Weekly Dish: Revolving Restaurant Doors
Shock-factor buyouts and closings; rock ‘n roll wines; hot openings; delicious events; and the foie frenzy continues!
We’re just past the halfway mark and this January (traditionally a slow restaurant month) has been anything but.
Restaurant group gobble...in a deal that was announced recently, the San Rafael-based Moana Restaurant Group is now responsible for the management of many restaurants in the Lark Creek Restaurant group. What that means is that Walnut Creek’s Corner’s Tavern and Lark Creek Walnut Creek as well as Lafayette’s Yankee Pier are now sister restaurants! Moana is the well-respected group behind Paragon at The Claremont as well as Danville’s Piatti’s and a slew of North Bay and wine country restaurants including Napa’s REDD and Redwood and Sonoma’s El Dorado Kitchen. They will take over operations at many of the Lark Creek restaurants including Lark Creek Steak and Cupola Pizzeria in San Francisco; Lark Creek Walnut Creek; Yankee Pier in Lafayette and at Terminal 3 San Francisco International Airport; Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott; Lark Creek Grill at Terminal 2 San Francisco International Airport; Lark Creek Blue at Santana Row in San Jose; and Lark Creek Newport Beach. It is unknown what will happen with Fish Story, the Lark Creek Restaurant group property that closed last month on Napa’s beautiful Riverfront. More than 25 restaurants are listed on the Moana website but who’s counting!
Chef Gavin Schmidt of Corner’s Tavern was thrilled about the news saying, “it’s really great to have friends in the neighborhood! “ Schmidt has been in frequent contact with Lark Creek Walnut Creek chef Scott Wall since the news broke. “It's great to have a sounding board, another pair of eyes." Moana is such a great company. This can only be great news for East Bay diners. Read more here.
In other huge news...Last week, to the shock of perhaps every food-loving denizen in the East Bay, Box and Bells, one of four critically-acclaimed restaurants owned by Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout, suddenly closed. After reaching him by phone yesterday, Syhabout told me that the restaurant was just not a good fit for the Rockridge neighborhood and that he will not retain ownership of the space on College Avenue in Oakland. The space is currently for sale and “exciting potential buyers” are interested. He was mum on exactly whom he is talking to but was joking around with me so that's a good sign, "...it's going to be a strip club... j/k". It was a bold and potentially ego-bruising move for a chef-owner but I've always admired Syhabout's business sense and moxie. He has nothing to worry about. Later this month he will open a second outpost of his hugely popular Hawker Fare in San Francisco. Check out HF soon for Laotian-Thai street food that will jet you over the Pacific without even stepping on a plane.
Great restaurants AND rock 'n roll wines..
Oakland remains to be the center of the East Bay restaurant universe lately especially the Uptown Oakland area that never fails to impress. If you haven’t been here lately (the blocks along Broadway between 16th and 24th) then you’ve got to check it out. The other night I was in Uptown Oaktown to taste the new Dreaming Tree wines made by folk legend (and now winemaker) Dave Matthews! The beautiful Paramount Theater, that anchors the Uptown area, allows patrons to sip and swirl during the concerts and there’s no finer time to do that than during a Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds acoustical show! Constellation Brands is helping Matthews with Dreaming Tree, an approachable, food-friendly wine that sells for $15 a bottle (lots less than a ticket to one of Dave’s shows!) You can order these über-hip wines here to show off to your friends. Matthews even has recipes to pair with his wines in honor of places he’s performed. Here’s a stellar Cuban-inspired mojo braised pork shoulder that Matthews’ chef came up with for last year’s show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.
The opening of Blue Gingko Dublin was delayed again though I did get a sneak peek last Monday. They are definitely (right, Philip?) opening to the public this Sunday. If not, just email me for owner Philip Yang’s cell phone number and you can call him yourself to say how much you need your izakaya now! (Just kidding!) For all you lucky Dublin-Livermoreians living near the Fallon Gateway Plaza, the menu here is almost identical to Walnut Creek’s hipster spot, Sasa, and you won’t have to fight for parking!
Veggie Grill has, in fact, opened in downtown Walnut Creek but the line has been as long as the life expectancy of most vegans so I’ll have to report on Veggie Grill next week.
Breaking news: Lafayette will be the new home of a Vitality Bowls, the acai-based yogurt-and-more place that is franchising as fast as they can whirl a smoothie. The most recently announced location is Lafayette’s Merrill Gardens, on Second Street in Lafayette.
In Concord, a new Loard’s Ice Cream and Candies will go into a space near the already announced Mi Pi Pizza on Todos Santos Plaza.
Thanks to the Dish reader who gave me the heads up that Ike’s Place, also known as Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, will be opening a new location at The Willows in Concord. Judging by their website, this shop will be their 15th location! And what a following they have! Check out this recent FB post.
