Weekly Dish: Blue Gingko Opens
Second Blackhawk Plaza restaurant opens; changes at Walnut Creek Baking Company; Pizza Hacker coming to Jack London Square; lobster party at Walnut Creek Yacht Club; Alice Waters goes corporate; a shout-out for The Melt; and more in this week's Dish!
Just a few days after Rodney Worth's Ferrari's opened in Blackhawk Plaza, Sasa-owner Philip Yang quietly debuted his Blue Gingko Japanese restaurant a few doors down. With the relatively recent additions of Roti8 (also by Yang) and Prickly Pear Cantina (from Worth), as well as Chocolatier Blue and the by all accounts successfully remodeled Blackhawk Grill, this Danville shopping center has executed an extreme food makeover over the last two years.
Yang had previously described his new restaurant as falling somewhere in between his more standard sushi-focused Blue Gingko in Lafayette and his more hip Izakaya-style Sasa in Walnut Creek. Well, in the end, Yang says the Blackhawk location ended up closer to the Lafayette model with a sushi-focused menu complemented by a few Japanese small plates. One cool thing about Blackhawk is the big back patio with a bar, where Yang plans to eventually have a grill for an expanded robata menu
Haven't been to Blue Gingko yet but I did have a chance to check out Ferrari's, where I dropped by for lunch this week. The menu is pretty simple and straightforward Italian, with antipasti, salads, flatbread pizzas and panini, and pasta. Prices were very affordable—I don't think there was anything over $17—and the food was solid (the Diablo flatbread was nice with the hot capicollo and chiles providing a nice lingering heat). It's a cozy space with a nice outdoor back patio—should be a great family spot to bring the kids. 3451 Blackhawk Plz Cir.,
Danville, (925) 309-4417
Speaking of pizza, there are signs up in Jack London Square on the space right next to Bocanova advertising "Forge Handcrafted Pizza and Beer." Haven't been able to get all the details yet, but I'm going out on a limb by saying it'll specialize in handmade pizza and beer... One person who will be involved in the project is Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizza Hacker, who has made a name for himself in San Francisco by cooking up Neapolitan-style pies (in various quasi-legal street side locations) on his makeshift oven, the "FrankenWeber." Here's a link to his website: his pizzas look pretty tasty... Check back for more details...
Some sad news to report about Walnut Creek Baking Company. It sounds like owner and founder Denise Vickers (who just celebrated her tenth anniversary this year), will no longer be associated with the beloved downtown bakery. Vickers told me that she and her landlord have been unable to agree to terms for a new lease, and said that by the end of the month, she would no longer be involved with the company.
So what'll happen to it? Well, that's a little unclear. Vickers is currently in discussions to sell the business to her landlord, Patrick Ellwood, who would keep the bakery open, along with as much of the old staff that wants to stay, to be run on a day-to-day basis by his wife.
"It's been such a well-loved place downtown, and that's why we don’t want to lose the business," Ellwood told me. "We wanted to step in and not change a thing: our goal is to keep the doors open."
Unfortunately, it sounds like the negotiations are still touch-and-go, and there is a chance that the bakery could close by the end of this month without an agreement in place to keep it open: "I'm hoping something can be worked out," Vickers told me, "but I'm not terribly optimistic." Either way, it's sad news to hear that Vickers, who put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into turning WCBC into such a popular (it was a perennial Diablo Best of the East Bay winner) spot, will no longer be a presence in the downtown scene. She was passionate about what she did and always did things the right way: as Vickers herself told me when I interviewed her about her tenth anniversary earlier this year, "High-quality ingredients is first and foremost. It’s a lot cheaper to use Crisco than butter, but I’ll close my doors before I cheapen my ingredients.”
For an emotional Vickers, it obviously wasn't the the ideal way to conclude her decade-long run: she would have preferred to transition ownership of the business over to her staff, but was unable make that happen. Still, she remains thankful to all her loyal supporters and customers. "It's a lousy way for it to end. But we’ve had tremendous support all along the way, and that has been extremely gratifying. Because how often do you get to do what you love, and have people love what you do."
Make sure to check the Diablo's blog homepage for updates on the status of the bakery...
More Japanese... Nama Sushi's new location opened in downtown Pleasant Hill location last week: it's the familiar menu of ocean-fresh sushi and Japanese fare, plus a few Korean specialties sprinkled in. 2375 Contra Costa Blvd, Ste A, Pleasant Hill, (925) 932-9540. And in Dublin's Ulfert's Center, a new yakitori joint will be replacing the shuttered Singapore Old Town Cafe. Look for Yakitori Hiroshi to open this fall, likely by October.
Alice Waters goes corporate? Well, more like corporate goes Alice Waters. The Hyatt announced a partnership with Berkeley's Grande Dame of slow food, unveiling an all-organic, local, sustainable three-course menu that will be on all the kids' menu of all of the hotel's North American locations. It's an interesting alliance for the decidedly un-chain Waters, and it's the first major corporate partnership she's ever signed on to, but the details should please any parents planning to stay in the Hyatt. The hotel has agreed to source all the ingredients for the prix fixe menu exclusively from organic farms and ranchers across the country, a major commitment from such a large company. "It's about taste and ripeness and seasonality,' says Waters. "But it's bigger than that: it's about supporting the people who are taking care of the land for our future generations... Provenance is the stake in the ground—it really is all about where the food comes from. We have great expectations."
