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Weekly Dish: East Bay Rising!

Oakland's Trappist expands to San Francisco, Tri-Valley's Rod Worth opens in Napa; Miss Ollie's debuts in Old Oakland; Gianni's launches in San Ramon; a shout-out to Bravo Bistro; and more in this week's Dish!


Photo by Joe Budd

A couple more items to confirm what we here already know: the East Bay is the coolest spot in the Bay these days. Two popular local drinking and eating spots are bringing a little East Bay love outside of the area.

First up is Chuck Stilphen, owner of the popular beer-centric bars The Trappist in Old Oakland, OL in Walnut Creek, and upcoming Trappist Provisions in Rockridge. Stilphen is taking on the big city, with plans to open "the finest world class beer cafe San Francisco has ever seen (in my opinion anyway)." What's in the works? Well, Stilphen has secured a 3,000 square foot space at Market and Mason streets (34 Mason Street) near the Nordstrom shopping center. Beer geeks take note: Stilphen plans to carry 40 drafts from the finest European and American (and other countries) small batch independent brewers, as well as two to three casks handles, hundreds of bottles, plus wine on tap. Ho hum? Well here's a couple cool details: there will also be a special private lambic/sour beer tasting room in the cellar (only sour beer lovers allowed); and the bar will be the first of its kind (according to Stilphen) to pour draft beers at different temperatures (i.e. lager and pilsners at cooler temperatures, stouts and heavier beers closer to room temperature).

Photo by Colin Burke McClureStilphen also told me the as of yet unnamed bar would have a full kitchen (lunch and dinner 7 days a week), likely emphasizing smoked meat, charcuterie, pickled variety, and other foods that go well with beer; there would be monthly beer dinners with guest chefs; and there would be several exclusive house beers brewed by cult Copenhagen brewer Mikkeller. So when can we expect this beer-lover's oasis? Well, it'll likely be another 5 to 6 months, says Stilphen, who just started tenant improvement and will actually have to plead his case in front of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a beer license—the bar will technically be located in the Tenderloin neighborhood where they're careful about new licenses. In the meantime, you can check out his upcoming Trappist Provisions, the Rockridge bottleshop/cafe which Stilphen says is on track to open in just a few weeks.

The other East Bay food dude making waves is Rodney Worth, whose Pear Southern Bistro is set to have its grand opening in downtown Napa this Saturday. Worth, who has built a mini empire of five restaurants in the Tri-Valley, replaces none other than Food TV-star Tyler Florence's Rotisserie and Wine along Napa's redeveloped riverfront. The Pear will actually be open starting today, will have its grand opening party on Saturday, close for a couple days to recover, and then open officially-officially next Tuesday.

So what's on the menu? Well, appetizers include $2 oysters, tater tots (potato, jalapeno & cheddar cheese croquettes), fried pickles, and fondu. Soups/Salads include French onion soup and Cobb and Salmon salads. Sandwiches include a pulled pork, French dip, and Po' Boy, and entrees include chicken & dumplings, rotisserie chicken, chicken & waffles, bourbon ribs, and shrimp & grits. Nice...

Hey, how cute is this! Chris and Veronica Laramie of downtown Berkeley's Brasa just introduced delivery service for their tasty Peruvian rotisserie chicken (and other items), and yes it will be delivered via this dangerously cute, chicken-adorned scooter. Delivery is only within a limited Berkeley area from 5-8 p.m., but even if you're not in the scooter's perimeter, swing by and try the chicken, it's good stuff. brasajoint.com

Five Restaurant in Berkeley is doing something fun called the 12 Cocktails of Christmas, a dozen creative drinks that will be served for $12 each the entire month of December, including the Two Chocolate Turtle Doves with Godiva chocolate liqueur, vodka, chambord, and champagne (at left) and the Ten Ginger Lords with vodka, Domain de Canto, apple cider, gingerbread cookie rim. They were nice enough to share recipes with us: CLICK HERE for those, or just pick one up yourself in downtown Berkeley... five-berkeley.com

All kinds of openings in Oakland...

