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Weekly Dish: Corners Tavern Sneak Peek

We speak with James Beard award nominated restaurateur behind upcoming Corners Tavern in Walnut Creek; Patrick David's switches concepts in Danville; a brunch shout-out for Local Cafe in Oakland; and more in this week's Dish!


So, I had a chance to touch base with Mitchell Rosenthal and Doug Washington, two of the three partners in Stock & Bones, the restaurant group behind such lauded San Francisco restaurants as Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor and Hope, and now the upcoming Corners Tavern in Walnut Creek (they are partnering with the Moana Group, which runs the Piatti restaurants among others). I also got to chat with the restaurant's recently hired executive chef Esteban Escobar, a very nice guy who briefly cooked with Rosenthal and who moved back to the East Bay from Austin to take the gig at The Corners (CLICK HERE to read a quick Q&A). They gave me a little tour of the space, still very much in construction, which they're envisioning as a "contemporary American tavern." There is a large, 30-seat horseshoe bar in the lounge area, adjacent to a fairly big dining room (95 seats) that will get plenty of light via a front facade that consists of two enormous (functioning) windowed garage doors currently being installed (see below left photo). There will also be a front patio with outdoor seating for 30 or so. (I got some fun details on the Tavern's eclectic interior design from Washington: CLICK HERE to read more.)

Restaurant partners Doug Washington and Mitchel Rosenthal, and executive chef Esteban Escobar (left to right)Rosenthal has an interesting background. He grew up in New Jersey and fell in love with New Orleans-style cooking after discovering Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen cook book. After stints cooking in New York, New Jersey, and Malibu, he became executive chef of Postrio, Wolfgang Puck's seminal see-and-be-seen San Francisco restaurant, along with his brother Steven (the other partner in Stock & Bones) for more than a decade. The Rosenthalls, along with Washington, eventually opened their own place, Town Hall, a restaurant in San Francisco's South of Market that set the pace for the group's future ventures: expertly-executed but non-fussy American comfort food with California sensibilities and a New Orleans bent served in a trendy but casual atmosphere.

Rosenthal told me his plans for The Corners Tavern wasn't too different from his other places: he wants the food to be "dynamic and seasonal," but also accessible. There will be an ample, lighter small plates menu along with heavier entrées like steak, pork chops, and burgers, and rarely will any dish venture north of the $30 mark. There will be a darker bar/lounge area, as well as a more open, brighter dining room, and Rosenthal is leaning towards serving lunch, as well as dinner, seven days a week.

Large garage doors facade for Corners "We really think it's going to be a beautiful space and hopefully people will use it in different ways: we want this to be a restaurant that customers come back to several times a week," he said. "We feel like this is something people in Walnut Creek are excited about. You know, we talk to a lot of people and a common response is, "we need this out here.' "

And just in case you're worried that The Corners sounds a little too accessible...

"Don't get me wrong, we're not here to be another Cheesecake Factory, we're going to be doing some interesting stuff: housemade sauces, a full-on charcuterie program," he says. "We are coming out here from San Francisco so I think people are expecting that from us."

There will be 20 artisan craft beers on tap (both local microbrews and some Belgian, Trappist-style varieties), hand-crafted artisan cocktails (heavy on the classics and emphasizing local distilleries), and a list of small producer wines (about 200 labels, mostly from California/Washington/Oregon). And the expected opening date is late March. Go to cornerstavern.com for more info.

Sweet Bar owner Mani Niall's cook book.OK, I know I said I was done with Uptown last week, but there's one more exciting piece of news to report. Mani Niall, a baker with more than two decades of experience has signed a lease at a great location on Broadway where he will open his new Sweet Bar Bakery. Niall will take over an open, airy space in a beautiful historic building at 24th Street and Broadway near the heart of the Uptown action and the former home to Mimosa Champagne Lounge. Niall brings a little SoCal glamour to Oakland: he catered to such stars as Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Ringo Starr at his former Mani's Bakery in Los Angeles, and oh by the way, he served as the King of Pop Michael Jackson's personal chef for a couple of years in the late 80s. But he's been in the Bay Area since 1997 and plans to go full-on NorCal at Sweet Bar, where he'll offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, and is hoping to cut out the "whenever possible" tag and use all local, organic ingredients in his sweet creations. What to expect? "Fluffy chocolate cakes. Chewy ginger molasses cookies. Pumpkin muffins with tart, sour cranberries. Savory semolina and rosemary scones."  mmmmmm...

