Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Meet Three Couples Behind Some of the East Bay’s Best Restaurants

Meet three couples running successful restaurants without driving themselves—and each other—crazy.


Published:

Rustic Tavern / Main Street Kitchen / Posada / Recipes


 

Photography by Erika Pino

Meet the Owners of Lafayette’s Rustic Tavern

Gary & Tressa Rust
Lafayette’s Rustic Tavern was years in the making.

It’s a busy Friday at Lafayette’s Rustic Tavern. Owners Gary and Tressa Rust distribute duties the same way they did when they met while working in a restaurant, nearly 20 years ago. Chef Gary is in the kitchen, adding a poached egg to a plate of fettuccine carbonara. Tressa navigates between the patio and dining room, making sure customers are happy.

“Customer service has always been my strength, and Gary is a great chef,” says Tressa. “Our greatest strength as a couple is our communication. We both know we can be completely direct and honest with each other, without hurting each other’s feelings—which works both in a marriage and a restaurant, it turns out.”

The Rusts, who celebrated 10 years of marriage in September, met in the late-1990s, when Tressa was a server at Lark Creek Walnut Creek and Gary came on as a sous chef. Neither experienced love at first sight: “She used to tap her fingernail on my counter if her customers’ food wasn’t coming out fast enough,” says Gary, laughing.

Gary and Tressa got to know each other as coworkers and became close friends over the next few years. After going separate ways, the two reunited at a friend’s BBQ. Soon, they were dating, then taking vacations together.

“We first talked about opening a restaurant while on a beach,” says Tressa. “We had spent so much time in restaurants—it was fun thinking about what we would do.”

Photography by Erika Pino

After the Rusts had their kids, Gary realized that his long hours at restaurants in San Jose and San Francisco cut into his time with the family. The couple decided that they didn’t want to work for someone else forever and launched Rustic Tavern in April 2013.

“We put everything we had into the place,” says Gary.

The gamble paid off: The restaurant is just six miles from their home, and their kids can often be found in the kitchen. Rustic Tavern started building a clientele of regulars on its opening day, which Tressa remembers as a dream come true.

“I remember walking through the dining room, which was packed,” says Tressa. “I looked around and thought, ‘This is it! We found what we love.’ ”

3576 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 385-0559, rustictavernlafayette.com. —Peter Crooks

 

He Said/She Said

Partner’s best quality?
He: Her sense of understanding.
She: He’s so easy to be with.

Favorite ingredient?
He: Olive oil.
She: Anything spicy.

Favorite chef?
He: Bradley Ogden.
She: Besides Gary, Bradley Ogden.

Who orders the wine? What bottle?
He: She does.
She: I do. Shadowbrook Winery’s Petite Sirah.

Best dinner ever?
He: Causeway Restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
She: At Spago at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. We had our kids with us. Maroon 5 played on the beach right after dinner, followed by fireworks.

Favorite late-night snack?
He: Pork burrito from Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant in Pacheco.
She: Chips and salsa.

What would you order for your last meal on Earth?
He: My mom’s apple pie.
She: Crispy chicken tacos from Los Panchos.


 

Photography by Erika Pino

Meet the owners of Walnut Creek’s Main Street Kitchen

Arash & Lauren Ghasemi
Walnut Creek’s Main St. Kitchen is a family affair.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and Arash and Lauren Ghasemi are catching their breath after a hectic weekend brunch at Walnut Creek’s Main St. Kitchen, the couple’s popular seven-days-a-week café. They share a few short minutes on the patio before squeezing in some time with their two sons—Lorenzo, almost four, and Armando, one—before dinner service begins.

It’s Lauren’s unflappable optimism and Arash’s uncompromising work ethic that make the long hours easier. The two are fully committed to each other, to their customers, and most importantly, to their kids’ future. None of it would work without a passion for the business. (They also own the breakfast- and lunch-only Café 15 in Oakland). Main St. Kitchen is a true labor of love.

“Sure, we pull each other’s hair,” says Lauren, recalling how the hostess had handed out the wrong menus just the day before. “But when the day’s over, it’s over.”

And each morning when they awake—very early—they more or less know what’s in store. “I don’t buy food; I don’t cook food,” says Lauren, with a smile. “But everything else is me.”

The couple have their parents to help with the kids—and to help maintain sanity. Lauren’s mom, for instance, takes care of the restaurant’s books while Arash’s mom brings in Persian comfort dishes to nourish her son—who fled Iran when he was just 14.

