.A Barcelona-Style Dinner Pops Up in Berkeley

Plus, a quirky new brewery and "beer fountain" in Uptown Oakland.

Camila Loew is on a mission to bring a little slice of Barcelona to the Bay Area. Loew’s Berkeley-based company, Sobremesa, will serve paella at your birthday party, teach you and your friends how to make Basque pintxos and other regional Spanish dishes, or set you up with a healthy meal plan to fit your dietary needs. As of this past summer, Sobremesa is also the name of the pop-up restaurant that Loew sets up once every few months at the Far Leaves Tea in West Berkeley (2626 San Pablo Ave.).

The next pop-up dinner will take place on Thursday, October 9, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. For $50, each guest will sit down at a communal table and share five or six family-style dishes, plus a few bottles of good Spanish wine. Advance tickets, available through the Sobremesa website, are required.

Loew explained that she named her business “Sobremesa” after the Spanish term for the leisurely period of time spent at the table at the end of a meal, digesting and making conversation. For Loew, who lived and taught cooking in Barcelona for fifteen years, the term speaks to the connection between the pleasures of good food and the importance of leading a slower, healthier lifestyle — two areas she believes that Americans would do well to learn from their Spanish counterparts.

In Berkeley, Sobremesa isn’t just some abstract life philosophy — it’s a multifaceted business. Loew said she spends most of her time teaching Spanish cooking workshops in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Sausalito. For now, the pop-up dinners aren’t much of a money-making venture, especially because Loew limits each event to fifteen guests and only does one event for each of the four seasons (though she eventually hopes to do them monthly). And, unlike many pop-up restaurateurs, Loew has no aspirations to open her own brick-and-mortar restaurant. Mostly, she said, she started the pop-up series as a way to create her own kind of event, since so much of her time is spent doing what her clients want.

As for next week’s dinner, Loew said she’d prefer to keep most of the menu a surprise, but she’ll probably serve a cold soup and some version of a traditional Spanish tortilla. All of the dishes will feature seasonal ingredients. And, because she preaches sobremesa, Loew won’t spend the meal hidden away in the kitchen. Instead, she’ll sit down and break bread with her guests.

Most likely, that bread will be pa amb tomaquet, or Catalan tomato bread: a slice of bread rubbed with ripe tomatoes, then drizzled with good olive oil and sea salt. It is a dish that Loew believes represents the very best parts of Spanish cuisine — simple, ingredient-focused, and delicious.

Uptown’s Beer Fountain

The newest brewery and taproom to hit Oakland’s hopping beer scene doesn’t just serve your standard West Coast IPA or European-style brews. Instead, Woods Bar & Brewery (1701 Telegraph Ave.), which softly opened earlier this month, specializes in beer that will, as owner Jim Woods put it, “challenge expectations” — beer that’s caffeinated, beer made with no hops whatsoever, and so forth.

Local beer connoisseurs know Woods as the founder of MateVeza Brewing Company, which produces beer made with yerba mate (the South American caffeinated beverage), and Cervecería de Mateveza, an affiliated brewpub. Initial reports speculated that the Uptown Oakland expansion was going to be a new outlet of the yerba mate beer business, but Woods explained that the Oakland brewery, and his brewing style in general, incorporates a lot of unusual ingredients — not just mate. So, for example, Woods brewed a whole host of herbal beers using recipes from a book about sacred “healing beers” from ancient times. He did another set of beers that were inspired by different Girl Scout cookies.

“We like to have fun with it, and we like to be inclusive,” Woods said. “A lot of people come into craft beer fold by tasting something that really defies their expectations.”

Woods also takes small-batch brewing to an extreme, with a three-barrel setup that only allows him to brew 93 gallons at a time. While you’d think this would limit the amount of variety he’ll be able to offer from the bar’s twelve taps, Woods said the opposite is true: He’s making so little beer at a time that customers can come back every other week and find an entirely new beer list.

Because of that ever-changing selection, along with various design elements that were loosely inspired by an old-fashioned soda fountain, Woods has given the bar a nickname: the “beer fountain.”

Woods Bar & Brewery will celebrate its grand opening next Saturday, October 11, from 2 p.m. to midnight. Among the beer Woods will be tapping to commemorate the occasion will be the first batch he ever made of Morpho — a beer made with mate, bay leaf, hibiscus, and no hops — which has been aging in a pinot wine barrel for a year.


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