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Weekly Dish: McCormick and Schmick's Scion Taking over Petar's

American bar & grill coming to Lafayette; ice cream sandwiches in Walnut Creek; ticket giveaway for Lodi's Wine & Chocolate fest; a sneak peek at The Forge; and more in this week's Dish!


The Cooperage, an American-style bar & grill, will be replacing the recently-shuttered Petar's in downtown Lafayette. And the man behind it knows a thing or two about the restaurant business: Andrew McCormick, the son of seafood restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick's co-founder Bill McCormick. A decade-long Lafayette resident who has run the popular Marina bar City Tavern for the last 17 years, McCormick recently signed a lease to take over Petar's and has been looking to open a restaurant in the area for a while. 

"I'm really excited to be opening here in my backyard," says McCormick, who sold off his interest in City Tavern a few months ago. "I'm 43 years old; I opened City Tavern when I was 25, and the kids going there are still 25, so you kind of get tired of babysitting. Here I can have a restaurant that's targeted more to my demographic, that's just a mile down the street from where I live."

McCormick describes the Cooperage (named after the San Francisco bar where his father and mother first met), as an "Americana, roadhouse-style" restaurant along the lines of Mill Valley's Buckeye Roadhouse, which will feature familiar, classic dishes such as oysters Rockefeller, potato skins, crab Louis salad, and plenty of steak and seafood. "Something like a good-quality New York steak with baked potato and creamed spinach—you can’t really find that in Lafayette." He plans to have a lively bar section with plenty of flat screen TVs, plus a dining room with an open kitchen and large rotisserie grill cooking up everything from chicken to turkey to pork loin. The vibe will be fun and family-friendly but upscale, which McCormick hopes will fill a niche in the local dining scene. "You have a place like Chow across the street, which is fantastic, and Postino, but there's something missing in between I think," he says. "I want it to be a casual atmosphere, but with linen napkins instead of paper." 

He's also already signed up a chef, Eric Hopfinger, to run the kitchen. Hopfinger, named a Chronicle rising chef in 2002, brings some nice San Francisco culinary experience including stints at Spoon, Waterfront, and Jake's on Market, not to mention an appearance on reality cooking show Top Chef. As for when we can expect the Cooperage to debut? Well, given the fact that Petar's had been operating continuously for 54 years, the space will require an extensive remodel, so McCormick is aiming for a late summer, early fall opening. After that, well, he's hoping for a similarly long run in Lafayette: "We want to stick around," he says. "I’m not going anywhere—I'd like to keep this in my family for a long, long time."

Well, I'm not sure if they rule everything around me, but CREAM (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me), the gourmet ice cream sandwich shop in Berkeley that lets you mix and match types of ice cream and cookies, is rumored to be coming to Walnut Creek. Is it true? Well, sort of. I talked to owner Jimmy Shamieh, who said he does indeed plan to open a new store in Walnut Creek. However, he doesn't have a location or time frame set yet, so sounds like there's still some work to be done. There is more concrete news in Palo Alto, however, where Shamieh says he has officially signed a lease at 440 University Avenue (formerly Michael's Gelato), where he's hoping to open his second Cream by May 1. Nice...

On the subject, I checked back in with Deb Phillips about her anticipated Lottie's Creamery in downtown Walnut Creek. Phillips said she is "done making predictions" after repeated delays in opening her artisan ice cream shop in the former Erawan space on North Main Street. That being said, the interior is about "98-percent done," and Phillips has officially secured her pasteurizer's license which will allow her to make her own ice cream base from scratch: so she's optimistic that it could be as soon as two weeks. But, she warns, "It ain't over 'til it's over..."

You might have read about it in our February dates package but art instructor Julee Herrmann's Canvas and Cabernet is debuting tomorrow at 1421 Locust Street in downtown Walnut Creek. It's a pretty cool concept where you can take group painting lessons while freeing up those creative juices with a glass or three of wine. CLICK HERE to check out the upcoming schedule of classes...

