Food Awards 2009
Check it out: the top-10 Diabloland restaurants of 2009.
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Here they are: the East Bay’s best restaurants as chosen by you, our readers. We took the top 10 from our online reader poll in July, then asked our judges, all top Bay Area foodies, to rate the restaurants for food, service, ambience, and, new this year, value. Just scroll down to read what the judges had to say, as well as some Diablo readers. And don’t forget to check out cooking tips and recipes—including milk-braised lamb and moules marinière—from the award-winning chefs, or to enter our contest to win a free dinner at one of the top-10. Hungry Yet?
American ♦ Danville
Food: 95 / Ambience: 96 / Service: 97 / Value: 92
“My hat’s off to the finely tuned team at Esin. I can’t wait to eat my way through the menu—if I can move beyond the irresistible dishes I’ve already tried.” –Linda Carucci, food judge
What they’re doing right: Packaging fresh flavor in smart, attractive ways. Who goes there? Casual Danville middle-agers in golf shirts, button-down shirts, and sweater sets—not a tie in sight. Best dish: The rib eye steak was tender and perfectly cooked and seasoned. The seasonal fruit tart was served warm and was not too sweet, so the fruit took center stage. The detail we’re glad they attended to: In addition to the something-for-everyone menu, there’s a $28 neighborhood bistro menu that changes weekly. Defining moment: When I noticed my dining companion might not finish his silky house-cured salmon, my brain immediately began coming up with schemes to get the last bite. Flavor we can’t forget: lamb burger—moist, rich, bright, and flavorful. Best thing we drank: A three-ounce pour of Joel Gott Cabernet. Funniest moment: We were all enjoying our desserts. The waiter approached and asked if we were ready to preorder a second course of desserts. He had great timing and delivery. Go here for: Great food, zero attitude. Contact: 750 Camino Ramon, Danville, (925) 314-0974, esinrestaurant.com.
“Interesting menu without being pretentious. I always look forward to
coming back to Esin.” –Peggy Hora, Walnut Creek
Italian ♦ Berkeley
Food: 94 / Ambience: 94 / Service: 96 / Value: 93
“Corso gets the concept of a genuine trattoria: simple food, well prepared,
with a wide range of choices.” –Gene Burns, food judge
What they’re doing right: Concentrating on the food. The ingredients are the absolute best available, and the preparation is smart and creative. Who goes there? Berkeley professors and students, and the occasional group of ladies who lunch. Flavor we can’t forget: The funghi pizza—the combination of the mushroom and truffle oil, the right amount of Fontina, and a deliciously crisp crust. The detail we’re glad they attended to: The bistecca alla Fiorentina is served medium rare, Hannibal Lecter–style—blood red and juicy. What stood out in our minds: How reasonable prices and fresh-tasting food are a winning formula. Funniest moment: When the waitress tried to take my daughter’s last piece of pizza and my daughter grabbed it back. Best dish: The house-made pasta in the ravioli is a work of art—light and fresh, like a crepe. Go here for: Everything. Contact: 1788 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 704-8004, trattoriacorso.com.
“I went last winter and STILL remember the amazing pork chop, pasta
and pizza. Mmmm.” –Christina Mitchell, Oakland
Italian ♦ walnut creek
food: 94 / Ambience: 96 / service: 95 / value: 88
“With its outstanding quality and consistency, Prima makes even an ordinary
night seem special.” –Lynne Char Bennett, food judge
What they’re doing right: Prima proves that the suburbs can be cool, without getting in your face. The flavor we can’t forget: Perfectly balanced gazpacho and savory braised rabbit and fava bean risotto. Detail we’re glad they attended to: Proper pacing of our five-course meal. What stood out in our mind: The chef really, really loves food and cares about the customers, and you very much feel that. Showstopper: Unexpected fresh fava beans dotting the pasta. Perfectly cooked, delightfully balanced, truly delicious. Thanks for being green: Perfect portion sizes. This is actually a green issue, although not normally addressed. Secret tip: The bar manager still has several cases of Hangar One Spiced Pear vodka secreted away. Overheard: “This is about a perfect meal.” Best thing we drank: 2006 Ciacci Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese. We totally scored with our wine choice. It was heaven. Go here for: The food, wine, and service—it’s just a lovely place. Contact: 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com.
