Weekly Dish: Corners Tavern First Take
Diablo's first take on the new Corners Tavern; the East Bay skinny on the Chron's Top 100 restaurants; updates on Charlie Hallowell's new Oakland restaurant; Freebird Burrito headed to Walnut Creek; and more in this week's Dish!
Corners Tavern's house-made lamb sausages
I took a quick trip to New Orleans this weekend with family and wouldn't you know it: I started getting sick almost as soon as the plane touched down. Needless to say, my appetite wasn't as robust as it normally is, which is about as big a travel bummer as it gets when you're visiting a place with such a wonderful, rich culinary tradition. Ah well, I still managed to man up and force down some great food including crawfish, gumbo, and fried oysters. (Quick tip: Check out Sylvain in the French Quarter if you're ever down there; excellent restaurant.)
Well, I'm back and so is my appetite, so I decided to get a first taste of the Corners Tavern in Walnut Creek, which just opened last week. I've covered the decor in the past: The lounge area is very eclectic, and I think pretty cool, with a big vibrant bar as its center. The dining room has a classic feel, and the floor to ceiling windows on the garage door facade gives it a nice connection to the outdoors, flooding it with natural light that slowly fades as the evening wears on.
But what about the food, you say? Well, I liked it a lot. I ordered a few things and I thought the fare came across as very simple. And I mean that in the very best sense of the word, which is to say the food wasn't overly complicated or fussy in its presentation or conception, instead featuring the bright, clear flavors of a few very high-quality ingredients—chef Esteban Escobar seems to have a light touch. That was the case with the baked apples ($10), an appetizer with tart apples contrasting with sharp gorgonzola cheese and a sweet quince jelly (the dish was a little sweet for me, but I've always been a savory guy). Loved the duck fat roasted potatoes ($7) with herb creme fraiche—again very simple, with a straightforward roasted potato flavor made richer and fuller with that duck fat. The charcuterie plate was great ($14), in particular the delicious duck rillettes sprinkled with largish chunks of salt. For a main, I ordered the housemade lamb sausages ($21) with soffrito and fava beans, which was fantastic: a very simple dish that let the juicy, bright, gamey flavor of the sausage shine. And having missed out on them in New Orleans, I couldn't resist ordering beignets for dessert, which were light and flavorful, filled with chunks of banana and served with a chocolate dipping sauce.
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see the reaction to Corners, which bills itself as a contemporary pub but definitely seems firmly planted on the foodie, fine-dining end of the Walnut Creek restaurant spectrum. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and look for our official take in Diablo's June issue! 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 948-8711, cornerstavern.com.
I wanted to get a little update on Charlie Hallowell's new Oakland project. I reported on his new bar and grill last week but wasn't able to speak to the main man himself. Well, I finally had a chance to catch up with Hallowell, and he filled me in on some of the details (also touched on in Chron's Inside Scoop). Not only will the new space be a bar and grill, but it'll be a fully functioning neighborhood butcher shop during the day, focusing on organic cuts of beef sourced from local, sustainable ranches. It's a project that Hallowell is looking forward to digging into. Hey says, "I've spent the last 20 years gaining a really intimate knowledge of all the great organic farmers within a couple 100 miles of the Bay Area. I love them; I love buying their stuff. I've been doing it almost my entire adult life; my kids love them; they've become a primary part of my life. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to do the same thing with the local ranchers: It's a little more complex and they're a different group of people, so I'm looking forward to really getting to know that scene and seeing what it's all about."
As far as the food, Hallowell said that the restaurant would have an Argentine kind of feel with unusual (and usual) cuts of meat being cooked on the grill and plancha, to go along with a raw bar ("It's not going to be a good place for vegetarians"). The tentative working name for the restaurant? Penrose & Company Fine Meats & Spirits. Interesting story behind the name: Turns out that Charlie's great-great grandfather was Norwood Penrose Hallowell, a colonel and leader of the first official black unit to fight in the American Civil War, the 54th regiment out of Massachusetts (the movie Glory with Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington was based on the 54th). "He was a hard-core abolitionist; he's a real legendary figure in my family."
As if that wasn't enough, Hallowell said that he is also working toward another project that would focus on serving affordable, healthy, vegetarian meals in low-income areas—places like East and West Oakland, Richmond, and the Hunter's Point neighborhood in San Francisco. No immediate plans yet, but with the rate Hallowell is going, stay tuned...
