Weekly Dish: Oyster Bar Coming to Old Oakland

Old Oakland renaissance continues; sneak peek at Stelle Bistro in Walnut Creek; Corner Bakery headed for Pleasant Hill; Bull Valley Roadhouse surprises in Port Costa; tap room to pour in Dublin; and more in this week's Dish!



Well, whether you supported Obama or Romney, I think we can all agree: thank God it's finally over and done with and we can move on with our lives! Let's take guidance from these sweet treats from the newly opened SusieCakes in Lafayette: whether you lean right or left, everyone likes sugar cookies, right? Look to the cookies, America...

Another Romney has some better news this morning as Romney Steele is opening The Cook and her Farmer, a "cafe, oyster, and wine bar" in Old Oakland's Swan's Market. This is the same market where the wildly popular Cosecha opened last year, and where Sarah Kirnon's anticipated Afro-Caribbean Miss Ollie's and Rosamunde Sausage Grille are expected to open before the end of the year.

Steele (the cook, who founded Cafe Kevah in Big Sur 20 years ago) is opening the new restaurant with her partner Steven D. Day (the farmer, as well as an educator and volunteer diver for the local Sheriff's Department). Photo by Willie ChenAs the name suggests, the two will focus on "simple but bountiful" food featuring local ingredients (think big, shared salads) and coastal specialties with a slight southern twist—Day's from Memphis so expect to see fried chicken, black-eyed peas with ham hock, and crawdads make the occasional menu appearance. But the centerpiece will be the oysters, served both fresh and cooked (there will be po-boys), which they'll source direct from the Tomales Bay, the Point Reyes inlet famous for its bivalves. The two actually spent a year up in the town of Marshall farming and learning the whole oyster process. If you're salivating like I am, you'll have to wait a bit: opening date is likely not until spring of next year.

As for Miss Ollie's and Rosamunde? Well, judging by Miss Ollie's Facebook, that restaurant is getting very close. Meanwhile, Rosamunde's Josh Margolis reports that he's hoping to debut before Christmas.


I had a chance to chat with Hugo Boye, who is hard at work fixing up his Stelle Bistro for what he hopes will be a pre-Thanksgiving opening. Boye is taking over the old Chili's in Walnut Creek, which is a big space (more than 200 seats), but he has some interesting plans for it. In addition to the sit-down dining area, Stelle will have a lounge, as well as a sort of "wine section" on one side of the restaurant that will be stocked with machines for which customers can buy a prepaid card and help themselves to varying pour sizes of wine from all over the world—there are six machines, each carries eight bottles, so that's a lot of choices.

As for food, Boye gave me a sneak peek of the menu and as promised, it's a real fusion of Italian (Boye was born in Italy and co-owned Caffe delle Stelle for 20 years prior to it closing down last year) and "Continental" (he grew up in Chile so he's very familiar with South American fare). For appetizers, you'll find calamari next to camarones al mojo de ajo next to beef carpaccio next to empanadas. While for entrees, you'll be able to get a Margherita pizza or spaghetti Bolagnese, as well as lomo saltado (a Peruvian stir-fry steak dish) or paella Valenciana (I forgot to mention that Boye's mother was from Spain). There'll also be an ample bar menu. Bottom line is, the amiable Boye wants to serve affordable food that emphasizes quality over quantity in a fun relaxing environment. He has his old chef back from Caffe delle Stelle, whose customer base he's hoping to recapture, as well as tapping into a new younger demographic. "Every day on the street, I see someone I know," he says. "I'm just so happy to be opening up another restaurant here; because I live in Walnut Creek and this is what I love to do." Check back for opening updates.


Had a great time at last Saturday's Gourmet East Bay—thanks to everyone who came and all the restaurants that participated. In my totally biased opinion, I thought it was the best one yet as far as the food, music, crowd, and really beautiful setting, just a really nice vibe this year (and great weather after last year's torrential downpour). While everything I tried was delicious, a big congrats to Va de Vi, which won best appetizer for its ahi tuna tartare and yellowtail tiradho, and to Tender Greens, which won best presentation for its roasted pumpkin soup with house smoked pastrami sandwich. And not least of all, the event raised $8,200 for Project Open Hand and the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. CLICK HERE to check out photos from the event!


Corner Bakery Cafe just can't get enough pleasant: fresh from announcing its intention to go into Pleasanton Gateway, the cafe signed a lease to open a new location in downtown Pleasant Hill. The Chicago-founded chain bakery, which serves baked goods as well as a variety of breakfast items, soups and salads, sandwiches and panini, and pastas, will take over the former Yan Can space as well as the space next door. Opening will likely be late spring 2013.


