Early August, I had a great meal at Homestead, one of the newest additions in Oakland’s restoscape. The meal was a media invite – one benefit of working at the Daily Californian – and the owners were incredibly generous at letting us order everything we wanted at no charge, which turned out to be, as it always goes when Kristen and I dine together, everything on the menu. But that’s not the best part of a food writing job. The best part was the interview. The chefs are always busy of course, but they were willing to set aside an hour the next Monday morning to chat. Afterwards, I gained 48 minutes and 31 seconds of recording, part of which I transcribed into 6 full pages of typed notes, a load of information about opening and running a restaurant, and so much positive emotion.
Earlier last week, I struggled to choose which pieces of information and which quotes should make it into my article to fit the word limit for print – there were just too many valuable details. Unlike news reporting, a feature must also follows a theme, and someone’s life is a lot more diverse than one box of introduction-body-conclusion tied together by a theme. Editing was a pain, and for the sake of journalistic professionalism, I won’t go into details, but despite the frustration, the feature, which came out on Friday, is one of my favorites, because it’s a product of the understanding between the chefs and me.
I find interviews a lot more enriching than the meals themselves. The person tells you a story and lets you catch a glimpse of their world, from their perspective, something that you can’t get from simply eating a meal. This is particularly true with Homestead. The welcoming and homey vibe that Fred Sassen and Liz Hopkins want to create in their restaurant isn’t just a business theme, they were genuinely open people that can make you feel at home.
“If you ever think back about the best meals you ever had, nine times out of ten, it’s not the food that’s the memory, it’s the reason you went to eat that’s the memory,” said Sassen. “We sat down with [Hopkins'] family and had sunday supper and it was the best sunday supper I ever had. The ham was burnt, and the peas was overcooked to mush, but it was okay because it was fun. It was that interaction with the family and that communal atmosphere.”
That’s one of the stories I like that didn’t make it into the final draft. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find Homestead very homey – the food they serve is not what I grew up with, and the price is higher than what I can afford everyday. But that conversation with Sassen and Hopkins became the reason that I want to go back, and the memory that makes the meal there memorable.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for “home”. Maybe it’s because both Sassen and Hopkins are young and passionate about what they’re doing (Hopkins is only 26, I didn’t get to ask Sassen’s age), and something about young people branching out on their own to build something for themselves is the inspiration I need these days. For whichever reason, I like this restaurant.
How was the food, though? This part I reserved for this personal blog and not talked about it in the Daily Cal review, because as a rule, we only review the food when we’re anonymous diners.
The small plates
On the left is Sassen filleting a halibut. On the right is the multi-functional brick oven that he designed, taking inspirations from Camino’s, Waterbar’s and Boulevard’s brick ovens. The oven is fascinating but I’m afraid to get it wrong if I try to recite what Sassen described…
The main course
I’m no fish fanatic, but I’m still drooling for this halibut’s melting texture right now…
Sometimes I’m amazed by Kristen’s and my own capability of consuming infinite dishes in one sitting. We unapologetically finished everything, too… Kristen said she was so ready for us to be kicked out of the restaurant. So was I.
4029 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611