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Weekly Dish: Another Hot Chef!

Walnut Creek’s Rooftop chef named; Calavera sneak peak; and Jack’s Taps opens in Pleasant Hill and Rosamunde Grill opens in Temscal.


Courtesy of Justine Kelly

As if the East Bay hasn’t already had its share of delicious hot-chef announcements lately, we have news about who will be running the rooftop restaurant going into the impressive project at the corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Main Street in Walnut Creek.

The restaurant is called Rooftop (great name, right?). And the chef will be long-time chef de cuisine Justine Kelly from SF’s The Slanted Door. This is tsunami-sized news, folks, and definitely in step with other recent announcements about big city talent coming to Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Pleasanton.

Kelly, who will be executive chef and partner at Rooftop, is an Iron Chef America alum as well as a former consulting chef at the noted Port Costa’s Bull Valley Roadhouse, among other gigs.

Courtesy of Rooftop Restaurant & Bar

Right about now, you’re probably thinking that Rooftop will feature some of that irresistible Vietnamese fusion that’s so popular at Charles Phan’s bustling Ferry Building location. That’s what I thought at first, too, but we are wrong, wrong, wrong! Despite Kelly’s impressive 17-year run at The Slanted Door, the cuisine at Rooftop will be New American small plates although no details about menu items yet.

The location for this restaurant will be the top floor of the 1500 Mt. Diablo building that is still under construction. The project is owned by lauded Walnut Creek real estate developer Brian Hirahara, who is also the visionary behind Va de Vi and Sasa restaurants.

The 4,000-square-foot, 180-seat, open-air restaurant will boast rock-the-casbah lounge seating, a backbar waterfall, multiple fire rings, a retractable roof, and stunning views over Mount Diablo and the twinkling lights of downtown Walnut Creek.

Even though Rooftop will not open until late fall 2015, the chef is already conducting test kitchens for the partners behind the new restaurant, including Jim and Jennifer Telford, owners of Walnut Creek’s popular Residual Sugar wine bar.

“The test kitchen in Justine’s home was such a … bonding experience for all of us,” Telford says. “She is just so passionate about food, and was eager to share her colorful, uniquely flavored dishes. Our weekly test kitchens will continue.”

That kind of dedication is just the tip of the ice cube for Telford, an Orinda resident and longtime restaurant veteran who plans to offer more than 25 wines by the glass and a cool selection of small-batch artisanal cocktails with names such as “Prayer Meeting” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” as well as several tap beers. Rooftop will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. No website yet. Stay tuned for updates.

Rooftop is just one of three top-shelf restaurants planned for 1500 Mt. Diablo. The second floor will be the home of Teleféric Barcelona, a tapas and pintxos restaurant owned by the Barcelona restaurateur Xavier Padrosa and his family, which operates two restaurants in Spain. Local restaurant consultant Michael Iglesias, who also consulted on The Cooperage in Lafayette, is involved. The ground floor space at 1500 Mt. Diablo is still in negotiation.


Sara Hare

Sneak Peek at Calavera

Speaking of Iglesias, last week, I had a sneak peak at the menu for Calavera, his newest restaurant with partner and Oakland restaurateur Chris Pastena (who also owns Lungomare and Chop Bar), and wine maven Jessica Sackler.

Calavera, billed as a Mexican kitchen and agave bar, is slated to open in the Hive project in Uptown Oakland next month. The tasting took place at Jack London Square’s Lungomare and showcased inspired mouthfuls that I can only describe as pre-Colombian cuisine. Mexican flavors (mole, salsa verde) and techniques (hand-formed masa cakes, piquante sauces)—melded with an eclectic array of vegetables and proteins, including hoya santa (holy leaf), huitlacoche mushrooms, pickled lamb tongue, and even crispy grasshoppers (wow, right?)—made for one of the most distinctive dinners in memory.