Niall also plans to offer some savory options including sandwiches and small plates for lunch and dinner, he'll serve local beers and wines, Mr. Espresso/Coffee Bar coffee, and he wants to stay open late, until 11 p.m. Sweet Bar has a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the opening (Niall is aiming for late summer, early fall): CLICK HERE to check it out.

Speaking of celebrities, Sally Van Slyke, owner of Walnut Creek's Wild Thyme Catering, is having a release party Thursday for her new book detailing her previous career as a studio executive at Universal Pictures. In her Wild Thymes: Catering to the Egos of the Hollywood Elite, Van Slyke dishes about her days dealing with such stars as Tom Cruise (who tried to convert her to Scientology), Robert Redford (who "hates her guts"), and even the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger (whom she witnessed have a serious melt-down). I'll admit, I haven't read the book, but it certainly sounds like a fun read. Van Slyke will be signing copies of the new book at Highlands Country Club in Oakland Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m.  Go to wildthymesbook.com for more info.

Last year Patrick David's got new ownership and a new chef, and it's now announced plans to overhaul its concept. This spring the Danville restaurant will become Martini Sky. Executive chef Jose Campos plans an International menu of primarily small plates along with a smaller selection of around four entrées (with a commitment to sustainable ingredients). As for the new name? Well, they're not messing around: the re-imagined restaurant will carry 100, yes 100, artisinal martinis on the cocktail menu, created by local mixologist Brian McGuirk. 416 Sycamore Valley Road West  Danville, (925) 838-7611, patrickdavids.com.

Melo's pizzaSorry to hear that the longtime Danville Italian joint Pasta Gondola closed down. Also known as the Pizza Machine, the restaurant had served as an affordable family-friendly dining option for four decades: it was one of those stuck-in-time places that connected multiple generations of families and seemed like it would always be around. Patch had a nice memorial on Gondola's closing: CLICK HERE to check it out.

If you're looking for a new pizza place, check out Melo's Pizza and Pasta, which is celebrating 40 years in business with a brand new menu this year. Additions include new pastas, sandwiches, and new flatbread and gluten-free pizzas at their three locations in Pleasant Hill, Livermore, and Brentwood. melospizzapasta.com

Also sorry to hear about the closure of Cuba Linda in Concord. Founded by former Peasant & the Pear manager Linda Swartz last year, Cuba Linda was a really sweet little place, with a neat, authentic menu of Cuban comfort food, that maybe just wasn't in the best location. Ah well...

Mardis Gras was on Tuesday and we've got a little Big Easy-themed news to share... Clementine's, the New Orleans-themed restaurant that was supposed to replace the shuttered Marie Callender's in San Ramon on Mardis Gras, is now planning a late-March, early April opening. Owner Peter Kearny, who also runs seven Country Waffles restaurants in the Bay Area, says the concept remains the same: family-friendly southern-themed dining with hearty entrées like spicy fried chicken, smoked ribs, prime rib, and various Cajun-style dishes, plus an adjacent full bar. 

Crawfish broil at Angeline'sPopular New Orleans-style Angeline's (it's one of our managing editor's all-time favorites) is expanding next door to increase capacity and decrease wait time. The downtown Berkeley eatery will be closed Monday, February 27 through Sunday, March 4 for the expansion, reopening Monday, March 5. 2261 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-6900, angelineskitchen.com.

