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Taste

Orinda’s cupcake couple, the great pizza crust smack down, and a guide to sexy snacks.



Published:

Angela Decenzo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza

Thai Restaurant

Cupcakes

Love Bites

New Restaurant

Bakery

More Winners

 

 


 

Courtesy of PaTXi’s/Stacy Cahill

Deep Dish

Reader Pick | Pizza

Of the three East Bay deep-dish titans—Little Star, Patxi’s, and Zachary’s—whose pies reign supreme?

Ingredients
Patxi’s, with locations in Lafayette and Livermore, gets love for using naturally cured meats, as well as offering gluten-free and vegan options. Edge: Patxi’s.

Crust
While Patxi’s and Zachary’s specialize in traditional buttery dough, Albany’s Little Star features a crisp, crunchy cornmeal crust, a nice contrast to the gooey interior. Edge: Little Star.

Sauce
Patxi’s and Little Star have rich concentrated sauces, but we really like the whole chunks of fresh tomatoes in Zachary’s herbed sauce. Edge: Zachary’s.

Value
Little Star offers a nine-inch small for $19, while Patxi’s ($20.50) and Zachary’s ($20.75) have 10-inchers. Still, an unscientific weighing on our home scale revealed that Zachary’s pies have serious junk in the trunk. Edge: Zachary’s.

The Verdict
We agree with the readers’ choice. The slightly sloppy, ingredient-forward goodness of Zachary’s (in Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill, and San Ramon) won us over. zacharys.com. —Ethan Fletcher

 


 

Mitch Tobias

One, Two, Kacha-Cha

A taste of Thailand in downtown Walnut Creek.

Reader Pick | Thai Restaurant

The only thing more fun than Kacha Thai Bistro is the downtown Walnut Creek restaurant’s Kacha Cosmo. Go ahead, say it three times fast. Then, order one up, and take a dip in a refreshing pool of Thai citrus zest and juice from Buddha’s Hand fruit and kaffir lime.

Owned by the same folks as Similan in Danville, Kacha is another example of a restaurant that’s in many ways a cut above. While Similan feels like a serene suburban oasis, Kacha has a rockin’ urban vibe, with fun drinks, high tables, stools in the front of the restaurant, and a high industrial-chic ceiling.

So what about the food? Check out the yellow curry, the chicken on a bed of spinach with peanut sauce and, believe it or not, the simple green salad. Before we could tell our server what we’d like on the salad, he informed us we’d be having the house dressing. Smart man. He also decided we would order the small, which was big enough for three people.

And whether your server commands you to or not, try the fried banana with ice cream. kachathai.com. —Michaela Jarvis

 


 

Angela DecenzoMEET: The Odd Couple

The comedic duo behind Orinda’s Republic of Cake.

Editor Pick | Cupcakes

Chih-Chung Fang is a Taiwan native with a degree in molecular biology and experience in the kitchens of Rivoli and Arizmendi. Peter McNiff hails from Brighton, England, and spent most of his career in telecommunications. But since 2009, the duo—partners in business and in life—has been serving up deliciously innovative cupcakes, along with a dash of comedy, at Orinda’s Republic of Cake.

Q: Did you know you’d be good business partners?
Fang: All we knew was, I knew how to bake and Peter is a numbers guy, so maybe if we put the two together, it might work out. I look at the numbers every now and then, but it’s just not me. And Peter has helped me bake, but he’ll get frustrated.
McNiff: When I get in the kitchen, I panic. A recipe says, “Cream the butter until light and fluffy,” and I’m like, what the hell is light and fluffy?
Fang: Someone who’s baked a lot will know. It’s intuitive, where numbers are very precise and accurate.
McNiff: I’m better at doing the dishes. I like making things clean—not so much making them dirty.
Fang: I guess in that sense, we work well together. Sometimes, I’ll be doing something in the kitchen, and he’ll ask, “What are you making?” And I’ll say, “A mess!” Which is usually the truth. Flour, butter, sugar ...

