Weekly Dish: Crawfish Time!
Three East Bay spots to dig into an authentic New Orleans crawfish boil; Happy 35th to Prima Ristorante; Corners Tavern opening for lunch; a Moveable Feast in Berkeley; a shout-out for NM Cafe; and more in this week's Dish!
I'm not going out on much of a limb when I say that I dig New Orleans. I think anyone who's ever traveled there has fallen just a little in love with the vibrant city's one-of-a-kind architecture, music, people, and, of course, food. To me, The Big Easy always seemed like Las Vegas with a soul (and hey, there's a casino there too). And one of my favorite memories of New Orleans was sitting in the outdoor patio of a bar on Magazine Street with friends on a balmy day—the last day of my bachelor party, actually—eating Cajun-spicy boiled crawfish packaged in newspaper that we'd purchased from a hole-in-the-wall seafood store across the street. It just seemed to encapsulate the casual, good-natured spirit of the city for me.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm always down for crawfish, and with the season now in full swing, there will be three East Bay locales this week where you can dig into New Orleans-style crawfish boils (and yes, you can suck the heads, it's considered quite tasty by locals).
Let’s start with the most pressing. Tonight (meaning Wednesday, April 25), Angeline’s Kitchen, the very popular New Orleans inspired restaurant in downtown Berkeley, is holding the first of five crawfish boils in which they fly the little crustaceans in straight from Louisiana and cook ‘em up with corn on the cob and potatoes until they’re all gone. It’s starting at 4:30 p.m. and they fill up fast so call for a reservation. Angeline’s is also planning four more Wednesday boils on May 23, June 6 and 27, and July 11. Go to angelineskitchen.com for more info. 2261 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-6900, angelineskitchen.com.
If Wednesday is too late for you, you’re in luck. This Sunday, April 29, Yankee Pier (in Lafayette, Larkspur, and San Jose) will be hosting a New Orleans Crawfish Boil from 3 to 6 p.m. $35 gets you A pound and a half of local crawfish in a spicy boil with drawn butter, plus potatoes, artichoke halves, French style bread, and roasted garlic cloves. There will also be live Zydeco music and specials on Abita, New Orlean’s local beer, and NOLA-themed cocktails. And if you miss that, Yankee Pier will have the same deal as a special item on their menu for a week through May 5. 3593 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-4100, yankeepier.com.
Finally, thanks to a little research, I found another place in Oakland (which I barely knew existed) that offers crawfish boils as long as the season lasts. It’s called, appropriately, Rockin’ Crawfish, and they offer an “Asian Cajun” style of crawfish, crab, and shrimp boils year-round. It’s located on the east end of Lake Merritt: CLICK HERE for an interesting review in the East Bay Express. 211 Foothill Blvd., Oakland, (510) 251-1657.
A big Happy Birthday to perennial Diablo Food Award-winner Prima Ristorante, which is celebrating their 35th anniversary this coming Tuesday. They’re marking the event with a little party from 5:30 to 7 p.m with free prosecco, wine, hors d'oeuvres, and “a little speechifying,” as owner/chef Peter Chastain puts it. The party is open to the public, just call ahead to let ‘em know you’re coming (925-935-7780).
I've always been a fan of Prima, and not just because of the food, which is consistently some of the best in the area, but because I’ve always found the restaurant to have a fun, decidedly non-stuffy spirit—despite those white cloths on the table. I sat down recently with Chastain and co-owner and wine director John Rittmaster to reflect on the impressive milestone in an industry not necessarily known for its longevity. One of my favorite parts (and something I think sums up the restaurant) was Rittmaster’s response to whether they’d consider opening any new restaurants. “We’re not empire builders, we’re not entrepreneurs my nature. I think Peter’s a cook and I’m a wine geek and we’re better at that than we are at running a business.” It was a really fun interview, with some great stories and memories from both of them: CLICK HERE to read the whole thing. 1522 North Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com.
Walnut Creek's new Corners Tavern will be open for lunch starting Tuesday, May 1. The menu will feature some new menu items including charred yellowtail fish tacos with green cabbage and avocado cucumber salad; a barbecue pork sandwich with pickled peppers and grilled peach salad; and grilled skirt steak with spicy butter, grilled green onions and fries. Corners will also stay open between lunch and dinner and will feature a limited mid-day menu that includes salads and the newly added smoked chicken wings, house-made charcuterie, and Corners burger. Corners Tavern, 1342 Broadway Pl., Walnut Creek, (925) 948-8711, cornerstavern.com.
Agora Bistro in downtown Pleasanton is no longer and will be replaced soon by Lokanta, a California-influenced Mediterranean restaurant. I chatted with one of the owners, Dogan Ozdogan, who told me he was hoping to open up as soon as the first week of May. Ozdogan and his partner are Turkish, but he said the menu would have a pan-Mediterranean feel while using local California ingredients. He said Tri-Valley diners could look forward to such dishes as Mediterranean mussels in white wine, lemon, and garlic; a “Flaming Cheese” grilled cheese with pears, tomatoes, and champagne syrup that will be “fired” tableside; and a Talas chicken dish of smoked chicken with green peas and herbs wrapped in phyllo dough. 443 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 417-0474.
Didn’t have a chance to mention Havana last week as one of the participants of the Walnut Creek Restaurant Week, but there’s plenty of activity happening at the Cuban hotspot. According to co-owner Joelle Scott, their planned café and catering HQ is under construction inside Autopia Carwash at 2172 North Main Street and should be open by early June. Meanwhile, Havana proper has expanded its hours, staying open from 2 to 4 p.m. when they were previously closed, and extending dinner seating on weekends until 11 p.m. And on the all-important food front, the lunch menu has expanded to include some tasty-sounding new options including a chorizo burger, bacon wrapped hot dog, shrimp po’boy sandwich, and a Cuban reuben. 1516 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-4555, havanarestaurant.net.
