Café La Méditerranée in the Elmwood. Photo: Sarah Han

BETTER OFF MED In September, we broke the news that Café La Méditerranée, the 36-year-old Elmwood restaurant, was for sale. Owner Garbis Baghdassarian, 72, told Nosh he was selling Café La Med to retire, but was hoping to find a new owner who would continue operating the spot as a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurant. Soon, he will get both of his wishes.

Baghdassarian opened Café La Med on Nov. 3, 1982, with the restaurant’s founder, his cousin, Levon Der Bedrossian. The third location was run by Baghdassarian independently of La Méditerranée’s restaurants in San Francisco. When Baghdassarian put the restaurant up for sale this fall, Der Bedrossian, who still owns the two SF La Meds and a catering business, was not interested in taking over the Berkeley location, but apparently, the founder had a change of heart. Starting next year, Café La Med will be operated by Der Bedrossian under the management of his son Vanick Der Bedrossian and longtime business partner Alicia Vanden Heuvel.

Nosh spoke with Vanick, who said his family decided to take over the business to continue the La Med legacy in the East Bay. “It’s been 36 years and the Berkeley location is a staple in Elmwood, and for us, we’re very busy in San Francisco, but it was breaking our hearts to imagine it disappearing,” he said.

The younger Der Bedrossian has been involved in managing his family’s restaurants for the past 13 or so years. Although technically, he first started working at La Med when he was five or six, cleaning the gum from under the tables. (“I was the right height,” he said about his qualifications. “I got paid in chocolate mousse.”) These days, he’s part-owner and his roles include overseeing back of house and managing the business’s growth. Der Bedrossian plans to bring the Berkeley location “up to speed,” with some new equipment, a few touch-ups and repairs, and some menu tweaks, including adding four popular dishes from the La Med SF restaurants: chicken shawarma wraps, housemade falafel, wild salmon kebabs and shakshuka for brunch. The restaurant will also revamp its catering services and offerings. Expect to see those changes starting in January.

What won’t be changing is Café La Med’s staff, some of whom have been employed there for decades. Der Bedrossian said, “The loyal employees who’ve given their time and energy for all these years were a big factor in the decision” to keep the business going. Café La Méditerranée, 2936 College Ave. (at Ashby), Berkeley 

Café La Méditerranée in the Elmwood. Photo: Sarah Han

A WHOLE LATKE LOVE FOR PARADISE Eleven years ago David Hermele started a Hanukkah tradition, inviting friends and neighbors to his house, where he’d fry up homemade latkes and serve them with all the fixings. Last year, Hermele cooked 150 pounds of latkes for about 100 people, but the annual event, which he calls Latkapalooza, was always a free unofficial party, more like a private potluck than anything else. This year, for the 11th annual Latkapalooza, Hermele has decided to go big, inviting the public and turning it into a fundraiser for Paradise and other communities affected by the Camp Fire. He’s joined forces with his friend Amy Murray, chef-director at Revival Bar + Kitchen, which will host the benefit and offer space not just for a latke buffet, but live entertainment (music, comedy, belly dancing, more) and a bar serving wine, beer and craft cocktails. For those who don’t partake in booze, there’ll also be housemade chai. Murray told Nosh they’ve been getting donations for the event, including potatoes and onions for the star of the event from GreenLeaf. “I am feeling really hopeful that we can raise $5k or more!” As for leftover latkes, if there should be any, Hermele said they will be distributed to homeless outreach groups and at People’s Park. Tickets are $25; all proceeds will go to the North Valley Community Foundation’s Camp Fire Relief fund. Latkapalooza takes place 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Revival Bar + Kitchen, 2102 Shattuck Ave. (at Addison), BerkeleyAMPLIFIED HEART The owners of Oakland’s Heart and Dagger Saloon are set to open their new neighborhood bar in Uptown this week. The Amplifier, located next door to The New Parish music venue, will host DJs nights on the weekends and feature a full bar serving beer, wine and affordable craft cocktails. The bar will soft open Thursday, Dec. 6, and Friday, Dec. 7, before its official grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 8. The Amplifier, 1741 San Pablo Ave. (at 18th St.), Oakland

Hawaiian plate lunch classics are offered at Matiki Island BBQ & Brew in Berkeley. Photo: Matiki Island BBQ & Brew

