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Weekly Dish: Diablo's Food Awards Are In!

Food Awards, Zagat Guide, and Michelin Guide all drop; Ike's opening in Danville; Rockridge renaissance continues; updates on Sweet Bar Bakery and Walnut Creek's Estelle Bistro; a Matt Cain fastball through a Patxis pizza; and more in this week's Dish!


Photo by Jennifer Martiné

So yeah, sure, the Michelin and Zagat guides dropped this week, but first thing's first... Diablo's Food Issue is out!

Not to toot our horn too much, but we worked really hard on this one and we think it's a great issue. So if you can't get a hard copy (which I really recommend, there's nothing like seeing those big-ol' food shots in print), CLICK HERE to check out the whole issue. A little primer on what you'll find:

Food Awards: You might notice that we switched up the format this year. Instead of just highlighting our seven or ten winners with judges' scores, we wanted to mix things up and include more places. In addition to highlighting our perennial winners (Va de Vi, Prima, Esin, Oliveto, Wente), we also named the best new restaurants, some of our favorite chefs, the hottest dining destinations, as well as featuring the signature dishes from some of our other top restaurants (that's Élevé's gorgeous Curry Xào Lan pictured at left). I think the final product is more fun and diverse, and is a better representation of the best of what the East Bay dining scene has to offer. Hope you enjoy it: CLICK HERE to read.

►That beautiful cover image is connected to an essay by local writer James O'Brien delving into a trend in our dining culture that has been happening for quite some time now: the casual-ification of dining out and the disappearance of the white tablecloth restaurant. It's a really insightful—and hilarious—read: CLICK HERE to check it out.

►The artisan food movement is something that we've covered in bits and pieces over the last few years, but never in a comprehensive way. There's just so much good energy happening in the world of pickles and jams and Charcuterie, and in our Artisan Eats feature, we get to profile some of the East Bay's coolest artisan food producers, and give you recommendations on where to taste the best products for yourself—as well as the places where you can learn to do it yourself. CLICK HERE to read.

►You foodie fashionistas will dig our Global Tabletop feature in which we tap our wealth of awesome homeware stores for the best tabletop gear in three different International themes: Asian, Nordic, and Latin: CLICK HERE to check it out.

Photo by Samantha Schneider► I also wanted to give a quick shout-out to one of my favorite smaller stories in this issue: we followed Vanessa's Bistro chef-owner Vanessa Dang into the kitchen for a week to capture one her unique quirks: she doesn't wear an apron, rather she cooks decked out in her finest haute couture. She's one chef who isn't giving up her sense of style just because she's pan-searing some miso honey—glazed Atlantic salmon... CLICK HERE to read.

►Finally—and this is it, I promise—I'd be remiss not to remind you all to get your tickets to Gourmet East Bay on Saturday, November 3. The annual event offers food and wine from some of the area's finest restaurants and wineries, including many of the places you'll read about in our Food Awards. There's always great music too: trust me, it's a fun time. Go to gourmeteastbay.com to get your tix...

Yes, it's true, a couple other important food-related publications dropped this week. The 2013 Zagat and Michelin guides were both released in the last few days.

The diner-generated Zagat Guide was a bit delayed thanks to an unfortunate typo on the back spine, but that's all fixed now. Some highlights for you: 
► Gary Danko, Boulevard, Slanted Door, Kokkari, and French Laundry were the top-5 most popular restaurants, while Chez Panisse, at number 6, was the only East Bay eatery to crack the top-10. Gary Danko and French Laundry were also one/two in the Food category, the only restaurants to earn 29 points (out of 30).
► Among the top new restaurants were East Bay spots Comal (Berkeley), Corners Tavern (Walnut Creek), and FuseBox, Haven, Hopscotch, and Rumbo al Sur (All Oakland).
► Tanya Holland's excellent Brown Sugar Kitchen was voted best Cajun/Creole/Soul restaurant in the Bay Area, while Berkeley's Cheese Board was tapped as best pizza.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the food critic—powered (and some would say snootier) Michelin Guide also dropped this week. No real shockers this year: French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood retained their 3 stars, while Baumé, Benu, Coi, Manresa, and Saison retained 2 stars, with Atelier Crenn getting promoted to join the cool kids. Even less news in the East Bay as James Syhabout's Commis restaurant was the only eatery to garner a star (same as last year), with Chez Panisse getting denied for the second year in a row.