Looking for a romantic road trip this coming Valentines' Day weekend? The 16th annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend celebration is happening this coming February 9 and 10. You'll get to pair Brix chocolate with wines at more than 45 participating wineries. Tix are $45 in advance for both days—and we just happen to be giving away five pairs to Dish readers. Go to lodiwineandchocolate.com to purchase tickets, and CLICK HERE for a chance to win a pair of free passes!

Looks like Zachary's new Pleasant Hill location is getting really close to launching. The deep dish team is hesitant to name an official grand opening date, but it'd be safe to look for it to open within the next two weeks...

Forge executive chef Jeffrey Amber // Photo by Peter CrooksHey, speaking of pizza, last week I had a chance to get a sneak peek at the food offerings at The Forge, and now that they're officially open for business, here's a little run-down of what I had.

I'll start with the pizza, the centerpiece of the menu. It's Neapolitan-style thin-crust wood-fired in an imported Italian oven, and it's pretty damn good. The crispy crust is sourdough (apparently cribbed from SF bakery Tartine's sourdough country bread recipe), giving it an addictively tang. Toppings are high quality and used judiciously, which I really liked. I tried the margherita, fresh pepperoni, and guanciale, and enjoyed them all. The margherita was straightforward and simple with very restrained amounts of sauce and mozzarella that allowed you to better appreciate the flavor of each (as well as the crust). Guanciale pizza with leeks and chicoriesThe pepperoni was interesting, made with uncured meat with a consistency more like sausage, and generously garnished with one of my all-time favorite ingredients Calabrian chile, which added a really nice mellow, lingering heat. Finally, I think my favorite was the guanciale, the best part of which was not, surprisingly, the pork jowl, but rather the delicious chicories and leeks that were charred to perfection in the oven.

Really good stuff in my humble opinion. And perhaps that should come as no surprise considering sous chef Jeff Hayden previously worked at Boot & Shoe Service under the tutelage of owner Charlie Hallowell. Also, consultant Jeff Krupman is, by his own admission, obsessed with thin-crust pizza (He is, after all, nicknamed the Pizza Hacker). And tying this whole thing together is Jeffrey Amber, who brings culinary experience from the Chow restaurant group and the highly regarded, if short-lived, Gigi in Lafayette.

TBy the fire at Forge's outdoor patio // Photo by Peter Crookshere's more than just pizza. The rest of the menu consists of suped-up American comfort food, with such items as fried cheddar cheese curds and fried pickles, smoked chicken wings, and chicken pot pie (one of just four entrees). I'm a sucker for fried cheese, so I dug the curds, but liked the delicate, tempura fried, crispy pickles even more. The chicken pot pie featured some nice seasonal root vegetables like Tokyo turnips and savoy cabbage, along with Central Coast Farms chicken, all enrobed in a buttery dough.

It's also a cool space. Modern, industrial, and big (over 4,000 square feet) with a full bar, several craft beers on tap, and an ample outdoor patio facing the water, it should be a great spot to go with a larger group. Definitely worth checking out...

66 Franklin St. #100, Oakland, (510) 268-3200, theforgeoakland.com

Bid adieu to NM Cafe chef Santana Diaz, who left the popular Broadway Plaza lunch spot to take a job at Santa Clara's Hyatt Regency. Diaz will be missed: he's done a great job turning Neiman Marcus' cafe into a popular higher-end lunch spot with well-crafted dishes and bold flavors (like a delicious lobster tempura that I tried recently). No word yet on a replacement, but we'll keep you posted. 

Over in Livermore, Concannon's chic wine bar, Underdog, has a new person in charge of the food there, and you might recognize the name: Eric Berg, the former executive chef over at Wente and current head of On the Vine Catering. You can check out the revamped food line-up here, but Berg has adding his own spin on the small plates menu with dishes like a California cheeseboard, artisanal cured meats plate, and the pulled pork tacos.

Speaking of Wente, don't forget to check out Wente's Estate Beef Week in which executive chef Matt Greco is offering dishes such as aged charcuterie, bone marrow and beef chorizo sourced from cattle raised on Wente's own estate. There's also a tasting menu for $75. CLICK HERE for the menu... And CLICK HERE to read a preview of the beef from food writer Sara Hare.