Photography by Erika Pino

Arash’s menu at Main St. has an urban sophistication that reflects his training at Berkeley’s Eccolo under longtime Chez Panisse chef Christopher Lee, yet maintains a simple and homey style.

Sometimes Arash, his lips pursed, speaks of the endless sacrifices involved in running a restaurant (or two), but when asked to describe Lauren in a word, those lips soften. “Angelic,” he says, without a pause.

Arash sensed that more than a decade ago, when he first spotted Lauren at a nightclub. Looking devilish in a pin-striped suit and Prada shoes, Arash made his move.

They’ve been whirling on the dance floor ever since.

1358 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-1001, facebook.com/mainstkitchen. —Nicholas Boer

 

He Said/She Said

Partner’s best quality?
He: She’s angelic.
She: His drive.

Favorite chef?
He: Christopher Lee [his former boss at Eccolo].
She: My husband.

Who orders the wine? What bottle?
He: Lauren knows more.
She: I pick the right bottle for the food, but it’s also about my mood. My go-to would be a Groth Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Best dinner ever?
He: Gary Danko in San Francisco.
She: Gary Danko in San Francisco.

Favorite late-night snack?
He: Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and watermelon.
She: Ritz Crackers with cheese or any dip I make.

What would you order for your last meal on Earth?
He: Baghali polo [lamb shank over basmati rice mixed with fava beans and dill, served with saffron].
She: Crab cakes and a rib eye with foie gras.


 

Photography by Erika Pino

Meet the owners of Livermore’s Posada

Eduardo & Blanca Posada
Livermore’s Posada reflects the owners’ journey.

It’s late on a Sunday night, but Posada is packed. The only available table is on the patio, and despite space heaters, it’s chilly. Owner Eduardo Posada comes by to offer me a jacket. A minute later, his wife, Blanca, offers the same.

“Our motto here is to treat customers as if they have been invited into our home,” says Eduardo, who runs the kitchen. Blanca, who manages the dining room—which she decorated with many items from their own home—adds, “Mi casa, su casa. We’ll sit with you, have a glass of wine, tell a joke. When a good song comes on, we’ll salsa.”

That familial warmth draws diners from the bustle of downtown Livermore to the tiny restaurant, which opened almost two years ago in a strip mall. Reservations are essential on weekends. And the food, which earns raves, is rooted in family—and history.

“The menu is like my journey,” says Eduardo, who grew up in Mexico and took his first cooking job at an Italian restaurant in New Mexico. He calls his cuisine contemporary Southwestern. The flautas are stuffed with braised lamb and bathed in tomato broth. Short ribs are topped with blackberry mole.

When the couple—childhood friends who reunited at age 35—first settled in Livermore, Eduardo took a job as a custodian for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. He cooked a staff-appreciation dinner that led to catering gigs, and eventually, the couple were booked every weekend, reserving kitchens by the hour and ironing their own linens. After 10 grueling years, Blanca suggested they open a restaurant.

Photography by Erika Pino

“We had some wine one weekend, and I said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s open a restaurant.’ He said, ‘Nope.’ I gave him more wine. ‘Nope.’ After our third bottle, he finally said, ‘OK.’ “

Eduardo and Blanca spend most of their time at Posada. He comes in early to start sautéing his signature sauces; she arrives in the afternoon to ready the dining room and manage reservations. On Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, they enjoy dinner dates.

“Opening a restaurant is like getting married again,” says Eduardo. “We started over on a new path and had to learn compromise and respect, our weaknesses and strengths. We have a great partnership. I couldn’t do this by myself.”

988 Murrieta Blvd., Livermore, (925) 606-1004, posadarestaurant.com. —LeeAnne Jones

 

He Said/She Said

Partner’s best quality?
He: She gets things done.
She: He’s very patient. More than I am.

Favorite ingredient?
He: Orange juice, honey, and rice vinegar. These are my go-tos for finding balance in my food.
She: Serrano chiles. I eat one every day, and I eat it raw. I’m a true Mexican.

Favorite chef?
He: Bobby Flay and Rick Bayless.
She: My husband!

Who orders the wine? What bottle?
He: I order the wine, always. It has to be Pinot Noir. Why? Because that’s what she likes.
She: Good answer.

Best dinner ever?
He: Pasta with chorizo at Wolfgang Puck. I got up to ask the cook, ‘What’s the herb in the pasta?’ He said tarragon. And that’s why we have the pasta dish here. It’s based on that experience.
She: The tartare at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. And that was also the best mojito I’ve ever had in my life.

