Weekly Dish: Chron's Best Restaurants Drops
East Bay gets Top-100 love; Bourbon & Beef coming to Rockridge; get primed for Mother's Day; sneak peek at Lucille's BBQ; Lottie's debuts root beer floats and ice cream sandwiches; and more in this week's Dish!
Bull Vally Roadhouse // Photo by Angela Decenzo
The Chronicle's top-dog food critic Michael Bauer released his top-100 restaurants in the Bay Area this past week. It's always a fun list to check out, if only to see who was added, who was dropped, or just to grumble about your favorite restaurant not making the cut. Mirroring the recent trends, there was plenty of East Bay action on the list this year, with a total of ten (well, 12 actually if you count sister restaurants lumped together into one pick) included in the top 100. There were four new additions this year: two were surprises for me, and two were not.
The obvious inclusions were Comal, the upscale Mexican spot in downtown Berkeley helmed by ex-Delfina chef Matt Gandin; and Hopscotch, the American diner with a Japanese twist from chef-owner Kyle Itani in Uptown Oakland (Diablo named both among its top new restaurants in last year's food awards). The two more surprising inclusions, for me, were the Bull Valley Roadhouse and Ramen Shop. The recently renovated Bull Valley, serving elevated classic American fare, wasn't a surprise because of the food (I gave this fantastic place a glowing review a few months ago), but because I thought it might be excluded because of its remote location in Port Costa. Not the case, and that's a good thing: it's well worth the trip. Ramen Shop in Rockridge, meanwhile, was a bit surprising because of its limited menu (yes, the only entree choice is ramen) and the fact that it's been getting relatively mixed feedback. But there's no denying it has generated some serious buzz, and the ramen is pretty damn good.
A few East Bay spots dropped out of the list. Those include Berkeley favorites Corso and Rivoli, Adesso, Dopo's sister restaurant in Oakland, and finally Va de Vi in Walnut Creek, meaning there are officially no inclusions east of the Caldecott tunnel. Below are all the East Bay restaurants, and CLICK HERE to check out the whole list.
Bull Valley Roadhouse, Port Costa
Chez Panisse / Cafe at Chez Panisse, Berkeley
Pizzaiolo / Boot & Shoe Service, Oakland
O Chame, Berkeley
Ramen Shop, Oakland
Bourbon and Beef? Two of my favorite things... That's also the name of the restaurant that will be replacing the former Water Lounge space in the heart of Rockridge at 5634 College Ave. There have been rumors about who would be taking over the prime location since Water Lounge closed nearly three years ago, and finally, broker Mike Nova confirms that a new restaurant could be open as soon as later this summer. It'll be Latin-inspired with an emphasis on family-style, meat-driven plates like roast chicken and pork, according to Nova, with a deep wine and spirits list to match. The folks behind Bourbon & Beef wanted to remain annonymous for now, but Nova said they were part of an established restaurant group with multiple Bay Area locations. Owners also planned to tear down the current prison-like facade in favor of a more open street exposure, a la Wood Tavern down the street, and would be remaking the interior with a more woodsy-rustic feel. They're hoping for a late-summer, early fall launch.
Don't forget your mama! That's right, Mother's Day is fast approaching this Sunday (oh man, I should get flowers arranged myself...). There are a whole bunch of brunches and activities happening in the East Bay and we just happen to have a round-up: CLICK HERE to check it out. It's the least we can do, right?
The annual James Beard Awards, the highest awards for food and beverage professionals, were announced this week. New York appeared to dominate this year's awards, but the SF Bay Area did nab some prestigious picks, including Rising Chef (Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese in San Francisco and now New York); and Best New Restaurant (State Bird Provisions in San Francisco). Christopher Kostow from St. Helena's The Restaurant at Meadowood won for best chef on the West coast. CLICK HERE to check out all the winners.
