Reem’s California, the Arab bakery that opened last year in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, has shot to the top of everyone’s list this year, including a recent Best Chef West James Beard Award nomination for owner Reem Assil, and a place on Food & Wine’s best restaurants list. Now comes the next logical step: expansion. Dyafa, the result of Assil’s partnership with Alta Group from chef Daniel Patterson will open for lunch tomorrow, April 11, in the former location of Haven in Jack London Square.
The 105-seat restaurant is more than just a bigger version of Assil’s original bakery — it’s a full-service restaurant with plans for lunch and dinner, and a full menu of beer, wine, and cocktails from Alta Group’s beverage director Aaron Paul. It will still maintain a strong connection to its older, smaller sibling, though, with some common menu items and the same warm hospitality (also the literal translation of the Arabic word dyafa).
“It’s similar to Reem’s,” Assil told Eater SF. “But I wanted to bring in these more funky, fun flavors, and sophisticated techniques that are often used in the Middle East.”
Assil, whose food is informed by her Palestinian-Syrian background, says that most Middle Eastern restaurants go safe with their flavor combos — Dyafa won’t. Each dish on the dinner menu will take classic mezze dishes, and feature a technique or ingredient that’s been elevated. “We’re creating dishes inspired by the regions ingredient combinations,” says Assil. “It won’t be the exact traditional thing.”
The menu at lunch will be shorter, designed for workers at nearby businesses to grab a quicker, lighter meal that won’t take hours. At night, however, the menu is set up to create a tempo more similar to eating in the Middle East, with a progression from smaller mezze and plates to larger, family-style platters of meats and seafoods. It’s designed to create an abudance on the table, says Assil, with baskets of Reem’s popular bread to accompany it.
There’ll also be a prix fixe option allowing the chef to choose the adventure. “The idea is that your table is never empty,” says Assil. “It’s a great for those who might not be as familiar with the cuisine.”
Assil’s background as a pastry chef will influence the dessert menu, with a variety of more intricate desserts than have been previously seen at Reem’s. The cocktail menu is inspired by Middle Eastern desserts as well, with drinks like the Bint Al Shalabeeya, featuring brandy, pistachio, Greek yogurt, and cinnamon. There’ll also be beer, wine, and a selection of arak, an anise-flavored digestif often consumed between courses during an Arabic meal.
Assil’s background in community organizing also comes into play at her new restaurant. She met Patterson while serving on the advisory board for ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) United; his restaurant group’s partnership with ROC United’s racial equity program has been working to bring diversity to the fine dining space. Through the program, Assil says she is able to hire and give opportunities to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to throw their hats in the ring.
Assil says she pitched the idea of the fine casual concept to Patterson as soon as she heard the former Haven space was available, and would not become a location of Patterson’s Alta restaurant. “I think he’s realizing that people want something a little bit different [from Alta], with Kaya and now with Besharam,” said Assil.”It’s exciting to have this partnership and learn a lot from his group. I’m still learning as I go.”
Dyafa opens for lunch on Thursday, April 12. It will open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. for now; eventually, dinner will be added Tuesday through saturday from 5 p.m.- 10 p.m., and weekend brunch from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.