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Weekly Dish: Incontro Man Headed Back to San Ramon

Gianni Bartoletti leaves Incontro to head his own Italian eatery in original San Ramon spot; sneak peek at Belli Berkeley; La Rose Bistro heads to Concord; Plum gets a new chef; late-night ramen to Oakland; a shout-out to Back-40 BBQ; and more!


Who says you can't go home again? Gianni Bartoletti, the former owner and a driving force behind multiple Diablo Food Award-winning Incontro Ristorante, has left the restaurant to run his own eatery, Gianni's Italian Bistro—back in the same San Ramon spot that housed the original Incontro. He and his wife, Melanie, will be taking over for La Fenestra, which replaced Incontro in San Ramon earlier this year.

So why the change? Bartoletti says that after the decision to move to the more high profile location in downtown Danville last year, he had growing pains adjusting to a bigger restaurant environment. "With the bigger location, it just means a lot of people working with you and it becomes a little more corporate, less personal," Bartoletti says. "So I want to go back to where we originally were because I want to regain what we had—I like to talk to people, to be able to touch every customer, and that's something you can't do in a 180-seat restaurant."

Bartoletti says he has reassembled the kitchen team behind the original Incontro in San Ramon, and that he'd be doing a similar authentic, regional Italian concept. That being said, the new Gianni's will have a more contemporary feel in both decor and food—while still keeping old favorites like his signature gnocchi and veal dishes. Meanwhile, his wife Melanie Bartoletti—who happened to win one of Diablo's Threads of Hope awards in 2010 for her work with Danville's Sonrise Equestrian Foundation—wants to establish a strong charitable arm at the new restaurant by working closely with local non-profits to make it easy to host fundraiser benefits.

As for when we can expect to see the new restaurant? Bartoletti says he's hoping to open Gianni's as soon as late November/early December in time for the holidays. We'll keep you posted.

As for the current Incontro, I spoke with owner Stefano Giovacchini, who said he was sad to see Bartoletti go but that nothing would be changing at the downtown Danville restaurant: "We want to continue to be in business for another sixty years," he said.

La Rose, now La Sen, BistroSo does this mean that Concord is the new Gourmet Ghetto? Downtown Berkeley's La Rose Bistro, which has been serving California-French fare on Shattuck Ave and Addison Street for eight years, quietly closed shop and moved to... downtown Concord. La Sen Bistro will be open this Thursday, November 1, at 2002 Salvio Street, replacing SushiYa just off of Todos Santos Plaza and near the Brenden Theaters. Judging by the website, the new La Sens looks to have an almost identical menu to La Rose, including classic French dishes like Soupe a l’Onion, Escargot de Bourgogne, Confit de Canard, and Coq au Vin. What's next: Chez Panisse Martinez?  2002 Salvio Street, Suite B, Concord, (925) 363-7870, lasenbistro.com.

Also in Concord's Todos Santos Plaza, the folks behind Ravioli's, the casual Italian eatery replacing Toscana, are hoping to open by December 1. I had a chance to speak with co-owner Carol Rackel, who has been running Raviolis Italian Market Place at 4375 Clayton Road with her husband Jim and her son and daughter-in-law for the past two years. It actually sounds like a pretty cool concept. Rackel, a full-blooded Italian-American whose family comes from Genoa and Calabria say they make 97-percent of their food themselves, including all their own sauces, pastas, and breads. Their new Todos Santos restaurant will be a similarly themed "fast casual" Italian restaurant (they'll do dine-in, take-out, and delivery), that will include a "marketplace," where they'll offer their homemade pestos, al Alfredo and Bolognese sauces, focaccia, fresh pastas and raviolis, and even homemade cannolis. Ravioli's fresh pastaSounds primo to me. The plan is to close the Clayton Road location after Thanksgiving and open in Todos Santos a week later. For more info, go to raviolismarket.com.

According to Patch, SoCals popular dog-friendly Lazy Dog Cafe is opening in the Willows Shopping Center next fall. Contrary to the name, Lazy Dog is actually a full-service restaurant with interesting menu items like brick-oven pizzas, spicy fried chicken “lollipops” and Carolina pulled-pork sandwiches. Go to lazydogcafe.com for more info.

Belli Osteria in BerkeleySpeaking of raviolis, I had a chance to stop by Belli, the new Italian osteria that opened next door to Comal in downtown Berkeley. First impression? Really cool, pretty spot with quite good, inventive Italian food that's well worth checking out. We got the seared squid appetizer, which was excellent, simply prepared and dressed with olive oil and salt. The black, squid ink ravioli with prawns and gorgonzola and red and white sauce was a beautiful dish, although the subtle seafood filling was a little lost amid the heavier squid ink pasta. Really liked the hearty spaghetti with sausage and wild mushrooms—nice rich, savory sausage with flavorful mushrooms and al dente fresh-made spaghetti. Check em out! 2016 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, (510) 704-1902, facebook.com/belliosteria

Photo by Ed AndersonNew chef at Plum, Daniel Patterson's ambitious Uptown Oakland restaurant. Taking the reigns from Ron Boyd (who was running the show after the departure of opening night chef Charlie Parker last year,and is now the Director of Operations for all of Patterson's restaurants) is Manfred Wrembel. For the last six years, Wrembel has been a chef at Chris Cosentino's famed Incanto in San Francisco, most recently as chef de cuisine—he worked at Chez Papa and Jack Falstaff before that. The restaurant described Wrembel's culinary approach as a "modern take on California cuisine shaped by European influences." Some other changes at Plum: they're switching from small plates to a more traditional appetizer/entrée/dessert format, will be opening a half-hour earlier at 5 p.m. to tap into the post-work Happy Hour crowd, and next-door Plum bar (which Wrembel will also be in charge of) will be open for lunch starting December 1.