Miss Ollie's, ex-Hibiscus chef Sarah Kirnon's new Afro-Caribbean restaurant in Old Oakland, debuted for lunch service this week—get some creole ham, lamb patties, salt fish and ackee with plantains, or today's curry goat special to warm you up on this rainy Wednesday. (Open Tues through Friday for lunch to start). facebook.com/MissOllies

Mani Niall opened up his long-teased bakery in Uptown on Broadway, Sweet Bar bakery. It's a pretty space and Niall, who started his culinary career as the King of Pop Michael Jackson's personal chef (not a bad way to kick things off), has some serious chops. We're told by a reliable source to check out his banana cake, oatmeal sour cherry “big-ass” chocolate chip cookies, ginger molasses cookies, pumpkin and sour cranberries muffins, and bacon and gorgonzola scones. sweetbarbakery.com

Actual Cafe's next-door gourmet burger joint Victory Burger debuted at Alcatraz and San Pablo, bringing not just burgers, actually: the tasty-sounding menu includes a pork & egg arepa, roast chicken banh mi, and yes, burgers, on top of which you can get toppings ranging from smoked roasted garlic to Inna jam to Eden Farms bacon to chicken skin mayo (what?!). They've got shakes (vegan included), fried pickled veggies, and hand-cut fries—on which you can add bacon gravy (double-what?!). 1099 Alcatraz Ave. Oakland, victoryburger.com.

Openings on the other side of the tunnel...

Gianni's Bistro debuted on Tuesday. Owner Gianni Bartoletti is giving it another go at the original home of his Incontro Ristorante in San Ramon, with the help of his wife Melanie, who will focus on making Gianni's a hub for hosting non-profit fundraisers. The new menu features seasonal Italian dishes and is a bit more affordable, while the vibe "combines old world charm with a contemporary feel." Check 'em out: Gianni helped Incontro earn three Diablo best restaurant awards during his time there and he's got his original chef back in the kitchen.

Spoke with Hugo Boye, who told me his Stelle Bistro is opening tomorrow (Thursday), December 6. It's "Continental fusion," sort of a hybrid between Italian (where Boye was born), South American (where he grew up), and Spanish (where Boye has lived and traveled). If that doesn't hook you, Boye said he'd be pouring a free glass of wine for patrons on opening night...

Also, Le Gateau Elegant, specializing in custom wedding cakes, opened at 1479 Newell Avenue in Walnut Creek, making the move from its former home in downtown Martinez. legateauelegant.com

And Raviolis, the casual, made-from-scratch, Italian restaurant replacing Toscana looks like it'll be open any day now—they've closed down the smaller Concord location and promise, via Facebook, to open up the new restaurant within a couple weeks. raviolismarket.com

Back to Oakland...

Canales in center with Duende's architecural and design teamSpoke to Paul Canales, who is feverishly working to open his Duende next door to Flora ("I'm opening in December, I don't care"!). The menu is coming together, and remains Spanish in inspiration (even if the free-spirited Canales isn't going to be bound to cooking all Spanish cuisine), and will be broken up into tapas (small bites), pichos ("snacks" in Basque country), raciones (a small entrée, big tapa, or more than one tapa), as well as platas familiars (shared meals like steak or whole fish or paella). Canales also said that the other parts of the project are coming together: Duende will feature a side space that will serve as a wine shop as well as a little cafe that'll be open in the morning (Paul's wife, Mary, is working on supplying some custom treats courtesy of her Ici ice cream shop). There's also that performance space in the mezzanine that the musically-inclined Canales hopes to eventually start booking with jazz-inspired musicians—he's already got his friend Nels Cline, currently the sonic guitarist for rock band Wilco, scheduled for January. Sounds fun... duendeoakland.com

Had a chance to interview the new chef at Plum, Manfred Wrembel. Super nice guy, who hails most recently from famed Italian eatery Incanto in San Francisco, where he was chef du cuisine for six years. Wrembel seems to take a few cues from Incanto's also-free-spirited owner Chris Cosentino in that he's someone who's extremely enthusiastic and gung-ho about his job in a refreshing way—Wrembel also has a bit of a sailor's mouth, as you'll see in the interview below. I had a chance to swing by Plum the other day and check out his recently revamped menu—it's a little less experimental and more accessible in that there's now a standard appetizer/entree/dessert format. That being said, there's still beef tongue (which was excellent, sliced thin and served with olive salt and horseradish creme fraiche). Baked Spaetzle at PlumWrembel's German background (his parents were first-generation German-Americans) also came through, and I'd recommend the baked spaetzle (warning, its extremely rich) and the confit pork cheek with pickled mustard and flavorful cabbage (which tasted like it had been smoked). Good winter fare... CLICK HERE to read the interview.

