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Weekly Dish: New Chef for Metro Lafayette

A new chef for Metro Lafayette; French bistro rumored for Rockridge; Harvest Celebration hits Livermore; last days for Walnut Creek Baking Company; Cake replaces Teacake in Lafayette; Charlie Hallowell project update; and more in this week's Dish!


Metro Lafayette has a new executive chef, bringing on Steve Jaramillo to run the kitchen at the popular downtown restaurant. Yes, Metro has cycled through a few chefs recently—four in as many years by my count—but this one could be a keeper as Jaramillo, a seasoned cooking hand, brings more than two decades of high-end cooking experience, which includes stints at lauded Berkeley restaurants Lalime's and Fonda. Most recently he was working the tiny kitchen at Rockridge Italian eatery Enoteca Molinari, but Jaramillo says he'll be drawing more on his California cuisine background from Lalime's in shaping the Metro Lafayette menu.

New Metro chef Steve Jaramillo"Before me, they've had a series of chefs that were more Asian influenced, which I’m not—Lalime's was more French-California, new American, which is what I like to do," Jaramillo told me. "That Berkeley influence tends to mean that I'm really driven by what's in season and let that shape the menu—I try to keep things somewhat simple with just a few, quality ingredients with a rustic plate presentation. The main changes in the kitchen are that all meats are sustainable, humanely raised (they mostly were anyway), it's all cage-free eggs, and there are less Asian ingredients and way more olive oil and wine being used to cook."

Jaramillo told me that he won't be changing any of Metro's customer favorites like the burger or peach bruschetta, but he has put his own spin on the dinner menu. I just happened to swing by the other day to check it out and had a pretty fantastic meal. CLICK HERE to read more... 3524 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-4422, metrolafayette.com.

Denise Vickers // Photo by Mitch TobiasThe clock appears to be ticking down at Walnut Creek Baking Company. Owner Denise Vickers told me that Friday would be the bakery's last day in operation with her in charge—and possibly for good. Vickers is currently in negotiations to sell the business to her landlord, but no deal has yet been reached—final word will likely come by the end of the day today (Wednesday). "I really don't know what's going to happen. For us right now, it's just kind of wrapping up the final details. We've had a lot of people coming by to say their farewells and get their last fix of ginger cookies." Check back for details—we'll keep you updated as we learn more... 1686 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 988-9222, walnutcreekbakingcompany.com

Had a chance to talk with Andrea Quinn, who is opening up a new bakery in Lafayette, replacing the recently-shuttered Teacake Bake Shop in Fiesta Square. Quinn is a professionally trained pastry chef with an impressive resume that includes stints at Chez Panisse, Rivoli, and Bay Wolf, as well as running her own bakery for the past seven years in Kauai. The Brentwood-native told me she's hoping to open her new "Cake" in a matter of weeks (she's targeting September 10), and is planning to offer assorted daily baked goods such as scones, cupcakes, cookies, and empanadas, along with SF-based Sightglass coffee, but with a particular emphasis on custom-made cakes. 35 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 283-9900, facebook.com/cakelafayette.

Big news in downtown Walnut Creek as the long-vacant Chili's space on Locust Street has, at last, been leased according to building owner Garo Keadjian of Keadjian Properties. Unfortunately, I can't yet tell you exactly who's going in there, but rumor is that it will mark the triumphant return of a popular longtime Walnut Creek dining institution. Interest piqued? Check back to diablomag.com/dish for updates...

Also, sad to report that one of my favorite lunch spots Koreana Kitchen on Bonanza Street has closed. According to an ABC license, a place called Mixed Grains will be taking its place. Sounds... healthy...

Take note Oenophiles, Livermore Wine Country's 31st annual Harvest Wine Celebration is happening this weekend on Sunday and Monday, September 2-3. I've been spending quite a bit of time down there (look out for a feature on Livermore's wine country in Diablo's October issue), and have been really digging it. There's a lot of cool stuff happening down there between the big boys of Wente (Wente's Summer concert series is wrapping up tonight with Steve Martin and The Front Porch Music Festival is happening this Saturday) and Concannon (which recently unveiling the new Darcie Kent tasting room) to smaller wineries like McGrail Vineyards, Nottingham Cellars, and Occasio Winery picking up their game and producing award-winning wines. Plus, it's just plain beautiful down there when you get into the heart of the vineyards, and there are now around 60 wineries in operation (with more popping up all the time), making it a legitimate alternative to ever-packed Napa as a wine tasting day-trip destination.