Ike’s owner, Ike Shehadeh Mission, has designed a “Curry sandwich” composed of turkey, “Steph” barbecue sauce and provolone cheese for a certain special, and Ike-loving, Warrior who is also an East Bay suburbs resident. No word yet on an opening date.
A New Wine Bar
Periscope Cellars owner, Brendan Eliason softly opened his new wine tasting bar, Deep Roots, a few weeks ago in Swan’s Market. For the food piece, Eliason has teamed up with “chef-moms,” Celeste Cooper and Ally Lopez of Hen House who do a magical job with a Cal-Ital comfort menu that includes salads, pizzas and dishes like spicy braised pork with lemon and caramelized onion and braised beef with arugula both served with flatbread. Yum!
To celebrate his third anniversary at Swan’s Market (10 years for Periscope Cellars), Eliason is throwing a grand opening party on Saturday, February 7 from 12-9 p.m. when all beverages at Deep Roots including Periscope Cellars’ wines and an interesting lineup of cocktails will be $3 off (for three years… clever man.) For serious wine lovers, Eliason will be pulling out the good stuff and that includes a new port on tap made from Zinfandel and Petit Verdot that’s aged for seven years. I like the sounds of the Golden Spike, a railroad-inspired cocktail honoring the transcontinental railroad that ended in Oakland, made with ginger, mint and hard lemonade. In addition to opening Deep Roots and producing his own line-up of wines, amaros, sherries, Madeira and vermouths, he’s also expecting the birth of his first child in mid-March. Congrats Brendan!
Here’s more about the East Bay’s Urban Wineries and Brendan Eliason from the recent article in Diablo Magazine’s Food Awards issue.
In Lafayette… Postino launched a new winter menu inspired, possibly, by the foie gras that is making appearances on menus all over the East Bay. Start with a fennel-spiced salmon bruschetta on Acme rye toast ($14) before sliding into something like the roasted duck breast served with smashed red potatoes, roasted apples, and foie gras butter duck glaze ($27). Don’t you just love that chefs can now use foie again!
In Danville... Amber Bistro is offering an astounding three-course Sunday dinner for $25 that includes beet salad, slow-braised beef short ribs and apple cobbler.
I got a sneak peak at their Valentine’s Day menu that, according to owner Eric Janssen, is pulling out all the stops. Think truffled cauliflower soup amuse bouche, chanterelle and fennel sausage stuffed quail; swordfish with braised chorizo, baby Peruvian potatoes and crème fraiche; and more! Amber’s Valentine Day meal ends with choice of Laura Chenel goat cheesecake; dark chocolate pavé with strawberry coulis and chantilly cream; or passion fruit sorbet. Okay, now I’m hungry!
When I visited Amber for the first time recently, I found it to be very romantic and well worth a try if only for a glimpse of the stunning décor that draws a cool, younger crowd. As I was leaving, Revel bar manager, Ryan Simpson, arrived for a drink and a late bite.
This Saturday, January 24 from 12-4 p.m. the Brewing Network will be holding its sixth annual winter brew festival in Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza benefitting the Coral Reef Alliance. There will be dozens of award-winning craft brews as well as live music. Hop Grenade Taproom & Bottle Shop is sponsoring the event along with Drake’s Brewing Club, the 21st Amendment and others.
Make reservations now for a special winemaker dinner next Thursday, January 29, at 54 Mint in Concord. That night the menu will be inspired by Italy’s Piedmont region in honor of visiting Piedmont winery Cascina ‘Ca Rossa, one of the region’s premier producers.
Sorry to See You Go
MexCal closes in Orinda and the Taqueria Mexican Grill closes in WC. Word on the street is that new south-of-the-border restaurants will go into those spots but no details yet.
Finally… Katy’s Kreek in Walnut Creek has stopped their dinner service but will continue serving breakfast and lunch. See their FB page for more info.
Check out my special report on Berkeley and Oakland Restaurant Weeks here!
ROAM Artisan Burgers, Lafayette – The “Fry-Fecta”
Salty russet potato fries sprinkled with grated parmesan, barbecue sauce-coated sweet potato fries and a “haystack” of crispy zucchini onion strings make for an unbelievably fun accompaniment to a ROAM burger and they are worth every calorie. Sort of.
Plum Bar and Restaurant, Oakland – Grilled pork chop with slaw
Be sure to stop by for dinner soon to sample Plum’s signature pork chop coated with coarse-ground mustard and served over an every-color-of-the-rainbow coleslaw. Fine, very fine.
Blue Gingko, Dublin - Red Gingko roll with raw shrimp, avocado and tuna
Stuffed with raw amaebi shrimp and layered with bright red maguro tuna, this bright and beautiful roll sets new heights for sushi masterwork. Blue Gingko Dublin is really rolling now!