When Dominica Rice-Cisneros opened the doors to Cosecha in Old Oakland’s Swan Marketplace about a decade back, the restaurant was in a very different place than when she closed it just a few weeks ago. There was no Blue Bottle Coffee, no outdoor dining set-ups under shady sidewalk trees. Over the course of decades, a once-thriving thriving Oakland neighborhood became a no-man’s land of overpasses and industrial blight, spurred by economic depression. Investments from neighbors and neighborhood groups managed to bring back life to Old Oakland, heavily influenced by the revamping of Swan’s in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Over the years, that investment in the neighborhood resulted in what would become the golden days for Cosecha. The Warriors offices were just across the street, businesses were opening larger offices all around, including several floors of WeWork offices in a neighboring tower in recent years, and the promise of more tech companies on the way. “The whole neighborhood could sustain us six days a week,” remembers Rice-Cisneros. “We had all the judges, lawyers, small tech companies, we had all the people from city hall.”
“We had a lot of love for 10 years,” she says. “We had all this energy; people going to happy hour, or going to a show at the Fox.” But the pandemic changed all that when it turned downtown Oakland and its busy offices into a ghost town.
Since things shut down in March 2020, it became a struggle to stay open even three or four days per week. Cisneros-Rice mourned the loss of “Mole Monday,” a lunch special of mole verde that would typically draw lines that snaked through the crowded market. “I never thought I’d be able to convince enough people to have mole verde,” she recalls. “Every year we kept getting a bigger pot!”
“Cosecha’s food is Oakland’s food,” says Cisneros-Rice. Her background is a reflection of that, with years in Mexico City kitchens and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse under her belt. “We always get asked what region the food is from, and I always say Oakland. But this style of cooking has been around for over 250 years. We’re repping Oakland and that style of cooking so we don’t have to call it ‘Oaxaca style’ or anything else.”
Now that Cosecha is closed, there’s no plan yet for what will replace it in the Market. In the meantime, it’s full steam ahead on Bombera, Cisneros-Rice’s new restaurant, including the turnover of Cosecha’s Instagram account of more than 9,000 followers to @bomberaoakland, a very official feeling in the world of social media.
Bombera, which means “fire woman” in Spanish, is housed in an old fire station in Oakland’s Dimond District. The location and building has been the inspiration for the restaurant in all ways, from the name to the logo to the wood-fired oven. The design of the brand and space comes from Mi Casa Su Casa, a multidisciplinary design collective that works across mediums from restaurant to retail, and architecture firm Studio Terpeluk. The logo is inspired by the idea of a modern day “fire woman,” from the beginning of time until now, sitting with her “olla de barro,” or traditional clay pot, over a fire. The interior reflects the color palette of Mexico, with adobe red paint and poured concrete surfaces.
The first diners at Bombera will be seated in the jardín, the back garden patio. It will offer many of the favorites that Cosecha once served, the bridge between old and new, including the beloved Cosecha salad. While the crew expects a full May opening of the jardín, Rice-Cisneros expects that it will open softly in April to let the team and diners acclimate to the space. It will also coordinate delivery through Dispatch Goods, a Bay Area delivery service that relies on reusable dishes rather than the mountains of takeout waste — no matter how compostable it may purport to be — that’s been piling up since the pandemic brought the hospitality industry to its knees.
The front kitchen will be very different from the back garden, says Cisneros-Rice. There’ll be lots of mesquite and hardwood going into the wood ovens, where fish, thin-sliced cecina (dried pork), and more will be roasting. The service and dining room draws inspiration from all styles of service found in restaurants in Mexico, from small cafes to fine dining.
At the restaurant, Cisneros-Rice and her experienced team (“I have a lot of grandmas in the kitchen”) will form their own tortillas from corn they’ve nixtamalized themselves, using ash from their own wood-fired oven rather than lye for their tamal de ceniza (ash tamales). Nixtamalization, the process of preparing corn to be ground into masa, typically requires soaking the corn in an alkaline solution, which often includes lye, before it is hulled and ground. “[Using ash] is much cleaner,” the chef says. “We will have our own constant supply to cure our own nixtmal, when most use food grade lye.” It’s a less typical style of nixtamalization, given that most restaurants don’t have that same access to their own ash.
Even with extra special tortillas on hand, tacos will likely not be on Bombera’s menu. “We’re trying to stay away from tacos. I love tacos. But we’re trying to stay away from tacos.” Gorditas, sopes, different soups and types of posole, like consomme and red posole, will join the menu, instead. “In Mexico we are really blessed,” says Cisneros-Rice. “We have a lot of corn-based food that we enjoy.”
On the front patio, service will include a team of Mexican-American sommeliers from around the Bay Area. And in the back of the house, familiar faces from Cosecha’s team can be found, many of whom made the transition to Bombera alongside Rice-Cisneros.
When it opens, Bombera will offer dining seven days per week to eat there, or takeout. Events are already booking, including small weddings and buyouts for the front garden (with proper COVID precautions in place, of course), and will be ready for weekend brunch in July, she hopes.