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Weekly Dish: Chianti, Kebabs, and Cuban Sandwiches

Havana to open new casual cafe this summer; new restaurants coming to downtown Walnut Creek and Pleasanton; Boot & Shoe Service expands next door; top chefs helping to debut Wine Festival this Friday; James Syhabout to open new eatery in Oakland; and more in this week's Dish!



Photo by Meg T. via yelp

Good news for fans of Walnut Creek's Havana restaurant. The popular downtown Cuban spot will be opening a new cafe by this summer, according to co-owner Joelle Scott. It'll be called Havana Cafe and Catering, and will be more of a casual daytime spot with sandwiches (including of course, Cuban sandwiches), salads, and an expanded ceviche selection, in addition to serving as the headquarters for the restaurant's catering operations. I pressed Scott about whether they'd be serving café con leche (one of my favorites) but all she would say was that it's a possibility. They haven't signed the lease yet, so Scott couldn't tell me the exact location except that it was just off downtown Walnut Creek and they were shooting for a June opening.

The new cafe will have to open without the services of Havana's now ex-executive chef Cyrus Irudistan. The restaurant parted ways with their head chef of three years two weeks ago, according to Scott, who would only say that the parting was amicable. Longtime sous chef Ismael Negrete will hold down the fort as Havana looks for a new lead chef to continue their tradition of nuevo latino cuisine.


A couple other new restaurants to announce in the 925, one I was looking for, one that I wasn't.

A wrap from Sultan's Kebab in Pleasanton / Photo from Donna C. via YelpI've been keeping an eye on the prime downtown Walnut Creek space vacated by the Vietnamese restaurant Huynh late last year, and it looks like someone has finally agreed to take it over. The owner of Sultan's Kebabs in Pleasanton will be opening another restaurant at 1512 Locust Street, also called Sultan's Kebab according to the liquor license. I haven't been able to get a hold of the owner yet, so no word on when it might open, but an employee at the Pleasanton restaurant did tell me that this would be the restaurant's second location. The Pleasanton restaurant has been around since spring of last year, at least under its current name.

This one caught me by surprise: in Pleasanton, the tapas joint Casa Madrid will be replaced by a new Italian restaurant called Chianti's Ristorante (thanks to Patch for the original story). Alas, I have also been unable to reach this owner, but according to the website the new spot will be "serving fine cuisine from all over Italy" (although their phone voicemail specifies northern Italian).The menu looks ample, filled with several Italian standards such as puttanesca, vongole (linguini with clams), bolognese, veal ossobuco and parmigiana, chicken carbonara, etc., as well as several vegetarian options (CLICK HERE to check out the menu). The wine list has a mix of Italian and California selections, including a few local standouts like Wente and Concannon, as well as five—you guessed it—Italian chiantis. No word on opening date... stay tuned for updates. Chiantis Ristorante, 436 Main Street, Pleasanton, (925) 484-3877, chiantisristorante.com.


The Pizzaiolo empire expands... slowly. Charlie Hallowell, owner of Oakland's critically lauded Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service has taken over the cafe next door to Boot & Shoe on Grand Avenue. According to a manager there, the restaurant will continue to operate the former Cafe DiBartolo as a daytime cafe, just in a newly remodeled space that will serve a few lunch offerings, fresh baked goods and "Third Wave" (read, gourmet) coffee. Details are still being worked out, but it sounds like the cafe will not be open evenings but could serve to accommodate spillover diners waiting to be seated at the ever-popular pizza spot. Perhaps more importantly, by acquiring the next-door space, Boot & Shoe may be able to open up the shared backdoor patio to patrons of the restaurant's terrific (but packed) back bar. This would all, of course, be subject to city approval. The restaurant is hoping to open up the cafe by the summer, no word yet on a name.


Wine and food lovers take note: Friday will kick off the second annual Berkeley Wine Festival at the Claremont Hotel, Club and Spa. The opening gala will feature more than 45 wines from California, Oregon, Italy and France to go along with cuisine created by Meritage (at the Claremont) restaurant's executive chef Josh Thomsen, as well as acclaimed Berkeley chefs such as Wood Tavern’s (technically Oakland) Max DiMare, Gather’s Sean Baker, Summer Kitchen’s Paul Arenstam, Venus & Revival Kitchen’s Amy Murray, and Café Rouge’s Rick DeBeaord. That's quite a lineup of chefs; it should be a great event, CLICK HERE for tickets ($45 apiece).

The festival itself consists of 10 weekly wine dinners every Wednesday night, starting next week and lasting through May 18th. CLICK HERE to check out the calendar of events. It's a pretty impressive undertaking: each dinner will feature a different winery and winemaker, and feature a menu designed specially by Thomsen to match that evening's wines. Participating wineries include Martinelli, Opus One, and Trinchero and prices range from $130 to $225. berkeleywinefestival.com


Also, big news in Oakland as James Syhabout of Commis fame is opening a new Asian street food restaurant called Hawker Fare, according to Grub Street). I've seen the awning up on this corner building located just off of Grand Avenue in Uptown Oakland near the new Bakesale Betty, Plum, Picán, etc. but had no idea the Michelin-starred chef was behind it. Very cool, and more good news for that booming part of Oakland.

I spoke with Syhabout who confirmed the new spot, describing it as his take on Southeast Asian street food (hawkers are Thai street food vendors). It'll focus on rice bowls and everything will be $10 or less, quite a departure from his acclaimed Piedmont Ave. restaurant.

"Yeah, it's really the total opposite of Commis, on the total opposite end of the spectrum," Syhabout says. "Which is nice, it creates some balance for me."

Syhabout envisions a casual vibe with loud music (including hip hop) where downtown businessmen in suits will be seated next to local artists and writers (he;ll open up his restaurant for the monthly downtown art walks). He describes the food as "pretty much Southeast Asian pub food—beer food."

Interestingly, Hawker Fare is located just a few blocks from where he grew up, where his mother used to run a Thai restaurant, and "where I used to get into trouble." 

"A lot of the food is based off of memories of the food I ate growing up, on discussions with my mom about food as child," he says. "I'm sort of cooking off of taste memories."

While the concept is simple, you can be sure the execution will be a little more complicated, with Syhabout putting his own modern spin on the dishes. The day-to-day chef will be Justin Yu, who joined the Commis team last March. The eatery, which Syhabout hopes to debut in a month or so, will be open for lunch initially, followed by dinner.

Hawker Fare, 2300 Webster Street, Oakland, (510) 832-8896.


 Finally, Lafayette's Chevalier has a new five-course tasting menu for March. The price is $89 per person.

• Bouillon de Poule Fine Ravioles de Foie Gras et sa Crème Pimente à l'espelette
Hen chicken broth, foie gras ravioli, espelette piment creme
• Mille Feuille de Tomat Crabe Frais et Coulis Verjuté
Tomato mille feuille, fresh crab meat, avocado, organic green applez
• Risotto au Parmesan et Jeune Legumes de Saison
Risotto, parmesan, seasonal organic vegetables
• Cavé d'agneau en Croute d'herbes Sauce Estragon
Fresh Colorado rack of lamb, herb crust, tarragon sauce
• La Farandole
Assiette de trois petit dessert 

Chevalier, 960 Moraga Road, Lafayette, (925) 385-0793, chevalierrestaurant.com.


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