“The food is outstanding and consistent. The service and the wine list are excellent. The atmosphere is relaxing and enjoyable. The food is why we go.” –Diana Sackett, Pleasanton
french ♦ Lafayette
Food: 93 / Ambience: 95 / Service: 97 / Value: 88
“The food is classic at Chevalier, and because it’s so lovingly prepared,
it never goes out of fashion.” –Michaela Jarvis, food judge
What they’re doing right: Honoring French cuisine. Who goes there? Families, couples, people who love real French food. Best thing we drank: A red from the Haut-Médoc, recommended by our server, Michel, and absolutely to die for. Just killer complexity. Really interesting. Quirks: Being corrected on our pronunciation of coquilles St. Jacques. The details we’re glad they attended to: Warm baguette; chalkboard specials. Best dish: Sweetbreads and tender veggies in a buttery, fragrant, Madeira-laced reduction. The flavor we can’t forget: The pan-seared foie gras—what’s not to like? It was soooo rich and delicate! Go here for: French wine pairings. An unapologetic escape from California cuisine. Overheard: Oohs and aahs as plates were served. Showstopper: The rack of lamb was beautifully roasted, but what made it stand out was its carefully prepared sauce. Contact: 960 Moraga Rd., Lafayette, (925) 385-0793, chevalierrestaurant.com.
“Having recently returned from a week in France, it was like being back in our
favorite bistro in Paris.” –John Williamson, Pleasant Hill
Small Plates ♦ Walnut Creek
Food: 91 / Ambience: 95 / Service: 94 / Value: 89
“When you’re sitting under the romantic lit tree or bellying up to the bustling bar on a lively weekend, Va de Vi will make you feel true joie de vivre.” –Leslie Sbrocco, food judge
What they’re doing right: Creating a wave of good energy and then letting the diners catch it. Who goes there? Local crowd that likes the action and the comfortable feel of a neighborhood bistro. Go here for: Forget the scene. You can get great wine lots of places. I’d go here for the bold, stunning, delicious food. The flavor we can’t forget: Their seasonal sweet corn in a decadent (and highly caloric) cream sauce made me want to lick the bowl, and I did. Strangest outfit: Does that man sitting at the outdoor table work for Tommy Bahama, which is just next door? Oh wait, no, that’s his look. Best dish: The combo of the lechón (crispy pork belly) with the sweet chili soy glaze, pickled onions, and rice cake equaled a culinary ka-pow! Defining moment: When, after eating 10 small plates between the two of us, we ordered the steak. Contact: 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-0100, vadevi.com.
“The small plates (tapas) are fun to share. There hasn't been a meal that we didn't ooh and aah about.” –Gail Parker-Marshall, Walnut Creek
⇒ For delicious recipes and cooking tips from Food Award-winning chefs, CLICK HERE.
⇒ To enter our contest to win a free dinner at one of these Food Award-winning restaurants, CLICK HERE.
Food Awards Judges:
Bruce Aidells, contributing chef, ABC7’s View from the Bay; cookbook author; founder, Aidells Sausage Company. Lynne Char Bennett, food and wine staff writer/wine coordinator, San Francisco Chronicle. Nicholas Boer, former food editor, Contra Costa Times; restaurant reviewer, San Francisco Chronicle. Gene Burns, host, KGO’s Dining Around with Gene Burns. Dorothy Calimeris, chef and food writer. Linda Carucci, chef director, International Culinary School at Art Institute of California—San Francisco; author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. Marcia "The Tablehopper" Gagliardi, publisher, weekly e-column about the San Francisco restaurant scene at tablehopper.com. Michaela Jarvis, executive editor, Diablo magazine. Mollie Katzen, author of 11 best-selling cookbooks, including Moosewood Cookbook. Leslie Sbrocco, wine expert; host of KQED’s Check Please!; author of upcoming Adventures of a Thirsty Girl. Josh Sens, restaurant critic, San Francisco magazine.