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Diablo Dish — March '09

Oakland restaurant scene still not slowing down; and more.


What? The economy is bad? Seems the Oakland food scene hasn’t heard that yet.

New restaurants are popping up faster than mushrooms and doing it in style. Sumo wrestlers and taiko drummers dazzled at Ozumo’s opening, and the procession of royal restaurateurs planning openings in the new Jack London Square project continues undeterred. “A lot of the talent in San Francisco actually live in the Oakland area, and they want to be a part of the expanding dining scene here,” says Will Miller, vice president of leasing for developer Ellis Partners. “Despite the economy, the fundamental demographics are strong, and they’re looking at Oakland’s long-term sustainable dining scene.”

Rockridge’s À Côté is opening a new small plates restaurant in, you guessed it, Oakland. Although the Park Boulevard opening is months away, the concept is Pan-Latin, highlighting Mexican and Central and South American cuisine.

Meanwhile, Lake Chalet Seafood Bar and Grill plans a June opening on the top floor of the renovated, century-old Lake Merritt Boat House, where it will serve modern American cuisine. Also coming to Lake Merritt is Sidebar, a new gastropub serving upscale pub food, microbrews, and classic cocktails, which opened in early February. Also in February, Piedmont Avenue was slated to get Adesso, which will serve grilled panini and house-made salumi just two blocks from owner Jon Smulewitz’s other eatery, Dopo. The downtown Oakland lunch crowd recently got Banyan 14, Thai and Vietnamese “street food” with a healthy California twist. The owners aim for a 100-percent green eatery, with a progressive recycling program, compostable packaging, natural meats, sustainable seafood, and organic veggies. Also emphasizing green business is Awaken Café on 14th, which will soon expand into a 3,500-square-foot lounge, with an organic wine and beer bar, coffee and teahouse, performance space, and expansive art gallery. Whew!

In Lafayette, the mystery location of Artisan Bistro, which we reported on last month, is the former Gigi’s, which closed in mid-February. Gigi owner Jeffrey Amber is looking for a new location in Berkeley or Oakland.

Oenophiles rejoice: Each Sunday throughout ’09, Walnut Creek’s Prima Ristorante offers diners discounted wines. You’ll pay just the wine store price when you select from a rotating list of 75 wines from Prima Vini.

Need a quick lunch in Danville? A Taste of Life Catering has opened ATOL Gourmet Paninis on Hartz. The best-seller is chicken with a marsala wine sauce and mushrooms topped with prosciutto and mozzarella.

After 33 years in the high-end bakery business, the owners of Lafayette’s Toot Sweets sold their lease to the Yogurt Shack, which was due to go into the Mt. Diablo Boulevard spot this month. Marcy Wheeler, the owner/baker of Toot Sweets, is creating a cookbook with fans’ favorite recipes.

In Concord, look for Sushi Ten, to-go sushi from the owners of Hanazen in Orinda. The new store is on Grant Street near Willow Pass.

Got Dish? E-mail us at dish@maildiablo.com.

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