Weekly Dish: Rodney Worth to Open New Danville Restaurant
Peasant & the Pear owner bringing Italian concept to Blackhawk Plaza; deals galore at Walnut Creek Restaurant Week starting this Monday; Hopscotch brings hip new concept to Uptown; details on Paul Canales' new eatery; dig into the Beach Food & Wine Festival; and more in this week's Dish!
Tri-Valley diners rejoice! Perennially popular local chef, and budding restaurant tycoon, Rodney Worth is opening up another new restaurant. This one will be his first all-Italian concept and will take over for Stomp wine lounge, marking Worth’s third eatery in Blackhawk Plaza (joining The Little Pear and the Prickly Pear) and fifth overall (including The Peasant & the Pear and the Peasant’s Courtyard). Ferrari’s (Worth’s wife Natalie’s mother's maiden name is Ferrari) will serve up Neapolitan-style flatbreads, fresh-made pastas, panini, antipasti, and salads that will feature almost entirely Italian ingredients. Worth is describing Ferrari's as a kind of cocina povera meaning “peasant’s” or “poor man’s kitchen,” and true to its name, Worth says the restaurant will feature a very simple, affordable Italian menu, none of them priced more than $15.
There will be six or seven hand-tossed 11-inch pizzas on the menu including a simple margharita with mozzarella and fresh basil, one with provolone cheese, fresh olives, and oregano, and another with gorgonzola, caramelized onions, and, of course, pears. Pasta will be “poor man’s style” says Worth, meaning no mixer, but made fresh by hand (and fork). Befitting the space’s previous tenant, Worth plans to offer 20 Italian and California wines by the glass, as well as Italian beer on tap. There’s also a new lounge in the works with Ferrari’s likely staying open until midnight on the weekends. “We’re going to try to keep the nouveau Italian feel, put in that lounge, have music at night: it’s just going to be a nice, funky little place to hang out and try wines and flatbreads,” he says.
As for timing, Worth is looking to open the doors by June 1. Stomp will remain open until the last minute, likely late May.
Speaking of Blackhawk Square, Blackhawk Grill finally closed its doors for its long-anticipated renovation. The restaurant had planned to close all the way back in January but stayed open with a limited menu until just a week ago. Expect a new menu, new “American tavern” look, and expanded bar & patio after the months-long, door-to-door redo, which is now set to be completed by early June. Check out their Facebook page for progress updates.
Hopscotch is skipping its way to Uptown Oakland this spring. The whimsically named new restaurant is the brainchild of former Yoshi’s chef Kyle Itani and Jenny Schwarz. Located just a couple blocks from the Fox Theater at 1915 San Pablo Avenue, Hopscotch will “showcase creative interpretations of global bistro fare and American classics featuring hyper-local ingredients,” along with a carefully curated craft beer, wine, and scotch selection. Itani has a background in Japanese cuisine, and the interesting menu will reflect that; eclectic dishes will include Asari Frites: Kirin Steamed Clams and House Merguez with Duck Fat Potato Chips; Veal Breast Porchetta: Konbu-Braised Kale Ohitashi; Sacramento Striped Bass: English Peas and Barley Miso Butter Sauce; and Escargot and Bone Marrow Gratin: Sourdough Toast and Mizuna-Caper Salad.
I love restaurant weeks because they always give me the motivation to check out places I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t gotten around to. Well, Walnut Creek has one of the best restaurant scenes in the East Bay and the city’s inaugural Restaurant Week kicks off this coming Monday, April 16. And foodies, there are some awesome deals out at more than two-dozen restaurants, everything from (in alphabetical order), American at 1515, Turkish at Bosphorus, “new world cuisine” at C-Blue, French at Cypress, Vietnamese at Eleve, steak at Flemings, Cuban at Havana ... you get the idea. Says Prima's Peter Chastain, head of the Downtown Walnut Creek Association's Restaurant Council, which has helped organize the event: "We hope that it generates a lot of interest, and draws a lot of people to try a restaurant they might not have been to, or haven't been to in a long time. We wanted this to be as inclusive as possible, to have a lot of the smaller ethnic restaurants and coffee shops, not just high-end. Just get people out exploring the downtown." Each restaurant has three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner menus priced at either $10, $20, $30, or $40. Tickets are not necessary but reservations are recommended and most of the restaurants have their menus set. Just go to walnutcreekrestaurantweek.com/restaurants to check them out.
