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PostHeaderIcon Ten Great Happy Hours

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American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a period of time, usually in late afternoon and early evening, during which a bar or lounge features drinks at reduced prices.”

Originally a Navy term, “happy hour” referred to a scheduled entertainment period on board ships providing sailors with an opportunity to blow off steam.

But it was “mad men” that brought the concept into civilian use. Following a 1959 Saturday Evening Post article on military life, the term entered the marketing arena and restaurants and lounges jumped on the opportunity to offer workers a chance to “blow-off steam” and imbibe after a hard day at work.

Although it’s been banned in some states, the happy hour phenomenon has enjoyed a recent revival locally, with many four-star restaurants showcasing their offerings at greatly reduced prices.

Here are ten places to get happy and enjoy great food and libations for less:

44 Church Street, Danville
The king of happy hour, Bridges features low-priced drinks and appetizers Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to close in the bar and cocktail lounge. Enjoy their $6 blue plate special (February’s special is an open faced ahi tuna sandwich), $6 small plates, $5 martinis and wine specials and $3 - 3.50 well drinks and beer specials.

3421 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
One of Blackhawks’ newest restaurants offers happy hour from 3 - 6 p.m., then again from 9 p.m to closing. Some of their offerings include $1 ice-cold Corinitas and $1 quesadillas. Follow Coa on Twitter for daily happy hour updates.

3451 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
Coa’s ultra chic and sophisticated sister, Stomp is a wine and tapas bar. If it’s Tuesday, unwind at Stomp with wine flights and an artisan cheese selection for $12. This offer is available all day long.

Luna Loca
500 Sycamore Valley Road West, Danville
Danville’s favorite party restaurant has a new happy hour special, which includes free wine and champagne tasting with $1 fresh blue point oysters. It’s every Friday from 3 - 6 p.m. Don’t forget their Full Moon Parties that take place on the patio each month.

The Vine at Bridges
480 Hartz Ave, Danville
Monday – Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. enjoy a happy hour flight featuring any two different wine tastes for $10. The Vine’s February appetizer specials include togarashi nuts and Mediterranean olives, each for $1, pizzettas for $6 and a tapenade Trio for $6. Premium beer can be purchased for $3.

200 Montgomery Street, San Ramon
San Ramon’s most notable happy hour location serves half-off appetizers in the Trophy Lounge every night from 5 to 7 p.m.  Also a worthy mention - kids eat free (one free kid’s meal with one paid adult entree) Sunday and Monday.

Roya's Garlic Garden
3576 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
Lafayette’s newest restaurant, a European-style steak house, features happy hour Monday - Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.

1300 South Main St., Walnut Creek
Stanford’s didn’t wait for a recession to start offering happy hour. They've been featuring happy hour appetizers starting at $2.50 in the lounge for years. Hours are 3 - 6 p.m. with a reprise from 9 p.m. to close.

Faz in Pleasanton
5121 Hopyard Road
Like Stanford’s, happy hour at Faz has been a mainstay for years. The restaurant features an appetizer buffet with pizza, chips, salsa and veggie trays Monday - Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Happy hour is often accompanied by a live band.

Artisan Wine Lounge & Cafe
1633 Bonanza St, Walnut Creek
Artisan just announced their happy hour last week. Enjoy $3 - 4 wine, $3 sangria, $3 beer and $1 appetizers Tuesday - Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 29 May 2012 06:50)


PostHeaderIcon Enjoy Small Plates At Nibblers

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If you like to read, Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar is for you.  If you don't, just squint your way through the 50-plus dish menu.  It's definitely worth it.

This 5 year old Pleasant Hill eatery is centered on small plates, which means that the meal you may get at a sushi or Thai place in the same leafy shopping area may be one to three plates at Nibblers.

But, that's also where the fun comes in.

Go with friends.  Everybody orders something different, and you have a smorgasbord of small delights to get easily stuffed on.  It also helps that the staff is upfront about how to make your visit enjoyable and educational.

Oh no, there's reading and education again.  And you just want to eat?

If you don't know your cardoon. a stalky, asparagus like vegetable, served deep fried with aioli sauce ($6) from your langoustine, a type of lobster served in a ceviche with avocado and house made tortilla chips ($8), the staff of Nibblers will tell you.

