Best of the East Bay
Food and Drink
Bing Crosby’s exploded onto Diablo’s dining scene when it opened in November 2004. And it’s still the number-one place to see and be seen—while having a delicious dinner.
From day one, Jeff Dudum and his team, known for marrying dining with sports and music, paid loving attention to every detail. Service is not only formal but often perfectly timed. In an effort to make sure everything is delivered together, it’s not unusual for food to arrive via two or more runners. It’s that kind of care—in addition to nightly live music in the piano bar; plush, colorful seating; tasty “country club” cuisine; and an original 20-plus list of cocktails—that makes diners flock here to celebrate special occasions.
The menu offers old favorites, such as Waldorf salad, a clambake, and shrimp cocktail, while introducing some more modern dishes, like grilled steak brochettes marinated in Indonesian spices and lamb three ways—grilled, roasted, and braised.
Dudum’s plans to stretch the restaurant’s fame farther than Contra Costa are under way: A duplicate restaurant is already in the works for Rancho Mirage; and San Diego, Del Mar, Pebble Beach, and Kierland, a city just outside Scottdale, Arizona, are all contenders for future Bing’s locations.
Although we love the new, we can’t forget old favorites. Prima Ristorante, which started Walnut Creek on its way to being a focus of good restaurants nearly 30 years ago, came in a close second in this category. You don’t last that long without excellent food and service.
At either restaurant, don’t forget you’ll need reservations for busy weekend nights.
Bing Crosby’s, 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-2464,http://www.bingcrosbysrestaurant.com . Prima Ristorante, 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, http://www.primaristorante.com
Stepping into Loard’s Ice Cream in Orinda is like going back in time. It feels as if the ’50s never ended when you’re sitting on the puffy pink and white banquettes and diving into classic sundaes, such as the caramel- and fudge-topped black and tan or the honeycomb buzz, with coffee ice cream and big chunks of honeycomb candy.
Loard’s has shops throughout the Bay Area but makes all its ice cream in San Leandro. The local manufacture and regular shop deliveries make a difference in freshness and flavor. Loard’s marble fudge ice cream is thick and creamy, and the rainbow sherbet is tangy and light.
Loard’s can’t be beat as a destination for kids, and pints of packed ice cream and ice cream cakes are available for birthday parties at home. And as if it didn’t have enough locations in Diabloland, Loard’s plans to open shops in Brentwood and Pittsburg by the end of the year.
Loard’s Ice Cream, 230 Brookwood Rd., Orinda, (925) 254-3434. For more locations, visit http://www.loards.com
With a menu composed completely of delicious small plates, Va de Vi is the placeo go for great appetizers.
This summer, your choices will include bigeye tuna from Hawaii, Alaskan salmon, heirloom tomatoes galore, pork belly, lamb sirloin, soft-shell crab, Frog Hollow peaches, and myriad local berries. Chef Kelly Degala changes the menu every week, using what tastes best and what is in season as his guide.
We’re thankful the restaurant now takes reservations. If you do go this summer, ask for one of the outdoor tables. Hot weather, fabulous food, and unparalleled people watching—ahh.
Va de Vi, 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-0100, http://www.va-de-vi-bistro.com
It’s not only that Chow offers a variety of salads—seven different types in three sizes—it’s also that each one has that bright, refreshing taste you want in a lettuce-based meal. The cobb and Thai-style salad, both from the menu at Chow’s original San Francisco location, are the most popular. But we like the others just as well. There’s nothing mysterious about the main ingredients: organic greens, spinach, crisp romaine. What else would you expect from a restaurant with its own organic produce market located just off the dining room?
Another hot spot for a midday salad is the Walnut Creek Yacht Club, where the Bangkok prawn salad won runner-up in this category. Big enough to be an entrée, this dish mingles prawns with Napa cabbage, green papaya, fresh mint, toasted cashews, and a lively ginger-sesame dressing. Yacht Club staff report that it is among the most frequently ordered salads on the menu. Prawns are flown in fresh each day.
Chow, 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469; Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3405, http://www.wcyc.net
Place to Get a Cocktail
Cocktails, class, and old-Hollywood charm have stolen the hearts of our East Bay social butterflies. With a landslide win, Bing Crosby’s has taken the crown for Best Place to Get a Cocktail, Best Girls Night Out, Best Date Restaurant, Best Pickup Spot (on Thursday nights), Best Martini, and Best Happy Hour.