Photo by James CarriereOK, speaking of James Syhabout, I had a chance to touch base with the busy chef about his new project coming to Rockridge in the former Somerset space on College Ave. What's the scoop, you ask? Well, not a heck of a lot to report actually—he's still toying with the food concept and didn't want to release any info on that except to confirm that Commis chef Benjamin Coe would be the executive chef.

He also confirmed that the vibe would be casual, falling about midway between his formal Commis and casual Asian street fare eatery Hawker Fare, and that he's targeting the end of the spring for an opening. One interesting thing he did say was that while he'll remain open to new restaurant projects, especially as a way to promote talented Commis chefs to run their own kitchen, he personally will remain the head chef at Commis. "I'm always going to be here," he said. Next big thing for Syhabout: he'll be participating in the interesting-sounding Omnivore Food Festival coming to SF on November 9-11.

A16 is coming to RockridgeJust a heck of a lot happening in Rockridge these days. Besides the bombshell that A16 is taking over Hudson (expect a Spring 2013 opening), there's also the new ramen spot from three Chez Panisse alums coming early next year, The Trappist-owners' new beer bar Trappist Provisions (likely end of the year), and Toast's new bar annex, still in the works but ETA is TBD.

Also, let's not forget about the mysterious French bistro concept coming to the primely located Water Lounge on College Ave near the BART station. According to Mike Nova, the real estate man working with the new owners, there would be a substantial renovation to open up the space to the street in the mold of nearby Wood Tavern, and we shouldn't expect an opening until early next year. While he wouldn't tell me any other specifics, I happened upon a recent ABC liquor license application for that space that listed Stuart Bai and Joshua Ward as owners. Not sure about Ward, but Bai was co-owner of the respected Liberty Cafe in Jules Thin Crust coming to Rockridge?San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood, for what that's worth...

A couple of other Rockridge rumors:
► I heard that Jule's Thin Crust, a great little pizzeria with a focus on seasonal ingredients and gluten-free crust options, will be taking over the recently-shuttered Las Palmas taqueria at 5804 College Ave.
► Also heard whisperings about an ultra high-end liquor store (think small-batch, artisanal bourbons and rare, boutique wines) going in somewhere in the neighborhood, but don't have any more details than that...

Man, oh man, so is Rockridge officially the hottest food area in the East Bay? Methinks yes...

Ike's, Ike's, Ike's! Sounds like the beloved SF-based sandwich shop's newest location is this close to opening for business in Danville. I spoke with the man himself, Ike Shehadeh, who told me that the store, located in the Trader Joe's shopping center near Chipotle, was actually making sandwiches on Tuesday but couldn't officially let people inside because they were still waiting for a final sign-off from the fire department (they ended up giving away sandwiches for free). So expect to be able to snag one of the more than 200 sandwich options (I highly recommend the Spiffy Tiffy) any day now. The concept of Shehadeh's planned Walnut Creek store, meanwhile, remains solely in the hands of city of Walnut Creek officials, although he's proceeding under the assumption that it'll be another sandwich shop.

Dan Ashley, his band Push, a fluffy cat, and what appears to be a knight in armor: you may see them all at Ike's on ThursdayShehadeh also told me about a couple cool events happening at his Uptown Oakland branch. Hoops fans should swing by today around 2 p.m. when the newest Warrior, rookie Harrison Barnes, will be on hand for the debut of his signature Ikes sandwich (perhaps a little early in his career to have a sandwich named after him, but what the heck, it's a nice gesture).

And newshounds and music fans should mark down noon this Thursday on their calendar: that's when ABC-7 news anchor Dan Ashley and his Classic rock-inspired Push will be jamming in Franklin Square outside of the sandwich shop. Here's hoping he plays his suggestive ballad, We Made Love...

Speaking of local athletes and local food purveyors. Check out this Mythbusters video of Giants fireballer Matt Cain (who also has an Ike's sandwich named after him) throwing a fastball through a box of Patxi's deep-dish pizza, it's pretty amazing. (scroll to the 55-second mark).

Patxi's is actually giving away a signed Matt Cain jersey if you place an order or pick up a pizza during a World Series game.

