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Diablo Dish — December '07


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The gourmet renaissance at Blackhawk Plaza continues. In addition to the arrival of Draeger's Market this fall, Blackhawk Grille has hired a new executive chef, Ryan Jackson, who hails from Wine Country greats such as at Brix, Far Niente Winery, and Domaine Chandon.

And the personnel overhaul doesn't stop with the kitchen. New general manager Noel Young, a Danville resident and 25-year restaurant business veteran, says he hopes to bring a fresh, creative energy to the dining room. “What we’re trying to do is engage the guests more,” he says. “I believe you have to touch the guest and communicate, and let them know you appreciate that they’re there.” Don't be surprised to get a phone call the day after dining at the Blackhawk Grille—they want to know what you think about the changes.

How's this for a new approach to the childhood obesity epidemic—Berkeley dad Mike Axinn started DooF: Food Backwards, a new PBS-bound children’s television series that calls on characters Nefarious P and Brenda Timebender to make nutrition fun. With help from local consultants such as Alice Waters and Mollie Katzen, Axinn's team traces the history of popcorn and unravels the mysteries of beets, for instance, followed by healthy recipe demonstrations.

Lots of restaurant start-ups and switcheroos in recent months. Nino's Bay, a Mediterranean seafood place, opened this fall in Orinda's Theatre Square, replacing the Caribbean-style Calypso Café. A former underground kitchen, Digs Bistro, has a legal home in the matchbook-sized space of the recently closed Olivia restaurant in Berkeley. Sichuan Fortune House opened its doors in Pleasant Hill in October, taking over from the Malaysian Banyan Tree. Nicolas Maamari, owner of Viva Vocé in Montclair and La Veranda in Clayton, announced plans to open a second La Veranda in Pittsburg early next year. Word has it that Burger Bar might open in Walnut Creek’s new Metro Center, and Hawaiian eatery Roy's Restaurant is scoping out a spot there, too. And rumors are still flying that Morton's steak house might also be considering a Walnut Creek location.

At least one forward-looking chef believes the opening of the new, palatial Whole Foods on Bay Place near Harrison Street in Oakland will forever change the feel of Auto Row, which is just a block away. Jonathan Kosorek, former chef at San Anselmo's Fork, says he will open his own high-end restaurant—Food—nestled among the car dealerships on Broadway next spring.

Pleasanton Hotel's chef Neil Marquis won his third consecutive first-place title at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto’s annual Crabby Chef competition. During the 20-minute Iron Chef–style contest, Marquis prepared the winning dish: pumpkin, andouille sausage, and crab spring roll with a caramelized pumpkin, pomegranate vinegar, and tamarind sweet-and-sour sauce.

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