Weekly Dish: Spicy Times
Foie gras quacks back; Oakland Restaurant Week rocks; chef shakeups; and epic restaurant drama.
What a week for food news! In a sudden turnaround, a U.S. district judge last week issued a ruling overturning California’s law banning foie gras, the notorious goose liver much prized by chefs and reviled by animal activists. Foie gras had been outlawed in California in 2012.
As many industry insiders know, it may have left the menu, but it never left the kitchen. Jenny Schwartz, co-owner of Hopscotch in Oakland, says, “the restaurants that are serving it now are the ones who already had it for private parties on a sort of bespoke or secret menu.” Hopscotch is serving “foie” (as it’s fondly called) on top of burgers for an upcharge of $10.
At Chevalier restaurant in Lafayette, foie gras is now served three ways: pan-seared with brandied cherry sauce; atop a beef tenderloin with black truffle sauce (“the Rossini”); and piled on a filet of sole and served with fingerling potatoes.
Chef Gavin Schmidt of Corner’s Tavern in Walnut Creek plans to have foie on the menu by Valentine’s Day. “Haha, that’s the question lately!” Schmidt texted when I asked him if foie was in his future. Rodney Worth of The Peasant and the Pear in Danville and Jen Biesty of Oakland’s Shakewell are also planning on serving it soon. So people, go out and get your foie on!
One place people are sure to be talking all things foodie and foie is at Oakland Restaurant Week, which starts tomorrow (January 15). Taking place over two weekends from January 15 to 24, this citywide event includes 75 Oakland restaurants—from A16 Rockridge to Z Café and Bar—all offering special prix-fixe lunch and/or dinner menus at $20, $30, and $40 price points.
I was at Oakland’s Lake Chalet on Lake Merritt the other night, and had a sneak peak at their restaurant week menu. Wrap your taste buds around this: creamy cauliflower soup or heirloom beet salad to start; a choice of braised short ribs with polenta and winter greens or pan-roasted Gulf flounder for an entrée; and almond cake for dessert. Dinner will set you back just $40, and this one is worth every penny.
Oakland Restaurant Week is a big deal, and is sponsored by OpenTable, Uber, Discover Card, the City of Oakland, and Diablo magazine, of course! It’s a great chance to experience the trendy Oakland culinary scene at reasonable prices. Visit the website to check out the participating restaurants and menus, and also to make reservations. Next week, I will report on some of my favorites.
Benicia also has a restaurant week. From January 18 to 24, enjoy 15 percent off participating restaurants when you show your Benicia Restaurant Week Passport. Passports are available at Benicia Main Street or online.
The Restaurant at Wente in Livermore is saying goodbye to executive chef Matt Greco, who is very sotto voce about where he is going next. Greco will only say that it will be in Northern California. "It takes time to build a menu and a team and I'd like to do that quietly." Stay tuned for the announcement. Good luck to you, Matt!
Wente executive sous chef Mark Duesler, who helped Greco over the past three years, will lead the always-stunning Wente restaurant until the new top toque is named.
Breaking news in Walnut Creek… After plating up many delicious, if somewhat space age, dishes of molecular gastronomy, chef Frank Jordan of Sunol Ridge is moving on as well. Chef Evan Perlick, chef de cuisine at Arcadia, Michael Mina’s restaurant at the San Jose Marriott, will replace Jordan at Sunol starting Monday. At Arcadia, Perlick prepared such Mina classics as lobster corn dogs, ahi tuna tartare and truffled mac & cheese. Sounds like a great fit for Walnut Creek and the beer-forward menu of Sunol Ridge.
Drama in the Kitchen
In case anyone missed it, a curious article ran in the Contra Costa Times last week, telling a reality TV-worthy story of brandishing chef knives, restraining orders, and embezzlement at one of my favorite little Lafayette eateries, American Kitchen. Aye! Just a gander at this hot mess, and we can all understand just a few of the challenges of running a restaurant.
Owner Victor Ivry is taking the high road, saying only that business has never been better. Last weekend the restaurant was indeed packed. “The food and service at American Kitchen are totally unaffected,” he says. After the restaurant received some negative reviews a few months ago under the previous chef, the lunch, dinner, and breakfast menus were revamped (in that order.) Breakfast is now served every day from 9 to 3 p.m.
Tasty News Tidbits
Øl Beercafe and Bottle Shop on Giammona Street in Walnut Creek is doing a fundraiser this Friday, with lots of local breweries attending. Want more Øl? Check out its Barley Wine Fest on January 23.
Also this Friday, Gianni’s Italian Bistro in San Ramon will end its lunch service. Dinner will be still be served from 5 to 9 p.m.
Walnut Creek Yacht Club is hosting its to-die-for January lobster feed, featuring a one-and-one-quarter pound Maine lobster, cole slaw, and fries for $20.15. (Those WCYC folks are so clever.)
Finally, in honor of January, we celebrate the vegetable. Until January 26, Chipotle (yes, Chipotle) is promoting its new vegan sofritas (tofu, poblano peppers, and spices) by offering a gift card for a free entrée item upon a return visit.
Philip Yang and Brian Hasegawa, the talented team behind Blue Gingko Dublin, tell me they will be opening doors next Tuesday, January 20. Look for the legendary sushi and izakaya cuisine, quite similar to what is on the new menu at Walnut Creek’s Sasa.
Also open: According to Beyond the Creek, Ramen Hiroshi’s is now serving up hearty bowls of ramen in the former space of 310 Eatery on Bonanza Street.
And last but not nutritional yeast, Veggie Grill opens today (January 14)! Quite possibly Walnut Creek’s (if not CoCoCounty's) first vegan restaurant, Veggie Grill serves lunches and dinners featuring fruits, vegetables, and grains—but absolutely no dairy or meat. The fast-casual menu will be available to order at the counter, and most dishes will be about $10. According to a Veggie Grill spokesperson, the restaurant is not just for hard-core health nuts. “Most people don’t even miss the meat.” With 27 locations from Washington to SoCal, the menu has popular appeal. This is one place where you will definitely not find foie gras on the menu!
A tip from Diablo editor and movie maven Pete Crooks who tells me that R.J.’s Asian Fusion is opening soon in the Alamo location formerly home to Yan’s.
Also, a Danville city spokesperson says a new pizza restaurant is going into 550 Hartz Avenue, and an Italian place is going into Father Nature’s spot. Stay tuned for more details.
Main Street Luncheonette (aka Elevé Restaurant) in Walnut Creek: The Fried Chicken Sandwich with cole slaw and pickled peppers is crunchy and tangy, and everything you want a sandwich to be. Stop by for a taste of the new menu at Walnut Creek’s first “restaurant inside a restaurant.”
Amber Bistro in Danville: The Thai salmon with coconut milk, red pepper, and artichokes is served on an earthenware plate that bubbles and simmers to perfection. And this is just the starter.
Seaglass, the restaurant at the Exploratorium in San Francisco: With the shimmering East Bay across the water, Seaglass Restaurant is stunning from the view to the very last bite of food. Pineapple-glazed fish tacos with purple cabbage and jicama were as fresh and crisp as my brain after a few hours at the rock-your-world science museum.