Understory is a new collective-run kitchen in Old Oakland. Photo: Understory
Understory is a new collective-run kitchen and incubator launched by Oakland Bloom. Photo: Understory

Oakland’s new worker-led restaurant and commissary kitchen

Earlier this month, Oakland Bloom, a volunteer-based nonprofit collective that provides career support to refugee and immigrant chefs, softly opened Understory, its worker-led restaurant, bar and commissary kitchen. Understory gives chefs who are looking to start their own food businesses hands-on experience and supplemental earned income as they continue their training. At the same time, local diners get a chance to taste what they’re cooking.  

After a couple of weeks of test service, Understory is ready to officially open its doors this Thursday, March 25, from 4-8 p.m. Its regular days of service will be Thursday through Saturday, with a special weekly pop-up event on Sundays, featuring fare from a chef participating in Oakland Bloom’s Open Test Kitchen incubation program.

This week’s debut menu features Filipino cuisine along with a kefta burger with fries, but Understory’s offerings will rotate and future menus will focus on Moroccan and vegan Mexican fare. This Sunday’s pop-up will highlight Burmese cuisine by Oakland Bloom chef Pa Wah. Sunday pop-up dishes, such as coconut curry noodle soup (with choice of chicken or tofu), tea leaf salad, banana leaf sticky rice, Burmese sausage and a selection of desserts, can be pre-ordered in advance online.

Along with food, Understory refreshes with a wide selection of beverages, including cocktails (including alcoholic boba drinks and a ginger lemon rum spritzer), agua frescas, cold brew coffee, beer and wine. Understory, 528 Eighth St. (between Washington and Clay streets), Oakland 

Berkeley Public Library now lends kitchen tools

Kitchen tools, like this Instant Pot, are now available to borrow from the Berkeley Public Tool Lending Library. Photo: Berkeley Public Library
Kitchen tools, like this Instant Pot, are now available to borrow from Berkeley Public Library. Screenshot from the library’s recent virtual cooking class featuring Jeannie Celestial and Art Swenson, co-authors of “The Filipino Instant Pot Cookbook.”

Ever had to pass on making a recipe because you didn’t have the right culinary tools on hand? Well, if you’re a card-carrying Berkeley Public Library member, you now have access to a whole host of kitchen gadgets through its tool lending library. As Berkeleyside first reported in December 2019, BPL put together its kitchen tool collection — the first of its kind in California — by asking the community which equipment would be most useful to them. Many of the available items, such as sous vide cookers, air fryers, Instant Pot, Belgian waffle maker, dehydrators and canning equipment, are expensive to purchase, especially when used only a few times by a home cook. Berkeley librarian Dan Beringhele explains, “This has been an excellent opportunity to fill a need in our community. The Tool Lending Library gives our patrons a way to try out a new gadget without spending money or creating waste. The kitchen tool collection allows for home cooks to explore their creativity and experiment with new recipes and techniques.”

Patrons can browse and place holds on the culinary collection (and all other available tools) through the tool lending library’s online catalog. (First-time borrowers will need to call the tool library at 510-981-6101 to learn more about registration.) Equipment can be checked out for seven days. Tool Lending Library at Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch, 1901 Russell St. (at Martin Luther King, Jr Way), Berkeley

An update on Oakland’s Peony Seafood Restaurant 

Peony's coconut bunny dim sum. Photo: Anna Mindess
Peony Seafood Restaurant has reopened its banquet hall dining room at 25% capacity, for dim sum, such as these coconut bunnies. Photo: Anna Mindess

Oakland Chinatown’s beloved dim sum banquet hall, Peony Seafood Restaurant, reopened its 10,000 square-foot restaurant on March 18 (at 25% capacity). Manager Ming Zhu said that he is grateful for the outpouring of community support and takeout orders (that followed a story in Berkeleyside and Oaklandside), which has allowed him to make it to this day. Peony’s expert chefs are back, fashioning an array of freshly made dumplings, buns and rolls, and even coconut bunnies for dessert. Zhu is looking forward to opening at 50% capacity when allowed in the coming weeks. Peony Seafood Restaurant, 388 Ninth St. (at Franklin Street), suite 288, Oakland (Reported by Anna Mindess)

Third Culture Bakery anniversary specials

Third Culture Bakery is offering two special anniversary packages to celebrate its fourth anniversary. Photo: Third Culture Bakery
West Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery is offering two special anniversary packages to celebrate its fourth anniversary. Photo: Third Culture Bakery

Next month, West Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery celebrates its fourth anniversary. While Third Culture has been growing steadily in popularity for their Asian-inflected mochi baked goods and beverages, founders Wenter Shyu and Sam Butarbutar say that the pandemic nearly closed the business. They credit their strong network of neighbors and customers for keeping them open.