Another fantastic food and wine event is the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. It’s happening this weekend starting on Thursday and offers a real extravaganza of food and wine in a stunning Pebble Beach setting. I went last year and had a great time. You get a chance to see food celebrities like Tyler Florence, Guy Fieri, Masaharu Morimoto, Tom Colicchio, and Jaques Pepin actually cooking and mingling with the crowd. Monterey natives and event co-founders David Alan Bernahl, II, and Robert Weakley place a heavy emphasis not just on the quantity of events and celebrity chefs, but on the quality of each function, and most importantly the integrity of the food and wine. And that shows: they’ve built PBFW into the premier food & wine festival on the West coast, and last year, debuted a similar festival based in Los Angeles (happening August 9–12 this year). CLICK HERE to check out all the events, there should still be tickets available.
Another cool foodie event happening this Sunday, this one for a good cause: the Food and Beverage department of Contra Costa College is hosting its fifth annual food and wine event featuring tastes from more than 50 local restaurants and wineries, and auctions presided over by Narsai David. Tickets are just $35 and all proceeds go to support study abroad programs for promising CCC culinary students. Past trips have consisted of intensive two-week study tours of Europe and Asia, including a a tour of China with Martin Yan. Contra Costa College Campus at the Sports Center on Sunday, April 15 from 11:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Go to contracostafoodandwine.com for more info and to purchase tickets.
Former Oliveto chef Paul Canales has some more details on his new Uptown Oakland project, including the name, Duende, defined as "the spirit of evocation, soul and creative expression of which the core elements are irrationality, earthiness, heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical." It's not just a name for Canales, who says the term encapsulates his whole approach to his new restaurant. Duende will take its culinary cues from Spain, whose tapas-style of eating allows for more creative flair in terms of flavors and portion sizes, says Canales, whose father's family is from the country's Basque region. "Culturally, I always associated with my dad's culture, and I've always wanted to use that as a touch point. And the term duende coalesced a lot of ideas I had as far as putting out creative food that's really personal and that diners will connect with and relate to. It has a sense of soul and a sense of grounding that I wanted this project to have."
While the food will be Spanish in theme, expect some flexibility with that. "Why would I want to get stuck in a food museum, and that’s been my experience with Spanish food in this country," he says. "There’s the opportunity to take that touch point and create from there: stay true to what the dish is, but also use a tremendous amount of other influences." Canales also still plans on including a wine store, coffee bar, and mezzanine for music within the restaurant, which he's hoping (optimistically, Canales admits) to debut by September. Check out the website, duendeoakland.com, for more details.
Couple of quick hits…
Zakuro Japanese Bistro and Sushi bar opened in Pleasanton on Santa Rita Road.
Congrats to Oakland’s Gluten-free bakery Mariposa, which recently expanded into one of the coveted full-time, 500-square foot storefront spaces in San Francisco’s Ferry Building marketplace.
There’s a new Dickie’s BBQ coming to Pleasant Hill this June at 2634 Pleasant Hill Road, near Diablo Valley College.
According to East Bay Dish, Awaken Café is opening up a new burger spot next door in downtown Oakland.
And finally, Bridges has unveiled a pretty mouthwatering new brunch menu. Griddled Mac n Cheese with gruyere, smoked gouda, jack, parmesan cheeses: check. Panko fried chicken and waffle with collard greens and white truffle honey: double check. Braised lamb hash Benedict with lamb shank hash, poached eggs, and citrus hollandaise: triple check. CLICK HERE to check out the whole menu.
Shout-out of the Week: Nom Nom
Yes, you read correctly, that’s Nom Nom. It’s a SF-based food truck that has been setting up shop in Walnut Creek the last couple Fridays and last week, my colleague and I had a chance to check out this decked out mobile operation’s main fare: Bánh mì. That’s Vietnamese sandwiches for the uninitiated, and they were delicious.
Let’s start with the warm, sweet French bread, featuring a nice crispy crust but a soft enough overall texture to easily bite through and not to get in the way of the main event inside. I got the lemongrass chicken, which was super tasty and tender, and covered by sweet-n-tangy marinated carrots and daikon, plus cooling cucumbers, and spicy jalapeños. And did I mention the size of this thing? Yikes, it’s definitely a meal and a half if you can exert just a little bit of will power and stop eating at the midway point (which I wasn’t able to do). They also have tacos, which I got with the sweet-marinated grilled pork, which were tasty, but the real nom nom at Nom Nom are the Bánh mì’s.
Looks like they’re back in Walnut Creek at 699 Ygnacio Road this
Saturday Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. CLICK HERE for more information and to see their weekly schedule. Check ‘em out, it’s worth it.