Harvest Celebration tickets range from $55 to $65 and get you complimentary wine tasting at over 40 participating wineries, shuttle bus service (Sunday Only), wine discounts, and entry into special activities all weekend long during the peak of harvest season. Great opportunity to check out this East Bay jewel if you haven't been, or to visit again if you haven't been in a while: CLICK HERE for all the info. We're also giving away two pairs of tickets to the event! CLICK HERE for a chance to win!

Photo by Mitch TobiasMetro isn't the only one with a new chef. Havana's executive chef Nick Di Arenzo is leaving to open his own restaurant in Stockton. Co-owner Joelle Scott reports that they just hired a replacement, Jeff Rosen, who will take over the entire culinary operation including catering and the new Havana Cafe, which is set to open in five weeks on North Main Street next to the Autopia car wash. Rosen hails from San Francisco where he ran a Pop Up dinner operation. Apparently business is good at Havana, as the restaurant also brought on a new sous chef, Nelson Gomez, with experience from A-list Oakland restaurants A Cote and Oliveto. 1516 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-4555, havanarestaurant.net.

The Claremont Hotel & Spa has a new executive chef, promoting departed head chef Josh Thomsen's executive sous chef Josh Ladd to the top position. Thomsen, meanwhile, checks in from Princeton, New Jersey, to report that his new farm-to-table restaurant Agricola is set to open later this fall. Check out the details at agricolaeatery.com and swing by and say hi if your on the East Coast...

Speaking of Oliveto, the restaurant recently brought on Luciano Duco as Chef de Cuisine. Duco's resume includes stints at some top New York Italian eateries, including Mario Batali’s Del Posto and Michael White's Marea and Ai Fiori. Meanwhile, don't forget to check out Oliveto's Summer happy hour, which should be wrapping up any day now (it lasts from 4-6 p.m.), and mark you calendar for their annual tomato dinners, which will take place September 18-21 this year: CLICK HERE for more info and to reserve a space. 5655 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 547-5356, oliveto.com.

And speaking of Rockridge, plenty of activity in that upscale Oakland neighborhood...

The long-shuttered space at 5634 College, the former home to Water Lounge across the street from Oliveto, finally has been filled. According to realtor Mike Nova, the space has been leased. Who's coming? Well Nova wouldn't give me the full scoop, but did say it was a chef from San Francisco who would be bringing a cafe/bistro concept that would fit in well with the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I've heard rumors that it's going to be a French bistro-style concept, but haven't been able to confirm that. Nova did say that space will get a major renovation—in particular, the fortress-like facade will be changed to make it more open to the street—so he didn't expect any opening before start of the Holiday season.

Somerset, an American restaurant with a popular brunch and great outdoor back patio at 5912 College Ave, closed suddenly last week. I haven't been able to get a hold of owner Gary Rizzo, but he told me a month or so ago that he was working on a new restaurant on Grand Avenue—and an ABC license shows that he recently transferred Somerset's alcohol license to a restaurant named Destino at 3909 Grand Avenue, the former home of Taste of Joy BBQ next to Grand Tavern. No word on if or when Destino might be debuting, or what's replacing Somerset on College, a fantastic location by the way...

Checked in with Chuck Stilphen from The Trappist and ØL Beer Cafe, who told me his new Trappist Provisions beer store/bar planned for a little 800-square-foot space next to Wood Tavern would likely not be opening before November. Expect something more along the lines of ØL—a bottle shop with small bar, versus the more bar-oriented Trappist...

21st Amendment's Watermelon Wheat on tap in Oakland? Not quite yet...Rumors of a new taproom for 21st Amendment on College Ave sound a bit premature. The popular San Francisco brewery has offices at 5330 College Ave near Broadway and have been exploring opening a little taproom on the ground floor, but a representative there told me that plans have been put on the back burner for now. "Obviously having something downstairs from our corporate office would be ideal for us," the rep told me. "But we have a lot going on right now so it's not something we're pursuing at the moment. In the future, you never know..." In the meantime, look out for some cool new brews coming up this winter, and an "exciting collaboration" to be announced in the next couple months.

