Weekly Dish: Rustic Tavern Opens in Lafayette
Rustic Tavern debuts upscale American fare in downtown Lafayette; Lucille's busts out BBQ in Concord; Kronnerburger circles Uptown; Picán derby party in Oakland; and more in this week's Dish!
I've covered a lot of openings over the course of this column, and if there's one constant, it's optimistic restaurateurs giving me an estimate for when they want to open—and then actually opening two months behind schedule. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw folks eating on the sunny front patio of Rustic Tavern in downtown Lafayette. I spoke with Rustic's three co-owners, Chris Amsden, and Gary and Tressa Rust, back in February about their plans to open a seasonal, California-American restaurant in the former Roya's Garlic Garden space on Mt. Diablo Blvd and they predicted an early April debut. Open only a couple weeks late? Pretty darn good in my experience.
I had a chance to grab lunch there on Tuesday, and while there were a few opening day kinks (some harried huddles trying to figure out the brand new ordering system), nothing about the decor or food felt premature at all. It's a lovely, open space, which the Rustic team essentially stripped away the former old-world feel to unveil a more casual California rustic look: plenty of wood, simple tables and chairs with no tablecloths, and a nice long bar (former Walnut Creek mixologist Manny Hinojosa was brought in as a consultant for the cocktail program). That's not to say that it feels totally informal: the co-owners are all former Lark Creek alums, and that informed experience comes across in the level of service.
That Lark Creek background is also evident in the food, as executive chef Gary Rust's menu has a similar upscale California-American feel, featuring simply prepared classics like Mary's chicken breast with garbanzo beans, broccolini, and fennel sausage, and a bistro steak with spring onions, potatoes, and Beech mushrooms (Rust is a seasoned mushroom forager). Both those entrée dishes came in in the low $20s for lunch. There was also quite a bit of seafood on the menu, including two salmon dishes, an albacore tuna and little gem salad, crab cakes, and a crispy cod fish sandwich. That shouldn't come as a surprise since Rust was born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, an area where I spent a lot of time as a kid, and which is well known for its seafood.
I ordered the cod sandwich ($14), which was excellent: two huge portions of lightly beer battered, ultra-tender cod with fresh lettuce, tomato, and snappy remoulade in between two pillowy brioche buns: Really good and flavorful, and the fish tasted ocean-fresh. For drinks, the manageable wine list looked to emphasize Napa/Sonoma wineries; strong beer offerings featuring Bay Area brewers like EJ Phair, Black Diamond, Calicraft, and 21st Amendment; and, as I mentioned, it's a full bar. There's also a very pleasant south-facing sunny front patio for warm days and nights.
All in all, it looks to be a really nice addition to the downtown Lafayette dining scene: if you go, please let us know what you think in the comments section below!
Rustic Tavern, 3576 Mt Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 385-0559
A little further north comes a restaurant that aims to bring a little southern flavor, as Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que is opening tomorrow (Thursday) at the Sunvalley mall in Concord. This here is going to be a major restaurant: it's 8,000 square feet, seats 275, and will even include a "Flying Pig Lounge," which will host live blues music. Based in southern California, Lucille's is a chain, but a relatively small, regional one with 17 locations scattered across Arizona, Nevada, and California. What to expect? Should be "slow-cooked Southern-style BBQ" in a "Southern roadhouse"–style decor, which seems to be hitting on a trend considering all the new barbecue joints popping up around the East Bay (hint: two more are headed for little Martinez; details to come). It's located on Sunvalley's upper level near JC Penney. CLICK HERE for the menu.
Couple of Oakland updates. I first reported that local food truck pioneer and founder of Jon's Street Eats Jon Kosorek was returning to Oakland with a new brick and mortar lunch spot called Marrow. Well, Kosorek's little eatery opened quietly last week in Uptown Oakland in the former Looney's BBQ at 325 19th Street. From what I can glean via Kosorek's Twitter (must be a holdover from his food truck days), Marrow is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a fairly streamlined, meat-friendly menu. Here were the offerings on Monday via Twitter: reuben $12, prime rib cheesesteak $11, grilled cheese $8, delta asparagus $7, green godddess salad $3sm $7lg, beef fat fries $3, biscuit pudding $3, strawberry agua fresca $3. East Bay Express got a sneak peek...
