Reem Assil debuted her first full-service restaurant in Oakland earlier this month. Assil earned a following in the Bay Area for Reem’s California, first a food stand and then an “Arab street corner bakery” in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Since Assil launched her business serving traditional Arabic flatbreads, she’s expanded her slate of offerings, first at Reem’s California and now at Dyafa. Tonight, she’ll serve dinner for the first time at the new restaurant.
The opening of Dyafa continued an eventful year for Assil. She opened Reem’s California just last May, and in February, she appeared on the James Beard semifinalist list for Best Chef: West. This year, Reem’s California was also named on Food & Wine’s Restaurants of the Year list. As Dyafa launches dinner service tonight, Assil is proving to be one of the most visible entrepreneurs to emerge from San Francisco culinary incubator La Cocina.
For Dyafa, Assil partnered with chef Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group. Patterson’s restaurant group is a part of Restaurant Opportunities Center United’s racial equity program, and the two met while Assil served on the advisory board of that organization, Eater SF reports. Assil pitched Patterson on her idea for a full-service restaurant. It’s one of a few restaurants Patterson has opened with local chefs (he collaborated with chef Nigel Jones to turn another Alta location into Kaya and is partnering with La Cocina graduate Heena Patel to transform another Alta).
For Assil, describing her food and restaurant as “Arabic” is not just a statement of fact. “My work as a food activist is cultural work... claiming food is an important struggle against [Palestinian] erasure, but it’s not unique to Palestinians,” she said to the crowd at this year’s La Cocina conference. “I’m trying to take away the homogenizing terms of ‘Middle Eastern food,’” Assil recently told Food & Wine. “It’s not about ownership of food, but putting a voice behind it. I want people from my culture to feel be proud of it, but in this Trump era, often times people feel vilified or victimized. I want to give power back.”
At Dyafa, Assil will serve the breads she’s known for at her bakery along with lunch and dinner menus inspired by her upbringing in a Palestinian-Syrian home, Eater SF reports. “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.”
At lunchtime, the menu is geared toward quick, light meals, according to Eater SF, but at dinner, the goal is for a dining pace more similar to eating in the Middle East, with meals moving from smaller meze to larger family-style platters, and, of course, accompanied by plenty of bread. Assil also plans to add a prix fixe option at dinner. “The idea is that your table is never empty,” she said to Eater SF. “It’s a great for those who might not be as familiar with the cuisine.”
Given Assil’s bakery background, the dessert menu will also be a draw for Bay Area diners. Assil says the desserts at Dyafa will be more intricate than those at Reem’s California. Middle Eastern desserts are also the inspiration for the cocktail menu, as in the Bint Al Shalabeeya cocktail with brandy, pistachio, Greek yogurt, and cinnamon. Beer, wine, and a selection of arak, an anise-flavored digestif traditionally served during Arabic meals, rounds out the beverage offerings.
Although Dyafa opened for lunch a couple weeks ago, Bay Area diners will experience Assil’s full approach to finer dining for the first time tonight in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
• Dyafa [Official]
• Inside Dyafa’s Sunny Dining Room in Jack London Square, Now Serving Dinner [ESF]
• Reem Assil Expands From Oakland Bakery to Major Restaurant With Daniel Patterson [ESF] • Check Out the Menu at Dyafa, the Jack London Square Spinoff of Reem’s California [ESF]