Sobre Mesa/7908 Aspen chefs collaborate; Yoshi’s Oakland brings back dining, but no jazz yet

Plus: The Lede reopens; Ben ‘N Nicks has new owners, Surya Darshini causes “dosa sensation” in San Ramon, more.

Sobre Mesa chef-owner Nelson German, who also operates alaMar in Oakland. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography
AlaMar and Sobre Mesa chef-owner Nelson German, a contestant on Season 18 of “Top Chef,” is curating a special dinner with chef Byron Gomez, April 28-29. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography

2 chefs collaborate on an 8-course dining experience

Season 18 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” launched April 1, and we’re excited and relieved that local chef, Oakland’s Nelson German (of alaMar, Sobre Mesa) will advance to the second episode — if not further. We’ll continue cheering him on this Thursday, April 8, but in the meantime, we’re also excited about an upcoming dinner he’s curating with a friend he made on set. German and bespectacled chef Byron Gomez of Aspen’s 7908 supper club will collaborate on an eight-course dining experience at Sobre Mesa on April 28 and 29. (For those who’ve seen the premiere of the new season, you’ll recall the two were on the same team in the first Quickfire Challenge together, along with chef Avishar Barua.) There will be two seatings each night — 5 p.m. ($165 per person, with cocktail pairings sold a la carte) and 8:30 p.m. ($250 per person, with cocktail pairings included).  

Both chefs will be on hand to share the backstories and cultural influences — Nelson’s Dominican heritage; Gomez was born in Costa Rica — of each dish they bring to the table. A few menu highlights include lobster ceviche, roasted cod with yuca puree and broccolini, Caribbean bake with foie gras and raw oysters with grilled oyster foam and aji amarillo. Tickets are limited, as seating will be socially distanced and indoors at 25% capacity; masks are required. Sobre Mesa, 1618 Franklin St. (at 17th Street), Oakland 

Yoshi’s reopens for sushi and cocktails, but no jazz for now  

Yoshi’s Oakland will reopen its restaurant on April 8, with its menu of Japanese and fusion fare, and its full bar. Photo: Yoshi’s Oakland

After Yoshi’s closed on March 15, 2020, the Oakland jazz club and Japanese restaurant tried to pivot to takeout, but general manager Hal Campos told the Chronicle, the restaurant gave up after three weeks and thousands of dollars lost. “People don’t look at Yoshi’s as a to-go place. We’re a music venue,” he said. While closed, Yoshi’s started a GoFundMe campaign that’s nearly reached its $200,000 goal, and now that restaurants can open indoors at 50% capacity and a complete reopening is just on the horizon, Yoshi’s is ready to try food service again, even if shows will have to wait.

On Thursday, April 8, Yoshi’s will reopen its 220-seat dining room at limited capacity for sushi and other Japanese fare, along with its full bar. Walk-ins are welcome, but Yoshi’s recommends diners make reservations in advance. The restaurant adds, “In the coming weeks, we also plan to incorporate a musical element into your dining experience, taking it back to our roots at the Claremont,” referring to Yoshi’s early years on Claremont Avenue, where the sushi restaurant first began hosting live music. Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland

The broccoli melt sandwich is one of the opening menu items at the new iteration of The Lede. Photo: The Lede

The Lede reopens in its own digs

The last time we heard from The Lede was in August, when chef Carlo Espinas announced the pop-up was taking a break. It was just two months after The Lede transitioned from being a restaurant led by chef Cal Peternell in Old Oakland to a bi-weekly pop-up under Espinas at Cafe Encinas in North Oakland. At the time, we assumed it would be a short hiatus, not a seven-month ghosting, and we feared as the time continued to pass and the pandemic went on, that this was goodbye forever. But this week, we’re relieved to report that The Lede will not only reopen, but it’s taken over the Cafe Encinas space as its own.

The Lede claimed the cozy cafe space on 41st Street last year when Cafe Encinas closed, but Espinas and crew (Full disclosure — The Lede’s owner, Joaquin Alvarado, is a Cityside board member) took time getting settled in. They refreshed the cafe with a coat of paint and a mural by local artists, while testing out menu items. Espinas landed on the idea that The Lede would have a “bar kind of vibe,” offering light bites that go well with drinks. In March, he tried out takeout snack boxes and sandwiches. At the time, he told Nosh, “Eventually, when we get to fully operational, I’d love to do oysters and little raw bar treats, ceviches and tostadas, and funny little vegetable salads to go with everything — and hot dogs.”

True to his word, The Lede’s opening menu offers two sausages: a Fieldroast vegan pretzel dog ($9) and a Butifarra-style pork sausage roll ($13). There’s also a broccoli melt sandwich ($13), raw oysters ($15 for six), snack boxes ($25) filled with pickled and prepared vegetables, chips and dip and other tasty bites. To drink, there’ll be local beer, natural wines and a few cocktails that are “spin-offs of classic combinations” using fresh, seasonal ingredients.  

