Weekly Dish: Artisanal Ice Cream in Walnut Creek

Ici-trained ice cream maker to bring gourmet ice cream to downtown; also in Walnut Creek: Opa opens, Shiro changes hands, and a high-end service makeover cometh; authentic ramen for Rockridge; shout-out for Skates on the Bay; and more in this week' Dish!



Great news, 925 ice cream lovers. A cool new creamery is headed for downtown Walnut Creek that aims to serve artisanal, everything-made-in-house ice cream in the mold of Berkeley's super-popular Ici (whose ice cream is pictured). Longtime friends Deb Phillips and Cesar Angobaldo have taken over the former Erawan Thai space at 1414 North Main Street and hope to open Lottie's Creamery by the end of the summer. The two have ambitious plans for Lottie's: they'll be serving artisinal ice cream using organic and inventive, seasonal ingredients similar to Ici—where Philips worked for almost two years—while still maintaining a family-friendly focus appropriate to Walnut Creek.

"We’ll definitely play with some of the unique flavor profiles, but we also want to bring that playfulness into the more traditional, kid-friendly flavors," says Philips. "I want to do a lot of riffs off of dessert flavors, like a cream cheese ice cream with chocolate carrot cake, or take a s’mores and break that down into an ice cream flavor. And also, obviously, I want to play with cardamom and all the exciting spices—chipotle cinnamon is one of my favorite flavors—so it will be kind of a combination."

Lottie's co-owners Cesar Angobaldo and Deb PhillipsNot only will everything be made in-house—Lottie's has a full commercial kitchen and Philips will make all the ice cream ingredients such as marshmallows, brittles, and cookies from scratch—but they'll actually be making their own ice cream base, something unique among Bay Area ice creameries. Phillips and Angobaldo purchased their own pasteurizer and will make a custom base (the mixture of milk, cream, sugar, and eggs)—rather than using a premade base like most places do—allowing them to minutely control the texture and consistency of each flavor.

"It's a little bit more work but I think it's totally worth it," Phillips says. "It allows me flexibility and creativity, so that I can get ice cream that's as close as I can possibly get to when I make ice cream from scratch at home."

This is the first food venture for the two friends, who have been discussing the idea for years. Phillips, the chef, worked in the non-profit sector for a decade before finally deciding to pursue her passion (her sister and mother are both cooks), while Angobaldo has a finance background and will run the business side of things.

Lottie's, named after Phillips' grandmother, a baker, will also serve Blue Bottle Coffee and a few specialty items such as fresh-baked cookies and ice cream sandwiches made with brownies (instead of cookies). The goal is to open sometime in September, and as soon as Labor Day if everything breaks right.

"We think it's a perfect fit for Walnut Creek," says Phillips. "This is going to be a gourmet product, and I don't think there's anyone out here who is doing this kind of thing with ice cream."

Follow their progress on Lottie's Facebook page, and look out for an upcoming Kickstarter campaign.


Opa! is open! The long-awaited Greek eatery made its debut Tuesday night on North Main Street, replacing the shuttered Caffe Delle Stelle. I slipped down for a quick peek, and thought the space looked great. They completely gutted and rebuilt the building, creating a large horseshoe bar surrounded by sit-down tables and big glass doors that all swing open, giving it a nice inside-outside connection that should make it an awesome warm-weather dining destination. The menu is all authentic Greek cuisine (one of the owner's mothers flies in from the old country every so often to make sure everything is up to snuff), and I've heard good things about Opa's three other South Bay locations. Looking forward to trying out the food (here's a link to the menu): If you get a chance to eat there, shoot me an email at dish@maildiablo.com and let me know what you think. Opa is open for lunch and dinner daily, with weekend brunch. 1532 N Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 891-4700, opawillowglen.com.