Executive chef Christian Irabien, who worked with Iglesias at one of famed chef José Andres’ Washington D.C. restaurants, has a talent for plating food that is as pretty as it is delicious. The evening’s handcrafted cocktails (the Huelga with tequila, grapes, basil, lemon, and guave snow), and well-chosen wines (the Russian River Pinot Noir Migration by Duckhorn), were just as exciting. Stay tuned for an opening date!


Courtesy of Jack's Taps


Jack’s Taps in Pleasant Hill: For fans of craft beer, here’s some exciting news. Last Monday, Jack’s Taps, the pub attached to Jack’s restaurant in downtown Pleasant Hill, opened its doors (the entrance is around the back from Jack’s). The other day, I caught up with John Marcovici, who runs Jack’s two locations (the other is in San Bruno) with his two brothers, Chris and Dave.

Marcovici is, uh, pumped about offering 20 beers in the new, intimate 850-square-foot space that features big-screen televisions and a generous bar. He is expanding his brewers list as we speak, but right now, you can stop by for a pint of the Campfire Stout—a rich, dark beer with notes of chocolate and coffee from High Water Brewing—or the high-test Denogginizer, a big, hoppy, double IPA with 9.75 percent alcohol from Drake’s.

Maybe it’s beers like these that explain Jack’s tagline: “If it’s good, we’ll tap it!” After a few Denogginizers, I dare you to say “Jack’s Taps” fast, even once.


Sara Hare


Authentic Japanese in Walnut Creek: Most “sushi restaurants” in Walnut Creek land on the good or the great list, but not many (none?) fall into the authentically Japanese category. That has just changed. Since last winter, when I first spoke with Kiyoshi Hayasaka, the owner of the just opened Izakaya Jun on Locust Street, I’ve been really excited to see if his restaurant would live up to my memories of dining in little taverns when I visited my brother in Kyoto. The answer is “hai,” or “yes.” (And that, my friends, is the extent of my Japanese language!)

Hayasaka, who goes by “Jackie,” has found that sweet spot of keeping it authentic and making it approachable. In addition to the requisite sushi offerings (is it me, or has sushi become our new comfort food?), Hayasaka’s charming little eatery offers a wide range of classic izakaya dishes, including superb yakitori grilled items, some mysterious and mouthwatering pickled and fermented items, crunchy deep fried items, and a raft of high-end sakes.

The wood walls and décor feel as authentic as the food. No website yet, but it’s at 1552 Locust Street in the location of the former Locust Street Deli. And, yes, they are serving lunch.

Sara Hare

Rosamunde Sausage Grill Opens in Temescal: If you love an artisanal sausage as much as my German husband, check out the newest location of Rosamunde Sausage Grill that opened on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. I was really excited to hear from team Rosamunde about the opening of their new Temescal location (they now have five shops in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Swan’s Market in Oakland). Why? At the Temescal location, not only can you sit down to enjoy one of their outrageously delicious sausages with a foamy craft beer (they even have vegan offerings), you can also buy uncooked sausages to throw on the grill at home.

My guy is a huge fan of the long, white Nuernberger brartwurst sausages that I have never seen anywhere else in the Bay Area—a real original. I think I’ll stop by for some this week. Don’t miss Rosamunde’s grand-opening party on Thursday, June 11, from 6 to 10 p.m. Beers will be $1 from 6 to 8 p.m.


Sara Hare

Hen House Tip

A few weeks ago, I was in Old Oakland at Swan’s Market when I decided on lunch with a friend at Hen House, the latest addition to Swan’s stellar gourmet food court. I’d heard that Hen House serves homey, Cal-Ital fare, but wow, I was not prepared for the flavors exploding from this modest sandwich counter. The talented Celeste Cooper, formerly of Charlie Hallowell’s Pizzaiolo, and Alexandra Lopez, formerly of Oliveto, are stirring it up with lunches that will feed your inner-Italian. I had an unforgettable blistered-crust pizza, while my amigo enjoyed a killer meatball sandwich.

Hen House operates out of the Deep Roots wine bar owned by Oakland vintner and visionary Brendan Eliason, who pours samples of East Bay Urban wines from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays. Check ‘em out!

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