Couple of openings to report. Clementine's is now open in San Ramon. Krispy Kreme has magically re-opened in Concord with reported lines out the door. The much-anticipated BJ’s Brewhouse debuted on Monday in Dublin. And in Walnut Creek, Harvest Market, which opened and closed quickly last year on Bonanza Street near McCovey’s, has reopened with expanded seating and menu options.
Couple of closings, too. In Pleasant Hill, Monsoon Masala and Yan Can will be shuttering their doors for good—condolences to those businesses. There is good news though, as rumors are, there is a significant lunch-and-dinner restaurant coming to that same downtown area. Should have more info next week, so check back.
This according to Patch, the folks from Schubros Brewery, the Tri-Valley–centered beer company slated to open this summer, have secured a new corporate HQ and research & development and distribution center on Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon. I talked to Ian Schuster from Schubros a while ago: the brewery has a pretty interesting business model and the plan is still to release a local-themed beer line sometime this summer. Should have more details next week so stay tuned.
A quick congrats to The Peasant & the Pear’s Rodney Worth who recently turned 40-years-old and received an early birthday present when he was named one of the Bay Area’s top-50 chefs on online culinary site Chef-2-Chef.net. Blackhawk Grille’s Jason Buckley and Va de Vi’s Shane McAnelly were also awarded. Also, a correction from my last Dish mention: Ferrari's, Worth’s upcoming Italian restaurant, is named after his wife’s mother’s maiden name, not her maiden name. Apologies for the error…
Moveable Feast: it’s a food crawl organized by Marissa LaMagna and her Bay Area Green Tours non-profit that is happening again this coming Tuesday May 2 (click here for more info). I had a chance to attend the last one and can say it’s a fun, interesting, and, most of all, uniquely Berkeley sort of foodie experience. I’d describe it as equal parts Alice Waters-style culinary adventure, and Alice Waters–style eco-activism. The crawl spans three excellent restaurants in downtown Berkeley: Gather, Revival, and Five restaurant in the Hotel Shattuck, which are all close enough to be easily walkable (in true Berkeley fashion).
On the last tour, we started with wine and live music on the outdoor patio of the award winning Gather, located in the ground floor of the recently constructed, über eco-friendly Brower Center. There, we munched on delicious wood-fired pizzas (including a vegan option, of course) as we listened to Ari Derfel, co-owner of Gather and founder of one of the first green catering companies in the Bay Area, as well as a representative from Slow Money who spoke about the non-profit’s work securing investment in sustainable food systems. Next, off to Revival, where we had a choice between McFarland Springs trout or roasted Field to Family Farm’s chicken (both excellent) as we heard from owner/chef Amy Murray and received another serious talk from a local expert about the National Farm Bill. Finally, we hit Five, where chef Banks White’s green talk was confined to the restaurant’s use of recycled materials and local farmers’ market ingredients, and we shared a dessert sampler (definitely try the butterscotch pudding) along with coffee and tea.
Okay, so I’m having a little fun with the whole thing, but in all honesty it was a very informative, even inspiring, tour, with the more weighty material nicely tempered by the consistently delicious food. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who leans too far right on the political spectrum, but if you’re at all interested in the serious environmental issues surrounding the food industry, this is something to put on your to-do list.
The next Moveable Feast is happening Wednesday May 2. Tickets are $85, CLICK HERE for all the info and to buy tix.
A few other foodie events coming up.
Five Star Night, the 25th annual fundraiser for Alameda County Meals on Wheels, is happening this Friday, April 27 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland. The $250.00 The four-course dinner (including a dessert buffet), is being overseen by Narsai David and Ellen Tussman, and will be created by 14 of the Bay Area’s finest chefs. The event includes a champagne and wine reception with hors d’oeuvres, silent and live auctions, a gala dinner, and dancing. The evening's special guest will be Julie Haener, the co-anchor of KTVU-TV's top-rated Bay Area newscast. Tickets are $250 for a very important cause. Call (510) 777-9560 or visit feedingseniors.org for more info or for tix.
Get some arts with your local wine at Pleasanton’s Studio Seven Arts this Friday. The special Spring event happening from 6 to 9 p.m. features tastes of Livermore Valley fave wineries Steven Kent, Ruby Hills, and Wente as you scope out pieces from veteran jewelry maker Steven Ruse. 400 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 846-4322, studiosevenarts.com.
And this Monday, April 30, Oakland’s gorgeous Fox Theater will be hosting A Taste of the Fox in which $75 gets you a taste of more than a dozen of Livermore Valley’s finest wineries, in addition to eats some of the booming Uptown neighborhood’s restaurants. CLICK HERE for info and tickets.
Finally, a quick shout-out to NM Cafe. I had a chance to check out Neiman Marcus’ new café for restaurant week and liked it a lot. It was definitely not the typical order-at-the-counter shopping center dining experience I had been expecting: It’s a full-on, sit-down experience with nice service and an interesting menu. I got the prix fixe special and had a smooth, creamy asparagus soup (that included a bacon risotto ball to give it a little heft) and a delicious chili lime-glazed sautéed scallops dish served atop a really flavorful red rice infused with ginger and coconut. I ended with the Walnut Creek bar, which, served with ice cream, and chocolate and caramel sauces, will be a favorite for anyone with a sweet tooth. And yes, the complimentary popovers are light and tasty.
Anyway, really nice meal, and I spoke with executive chef Santana Diaz, who told me the restaurant week prix fixe menu was so successful that they would start offering a similar three-course special for dinner that would be changing on a weekly basis. The café also is now planning to stay open for dinner (last seating at 8 p.m.) during the week for the foreseeable future. CLICK HERE for more info.