Q: It could be worse. You don’t have sprinkles and glitter.
McNiff: Yeah, we’re not into that. There’s no [artificial] pink, no red velvet, no multicolored sprinkles. We don’t have fancy packaging. We’d rather focus on what goes into the cupcake than what you put the cupcake into. It’s about natural ingredients, colors, and flavors, and trying not to be wasteful.

Q: Are you foodies?
McNiff: I’m very un-foodie. For me, food falls into two categories: I like that, and I don’t like that. And if I like it, that doesn’t mean I can describe what’s in it.
Fang: We eat out, but we’re not like, “We have to check out this restaurant!” I would love to do that because I am a foodie, but I’m also Asian, so I don’t like to spend much money. [Laughs] And especially if Peter is not a foodie, I don’t want to drop $200 on dinner and have it be only half appreciated.

Angela DecenzoQ: So where do you get inspiration for your creative savory cupcakes?
Fang: I have to give Peter credit for this. He was the one that came up with the savory cupcake idea. I thought he was crazy, but we gave it a shot and did some recipe tests. I made a tomato basil one and a mushroom one first.
McNiff: It started with potato chip flavors. It’s this multimillion-dollar business, and it’s a savory snack. Why can’t we make a semisweet savory cupcake? It’s just another food idea, you know. We’re in the land of food, where everybody who ever opened a restaurant has worked for Alice Waters ...
Fang: A lot of the inspiration is seasonal or for a holiday, and then I try to make it interesting. There is mint, chervil, and chives in the cream cheese on top of the sweet pea cupcake. To me, that’s a classic combination, but people don’t expect it in a cupcake. And sometimes, the inspiration is just what we like to eat. I like this Thai dish with red curry and squash, so I made a cupcake out of it: a kombucha squash cake with ginger, garlic, and onions, and red curry buttercream.
McNiff: And I like mac and cheese. So we made a mac and cheese cupcake.

Q: How much time does it take to get new flavors right?
McNiff: I’ll say, “Hey, let’s do a brussels sprouts cupcake!” And Chih will go, “How are we going to do that?” And I’ll say, “Well, I don’t know. You’re the chef: Figure it out.” And he does.
Fang: I’ll think about it for about a week, and then one day, I’ll decide to prepare it a certain way. Most of the time, I know it will work because I know what flavors go well together. If not, I’ll do a test. It usually takes a couple weeks to test out a recipe and get it right. They usually start out as one of our once-a-week specials. We recently had a lemon and ginger with green tea. I mentioned it to one of our employees, and she said, “I don’t know, Chih. That sounds like Chinese medicine to me.” But people were really happy with it.

Q: What’s your most unusual cupcake?
Fang: The Chinese New Year special: black sesame cake filled with red bean paste, with green tea buttercream. It was different. We had a Persian New Year one, too, with pistachio-cardamom cake, with pomegranate buttercream and rose water. Generally, the specials do not sell the best but gain a very loyal following. When a cupcake goes away, its fans come back month after month, asking when we’re going to make it again.

Q: You’ve been expanding, selling in Lunardi’s, Diablo Foods, and Berkeley Bowl West—and looking to open a second shop.
McNiff: Yeah, the city of Oakley came to us and asked us if we’d be interested in opening out there. It’s a very family-oriented area; lots of houses are being built, and people are moving in. We’d be right on Main Street.

Q: If the shop plans work out, how much time will the two of you spend in Oakley?
McNiff: We’ll alternate our time between the two shops, but probably at the beginning, we’ll be out there quite a bit. We’ll see. After that, we’ll take over the world.
Fang: Wait, I thought the plan was to clone me.
McNiff: Well, yeah, I kept saying we should just grow a new one in the kitchen.
Fang: I do have a degree in molecular biology ... republicofcake.com. —LeeAnne Jones

 


 

Erika PinoLove Bites

Is there a more romantic spot to share a bowl of pasta, Lady and the Tramp–style, than Postino? Not according to our readers, who voted once again for the charming Lafayette standby. But that’s not the only lovey-dovey place to eat.

