Weekly Dish: 2015 Food Trends
Closings and openings; food trends to watch; and East Bay artisan awards.
Two Big Walnut Creek Closings
Walnut Creek’s McCovey’s will shutter its doors February 2—the day after the Super Bowl. I finally caught up with Jeff Dudum, who confirms that McCovey’s will soon be the home of SoCal chain, Slater’s 50/50, and that Dudum’s brother, Rick, is busy looking for a space in San Francisco where he can reopen the popular sports bar closer to Giants stadium and the San Francisco home of Willie McCovey.
Also in Walnut Creek, Lift Lounge and Grill is closing. After hearing rumors for several weeks, I finally twerked my way over (just kidding!) to the late-night bar/restaurant on Locust Street, where co-owner Jasmine Butler confirmed the landlord will not be renewing the lease. The last day of operations will be January 31. Repeated complaints from neighbors about noise doomed this lively hot spot in the family-minded Walnut Creek community.
In Lift’s place, Justin DiMauro, a Concord resident and former manager of Pete’s Coffee in Alamo Plaza, will be opening CoffeeShop, a back-to-basics coffee bar/restaurant. The all-American concept will focus on local Bay Area roasters and locally sourced products such as artisanal jams and breads. DiMauro plans to offer three squares: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, focusing on hearty homemade sandwiches, soups and salads, items such as “mac ‘n cheese waffles.”
Unapologetic about his new bedroom-close location to Walnut Creek Peet’s, DiMauro says, “Peet’s is a breeding ground for coffee fanatics, and I look forward to working with my neighbors to feed the coffee culture and create a cool coffee scene.” (Or does he mean hot?) Either way, CoffeeShop sounds like it will look as good as it tastes: An extensive remodel is planned using reclaimed wood and metal. DiMauro hopes for an April opening.
A Revamped Haven
Reopening in Oakland: After a brief closure and a concept reboot, Daniel Patterson’s Haven reopened last Friday in Jack London Square. Under the creative hand of executive chef Charlie Parker, the opening chef for Patterson’s Plum, the new menu centers around family-style platters that are shared communally.
Each dinner begins with “breaking bread,” an eclectic assortment of house-made breads served with patés, cheeses, and pickled vegetables. While a la carte snacks and charcuterie will be available at the bar, all dinners are set prix fixe menus—an innovative idea considering food will be served family-style. Sunday to Thursday, dinners will be three courses for $45, with the option of adding an additional pasta course. Friday and Saturday, a four-course menu will be served for $60. Sides and a dessert will be included.
With this very limited menu selection, Parker hopes that dining at Haven will feel more like dining in the home of a friend than in a restaurant ... a friend who’s a really good cook, no doubt!
Big New Food Trends
Nothing satisfies my foodie fix more than two events that take place every January, when food-industry insiders present new food products and trends: the Fancy Food Show at SF’s Moscone Center and the Good Food Awards at SF’s Ferry Building. Over the last few weeks, the entire Bay Area (especially the chef circles) has been abuzz with talk about surprising new products.
I go to the Fancy Food show every year to scout stories and say hello to old friends, and it was a bonanza this year. A raft of East Bay companies were in attendance, from veteran Alameda bakery Semifreddis to Kuli Kuli, the Oakland-based creator of nutritional bars made with nuts, fruits, and the moringa leaf that grows on trees in West Africa. So what’s hot in the “fancy food” realm?
According to Specialty Food magazine, the voice of the Fancy Food Show, one of the anticipated hot trends of 2015 is “superfood” (it seems that one has been hot for awhile)—specifically the explosion of “super bowls” (think: Vitality Bowls)—as well as alternative plant-based proteins such as kaniwa, a South American grain that is high in protein, fiber, iron, and calcium. Baobab powder and fonio, another grain, originally from Africa and virtually unknown in the U.S., are also popping up on the foodie radar. Remember a few years ago when quinoa was new and unpronounceable?
Other trends to watch include soursop, a fruit that seems to relieve everything from stomach pain to respiratory problems, and small-batch yogurts and products containing culinary cannabis (now that it’s legal in several states.)
Here are a few more food trends to watch this year, touted by Whole Foods:
· Smoke-infused everything. From vegetables to cocktails, we’re seeing a rise in smoky flavors and home-smoked foods.
· Birch water, because “coconut water is so last year.” Birch is high in electrolytes and potassium with a unique flavor.
· Alternative dairy, including water buffalo and sheep’s milk.
· Fermented foods. Probiotics to the extreme.
· Grass-fed and GMO-free butter, because beef isn’t enough.
And Good Food Awards
It wouldn’t be January without awards, cinematic (Golden Globes) and otherwise. This year’s Good Food Awards honored many East Bay food producers as well as chefs including Berkeley’s Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Also speaking was my heroine, former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl, another former dumpster diver (just ask Ruth—it was a ”food trend” back in the ’80s!), and the very eloquent Mark Bittman of the New York Times who gave the keynote speech.
I hope we’ll be hearing lots more from the insightful Bittman soon because this spring, he’s coming to UC Berkeley’s Food Institute (founded by The Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan) to teach a course called Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement.
I also appreciated Bittman’s recent article on the foie gras issue in the New York Times where he suggests that animal cruelty within the U.S. production of meat is so widespread, it’s misguided to focus on foie gras, one of the smallest producers: “… you are looking at an industry that produces cruelty on a scale that’s so big and overwhelming few of us can consider it rationally or regularly,” it reads.
Community Shout Out!
I want to give two thumbs up to two local restaurants for the great community-minded work they are doing.
Now taking place at Walnut Creek’s Tender Greens is the Sustainable Life Project, a program that teaches foster kids the honorable craft of cooking by giving kids internships that include kitchen stints as well as farm tours of Tender Greens’ suppliers.
At the Home of Chicken and Waffles in Walnut Creek and Oakland, Derrick John is running a "Community Connected Campaign" to help a troubled Oakland community, providing jobs to young felons to help keep them out of jail. He calls it “Hire One, Teach One, Love One.”
Love one. Nice. Just in time for February.
Veggie Grill, Walnut Creek: Quinoa Power Salad
Until you lay your lips on this one, you cannot imagine the addictive flavors and crunchy texture of this healthy salad that is bursting with vegetarian protein and healthy good fats. Pretty sweet just to look at, too.
Main Street Luncheonette (aka Elevé Restaurant), Walnut Creek: Short Rib sandwich.
Crunchy Acme bread surrounds a tooth-tender hard-seared short rib that is as thick and juicy as grandma used to make. Then it's layered with slightly spicy pickled peppers and spring lettuce. This just might be the perfect sandwich and it's only $10.50?
Plum Bar and Restaurant, Oakland: Saffron Martini.
The savory flavors and aromats of this drinkable bite (and the picholine olive at the bottom of the glass) linger long on the tongue and in memory. That qualifies as a Best Bite, right?