The details of the agreement and the menu were announced at Waters' Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, which has been providing healthy food and education to middle schoolers for decades—as part of the agreement, The Hyatt chipped in a significant donation to the Edible Schoolyard foundation (which just signed on to a partnership with the Sacramento school district that will start this fall). The all-organic three-course menu, which will change seasonally, is just one part of Hyatt's new "For Kids, By Kids" menu, which aims to provide children with more nutritious, fresh and interactive offerings. CLICK HERE to check out the menu, and CLICK HERE to learn more about Hyatt's food philosophy.
Speaking of which, Walnut Creek brewer Blaine Lambert, whose fledgling CaliCraft Brewing Co. has been drawing rave reviews since it debuted this summer, is partnering with Chez Panisse to create a special California-Style Pale Ale in honor of the Berkeley restaurant's 41st birthday. The Chez Panisse Ale is made with California grown malt and organically grown California hops, and will be served at the restaurant through the month of September (it'll also be available in a few East Bay bars and restaurants. Cool company with good beer: go to facebook.com/calicraftbeer to learn more...
If you're down near the Cal campus this Thursday, the grilled cheese-centric chain The Melt is celebrating the debut of its Berkeley location by giving away a FREE breakfast sandwich or melt + soup combo. The offer is good for one per customer and valid all day, you just need the secret password (psst: it's "cheddar"). CLICK HERE to check out my write-up on The Melt below. 2400 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 868-2501, themelt.com.
Some other nibbles happening out there...
Double Barrel wine bar in Livermore has debuted a new jazz brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The menu includes crispy farm eggs with maple-glazed pork belly. Yes please...
Piatti's annual Heirloom Tomato Celebration is happening through September 2, in which the Danville restaurant will celebrate the peak of heirlooms season with rotating dishes featuring the tomatoes.
Last month's lobster party was so successful that Walnut Creek Yacht Club is running it back: sign up now for next Wednesday's (August 30) lobster fest featuring a multi-course menu highlighted by 1 1/4 pound Maine lobster, with littleneck clams, corn on the cob, and red potatoes cooked in a special broth and served with drawn butter and lemons. Yeah!
1515 in Walnut Creek is hosting a wine pairing dinner with Caravel Wine Group on Thursday August 23, $70 per person for a three-course menu featuring a pork toastada, mango salad, filet mignon, plus dessert and wines. Call (925) 939-1515 to reserve a spot.
Sustainable meat company Belcampo Meat is hosting a "meat up" in Jack London Square today (Wednesday) from noon to 2 p.m. where they'll serve duck sausage on an Acme bun with pickled cabbage and tomato salad ($9) outside of Blue Bottle Coffee. Read more about Belcampo, which is HQed in Jack London Square, at belcampoinc.com.
Camino started paella Mondays at its Oakland restaurant.
Two words: grilled cheese. Do I really have to say more? Well, I will anyway. I was invited to check out the first East Bay installment of the grilled-cheese-centric concept started by former Flip Camera-founder Jon Kaplan (there are four other Bay Area locations and more than a dozen on the way) on its opening day last week. It being UC Berkeley's official move-in day, and with the restaurant located just a stone's throw from the Cal campus on Telegraph Ave (at Channing), things were pretty packed. And deservedly so: this simple concept of around a half-dozen kinds of grilled cheese paired with a similar number of soups would be a hit on any college campus in the country.
As you can tell by the photo, I tried several. And while I won't say that the food is life-altering, I will say that it hits the spot if you're looking for something simple, comforting and inexpensive (melts are $4.95 and combos that include soup cost $8.75). The melts were all as cheesy and tasty as you'd expect (I dug the spicy Mission with jalapeño pepper jack cheese), but actually, the favorite thing I tasted was probably the sweet corn tortilla soup, which was surprisingly rich and flavorful and made from the East Bay's finest, Brentwood corn. They also just started serving breakfast, including an egg-in-a-hole, sort of the breakfast equivalent of the grilled cheese. You can also place an order from your phone and then scan it when you come to the restaurant, so you're able to skip the line but also get a fresh-fired meal. As always... check 'em out!
2400 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 868-2501, themelt.com.
Alice Waters Three-Course Hyatt Menu
• Romaine Lettuce Hearts, Carrot Curls and a Radish Rose with Lemon Vinaigrette for Dipping.
“Contrary to prevailing beliefs, getting kids to eat vegetables is not difficult. We simply have to meet their most basic impulses: to eat something that is engaging and that tastes delicious,” said Waters. “The aliveness of textures and colors, as well as the ‘do-it-yourself’ nature of this salad, makes this universally appealing to kids.” Hyatt Treats Children to New Organic Menu Created by Renowned Food Pioneer and Chef Alice Waters
• Grilled Chicken with Pesto Sauce, Roasted Potatoes and Cherry Tomatoes.
“This is a dish of simple grilled and roasted ingredients, served with a pesto sauce. The trick with something so straightforward is to be confident that the ingredients are the best that they can be.”
• Strawberry and Orange Slices served with a Sweet Juice in a Real Orange Cup.
“The goal here is to appeal to kids’ imagination about ‘dessert,’ without feeding them unhealthy, sugary food,” said Waters. “A real orange cup filled with a luxurious amount of perfectly sliced ripe fruit feels special, and the juice is made with a touch of honey to sweeten it.”