The eatery doesn't want to be pretentious with big words.  It just prides itself on the relationships it has with farms and food artisans within driving distance of the East Bay that sell vegetables, poultry and cheese unavailable in your local grocery store.

The menu changes weekly, depending on what's available from these places.

On a recent visit, I started with the Spring Corn Flatbread with baby favas, sheep's milk feta an green garlic in the shape of a light pizza ($11) and that whet my appetite for the next plates.

The Maple Leaf Duck a L'orange ($12) was next, siting atop skinny roasted baby parsnips that had a sweet, almost marshmallowy taste to them.  When I told Trace Leighton, chef patissier and our server, that I had never seen parsnips so skinny before, she said she had the pleasure of bundling them in the bushels full at Heirloom Organic Gardens in Santa Cruz herself.

Another dish that I'd wish was endless was the Panko Fried Monterey Bay Calamari in a buttermilk shallot marinade and Indonesian tropical fruit sambal ($8).  A sambal is a dipping sauce made with boiled down seasonal fruit mixed with three different types of chiles.  It was thick, sweet and savory and gave the calamari a kick.  "We thought it was better than tartar sauce," said Leighton.

When the Four Mile River Pork Slider with chipotle barbaque sauce and house made pickles ($10) were sold out, we ordered the Grilled Meyer Natural Hangar Steak ($11), a tougher cut of meat.  But the mustard sauce tenderized it and made the meat succulent to sink our teeth into.

Nibblers also prides itself on wines, of which  there is an exhausting selection.

Once again, not to fear.

Nibblers makes things easy by suggesting food and wine pairings.  The couple next to us ordered Muscat, a type of sweet wine.  Upon getting their food order, Chef de Cuisine Daniel Clayton later sent Leighton out to see if they wanted their salad dressing made with a Muscat to complement their wine selection.  Now that's paying attention.

Desserts include their signature Cheesecake Fritters ($8), a lovely puffy fried dough with a cinnamon mouse oozing out.  There's also a selection of chocolates and sorbets ($8 to $12) to sample.

The outside patio is dog friendly, every Sunday there's music and if you arrive before 6 pm weekdays, and just want a place to take the edge off before heading home to that big meal, take advantage of Nibblers Sunset Special bar menu.

For late night eaters, Nibblers has a special summer menu from 9:30 to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

For more info visit: www.nibblerseatery.com

(925) 944 0402, 1922 Oak Park Blvd. Pleasant Hill, CA in the Oak Park Center.

Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar is open every day of the week for dinner 5 to 9:30 pm.

Leslie Mladinich is an East Bay freelance journalist. With a 5-year daily newspaper reporting background and a love of writing about everything from health care to fashion, her freelance writing has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle's Pink Section, Diablo, Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine, EcoHome Magazine, and Bay Area Parent. She is combining her love of food and writing by completing Media Bistro's Food Writing Boot Camp, which is teaching her the art of writing about food with attitude. Find her clips soon at www.lesliemladinich.com.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 02:40)


PostHeaderIcon Why We Will Return to Basil Leaf

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It’s happened to all of us. A ruined night out because of poor restaurant service. A server who is too slow or a bit cranky. Food that took too long. Steak instead of the chicken you ordered. Maybe the bread was too hard, the meal lukewarm and the coffee cold. A bad restaurant experience can usually turn a diner off to a place –forever.

But not always.

Last week my partner and I had dinner at Basil Leaf Café in downtown Danville. We have been many times before and like the European ambiance and low-key atmosphere.

Feeling that Basil Leaf was a safe bet and looking for good Italian food, we arrived there on a recent Friday night hungry and certain we’d have a good meal. We were led to an outside table by a smiling and efficient hostess. There, we sat down. And sat. And sat….

After 20 minutes of watching a waitress attend to every table around us, we began to give each other looks of "What’s going on?" and started looking around for a busboy or anyone to bring us water at least.

Finally a young waiter approached us. Bouncing from foot to foot as if he was in a hurry to be somewhere, he stood poised to take our order without even a "Good Evening." We told him that we would each like a glass of wine and asked if there were any specials that night. He rambled off the specials, took our wine order and left. Our wine arrived in less then less than 2 minutes. We finally began to feel that the service was back on track.

