The pandemic — if you want to put a positive spin on it, at least — provided chef Charles Phan with a lot of spare time to explore new hobbies. He spent a good chunk of it baking bread, he says, which kick-started the idea for his new-ish sandwich shop in the Mission, Chuck’s Takeaway, where the chef and his team bake thin-crusted Vietnamese baguettes, soft milk bread, and sourdough boules as bases for their hand-held meals.
But baking wasn’t the chef’s only pandemic obsession. He also spent time diving deep into all things rice-related, reading up on heirloom varieties, the history of the agricultural product, and our ability to grow it sustainably in the future. Now he’s channeling all that knowledge into a new menu for his Berkley restaurant Rice & Bones, housed inside concrete icon Wurster Hall on the University of California Berkeley campus.
On August 16, Phan will introduce Rice & Bones 2.0 (as he and the team playfully call it) with a menu of rotating rice trays. On any given day the trays will showcase five or so different types of rice, everything from basmati and Jasmine to broken rice and brown. The pairings will be set, with each option including rice, a protein, and a side of seasonal vegetables — all served in separate bowls. “I just like that style of eating,” Phan says, noting that he doesn’t like his food to touch (same, chef). “I want to be in control.”
As always, Phan and the team are committed to quality, making what they can from scratch. For example, the menu includes a preserved Meyer lemon chicken made using lemons Phan preserved more than a year ago. It’s served alongside a bowl of nutty, long-grain basmati rice, while lemongrass roasted pork comes with a side of couscous-like broken rice. Other protein options could include braised pork belly with young coconut, mapo tofu with mushroom and pressed cabbage, and beef curry with carrots and potatoes. The exact lineup will change throughout the year but Phan says more vegetarian options are in the works.
And fans of Rice & Bones' existing menu don’t need to worry about losing some of the most popular items. The restaurant will also continue to serve three kinds of pho including chicken and beef pho, plus a vegan version made with Hodo tofu. For breakfast, expect BBQ pork, chicken and shiitake, and veggie steam buns; zongzi, or sticky rice with shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, tofu, and jicama in lotus leaf; chicken salad; and spring rolls.
Phan, who attended architecture school at UC Berkeley inside the famously unattractive building Rice & Bones calls home, says the location has been challenging, especially during the past two years. Without students on campus, summers tend to be slow, but during the busy school year, lines can stretch long. Phan hopes this new menu format will fit both seasons and appeal to the broader community. “The goal was really just to make good food and feed people,” Phan says.
Rice & Bones (Wurster Hall, College Of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley) is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The new menu launches on Tuesday, August 16 and online ordering will be available on the Rice & Bones website.