And over at Picán, Sharon Anderson, former chef/owner of Purple Plum Restaurant, is guest chefing for the next couple months while owner Michael LeBlanc scours the south for a replacement for departed chef Dean Dupuis. BTW, throughout February for Black History Month, Picán is offering a $55 prix fixe menu in honor of Leah Chase, the "Queen of Creole Cuisine" from New Orleans' Dooky Chase Restaurant--part of the proceeds for which will be donated to the East Oakland Youth Development Center. CLICK HERE to check out the menu.

This isn't quite New Orleans, but nevertheless Suya African-Caribbean Grill is set to open by late February at 2130 Oxford Street in downtown Berkeley (just a couple blocks from Angeline's). Suya is a fast-casual venue that will offer "West African/Caribbean inspired skewers of meat, fish and vegetables" spiced with suya pepper and served with flatbread at reasonable prices ($4.95 to $8.95).

A big congrats to the Bay Area folks who were named semifinalists for this year's James Beard Awards. There were plenty of local nominees (CLICK HERE to check out the full list at Inside Scoop), and those with East Bay ties include Plum and Haven owner Daniel Patterson (who was nominated for best chef in the Pacific region for his San Francisco restaurant Coi); the previously mentioned Stock & Bones partners (nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur); and Jörg Rupf from Alameda's St. George Spirits (who was nominated for outstanding wine & spirits professional).  

I chatted with Brian Hirahara, the developer behind the planned new restaurant/retail project at the corner of Mt. Diablo Blvd and Main Street. He didn't add too many details to what's previously been reported (it's actually an 8,000-square-foot building rather than the 6,000 I previously wrote), but did send over some cool renderings, pictured below...

Shout-Out of the Week: Local Cafe

Any foodie weekend warrior knows that it’s tough to find a good place for brunch that’s reasonably priced and, most importantly, where you don’t have to wait in line for two hours just to sit down. So, it’s at the risk of blowing it for myself that I’m telling you about this little gem I recently discovered on Piedmont Avenue. Local Café, which I wrote about a while ago, is a small café next door to Adesso (it replaced McMullen boutique). It’s open for breakfast and lunch on the weekdays, when I haven’t been, but if the food is anything like what I experienced for weekend brunch, it should be an excellent experience.

I sat at the counter with my wife and we ordered, between us, the eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy with brisket, with a side of bacon for good measure (vegetarians we’re not…). I love me some Benedict, but it’s definitely something that can be done wrong very easily. Not this one: the eggs were perfectly poached, served atop moist, buttery biscuits with deliciously salty prosciutto (in place of ham), delicately sautéed, farm-fresh spinach, and best of all, a light, not-too-heavy, Hollandaise sauce. And… only $9, not bad at all in an area teaming with $10-plus brunch menus. My wife’s biscuits and gravy was just as tasty and also came in under $10.

Quality ingredients, well executed, reasonably priced: very cool place. Check it out. I just hope I manage to get in line before you…

4395 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 922-8249, localcafe.net.


Foodie Events! (February 21-26, compiled by our excellent intern Janet Li)

February 21-26: Chef Antonio Capezzuto at Guest Chef in Oakland
Explore Guest Chief’s new dining concept for yourself. Catch a glimpse of Chef Antonio Capezzuto as he showcases his Italian cooking skills through February 26. Savor salmone alla brace (grilled salmon), parmigiana di melanzana (eggplant parmigiana), and more. Don’t forget to save room for gelato, crème caramel, or torta caprese.
Guest Chef, 5337 College Ave, Oakland, Tuesday-Thursday 5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Friday-Sunday 5:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m., menu prices, (510) 658-7378, theguestchef.net. Call for reservations.

February 24: Spill the Wine: Live Funk, Soul, and Rock
Unwind after a long day with beer and music! Dance the evening away with Spill the Wine which plays funk, soul, and rock & roll from Maroon 5 to Stevie Wonder, to Aretha Franklin.
Gallagher’s Dublin Pub, 7821 Amador Valley Blvd, Dublin, 9:00 p.m., free show, (925) 828-5996.

