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Diablo Dish — February '08


Dining scene shocker! Mark Lusardi, executive chef at Metro Lafayette, has left the restaurant to strike out on his own.

Lusardi, who with owner Jack Moore earned Metro a Diablo Food Award within six months of opening last summer, made the decision to leave late last year because he says the restaurant’s delayed opening and his business relationship with Moore didn’t allow him to “profit share in the venture as planned.” Lusardi says he hopes to open his own restaurant within the year and is currently looking for investors and scouting locations, including many in the East Bay. “I have learned much about the market and preferences in Metro’s suburban location,” says Lusardi. “I intend to apply that experience to my next venture.” Moore has promoted sous chefs Paul Liao and Jason Low to the jobs of head chef and chef, respectively. The pair are adding to, but not drastically changing, Metro’s menu.

In another major chef departure, Neil Marquis has left the Pleasanton Hotel, where he cooked for seven years. Marquis is partnering with Ed Westmoreland, a longtime partner with Bay Area P. F. Chang’s, to open Eddie Papa’s American Hangout, a restaurant dedicated to regional American cooking and classic cocktails. The location will be the former Baci Seafood & Steak on Hopyard Road in Pleasanton. Baci was the site of a December fire that police think was intentionally set. An arson investigation is ongoing. Marquis and Westmoreland say they hope to open Eddie Papa’s later this month. Pleasanton Hotel owners Bill and Vernie Laube have promoted sous chef Chris Smith to replace Marquis as executive chef.

The owners of Amber Bistro in Danville took on their newest venture last December, without venturing too far. Eric and Dawn Janssen now head Basil Leaf Cafe, the Italian restaurant across the street from Amber on Hartz Avenue. “If the exact same opportunity existed two miles down the road, I wouldn’t have done it,” says Eric Janssen. “Both restaurants need and deserve the attention from an owner.” The Janssens say they plan to revive the menu at Basil Leaf.

Fans of Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar in Pleasant Hill can now sample some of pastry chef Trace Leighton’s work at the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek farmers markets. For her moonlighting project, the Native Bear Baking Company, Leighton makes treats like coffee cake, cranberry-orange bread, and roasted peanut fudge cookies using fruits, nuts, and jams from fellow market vendors. Leighton says she hopes Native Bear will one day have a retail space.

A Mexican–Latin American restaurant called Aquí may be on the way to Pleasant Hill this spring. Rumor has it that Aquí is taking over the space next door to Nibblers in the Oak Park Center. Hugo Boye, one of the owners of Caffé Delle Stelle in Walnut Creek, is spearheading the project but declined to give specifics.

New waters ahead for Berkeley’s Sea Salt: After expanding its dining room, the restaurant recently added some hefty meat dishes to its dinner menu.

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