Also in Oakland, according to Tablehopper, the popular casual-Italian eatery Marzano is expanding into the former hardware store next door, doubling the seating capacity at what was a pretty small restaurant. Owner Justin Hafen told me they would be adding a big fireplace and TVs along with more seating, and they hoped to complete the expansion by April 18. He also said that Marzano's opening chef Rob Holt was back at the restaurant full time. Holt had been chef at Hafen's more upscale Hudson in Rockridge, where former sous chef Doug Borkowski has taken the helm. 4214 Park Blvd., Oakland, (510) 531-4500, marzanorestaurant.com.
Turns out that Marzano is only taking over half of that hardware store. The other half, according to Alcohol Beverage Control listings filed at that same address, will apparently be a restaurant called Burger Park (focusing on burgers, I presume). Anyway, it's all good news for diners in the Glenview neighborhood, who just saw the opening of Rumbo al Sur, A Cote's large sister restaurant, across the street.
More Uptown Oakland news? Yes indeed, glad you asked... Minneapolis restaurateur Jason McLean is opening up a new eatery on Grand Avenue near Farley's. McLean's Loring Pasta Bar has been around for more than a decade in the MN, serving up a "fun and affordable" menu of appetizers, pastas, and entrées with a global influence. What's in store for Oakland? According to an email from McLean, he's planning a "full service restaurant and bar ... with a commitment to a 'bohemian-styled' eclecticism in food, in clientele, in overall aesthetics and design." The menu, meanwhile, will be a place where "the broad spectrum likes of our global reaching tastes have a center-of-the-plate stage." For something a little more concrete, check out the Minneapolis restaurant menu HERE. I'll keep you posted on more details as they come: McLean is shooting for a late-summer opening.
One of my favorite foodie events of the year, Michael Bauer's Top 100 Bay Area restaurants, came out on Sunday. Love him or hate him, at least Bauer puts his opinions out there for all to see. And while I know that a lot of people think he wields too much power in the Bay Area restaurant world, I kind of like having one Top Dog on the local scene (plus, he finally, finally, finally put La Ciccia on the list, one of my all-time favorite San Francisco restaurants...).
Well, his new list came out and let's just discuss the highlights from the East Bay side of things. An even 10 made the cut: Chez Panisse, Corso, Ippuku, O Chame, and Rivoli from Berkeley; Adesso, Camino, Dopo, and Pizzaiolo from Oakland, and Va de Vi in Walnut Creek. Two East Bay restaurants were dropped this year: Daniel Patterson's Plum, mostly, it seems, because of the departure of opening-day chef Charlie Parker, and A Cote, because Bauer apparently didn't have a good visit (one mitigating factor could have been that the crew was splitting its time while opening up Rumbo al Sur). Nothing too shocking there, although I am surprised that Berkeley's popular Gather didn't make the list, nor Oakland's Wood Tavern. Also, while I love Adesso, it should be noted that they don't seem to be serving hot food anymore, which definitely limits the menu in my opinion. And as usual, the East side of the hills feels a little neglected with Va de Vi once again the only restaurant on the list. CLICK HERE to check out the complete list...
Freebird Burritos is opening up its first East Bay location in Walnut Creek, joining the Habit Burger in the upcoming Sprouts market project currently slated for 1510 Geary Road. If you haven't heard of it, Freebird is a popular burrito chain founded (by two ex-hippies, according to the website) in Santa Barbara, and is sort of in the gourmet/healthy Chipotle mold. That project, by the way, is currently under construction and scheduled to be done by this September, according to developer Hall Equities. Meanwhile, Hall's other Walnut Creek project, a 24-Hour Fitness with attached Chick-Fil-A (another popular chain that is opening its first East Bay location) is set to be completed just a month or two after that.
Easter is this Sunday. What I don't have is a big comprehensive list of restaurants to eat for Sunday brunch (OpenTable has a great list of places offering Easter brunch specials). What I do have is a photo of this edible Easter creature made by Nuubia Choclate's French master chocolatier Lionel Clement. These cute little guys are made from scratch and filled with all kinds of chocolate goodies, and are available at Nuubia's Pleasanton retail store or online as a unique gift. Check out our February Valentine's Day feature on local chocolatiers for a list of East Bay confectioners to source your Easter chocolates this year... Nuubia, 5673 W Las Positas Blvd. Suite 220, Pleasanton, nuubiachocolat.com.