Looks like Oakland will be getting another food tour showing off its bustling culinary scene after the earlier debut of the Savor Oakland food tour in Jack London Square. Edible Excursions, which organizes tours of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto as well as several San Francisco neighborhoods, is set to tackle Oaktown's gourmet-hipster hood Temescal. Filled-to-order Doughnut Dolly doughnuts could be on the new Temescal food tourSays East Bay food writer Sarah Henry who will be leading the excursions, the new three-hour tour will probably kick off early next year and include stops (with samples, of course) of hot-spots like Scream Sorbet, Doughnut Dolly, Cro Cafe, Homeroom, Sacred Wheel cheese shop, and likely start at the neighborhood's legendary farmers market. "We'll be hearing from purveyors and restaurateurs about their products and especially their back stories," says Henry. "I think that’s what really resonates, hearing how passionate everyone is about what they do." We'll keep you posted as more details come out. edibleexcursions.net

Speaking of Temescal, looks like the former Remedy Cafe space that closed so suddenly on Telegraph Ave has been filled: Christina Bondoc and Rick Yarussi are planning a "neighborhood cafe and bakery" featuring a light lunch/dinner menu (pressed sandwiches, quiches, savory galettes, salads), baked goods that are baked in-house, and of course, great coffee (they're not revealing the roaster yet, but it will be local). No name yet, and Bondoc says they're hoping to open by late Januray. Bondoc, who recently graduated from a pastry program and spent the last year baking in various kitchens around the Bay, says she would actually work on the pastry recipes for her envisioned new cafe while sipping coffee at Remedy, never dreaming that the space would open up.

Had a chance to attend a meatball pop-up dinner at Hopscotch in Oakland, in which ex-SPQR chef and founder of NYC's Meatball Shops Daniel Holtzman, recreated a one-day only pop-up version in Kyle Itani and Jenny Schwarz's excellent new Uptown restaurant. The place was jumping, the meatballs were delicious, and the off-color puns were abundant (A sign stating "Eat Balls Now" is just one example...). Good times, and make sure to check out Hopscotch if you haven't had a chance—really inventive, fun, interesting food (even Michael Bauer at the Chronicle thinks so...) hopscotchoakland.com

Finally (last Oakland thing, I swear), I attended a nice event on Tuesday at Oliveto celebrating the launch of owner Bob Klein's Community Grains' Identity Preserved Wheat pasta. It gets a little complicated, but essentially, the IP Wheat (as it's called), provides detailed information on the label "about the breed or hybrid of wheat and variety used, where it was grown, when it was harvested, when and where the wheat was milled, and the type of milling wheel used." Why? Well, Klein believes that most industrial whole grain wheat pastas and flours are milled and processed in a way that is ultimately not very healthy for consumers, and has started Community Grains as a way to re-introduce integrity and complete transparency in whole grain food products and "create greater awareness, and ultimately a shift away from a commodity-based model to a more localized, smaller-scale infrastructure." yes, this delicious pizza is made with whole grain dough...There is a website where you can go to check out more, which I recommend: Community Grains is an interesting project that Klein's taken on, and, I think, an important one. Plus, the whole grain pasta, which they're using at Oliveto, is actually delicious—which is a big help, as Klein recognizes: "The home run comes when people eat it and love it. Ultimately, it's about the flavor." communitygrains.com

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Interview with new Plum chef Manfred Wrembel

Tell me about your background
I've been in San Francisco now for about 11 years. I’ve been cooking, f#*king, since I was 17 or some s*#t like that. My first job ever was actually at Olive Garden, but they made me lead expediter right off the bat for some f#*king reason, I don’t know why. I didn’t really want to go to college, so I went to culinary school instead. Kind of an easy out, but I really in love with it and did really well there. (in Riverside).

So I kind of bounced around restaurants down there, nothing really well-known, and then I saw an ad for the school up here. They publicized it like it was the Harvard of culinary school so I figured it was a good excuse to move move up to San Francisco, get my own place, go to school, and find a job hopefully. So in that order I literally moved up here, went to school, graduated and did a paid externship for the Plumpjack group, Plumpjack café, Balboa Café, and they made me the sous chef of one of their places Jack Falstaff which is now closed. I worked there for about three years.

Then I took a job at Incanto in San Francisco under Chris Cosentino. I worked for Chris as the chef du cuisine for about six years, the longest restaurant job I ever had. And in that, I got so many opportunities: he brought me on his finalé on Top Chef masters, where I was his assistant. We went to Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, we catered a Ben Harper concert, so that was really cool.

I just left in August, took some time off, went home to see the family, went to Mexico for a little bit. When I decided I needed to get back to work, I put out my resume for an executive chef job, and Daniel Patterson got a hold of me. He was looking for someone over at Plum, asked me if I was interested and I said 'yeah, lets do this!'