Another meat-tastic spot that could be coming soon to Oakland's Uptown is Kronnerburger. Chef-owner Chris Kronner told East Bay Express a few weeks ago that he was actively scouting a few Oakland neighborhoods for a new East Bay restaurant. When I touched base with him, Kronner said he'd narrowed his search to the Uptown district and was quite close to securing a lease in the Fox Theater/Flora/Duende area. Nothing definite yet, but the Oakland resident said if/when he does sign a lease, his new location would be have a similar upscale-casual, bar-centric feel as his San Francisco pop-up, and similarly feature his famous burgers as the centerpiece of the menu.
Neither wind nor rain nor sleet nor lawsuits could stop ex-SF Housing Authority director Henry Alvarez from opening his new Next Door restaurant in Berkeley. Alvarez, who has received plenty of negative press via the SF Chronicle over an alleged bullying management style during his tenure running the Housing Authority, managed to meet his May 1 opening goal and even beat it: the restaurant quietly debuted Tuesday, April 30. (And in the interest of fair play, the Examiner recently noted that despite all the controversy, the Housing Authority actually improved its record during Alvarez' last year in charge). As for the food? Well, the theme is elevated comfort food with International influences, and executive chef Sharon Lorraine Anderson's menu is filled with items like fried chicken, brined pork chops, pan seared flounder, BBQ tofu curry, and even a swiss chard enchilada. CLICK HERE for the full menu. 3290 Adeline Street, Oakland, (510) 982-1609, nextdoorberkeley.com.
Good excuse to get out and enjoy this beautiful warm weather as downtown Livermore's 22nd annual Wine Country Festival is happening this weekend. In a cool twist, the festival is tapping into Livermore's burgeoning craft beer scene (CLICK HERE to check out this month's story about that) as well as the booming winery scene by offering both wine and beer tasting packages for both Saturday and Sunday. Lot happening in Livermore these days: CLICK HERE to check it out this weekend.
I just ran a little Q&A with ex-Cesar executive chef and recent Prima chef de cuisine Maggie Pond, who tapped into her extensive Spanish cuisine background in organizing Prima's annual Spanish wine dinner a couple weeks ago. Turns out Pond is on the move, as she just accepted the executive chef position at the new Assemble Restaurant at Ford Point on the Richmond waterfront. Pond, who lasted less than a year at Prima, said she just couldn't turn down the opportunity to run the show in a neighborhood where she used to live and at a restaurant run by close friend Richard Mazzera, who also owns Cesar (where Pond helmed the kitchen for 13 years). "It wasn't that I was looking to leave Prima, I was very happy there and loved the people, but this opportunity came up and it just seemed like a more natural fit." Pond, playing off the location's former use as a car assembly plant, is instituting a menu of elevated blue collar American fare: stuff like prosciutto made with American ham, hush puppies made with Anson Mills grain, and a suped up version of a Frito pie. assemblerestaurant.com.
As for Prima, owner-executive chef Peter Chastain told me that he wishes Pond all the best and that he would be stepping back into the head cooking role full-time. "I am delighted to be stepping back into the cooking full on," he said, adding we have "the best people possible to deliver what we always have—top class Italian food and a bomb wine agenda in the prettiest restaurant in town. I am excited to start off again right in spring." Look for spring-themed items on the menu such as Tuscan spring vegetable soup with favas, peas, artichokes, leeks, fresh chick peas, and chervil simmered in beef broth, chili pepper rock fish baked with fennel, green olives, tomato and verdicchio; skewered lamb polpettine in ‘Salsa Finta’ with pecorino romano, high ground farms lettuces in salads; fresh agnolotti filled with sheep’s milk ricotta and dandelion greens in walnut sauce; and more...
Beyond the Creek gets the scoop on a new Vitality Bowl restaurant coming to downtown Walnut Creek, replacing the former Wags and Whiskers at 1528 Locust Street. This is the third location for this rapidly expanding healthy eating–oriented eatery, which also has locations in San Ramon and Pleasanton. According to their website, Vitality Bowl specializes in "making quality, great tasting and affordable Açaí Bowls, invigorating smoothies and delicious panini."
Cinco de Mayo, ah yes, Cinco de Mayo. Our on-it editor Kristen Haney will have a round-up of the best East Bay spots to hit up this annual heavy-drinking holiday (look for it on our homepage on Thursday). Below are just a few that were brought to my attention:
-- Barbacoa in Orinda is hosting food and drink specials along with live entertainment all weekend long.