As a way to say thanks to their fans, Third Culture is offering a limited number of special anniversary packages, which will include a collection of sweet eats and drinks. The Anniversary VIP Package ($50), includes four daifuku mochi cakes (two dark chocolate truffle and two match truffle), one crème brûlée mochi waffle, two coconut haupia donuts, two tiramisu mochi donuts, two mochi muffins and a lychee soda palm tree drink. The Birthday Cake Package ($44) includes a mini 4” 3-layer dark chocolate birthday cake from Natty Cakes featuring Third Culture roasted matcha buttercream and dark chocolate drizzle, along with a lychee soda palm tree drink. Both packages are available for pre-order online for pickup at the bakery on April 3-4. (Those who order at least 48 hours in advance can skip the line and pick up directly from a concierge out front). Third Culture Bakery, 2701 Eighth St. (between Carleton and Pardee), Berkeley

PennDel’s Bakehouse finds a home in El Cerrito

PennDel's Bakehouse in El Cerrito will softly open on Saturday, March 27. Photo: Rebecca Saltzman
PennDel’s Bakehouse in El Cerrito will softly open on Saturday, March 27. Photo: Rebecca Saltzman

Thanks to reader Rebecca Saltzman, Nosh has learned that El Cerrito will welcome a new bakery this weekend with the soft opening of PennDel’s Bakehouse. Founded by friends and longtime food industry vets, Pamela Braxton and Gayle Tule-Chen, PennDel’s will provide locals with organic, preservative-free cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet and savory baked treats, including many gluten-free and vegan options.

Both women are originally from the East Coast, and their bakery’s name reflects their origins: Tule-Chen hails from Pennsylvania; Braxton from Delaware. They met in El Cerrito 12 years ago, when their children both attended Harding Elementary School, and the women bonded over their shared interests, including food. Braxton once ran a delivery-only, made-to-order bakery for 15 years with her late husband, and Tule-Chen boasts more than 35 years experience, working in the kitchens of Grace Baking, Mollie Stone’s and Albany’s now-closed Solano Grill & Bar.

PennDel’s will test the waters with a soft opening this Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Expect treats like apple streusel muffins and coffee cakes; biscuits with garlic, cheddar and green onion; apricot bars; a variety of cookies; gluten-free dark chocolate brownies; and cakes by the slice. Braxton and Tule-Chen said they’re looking forward to introducing themselves to the neighborhood, but are taking things slowly as they fine-tune their operation. PennDel’s Bakehouse (note, the website goes live on Thursday), 6491 Portola Dr. (near San Pablo Avenue), El Cerrito

Reader Ray Concepcion let us know that Berkeley’s Bopshop Korean Kitchen is no longer offering its regular menu of bibimbap, poke bowls and kimbap, opting instead to transition entirely to its Vons Chicken menu. Vons is a Korean fried chicken chain that’s opened franchise locations across the nation, starting in 2014 in the Bay Area. (Another local Vons location is at Bowl’d in Temescal.) Nosh confirmed the change with an employee at Bopshop, who said the restaurant only serve the Vons’ menu now, but that it will not be changing its name. Bopshop Korean Kitchen/Vons Chicken, 1823 Solano Ave. (at Colusa Avenue), Berkeley 

Teachers eat free on Tuesdays at Curry Up Now

A hand holds up a Chicken Tikka Burrito over a silver tray.
On “Teachers Tuesdays,” educators who show a school ID can get a free bowl or burrito, like this Chicken Tikka Masala burrito, at any Curry Up Now restaurant. Photo: Curry Up Now

On Tuesdays, Bay Area teachers and school staff can get a free bowl or burrito at any Curry Up Now location. The restaurant started “Teacher Tuesdays” as a way to show appreciation to educators during the pandemic. “I am of the opinion that teachers make the biggest impact on current and future generations and have been the unsung heroes during this pandemic,” said Curry Up founder and CEO Akash Kapoor in a press release shared with Nosh. “Whether these dedicated educators are teaching virtually or returning to the classroom, giving them a delicious, hot meal every week during the spring semester is one way we can show a small token of our appreciation.” Educators will need to show their school ID to redeem the freebie. The promotion occurs every Tuesday until May 25. See Curry Up’s website for all locations.

Sarah Han is Senior Editor, Food for Oaklandside and Berkeleyside. She has worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Read more stories by Sarah Han on Berkeleyside.