Weekly Dish: James Syhabout Expands to Rockridge

Commis chef taking over big College Ave location; downtown Berkeley boom continues; Lafayette Park Hotel naps new chef; another bakery opens in Danville; and more in this week's Dish!



Photo by James Carriere

Wow, big news out of Oakland as Inside Scoop reports that taking over the former Somerset Restaurant in prime Rockridge territory is none other than James Syhabout. The Coi and Manresa-trained chef made his name at the Michelin-starred, molecular gastronomy-oriented Commis that he debuted on Piedmont Avenue in 2009, and then switched gears when he opened the more casual/affordable—but still super-popular—Asian street food-themed Hakwer Fare in Uptown Oakland last year. In Rockridge, according to the Chron, Syhabout is planning "something fun" and casual with a full bar. Syhabout is partnering with longtime Oakland restaurant-vet Alan Carlson of Montclair's Italian Colors, while the chef will be Benjamin Coe who spent time at Morimoto Napa and the Moss Room before serving as Commis' chef de partie for the past two years.

Now that we've got you all excited, here comes the bad news: the space will require a pretty substantial remodel so don't expect anything until well into 2013. Sigh...


The downtown Berkeley boom continues as another foodie/gourmet restaurant will be coming to Shattuck Ave. Lisa Holt and David Shapiro have signed on to take over popular night spot the Shattuck Down Low, which will close in a few weeks, and are planning a casual restaurant and bar. Prior to this, the husband-and-wife team have worked on developing and launching high-end hotel projects in Wine Country including the Milliken Creek Inn & Spa in Napa and the recently revamped Hotel Yountville. This will be the duo's first restaurant project, but not its last, according to Holt who said they had plans to open several others in the Bay Area. So what's the plan for Berkeley? Well, Holt was mum on specifics but she did say it would be fairly casual to appeal to students as well as the general Berkeley public and she said it would be something completely unique in the area: "It's something that nobody has seen before and nobody is doing it anywhere in California; we're at the very front edge of what we're bringing and I thing that people will really love it." Well, I'm intrigued: check back for more details...

Bit of a bummer for the popular Down Low, but word is that the owner is currently looking for other downtown locations.

Also in downtown, i touched base with Paul Oprescu of Belli, who told me his new ravioli-centric restaurant was well under way and on pace to open next to Comal by October 16. Oprescu and business partner Damien Morrison have been busy, building out the restaurant using reclaimed materials including wood sourced from a high school in Kansas City and a barn in Ohio. They're currently hiring and Oprescu said he has been playing around with a pasta machine he just got imported from Italy. "I've been in heaven the last few days," he laughed. Oprescu said he plans to just open for dinner to start, then phase in lunch a couple months later. As a reminder, the concept for Belli is an affordable but foodie-focused Italian restaurant in which all the pasta is made in-house with a heavy emphasis on raviolis—Oprescu plans to rotate more than 100 different types of ravs onto the menu. "I want to be to raviolis what Pizzaiolo was to pizza."

Also, just heard from Marie Banis, the Lafayette resident and founder of gluten-free, organic Giddy up and Go granola, who told me that she and her husband are opening Certified Kitchen, six commercial kitchens that will be located behind the upcoming certified organic Greek spot Pathos Restaurant & Bar coming to 2430 Shattuck Ave. Banis said Certified Kitchens would help consult food companies on becoming certified organic and that three of the kitchens would be certified gluten free. Banis hopes to debut by November, around the same time she said, that Pathos was scheduled to open.


There's a new chef at the Lafayette Park Hotel. Adam Carpenter, formerly chef at San Francisco's Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen is taking a job at the scenic Lamorinda hotel & spa the Duck Club restaurant. He'll be taking over for executive chef Jon Avalos, who in turn took over for longtime executive chef Chuck Courtney last year. Carpenter is born and raised in the East Bay but brings plenty of upscale cooking experience from kitchens in San Francisco and Wine Country.

Whoopie Pies from SusieCakesAlso in Lafayette, the upcoming SusieCakes has announced an official opening date of October 27 for its "All American Bakery" at 3598 Mt. Diablo Blvd. This'll be the 8th location for the L.A.-based company, which preaches made-from-scratch products with natural, high-quality ingredients ( motto: "If you can't spell it, we don't bake with it"), such as puddings, pies with seasonal fillings, layer cakes, frosting-filled cupcakes, and a variety of cookies and bars, including their custom-made whoopie pies—with an emphasis on custom-made cakes.

Not to be outdone, the always-delicious Republic of Cake just announced that they would begin selling their cupcakes at Lunardi's in Danville. That's good news for Tri-Valley cupcake fiends...

Finally, the owners of the Park Theater are currently working on a deal with the city to solve the parking issues that have impeded any new projects from coming in there. What does that mean? Well, if the two sides can come to an agreement at the City Planning meeting on October 9, there's still a chance that Oakland's popular Fenton's Creamery could be opening a new branch in downtown Lafayette. Stay tuned...


6 3/4 sandwich at MoruccisIn Walnut Creek, beloved sandwich shop Morucci's is closing... but just for a week or so for renovations from September 29 to October 7 (did I scare you?).

The protest scheduled for the opening of the new Chick fil-A is still on according to the Facebook page organized by Walnut Creek resident Rik Newby. Despite reports that the chicken chain was backing off its practice of giving money to anti-homosexual groups, president Dan Cathy recently went on the record as stating that "we remain true to who we are." Said Newby via Facebook: "Very disappointing. But the protest is still a go. He just doesn't get it." The new Chick fil-A is currently scheduled to open at 2750 North Main Street on October 25.


Some Danville news as The Flame Broiler is taking over the former 202 Grill space in the Danville Livery. The relatively healthy chain emphasizes simple flame-broiled meats served over rice.

Per Patch, Tal's Patisserie, an all natural bake shop "specializing in sweet and savory European baked goods" debuted in Danville at 304 Sycamore Valley Road. Owner Tal, an engineer by profession, was inspired by the Konditoria cafes that are popular in her native Israel.


More Tri-Valley news per Patch: Eckert Estate winery moved to a bigger new Livermore digs, Walmart's first East Bay "neighborhood grocery" debuted in San Ramon, and Mario's French Dip replaced Maggio's Italian Deli and Roppongi Sushi replaced Sushi Ya in Livermore. 


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