It’s easy to understand why Bing’s bagged the ballots. The restaurant’s creators, brothers Jeff and Rick Dudum (who also own nearby McCovey’s), have pulled out all the stops for this swanky joint, which also won for Best Fine Dining (see page 142). There’s suitably croon-worthy music from the baby grand piano every night, a Country Club Room, an Oscar Room, and a bar the length of a runway … which brings us to the crux of the issue: cocktails.
Bing’s recently shrank its 42 martini–strong cocktail menu down to 23 drinks, 18 of which are martinis. But don’t panic! The wildly popular June in January (a martini named after a Crosby hit) made the final cut. Scrumptious newbies include the zingy Pomma martini, made with pomegranate liqueur, and the White Christmas, a decadent drink made with Stoli vanilla vodka, peppermint schnapps, and Godiva white chocolate liqueur.
Bing Crosby’s, 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-2464, http://www.bingcrosbysrestaurant.com
Way to Get Local, Organic Produce
Unless you have time to drive all over hell’s half-acre, you’ll not find a better bag of produce than in Gail Wadsworth’s backyard. Every week, February through November, Brentwood farmers deliver their organic beauties to Wadsworth’s Walnut Creek home. Customers, who sign up for the whole season through a program called Eat Outside the Box, come to Wadsworth’s for pickup. Brentwood, in case you didn’t know, has some of the best produce in the country. Frog Hollow Farm peaches, for example, are tender, juicy perfection.
Eat Outside the Box, $25 a week (or $18 for a small share). Call (925) 952-9643. —Michaela Jarvis
Art Director’s Pick
Award–winning restaurant Where You can grab a quick lunch in the middle of a photo shoot
Given Diablo magazine’s extensive coverage of the local dining scene, you might imagine that a lunch break at one of our photo shoots would be a serious gourmet affair. Sadly, the reality is more likely to be taqueria take-out. So when four of us found ourselves shooting this month’s makeover (page 120) at a salon right around the corner from Prima Ristorante, we knew we had to try to squeeze in some fine dining while we waited for our subject’s hair color to set.
Our request for a 30-minute lunch was greeted with a slight raising of our server’s eyebrow; after all, Prima isn’t known for fast food. But she proceeded to seat us at one of the tables near the front windows and returned to take our orders the minute we set our menus down.
Sensibly, we stuck with salads: a robust grilled ahi tuna salad with marinated vegetables, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs; two spinach salads with asparagus, hazelnuts, black truffle paste, and ricotta salata cheese; and grilled prawns on a bed of arugula, endive, fennel, and citrus. All were good enough to switch the conversation from shop talk to food chat. We were out of there and back to the salon before the dye was rinsed out.
Prima Ristorante, 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, http://www.primaristorante.com —Tim J Luddy
East Bay Winery
Livermore’s Wente Vineyards is one of Diablo’s perennial Best of winners. Sipping its robust wines amid Livermore Valley’s seemingly endless blanket of rolling hills, it’s no wonder Wente is an East Bay favorite.
And this may be hard to believe, but Wente is getting even better with fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente’s small-lot, artisan-style wines called The Nth Degree.
Meanwhile, wineries are blooming in other parts of the East Bay, too. Alameda’s Rosenblum Cellars, one of the first small producers to hit it big, was runner-up this year; its high-alcohol, super-fruity, and concentrated Zinfandels have a near cult following in Diabloland. Rosenblum also produces Merlots, Pinots, Meritages, and the white Rhône varietals Marsanne and Roussanne.
Also popular with East Bay wine drinkers and second runner-up is Livermore-based Steven Kent Winery, which makes Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah, and a Cabernet port with 100 percent Livermore fruit.
Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2305, http://www.wentevine
yards.com; Rosenblum Cellars, 2900 Main St., Ste. 1100, Alameda, (510) 865-7007, http://www.rosenblumcellars.com; Steven Kent Winery, 5443 Tesla Rd., Livermore, (925) 243-6440, http://www.stevenkent.com
Place to Buy Seafood
You’ll have better fish to bake, broil, or toss on the barbie when you buy it at Walnut Creek Yacht Club’s seafood market, where everything is snappingly fresh. The fish here is always seasonal. Earlier this summer, we caught some of the fattest, freshest, cleanly sweet prawns we’d ever sunk our teeth into, as well as pristinely delicate halibut. It’s nice, too, that you don’t have to brave some dripping-wet seafood shack to get the goods. Just grab a seat at the Yacht Club’s bar, and Pablo will hook you up with the fish, as well as some lemony aioli or spicy tropical fruit salsa, all packed in ice.