The Lede will reopen with a happy hour, from 4-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 9-10, with seating on the outdoor patio. Staff will use the next couple of weeks to “stress test the kitchen” before expanding hours and perhaps, inviting people inside. Espinas told Nosh they’ll be playing it by ear, watching how things develop with the reopenings and loosening of COVID restrictions. If things continue to go well, he aims to expand hours to 4-9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday in the coming days.  The Lede, 308 41st St. (near Broadway), Oakland

Ben ‘N Nicks is under new ownership

Ben 'n Nicks in Rockridge. Photo: Damon Styer/Flickr
Twenty-four-year-old Rockridge watering hole Ben ‘N Nicks has changed hands, but the new owners told Nosh their intention is “to keep it Ben ‘N Nicks.” Photo: Damon Styer/Flickr

Back in December 2019, Nosh reported that Rockridge watering hole, Ben ‘N Nicks nearly closed, but that owner Mark Graham, then 75, changed his mind after receiving an outpouring of community support. At the time, 1100 Group restaurateurs Ben Seabury and Jon Guhl, who also own The Star and Little Star Pizza, reached out to Graham; they were interested in carrying the torch. Seabury now lives in Danville, but he used to live in Oakland and has always considered Ben ‘N Nicks, which opened in 1997, a go-to. “We were regulars there. We’d get off from work and head to Ben ‘N Nicks for a drink. It has a special place in our hearts,” he told Nosh.

The partners signed a 20-year lease for the bar last spring, but “with COVID hitting, we took our time” — they’ve kept the doors closed for nearly a year. Although Seabury said they intend to keep the bar very close to what it’s always been, they have made some changes. While temporarily shuttered, they improved the kitchen, refinished the bar and got the space up to code. They also decided to refresh the menu, although Seabury assured us, the new menu will not be too far off from what regulars already know and love, but with “everything made in house, even the onion rings.” (And in case you’re wondering, no, there won’t be pizza.) The beer program will be the same, but drinkers will notice a substantial increase in back bar offerings, especially bourbon. While allowed to serve patrons indoors at 50% capacity, Ben ‘N Nicks will also seat up to 16 on the parklet out front.

While Ben ‘N Nicks softly opened on April 3, it’s kept its reemergence on the down low, as it gets back up to speed for its grand opening this Friday. At 4 p.m., April 9, Ben ‘N Nicks invites the public back for drinks and dinner. Going forward, the bar will be open 11 a.m. to close, daily (closing hours are still TBD, but might be 10 p.m. or midnight on weeknights, midnight or 2 a.m. on weekends). Ben ‘N Nick’s, 5612 College Ave. (at Ocean View Drive), Oakland

Berkeley’s Nest of Comforts is closing

Tables set outside of Berkeley's Nest of Comforts tea shop.
Berkeley’s Nest of Comforts will be open for limited outdoor seating through April 18 when it will close for good. Photo: Nest of Comforts/Facebook

Last week, Nest of Comforts founder Lynette Purves took to social media to announce her one-year-old West Berkeley tea shop would be closing on April 18. Purves opened Nest of Comforts in January 2020, hoping the spot on Camelia Street would be a place where locals could celebrate and gather for music, art and conversation over cups of tea, but with the pandemic, her plans had to pivot. She tried home-delivered tea service and holiday-themed takeout boxes, and Nest of Comforts has been open for limited outdoor seating, but Purves said running the business has not been sustainable. She urges customers with gift cards to take advantage of them before the 18th, and hints that tea delivery may continue in some format in the future. Nest of Comforts, 1019 Camelia St. (at Tenth Street), Berkeley

A ‘dosa sensation’ at the San Ramon farmers market

The dosa from Surya Darshini are so popular, the food truck is no longer taking on-site orders at the Saturday San Ramon farmers market; customers must pre-order in advance for pickup. Photo: Harvinder Singh

Dosa lovers from across the Bay Area have been flocking to the San Ramon farmers market for crispy, savory South Indian crepes from Surya Darshini, a dosa food truck that appears at the market on Saturdays. Until March, people were waiting for up to two hours to get a taste, but “because of long lines and COVID, [Surya Darshini] moved to pre-orders only,” said farmers market representative, Harvinder Singh, who called the growing demand for the food truck a “dosa sensation.”

So why are people going gaga for these particular dosas? According to some who regularly visit the truck, Surya Darshini makes one of the best local versions of the Bangalore-style dosa, or dose, around — perfectly crispy on the outside and soft, buttery and pillowy inside, with just the proper amount of flavorful filling, for those who choose theirs with masala or cheese (there’s also a plain butter version). One Yelper wonders, “Not sure which is harder, getting [an] appointment for COVID vaccination or getting a ‘dose’ here.” 

Surya Darshini starts taking pre-orders on its website at 7 p.m., Thursday until 3 p.m., Friday (or until sold out) for Saturday pickup at the San Ramon farmers market. San Ramon farmers market, 6000 Bollinger Canyon Rd, San Ramon