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Livermore goes city-chic with a new small-plates restaurant.


Photography by Cedric Glasier

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Warm spinach salad comes topped with a meaty fried oyster.Chocolate lava cake

Creamy white leather chairs sit opposite plush red banquettes. Hypnotizing black-and-white Rorschach-type paintings line one wall while bloodred velvet extends all the way up the other to the shiny pressed-tin ceiling. Women in short black dresses and high heels sip chocolate martinis. Their suit-jacketed companions eat steak tartare off pentagonal white plates. It’s a scene that feels lifted straight out of downtown L.A. But, this is Livermore, where not so long ago cowboy bars were the rule. Welcome to Movida.

“I was really scared doing this,” says owner Matt Yazdi. “I thought maybe it’s too much for Livermore.” Yazdi, who used to own Baci Seafood & Steak in Pleasanton, was less concerned about the food catching on than the atmosphere. But, after 15 years working in staid Italian restaurants, Yazdi says, “I was tired of it. I wanted to do something different.”

So, he put an ad on Craigslist and found his head chef, David Pajarillo. The pair worked for months developing the menu, sometimes going through numerous revisions of a recipe. It was Pajarillo’s ninth go on the fried calamari before Yazdi gave it the OK. “I had friends tasting it, me, my staff,” Yazdi says. “Even the contractor tried it.” Now, the ginger-infused calamari served with a lemony chipotle rémoulade is one of the most popular items on the menu. “We go through 60 pounds of calamari every two to three days,” Yazdi says.

The packed reservation book and roaring weekend crowds are further evidence that Movida is hitting the right notes. In only a few months, the restaurant has become the new destination for double dates, girls nights out, and 20-guest birthday parties. Movida joins a row of new restaurants and theaters that have sprung up in the last year, and redefined Saturday night in Livermore. And, while the First Street revitalization has some locals complaining of the “Walnut Creek-ization” of their small downtown, the popularity of Movida and the promise of further high-end dining may make the burger-and-beer date obsolete.

Movida specializes in shared small plates—a concept popularized in the early 2000s. Contrary to other city-to-the-suburbs experiments, Movida’s cuisine keeps pace with the swanky decor. The menu changes seasonally but always lists at least 25 small-plate choices, including a handful of year-round mainstays. For those who want a more traditional meal, there are a few not-so-small plates.

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