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Weekly Dish: New Chef at Va de Vi

Andy Phillips replaces Shane McAnelly at Va de Vi; new winery in Livermore Valley; Gather, Daniel Patterson, and The Trappist take on San Francisco; update on Township in Oakland; a shout-out for Voodoo Kitchen in Pleasanton; and more in this week's Dish!


Va de Vi has hired a new chef and it’s someone familiar with the suburban East Bay dining scene. After a two-month search, the popular Walnut Creek small plates restaurant decided on Andy Phillips to replace departed executive chef Shane McAnelly. Phillips, a Dublin resident and California Culinary Academy grad, brings kitchen experience from a couple of local favorites in Wente and Esin, where he served as executive sous chef when the Danville restaurant topped Diablo’s Food Awards two years in a row. Most recently, Phillips helped open and served as the executive chef at Gravity Bistro & Wine Bar in Palo Alto.

After weeks of interviews, Va de Vi owner John Walz says Phillips was the obvious choice. “His experience at Gravity in a small plates, wine oriented restaurant was a big plus, we were definitely aware of his accolades at Esin, he lives locally, and he’s just as committed as we are to cooking with top quality, seasonal, local ingredients,” he says. “And basically, he just killed it during the tasting.”

Phillips, who has a young family, says the shorter commute played a big part in the decision, as did the opportunity to work at Va de Vi. “Because of its reputation for quality, how well known it is, as well as the location, it was on the short list of restaurants that I told myself I’d have to at least explore the opportunity.”

As for what changes diners can expect on the menu? Phillips says he won’t be reinventing the wheel: the restaurant’s successful global small plates concept will remain intact. “It’s a perfect format for me,” he says. “People always ask me what my favorite dish is and I really don’t have one: I like to cook whatever the mood strikes me; I like to cook everything.” He did say that his style might be a little lighter than previous chefs. “I don’t cook with a lot of cream or butter; my goal is to maintain fresh, quality ingredients and highlight that on the plate.”

Phillips first day in the kitchen was on Tuesday. Expect to see a few of his new dishes on the menu starting next week.

Attention wine-lovers, there’s a big new winery opening in the Livermore Valley on March 1. The sister winery to Chris Graves’ Ruby Hill Winery, Rubino Estates Winery (“rubino” is Italian for ruby) will feature the largest tasting room in the valley at 8,000 square feet, two private sipping areas for small groups, a bocce court, outdoor picnicking area, a full deli, as well as a shopping boutique with “old world, Tuscan-style offerings.” In addition to the usual Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and sparkling wine, the Rubino staff says it will offer Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Barbera, and, Pinot Grigio in a more fruit-forward style. 1188 Vineyard Ave, Livermore Valley, Pleasanton, rubinoestateswinery.com. Grand opening March 1; open daily, 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Had a chance to chat with Abeni Ramsey, who gave me an update on her Township restaurant project at 1545 Broadway in downtown Oakland. Ramsey, who started City Girl Farms, an inner-city urban farming program, is hoping to source much of the food for Township from farms in Oakland itself, as well as from 220 acres of land she owns in the Capay Valley. Her chef is former Spruce sous chef Brent Johnson, and the food will be similarly contemporary American but with that commitment to hyper-local sourcing. “We want to offer people produce that they haven’t seen—we have a plot in West Oakland growing lollipop kale and flamingo chard, stuff you don’t see in farmers markets or produce markets. We want to grow these weird and crazy things and have the restaurant be a vehicle for that.” Ramsey said she’s now hoping to open the restaurant by September. She’ll also moving her urban farming store, City Girl Farm Store, from its current location on San Pablo Avenue to a space right next door to Township—look for that to reopen in mid-April.

Speaking of Broadway, it looks like plans are coalescing for Oakland’s Numi Tea to move its headquarters over to Broadway in Uptown Oakland. Numi’s HQ would just be one part of an ambitious new development project along the block of Broadway between Sweet Bar bakery and Picán that would include another restaurant from Chop Bar/Lungomare/Tribune Tavern restaurateur Chris Pastena (this one a Mexican concept), a new beer garden and pizzeria from San Leandro brewery Drake’s, as well as several other non-food tenants and more than 100 condos. This is all according to the SF Business Times, although it should be noted that I reported on this (to crickets chirping), a few months before. Sounds like we shouldn’t expect anything to open until later this year.

Some news on a few East Bay expansions into the big city.

According to Inside Scoop, Daniel Patterson (yes Coi is in San Francisco, but Patterson lives in Oakland and owns three restaurants there), is opening a new restaurant in San Francisco’s hopping mid-Market neighborhood across the street from the new Twitter HQ. Details are scarce, but Patterson told the Chron it’ll be a “fun, casual” place, 70 seats, full-service, and with a full bar and cocktail program.

