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PostHeaderIcon Verve Hospitality Group Hits a Double at Blackhawk Plaza

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Two out of  three of the new restaurants planned for Blackhawk Plaza have opened. If they are any indication of what’s to come, I can’t wait for Laurus, the Southern European Bistro that, like the other two, is operated by Verve Hospitality Group, a Danville-based partnership formed between Executive Chef Matthew Silverman and restaurant specialist Thomas Bensel.

Stomp Wine Lounge was the first of the three restaurants to open. Along with wines from around the world are Chef Matthew Silverman’s collection of tapas. With our glasses filled with a Sonoma cabernet, we munched on Stomp's complimentary sweet potato chips with sauces for dipping while perusing the menu.

We decided on an ultra rich cassoulet of baked French cheeses with roasted garlic, squash blossoms and chervil served with slices of toasted baguette ready for dipping. Spicy shrimp empanadas with creamy avocado mole and crushed pumpkin seeds and a crushed white bean crostini mixed with olive oil and sage completed our trio of tapas for the evening. The crostini was a bit overloaded, but I removed some of the bean mixture from the bread to balance out the ratio of bean to bread.

I love the little plate concept of dining, however, I’ve never found one that adjusts their portions to the number of people in the party. Our two empanadas were excellent, but we were left to cut and divide among three people. I would love to see a pricing structure that would accommodate for a third or fourth person.

 

Last Updated (Sunday, 13 June 2010 02:09)

 

PostHeaderIcon Ruggie's Restaurant Still Going Strong

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In 1984, minimum wage was $3.35 per hour and Bollinger Canyon Road ended at Canyon Lakes Drive. Chevron Park had just opened at their new facility Bishop Ranch and the future home to Pacific Bell was under construction.

1984 was also the year that Ruggy van Muijen opened Ruggie’s Restaurant in the Crow Canyon Commons in San Ramon.

Van Muijen cut his teeth in the food industry while managing two of Oakland’s highly rated restaurants while he attended U.C. Berkeley: Merritt Bakery and Restaurant and the now-defunct Elegant Farmer. The wealth of his experience, though, came quickly after the then 24-year old opened the doors to his own restaurant. While he had lots of front-end experience, van Muijen had never made three-quarters of the items on his menu. Hoping to achieve gradual growth, he assumed that he would learn over time.

He learned - that’s for sure. Only he didn’t have much time to do so. The mostly commuter market in San Ramon was thrilled to have a new lunch place and flocked to Ruggie’s in droves. From the day they opened, lunch was non-stop from 11 a.m.– 2:30 p.m.

As the son of immigrants, van Mujien grew up with the philosophy of doing things for others without asking “What’s in it for me?” His mom would great people at the door with a hug and when van Muijen saw his regulars drive up, he’d get their order started, so they wouldn’t have to wait.

He credits having a great attitude and taking a personal interest in his customers to his success throughout the years. “Our culture has become less about personal connection and more about price and speed. Creating more than just a dining experience keeps people coming back for more,” he explained.

If you look around, it’s evident. Ruggie’s still has one of its first employees, Jill Rebiejo, who after 25 years is seeing second and third generations of families dining at Ruggie’s.

 

Last Updated (Sunday, 17 October 2010 23:22)

 

PostHeaderIcon Cafe Gratitude

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I had never tried the raw food way of eating until I went to Café Gratitude in Berkeley recently. Sure, I’ve eaten sushi for years and that’s raw but this is a whole different ball of sprouted seeds. I expected to need to order a large Round Table Pizza after lunch to settle my hunger pangs, but that didn’t happen.


Here’s what did. First off, the food is amazing. Not just memorable or filling or yeah, I'd go back there again, but amazing. The last time I had a meal as good was the day after I got married. That was at Manka's Inverness Lodge, the place Prince Charles dined while in the Bay Area a few years ago. You get the point, but back to Café Gratitude, a spacious lunch and dinner spot on Shattuck Avenue, just a few blocks off University Avenue.


All the food is un-cooked, unprocessed and organic. And they have everything from milkshakes to kids meals to soups and sweet treats. Eating 'raw,' or 'living' foods at the restaurant means you are eating food that is as close to its natural state as possible after preparation. There’s evidence out there that raw foods provide the highest level of nutrients possible. When fruits, vegetables and meats are cooked above 118 degrees, their enzymes begin to break down, decreasing their nutritional value.


So, you know the stuff at Café Gratitude is good for you. But, wait there’s more. All the dishes begin with complimentary names that the servers repeat to you after ordering -  I Am Insightful, I am Thriving, I am Satisfied, I Am Cheerful. Need I go on?


We started the meal with an I am Enlivened, an E3 Live Shot of live blue green algae, which claims to strengthen energy, mental clarity and immunity. It’s a little tough going down, but if you’ve ever done a shot of Jägermeister, the 70-proof digestif made with herbs and spices, you’ll be fine. I did feel full of energy and clear headed after the bluish-green shot. And ready to eat.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 05 January 2010 02:25)

 

PostHeaderIcon Tasty Tidbits

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Welcome to Tasty Tidbits – a glimpse at our incredibly diverse restaurant scene in the East Bay. Friends who’ve moved out of the area tell me that one of the things they miss most about living here is the number of high-quality restaurants we have at just about every price point. Even better, some are just a short drive or even a short walk away.

This week we have a short overview of some of the new restaurants that have recently opened. On occasion, we’ll feature a single restaurant that has caught our eye, tickled our taste buds or is just doing something extraordinary.

Recently I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner at The Farmer, which took over the restaurant spot at the Pleasanton Hotel at 855 Main Street in Pleasanton. The menu, which features down home American cooking, including old-fashioned fried chicken, has plenty more tasty offerings. The new owners also gave the restaurant a much-needed face-lift, adding beautiful murals, new carpet, fresh paint and farm décor.

Along Interstate 680, there are several restaurants that have recently celebrated openings, including a Fremont favorite, Jack’s Brewing Company, located at 2410 San Ramon Valley Blvd. in San Ramon and featuring an extensive beer selection to go with their pub menu and numerous big screen TVs.

If you’re still mourning the closing of Ha’s in Danville, fret no more.

 
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