What would you order for your last meal on Earth?
He: Cookies and milk.
She: Flautas.


 

Recipes

Rustic Tavern: Portuguese Fish Chowder

Gary and Tressa Rust spend most days in Rustic Tavern. True to the restaurant’s family friendly feel, their nine-year-old daughter and six-year-old son can often be found in the Lafayette eatery as well. When the Rust family does get out of town, they love the great outdoors, and this recipe for Portuguese fish chowder is a hearty favorite on camping trips to Tahoe and Yosemite.

“I grew up fishing and catching lobsters in Massachusetts,” says Gary Rust. “This recipe has evolved from my East Coast roots, but I’ve updated it to take advantage of Northern California’s fresh produce.”

Serves 6–8.

Ingredients:
1 ripe heirloom tomatoes, peeled and diced. (Use quality canned tomatoes if heirlooms are out of season.)
1 Yukon gold potatoes, cut medium and diced
½ cup olive oil½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sweet white onions, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves, broken in half
20 Padrone or Shishito peppers. (Can use 2 medium green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and smoked, if Padrones and Ahishitos are out of season.)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups fish, chicken, or vegetable sauce
Juice of 2-3 fresh lemons
1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless cod filets, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tbl. Minced fresh parsley
1 tbl. Chopped basil
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt to taste
6-8 pieces of grilled baguette

 

Directions:
Sweat the onions for 3-4 minutes in a 10-quart stock pot, with olice oil, peppers and garlic. Add potatoes, chili flakes, and bay leaf and cook for one minute, then add white wine and cook for one more minute. Add diced tomatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until potatoes are soft, then stir in fresh herbs. Next, gently stir in cod fish and cook until the chunks are barely cooked through. Season stew with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Drizzle a nice extra virgin olive oil upon serving.

 

 

Main Street Kitchen: Mirza Ghasemi

This classic Iranian dip is a family favorite of Main Street Kitchen’s chef Arash Ghasemi. It’s best served with flatbread. 

Serves 4

Ingredients:
6 medium eggplants
2 beefsteak tomatoes
½ head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
2 eggs, beaten with a fork
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ teaspoons salt
Fresh mint or finely chopped parsley, optional

Method:

  1. Blanch tomatoes for about 20 seconds in boiling water. Transfer to ice water and remove skins.
  2. On a grill or open flame, char whole eggplants until skins are fully blackened. Remove and discard skins, cut eggplant into chunks and cook slowly in ¼ cup of olive oil, mashing and salting as it softens.
  3. In a separate pan, sizzle garlic in remaining ¼ cup olive oil, add and mash tomatoes, cooking until most of the moisture has evaporated. Combine eggplant with tomato
  4. Over low heat, add remaining tablespoon olive oil and eggs. Before the eggs are fully scrambled, fold in eggplant-tomato mixture and cook a minute or two more, until eggs are fully cooked.
  5. Transfer to a plate and garnish with mint or parsley if desired.

 

 

Posada: Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

This recipe is one of the first in which Eduardo Posada began infusing his contemporary Southwestern flavors into a classic dish.

Serves 12

Ingredients:
2 quarts boiling water with salt
¼ cup white wine
4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
2 cloves garlic
¼ onion
Parsley
Celery
¼ cup pickling spices
2 pounds (31–40) clean shrimp
Bay seasoning
1 small cucumber
1 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
2 medium tomatoes, cored and seeded
¼ sweet onion
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
4 cans (5.5 oz size) Clamato (tomato juice)
3 tablespoons concentrated orange juice
Salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Preparation:
Bring salted water to boil. Add wine, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, garlic, and onion. In a cheesecloth, place parsley, celery, and pickling spices; wrap tight; and add to boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bundle and bring seasoned water to boil again. Add shrimp and cook 2–3 minutes. Remove them from water, spread on a sheet pan, and season with Bay seasoning.

Peel and remove the seeds of the cucumber, then dice. Combine rice vinegar, sugar, and red crushed pepper, and marinate the cucumber in this mixture for a half an hour. Add diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro to the cucumber. Do not season.

Combine Clamato juice, orange juice, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Season with salt, black pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce, to taste.

Combine everything together and serve in Martini glasses.

Sign up to get our e-newsletter and receive exclusive invites to special events, parties, and happenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Faces

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Find us on Facebook