Duende Bodega Is Worth a Review on Its Own

Plus Scream Sorbet shut down due to permitting violation.

One of the pitfalls of writing restaurant reviews and being a long-winded person in general is that often not everything makes it onto the page. Such was the case with Duende, reviewed on page 22, whose attached “bodega” (a combination wine/olive oil retailer and high-end coffee shop) is a plenty-ambitious undertaking all on its own — and worthy of a separate write-up.

The Bodega at Duende is, at its core, your garden-variety hipster cafe, complete with third-wave coffee pedigree (with beans from Santa Cruz-based roastery Verve) and a small selection of house-made baked goods.

Still, a few things set the bodega apart: 1) The place has got style in spades — high ceilings; exposed rafters; cool, Basquiat-esque art; a sort of chalkboard-y, scribbled-on effect on the walls. I liked the wooden stools that looked like they were built with interlocking Jenga blocks.

2) No wi-fi, at least for now (sorry, MacBook drones!).

3) Because the bodega is attached to a real restaurant kitchen, the food offerings are a cut above compared to just about every other local coffee shop. Of particular note was the deceptively plain-looking Spanish tortilla ($5 for a thick wedge), which was mostly potato (thin slices cooked soft and piled on top of each other) and just a little bit of egg — so fluffy and delicate, this was arguably the tastiest thing I had in all my visits to Duende ($38 paella notwithstanding). The churros ($5 for three) were also quite good, though I found the accompanying chocolate dipping sauce to be unbearably sweet.

Additionally, the bodega has a well-curated selection of wines and sherries (which you can buy at retail prices and enjoy with your dinner at Duende for a discounted — $12 — corkage fee), and at least three different kinds of olive oil on tap (supplied by Berkeley-based Amphora Nueva), available for sampling or purchase.

After 5:30, when the restaurant opens, the bodega becomes a kind of overflow area where folks who are waiting for a table can lounge with a glass of wine or a cappuccino, and even order a few tapas or a dessert. Starting sometime in the next week or two, the full restaurant menu will be available to diners in the bodega, making it a good casual walk-in option for people who don’t plan far enough ahead to snag a prime reservation slot.

Indeed, chef/owner Paul Canales said the bodega side of the business is where he sees the most potential for growth and creativity. Eventually, he hopes to expand the daytime food options, perhaps offering a variety of fun, one- or two-bite pintxos (or Basque bar snacks), as opposed to the more substantial tapas on the dinner menu.

Goodbye Scream Sorbet

Despite plans to stay open until at least March 10, cash-strapped Scream Sorbet (5030 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) closed on Friday, shut down by the Alameda County Health Department.

Via email, reader Sheila Addison informed What the Fork that a health department employee was locking the door — taping up a big red “closed” sign — right as she walked up to the store at around 3:45 p.m.

“I just want some pomelo and red grapefruit/white beer sorbet. And for their employees to have jobs. And for there not to be another dark storefront along Telegraph,” Addison wrote.

Scream owner Nathan Kurz stressed that the health department issue has always been strictly a permitting matter — never anything to do with food safety. That said, he believes the health department is entirely in the right: For the past two years Scream has been serving sorbet out of a mobile food cart that was placed inside the retail store. In order for that arrangement to be legal, Kurz would need to upgrade the facility and have it licensed as a commissary kitchen. Otherwise, Scream’s current license — as a food cart — doesn’t allow the business to keep sorbet in the store overnight.

As of now, the company — already at least $50,000 in the red — doesn’t have the funds to go forward with the necessary improvements. Many of the store’s supporters have suggested launching a Kickstarter campaign, but Kurz wants to make sure he has “a clear path to opening” before he does so, and he doesn’t want to pour tens of thousands of dollars into a construction project when the future of the business is still very much in question.

Kurz said his best option may be to open a store at a different location entirely — with the help of new investors, and the sooner the better — while he negotiates with the county on a plan to reopen the original Telegraph Avenue shop.

In the meantime, it’s possible that Scream could continue to sell sorbet at local farmers’ markets — as of this printing, Kurz hadn’t decided for certain, though he noted that those stands are at best a break-even proposition. He does, however, still plan to host a going-away party (with free sorbet) on March 10, as previously reported. But now that the shop itself is off limits, the exact time and place for the event has yet to be determined.

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