Weekly Dish: Acclaimed Italian Eatery Coming to Concord
Owners behind San Francisco's lauded Mint 54 wine bar opening new spot on Walnut Creek/Concord border; Bonfire Pizza debuts in Orinda's Theater Square; Picán owner officially in for San Ramon restaurant; Hannah Nicole wine dinners are a hit; and more in this week's Dish!
One of the owners behind acclaimed wine bar 54 Mint in San Francisco is bringing his brand of authentic regional Italian fare to the East Bay. 54 Mint Rosticceria & Formaggi will be opening in the Trader Joe's shopping center on Oak Grove Road in Concord near the Walnut Creek border in mid-March according to Claudio Ricciolini, who along with his wife co-owns the San Francisco restaurant and will be sole owners of the new spot. The San Francisco restaurant has been very well-received since it opened two years ago, being recognized as one of GQ's top-10 new restaurants and receiving rave reviews in the Chronicle, Examiner, and SF Weekly. According to the Italian-born Ricciolini, the new 54 Mint will be open for lunch and dinner. For lunch, it will feature a selection of order-at-the-counter, grab & go items including fresh-made pastas (ravioli and lasagna), a selection rotisserie meats such as roast chicken and pork belly (which will be featured in sandwiches) and pork ribs, and authentic Italian specialties such as arancini (fried balls of rice filled with ragu or mozzarella). Ricciolini also has some tricks up his sleeve, including debuting a special fried pizza creation, a Naples specialty in which the pizza dough is deep-fried then topped with fresh ingredients.
Dinner will be more of the sit and dine norm, with the menu closely mirroring the San Francisco restaurant, which includes rustic, and frankly, delicious-sounding Italian dishes such as sliced octopus carpaccio with shaved fennel, braised pork belly with sautéed corona beans and dandelion, and cornish-hen cooked under a brick served with roasted root vegetables. CLICK HERE to check out San Francisco location's dinner menu. The Rosticceria refers to the restaurant's roasted meats, while the formaggi references the pure sheep's milk pecorino that the restaurant will be importing from Italy.
It's certainly an unusual location for this kind of über-authentic Italian concept, especially since the owners' first restaurant catering to a fairly different demographic in San Francisco, but Ricciolini, a Walnut Creek resident, thinks he can have success.
"You can say I opened here first of all because I was tired of commuting every day," he joked, adding. "I think this neighborhood needs a nice genuine Italian restaurant, it's in a beautiful location right between Concord and Walnut Creek... And even though the crowd is completely different here, I think it will work—we're very relaxed and I think that people will appreciate the food."
I made it over to Bonfire Pizzeria last Thursday on their opening day. This is a cute little place in Orinda's Theater Square near the new(ish) Table 24 restaurant and Republic of Cake cupcake shop. I spoke with a couple of the owners (pictured at right), and they're very nice guys. Their concept is to make pizzas using fresh, seasonal, healthy ingredients that will be guilt-free and kid-friendly for the family-centric Orinda community. I tried the #3 with yukon gold potatoes, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and white truffle oil and liked it a lot—they don't have a wood fired oven, but they manage to get a nice crisp on their thin-crust pizzas. The menu also features several salads, piadinas, and a nice beer and wine selection. Bonfire Pizzeria, 2 Theatre Square, Orinda, )925) 253-1225, bonfirepizzeria.com.
Some more exciting news for the 925 dining scene:Picán owner Michael LeBlanc and the city of San Ramon finally signed a preliminary agreement to make official what had been a year in the planning: he will be bringing another restaurant to San Ramon, taking over the old Mudd's location. But don't make those reservations just yet: LeBlanc said he is shooting for late next year (that's 2012) as the best-case opening date. Still it definitely sounds like a cool concept that could be worth the wait.
LeBlanc, who is leaning towards naming his new place Picán Gardens, is planning a 60- to 80-seat restaurant that he described as marrying Picán's California cuisine-influenced Southern fare with an Alice Waters-level commitment to fresh produce and ingredients. "I really want to focus on the farm to table, garden to table concept with the new place," he says. That will be helped my the fact that his new place will feature a half-acre garden that LeBlanc hopes to make the restaurant's centerpiece, both physically and philosophically. LeBlanc also hopes to open a small general store attached to the restaurant that will sell cookbooks and foods such as pickled cucumbers, bread, and barbecue sauce, and he wants to feature occasional "sophisticated" live music. The project will also feature an event center that LeBlanc hopes will become a popular wedding destination.
Why is the Oakland resident looking to open in San Ramon? "I think San Ramon is affluent but underserved in terms of nice restaurants," he says. "So for me, San Ramon is a real hidden gem."
And don't forget to enter to win some free passes to Picán's Mardis Gras party on April 8th (Fat Tuesday). CLICK HERE to enter.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to one of Hannah Nicole Vineyard's monthly wine dinners last week. Despite the bad weather, the event hosted at their Brentwood winery had a great turnout of folks to enjoy a barrel tasting and delicious five-course, chocolate-themed dinner paired with a selection from Hannah Nicole's about-to-be-released 2009 vintage. Despite being a relatively young vineyard, Hannah Nicole has enjoyed some nice recent success, being awarded 13 medals in this year's San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. You can get a taste of their 2009 vintage at the vineyard's 6th annual Barrel Tasting weekend, March 11–13th.
For more info on future wine dinners, which starting this year, the vineyard is hosting on a monthly basis, go to hnvwines.com. The next dinner will be on March 24th and the theme is comfort food. Nice...