Weekly Dish: Gobble Gobble
Havana Cafe opens in Walnut Creek; more bars in Oakland; Cinco de Mayo in Danville; and more in this Turkey Week Dish!
Well, apologies in advance, but this one is going to be short and sweet since the Dish is hoping to get out a little early and start prepping his "famed" tomato pies in anticipation of tomorrow's feast (heavy emphasis on those quotation marks). Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving, may you all end up pleasantly stuffed, happy, and nodding off in front of the TV surrounded by friends and family...
Speaking of Thanksgiving, I swung by 1515 for their annual turkey giveaway on Tuesday. It's always a cool thing to see owner Tony Dudum and his staff all rolling up their sleeves and handing out bird after bird right in the heart of downtown Walnut Creek. Kudos to the "friends and family" of 1515 who made it happen (the annual 1515 charity golf tournament in August pays for the whole thing), as well as Grocery Outlet, which sells the birds at a steep discount, making it possible for the restaurant to hand out 2,000 turkeys this year. Very cool...
Walnut Creek hot spot Havana's long-planned cafe is at last holding its grand opening this Friday. Located next to the Autopia Car Wash at 2172 North Main Street, the new cafe will serve as a breakfast and lunch spot as well as Havana's catering headquarters. For lunch they'll offer a mix of tapas (empanadas, skewers, chicken wings), soups (black bean and Chicken tortilla), salads (mango-spinach, Caesar), and sandwiches (ropa vieja, skirts steak torta, and of course a Cuban). The breakfast menu is the tempting one for me. I'm a sucker for Mexican-type breakfasts, and they've got ham and chorizo scrambles, huevos ranchero, and chiliquiles, plus you can get a Café Cubano. That's what I'm talking about...
Got a note from Jules Thin Crust-owner Heather Clapp, who wanted to clarify that while yes, she and her husband are opening a new Jules in Rockridge as I previously reported, their Danville location is not closing and would remain open in the Livery shopping center—that was a little unclear in the December issue's Dish column. She also added that they were aiming to open the new location by March of next year, and that it would have the same thin-crust menu (with gluten-free options) as their other store.
Also, finally got in touch with Sam White, who along with two other Chez Panisse alums, is opening The Ramen Shop right next door on College Ave. White was confident that they would be opening before the end of the year, "sometime in December." As for the menu? Well, the name says it all, according to White, who said that while there would be a few other offerings, mostly The Ramen Shop will just serve ramen in varying forms. "There will be a couple of rotating salads, one kind of fish, an appetizer dish, probably a fried thing, but it's mainly ramen," White said. "We’re kind of all just ramen addicts, and feel like we don’t need anything more than that." And yes, as their pedigree suggests, they will be sourcing local veggies, top-of-the-line meat, and making all the noodles in-house. They're also working with Alameda's peerless distiller St. George's Spirits on a "souped up" cocktail program for the full bar.
Got a little update on the new plan for Sea Salt, which Berkeley restaurateurs Haig and Cindy Krikorian sold off a few weeks ago. According to manager Ken Okino, Sea Salt will remain in its current incarnation through the end of the year. In the first week of January, the restaurant will shut down for about a week and reopen as Eat. While the exact concept hasn't been nailed down quite yet, there will be a focus on smaller, shareable portions, and it will not be primarily seafood-focused as it is now (only about 40 percent of the menu will be seafood). Sea Salt's current executive chef Quyen Vu will remain as head chef. There is also a plan to remodel the side dining room into a cocktail lounge, but that won't likely happen for another 6 to 8 months. It'll be called Lounge when it opens, making the ultimate name Eat + Lounge; very straightforward... While no longer the owners, the Krikorians will still be involved as outside consultants, the same relationship they have with next-door Paisan according to Okino.
With the sales of Sea Salt and T-Rex a couple months before, the Krikorians once-expansive empire has now apparently at three: Lalime's, Jimmy Beans, and Fonda—and there are rumors that Fonda could soon be up for sale as well.
New owners Tom Dashiell and Matt Sturm, meanwhile, have already tweaked things over at T-Rex, debuting a new, less BBQ-centric menu this week, adding some TVs downstairs to make that more of a sports bar area, and even partnering with nearby Golden Gate Fields to televise some of the horse races.
The Forge, the wood-fired pizza and craft beer–centric concept from Michael Karp and Bob Burke's new Le Bon Temps restaurant group, is on track to open by January in Jack London Square. According to Karp, about 70-percent of the menu has been nailed down, and it's looking like it'll have a split personality with über-authentic Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza on the one hand, and a more traditional soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers suped-up American menu on the other. Meanwhile, the Le Bon Temps team is scheduled to meet with the Danville design review board to see if they'll be going ahead with a mini-version of the Forge they hope to open in a portion of the Lunardi's at 345 Railroad Ave.
Also, the busy Karp admitted that he and fellow Table 24 and Barbacoa-owner Victor Ivry are eyeing Orinda's Theater Square for possible other restaurant opportunities.
Man, you just can't turn your back on Oakland for a second. Word comes via East Bay Express, that joining Parliament (Old Oakland), Tropicana (Uptown), and Diving Dog (a DIY brew pub that I first reported on last week) in the city's to-come bar world, will be Lost and Found, a new "beer-garden-slash-cafe" at 2040 Telegraph Ave from the owners of nearby bar The Layover. There's also a do-gooder aspect, according to the Express, as the new place will act as "a job-creation and training hub for organizations that support at-risk youth and recently released felons." CLICK HERE to read more, but expect a springtime opening.
SHOUT-OUT OF THE WEEK: NM CAFE
I'm not much of a shopper (I'm an eater, not a shopper), and so have been a bit remiss in covering the new Walnut Creek Neiman Marcus' NM Cafe. After all, when I think of department store food, I think premade salads, soups, and scones. Well, NM Cafe is a heck of a lot more than that. It's a full-on sit-down dining experience with a menu that sources locally and changes seasonally, and which executive chef Santana Diaz is doing a really nice job executing.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: this ain't cheap eats. Just like the department store in which it's located (second floor at the back), there can be some sticker shock—but there's also no denying the quality and the portion sizes are pretty ample as well. My special lady friend and I went there for dinner (lunch seems to be the main draw here, although it's open until 8 p.m.), and shared the lobster chowder to start. We got the small cup, which they split up into two bowls, which was plenty enough to share—we each got several generous chunks of fresh lobster in a richly layered and textured soup. Really nice.
My wife then got the chicken pot pie for an entrée, which came sort of deconstructed with the super-rich chicken-veggie-gravy filling served steaming atop a buttery puff pastry. This is a decadent version of what is a decadent dish, great comfort food for a cool winter day. Lastly, I got something from Diaz's "chef's features" menu, which rotates weekly. It was a grilled annatto chicken breast served in braised red beans and roasted pork. It's a serious dish with Mexican inspiration and it was my favorite of the night: the annatto-rub infusing a wonderfully flavorful spice to the moist chicken breast (which can often be bland and dry). The red beans and fall-apart-tender pork meanwhile, were an almost unnecessary bonus. Between the pot pie and the chicken, we could only finish half of each dish, so we had leftovers for lunch the next day.
Anyway, even if you're not looking to shop at Neiman, the cafe is worth a stop for hungry foodies—they're putting out quality food that's on par with the best that Broadway Plaza has to offer... check 'em out!
NM Cafe, Level Two Neiman Marcus, 1000 S. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 472-6186, CLICK HERE for website.