org.
Miller’s also has a lot of Passover items available for ordering. Call (415) 453-3354 for more information.
CHECK, PLEASE: A “Check, Please! Bay Area” episode featuring Paulie’s Pickling will debut at 7:30 p.m. April 24 on KQED-Channel 9, with many replays to come. Also, the show will air on KQED radio (88.5 FM) at 6:30 p.m. April 27.
“Check, Please!” features three Bay Area residents giving their opinions after sampling three local restaurants (each recommended by one of the participants). Paulie’s Pickling, a Jewish-style deli counter in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, will be the first segment.
“I have no idea who nominated us,” said Paulie’s co-owner Liz Ashby, who was raised Orthodox in Newton, Mass. “But when the producers called and asked if we wanted to be on the show, I said, ‘Of course!’ Who would say no?”
Over a two-month period, the “mystery diners” came in to eat, and on two occasions, the KQED crew came by to do some filming and interview Liz and the other owner, her husband, Paul.
Paulie’s features an array of Jewish-style sandwiches, meats, pickles and cured fish, plus homemade haroset, chopped liver and horseradish for Passover. But it is not a standard “Check, Please!” sit-down restaurant with table service. In fact, Paulie’s has no seating at all, so many patrons find a bench on the sidewalk or in a nearby park. I can’t see how the citizen reviewers won’t like the food, but what will they say about Paulie’s lack of tables?
FISH STORY: The kosher sushi operation L’Chaim Sushi is expanding by leaps and bounds. In addition to being available at the JCC of San Francisco café (Tuesdays and Thursdays), the pre-packaged sushi now is available at the Grand Bakery in Oakland (Fridays), Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley (Thursdays and Fridays) and Parkside Market at 555 Taraval St. in San Francisco (Tuesdays and Thursdays).
The list will be expanding quickly, said L’Chaim founder and director Alex Shandrovsky. Plus, L’Chaim is getting a lot of corporate clients, he added, including one huge Silicon Valley company that he didn’t want mentioned.
With all of that, L’Chaim Sushi is leaving the kitchen at San Francisco Congregation Adath Israel and moving into a bigger facility in South San Francisco that is near its fish supplier. Also, it is no longer accepting delivery orders for less than $100.
For Passover, L’Chaim is offering certified kosher fillets of salmon, tuna and char, and each order comes with kosher educational materials. Visit www.lchaimfoods.com for ordering information.
Oren’s Hummus Shop, a popular Israeli sit-down restaurant that opened in Palo Alto in June 2011, is targeting May 8 for opening a second shop in Mountain View, says David Cohen, executive chef and partner. The new Oren’s will be in the former Workshop Burger Bar & Grill at 126 Castro St., and it will offer counter service “to make it a little faster” … A caterer in the North Bay called Adafina Culinary (adafina is a Sepharic-style cholent, or stew) has started operating Goodman’s Jewish Deli on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the West End Farmer’s Marketin Santa Rosa. Local chefs Les and Tara Goodman are offering up a changing menu that so far has included matzah ball soup, house-smoked pastrami on rye, chocolate egg creams and shmaltz-cooked fries covered with pastrami bits and cheese curds. For information, check out Goodman’s Jewish Deli on Facebook … In my last column, I mistakenly wrote that H&H bagels from New York are served at Crossroads Café, 699 Delancey St., S.F. The coffee/sandwich shop actually has been serving Davidovich Bagels (also from New York) since H&H closed its shops and became a strictly mail-order operation in 2012. Davidovich bagels are handmade, kettle-boiled and parbaked, then frozen and flown across the country. Crossroads then thaws ’em and bakes ’em … Fueled by coverage in food blogs and even a New York Times article about hybrid foods, the cragel is something of a hit at House of Bagels in San Francisco, with around 100 sold every day, co-owner Mike Puente reports. Part croissant, part bagel, it is firm, buttery and a little bit flaky. I tried a plain one recently, and it’s actually really good. There is also a cragel with a cinnamon toast top and a carmelized creme-brulee-type bottom, and a new jalapeno cheese cragel. Available at House of Bagels, 5030 Geary Blvd., S.F. … Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland made almost 250 pounds of matzah in its wood-burning oven last year, and this year the owners predict they’ll make even more. It’s available at Passover dinners at Delfina, Wise Sons, Grand Lake Kitchen and Saul’s, and Comal will serve Beauty’s macaroons. I’m hoping Beauty’s will have some of its matzah in-store, along with its many order-in-advance Passover foods. Call (510) 788-6098 to see what’s available, or visit www.beautysbagelshop.com … The JCC of Silicon Valley will turn off its vending machines during the eight-day Passover holiday … Meanwhile, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there will be bread. Yep, although Wise Sons Deli at the CJM will offer sandwiches on matzah, there will still be bread available for customers who want their pastrami on rye … Off the Grid’s popular Picnic at the Presidio (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays) now has two Jewish-food options: Wise Sons and the Old World Food Truck … Both Oakland Kosher Foods and Pars Kosher Market in San Jose will open on the “intermediate days” of Passover, which I am told is indeed kosher. After closing three or four hours before Passover begins at sunset on Monday, April 14, each will reopen for a few days (Shabbat excluded, of course) starting on Thursday, April 17. Call OKF at (510) 839-0177 or Pars at (408) 340-5443 for exact hours … The Golden State Warriors had certified kosher hot dogs and knishes for sale at their Jewish heritage game on April 6, but Rabbi Simcha Green of Berkeley is working to get the local sports teams to offer kosher options at all their games. Join his movement at firstname.lastname@example.org. — andy altman-ohr
Save room for …
The second annual Hazon Jewish Food Festival–Bay Area is around the corner on Sunday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Visit www.hazon.org/food-festival-bay-area for the full rundown. Here are three highlights:
Workshops, lectures and demonstrations. Famous restaurateur Joyce Goldstein and “Broke-Ass Gourmet” writer Gabi Moskowitz are among the scheduled presenters.
The Beyond Bubbie Bake-Off. Bring a family recipe for an on-site cookie baking competition at 2 p.m., with story sharing while the cookies are baking. One of the judges: J.’s Andy Altman-Ohr.
Food, glorious food. The list includes knish, rugelach, granola, kosher grilled cheddar and brie sandwiches from Milk & Honey catering, and hummus bowls, homemade pita and Israeli lemonade from Oren’s Hummus Shop. Plus beer from Shmaltz Brewing Company.