Speaking of Dublin, the Tri-Valley city will soon get its very own "tap room." Gregory Lewis, a former worker at Fremont's shuttered NUMMI Plant, has gotten into the beer game with his wife and two sons, and plans to open Caps and Taps right around December 1. Located in the Shops at Tralee at 6601 Dublin Boulevard, Caps and Taps will serve all craft beer with a focus on Northern California breweries, as well as carry a large selection of bottled beer that you can drink there or take home (there will be small snacks and you can bring in food from nearby restaurants). Lewis says he's modeling his store on Livermore's popular Tap 25 (which should be done with its own expansion soon).


I had a chance to go to the grand opening of the Bull Valley Roadhouse and it is quite a place. If you've never been to Port Costa, it's sort of a funky, historic, ramshackle little town on the Carquinez Straight near Crockett that's only accessible via a winding 10-minute drive. The town has a colorful history—it was once home to a thriving railroad ferry—and has the architecture to match (the imposingly Victorian Burlington Hotel was built in 1883 and really looks like something out of a Wild West movie). The restaurant has a lot of that history too, but now it has been taken over by a younger cast of characters, several of whom are from San Francisco's lauded Slanted Door restaurant, including David Williams (the fulltime executive chef) and Justine Kelly (The Slanted Door's chef de cuisine, who is consulting and occasionally cooking at the Roadhouse). The food is described as "elevated roadhouse fare," and while I haven't had a chance to go for a proper dinner, the appetizers I tried at the party were all great, including delicious Buffalo wings and drool-worthy gruyere popovers. Atmosphere was awesome too, with the new ownership bringing a sort of Tom Waits-like retro-hipster vibe into a place that actually has a real, palpable history—great local band The Cottontails were playing speak easy-style tunes at the opening. Co-owner co-owner Earl Flewellen explained what he's trying to do at the restaurant...

"You come into the town and it's at the end of the road, with all these amazing historic buildings, and we wanted to tap into that type of early American experience in a way that wasn't trite—this place has all this authentic history and it was just a question of uncovering that and bringing all those things out," he says. "It's good, hearty family food that done well, using traditional methods and real attention to detail. But it's not a place where people should feel uptight when they come in."

So what the heck is a place like this doing in sleepy Port Costa? Flewellen recounted to me the crazy tale. Long story, very short, Flewellen and his partner, Samuel Spurrier, moved out to Crockett from San Francisco a few years ago. Flewellen was looking for a place to base his bee keeping/honey operation and was directed to downtown Port Costa. They eventually took over the bottom floor of the Burlington Hotel and turned it into a cafe, then took over management of the hotel, and with some community support, recently purchased the restaurant, which they renovated and reopened with the help from their friends at the Slanted Door. That's a very abbreviated version of what's a pretty fascinating story. And it's a pretty fascinating restaurant—well worth checking out if you feel like a totally unique dining experience and a drive down to little ol' Port Costa on the Carquinez Straight. 14 Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa, (510) 787-1135, bullvalleyroadhouse.com


Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Oh man, that's coming up soon! So if you're freaking out like me, Wente might have just the answer. The Livermore wine country restaurant is offering take-home Thanksgiving dinners that you can pick up on Wednesday, November 21 between 2 p.m and 7 p.m. Dinners serve 6 adults, can be prepared easily at home, and include a choice of Diestel free range turkey with apricot-orange blossom honey glaze or pan-seared salmon with citrus-tarragon, plus all the fixin's, Caesar salad, and pumpkin pie and chocolate cake for dessert. Place your order by November 13th by ordering online or calling 925-456-2444.


Throughout November, the restaurants of Lark Creek Restaurant Group, including Lark Creek Walnut Creek and Yankee Pier Lafayette, will be offering their annual ginger bread dessert that diners can decorate themselves frosting, sprinkles and candies for $10, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish foundation. You can also take the whole kit home do decorate at you leisure or give as a gift.


Starting this month, sauces and marinades company Soy Vay is holding a contest to find the face of Flavor Underground, its new web series to help discover the best neighborhood restaurants and chefs. Beginning today, foodies in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are invited to submit a short video review of their favorite neighborhood restaurant and upload it to flavorunderground.com any time before November 30th. The top five applicants will be called back for a screen test and then one Bay Area foodie will be announced as the San Francisco host of ‘Flavor Underground.’


Oliveto is hosting its annual Truffle Dinner starting next Tuesday through Friday. It's quite an experience... Reserve by calling (510) 547.5356 or online at oliveto.com


The line-up for the annual Eukel Dinner hosted by Narsai David at the Diablo Country Club is set and its an impressive cast of East Bay chefs: Artisan Bistro's John Marquez; Contra Costa College's Nader Sharkes; Corners Tavern's Esteban Escobar; Diablo Country Club's  Frank Palmer; Esin's Curtis and Esin deCarion; Prima's Peter Chastain; and Yankee Pier's Michael Dunn. Happening Thursday November 15, the dinner benefits the Eukel Trust, which provides annual monetary grants to outstanding teachers in Contra Costa County. Cool cause, great food: go to www.eukelteachertrust.org/dinner.htm for more information and to get tickets.


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