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Weekly Dish: What’s New in the New Year

Healthy eating in Walnut Creek; a mysterious sommelier; a new Lafayette general store and Concord pizza parlor; and the renovation of a Danville landmark.


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Sara Hare

January is the month for healthy resolutions! So it seems cruel that the California Lottery is teasing me with what might be the most ill-timed promotion to ever land in my inbox: “Scratch and Taste Your Way to the Ultimate Foodie Experience.” The experience? Dinner at The French Laundry.

All I have to do is submit a photo of myself holding an Emerald 10 Scratchers lottery ticket with a caption saying who I would invite to my French Laundry experience. I think I'd invite Thomas Keller! If I win, it might be worth blowing all my 2015 healthy eating resolutions. January is California Restaurant month, after all, so I guess I have to forgive the Lottery for what should really be called the Last Temptation of Iced, Diced and Sliced.

I don't know about you but this year I'm making my resolutions as delicious as possible. If it's not tasty, it's not worth it, right? With so many healthy, high-end, really inspired dining venues coming online in our ever-changing, hot-and-happening East Bay dining scene, I find that's getting easier all the time.

The menu has never been healthier at Walnut Creek’s Sunrise Bistro. Dish recently sat down with Joe Stein, who has just taken over the popular Walnut Creek breakfast and lunch spot from his mom, Cindy Gershen, a well-known wellness speaker/teacher/author who founded the bistro.

Sunrise Bistro / Sara Hare

Despite its lively bar (with full liquor license) that draws an evening crowd, Stein discontinued dinner service at Sunrise in late November. With three kids and an MBA in the works, he has his hands full. But by summer, Stein plans to transform the restaurant into an evening pop-up venue for new and aspiring chefs, as well as nonprofits in need of a fundraising venue. Anyone interested in “popping up” should contact Stein at the Sunrise Bistro catering office. Stein also has plans for a food truck and two more restaurants. Walnut Creek is getting hipper (and healthier) by the day.

When I went in for breakfast on a Monday morning, the place was packed, and after sampling a few breakfast items, I've gotta say... the food has never been better. Stein has introduced some pretty superb organic coffee from local roaster, Big House Beans. Mary’s Chicken and other antibiotic and hormone-free meats have been added to the menu. Artisanal and wholesome Community Grains flour is used for baked goods, and Mariposa Baking Co. provides gluten-free bread. The chocolate chip banana bread is dense and delicious, and the white and green omelet, “The Chelsea” (named after Stein’s wife), is good, clean food. A self-professed “salt freak,” I was wishing for a little more something-something on my eggs—until I remembered that’s what saltshakers are for. But for restricted diets or those just wanting healthier options, Sunrise has got you covered.

 

Courtesy of Veggie Grill

At last we have a reliable opening date for Veggie Grill, a healthy, fast-casual restaurant on Locust Street in the former Walnut Creek downtown post office location, a place I can't wait to try! A SoCal-based group with dozens of locations throughout California, Washington and Oregon, Veggie Grill is opening stores faster than I can scramble tofu so it must be hard to keep track of them and the opening date has been delayed several times. According to Veggie Grill's corporate spokesperson, the Walnut Creek location will finally be opening its doors on Wednesday, December 14, a week from today! Veggie Grill is just that, all vegetarian, offering a wide variety of vegetable-based dishes and meat-like replicas. Think “chickin” veggie patty. Popular items include the quinoa power salad, the Santa Fe chickin' sandwich and the kale salad, still the ubiquitous trend salad of our time.

Courtesy of Honey Berry

Also in Walnut Creek

 A new bubble-tea-Hawaiian-shaved-ice-and-then-some shop has opened on North Main Street, next to the City Hall. Honey Berry is pink and pretty and irresistible, serving a potpourri of sweet drinks and gelato. Judging by the online reviews of the other Honey Berry locations throughout the Bay Area, the Green Tea Snowcup (Korean-style shaved ice with mochi balls and green tea ice cream) seems to be a favorite. Enjoy a 30 percent discount before January 10.