And by the way, Patxi's Pizza co-owner Bill Freeman says his new Livermore location is set to begin construction in a couple weeks and could be opening as soon as February of next year. Freeman also told me that he's working on signing a lease for another East Bay restaurant, but all he would tell me was that it's in between Lafayette and Livermore. We'll keep you posted...

Tami Bean has taken over Father Nature, renaming it Father Nature's Hideaway, and shutting down her previous restaurant, Wild Vine Hideaway in downtown Danville. Bean plans to bring the same convivial concept of New American fare with a focus on wine, along with live music and comedy several nights a week—while incorporating some of Father Nature's casual lunch items. 172 E. Prospect Ave, Danville, (925) 837-2206, wildvinehideaway.com.

Piping hot tofu stew at Mixed GrainMan, I have been on a serious Korean food kick recently; must be the chilly weather. And the place that's been satisfying my bibimbap, kimchee, and tofu stew joneses has been the new Mixed Grain in downtown Walnut Creek. The owners (who also run the popular Ohgane restaurants in Oakland and Dublin) recently took over for Koreana Kitchen and I've been really impressed with their food: it's fresh, hearty, comforting, and... it tastes good, which is always nice. So if you're at all inclined towards slightly adventurous ethnic food, I'd highly recommend checking it out. Super-nice people too... 1546 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-5959, mixedgrain.com

Spoke with Sweet Bar Bakery-owner (and former Michael Jackson personal chef) Mani Niall who told me his anticipated new shop should be opening in Uptown Oakland by mid-November (his espresso machine is on the way).

If you want to get a sneak taste of his chocolate chip cookies or savory gorgonzola scones, Niall will be helping cater the cool-sounding 24th on 24th event happening in Uptown Oakland tonight. Celebrating the imminent reopening of the beloved Parkway Theater (scheduled for sometime in November), the movie house is partnering with its 24th Street neighbors to present a "very special film" and food fair. Festivities start at 6, movies at 7 p.m.—you can pick up the programs at the New Parkway lobby at 474 24th St, thenewparkway.com/

Nido in Oakland is officially open. I had a chance to go the other day for brunch. It's a beautifully renovated spot located on the edge of Jack London Square that includes a pie window for Oakland artisan pie maker Pietisserie. This is the brainchild of first-time restaurateur Silvia McCollow (and her husband Cory), who is making healthy Mexican food made with quality, sustainable ingredients in the mold of Cosecha (where McCollow cooked).
I'll let the photos do the talking here but its definitely worth swinging by...

444 Oak St., Jack London, Oakland, 510-444-NIDO, nidooakland.com

Chilaquiles with marinated pork
Quesadillitas Rojas

Some small bites for you...

Spoke with Hugo Boye, the former Caffe delle Stelle-owner who is opening up Estelle Bistro in the long-shuttered Chili's space in downtown Walnut Creek. Boye told me he hopes to open his "Italian, Continental fusion" restaurant as soon as November 15.

To celebrate the addition of new Chef de Cuisine Scott Quinn, the Claremont Hotel's Meritage Restaurant is hosting a five-course prix fixe Argentinean Steak Dinner with wine pairings by Bodega Columé Winemaker Randle Johnson this Saturday from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Quinn brings 15 years of experience from places such as L.A. hotspot, Bagatelle, and dishes will include Provoleta (made with grilled provolone, chorizo, country bread, and marinated olives), Spanish octopus prepared ‘a la Plancha,’ and grilled Hangar steak ‘Asado.’ Tickets are $125, call (510) 549-8510 to reserve a spot. claremont-hotel.com

Bartavelle Coffee and Wine Bar, replacing Alice Waters' beloved Cafe Fanny, finally opened in Berkeley this week. Just a soft opening (so "go easy on us," pleads proprietor Suzanne Drexhage via Facebook), but you can expect "delicious sandwiches, house Charcuterie and other treats; Sightglass Coffee and an ever changing selection of tasty wines." Sounds good... 1603 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, (510) 524-BIRD (2473), facebook.com/BartavelleCoffeeWine

Pleasanton Weekly reports that New Leaf Community Markets, "an independently-owned grocer known for carrying locally grown, organic foods" is opening up a market in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center in mid-2013.