Dueling piano bar fun at That BarWalnut Creek's downtown Asian sushi/lounge Shiro closed down a couple weeks ago, but will soon be open with new owners and a new concept. Tahiti-natives Clemence and Geoff Tcheong will be reopening the restaurant on July 28 as Hamachi, serving Asian tapas dishes and sushi inspired by the couple's frequent trips to Japan. As for entertainment, Hamachi will be the East Bay's latest entry into the previously rarified world of dueling pianos. Clemence said they would be hosting paired piano player sing-along entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, joining That Bar in Danville and San Ramon's ShBoom nightclub (second and fourth Thursdays) to provide—drum roll, please—dueling, dueling piano bars! Look for the grand opening on July 28. 1523 Giammona Dr., Walnut Creek.


Walnut Creek eaters could be getting some all-country service in the near future as the Contra Costa dining hub will attempt to become just the second U.S. city to be certified with the "Service Excellence, City Wide” award. Starting August 21, restaurants, hotels, retailers, hospitals, banks, and government employees will attend a seven-day series of workshops run by Eric Weiss, President of Service Arts, designed to achieving excellence in customer service. Pardon my reach, indeed...


Foreigner at Wente's Summer Concert SeriesHad a great time attending the Foreigner concert at the debut of Wente's Summer Concert Series last week. I know, I know, Foreigner? Believe me, I never expected to be screaming along the lyrics to "Hot Blooded," but there I was all the same: hey, it's nice to be pleasantly surprised sometimes. It also helped that it was a nice balmy Livermore evening and I got to stuff myself with some great food from the buffet (most tickets include dinner). CLICK HERE to read more about the concert, and go to wentevineyards.com/concerts to check out the remaining upcoming shows on schedule—it's a fun time.


Now this is what I'm talking about. Ramen is one of my favorite all-time foods, and according to Grub Street, former Chez Panisse maitre d' Sam White is opening up a ramen shop in Oakland's Rockridge district. White, who is also one of the founders of food/art collective OpenRestaurant, will reportedly be taking over the former sushi restaurant Tachibana at 5812 College Avenue and hopes to start dishing out his Northern California take on traditional Japanese noodles by the end of the year.


Brews lead to the blues. Or is it blues lead to brews? Regardless, you can get both this Saturday at the annual Brews and Blues festival held at Pleasant Hill Park from noon to 6 p.m. Purchase in advance and $30 will get you access to a bunch of good bands and suds from some great NorCal breweries, including East Bay's own Ale Industries and Black Diamond. CLICK HERE for more information and to buy tickets!


Speaking of food and wine events, don't forget about Taste of Terroir this Thursday. The food and wine pairing event brings together some of the Tri-Valley's finest chefs, restaurants, and wineries to Pleasanton's Palm Event Center from 6 to 9 p.m. It's a fun event and we still have two tickets to give away: CLICK HERE for a chance to win. And CLICK HERE for more information and to buy tickets ($85/each).


I'm not sure if I could think of a less extreme food than pita (Broccoli maybe. Figs?). Nevertheless, according to Patch, the confrontationally-named Extreme Pita recently opened up in Pleasanton’s Crossroads shopping center. The North American chain's motto is "fresh to the extreme" (so apparently it's the freshness that's extreme, not the pita itself), and it looks like it offers a pretty nice selection of lower calorie fast food options: CLICK HERE to check out the menu.

Also according to Patch, Z Café Express, an espresso bistro & wine bar (and quick-stop sister to Oakland's popular Z Café & Bar) opened in Pleasanton's Mission Plaza on Santa Rita Road. Z Cafe actually sounds pretty cool, offering house-made pastries, seasonal sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as offering free wi-fi and a small wine bar. ‚Äč1987 Santa Rita Rd. St. H, Pleasanton, (925) 846-9900, zcafeexpress.com.


Hopscotch's beer-steamed musselsPer Tablehopper, Hopscotch in Oakland just started serving brunch, which will include a quartet of benedicts, smoked trout scramble, cinnamon twist French toast, savory bread pudding, plus some of their more popular lunch and dinner items. Put this place on your radar. I had a second excellent meal there the other day—flat-out loved the beer-steamed clams with fall-apart tender lamb and the sea bass with miso glaze, sautéed pea shoots, and salt cod-stuffed squash blossoms—and it seems to be building some serious buzz... 1915 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, (510) 788-6217, hopscotchoakland.com.


