Kitava Kitchen lets diners build a healthy meal from scratch
Bryan Tublin hasn’t achieved Dr. Andrew Weil’s guru status, but he’s confidently striding up a similar path. The owner and co-founder of Kitava just opened the second location of his restaurant in Oakland.
Like Weil’s True Food Kitchen and the similarly themed but unrelated Cafe Gratitude (now confined to Southern California), Tublin’s approach to eating is accompanied by a practical and philosophical statement of purpose. On the restaurant’s website, Kitava defines itself as, “serving delicious and approachable meals made with real food from quality sources.”
This mission comes from Tublin’s personally impassioned approach to eating healthy, “nourishing” foods. Several years ago, when he was working as a software product manager, he experienced “a health issue which forced me to look at all aspects of my life.” Tublin went down a rabbit hole learning about food and how it affects the body. The idea for Kitava sprang from his discoveries. Embracing anti-inflammatory eating was a big part of his recovery.
Tublin also learned about sourcing quality ingredients and serving them at an approachable price point. He left his career in tech and started out with a catering and farmers’ market business. For two years, that experience taught him how to run and operate a food business.
Kitava isn’t solely devoted to vegan or vegetarian cuisine. The restaurant takes a more expansive approach. “I could probably talk forever about the merits of a plant-based diet versus not,” Tublin said. “My personal philosophy is, I try to eat meat that is sourced from animals that are raised as naturally to their original diet as they would be in the wild.” Kitava is designed to support every diner as they figure out what works for them.
Tublin opened Kitava’s first location in a former McDonald’s near the 16th Street BART station in San Francisco. “Almost all the neighbors we spoke to early on were really happy that we filled that location with something that was nourishing and positive for the community,” he said. They opened Kitava right before the pandemic. The central location turned out to be ideal for city-wide deliveries and for commuters.
Kitava’s second location is near the MacArthur BART station on 40th Street where both Hog’s Apothecary and, subsequently, Magpie Taproom closed. Tublin had already established a following in the East Bay by offering his food as a pop-up inside Oakland’s Buck Wild Brewing. But the kitchen in that location was small and capped the amount of food they could produce there. After a year and a half, Tublin and his team stumbled upon the Temescal-adjacent address. “It seemed like a great fit for us,” he said.
In addition to being close to public transportation, the nearby Kaiser Hospital meant that employees and visitors would be on the lookout for healthy food. Tublin added, “There are lots of local community organizations in and around the neighborhood that we were excited to connect and partner with.” The refurbished interior is now white-walled and filled with light. On a recent Saturday morning, the restaurant was nearly empty. Word has not yet gotten out that there’s a brunch and lunch place in the East Bay where the line doesn’t snake around the block.
The straightforward menu is “100% free of gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, refined sugar and seed oils.” For example, a small plate of crispy French fries ($6) is cooked in palm fruit oil. If palm fruit oil tastes any different from canola oil, French fry eaters won’t be able to detect any noticeable difference. Other small plate options include cauliflower bites, fried plantains, crispy Brussels sprouts and chicken nuggets.
The rest of the menu is divided into “Signature Bowls” and “Build-Your-Own Bowls.” Every bowl ingredient is listed on a companion website tab explaining its “full nutrition information.” The “evolved caesar salad” included fennel, radish, avocado and an egg. The turmeric coconut ranch didn’t add much in the way of flavor to the dish and needs to advance forward another stage or two in the evolution of salad dressings.
The chicken in my sesame chicken bowl ($14) was delicious. Breaded in cassava flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour and baking soda, the combination turned out to be as crispy as any recipe that’s teeming with gluten.
Kitava, open daily 11am to 9pm. 375 40th St., Oakland. 510.496.4055. kitava.com.