Q&A with Hopscotch co-owner Jenny Schwarz
Jenny Schwarz: I moved to San Francisco six years ago and I’ve been in the restaurant industry since then. I had been working for a non-profit in Washington DC previously and was waiting tables out here, sort of until I figured out what I wanted to do, and I just ended up falling in love with the restaurant industry, and the local food and wine scene. I worked at Zuppa, Moose’s, and then I helped open Yoshi’s in San Francisco, and Kyle was the opening sous chef. We ended up working together and I really admired his work ethic, we had the same idea as far as food and service. And we’ve been working towards this project since then.
Kyle was in Sendai (Japan) last year when the Tsunami hit and so he came back early. I was consulting here, and we decided to finally do it.
You mentioned you have the same idea for food and service: what exactly is that?
I’ll start with service, because I guess that’s easier. Service is a very technical thing—but it can’t feel technical. There’s a happy medium to doing everything right but also doing it in a way where the guest feels comfortable and taken care of. It’s funny, because it’s all about these small nit-picky things, like not being greeted or not clearing the table properly, or not being available or accommodating, having the proper tone. It’s all things that are a little hard to teach, so we want to hire people who already understand our philosophy.
Foodwise, we really like simple and clean flavors, but I hesitate to say that because it doesn’t mean that they’re not complex, because they are. People can get caught up in using just one ingredient, but if you don’t do it right… for example I had some pork belly the other night that just wasn’t very good, it wasn’t done properly. It’s a simple thing, but if you don’t execute that one thing right it just doesn’t work. I’ve also worked in kitchens before where the chef is so in his head and he’ll stare at the plate so long, that it sucks all the pleasure and joy out of food. Eating is supposed to be fun, so it’s sort of a balance there too.
What’s Kyle’s background?
He attended the CCA, and pretty shortly after that, he had a short stint on a cruise ship that made him want to kill himself. So he came back and applied for one job that happened to be at Kozen, [current Yoshi’s executive chef] Sho Kamio’s restaurant that he opened in Sacramento where Kyle quickly worked his way up to sous chef. He then went back to Oakland where he helped with the menu change at Yoshi’s when the San Francisco location was opening. He also helped open up Daniel Holzman’s third Meatball Shop restaurant in New York. So he has a great background, but the nice thing about Kyle is that he’s an excellent chef, but also an amazing manager.
How would you describe the food?
We say regional American, but I guess the best way to view it from someone outside of the Bay Area is that it’s very Northern California. It’s a very informed combination of dishes from all across the country and open to many different influences with obviously the Japan influence having a very strong hand given Kyle’s professional background. So it’s very distinct, straightforward Northern California, regional American fare with a Japanese philosophy of ingredients: that means a focus on freshness and seasonality, and flavors that are very clean. We don’t use a lot of fat, there are some things that are fried but fried properly—there are not a lot of heavy butter sauces. We’re trying to let the ingredients shine through, so I think its American food with a Japanese twist rather than French.
What’s the price point?
Entrées will be high teens and low 20’s, appetizers in the $7–$13 range. We hope that will be a destination restaurant, but we also want to make it approachable to the surrounding community and neighborhood. It’s going to seat about 40 people. At this point, we’re looking to open on May 1, depending on the liquor license.
So what’s up with the name?
Well when you think hopscotch, you think playful: it evokes this sort of nostalgic memory that you might associate with food or being young and having a good time. But it also has the words “hop” and “scotch” in it, both of which are things we love and care about a lot. We’ll have an excellent scotch list and beer list.
It’s just great, I love it. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here for us. It's very expensive to open a restaurant in San Francisco right now, but it’s something you can actually do in Oakland and we can do it on our own. We’ve both been at the helm of other operations for a long time and were ready to do something on our own, for ourselves—to work our heart out for ourselves, and Oakland allows us to do that. And we love the food culture and what’s going on there. We feel like we can do what we want without worrying too much about placating a guest—people here are on same level of what we’re looking for. There’s a freedom-ness and openness here in the art scene, the food, and the cocktails that is really exciting. And it’s so friendly: I love that I walk around in Oakland and everyone says hi.
Where do you think Hopscotch fits in to the Oakland dining scene?
My favorite restaurant in Oakland is probably Pizzaiolo. There are so many good ones, but that kind of fits best as far as what we’re trying to do in its broad appeal. Like I know an attorney in Emeryville that goes to Pizzaiolo three times a week, but there’s also the 20-somethings who work in the restaurant industry who go there, so we’re hoping to have that same cross-appeal. And we’re definitely trying to provide the quality of service along lines of Flora. I hope we’ll fit into those categories.