-- Maria Maria in Danville will be partying with a taco bar, drink specials, and live bands (no cover charge) from Friday through Monday.
-- No word on specials, but Blue Agave in Pleasanton and El Sacromonte in Livermore both serve excellent, upscale Mexican if you're looking to celebrate in style.
Speaking of parties, don't forget about Picán's Kentucky Derby party happening on Saturday featuring Juleps, special bites, and a live DJ and dancing. We're giving away three free pairs of tickets to that party: CLICK HERE for the deets and a chance to win.
Still buzzing from the coronation of the Netherland's King Willem-Alexander, the first Dutch male monarch in more than a century? Keep that buzz going with a stroopwafel, an authentic Dutch waffle treat, from Oakland's Stroopie Gourmet. CLICK HERE to read the back story from Berkeleyside Nosh, and go to thestroopiegourmet.com to find out where to find these guys (they pop up at various farmers markets and festivals, including Oakland Art Murmur this Friday).
Walnut Creek-resident and Calicraft Brewery-founder Blaine Landberg swung by the Diablo offices yesterday to drop off a couple of bottles of his new Chez Panisse Farmhouse Ale. Made in honor of the Cafe's 33rd anniversary, Lambert worked closely with Chez Panisse staff to custom craft this special release saison ale made with anise hyssop, meyer lemon leaf, and lemon verbena blossoms. Landberg and Chez Panisse meticulously narrowed it down to those three from an original list of more than 30 herbs and blossoms harvested from a local farm ("It smelled like a hippy's dorm room in our offices for a while," Landberg joked.) The result is a very delicate summer-style beer that is now available at local Whole Foods and a number of East Bay restaurants and bars. (Inside Scoop, btw, reports that the fire-damaged restaurant's new reopening date is June 10.)
Landberg also mentioned that he's getting very close to securing a location in Walnut Creek for a planned small brewery facility and tap room: I'll keep you posted on that one...
Speaking of beer, I touched base with Rob Baillard, who was planning an interesting DIY brewery/bar concept in which customers could actually brew their own beer on site. Perhaps not surprisingly, his Diving Dog brewery in Uptown Oakland has been delayed, mostly because city and county officials have literally never encountered a brew-on-premise permit before, so the red tape has been thicker than normal. Baillard said he's still shooting for a summer opening.
Berkeleyside Nosh gets the word out about East Bay Spice Company, a pretty-looking new eatery in downtown Berkeley serving "Indian street-food-inspired dishes and artisanal cocktails with an Indian twist." That's the second Indian street food–inspired restaurant, following the opening of Temescal's Juhu Beach Club. Three's a trend folks, and we're almost there...
► Oliveto in Oakland is hosting a series of Bird dinners next week starting on Tuesday. Sounds delicious as always, CLICK HERE for the details.
► At Bocanova this Monday: “Tastes of Brazil, Wines of Portugal” dinner featuring a prix-fixe, five-course meal with wines from the Portuguese winery, Monte Cascas. You can check out new executive chef John Jackson's cooking chops, CLICK HERE for more info.
► More Oakland culinary walking tours are on tap as Localite has a pretty cool schedule (see below) of culinary group events planned starting this month. LocaliteTours.com for more info.
Retro Cocktails in Uptown, 2nd and 4th Thursdays beginning May 9th, 2013 at 7pm
Pork Tour in Old Oakland and Chinatown, 2nd and 4th Saturdays beginning May 11th, 2013 at 2pm
Handmade Tour of Temescal, 1st and 3rd Saturdays beginning May 4th, 2013 at 10am
Urban Nature Tour of Lake Merritt, 1st and 3rd Sundays beginning May 5th, 2013 at 10am
Enchanting Dinner Tour of Montclair Village, 2nd and 4th Wednesdays beginning May 8th at 5:30pm
► Show off your best chile chops at the SF Chile cookoff happening in Uptown Oakland this Saturday: go to sfbaychilicookoff.com for all the details.
► To mark the spring season, Studio Seven Arts in downtown Pleasanton will be hosting a wine and cheese reception for jewelry artist Steven Ruse on Friday, May 3rd from 6pm to 9pm and on Saturday, May 4th an exclusive Steven Ruse Jewelry Trunk Show from 10am to 2pm.