ISLAND TIME Northside Berkeley just got a new Hawaiian spot. SoCal’s Matiki Island BBQ & Brew opened its second Bay Area location (the other is in San Jose) in the space last occupied by Daily Pint, offering classic Hawaiian plate lunch fare with a pub vibe. Meats like kalua pork, lau lau (salt butterfish and pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalbi (a sweeter version of the Korean short rib dish), grilled chicken and sliced rib eye top combo plates served with two scoops of rice, salad or macaroni salad; bowls served with two scoops of rice; and for the kids, keiki bowls served with a smaller portion of rice. There are also appetizers and sides like musubi with Spam or Portuguese sausage, poke and macadamia cheeseballs. The bar serves up a selection of craft beers in bottles and on tap, as well as wine. Matiki also offers catering. Matiki Island BBQ & Brew, 1828 Euclid Ave. (near Ridge), Berkeley

A ticket to the Empty Bowls Fundraiser gets you soup served in a handmade bowl by a Berkeley Art Studio artist that you take home after the event. Proceeds go to the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Photo: Bear’s Lair Tavern
A ticket to the Empty Bowls Fundraiser gets you soup served in a handmade bowl by a Berkeley Art Studio artist that you take home after the event. Proceeds go to the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Photo: Bear’s Lair Tavern

GIVING SEASON With the holidays upon us, many of getting into the giving spirit. Here are two noteworthy programs that benefit the Alameda County Community Food Bank to help feed the hungry:

From now until Dec. 15, various stores in the Elmwood are collecting non-perishable canned and jarred foods for the food bank. Most wanted items include canned meats and fish, low-sodium soups and stews, nuts and beans, brown rice and quinoa, peanut butter and whole grain cereal. Place glass jars in plastic bags before dropping off into donation barrels at Anton’s Salon, Vintage Berkeley, McGuire Real Estate, Cheap Pete’s and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.

And on Dec. 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., the Bear’s Lair Tavern will host the Empty Bowls Fundraiser, where guests who donate $50 will get soup (choice of vegetarian, seafood or meat) served in a handmade bowl by artists from the Berkeley Art Studio, as well as bread and wine. All proceeds from ticket sales go to the Alameda County Food Bank. Bear’s Lair Tavern, 2465 Bancroft Way (between Dana and Telegraph), Berkeley

Diners will get a complimentary mini soft serve cone at Gott’s Roadside in Walnut Creek on Friday, Dec. 7. Photo: Gott’s Roadside Walnut Creek/Facebook
Diners will get a complimentary mini soft serve cone at Gott’s Roadside in Walnut Creek on Friday, Dec. 7. Photo: Gott’s Roadside Walnut Creek/Facebook

GOTT’S-TO GET SOFT SERVE  The Walnut Creek location of Gott’s Roadside opened last December and to celebrate its first birthday, it’s offering a special sweet treat for diners: free mini soft serve cones. On Friday, Dec. 7, customers at Gott’s Broadway Plaza outpost can claim their cones topped with creamy swirls of Straus Organic or Double 8 Dairy soft serve. The freebie will be available all day during business hours (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Gott’s Roadside, 1275 S. Main St. (at Botelho), Walnut Creek EARLY CRAVINGS Last month, we reported that the historic California Hotel in West Oakland will be getting a new barbecue joint. Formerly a pop-up, Crave BBQ will bring meaty goodness like ribs, brisket and hot links and southern-style sides like mac n cheese, collard greens and cornbread to the hotel, now run by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC). The restaurant will open early next year, but this weekend, you can get a taste of Crave BBQ at the SPARC-It-Place Holiday Bazaar. Taking place 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at the outdoor community gathering space located next to the hotel, EBALDC’s free event will also feature local craft vendors, live music, family-friendly activities and even more eats from Oakland food truck Culinary Cruiser. SPARC-it-Place, 3419 San Pablo Ave. (near 34th), Oakland  ON A WINTER’S DAY If you’ve got some food lovers on your holiday present list, head over to Forage Kitchen from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, for its first annual gift market featuring gift-able foods by tenants of the downtown Oakland food incubator and shared kitchen facilities. The Winter Makers Market will include treats like Japanese plums and plum syrup from Yumé Boshi, snacks from the sea from SaltPoint Seaweed, dog treats from Wild Earth, tangy and briny pickled veggies from Allie’s Perfect Pickles, gift boxes for new moms from Good Medicine Co and handcrafted spice blends from Goldi’s Gourmet Spices. If you get hungry from all that shopping, there’ll be potstickers and bao from Good to Eat Dumplings and wine and beer for sale at the event. Forage Kitchen, 478 25th St. (between Telegraph and Broadway), Oakland 

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Sarah Han was the editor of Nosh from 2017 to 2021. Previously, she worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2020, Sarah won SPJ NorCal's...