Also according to Scoop, Berkeley darling Gather will be opening a new restaurant on Polk Street in the former Marbella and Rex Café spot. Look for a summer opening.

Finally, Trappist, Trappist Provisions, and OL Beer Café-owner Chuck Stilphen’s new San Francisco project (which I reported on back in December) finally has a name, and it’s sure to excite beer geeks out there. According to The Full Pint, the 3,000 square foot space at Market and Mason streets will be called Mikkeller Bar after cult Copenhagen brewer Mikkeller, which will be brewing several exclusive house beers for the new project. Sounds like late spring is the target opening time.

James Beard Award semifinalists were announced. A couple of East Bay-centric congrats to Jörg Rupf from Alameda’s St. George Spirits, nominated for outstanding spirits professional, and to future Oakland resident A16, which was nominated for outstanding wine program.

There’s a new Indian restaurant headed to Lafayette. Longtime resident Harjinder Singh hopes to debut T’s Fire House, focusing on Indian barbecue and tandoori, by late March or April in part of the former Fuz space at 3707 Mt. Diablo Boulevard.

Coupla quick bites…

Claycord reports that a Pleasant Hill man Bob Schaefer will be featured on the new season of Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America.” The shows first episode, according to Claycord, replays this Thursday at 11 p.m.

Also per Claycord, Walnut Creek PD has put the kibosh on any new hard liquor licenses, and that includes restaurants, until 2014.

Romney Steele, co-owner of the new oyster bar and southern bistro The Cook & her Farmer concept headed for Old Oakland, is hosting a pop-up dinner tailor-made for seafood-lovers this Friday with Dungeness crab, shrimp gumbo, oysters, beer, Periscope Cellars wine, and more: It’s at the Guerilla Café in Berkeley from 6:30–10 p.m. Go to their Facebook to confirm attendance…

Fiore Restaurant will be hosting its annual Moroccan dinners next week on Thursday and Sunday, February 28 and March 3 featuring a four-course menu from guest chef Malika El Jacifi, who’s coming in straight from Casablanca, Morocco. Belly dancers, too. Tix are $44.95, call the restaurant to reserve a spot. 5100 Clayton Rd., Concord, (925) 969-1887, restaurantfiore.com.

Tom Voss, former executive chef of Laurus Bistro, Stomp! Wine Bar and Coa in Blackhawk Plaza, as well as Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion (in Woodland Hills, San Francisco, La Jolla, Scottsdale, among others) has started up the new Walnut Creek-based Eat Drink Be Merry Catering Co., featuring customized tasting menus, cooking classes, cocktail parties, and more. Go to edbmcatering.com for more info.

 Shout-out of the Week: Voodoo Kitchen

Admittedly a bit late for Mardis Gras, but I finally had a chance to swing by VooDoo Kitchen in Pleasanton. I’d written about this place before and honestly didn’t know what to expect: New Orleans cuisine in Pleasanton is an interesting combo. But I’m happy to report that it’s a pretty cool place that has a little Cajun/Creole soul to it.

First thing I noticed were the fish tanks at the front counter, a la a Chinese restaurant, and probably a good thing as far as the freshness of the seafood is concerned. And that’s a big deal considering VooDoo Kitchen’s menu has a serious emphasis on seafood, including oyster, fish, and shrimp po’ boys, voodoo shrimp, and their signature seafood boil with live lobster and crab, with fresh shrimp, clams, andouille and corn. Throw in plenty of crawfish dishes, and features a pretty authentic NOLA menu.

It's located in a mini-mall just off of I-680, but owners did a pretty nice job with the interior, which features colorful booths, plenty of mardis gras beads, and New Orleans-style jazz and blues over the speakers. I tried the gumbo, which was quite good served with rice, and an oyster po’ boy. You can’t fake oysters, and this one passed the test: it was served on the right kind of squishy baguette that you find in New Orleans, dressed with homemade tartar sauce, pickles, tomatoes, and onions, and featured quite-good fried oysters that were fresh and not over-breaded) Also, I thought their French fries were excellent, and that never hurts.

Bottom-line, Voodoo Kitchen is a nice Tri-Valley option for admirers of New Orleans cuisine (and I know there’s a lot of you out there), and I’m personally looking forward to exploring the rest of the menu, especially one of those seafood boils… Check ‘em out!

6654 Koll Center Pkwy., Pleasanton, (925) 484-4888, voodookitchenpleasanton.com

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