Weekly Dish: Dig into Walnut Creek Restaurant Week
Restaurant week in full swing in Walnut Creek; details on Table 24's new Mexican concept; Chop Bar owner expanding in Oakland; Sauced BBQ close to opening in Livermore; District wine bar debuts East Bay location next week; grilled cheese please at The Counter; killer bar bites at Plum bar; and more in this week's Dish!
Walnut Creek Restaurant Week... Walnut Creek Restaurant Week... Walnut Creek Restaurant Week! Can't emphasize it enough, get on out there and support the local restaurateurs this week as the inaugural event is in full swing with excellent lunch and dinner deals at all kinds of great WC eateries. So far here at Diablo, we've hit Walnut Creek Yacht Club (nice fish n' chips, huge crème brûlée), Massimo Ristorante (a very good pan-seared Petrale sole, pictured at left), and NM Cafe (a killer asparagus soup and chili lime-glazed scallops, our publisher tells me). And I'm planning to hit at least two or three more spots by the time the food specials end this Sunday: maybe Élevé, perhaps Residual Sugar (which recently expanded their food menu), Prima is always a good option, or else nearby Ottavio or Cypress. Heck, maybe I'll even support my local Cheesecake Factory: the possibilities are endless. Go to walnutcreekrestaurantweek.com for all the details.
I had a chance to talk with Jason Moniz, the new head chef at Table 24 and the upcoming Barbacoa restauant a few doors down in Orinda's Theatre Square. CLICK HERE for the full interview, but has an impressive culinary resume, having worked at Flora in Oakland, as well as Tres Agaves and Locavore in San Francisco among other places. In addition to streamlining and lightening up the menu at Table 24, Moniz sounds like he has some interesting things planned for Barbacoa, the Mexican restaurant that owner Michael Karp is hoping to open by late May. It's definitely not going to be your typical burrito/taco combo-menu kind of Mexican joint. The centerpiece of the space will be a six-foot "barbacoa" wood fired grill, along with a rotisserie, and Moniz plans to keep the menu very authentically Mexican, meaning an a la carte menu with múy typico dishes such as simple tacos al pastor (no sour cream, no guacamole), mole dishes, and marinated grilled meats such as lamb and pig. And he's setting some lofty goals for the new restaurant.
Says Moniz: "I'm very excited, I think it's a great opportunity for myself and for Orinda. I want to have the best Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area... I want San Francisco, Oakland, to all pay attention to Orinda. I want to haave people see it as a dining destination... and I think the food will speak for itself and I'm very confident in my ability to produce good Mexican. I think my ability is as good as anyone in the City. I've traveled to Mexico many times, cooked with some of the best Mexican chefs: it's what I do, it's what I know."
Excitement is bubbling for the upcoming Sauced BBQ & Spirits in downtown Livermore (more than 2,300 likes on their Facebook page so far), so I checked in with co-owner Barrett Gomes who told me the restaurant is this close to opening. He even has an official opening day: Tuesday, May 1. But don't be surprised if you see a soft opening starting sometime next week. So what's with all the buzz? Well, there's the fun Facebook promotions like a contest to name the Sauced pig in their cool logo (winner: "Albert Einswine"). There was the announcement that they'd be offering several whiskeys on tap. But most of it likely has to do with the interesting menu, which features several different types of barbecue, from St. Louis-style baby back ribs to Texas-style brisket to Carolina pulled pork plus a choice of four different regionally authentic barbecue sauces. There's also a build-your-own-burger option, plus quirky appetizers like Rednexican nachos, fried pickles and peppers, and "hand grenades" (Jalapeño poppers with cream cheese and pork). "And I think people are going to love our deep-fried oreos for dessert," adds Gomes. Okay, so it doesn't sound like a light menu, but it certainly sounds like a fun one... 2300 First St., Livermore, 1 925.961.1300, saucedbbqandspirits.com.
Another anticipated opening that appears imminent is the Old Oakland location of District, the popular San Francisco wine bar. I spoke with co-owner Jon D’Angelica who told me they expect to hold their grand opening next Friday, April 27, with possibly a soft opening a few days before. Look for a full Q&A with D’Angelica next week, but he said that the concept would be similar to their SOMA location in that the heart of the restaurant would revolve around the wine. There will be more than 40 wines available by the glass, 300 by bottle, and plenty of flights, mostly from small, craft winemakers (“We love being able to say that you can’t get a particular wine anywhere else,” says D'Angelica).
The big difference will be the full liquor license: the new District's cocktail program will focus on whiskey, carrying labels from several dozen small-batch distilleries while emphasizing whiskey-based drinks on the cocktail menu (don’t worry, you can still get a martini or margarita). Food will be lighter—small bites ($4 - $7), small plates ($9 - $17), and pizzettas ($10 - $16)—and designed to complement the wine rather than vice versa. (tell me that hand-cut steak tartare with fried quail egg doesn't look good...)
And while they certainly take their wine seriously, don’t expect it to be too stuffy: “We’re in business of making people happy, and we try not to lose sight of that. Wine’s one of those thing where you can get a little caught up with your own knowledge and forget about people just having a good time. The food, music, décor, the artwork on the walls: all of that is designed to contribute to a good time. That is our focus.” 827 Washington St., Oakland, districtoak.com.