Twenty minutes later, he reappeared to take our dinner order. We ordered salads and entrées. The salads arrived, we ate them and again, we sat. And sat. And sat. There was definitely a pattern going on here.

Thirty minutes more passed. Our salad plates were taken away. Our wine glasses sat empty, our water glasses sat empty, and the bread basket sat empty. No waiter, no entrées.

Needless to say, we were not only hungry, but downright annoyed. I saw the hostess and motioned her over. Then I launched into our story… the endless waits, the bad service, the impatient waiter. I guess I was a little loud, because the neighboring tables all put down their forks and drinks and stared at us.

Here’s where things went from bad to good.

The hostess turned out to be Dawn Janssen, who with her husband Eric, own the Basil Leaf. Without fanfare, or brow beating of her staff, she got our dinners out to us, engaged us in conversation, offered to buy our meals and generally chilled us out. She was not overly ubiquitous or patronizing, but charming and real. Without embarrassment to her staff, she diffused the situation along with our frustration.

When she walked away, the couple at the next table explained to us who she was, that she and Eric also own Amber Bistro across the street, and that while he was recovering from back surgery, she was running both establishments. It was then we realized that we had seen her running back and forth across the street all evening. We watched as she sent a waiter to Amber Bistro to get special sweetener that a diner had requested.

Our dinners were delicious. Dawn came back to check on us often, and told us she hoped we’d give Basil Leaf another chance to be back in our good graces. We left that evening totally happy and smiling. What we took with us was not a memory of bad service or long waits, but of having made a new friend and respect for Dawn and the way she turned what could have been a catastrophe into a triumph.

Thank you Dawn Janssen. We will see you soon.--SEW

Basil Leaf Café

Location: 501 Hartz Ave. at Church Street, Danville

Cost: $$ out of $$$$$

Info: www.thebasilleafcafe.com or 925-831-2828

Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 03:13)


PostHeaderIcon Chow Down in Danville

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We’ve been going to Chow Restaurant in Danville since it opened about a year and half ago.  It’s always been a fun, happening place to eat. Using an abandoned Blockbuster Video building, Chow is open, lively and colorful. 

The place is a masterful blend of design, comfort and function with its long antique bar that stretches the length of the restaurant, red pendant lights and walls of oak siding.

Although the place can be packed inside and out on a weekend night, you always feel the service is all about you. 

Where else can you dine in a place where a fireplace and ficus trees share space and the servers sport tattoos?  Add to this a second-story glass wine storage, open kitchen, funky artwork and you’ve got the most unique dining experience in the East Bay.

On our last visit, our waiter, Glenn Barrack (who insisted we just call him Barrack) was funny, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. The specials that night were Belgian white asparagus and mushroom soup, a mahi mahi sandwich, yellowtail with beans and roasted beet, sustainable fish tacos and organic chicken taquitos.

Barrack insisted we try the soup, and he was right on the money.  Rich, creamy and brimming with flavor, it could have been a meal in itself.

For entrees we had a veggie burger and the classic pot roast. The veggie burger was piled high with goodies and the pot roast was enough to feed a small family. We ended our meal with a slice of chocolate crème pie.

Chow attracts just about every demographic. On one side of us was a table of single girls with cosmopolitans, on the other side was an older couple who at first seemed taken aback by the non-traditional waiters, but ended up joking and sharing stories with Barrack. On any given night, you’ll see families, young couples on dates and friends enjoying an evening out. 

Chow is open until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, so it’s the perfect place to have a drink and light dinner before starting your night out, and a great place to end up after a movie or strolling through downtown Danville.

Prices are reasonable and you can check them out beforehand on the online menu.  In many cases they offer two sizes of entrees and always a small, medium or large salad.  It’s the perfect mix of comfort food meets organic fare.  Chow resources from local farms and the desserts are made onsite.

The wine list is simple, but clean, with good offerings in a range of prices by the glass or bottle.They stock all kinds of boutique beers and have a full bar. 

Tables can be close, the energy is high and the hip edgy servers always seem to be on the ball.  Weekends are popular for breakfast and in the summer, take advantage of the al fresco dining.  They don’t take reservations, but you can call when on your way to have your name put on the list.  There is plenty of free parking in the city lot behind the restaurant.