February 25: Lusu Cellars’ Grand Opening
Join Lusu Cellars as it opens its cellar door for the very first time. Celebrate their new release--El Dorado dry farmed Zinfandel--taste futures of their Dry Creek Sangiovese, and enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon pairings by the glass. Enjoy live music with your wine.
Lusu Cellars, 805 Camelia St, Berkeley, 2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m., Tickets: $8 advance purchase, $10 at the door, (925) 963-5009, lusucellars.com.

February 25: Cook like a (Food Network) Star
Learn how to make caramelized onion toasts, shrimp scampi, and broccoli with a Parmesan crust. Enjoy your culinary masterpieces with salad, dessert, and wine. 
Pans on Fire, 310-B Main Street, Pleasanton, 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., $75, (925) 600-7267, pansonfire.com. Call for seats availability.

February 25: International Tea Festival
Share the company of tea lovers and learn from tea connoisseurs. Experience tea ceremonies and cooking demonstrations. Receive your tasting cup when you check in and sample fine specialty teas from around the world.
The Ferry Building, San Francisco, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., $20, sfinternationalteafestival.com.

February 25: Knife Skills
Sharpen your knife skills and learn all you need to know about dicing, mincing, chopping, julienning, and more! Learn tips on knife safety, steeling, and sharpening. A light snack will be served.
Draeger’s Cooking School, 4100 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, 11 a.m., $70, (800) 642-9463 x 261, draegerscookingschool.com. Call for seats availability.

February 26: Oscar Night Party and Wine Tasting at EBGB
Don your best and come watch this year’s Academy Awards on the big screen. Enjoy appetizers and wines with a donation or BYOB. You might even catch a glimpse of actress Gigi Benson who will be serving as hostess that evening.
EBGB - the Underground Wine Bar,1203 Pine Street, Oakland, 4:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., $5 per glass of wine or beer, (510) 419-0172.

February 26: Preserving in the Seasons—hands-on marmalade class
Join June Taylor and learn how to cook and jar your favorite marmalade (you can take home a jar of what you make in class). The class will include a tasting and evaluation of a variety of winter citrus for marmalade-making. Light refreshments, including June Taylor products, will be served.
June Taylor Company, The Still-Room, 2207 4th Street, Berkeley, 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., $200, (510) 548-2236, junetaylorjams.com. Please confirm space availability.

February 28: National Pancake Day
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and IHOP restaurants are celebrating National Pancake Day from 7 am to 10 p.m. IHOP will be offering a free short stack of its famous buttermilk pancakes to each guest and, in return, diners will be asked to make a voluntary donation to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other local charities.
Participating IHOPS, ihop.com.

We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of this information. However, you should always call ahead to confirm dates, times, location, and other information.

Q&A with Corners Tavern executive chef Esteban Escobar

Diablo: Can you tell me some dishes that will be on the menu?

Esteban Escobar: The last dish that got approved was, and this is looking at spring, was a seared Thai snapper with butter-braised potatoes, pickled cherry peppers, and favas and peas. Going to be doing a grilled pork chop with root vegetables and frisée salad, potatoes and Dijon vinaigrette. We’re going to be doing a duck rillette as an appetizer. We’re definitely going to do a burger, we’re definitely doing a steak and fries.

Is it a big menu?

Yes, I’m thinking fairly big. But on that note, it’s going to be simple, big but simple. I feel that as you get a bigger menu you have to simplify the food a little bit to maintain a really good quality. You start to throw in too many things, and a lot, it’s easily confusing.

What would you say is your cooking philosophy?

I take my cues from the ingredients. I like using local ingredients, I like using artisanal products, I like picking and choosing the best of things and putting them on my plate. As far as influences from other chefs, well that’s a more difficult question to answer: you kind of cook around with different people and you take what you like and leave what you don’t. I kind of like to develop my own style.

You were in Austin for a while: is it nice to be back in the Bay Area?

Oh yeah, I’ve been going around to different farmers markets and kind of seeing what’s available and thinking about how the season is going to effect the plate: it's just really exciting, really exciting.

Do you have any favorites dining spots around here?

