Last summer, Sequoia Del Hoyo was busy expanding her new catering business. At the time, Tarocco was in the business of making and delivering Mediterranean-inspired, plant-forward meals one day a week in the East Bay. Six weeks ago, Del Hoyo opened Tarocco as a full-time restaurant on 9th Street in Berkeley, which came as a surprise to me. When she and I spoke last year, she said she’d hoped to expand Tarocco, but didn’t mention the idea of starting another restaurant.
In 2015, Del Hoyo opened Sequoia Diner with her ex-husband, the chef Andrew Vennari. When they amicably separated during the pandemic, she stepped away from the diner’s day-to-day operations to concentrate on Tarocco. Except for her four months of maternity leave, she’d been an instrumental presence at the diner, successfully establishing it as a neighborhood favorite, and subsequently as a Bay Area brunch hotspot, with lines forming out the door every weekend.
Sequoia Diner transformed a standard brunch menu with personal, homey touches. To start, the jam was homemade. The first time I ate there, it was made from summer plums. And there was a pastry chef dedicated to making biscuits, bread and pastries. But Del Hoyo decided Tarocco would move in a different direction, a decision that was influenced by her own personal diet. She was diagnosed with Celiac disease and began to eat a gluten-free diet that was “life-changing” for her. Instead of cooking pancakes and other carb-laden brunch standbys, Tarocco takes its inspiration from Mediterranean menus that reflect Del Hoyo’s and her father’s Catalan roots.
This approach manifests itself on the plate as a variety of salads and roasted vegetables. An obvious, exemplary choice is the Mediterranean Breakfast ($15). Del Hoyo fills a large plate with a jammy soft-boiled egg, avocado, braised kale, cucumber, radish and a turmeric-colored chickpea mash. She then liberally adds fresh herbs, mint, dill and parsley, until the dish is knitted together with greenery. I will admit that I wanted a slice of pita bread to dip and gather the ingredients together, but that’s because I’m still in a codependent relationship with every loaf of freshly baked bread product that catches my eye.
My eyes zoomed in on an olive oil cake laced with citrus ($6) and a banana bread ($8). Both are marked on the menu as gluten free, but I wouldn’t have known that after tasting them. As soon as we sat down, Del Hoyo started composing the two sweeter plates. She added fresh berries and sprinkled pistachio dust on the slice of cake, and then topped the banana bread with a whipped, mellow, coconut cream.
The Tarocco interior is worlds away from the refreshed, retro vibe at Sequoia DIner. By simply painting the walls white, the restaurant looks years younger than its actual age. The dining room is spacious enough to accommodate a couple of large potted plants that summon the mood of Rick’s Morrocan cafe in Casablanca—a glamorous daytime atmosphere without the edge of noir. The tables are arranged against a series of large windows. Light streams in from every direction.
When Del Hoyo brought food to the table, I asked her about acquiring the space and turning Tarocco into a brick and mortar business. She said that while she was looking for a larger commercial kitchen to rent, she found the Ninth Street location. But the landlord had one condition. They wanted Del Hoyo to build out the retail space to replace the restaurants that had been there before. After spending six busy years at Sequoia Diner, with only one four-months long maternity break, opening a restaurant again wasn’t part of her original plan. But once she walked into the space, Del Hoyo wholly embraced the idea.
Tarocco’s salads and brunch items don’t weigh you down with sugar, dairy and gluten. When Sequoia Diner opened, it changed the vibe in the Laurel District. New businesses followed its arrival. Ninth Street isn’t a popular dining destination as yet. When I stopped by, there were plenty of tables open at the height of Saturday brunch hours. That will change once people discover Tarocco and Del Hoyo’s new mission statement, “Come for the salads, stay for the vibes.”