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Weekly Dish: Hot Italian Sighting

Thin-crust specialist coming to Emeryville; opening updates in Walnut Creek; SF's District wine bar replacing Levende East; Jack London Square project changes gears; Umami burger preview; and more in this week's Dish!


Hot Italian (no, not Sophia Loren) is coming to Emeryville's Public Market. The hip, urban, thin crust–centric eatery (based on a European-style "fast bar") proved an instant hit when it opened in Sacramento in 2009, and it will now become a centerpiece restaurant in an under-renovation public market, previously known mostly for its eclectic collection of International cheap eats. Co-founded by Andrea Lepore, an Italian-American from an artistic family, and Fabrizio Cercatore, an Italian-Italian and former pizzaiolo in the old country, Hot Italian's mission is to "bring people together to celebrate Italy’s new generation of art, music, design, sport, food, and wine," according to the website. At the Sacramento restaurant, that includes a seasonal menu of salads, paninis, calzones, and a large selection of thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas such as the Stella (prosciutto parma, mushrooms, mozzarella, crescenza cheese) and the Neri (broccoli rabe, sweet coppa ham, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and shaved pecorino romano cheese). And, of course, gelato and espresso. Hot Italian will be taking over for the now-closed Fuzio Bistro and joins the Guitar Center and Urban Outfitters as new tenants to the Public Market, which has been undergoing a bit of an upscale makeover. No specifics yet on the Emeryville Hot Italian location, but look for an April opening and check back for details!

That's not the only East Bay market changing its stripes. Developers for Jack London Square have announced a tweaked game plan for the long-dormant Jack London Market project. Instead of being a centerpiece for strictly food vendors, a la the Ferry Building or Napa's Oxbow Market, the plan is now to focus on bringing in more food producers. This means an emphasis on companies that will not only sell their products at the marketplace, but that actually make those products on-site—in the model of places like Miette Bakery, Baia Pasta, and Blue Bottle Coffee (pictured right), which have already opened in the greater Jack London Square area. It's a plan developers hope is more in line with the "local food movement," and they are targeting the increasing multitude of small, artisan, home-grown food producers that have sprung up in recent years across the Bay Area and specifically in Oakland.

Some good news for Old Oakland, as District, a popular wine lounge near AT&T Park in San Francisco, is taking over the shuttered Levende East on Washington and 9th streets. The concept at the new spot, tenatively scheduled for a March opening, will be similar to the San Francisco location. District offers around 30 wines by the glass in addition to a pretty robust menu for a wine bar, which includes items like pizzetas, sliced hangar steak, seared sea scallops, and beef sliders, in addition to cheese and charcuterie. Look for more details soon...

Some Walnut Creek news...

High-tech veteran and first-time restaurateur Ramin Behtash was perhaps a little over-ambitious in his October 2011 target date for the debut of Citra Grill, across from Forever 21 and the movie theater. "We ran into some issues, some bureaucratic snags, so we're a little behind." But Behtash says the problems have mostly been ironed out and he's now hoping to open in about six weeks, by mid-March. The concept is still the same: top quality ingredients—such as halibut, shrimp, chicken, steak, and vegetables—that will be flame grilled on bamboo skewers and served on fresh-baked bread, along with salads, mini desserts, and plenty of coffee drinks.

Also targeting a mid-March opening now is Opa!, the planned Greek restaurant taking over the former Caffe delle Stelle downtown on North Main Street (they were originally hoping to open in December). Opa! will bring made-to-order authentic Greek cuisine for lunch and dinner, with brunch on the weekends. opawillowglen.com.

Meanwhile, the fate of Erawan Thai is still a mystery. Rumors have swirled about a new "farm to table" concept replacing that space on North Main Street, but news of its demise appears to have been exaggerated, as the restaurant is still serving up its popular pa-nang curry and pad thai. Check back for updates.

A big congratulations to Diablo Best of the East Bay best bartender, Jay Crabb from Walnut Creek Yacht Club. Crabb suffered a nasty cut to his hand in the line of duty a few months ago, and after undergoing surgery and rehab, he looks set to make his cocktail-shaking return sometime next week.

Hopefully the downtown Walnut Creek scene will have settled down a bit by then. A series of fights last weekend, the latest in a recent string of ugly after-hours incidents over the last few months, have drawn promises to crack down on late-night revelers from city leaders and police. Should be worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Pic├ín chef Dean Dupuis (left) with owner Michael LeBlancBittersweet news for Diablo favorite Picán: Opening day executive chef Dean Dupuis will be leaving to take a job as chef de cuisine at a new 150-seat concept from lauded DC restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier at Revel, an upcoming Atlantic City resort. Picán owner Michael LeBlanc will be logging some frequent flyer miles, scouring the country's southern states for the restaurant's next "star chef in the making.”

Blackhawk Grille closed over the weekend for several months for a long-planned renovations. There will be an updated "new American tavern" look, a new menu, and an expanded bar and patio area, with a reopening sometime this spring, according to the website Correction: Blackhawk Grille is still open with a limited menu and is aiming to start renovation by this weekend.

Also under construction, according to Claycord, is the long-delayed In-n-Out Burger location on Contra Costa Boulevard and Chilpancingo in Pleasant Hill.

More popular restaurant chain news... Buckhorn Grill debuted in the Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton, replacing the shuttered California Pizza Kitchen ASAP, and Chipotle will be coming to the Danville Square Shopping Center.

Couple of tid bits courtesy of Patch: A new Mexican restaurant La Palapa will replace the closed El Balazo on Hopyard Road in Pleasanton; and Kitchen 580 is now open in the Casino 580 in Livermore, offering an upscale menu of Asian-meets-Gastropub fare to chow down on between bets.  

Finally, a quick shout-out to Umami Burger, which announced it is opening a new Oakland location (2100 Franklin Street) later this year. I had a chance to go to the San Francisco Umami and try one of its much-discussed burgers for myself. So? Pretty damn good. It's a major burger, way thicker than a typical In-n-Out, Habit, or Five Guys version, but was juicy and flavorful. I got the Umami Burger with house-ground beef, oven-roasted tomato, caramelized onions, parmesan crisp, shitake mushrooms, and house-made ketchup. Ingredients were top-quality, but there was a little too much going on taste-wise for me, so I actually preferred my wife's Manly Burger (yeah, I know, she wears the pants...), which had beer-cheddar cheese, smoked-salt onion strings, and bacon. The cheesy tater tots and scallop burger were excellent, too. Anyway, it should make a great addition to the East Bay burger scene... umamiburger.com