Chow Restaurant is located at 445 Railroad Ave. in Danville. For more information, call 925-838-4510 or go to www.chowfoodbar.com Chow restaurant also has a location in Lafayette and two in San Francisco.   --SEW

Pricing:  $$ for two

 $--cheap eats
$$$$--special occasions only
$$$$$--Get out the gold card

Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 02:51)


PostHeaderIcon Fleming's is a Prime Place

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We recently had the pleasure of dining at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Walnut Creek. It was a Thursday night and the restaurant and bar were busy, yet it didn’t seem crowded. We had not made a reservation, but our hostess was very friendly and accommodating. We were shown to a table with no delay.

The menu is a la carte and wide ranging with an assortment of off-the-menu specials. It wasn’t easy to make a selection from the extensive offerings. We decided on the Fleming’s Salad, which is similar to a Waldorf salad, accompanied by the lobster bisque, for starters. Our salads were tasty and the bisque delicious; but be warned, it can be a bit strong for some.

For the main course, we went with the ‘Main’ fillet and the sautéed scallops. Both were excellent, cooked just right and very flavorful. Steak and lobster (at left) is also an excellent option. We split a New York cheesecake for dessert.

The portions are just right. We were satisfied but not overly filled at the conclusion.

The service at Fleming’s is top rate. The servers give you just the right amount of attention without a feeling of being overwhelmed or ignored as is sometimes the case in other upscale places. They are well versed on the menu and excellent at suggesting wine pairings for your meal.

The ambience at the restaurant and in the adjacent bar is intimate with a soothing color palette and soft lighting. The dining room is often bustling with activity, so it’s not the place to go for a quiet supper. However the restaurant is perfect for a family dinner as well as a romantic getaway. You can also enjoy cocktails and a special menu in the bar.

Expect to spend in excess of $100 for two guests plus wine or cocktails. If you delight in being pampered and enjoy fine food and wine, it’s well worth it. Through March 29th, Flemings is offering a 3-course Prix Fixe menu for $39.95 per person. There will be an Easter brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 4.

Parking is convenient, with an entrance from the free parking garage. Valet parking is available. You can also enter from the street, but there are stairs or an elevator to the second floor dining room from that entrance

Fleming’s is located in downtown Walnut Creek at 1685 Mount Diablo Blvd.

Open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m.. to 10 p.m.. Saturday from 5 p.m.. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 5 p.m.. to 9 p.m.

Reservations are not required but are advisable. (925) 287-0297
or check out www.flemingssteakhouse.com


Last Updated (Wednesday, 10 November 2010 22:17)


PostHeaderIcon Ever had a Frickle?

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I’ve always thought pickles got a pretty bad wrap.

As a woman, saying you are craving a pickle often leaves people wondering...pregnant? Using the phrase “I’m in pickle” is never for good news, and telling a person he  is "pickled" often means he's had one too many. What's worse, if you've ever seen the big, fat, floating dill pickles in their murky pickle juice in giant glass jars in convenience stores, they don’t look too appetizing.

So, today we present different way to eat a pickle --- deep fried. It's callled a frickle.

Wikipedia tells me that a fried pickle is a "snack item found commonly in the American South and made by deep-frying a sliced battered dill pickle."

“The Fried Dill Pickle was popularized by Bernell "Fatman" Austin in 1963 at the Duchess Drive In located in Atkins, Arkansas,’’ the Web site says. “The Fatman's recipe is only known to his family and used once each year at the annual Picklefest in Atkins, held each May.”

But you don’t have to go to Arkansas to try a frickle. Here is a list of places where you can crunch into one: (Did I mention they are served with Ranch dressing?)

Barclay's Restaurant & Pub, 5940 College Ave. in Oakland.

Smokin Okie's BBQ Joint, 1941 Oak Park Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.

Hooters, 7944 Dublin Blvd. in Dublin.

The Counter Palo Alto, 369 California Ave. in Palo Alto.

The Counter Walnut Creek, 1699 North California Blvd. in Walnut Creek.--KB

Last Updated (Wednesday, 26 March 2014 22:20)

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