Finally, promising news for ramen fans: a trusted eye witness (my wife, actually...) told me she saw some activity in the recently closed Tachibana restaurant at 5812 College Avenue. That's where former Chez Panisse maitre d' Sam White is planning a Northern California ramen noodle house using traditional Japanese techniques. Previous reports, alas, say not to expect an opening before the end of the year.

Finally, back over on Grand Ave., I touched base with the ever-busy Charlie Hallowell of Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service fame about his Penrose & Company Fine Meats & Spirits planned for 3307 Grand Avenue. He's submitted plans to the city and hopes to start construction in a matter of weeks. The latest on the concept, according to Hallowell: a casual, "low-fi" restaurant that will focus on "meat, veggies, and booze." The meat and veggies will be offered a la carte and grilled on a large, wood-fired plancha. Meanwhile, Hallowell said he wanted the focus on Penrose to be on the bar versus the food. "My other places have been restaurants that have a bar—I want this to be a bar that has food," Hallowell told me. "Mostly I want it to be drinking place where people can get a snack."

Pizzas (in grilled form) may be part of the plans at Charlie Hallowell new Penrose restaurantAnd pizza? Well, the thin-crust maestro hasn't been able to resist experimenting with some grilled flatbreads, which he's excited about. Chef? Hallowell has chosen someone, but all he would say is that "he's a badass." Also, there will no longer be a butcher shop attached to this project ("we ran out of space"), but that could be in the plans for a new building Hallowell just purchased at Broadway and 41st Street. No definitely plans for that building yet, although he did mention that that "a kick-ass burger place" would be great in that area... I forgot to ask him about an opening date (bad reporter!), but Hallowell has previously said that the end of 2012 would be an optimistic goal...

Just down the street, you can get Indonesian furniture, art, and a killer latte and pastry at Monkey Forest Road: now you might be able to get a beer or glass of wine, as the eclectic store recently applied for its liquor license. 3265 Grand Ave., Oakland, (510) 327-2400, monkeyforestroad.com.

Celebrate Bocanova's three-year anniversary on Thursday night with drinks, dinner, music, and an auction benefiting the Oakland Fund for the Arts. Tickets are $100, CLICK HERE for the details.


Grilled Padron peppers at Metro LafayetteAs stated above, I swung by Metro Lafayette over the weekend. Metro's always a great place to grab a bite, especially on the patio on a warm summer evening—it's got to be one of the top-5 restaurant patios in the East Bay. And while the food is always solid here, I've found it to be a bit uneven in the past—not on this night. The service was great and as for the food: I enjoyed every single dish, each of which showed off simple, crisp flavors brought together with the deft touch you'd expect from an old pro like executive chef Steve Jaramillo (over 20 years of high-end cooking experience). Here's the rundown...

  • Sautéed Happy Boy Farm Padron peppers with romesco sauce: First of all, beautiful dish: charred, bright green peppers simply dressed with olive oil and flecks of sea salt. Peppers were perfectly fresh, with a deep, smoky flavor from the grill.
  • Happy Boy Farm Heirloom Tomato Salad: more pristine Happy Boy produce here: the tomatoes were farm-fresh and topped, again, simply with extra virgin olive oil, basil, and silky-soft Di Stefano burrata.
  • Try this dish: Fried tomato "BLT" at MetroFried green tomato BLT: My favorite dish, combining perfectly-fried tomatoes battered with a crunchy cornmeal batter, topped with rich (but relatively lean) pork belly, peppery arugula, and a delicious sweet, slightly spicy pepper chutney. It's a rare example of a deconstructed "concept" dish that really comes together: the spicy-sweet chutney, sweetly acidic tomatoes, and the rich pork balance each other wonderfully. Awesome dish, order it immediately if it's still on the menu. 
  • Fresh Pappardelle: Jaramillo showed off his Italian chops with this tagliatelle topped with ample portions of a hearty Tuscan beef-red wine ragu.
  • Pan-Seared Petrale Sole: This is the sort of classic California-French dish that can be so-so in the hands of an ambivalent chef, but this one shined: delicately battered sautéed sole with a tasty tart, lemon-caper beurre blanc sauce and creamy mashed potatoes.

What else can I say? I really enjoyed the meal... check 'em out!

3524 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-4422, metrolafayette.com.


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