New dishes to expect from Wrembel: Spatzle with apple, dandy greens, and cheddar; Trout with sunchokes, kumquat, and sorrel; Chicken with beet, dill, smoked Lentils, and horseradish; Squash ravioli with Brussels sprouts and chestnut. 2214 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7586, plumoakland.com.

Down the street, Kyle Itani, owner of Diablo Best New Restaurants Hopscotch is debuting a late-night ramen menu on Friday nights. Responding to the lack of late-night eats in Oakland's hopping Uptown Arts & Entertainment district. At his "Yonsei Ramen Shop," the Yoshis-trained Itani will offer one meat and one vegetarian ramen dish for $9 every Friday night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Not to worry bar crowd—a full bar will be available as well (as well as take-out). 1915 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, (510) 788-6217, hopscotchoakland.com

Gruyere popovers are what I'm talking about...Tomorrow marks the grand opening of Bull Valley Roadhouse in ramshackle Post Costa. It's a gourmet makeover of the former Bull Valley restaurant, from the same folks that took over the next door Burlington Hotel, and it actually sounds like a really cool reboot. The food, described as "Old Country Road meets Bay Area Farmer's Market," is being overseen by Slanted Door chef Justine Kelly (and David Williams). Meanwhile, Slanted Door bar manager Erik Adkins is creating the cocktail program ("pre-prohibition era American classics"). I'll be checking it out on Thursday, but a few dishes to whet your appetite... Roasted bone marrow, steamed clams with bacon, shishito peppers, and tomatoes, wedge salad with crispy lardon and blue cheese-tarragon dressing, and prime rib with gruyere popovers and creamed spinach. This sounds like my kind of place... 14 Canyon Lake Drive, Port Costa, (510) 787-1135, bullvalleyroadhouse.com.

Our intrepid intern, Amelia Arvesin had a chance to check out the new L&L Hawaiian BBQ in Pleasanton and these are her thoughts...

"The El Balazo scandal left behind empty holes, desperate to be occupied and recently, they’ve been filled with brand new eateries worth checking out. Over the summer, Firehouse No. 37 moved into the San Ramon location and earlier this month L&L Hawaiian Barbeque said “aloha” to Pleasanton. With two other locations in Hayward and Pleasant Hill, lau lau lovers can satisfy their fix with the array of items on the menu including garlic mahi-mahi and barbeque chicken saimin served with a heaping scoop of brown rice and a choice of tangy macaroni salad or green salad. Try the mini size for a satisfying lunch, or else plan for leftovers if you get the regular will leave you with leftovers." Entrees range from $6 to $10. Open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. 4515 Rosewood Drive, #600, Pleasanton. (925) 847-9888, Hawaiianbarbeque.com

Sounds good... thanks Amelia!

Coupla quick tapas for you...

SusieCakes all-American bakery is officially open in Lafayette.

Ryan Robles, chef-owner of popular food truck FiveTen Burgers, is taking over a brick and mortar restaurant in Berkeley at 984 University Avenue, according to Grubstreet. Not many details but expect a spring opening.

Speaking of food trucks, don't forget about the cool Halloween-themed North Shattuck Off the Grid gathering this Wednesday, October 31 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.

This is pretty cool: Freehouse in Berkeley has new patio tables made from the bleachers of the old Cal Memorial stadium. You can grab a craft beer and a burger out there and reminisce about when the Golden Bears had a decent football team...

Holy Land out in Berkeley's Elmwood district, while in goes Indonesian eatery Padi, this according to the East Bay Express...


It's been too long since I've had a chance to check out Back Forty. This Pleasant Hill barbecue mecca is always a great spot for an affordable lunch or dinner that will fill you up with some honest, well-prepared 'cue. I stopped by for lunch and got the "award-winning" pork ribs. And that award-winning is no joke: I interviewed co-owner Jeff Erb last year about the restaurant's never-ending quest to perfect their ribs, which includes annual expeditions to the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off in Sparks, NV (an invite-only competition with cooks from around the country), where Back-Forty won best ribs last year (they won people's choice this year).

The ribs really are excellent, the meat succulent and juicy, and the sauce is particularly good: a perfect balance of sweet, tangy, and just a little spicy. And that mac 'n' cheese and BBQ beans hit the spot too. It's also just a fun spot: they go all out with the Texas theme in a cool way, and they even have live music and dancing on the weekends. Check 'em out!

Back Forty Texas BBQ Roadhouse & Saloon, 100 Coggins Dr., Pleasant Hill, (925) 935-1440, backforty.us


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