What was it like working for Chris Cosentino over at Incanto?
Oh man, Chris is more than just a chef for me, I literally consider him to be like family. He’s a hard working guy, I’m a hard working guy, and he really showed me a lot about how a restaurant can and should be run. The full utilization of products, not throwing stuff away. He’s really big on offal cuts like liver and kidney, stuff like that. We used to bring in whole animals all the time such as pig and lamb, ducks, and we’d age them, break them down, make charcuterie, make head cheese—we’d serve the cuts and make stock out of the bones. It really taught me utilization and organization. He’s really one of my mentors—when I was working for him he was definitely my beacon of guiding light. I tried to model the way I cook around the way he did things. Now that I’m on my own. The hardest thing about becoming a chef is learning everyone’s techniques and developing your own identity, which is kind of what I’m in the process of right now.

What do you think your identity is or will become?
Its eclectic, I like to draw from different cultures. My parents are German immigrants, so I definitely have a Germanic influence in my food. I have spaetzle on the menu right now, I have pork cheeks with mustard, cabbage, but of course a little bit more refined. I’ve worked in an Italian restaurant for the last 5, 6 years, so I definitely have Italian influence as well, but culinary school is obviously French training so I consider myself a local California guy who cooks local California food with European influences.

How did the German upbringing contribute to your outlook on food?
You know, I had no idea why I was interested in food, no one in my immediate family that I knew of was in the food industry. I mean, my mom cooks and my dad eats, and that’s about the extent of the food knowledge in my family. But later on in life, as I’m doing research and telling my mom how I went to this salami factory, she starts telling me how her dad used to be a butcher in Germany. So it’s really cool to see that ok, 'wow maybe that’s why I’m interested in food! Maybe it's already in my blood to be a butcher.' It's funny, when my parents immigrated from Germany, they moved to Mexico first. So I always say, my mom’s German but she makes some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had in my life.

How does that focus on meat from Incanto and German cooking mesh with Daniel Patterson’s emphasis on fresh produce and vegetables?
Well, don’t let that fool you, I love cooking vegetables. There’s so many different ways you can treat them as far as fermenting or curing or smoking. Vegetables I feel are more important to a meal than meat... But being from the Bay Area and living here, its hard not to have beautiful produce—you know, we’re spoiled, we’re absolutely spoiled.

Tell me a little about what went into the menu change?
The older I get, I’m 31 now, the more I realize that when I go out to eat, the way I like to eat is a direct correlation to the way I like to cook. I don’t go out to eat tasting menus, I don’t need 35 courses of different little one biters. I usually go out with a group of my friends, we usually get some cocktails or some wine and some beer, we order everything on the menu sometimes, and we all just share. I don’t believe in ‘this is my appetizer and you can’t have any.’ We order food for the table and that’s the kind of approach I would like to eventually get into here. But my menu I feel is very approachable in a sharing kind of way where people can get something and share it with the table, and it's really approachable. I make sure there are enough components, so that everyone can get a couple of bites out of it. Its more share-oriented, more of a gathering, neighborhood, lets-go-have-some-fun, kind of food that's approachable—but still smart in execution.

Plum has had a reputation for being a little fussy with small portions: is that something you’re looking to get away from?
That’s something we’re definitely looking to get away from. I mean we’re in Oakland so we have to think about price point obviously: our menu is definitely a lot cheaper than any menu you’d see in San Francisco. You don’t have anything on the menu over $23 and that’s for a steak with bone marrow puree—that’s a very good price for that. We try to deal mainly with local purveyors, we're currently in the process of doing Prather ranch, they’ll be doing all our meats. Right now, as I’m talking to you I’m breaking down trout. My purveyor is a guy named Joe and he gets these beautiful rainbow trout from Mount Lassen, which have just come in, they’re still in stiff rigamortis, that’s how fresh they are. So without compromising quality of product, we’re definitely trying to make it more neighborhood friendly, more casual, less fussy or pretentious. 

I like food that has a familiarity to it but still has a surprise element. But at the same time we’re trying to feed people. Not everyone is going out for an experience, or to spend $300 for 20 courses, where half the s*#t they don’t even know what it is. I’m trying to avoid that. I mean, do I like sea urchin? Yes. Is that necessarily on the menu here, maybe not? But let me get my food costs right and maybe we can experiment with those kinds of things. By serving products that sell and people are familiar with, it allows us to be able to experiment with stuff like sea urchin.