Breakfast
Editor Pick | Doughnuts: Set the mood with one of the “naughty” cream-filled doughnuts at Doughnut Dolly in Oakland. doughnutdolly.com.
Reader Pick | Breakfast Or go lighter with the ambrosia breakfast at Walnut Creek’s Sunrise Bistro: fresh fruit topped with yogurt and housemade granola. sunrisebistrocatering.com.

Lunch
Reader Pick | Seafood: Cozy up in a booth with a platter of oysters (renowned aphrodisiacs) at Walnut Creek Yacht Club. wcyc.net.
Reader Pick | Italian restaurant Or splurge with delicate “candy wrapper” pasta and a glass of Barolo on the sun-dappled front loge at Prima in Walnut Creek. primaristorante.com.

Afternoon treat
Reader pick | Outdoor Dining: There’s no place like the urban oasis patio at Walnut Creek’s Va de Vi. Share a French wine flight named … the French Kiss. vadevi.com.
Editor Pick |  Cookies: Or get a little risqué with a sinfully semisweet Double Chocolate Orgasm cookie from Denica’s Café in Dublin. denicascafe.com.

Dinner
Reader Pick | Romantic Restaurant: Postino’s decadent pappardelle ragu is ample enough to share, and the cozy nooks and fireplace encourage cuddling. postinorestaurant.com.

Dessert
Reader Pick | Dessert: Black-bottom white chocolate banana cream tart: Yes, the signature sweet creation at Danville’s Esin is as good as it sounds. esinrestaurant.com. —Ethan Fletcher

 


 

Mitch TobiasThe Hot Spot

Reader Pick | New Restaurant

Walnut Creek’s Corners Tavern was the most anticipated restaurant debut in years, and it’s still red hot. Here’s why.

1. Garage doors

The visceral pleasure of opening up nearly the entire front facade to the warm Walnut Creek weather can’t be overstated.
 

2. Bold and sexy

You can go big ’n’ bold (the $15 half-pound burger) or light ’n’ sexy (grilled shishito peppers dressed delicately with olive oil and sea salt).
 

3. No compromising

A good example: the beer menu. Stone Pale Ale, 21st Amendment IPA, Affligem Blonde Abbey Ale: check. Bud, Coors, PBR: uncheck.
 

4. Sense of humor

From the quirky dioramas to the Rorschach-esque paintings, Corners doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that’s a good thing. cornerstavern.com. —Ethan Fletcher

 


 

Joe Budd

The Early Shift

For 29 years, A Sweet Affair has been cranking out fresh baked goods to grateful patrons. But those apple Danishes don’t bake themselves. We joined the early shift for a behind-the-scenes look at the iconic bakery’s Walnut Creek shop.

Reader Pick | Bakery

4:15 a.m. Head baker Esteban Rodriguez lets me in the front door. Rodriguez, who has worked here for 21 years, introduces me to Gilberto Fuentes, who’s been here for eight. “In the front, a lot of people come and go,” says Rodriguez, “but back here, it stays pretty much the same.”

4:30 a.m. Rodriguez double-checks a well-worn binder of 30-year-old recipes. (“I mostly have them memorized.”) The bakery opens at 6 a.m., and by that time, the 20-foot-long cases need to be filled with a half-dozen varieties each of scones, coffee cakes, rolls, Danishes, and croissants, plus more than a dozen types of muffins and breads.

4:35 a.m. Rodriguez measures out the ingredients for Sweet Affair’s crusty white bread into an enormous mixer, tweaking the amounts based on the day’s temperature and humidity. (He’ll later segment the dough and shape it into loaves via a conveyor belt machine that operates like something out of the famous I Love Lucy chocolate sketch.) Rodriguez makes up to 300 pounds of white bread every three days and 350 pounds of multigrain.

4:40 a.m. Fuentes is a blur of activity, squirting muffin batter into colored paper holders even as he checks the half-dozen sheets of other goodies
baking in the large rotisserie-style oven. I’m still trying to wake up.