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, http://www.wcyc.net —M. J.
Walnut Creek Baking Company, 1686 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 988-9222, http://www.walnutcreekbakingcompany.com
Manny Hinojosa, Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, http://www.wcyc.net
Millie’s Kitchen, 1018 Oak Hill Rd., Ste. A, Lafayette, (925) 283-2397
Kevin Weinberg, Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, http://www.wcyc.net
Andronico’s, 345 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 314-4362, http://www.andronicos.com
Genova Delicatessen, 1105 S. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-3838
Hubcaps, 1548 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 945-6960, http://www.hubcapsdiner.com
El Charro, 3339 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-2345
George’s Giant Hamburger, 1491 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-4888
Ephesus Kebab Lounge, 1321 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 945-8082,
Blue Agave Club, 625 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 417-1224, http://www.blueagaveclub.com
Hubcaps, 1548 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 945-6960, http://www.hubcapsdiner.com
The Peasant & the Pear, 267 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-6611,
Faz, 600 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 838-1320, http://www.fazrestaurants.com
Siam Orchid, 23-F Orinda Way, Orinda,
Caffe Delle Stelle, 1532 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-2393
Pizza Antica, 3600 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-0500, http://www.pizzaantica.com
Place for Dessert
Café Esin, 2416 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. 140, San Ramon, (925) 314-0974, http://www.cafeesin.com
Sargam Indian Cuisine, 140 N. Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-2700
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, http://www.wcyc.net
Tin’s Tea House, 1829 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 287-8288
Roasted Beets at Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek,
(925) 944-3474, http://www.wcyc.net
Steak House Restaurant
Vic Stewart’s, 850 S. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5666
Kane Sushi, 125 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 362-8686; 3474 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-9709
Miraku, 2416 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. 120, San Ramon, (925) 820-8107
Breads of India, 1358 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 256-7684; 2448 Sacramento St., Berkeley, (510) 848-7684
Wine Steward, 641 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 600-9463, http://www.thewinesteward.com
Wine Thieves, 5443 Clayton Rd., Clayton, (925) 672-4003; 3401 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-9070, http://www.winethieves.com
Prima Vini, 1520 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 945-1800, http://www.primawine.com
Baker With a Secret
If you frequent the Danville or Walnut Creek farmers market, you are already familiar with Bakesale Betty, the blue-wigged baker who, with the help of her husband, sells shortcakes, scones, cookies, and Australian treats off her signature ironing boards. But did you know that the woman behind Bakesale Betty, Alison Barakat, is also a professional chef who used to work at Chez Panisse? At her new shop in Oakland’s Temescal district, she’s making mouthwatering sandwiches—fried chicken, beef brisket, and egg salad—to order at lunchtime. They prove Alice Waters’s theory that something simple, made well, is art.
Bakesale Betty, 5098 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 985-1213, http://www.bakesalebetty.com —Kathryn Jessup
Alamo: Cherubini Coffee House, 37 Alamo Sq., (925) 743-0824. The antique-decorated restroom on the back patio is bigger than many apartments in Midtown Manhattan.
Danville: Bridges Restaurant, 44 Church St., (925) 820-7200, http://www.bridgesdanville.com. Sleek and elegant, Danville’s fanciest eatery has the nicest lavatories in town.
Dublin: Red Tractor Café, 4920 Dublin Blvd., (925) 828-8300, http://www.redtractor.com. Talk about atmospheric: The Red Tractor pipes in the sounds of barnyard animals.
Oakland: Bittersweet Café, 5427 College Ave., (510) 654-7159, http://www.bittersweetchocolatecafe.com. An antique armoire and French candy advertisements decorate this charming loo where cocoa beans scent the air.
Orinda: Casa Orinda, 20 Bryant Way, (925) 254-2981. The men’s room in this classic roadhouse recently went unisex; ladies can now view an old-school trough urinal up close. What fun.
Walnut Creek: Va de Vi, 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., (925) 979-0100, http://www.va-de-vi-bistro.com The plates at Va de Vi may be small, but the restrooms are spacious and oh-so-elegant.