Weekly Dish: Belli Brings Gourmet Raviolis to Berkeley
Belli to bring more than 100 kinds of raviolis to downtown Berkeley; food events from San Francisco to Livermore; Citra Grill opens in Walnut Creek; cheesy, melty goodness near Cal; a shout-out to Élevé; and more in this week’s Dish!
Downtown Berkeley's dining scene continues to hum along. New upscale Mexican joint Comal has received plenty of buzz, including 3 stars in the Chron and some love from this magazine, and I reported last week about Pathos, a higher-end organic Greek restaurant opening at 2434 Shattuck this fall. Now, it's Belli, a new Italian concept opening right next door to Comal at 2016 Shattuck Avenue. First-time restaurateur Paul Oprescu is chef and co-owner with friend Damien Morrison and says he's planning an affordable but foodie-focused Italian restaurant in which he'll make all the pasta in-house with an emphasis on raviolis. Oprescu, a former Montessori teacher who has dabbled in cooking, including interning at the former Eccolo where he learned to make his own charcuterie, says he has more than 150 recipes for raviolis that he plans to rotate into the menu. A couple examples? How about black squid ink ravioli with seafood or another with seared prawns, gorgonzola, and caramelized shallots in a cream sauce. "Ravioli serves as sort of a blank slate to test out all kinds of ingredients and fillings, and I don't think anyone is really focusing on that around here," he says. "I want to be to raviolis what Pizzaiolo was to pizza."
It won't just be raviolis. Oprescu envisions Belli as a casual but inviting osteria-type restaurant, with more affordable options, including a selection of panini, for lunch, and a more formal sit-down vibe for dinner. Starters will include raw fish crudo, while most non-pasta entrée courses will be served with polenta, and it'll be an all-Italian wine list. Belli will take over for Thanu's Kitchen, and is shooting for an early October opening.
So movie, theater, and live music-goers should have plenty dinner-and-a-show options this fall, as Comal, Pathos, and Belli join Gather, Revival, and Ippuku among the interesting new dining options in Berkeley's downtown.
Speaking of Italian, Rod Worth's Ferrari's Cucina Italiana should be opening in Blackhawk Plaza any day now, they're just waiting on the fire inspection, while Paul Ferrari's (no relation) Borgo Italia bistro has been delayed a bit and is still a few weeks away from debuting in Old Oakland. Same deal for Philip Yang's Blue Gingko in Blackhawk Plaza, as well as the new Nama sushi outpost in downtown Pleasant Hill, which owner Jae Shin expects to open in mid-August. I also checked in with Zachary's (had an always-comforting deep dish pie from them last night, actually...), and the employee-owned pizzeria is still on pace to open it's Pleasant Hill location by early November. And in case you missed it deep-dish-lovers, I reported a couple weeks ago that Paxti's Chicago Pizza will be opening it's second East Bay location in Livermore, although likely not until early next year. Finally, Firehouse No. 37, which is replacing El Balazo in San Ramon, is set for a grand opening on August 18.
All right, enough teasing, here are a couple of restaurants that actually are open: Citra Grill finally debuted in Walnut Creek on the corner of Locust Street and Olympic Boulevard near the movie theater. It's been a long slog for first-time restaurateur Ramin Behtash to get Citra open, so check it out if you get a chance. It looks like the menu is comprised primarily of grilled-to-order skewers with 6 protein options: filet mignon, salmon, halibut, shrimp, chicken, or veggies, all marinated with olive oil, salt & pepper, and citrus juice and served on fresh-baked bread.
Also, Hamachi had its grand opening last weekend. Replacing Shiro lounge, Hamachi will offer Asian tapas and sushi to go along with, yes, dueling pianos...
Cheesy, melty goodness! That's what I think when I think of grilled cheese sandwiches, the staple of The Melt, the SF-based restaurant that specializes in serving almost exclusively grilled cheese sandwiches and soups. And now the East Bay can get in on that action, as The Melt's new Berkeley location is set to debut near the Cal campus on Monday August 6. Started by Flip camera-founder Jonathan Kaplan, The Melt also has some cool high-tech features, including the ability to order and pay via your smart phone, which you can simply scan at the restaurant to get your order rolling. The Melt now serves breakfast too, the centerpiece of which is a grilled egg-in-a-hole (sort of the breakfast equivalent of the grilled cheese). Warning to incoming UC Berkeley students: beware the Freshman 15... 2400 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, themelt.com.