 

Eleve / Sara Hare

Main Street Luncheonette at Elevé restaurant opened yesterday! All-American salads and sandwiches are now available for grab and go or grab and sit from 11:30-2 p.m. I went to check it out and I can report that the fried chicken sandwich with pickled vegetables is unforgettable. And since several people raving about the short rib sandwich, I'll have to return for that one soon. At Main Street Luncheonette, chef/owner Michele Nyugen is showing off her considerable talents with a completely different style of cuisine and I'm predicting great success.

 

From the Tri-Valley

Dish was recently followed on Twitter by a mysterious tweeter: A secret sommelier under the handle @SecretSommCa. Just this morning, I tracked down said somm on the phone (anonymously, of course). As it turns out, this is do-gooding at its most delicious! A Tri-Valley resident who "made millions in the tech industry," @SecretSommCa is working with the Tri-Valley tourism board to start 2015 off with a bang--and a bottle. Every Friday and Saturday night for the month of January, she (yes--SecretSomm is a woman!) will be dining at restaurants that carry Livermore Valley wines, and she will be gifting bottles of wine to unsuspecting diners. After discussing pairings and wine preferences with the wait staff, @SecretSommCa has been anonymously sending a bottle of wine to a chosen table. (For larger parties, she will consider sending multiple bottles.) Follow her on Twitter for hints about where she will be dining for a chance to win a bottle yourself.

In Lafayette

We have some breaking news: Real estate developer/broker Craig Semmelmeyer of Main Street Property Services says space has been leased at Lafayette’s Park Plaza to a business called The Store, an old mercantile/general store concept that will serve artisanal, prepared foods to go. The project, 2500 square-feet located next to the future home of Mariposa Baking Co., will be run by a collaboration of folks from San Francisco’s Ferry Building food complex. WOW! More details soon.

Susan Foord CateringOn the other end of Lafayette’s Mt. Diablo Boulevard, we say goodbye to the Susan Foord Café, which closed its doors on Christmas Eve. After 15 years of serving a fiercely loyal (and hungry) following, Foord is looking forward to “taking things down a notch,” and just concentrating on her catering business. No word yet on who will take over her homey kitchen café. Good luck to you, Susan, and thanks for the delicious memories. I devoured many a chop salad at your place after a Reservoir walk with friends.

 

In Concord

After just a year of operation, we also say goodbye to Ravioli’s Italian Marketplace, an Italian eatery on Todos Santos Plaza that never quite hit its stride. The space is being taken over by Danville resident, Matt Blank, a veteran restaurant-operations guy and former general manager at Walnut Creek’s P.F. Chang’s and California Pizza Kitchen. His new Mi Pi Pizza (“that’s my pie”) will serve up four different kinds of crust: skinny, Chicago thin crust (cut into squares), deep dish, and stuffed.

Sara HareThe charismatic Blank describes Mi Pi’s pizza as “similar to Patxi’s and Zachary’s, but closer to authentic, hardcore, Chicago-style pizza.” Mi Pi will offer handcrafted cocktails and Green River lime soda, from Chicago. The food will be organic and farm-to-table.

Blank is also upping the entertainment factor: Twice a night, the staff will lead a group sing-a-long of That’s Amore! (Love that.) And he’s tapped a high school math teacher to produce worksheets and math games for families to play during dinner. Blank targets a late February opening date.

In Danville

I caught up with Dave Homer, owner of Pete’s Brass Rail, who is doing some minor renovations and reconfiguring the wall that is exploding with names from the 100 Beer Club. Homer and wife/co-owner, Susie, plan to reopen in a few weeks. I hope so, because I’m thinking about joining the club next month. Once all those New Year’s resolutions have slipped away and I've come back to my senses!


Got Dish? Send me an email at dish@maildiablo.com or follow me on Twitter @DiabloDish.