Neiman Marcus' surprisingly delicious NM Cafe is now open for weekend brunch. Among the tasty treats, you can look forward to are a Monte Cristo (dipped and griddled sandwich of roast turkey, ham, and triple creme brie with strawberry preserve); crab eggs benedict (with citrus Hollandaise, applewood bacon, and breakfast potatoes); and of course a San Francisco Bloody Mary with Aboslut peppar, house-seasoned tomato juice and Old Bay rim. mmmmm... 1000 S Main St., Walnut Creek, 925-472-6186, CLICK HERE for more info on the cafe.

Oliveto Restaurant just announced the dates for its annual Truffle Dinner (a pretty amazing experience if you've never been). The dinners will be held Tuesday November 13 through Friday, November 16. It's an a la carte menu with truffle-accented dishes like Carne Cruda of Angus beef with white truffle-scented quail egg yolk and pan-roasted scallops with cauliflower two ways and black truffle spumante sauce. Double mmmm... Call (510) 547-5356 or go to oliveto.com to make your reservations.

Checked in with Table 24- and Barbacoa co-owner Victory Ivry, who told me about a few cool events happening in Orinda's Theater Square: 1) Table 24's two-year Anniversary Party is happening tonight, October 24; 2)  Today marks the first day of Theater Square's week long inaugural Haunted House, bring the kiddies... and 3) Barbacoa will host its first annual Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos for you Spanish speakers) on November 2.

A restaurant called Hutch Bar & Kitchen is taking over the endlessly changing restaurant/bar space at 2022 Telegraph Ave in Uptown Oakland.

Alameda artisan distillery St George's Spirits is celebrating its 30 years in business by releasing a special anniversary blend of its single malt whiskey, a mix of its oldest heritage barrels that's been finished in a pear brandy barrel. Expect a December release, only 715 bottles available—check the distiller's Facebook and Twitter pages for updates. Also, plenty of cool events happening at St. George's awesome hangar HQ overlooking San Francisco. CLICK HERE to check 'em out...

In case you didn't know it, today is National Food Day, celebrating the "movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food." There are plenty of activities happening around the Bay Area, go to foodday.org for the 411.

Popular French bakery La Boulange is now providing catering services for two of its East Bay locations in Danville and Lafayette. Go to laboulangebakery.com for more info.

Per Beyond the Creek, the new Habit Burger in north Walnut Creek is opening on October 31.

Food Truck event organizer Off the Grid is doing a cool Halloween-themed happening at their North Berkeley market on October 31st from 5 to 9 p.m. Vendors will be serving specials with either non-traditional (i.e. spooky) cuts of meat, or autumn produce. Examples: Beef heart tacos, Pumpkin cinnamon rolls, Oxtails with roasted acorn squash, Pig ear salad, Blood orange creme brulee. CLICK HERE for deets.

You know a city's food scene has arrived when food tours start springing up. Savor Oakland is debuting three-and-a-half hour walking culinary tours of the city's Jack London Square area this weekend: one each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Go to savoroaklandfoodtours.com for more information and to schedule your spot.

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Upcoming events at St George's Spirits

Market Fresh Cocktail Class
Thursday, October 25, 7–9pm
Learn new recipes using our spirits and fresh seasonal ingredients from Brian MacGregor (bar director at soon-to-open Wingtip, formerly of Jasper's, Jardiniere, and Absinthe). This is the October installment of the Boothby Center's series of hands-on cocktail classes; take one class or take them all!

The Science of Distilling
Tuesday, October 30, 6:30–9pm
Booze geekery at its finest, and your chance to mingle with several Bay Area distillers as part of the Bay Area Science Festival. St. George mad scientists Lance Winters and Dave Smith will be pouring up a tasty little experiment and armed with all the A's to your Q's about the science behind the still. Join us and wet your whistle in the name of research!

Pop-up St. George Spirits happy hour at Blackbird
Tuesday, November 6, 6–8pm
No matter how Election Day goes down, by the time 6pm rolls around we are all going to need a drink. Join us at Blackbird in the Castro for sips of our Terroir and Botanivore Gin and cocktail specials during happy hour.

Election Hangover: Fall Cocktails of the Farmer's Market
Wednesday, November 7, 5:30–8pm
Post-election day, we can all count on one clear winner: a nonpartisan happy hour at the Ferry Building. Come patriotic and thirsty!

SF Indy Spirits Expo
Wednesday, November 14
The Indy Spirits Expos are always a blast, so you can definitely count us in to represent the Bay Area at this tasting of spirits from across the country.