Weekly Dish: Wow Factor at Jack London Square
Delicious openings, new restaurant chefs, fancy fall menus, and more!
Heads up “bridge-and-tunnel” crowd (that’s us, and proud of it, right?): Who needs to trek all the way over to the city when so much delicious glitz and glam tempts us right here in the East Bay? Case in point: two big-time, big-town spots offering entertainment and world-class cuisine right in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
Last week, I finally got a sneak peak of the not-yet-open Plank, a “beer garden, bowling and bocce” concept that will officially open its doors October 10. Stretching out over an entire city block, Plank is more than 50,000 square-feet of gaming areas and swankified private lounges stepping up and down on multiple levels in the old Barnes and Noble location. Add to that 12 full-size bowling lanes, six mini “boutique” lanes, 40 hi-def tvs, and 48 beers on tap. Then, on top of that, factor in bars seeming to vie for the "world’s longest" title, including the one on the stylish outdoor patio popping with bright red stools and three bocce courts. As if that's not enough, consider the beeping, flashing, high-energy game arcade for kids of all ages, and you’ve got so many firsts and bests and big numbers that Plank boggles the mind.
Full disclosure: Normally, bowling alleys are not my favorite hangs, so I wasn’t really excited about Plank at first. But let me assure you: This is no usual bowling venue. For one thing, Plank is the latest innovation of Trifecta Management Group, a successful developer of high-end, family-friendly gaming venues sweeping the nation (always a head turner). For another, the food at Plank is ridiculously good, and Dish is all about that. I promise you have never eaten like this at a bowling alley before: roasted veggie pizza with a blistered crust; crispy chicken wings served with fiery Diablo sauce; sweet char siu pork tacos; and juicy watermelon salad with feta, arugula, and mint. Wow, right? Chef Jason Moniz, formerly of Orinda’s Table 24 and Oakland’s Flora, is heading up the kitchen, and if his opening act is any indication, plank will find a place on Oak-town’s must-hit list in no time. With so many top restaurants in Jack London Square, including Daniel Patterson’s Haven, Jeff Amber’s The Forge, and the incomparable Lungomare, run by talented chef/owner, Chris Pastena, who needs to go anywhere else?
After a glimpse at Plank, I strolled over to Lungomare ("boardwalk" in Italian), a waterfront restaurant located diagonally across the car turnaround, in the very heart of Jack London Square. I’d recently tapped owner Chris Pastena to serve as a judge on a tasting panel of East Bay wines I’d organized for an upcoming Diablo article, and I wanted to check out his wine list. Gotta say: I was so impressed with this locally owned eatery that it more than deserves a mention here. Especially because I discovered one of the East Bay’s best dining deals: Lungomare’s Sunday night “winedown” dinner--three generous courses and bottomless glasses of tap wine for $30 per person.
Pastena, a Culinary Institute of America graduate (known in the trade as the CIA), definitely knows his East Bay wines, from Stage Left Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars among others, including many on tap. And Lungomare is a wine-focused showplace, for sure, with beautiful burnished-wood wine riddling racks from Schramsberg made into sliding doors and sideboards.
But what really surprised me was how a restaurant this size (9,000 square feet) can offer such high-caliber, hand-crafted food and drink, from artisanal cocktails and house-infused liqueurs (fig and walnut liqueurs!) to house-made pastas and succulent house-made salumis. Jeez, what is Pastena not making in-house? Humming with happy diners, Lungomare was cranking out great Italian-inspired dishes from a well-priced menu: authentic pastas and pizzas and seafood dishes such as whole roasted fish, and, my fave, the fennel-spiked Ligurian Seafood Stew. And did I mention the Friday night live music and every night waterfront patio dining? Check out Lungomare soon.
Monthly celebrations … the Lark Creek Restaurant Group announced the Wild Mushroom and Pinot Noir Festival, a month-long religious experience of two of my most favorite things. Along with the fall rains and crisp weather, wild mushrooms--porcini, chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and more--are popping up in Northern California forests and on local menus across the Bay Area including Walnut Creek's Lark Creek. Chef/partner Scott Wall, a San Ramon Valley grad, has been with Lark Creek for about 14 years, crafting some pretty remarkable cuisine. And maybe because he's a local, he gives Dish readers this tip: Ask for the Burgundy truffles that have just arrived (and he really means "ask." This item will not be listed on the menu). Another one to watch is Wall's lamb shank paired with the 2011 Wrath Pinot Noir from Monterey in addition to a handful of other stellar mushroom dishes. According to Wall, Yankee Pier in Lafayette will have a few mushroom dishes as well.