Couple of tasty events you foodies should be aware of. First off, SF Chefs, the annual, week-long San Francisco food, wine, and spirits festival is kicking off this week. There will be all kinds of cool classes, demos, and events, including three all-you-can eat grand tastings held under the big tent in Union Square on Friday evening, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Go to sfchefsfoodwine.com to check out the full smorgasbord of events and to get tickets.
Over in Livermore this weekend, it's Taste of Downtown, in which $25-$35 lets you cruise the city's hopping downtown and gets you tastes and sips from some great local restaurants and wineries. There's some cool stuff going on in Livermore these days in both the food and wine scenes (I guess they kind of go hand in hand), so this could be a nice excuse to check it out. CLICK HERE for all the details and to get tickets.
Also, never too early to get your tickets for Gourmet Gallop, a food stroll exploring all the great eats in downtown Walnut Creek happening next Thursday, August 9. Participants include Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Sasa, Tender Greens, and Cypress; tickets are $40 and benefit Diablo Ballet's art education programs. CLICK HERE for more info and to buy tix.
I had a chance to check out Taste of Place on Monday, the Commonwealth Club talk with Oakland restaurateurs Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ), Russell Moore (Camino), and Daniel Patterson (Plum, Plum Bar, and Haven)—Commis' James Syhabout was a no-show. In particular it was nice to see some of the 510's hottest chefs make it out to this side of the Caldecott to discuss the East Bay and Bay Area food scene—although judging by their briefest of answers to a question about the Contra Costa dining scene, it's not a drive they take too often...
The majority of the talk focused on the burgeoning Oakland food scene, with all its virtues (knowledgeable diners and cheaper rents equals interesting dining) and flaws (a lack of hospitality infrastructure to lure tourists and a work-in-progress downtown). And it looks like there are still tickets available to tonight's family-style dinner featuring meals cooked by all four chefs at Camino starting at 6:30. Tix are $110, CLICK HERE to buy.
SHOUT-OUT OF THE WEEK: ELEVE
As I've said before in this space, there are shout-outs, and there are shout-outs. Élevé lands securely in the latter category. I probably don't say it enough, but I've been a big fan of co-owner and executive chef Michelle Nguyen's modern take on Vietnamese food since Élevé opened a couple years ago: she manages to make her food both innovative and comforting, a rare feat. And while the food is consistently excellent, I think Élevé has struggled to overcome its tricky location (a little off the main downtown drag) and the expectations of Walnut Creek diners not necessarily familiar or comfortable with Nguyen's not-your-typical-Spring-rolls-and-pho take on Vietnamese. It takes a bit of an adventuresome spirit to get into the cuisine here, but it really is worth the effort (and the few extra dollars).
Anyway, I'll get off my high horse and just say that I had a chance to try out some new items on Élevé's food and cocktail menus, and thought they were great. Let's start with a couple new additions to the lunch menu, the Banh Xeo and more familiar Banh Mi sandwich. The picturesque Banh Xeo is a savory Vietnamese rice crepe (very light and made without egg) stuffed with pork loin, shrimp, jicama, and sprouts, and served with a side of peanut sauce (rather than the more traditional fish sauce). It reminded me a little of an Indian dosa in its presentation and tasted great rolled up in lettuce and topped with that sauce. Second up is the familiar banh mi sandwich, which was fantastic. Nguyen's version was "cleaned up" a little from the cheap n' messy version you might be familiar with—the specially-made baguette is smaller and less flaky, the grilled lemongrass pork more refined, and there's even a little arugula mixed in there—but without losing any of the comfort factor that makes this dish such a treat. Make sure to check out the addictive taro chips too—they're served on the happy hour menu.
Meanwhile, the cocktails at Élevé, which takes a lot of care to source artisanal, high-quality spirits, are always a must—particularly at Happy Hour (5-7 p.m.) when you can get some for $6. I had an awesome Pisco Sour, made from just-cracked egg white, California-made small-batch pisco, and a touch of orange juice, as well as a great take on sangria made with port (which gave it a richer taste than most sangrias), lime and OJ, and topped off with a touch of mescal—oh yeah...
They're doing some cool stuff over there, I'm telling you... check 'em out!
1677 North Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-1677, eleverestaurant.com