Some more exciting Oakland news: Chris Pastena, co-owner of the popular Chop Bar in Jack London Square, is planning a new restaurant in downtown (with some of the same Chop Bar owners), this one at 409 13th Street in the ground floor of the Tribune Building. It's still 6 to 8 months out, but it sounds like a pretty major project, 4,000 square feet. The still-unnamed restaurant (they're choosing between "Tribune Bar & Grill" and "Tribune Tavern") will have the same ideology as Chop Bar—fresh, seasonal food, much of which is made in-house—but with a more American-themed bar & grill concept. Says Pastena, "We definitely want to make it accessible to the downtown business crowd, but also just anyone who wants to hang out and enjoy great food and cocktails." As for Chop Bar, things are still rolling along, Pastena says. The restaurant is expanding its catering arm and just had its first whole pig roast of the year. Look for the next one on May 20, happening at Linden Street Brewery's excellent new taproom. Chop Bar, 247 4th Street Oakland, (510) 834-2467, oaklandchopbar.com.
Quick congrats to Bittersweet Cafe, which (as first reported here) took a chance by opening in a tough part of downtown Oakland that had been ground zero for the Occupy movement. The new cafe/bakery/coffee & cacao roastery debuted a few weeks ago at 1438 Broadway, so give 'em a little love if you're in the area. 1438 Broadway, Oakland, bittersweetcafe.com.
Big news in Pleasanton as the long-time popular market Gene's Fine Foods was taken over by Central Valley-based Mar-Val Food Stores according to the Pleasanton Weekly. Good news for customers, as according to the Weekly story, the new owners promised a seamless transition with few changes in products or employees.
And by the way, next time you go shopping, make sure to bring a reuseable bag. The Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority just launched a new campaign to encourage shoppers to take this simple step, one of the easiest things individuals can do to help reduce waste. CLICK HERE for more info.
Thanks to our eagle-eyed managing editor who informed me that the entire month of April is National Grilled Cheese Month. mmmmmmmmmm... grilled cheese... Someone else who noticed was the The Counter, which is celebrating by offering The Grilled Greek with feta, provolone, cucumber, olives, spinach, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Check it out at the Walnut Creek location all this week. 1699 North California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-3795, thecounterburger.com/walnutcreek.
So I've been trying to get someone on the record about two popular San Francisco restaurants reportedly opening up East Bay locations—Rosamunde sausages in Old Oakland and Delica Japanese in Walnut Creek—but owners have proved to be tight-lipped so far. But I'm on the case: both would be great addtions to the local dining scene if they pan out.
Calling all Francophiles: Philippe Chevalier says he still has a couple of spots open for his bi-monthly cooking class and lunch this Saturday. On the menu? Scallops a la Bretonne, roasted leg of lamb, and pistachio macaroons. Sounds très civilized... CLICK HERE for details and the menu. Speaking of Chevalier, the French restaurant was recently voted best small business in Lafayette by the Chamber of Commerce. Says chamber president Jay Lifson of Philippe: "Not only has he been recognized as one of the great chef's of East Bay, he proves it every night behind the kitchen window with world class faire. Philippe has many regulars that rave about his food, the service and the friendly relaxed atmosphere he has provided for diners in Lamorinda."
Über-anticipated BJ's Brewhouse officially debuts in Dublin this coming Monday, April 23. And according to Patch, you can get a sneak peek this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday by reserving a spot at (925) 452-1155 (sorry, no drop-ins).
Also per Patch, iPho in Danville finally opened in the Town & Country shopping center. 629 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville, (925) 743-1747.
Cool event this Saturday as the Bay Area Craft Beer Festival is happening in Martinez from noon to 4 p.m. featuring 30-plus West coast micro-breweries. Go to bayareacraftbeerfestival.com for more.
SHOUT-OUT OF THE WEEK: PLUM BAR
So, my wife and I checked out a great show this past weekend in downtown Oakland at The New Parish (the amazing Jonathan Richman, make sure to check him out if you ever get a chance). Unfortunately we didn't have time to get dinner beforehand, so we left the venue very hungry and with only a few options to choose from, it being around 10:30 p.m. Plum Bar to the rescue. We popped in to this cool spot, the bar version of Daniel Patterson's Plum restaurant next door. I'll admit, I had had a couple drinks so my eyes immediately fell to two items on an interesting menu packed with suped-up versions of classic bar comfort fare: the cheeseburger and the poutine.
The cheeseburger needs no explanation and it was excellent, but what does deserve a little call-out was the poutine. For those unfamiliar, poutine is a fast food creation that originated in Canada and traditionally consists of French fries covered with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy. And oh my goodness, was the Plum Bar version good: the fries were smoked and covered with a pork gravy that included chunks of pork, as well as delicious gobs of cheddar cheese from Petaluma's Adante Dairy. Honestly, just about the best late-night bar food I've ever had: we left with smiles. Plum Bar, 2214 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7586, plumoakland.com.