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Weekly Dish: Top Chefs Gather in Lafayette

Chefs for Commis, Camino, Plum, and Brown Sugar Kitchen discuss local eats; sneak peek at Opa in Walnut Creek; new organic Greek coming to Berkeley; new details on Paul Canales' Uptown restaurant; SF Chefs beckons; and more in this week's Dish!


Commis' James Syhabout // Photo by James Carriere Still waiting on that fourth bore before you brave your way through the Caldecott Tunnel? Well, here's a chance to you 925-ers to get up close and personal with four of Oakland's finest chefs as the Lafayette Library and Learning Center will play host to Daniel Patterson (executive chef and owner of Coi and Oakland's Plum and Haven), James Syhabout (chef-owner of Commis and Hawker Fare), Tanya Holland (chef-owner, Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ), and Russell Moore (chef-owner, Camino Restaurant). Hosted by the Commonwealth Club, "A Taste of Place: Eating Your Way Around the East Bay" is a panel discussion in which the four chefs will discuss what makes Northern California, and the East Bay in particular, such a special place to grow, cook, and eat. You can purchase tickets HERE.We also have two pairs of tickets to give away: CLICK HERE for a chance to win those.

Perhaps (okay definitely) more interesting to you foodies, there will be a special dinner two days later on Wednesday August 1 at Camino with all four chefs. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to the intimate event, which will include a three-course meal, wine, snacks, tax and gratuity, as well as a chance to meet the chefs (the $100 price tag includes admission to the panel discussion). Should be a fun event...

Some opening updates. It looks like restaurateur Rodney Worth's new Italian concept, Ferrari's is on pace to open by this weekend: look for flatbread pizzas, antipasti, and hand-made pasta dishes on the menu there. I know Worth has long been looking to try his hand at Italian fare, so I'm looking forward to checking this place out. Just across the way in Blackhawk Plaza, Blackhawk Grille is reopened from its American Tavern makeover, while Philip Yang's Blue Gingko at Blackhawk is still likely a couple weeks away.

As I said last week, Opa! opened in Walnut Creek. Had a chance to lunch there the other day. They obviously poured a lot of money into it—the entire place was gutted and rebuilt—and it's a fun, lively space now, with the interior dominated by a central bar with perimeter tables nicely connected to the outside via large open windows. As for the food? I tried the gyro meat platter (nice light lunch, I know...), and it was tasty (gyro meat was tender with a little char from the grill, served with onions, tomatoes, and fluffy-warm pita), and most of all, ample—I'll be polishing off the leftovers today...

And hey, don't forget about Prima next door: For the rest of this month, the perennial Diablo Food Award-winner is celebrating 35 years in business with a 2-course lunch menu for $19.77 (the year Prima was founded) and a 3-course dinner menu for $35. Chef-owner Peter Chastain also told me that long-time manager Rick Van der Linde (he came on board a few months before Chastain) left the restaurant, and has been replaced by Jordana Arey.

Speaking of Greek, there's an intriguing new restaurant headed for downtown Berkeley. East Bay-native Nicholas Eftimiou, a Le Cordon Bleu-grad who has spent time in the kitchens of such high-end Bay Area Greek restaurants as Kokkari in San Francisco, Evvia in Palo Alto, and Dio Deka in Los Gatos, is aiming to open Pathos Restaurant & Bar at 2430 Shattuck Avenue by early October. Eftimiou, who also worked at Jack's in Pleasant Hill and helped open their latest location in San Bruno, told me that Pathos would be a certified organic restaurant that would fall somewhere between the higher-end authentic cuisine of Kokkari, but with a price point and casualness more in line with Jack's.

Most of the food will be cooked in a wood burning brick oven, and in true Berkeley (and Greek) fashion, Eftimiou plans to source high-quality ingredients and let them shine.  "All the filo dough is hand-made, the baklava is made in-house—I want this to be as authentically Greek as possible. Just put food on table that's as simple as possible, with good ingredients, and let those ingredients speak for themselves," he says. "There will be an emphasis on seafood and staples like marinated grilled calamari and moussaka." Eftimiou is also excited to be joining a rejuvenated downtown Berkeley dining scene, joining the likes of Gather, Revival, Ippuku, and the recently-opened Comal within a few blocks of the downtown BART station. And there could be more on the way: rumor is, there's a new high-end pizza place heading downtown in the near future. Check Pathos' Facebook page for updates.