Well, I live in Oakland and as far as atmosphere, I went to Mua and loved it. I just found a new favorite hang-out spot, which is called Telegraph (2318 Telegraph Ave.). It’s got a lunch counter and the menu is all sausage in sandwich form, it’s my kind of place. I had dinner at Plum and really enjoyed it. I’m a really big fan of Wood Tavern, my wife actually works there. And of course I’m a big fan of Pizzaiolo. You can tell I eat mostly in the East Bay: I like to stick around here because I live there and I grew up in the East Bay. I’m really excited to be back in Oakland. I used to live in Oakland, work/commute to the city, and then come back and live and play in Oakland. And I have to say I’m really excited about how it's progressed: When I came back to interview with these guys and got to visit again, I was just like 'man, why wasn’t this here when I was here.' So you can imagine what a hurry I was to get back.

Q&A with Corners Tavern co-partner Doug Washington

Diablo: Tell me a little about the vibe you’re trying to create at The Corners…

Doug Washington: I almost want to say it’s like a Bohemian tavern.

And is that driven by the concept for the restaurant?

Yes. I know this sounds odd, but we weren’t looking to open the hot new restaurant. We actually want to be a restaurant that people come to often: we want families, younger people, older people, we want married, kids, divorced, single. We didn’t really open this with a specific group of people in mind or a specific block of the town in mind. We opened this wanting to bring something here that was as sophisticated as Walnut Creek and the East Bay, and something that is really fun yet refined. And more than anything we just want something that’s really fun with amazing food!

I think if you took a traditional British tavern: that was kind of for everyone. It wasn’t a place to go get drunk, it was a place to sit and talk. And we didn’t want a place where there was a crazy, over the top design, we wanted it to be really comfortable. But at the same time as we say all that, it’s going to be a really fun space.

Those big garage doors are pretty impressive…

Well, we wanted to get some light into the space. When we took it over, the first thing we noticed was how dark it was. And to me, it was like 'we need some light in here!' This is California, it’s all about sun and light. We wanted to open up that side, so the whole front face is glass—we wanted to just wash the whole dining room in light.

The bar and lounge side is like the den, with a sort of moody, bohemian tavern feel. And on the other dining room side, it’s a little lighter and airier.

And are you going to keep that façade? (pictured to the left of adjacent photo)

Oh, are you kidding me? A nuclear bomb couldn’t get rid of that thing! That’s not going anywhere, that’s like the Titanic. The first thing I said to the contractor was, ‘oh, we’re going to take down the facade,’ and he just laughed and said ‘oh no, you’re really not.’

The other thing about this project is we really want it to be very generous in spirit—just really warm and fun and kind. To me that my biggest thing. The design is one aspect, but the food and the staff, that’s what we really want to focus on: what you’re going to eat and drink and who’s going to serve it to you.

I heard something about snake traps?

I went to the vivarium in Berkeley and I talked the guy into selling me four antique snake pots. They’re like seven or eight feet high and have all these little boxes where the snakes would live, and inside of each one is a little light bulb to keep the snakes warm. So I just had him clean the living hell out of them and those will be in the library area. Almost every light in here, we had custom designed from a place in Portland. We designed a lot of the stuff in here. And the things that we’re bringing in, we probably spent six months between the Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market to the Alameda flea market, up to Oregon and even New York, finding everything that’s going into this place.

The design is going to be a little juxtaposition of nutty and odd…It’s eclectic, fun, and whacky.

It seems like all your previous work, you really try to work within the parameters of the existing building …

Yes, that’s always been our goal, just let the neighborhood and building kind of speak for itself. This actually used to be a blacksmith building.

Anything else about the design that you’d like to mention?

The artwork is going to be staggering. It’s by an artist named Freya Prowe, and she’s doing two 40-foot-long murals where she’s tea-staining French water color paper. They're long pieces and she’s going to put them all next to each other, tea stain them all in Rorschach, and then do a Black Sumi Ink mural over it. Really cool. To me that’s going to command the dining room. We also have six sconces for the private room out of Egypt that I had to completely rebuild—those are really fun. We had a lot of fun doing this...