Holy Comal! None other than Michael Bauer gave this new Berkeley restaurant a whopping 3 stars in the Chron. Good for executive chef Matt Gandin, a good dude who's doing some great cooking at this gorgeous downtown Mexican eatery (must-tries: the chile rellenos and made-to-order guacamole). Look out for our August issue coming out this weekend: I profile Gandin and three other East Bay chefs and their foodie takes on the taco. Should be a tasty read... 2020 Shattuck Avenue  Berkeley, (510) 926-6300, comalberkeley.com.


Mysterious dining spot coming to Berkeley? Yes indeed according to Berkeleyside, which advances rumors of a restaurant called The Station coming to Claremont Blvd and Russell St, where Viva Taqueria used to be. No more details than that...


This is pretty cool: Oakland's Camino is hosting a dinner party with well-documented NYC chef April Bloomfield next Wednesday April 25 in honor of her upcoming book, "A Girl and Her Pig." Bloomfield is the chef-owner of New York's lauded, Michelin starred gastropub, The Spotted Pig, home to one of the best burgers on the planet (trust me, I tried it, it melts in your mouth like cotton candy). $100 gets you a signed copy of the book, a chance to meet the author, wine, and dinner cooked by Bloomfield and Camino chef-owner Russell Moore. Event starts at 6 p.m. CLICK HERE for tickets. 3917 Grand Ave., Oakland, (510) 547-5035, caminorestaurant.com.


SHOUT-OUT OF THE WEEK: SKATES ON THE BAY

Wait a minute: Skate's on the Bay? Yes, the very same. This special occasion restaurant with the million-dollar views located on the tip of the Berkeley marina recently underwent a makeover, and I had a chance to check out the new changes. First of all the interior. The restaurant is more than 30 years old and the remodel added some modern touches—custom-designed chandeliers with Edison bulbs, granite-topped dining room tables, sleeker chairs and bar stools—that make it feel more contemporary. They've also added a glass-walled private dining room and replaced their baking station with a raw bar displaying the fresh seafood of the day.

That leads us to the menu, which has a new seafood focus, specifically offering more local, seasonal Pacific-centered fare as well as utilizing the raw bar with more sushi dishes (salmon carpaccio and hamachi sashimi) and fresh shellfish (steamed mussels and fresh oysters). And they've still got burgers, steaks, chicken, and pasta dishes for the seafood-squeamish.

The verdict? I enjoyed everything I tried. For starters, the hamachi with cilantro, jalapeño, and smoked sea salt was fresh and beautifully presented, and the gi-normous pan seared crab cake (with a little extra crab sprinkled on top for good measure) was great, if a little spendy at $18.95. Something to note, Skates, like most restaurants with such a stunning location, is on the pricier side—most entrees are high $20s and up—but not unreasonably so, and there are a few less expensive options on the menu.

Hamachi sashimi Mahi Mahi

I decided to try a salad and was glad I did. The waiter steered me (politely) to the grilled hearts of romaine, a great salad with smokiness from the char-grilled romaine mixed with a rich creamy parmesan dressing and tangy pickled shallots. For an entree, I sample one of the rotating "chef's features," the pacific mahi mahi with gnocchi, roasted mushrooms, spinach bacon, and truffle oil, and it was the highlight of the meal. The fish was tender and fresh, blending seamlessly with the light, truffle-infused gnocchi and mushrooms—it was an expertly prepared dish showing off the delicate flavors of the fresh fish, exactly what a seafood restaurant should be doing.

And those views. We sat right next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, and my attention was consistently drawn to the postcard vistas out over the Bay where you can see Marin, San Francisco, and both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. It's a beautiful area we live in, and it really is cool to get such an uninterrupted view... Check 'em out! And CLICK HERE to win a $125 gift certificate to Skates.

Skates on the Bay, 100 Seawall Dr., Berkeley, (510) 549-1900, skatesonthebay.com.