5 a.m. The duo zips around the kitchen (and me) in a well-rehearsed dance of efficiency. Rodriguez stops to ask if I want coffee. Yes, please. I ask him the secret to Sweet Affair’s success, and he shrugs, saying, “Quality products, fresh stuff, no preservatives.”

5:30 a.m. The kitchen is filling with a wonderful cacophony of comforting smells. I get to eat a freshly glazed croissant just seconds out of the oven: It’s one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. I give Fuentes a thumbs-up, and he smiles knowingly.

5:40 a.m. Hannah Rockett, a 22-year-old who works the early shift behind the counter, arrives for duty. Rockett is a morning person, and her favorite part of the job is greeting the bakery’s regulars. She also follows a gluten-free diet. “I know: And I work in a bakery! I get a hard time about that.”

6 a.m. More employees arrive as the bakery opens for business, such as Concho Hernandez, in charge of making the drool-inducing array of cookies. Top seller? “That’s easy: chocolate chip.” Elisa Gonzalez is busy prepping to-go lunch sandwiches in the back, including Sweet Affair’s famous turkey sandwich, with cranberries and cream cheese. Cake-makers will be in a little later to start the day’s orders.

6:30 a.m. Customers trickle in, including brothers Norm and Ken Hale, Walnut Creek natives back in town visiting their father. “It’s the best place to get fresh pastries,” Ken says between mouthfuls of pumpkin muffin. “We’ve probably been coming here for over 20 years.”

6:45 a.m. I look back at the counter. The display case is filled, Rockett is chatting with customers, and a half-dozen employees are working away in the back. I say my good-byes and drive back home—to bed. sweetaffairbakery.com. —Ethan Fletcher

 


 

More Winners!

Brunch

Chow
445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com

Cheap Eats

Jules Thin Crust
820 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 743-2790, julesthincrust.com

Chef

Rodney Worth
The Peasant and the Pear, 267 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-6611, thepeasantandthepear.com; also, The Peasant’s Courtyard in Alamo; and Ferrari’s Cucina Italiana, The Little Pear, and The Prickly Pear Cantina in Danville.

Chinese Restaurant

Uncle Yu’s
999 Oak Hill Rd., Lafayette, (925) 283-1688; 39 S. Livermore Ave., Livermore, (925) 449-7000; 2005 Crow Canyon Pl., Ste. 160, San Ramon, (925) 275-1818, uncleyus.com

Coffeehouse

Sideboard
411 Hartz Ave., Ste. L, Danville, (925) 984-2713, sideboarddanville.com

Comfort Food

Chow
445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com

Deli

Genova Delicatessen
1105 S. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-3838; 2064 Treat Blvd., Ste. C/D, Walnut Creek, (925) 938-2888, genovadeli.net

Dog-Friendly Restaurant

Chow
445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com

Food Truck

The Chairman
visits locations in Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, and San Ramon, thechairmantruck.com

Gluten-Free Menu

Piatti
100 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 838-2082, piatti.com

Hamburger

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

Ice Cream

San Francisco Creamery Co.
1370 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 926-0228, sanfranciscocreameryco.com

Indian Restaurant

Sargam Indian Cuisine
140 N. Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-2700

Japanese Restaurant

Sasa
1432 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 210-0188, sasawc.com

Mexican Restaurant

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

Middle Eastern Restaurant

Silk Road
1440 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 932-9090, silkroadwalnutcreek.com

Salad Spot

Lettuce
1632 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-5600, lettuce1.net

Steak House

Forbes Mill Steakhouse
200 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 552-0505, forbesmillsteakhouse.com

Sushi Bar

Blue Gingko
3496 Blackhawk Rd., Danville, (925) 648-7838; 3518 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 962-9020, bluegingkosushi.com

Vietnamese Restaurant

Le Cheval
2600-A Bancroft Way, Berkeley, (510) 704-8018; 1007 Clay St., Oakland, (510) 763-8495; 1375 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 938-2288, lecheval.com

 

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