Canales (middle) with his design and architecture team inside DuendeAlso looking for an October opening is Duende, ex-Oliveto chef Paul Canales' new restaurant in Uptown Oakland. I had a chance to take a quick peek at the under-construction space, located right next door to Flora on 19th Street, and it looks very cool. There are a lot of elements to it: the dining room of course, an open kitchen and large bar, but also a retail space next door that will sell wine, as well as coffee and pastries in the morning, and a separated space upstairs that will host live music. Canales is a musician, and has a ton of musician friends—Nels Cline and Paul Westerberg are a couple friends he's casually mentioned being acquaintances with—so it sounds like he should be booking some cool acts, mostly centered around jazz, that will be a nice complement to the area's already hopping live music scene. The food? Well, that's still coming along, but it will definitely be Spanish tapas-influenced, and there are some delicious-looking dishes up on his website: check 'em out, you can't tell me that egg dish doesn't look fantastic... duendeoakland.com

Also looking at a fall opening in Uptown is Loring Cafe. Minneapolis restaurateur Jason McLean (he owns Loring pasta Bar and Varsity Theater there) is opening his "bohemian-luxe, fine dining" restaurant on Grand Avenue near Farley's. What's the food going to be? Well, it's been a little hard to pin down, but it should be similar to the Minneapolis restaurant, which McLean describes as "new culinary state of the union, where fusion is left far behind, themes are out, Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolisand the broad spectrum likes of our global reaching tastes command the center of the plate stage." So, your guess is as good as mine—but it definitely sounds interesting...

Hey, Barack Obama is hip to the Uptown: the prez made an East Bay appearance at a fundraiser at the Fox Theater on Monday, and Oakland-based Bittersweet Coffee made a special Obama blend, that they served at his Piedmont fundraiser earlier in the day. What's in the blend? According to the cafe, beans from Kenya, Indonesia, and Hawaii—but made in America, of course...

As always, plenty of other cool stuff percolating in Uptown (as well as Old Oakland). Should have some more news next week so make sure to check back in!

Back in Berkeley, don't forget to celebrate Peruvian Independence Day this Friday at Brasa, which is hosting an all-you-can-eat Pollo a la Brasa Fiesta. $21.75 gets you all-you-can-eat Peruvian rotisserie chicken, plus sides and sauces, as well as 3 hours of live music performed by an authentic Peruvian Criollo trio in beautiful back-patio rose garden. CLICK HERE for tix.

Big news at East Bay's Peet's Coffee, which was sold for nearly $1 billion to German investment group Joh. A. Benckiser. According to the Wall Street Journal, there would be minimal disruption and Peet's would continue to be operated under its current management and employees, while its home office would remain based in Emeryville and roast-to-order facility in Alameda. CLICK HERE to read the full story.

Per Patch, Tal's Patisserie, an all-natural European-style bakery is opening in the Danville Livery come August. Go to talspatisserie.com for more info and for some tasty-looking pastry photos.

Finally, I had a great time at Taste of Terroir last Thursday. The always fun, sold-out event brought together some of the Tri-Valley's finest chefs and winemakers to see who can create the best pairing. I thought everyone stepped up their game, but there were four official winners:

Most Innovative Pairing: Wente Vineyards & The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
• 2009 Nth Degree Merlot, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Karl Wente)
• Lamb sausage with crispy garlic and mustard-curry BBQ Sauce (chef: Matt Greco)


Best Classic Pairing: Rodrigue Molyneaux & Castlewood Country Club
• 2009 Cabiovese, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Garry Rodrigue)
• Wild game burgers - buffalo and lamb seasoned with fresh local herbs, St. Andre cheese honey truffle aioli and arugula micro greens on a soft roll (chef: Tracy Flores)

Judges' Best Pairing: McGrail Vineyards & Winery & Double Barrel
• 2009 Cabernet Reserve, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Mark Clarin)
• Cocoa rubbed pork belly, smoked cherry shallot marmalade with a crispy potato gaufrette (chef: Tony Murray)

People’s Choice Award: The Steven Kent Winery & Neil Marquis Catering
• 2009 The Premier Cabernet Sauvignon, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Steven Kent Mirassou)
• Open-faced BLT - cabernet infused, cured, cherry wood smoked pork belly on parmesan crisp with heirloom tomatoes, micro greens, and a black cherry cabernet and chocolate aioli (chef: Neil Marquis)

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