Had a chance to swing by the new Lucille's BBQ at the Sunvalley mall in Concord last week on opening day. It's a big space—8,000 square feet, seats 275—and the place was pretty packed already. As advertised this west coast chain (17 locations) has a sort of Southern roadhouse theme and decor, which they pulled off nicely, with a big central bar with plenty of televisions: this is going to be a great place to catch a game. They also have a little music stage (the "Flying Pig Lounge," CLICK HERE for the schedule) where they'll host live blues every Saturday evening that'll be piped through what seemed to be about 1,000 speakers hanging form the ceiling. This promises to be a pretty hopping atmosphere when it gets going—as a manager there told me, they want the restaurant to have a fun, boisterous vibe on the weekends.
As for the food? It was pretty solid barbecue—everything is slow cooked for up to 24 hours in the restaurants' smoker—and they've got everything you'd expect, from pulled pork and brisket to ribs and smoked chicken. They've also got a bunch of other southern specials like fried shrimp and catfish, Jambalaya, and fried chicken, plus burgers and sandwiches and a full bar. CLICK HERE for the menu. Nothing too subtle about about this place, but then again, it's not trying to be: should be a fun place to get a filling meal. Located at Sunvalley's upper level near JC Penney.
Surprise change at Five restaurant, as executive chef Banks White is leaving the Hotel Shattuck's downtown Berkeley restaurant to open his own place in Harlem. Banks is a super nice guy and talented chef who blended in elements of his Texan upbringing and southeast Asian travels into Five's upscale-casual California cuisine. CLICK HERE to read an interview in Berkeleyside Nosh with White on his four years at Five. Sous chefs Michael Binder and Goeffrey Phan will run the kitchen as the restaurants searches for a full-time replacement.
Some Walnut Creek small bites for you...
► As our sweet-toothed managing editor enthusiastically pointed out to me, the excellent Lottie's Creamery in downtown Walnut Creek has debuted a couple new menu items including ice cream sandwiches (all homemade, of course), and root beer, black cherry, and orange cream floats. Oh yeah...
► Beyond the Creek points out that Cilantro Cafe in downtown opened recently, renamed and rebranded from the former Saxby’s Coffee, while the little Harvest Market on Bonanza Street shut down after about a year in business. BtC also notes that the AG Ferrari store shut down in Lafayette.
► As tipped here previously, Vanessa's Bistro 2 has already moved out of its previous N. Main Street location and is in the process of taking over the former Bosphorus space at 1512 Locust Street. Owner Michael Nguyen is still shooting for a late May, early June reopening.
► Teach Appreciation Month is now on at most Lark Creek Group restaurants (including Lark Creek Walnut Creek and Yankee Pier). It's a pretty cool promotion in which the restaurant will pick up the first $10 for any teacher or school employee with valid identification with no strings attached.
Some great Berkeley school cooking and gardening programs are in jeopardy thanks to Federal budget cuts. CLICK HERE to read the full story. One thing you can do to help is dine out at a participating Berkeley restaurant on May 30, and a portion of the proceeds will go towards keeping these programs alive. And hey, all you have to do is eat at one of these great restaurants! Pretty good deal... berkeleydineout.com
In the Tri-Valley, Vindhu Indian is taking over Blue Indian Fox Cuisine at 5681 Gibralter in Pleasanton, according to ABC license reports; and All the Perks Espresso Cafe will be opening in the Tralee Village Shopping Center, according to Dublin city officials.
Some food-related events ...
This Monday, May 13, Pyramid Alehouse in Walnut Creek is hosting Hef a Beer for Charity, in which guests will have 10% of their total bill donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Same thing is happening at the Berkeley location on May 30. 1410 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 946-1520, pyramidbrew.com
Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland is hosting its annual Bird dinners through this Friday. CLICK HERE for the deets.
Finally, Inside Scoop tips that David Cruz, formerly of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc is hosting a series of pop-up dinners in Oakland over the next few weeks, starting with a five-course, $85 collaboration with the chefs of s+s gastropub at their Oakland kitchen on Saturday, May 18. CLICK HERE for tickets: Looks like they just added another Sunday dinner due to high demand.