Intoxicating news … On Saturday, October 4, Paragon at The Claremont is celebrating with a to-die-for cocktail, the Ruby Red Cosmo. When Paragon first opened years ago, it stood out as a premier vodka bar offering no less than 79 different vodkas. This signature Cosmo, made with the tart addition of grapefruit juice, became a singular hit. Get yours this Saturday, one day only, for $12. And if you can’t make it in this Saturday for a sip, here’s a recipe to get the party started:
Paragon's Ruby Red Cocktail Recipe
- 2 oz. ruby red Stoli vodka
- 1 oz. Cointreau
- Splash of lime juice
- Splash of cranberry juice
- Splash of grapefruit juice
- Garnish with a grapefruit slice
In other East Bay vodka news … Eckert Estate Winery in Livermore is crafting its own vodka at the new Artisan Spirits and Brandy Works Distillery. This vodka is made from grapes (vodka can be made from many things besides potato). They are also making some pretty heady absinthe in addition to some really good vino. Alameda’s St. George Spirits is working on a vodka, too, as first reported here a few months ago in Diablo Dish. We are still awaiting more deets. Happy sipping!
In Oaklandish news … James Syhabout is deliberating over the heir apparent for Piedmont Avenue’s Michelin-starred Commis after the very recent departure of chef de cuisine Aaron Martinez, who is going to Chicago to open his own restaurant.
Another new chef: Robert Sapirman, formerly of Walnut Creek’s now-closed Vesu, among other top venues, is the new chef at Picán, the award-winning southern-inspired restaurant near the Fox Theater in Oakland. At least Dish thinks he is: Sapirman is busy in the kitchen for now, and was unavailable for comment.
Nearby, the Spanish-inspired Duende, owned by longtime Oliveto chef, Paul Canales, has announced it has discontinued lunch, with the exception of Fridays when they will serve their stunning Bodega Paella (as reported here).
In the neighborhood … Woods Bar and Brewery has opened a new location on Telegraph Avenue where owner Jim Woods will tap his eclectic beer creations. Beer, brewed on site, will be available for sale in growlers and to-go bottles (as reported in the Inside Scoop) along with empanadas for small bites. October 11 is the date for the grand opening.
More Oak-town news … College Avenue's popular Ramen Shop is expanding into the former luggage shop next door. This noodling around will create a roomier ramen experience and more expansive bar. The former Chez Panisse alums behind Ramen Shop are on the move. The most recent news, reported here, is that co-owner Sam White is interested in revitalizing Oakland’s historic Starline Social Club on MLK Blvd. You can bet that White will be doing an impressive cha cha with the food concept.
And finally, purr-fectly situated in the heart of Oakland on Broadway, the Cat Town Café has announced an opening date of October 25, much to the pleasure of cat lovers everywhere including a few over here at Diablo. Check out "America’s first permanent cat cafe." Pets will be up for adoption in the Cat Zone, while the 2200 square-foot cafe will be purr-ing coffee from Bicycle Coffee Company, as well as bagels from Authentic Bagel Co. and other sweet treats from Oakland’s Kitchener Collective. This is one concept likely to have some staying power … at least nine lives.
From kitties to cakes … what’s with all the former Oliveto pastry chefs? (Okay, that's the last time I will mention Oliveto in this column!) Several weeks ago, Dish announced a new pastry chef at Danville’s The Peasant and The Pear (see the print article this month), and now Bridges has similar big news. East Bay resident, Stephanie Yu, has worked at Oliveto as well as Paula Le Duc Catering, Waterbar in SF, and, most recently, the corporate kitchen at Facebook. Welcome, Stephanie! Check out her chocolate cognac cream tart with caramelized bananas on the patio along with the famed blue plate special at Bridges.
In other Danville news... Rodney Worth has taken over a storefront space on Hartz Avenue next to the The Peasant & The Pear. He intends to fill the charming house (formerly an antique shop) with merchandise for sale. Just in time for the holidays.
Food Truck update … Taste of the World Market has launched Food Truck Fridays at the Contra Costa Transit Center next to the Pleasant Hill BART station. Every Friday, from 5-9 p.m., look for food, music, beer, and wine, as well as the delicious offerings from these rolling restaurants: Go Streatery, United Bites, Lucky 13 Beer truck, Tutto Bene Gelateria, and the Cheese Therapy truck.
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