When Mak and Parisa Jamasbi opened the Cafenated Coffee Co. café in late April, they knew from the start they wanted to offer something different in North Berkeley. Cafenated started as an online-only business, selling single-origin coffee beans sourced from women farmers in Central America, South America and Africa, which the Jamasbis roast at Berkeley’s CoRo Coffee Roastery. But the couple knew selling coffee alone — even good coffee — wasn’t going to make them stand out in an area already teeming with cafés, including Peet’s, Guerilla Coffee and now, Wrecking Ball.
It helps, of course, that the Cafenated space is an inviting one with friendly staff and tasteful decor. Inside, it’s bright, open and airy; modern, but still cozy and comfortable. There are different seating options, free Wi-Fi and outlets at the front of the café for those who need to plug-in. The backyard, though, has the wow factor. A large greenhouse-style patio — a vestige from the space’s last owners, Mission Heirloom — is where you want to be, especially on a bright, sunny day.
Still Mak Jamasbi wanted to set Cafenated apart even further from the competition, and he saw an opportunity through food. In July, Cafenated Coffee launched a pop-up dinner event with Persian chef Hanif Sadr of roving pop-up, Komaaj. The dinner, featuring Sadr’s modern take on traditional foods from Northern Iran paired with local beers and wines, was a success, so Jamasbi asked Sadr to continue collaborating with him, by offering a regular menu for the café. Komaaj launched an all-day menu at Cafenated in late August.
On my first visit to try the new menu, Komaaj was still just getting into the swing of things. The printed menu, posted at the counter, offered a list of 10 items in two categories: small plates and bowls. Designed to be accessible, it included the trendy café staple, avocado toast — with or without poached egg — but mostly featured a selection of Persian dishes accompanied by attractive photographs and described in plain English. So instead of identifying the dish as kuku sabzi, for example, the menu calls it “herb frittata.”
Looking around, I noticed most customers had gone for the avocado toast. It was still morning, but I was hungry for lunch and wanted to try the Persian specials. I asked, to be sure, that the entire menu was offered all day; Jamasbi said yes. So, I ordered the Cucumber and Herb ($4) and Beans & Dill Dip ($10), which may have tripped up the kitchen. Moments after I ordered, a cook came to the front counter and conferred with Jamasbi; it seemed he wasn’t expecting to prepare these dishes before noon. Once confirmed and given the green light, he went straight to work.
The cucumber dish is one that Komaaj offers at many of its events. Called khiar dalaar, it’s made with sliced Persian cucumbers mixed with a dressing of chopped and fermented herbs and topped with dried barberries and safflower petals. At the Cafenated dinner pop-up, chef Sadr added fish roe to this salad, and although the all-day menu mentioned and pictured it with the roe, the version I was served was without. When asked about it later, Jamasbi said the decision to remove the fish eggs was to ensure the menu was vegetarian-friendly. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed, as I was drawn to the dish because of it. I enjoyed the crispness and freshness of the cucumbers and the tartness of the barberries, but I wished the seasoning of the dressing was punched up just a tad more.
Beans & Dill Dip, aka baaghali ghatogh, arrived on a metal tray, with a hearty portion of the bean and egg stew served with plenty of torn pieces of sangak (whole wheat leavened flatbread) on the side. A wedge of lemon and a small serving of pickled vegetables were a nice kick of acid for this mild dish. I also appreciated the fresh chopped dill atop the stew. This baaghali ghatogh uses white beans, rather than the typical lima or fava beans, and scrambles in the egg, rather than topping with a poached one. The resulting mixture is comforting and soothing in the same way that congee (rice porridge) is, but again, I felt the flavors were slightly muted, even with all the chopped dill that flecked the dish with green bits. I wanted to taste more garlic, more herbs.
I waited a couple of weeks to try something else on the menu because Jamasbi said Sadr was tweaking the menu slightly. On my return, the offerings were the same, but there were some small changes: The khiar dalaar no longer mentioned fish roe, and all the vegetarian items were marked. There was also a daily lunch special on my visit, sabzi polo maahi, or fish and herbed rice ($12), which I ordered.
This dish is often made with lightly dredged and fried fish filets, but some recipes call for other preparations, like baking or grilling the fish. Komaaj offers its version at Cafenated with pomegranate-glazed smoked trout, which had a deep, smoky flavor. The fish was served with herbed rice, poached egg, a small clump of goat cheese, sliced cucumbers, pickled carrots and fresh sliced radish. Despite the richness of the cheese and egg, and the bold flavors of the fish, the dish was light — a good choice for a smaller appetite. My one complaint was the rice, which came to the table room temperature; I would have liked it warmer.
There are a few more dishes I’d like to try, including the kuku sabzi ($8), mentioned earlier, served with thick labneh (strained yogurt), pickled vegetables and sumac. And maast labou ($7), a bright pink dip made with roasted beets, basil, mint and sumac mixed into plain and Greek yogurt. Both dishes come with toasted flatbread. I’ll also be back for the namesake komaaj cake ($5), a pastry made of rice flour, yogurt and ground saffron, that’s served warm with honey and rose petals.
Cafenated Coffee is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily.