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Best of the East Bay 2011- Food and Drink

Top picks for those who live to eat, not eat to live.


 Mike Dirnt, Drew Kelly *Q&A with Mike Dirnt

 *Guide to: Summer Dining

*Editor Pick: Icy Treats

*Editor Pick: Cooking Classes

*Editor Picks

*Reader Picks: Vegetarian + More Reader Picks


Q&A: Mike Dirnt
*Editor Pick: rockin’ restaurant

Most know Mike Dirnt as the bassist for legendary East Bay rock band Green Day. Fewer know that the 39-year-old Oakland resident is one of the original four founders of the popular Emeryville diner Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café and a die-hard foodie (his favorites include Picán, Le Cheval, and Dopo). We asked Dirnt about the just-opened second Rudy’s right next to Oakland’s Fox Theater.

Diablo: How’d you get involved with Rudy’s?

Mike Dirnt: One of the reasons was I couldn’t go anywhere with my six-year-old without waiting 45 minutes to get her a friggin’ waffle. It was ridiculous. I’d also cooked in high school at a place called the Nantucket in Crockett, so when [founding Rudy’s partner Jeffrey Bischoff] was thinking about starting Rudy’s, I was the first person he called. 

What’s the idea behind the restaurant?

It’s just a good place to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We tried not to overthink it. We just tried to put our own rock ’n’ roll spin on it, give it some good aesthetics, and see what would happen. And serve good coffee.

Why the new Uptown location?

I love that area: The bars are incredible, and I frequent all the restaurants. With the Paramount and the Fox reopening, there’s a pulse that’s pretty cool. But there’s no good coffee shop where you can go late at night and get a bite with your buddies and just order fries.

What can people expect?

We’ll have some new menu items, and we’re also going to have a full bar. One thing I was pretty adamant about was having a killer Bloody Mary. We want to serve the needs of the customers: Sometimes you need coffee, and sometimes you need a Bloody Mary.

1805 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 251-9400, iamrudy.com.
—Ethan Fletcher

Guide to: Summer Dining
*Eat light—and well.

Best Salad Spot: Lettuce, picture by Joe Budd

Reader Pick
Outdoor Patio
Also the 2011 winner of best new restaurant, the year-old Jack’s Restaurant & Bar is obviously doing something right, and a big part of its popularity is its sun-soaked outdoor patio. Starting this summer, the downtown hot spot plans to expand the patio, adding another dozen tables, an outdoor bar, and weekly live music.
60 Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, (925) 849-6195, jacksrestaurants.com.

Reader Pick
Dog-Friendly Restaurant
What better way to enjoy a little outdoor dining than to bring along your faithful friend. Chow in Lafayette and Danville not only allows dogs on its outdoor patio, it provides doggie bowls of water and treats so that your pooch can enjoy the weather as much as you do.
445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com.

Reader Pick
Salad Spot
The complimentary mint- and citrus-infused water alone makes it worth braving the lunchtime lines at Lettuce in downtown Walnut Creek. But it’s the light, flavorful, dew-fresh salads that seal the deal. The combo option lets you mix and match half portions of salads, sandwiches, soups, and pastas, while the fruit-loaded galettes make for a light dessert.
1632 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-5600, lettuce1.net.

Reader Pick
Tea House
Relax British style with some cucumber sandwiches and afternoon tea at The English Rose in Pleasanton. You can sit inside or on the picturesque garden patio, and remember that during the summer months, many of the 90-something teas are available iced.
163 W. Neal St., Pleasanton, (925) 462-6233, theenglishrose-pleasanton.com.

Reader Pick
Wash down that ocean-fresh nigiri with a chilled sake, Pacific Rim cocktail (rum, non-filtered sake, Thai basil, lime juice, and Japanese cucumber), or a frosty Asahi beer, on the year-old Sasa’s side patio.
Sasa, 1432 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 210-0188, sasawc.com. 

*Editor Pick : Icy Treats

Hey, we all love ice cream. But if you’re in the mood for something a little different to cool down while satisfying your sweet tooth, check out these four unique—and delicious—icy treats that recently hit the East Bay scene.

Joe Budd1/ Frozen Custard
Addie’s Pizza Pie
This Midwestern staple is similar to ice cream, but has a richer, smoother consistency due to added egg yolk, a higher butterfat content, and a unique churning process. Addie’s always has vanilla, but check the “custard calendar” for a rotating flavor of the day.
3290 Adeline St., Berkeley, (510) 547-1100, addiespizzapie.com.

2/ Taiwanese Shaved Ice
SnowflakeJoe Budd
Yes, it looks like something Hello Kitty would think up, but the specialty of this tiny new Ulferts Center spot is a one-of-a-kind visual, textural, and taste experience. Popular in Hong Kong (and Taiwan), it’s made with flavored ice (80 percent fruit, 10 percent whole milk, and just 10 percent water) that’s shaved into beautiful ribbons and decorated with fun accoutrement such as chopped lychee and “popping boba” gummy balls.
4288 Dublin Blvd., Dublin, (925) 551-0971.

Joe Budd3/ Fried Ice Cream
The Prickly Pear Cantina
We know: It seems like a contradiction in terms,  but in fact, 2011 best chef–winner Rodney Worth’s fried ice cream isn’t actually fried. The ice cream itself is rolled in house-made granola and then placed inside a deep-fried flour tortilla cup, and topped with fried, sugared tortilla strips as well as whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate sauce.
3421 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (925) 984-2363, thepricklypearcantina.com.

4/ Custom Ice Cream SandwichesCourtesy of CREAM
Sure, it’s just ice cream sandwiches, but Cream (which stands for “cookies rule everything around me”) lets you choose from eight different types of fresh-baked cookies and 16 flavors of ice cream, and even gives you the option to make double- or triple-decker creations.
2399 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 649-1000, creamnation.com
—Ethan Fletcher

Cooking Classes
*Testing recipes and relationships.

I feel an elbow jab my ribs as Olivier, our wiry, energetic cooking instructor, pointedly warns the class not to mess around with meat as its being cooked.

Ed Anderson“You see?” whispers my wife and owner of said elbow, with obvious glee. “You always do that!”

It’s true; I’m a banger in the kitchen. I like nothing better than to flip a piece of fish with a fiery flourish, making as much noise as possible. It’s a source of good-natured frustration for my wife, who prefers a more patient, quiet, and I would argue, boring approach to cooking. 

That’s part of the reason we decided to take classes at Kitchen on Fire, located in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. It was a way for two amateur chefs to settle some long-standing questions: How do you make a pristine chicken stock? How do you poach the perfect egg? And if we settled a few home kitchen disputes, all the better. At least for my wife, who seemed to be winning all the arguments.

Still, one of the nice aspects about Kitchen on Fire, founded by longtime restaurant industry pros Olivier Said and MikeC, is that I didn’t have time to dwell. Casual instructors keep the atmosphere light, and after a brief lecture, students spend most of the three-hour classes testing out our newfound knowledge, breaking up into groups to cook up as many of the provided recipes as possible.

It was fun. I learned, grudgingly, that patience is a virtue in the kitchen. My wife learned, dangerously, that I should probably handle all banana flambé preparations in the near future. And we both have some awesome new recipes to try out on each other.
1509 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-2665, kitchenonfire.com
—Ethan Fletcher

*Editor Pick
Restaurant We Can’t Wait to Check Out

When we heard that Incontro Ristorante was moving from a nondescript section of San Ramon to downtown Danville, we were excited—if a bit nervous. Would the rustic Italian cuisine and underdog charm translate to a larger Hartz Avenue venue, where it’s set to open in August? Hey, just relax, co-owner Gianni Bartoletti told us. “Basically, what we’re going to do is move Incontro from this location to there—nothing more, nothing less.” And with more seating, a full bar (eventually), and an outdoor patio, we’re hoping it’ll be even better.

455 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-6969, incontrosanramon.com

*Editor Pick
Spot to Pop In

With zero pretension and endless seating—at the shuffleboard-length bar, on the sunny street-side patio, and in the vast dining hall—First Street Alehouse’s new, much larger location has turned what was once a pub into the town’s de facto community center. If you need a place to meet up or unwind, this is it: Grab a plate of garlic fries after school, a beer and a ball game after work, or red wine with ice on a hot day. The Alehouse—with two dozen beers on tap—serves no-nonsense burgers and sandwiches (and great onion rings) until 11 p.m., and the bar stays open until midnight on weekends. So, whether it’s sunny or dark, if you’re looking for love or just a pint, First Street has got you covered.

2106 First St., Livermore, (925) 371-6588, firststreetalehouse.com
—Nicholas Boer

Cody Pickens*Reader Pick
Vegetarian Menu

Whether he’s using dehydrated onions and pulled mushrooms in the vegan “charcuterie” plate, or crafting an entrée around young carrots, Sean Baker from Berkeley’s Gather gives vegetarians some of the most interesting options of any restaurant in the East Bay. “Vegetables are extremely flavorful: They can be amazing, especially when tended to in the proper way.”

2200 Oxford St., Berkeley, (510) 809-0400, gatherrestaurant.com


*More Reader Picks

*Asian Restaurant
Uncle Yu’s, 999 Oak Hill Rd., Lafayette, (925) 283-1688; 39 S. Livermore Ave., Livermore, (925) 449-7000; 2005 Crow Canyon Pl., San Ramon, (925) 275-1818, uncleyu.com.

*Breakfast Joint
Millie’s Kitchen, 1018 Oak Hill Rd., Lafayette, (925) 283-2397.

*Brunch Spot and Comfort Food
Chow, 445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com.

Rodney Worth,
Alamo’s The Peasant’s Courtyard, and Danville’s The Peasant and the Pear, The Little Pear, and The Prickly Pear Cantina.

Pacific Bay Coffee Co.,
1495 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1709, pacificbaycoffee.com.

Sweet S’mores from Kara’s Cupcakes, 1388 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-2222, karascupcakes.com.

Genova Delicatessen, 1105 S. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-3838; 2064 Treat Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-2888,

*Dining Vibe
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, wcyc.net.

*Gourmet Pizza Place
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, 1853 Solano Ave., Berkeley, (510) 525-5950; 5801 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 655-6385; 3110 Crow Canyon Pl., San Ramon, (925) 244-1222, zacharys.com.

*Hamburger Joint
The Counter, 1699 N. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-3795, thecounterburger.com.

*Indian Restaurant
Bombay Indian Restaurant, 1512 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 932-5777, bombayindianwalnutcreek.com.

*Italian Restaurant
Prima Ristorante, 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com.

*Mexican Restaurant
Maria Maria, 710 Camino Ramon, Danville, (925) 820-2366; 1470 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 946-1010, mariamariarestaurants.com.

*Middle Eastern Restaurant
Pomegranate, 1389 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-9292, pomegranaterestaurant.com.

*New Restaurant and Place for a Cheap Lunch
Jack’s Restaurant & Bar, 60 Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, (925) 849-6195, jacksrestaurants.com.

*Place to Get Fish Tacos
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, wcyc.net.

*Romantic Restaurant
Va de Vi, 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-0100, va-de-vi-bistro.com.

*Special Occasion Restaurant
Prima Ristorante, 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com.

*Steak House
Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 1553 Olympic Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 977-3477, ruthschris.com.

*Wine Store
Wine Thieves, 5443 Clayton Rd., Clayton, (925) 672-4003; 3401 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-9070, winethieves.com.

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