Plum does have the reputation for more adventuresome cooking/eating so it seems like you have some license for experimenting…
Absolutely. I mean right now on our menu I have cold beef tongue. I have pork cheeks, I have a dandelion green mac and cheese spaetzle. We have trout with sunchokes and mandarin brown butter, we have stuffed calamari with housemade chorizo that we do a la plancha. It’s a completely open kitchen which is really cool because it allows the diners to see all the work that we put into their food. And the bottom line is these people are paying us to pay attention to what they’re doing and to make sure what we’re trying to execute is correct so we owe it to them to make sure we do the best quality job that we can.

Chris Cosentino has a reputation for working hard, but also having a good time: is that your philosophy as well?
Oh, if you’re not having a good time I don’t know what you’re doing! You can enjoy your work and then its no longer just a job, you know? From the work, that’s where the joy comes from. Like I said, I’m doing my favorite thing in the whole world right now, breaking down trout—it's just kind of soothing, it's relaxing, and in about ten minutes I’m going to go upstairs and make some chestnut gnocchi. And we’re just going to keep going all day like that. I’ve got some quince I found that I want to make a quince mustard out of that we’re going to run on the lunch menu with porchetta sandwiches. It's about ideas, brainstorms, and it works better when the whole team does it because then you come up with a product that you’re very very proud of.

Will the menu change frequently?
Yeah, I would like to eventually change the menu on a daily basis. Maybe not the whole thing, but definitely changing items with what's best in season. Right now our trout is beautiful, but there are certain items I'm looking at, certain cuts, certain vegetables. For instance, tomorrow we’ll be doing a farro dish with carrots and mizuna pesto and maybe a poached chicken egg on top. I want to do some new salads—chicories are coming in. The weather’s getting colder outside too so these are all things we can look into. Within the next week or two I want to get oxtails in and do a pot-au-feu (French stew) with pie and a crust so its really warming with onions and oxtail and horseradish and carrots. Kind of exciting and fun food—its really traditional but at same time it hasn’t been done in forever.

Five Restaurant's 12 Cocktails of Christmas

The Pear treeThe Pear Tree
1 ½ oz Pear Vodka
½ oz Ginger Syrup
¼ oz Calamansi Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
Shaken, strained into martini glass
Lemon twist garnish

Two Chocolate Turtle Doves
1 ½ oz Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
1 oz Vodka
¼ oz Chambord Raspberry Liqueur
¼ oz Lemon Juice
¼ oz Simple Syrup
3 Dashes Peychaud Bitters
Served up in martini glass
Champagne float
Lemon twist garnish

Three French Hen-nessey
1 ½ oz Hennessey
1 oz Crème de Cassis
½ oz Lemon Juice
Shaken, strained, served up in martini glass
Lemon twist garnish

Four Calling Birds
2 oz Gin
½ oz Lillet
½ oz Lemon
¼ Simple
Shaken with mint, served in martini glass
Mint leaf garnish

Five Golden Rings
1 ½ oz Rum
1 oz Lime
¾ oz Agave Nectar
Shaken with mint, served in couple glass
Champagne float, mint leaf garnish

Six Geese Martini
2 oz Grey Goose Vodka
¼ oz Cinzano Dry Vermouth
Stirred, served up in martini glass
3 Olive garnish

Seven and Five
1 ½ oz Seagrams 7
½ oz Aperol
½ oz Lemon Juice
Served in bucket, Topped with Sprite
Orange twist garnish

Eight Maids Milking
1 oz House infused Fresno Chili Vodka
1 oz Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
Shaken, served up in martini glass with Sugar and Cayenne rim

Nine Ladies Dancing
¾ oz Grand Marnier Cherry
¾ oz Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
½ oz Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
Shaken, served up in martini glass with Cocoa Powder rim

Ten Ginger Lords
1 oz Vodka
2 oz Domain de Canton
2 oz Apple Cider
¼ oz Lemon Juice
Shaken, served in coupe with Sugar and crushed ginger bread cookie rim
Cinnamon and Nutmeg sprinkle garnish

Eleven Piper’s Piping Hot
1 ¾ oz Dark Rum
1 oz Apple Juice
½ oz Clove Water
1 oz Cream
Topped with hot water, served in hot toddy glass
Cinnamon garnish

Twelve Hot Chocolate Drums
½ oz Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
½ oz Gosling’s Dark Rum
½ oz Frangelico
Fill with hot chocolate, served in cappuccino mug
Amaretto whip cream garnish