Hop on over to @tablehopper for pics of fantastic experiences I had at two new East Bay establishments, but first, I wanted to share some backstory on them here.
Last week, I visited the brand-new LULU from chef-owner Mona Leena in Berkeley’s Gilman District. This is her first brick and mortar, although you’ll recognize her from her popular pop-up, The Mana’eesh Lady, which she launched after Oakland’s Dyafa shuttered due to the pandemic (where she was the executive chef). Lulu has opened in the former Nest of Comforts tea house, and is the kind of restaurant you will wish was in your neighborhood. Translated from Arabic, Lulu means “pearl,” Leena’s childhood nickname (she is first-generation Palestinian, and born-and-raised Californian). It has a sunny, airy, cheerful interior, with outdoor seating under blue umbrellas.
The menu of Palestinian-inspired, California cuisine features her housemade baked goods (her breads are so fabulous), mezze brunch, and lunch, with a plan to start dinner service later this year. If you have any excuse to enjoy a midweek lunch with a friend, book it here (but be sure to make a reservation early, demand is high and there aren’t many tables). If you’re coming Fri-Sun, you’ll want to order the abundant and eye-popping mezze brunch board for two so you don’t have to decide between dishes like za’atar fried eggs, fried halloumi, labneh, baba ganoush, shakshuka, za’atar mana’eesh, seasonal fruit, and more.
The menu is full of creative and seasonal dishes, like the pillowy mana’eesh with a rotating menu of two kinds on offer each day, like Early Girl tomato, chèvre, and zhoug (a vibrant, spicy, green hot sauce) or akkawi cheese with seasonal fruit jam, or the fully loaded classic za’atar version, with brown butter labneh, hard-boiled egg, seasonal vegetables, and herbs. There’s a breakfast sando or a fried chicken sando on a simsim bun, bowls, and more. The menu just makes me so dang hungry. I also plan to come back for the shouka-quiles, made with pita chips, sweet peppers, Early Girl tomatoes, fresh feta, and soft-scrambled eggs.
There’s a coffee bar, with enticing espresso drinks like a rose brûlée cappuccino, cardamom-TCHO mocha, and caramel-tahini cold brew, all using coffee from Mother Tongue Coffee. You’ll be able to enjoy a tahini-caramel sticky bun or a “zalabyeh” cruller doughnut with black cardamon and lechera glaze with your coffee, or a housemade croissant with za’atar and feta for my fellow savory fans. Open Tue-Thu 7:30am-3pm and Fri-Sun 9:30am-4pm. Make a reservation! 1019 Camelia St. at 10th St., Berkeley.
Newly open in downtown Oakland’s historic Tribune Tower is TRIBUNE, a New American brasserie from chef-partner Omri Aflalo and operating partner-general manager Darrin Ballon (they are also behind Town Revival).
The minimalist space was designed with Jon De La Cruz (Che Fico, Leo’s Oyster Bar, The Cavalier), highlighting classic architectural elements of the 1923 building, but bringing in some modern-chic touches. There’s a spacious bar you’d be happy to dine at, tufted leather banquettes, comfy tobacco leather chairs, wood tables with quite a bit of space between them, and outdoor seating, too.
The focused menu highlights peak-season ingredients, like a tomato and melon salad with burrata ($20), or their house chopped salad ($17), and the truly divine pasta dish of housemade cavatelli with summer mushroom duxelles, Meyer lemon butter sauce, hazelnuts, chanterelle confit, chives, and pecorino ($22), don’t miss it. Afalo’s French background really shines in the grilled local fish “amandine” ($28), stuffed with a piperade farce and house-cured lardo, that you pour amandine sauce over (made with roasted almonds, barigoule, and shallots)—let me tell you, I’m not one to usually order the fish dish at a restaurant, but this one is IT. The wild rice pilaf and puffed rice on the side added nice texture, a common element you’ll note in most dishes here (also in the unexpected creamed corn presentation with white corn pudding, butter popcorn, and popcorn powder, so fun). There are also elevated touches (like a roulade preparation) and components, like cilantro oil or nasturtium “vert” thyme oil. I’m coming back for the burger. Sticky toffee cake with Bahri dates and burnt toffee sauce is guaranteed dessert happiness. Don’t attempt it alone.
Cocktails ($14) are playful and creative, and the wine list from consultant Martin Sheehan-Stross has some fantastic selections, including the crushable Gros Ventre Cellars vermentino from El Dorado that I really need more of in my life. Service has fine-dining chops, complete with some tableside touches, but feels relaxed and engaging. Open Thu-Sun 5pm-10pm for now. 401 13th St. at Franklin, Oakland.
For the month of September, Tribune is hosting a weekly guest bartender every Thursday, starting this Thursday September 9th at 5pm with Elmer Mejicanos of Red Window, serving up his Spanish-influenced cocktails like the sherry cobbler. September 16th: Nora Furst of the forthcoming Buddy Bar in San Francisco and beverage consultant with West Bev. Furst will create low-ABV, sessionable cocktails. September 23rd: Ron Boyd of Nightbird’s Linden Room in Hayes Valley will create light, seasonal cocktails. September 30th: Adam “Boots” Brogan, longtime San Francisco bar consultant, will focus on classic, San Francisco-inspired cocktails.
The weekend mezze brunch board at Lulu in Berkeley. Photo: © tablehopper.com.