Looks like the dream of bringing upscale southern to San Ramon is over for now. According to the Contra Costa Times, the deal between the city of San Ramon and Picán owner Michael LeBlanc to replace the shuttered Mudd's Restaurant at 10 Boardwalk Place has fallen through. Per the CCTimes, the city hopes to find a new buyer for the property by later this year.

It was quite a scene at Bocanova last week as LAN Airlines, promoting its non-stop flights from SFO to South America, gave away a free round-trip ticket to South America to more than 200 unsuspecting diners attending a special wine dinner at the Jack London Square restaurant last Wednesday. Even the restaurant staff got a ticket! Pretty cool moment, and likely the closest I'll ever get to one of those crazy Opera surprise giveaways. The lesson: never again skip one of Bocanova's wine dinners! I jest, but I should mention that food, and in particular the South American wines, was great. Plenty going on over there too, including a late-night happy hour, half-off wine on Wednesdays, three-course chef's menu for lunch, new wine club, and special "Rick's Supper Club" prix fixe dinners on the first Thursday of every month. 55 Webster St., Oakland, (510) 444-1233, bocanova.com.

A stone's throw away in Jack London Square, Lungomare, the new Northern Italian restaurant replacing Miss Pearl's, will be having its grand opening next Thursday, February 7—just as industrious Oakland restaurateur Chris Pastena predicted a few months ago (impressive considering the number of delays typically associated with opening any restaurant). Lungomare is actually a collaboration between Pastena, who runs Chop Bar and is opening another restaurant in the Tribune Tower downtown this spring, and Tom Henderson and Temoor Noor from Oakland's Grand Tavern.

The executive chef is Craig DiFonzo, previously of Cantinetto Piero in Yountville, and he'll be doing "handmade pasta, salumi and traditional Italian cooking techniques" with an emphasis on Coastal Italian fare "focusing on seafood and shellfish, grilled whole fish, crudo, cured meats, pizzas and handmade pastas, all inspired by rustic flavors from Liguria and Tuscany."  A few examples: Monterey squid, borlotti beans and preserved lemon ($11), Farinata with olives, rosemary and artichoke ($12), Corzetti pasta, arugula, basil and hazelnut pesto with oven-dried tomato ($14) and Berkshire Porchetta, caramelized sunchokes, farro and chard ($26). For drinks, the wine is mainly Italian (including hard to find Ligurian labels), craft beers are from around the world, and the cocktail program is from former Haven bar manager Paul Christensen. The restaurant will also have a cafe (opening February 11), offering morning and afternoon coffee and quick-grab lunches. One Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7171, LungomareOakland.com.

Quite a booming culinary scene happening in Jack London Square these days...

Meritage chef Scott QuinnAlso had a chance to go to a preview dinner at The Claremont Hotel's Meritage, where new chef de cuisine Scott Quinn was showing off his culinary skills. Quinn, who takes over Meritage after the departure of the hotel's dynamic former executive chef Josh Thomsen, has a nice pedigree, having worked at Bagatelle in Los Angeles and Las Vegas' Bouchon Bistro where he studied under the French Laundry's Thomas Keller. That tutelage was obvious in his food, all of which showed off quite a high attention to detail and plating.

Oxtail RilletteA couple of my favorites were the oxtail rillette topped with a sweet persimmon gelée and served with flavorful pickled veggie, as well as a Sonoma duck breast with grilled endive and nice huckleberry gastrique. Probably the most fun dish was his "Elvis" bread pudding dessert with caramelized banana, peanut butter ice cream and bits of maple bacon, a play on the King's beloved peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwiches. Quinn said he would be placing even more emphasis on seasonality, turning over the menu six to eight times per year, versus quarterly. Check it out if you get a chance: the food is good and you can't beat those Bay views... 41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley, (510) 549-8510, meritageclaremont.com

Some Tri-Valley tid-bits...

Per Patch, Pho Tastic is replacing the old Carl's Junior on Hopyard in Pleasanton, and Salad Makers is opening in the Target shopping center on Las Positas Road in Livermore.

Also, the owner of Ruggies in San Ramon has filed a building permit to take over the shuttered Marcello's space in Danville, and a restaurant called Fish on the Grill is headed for the Diablo Shopping Center in San Ramon.  

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