A culinary showcase | March 10, 2023 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 10, 2023

A culinary showcase

Taste Tri-Valley Restaurant Week celebrates local food and drink

by Deborah Grossman

Special discounts, food tours, wine pairings and a grand-prize giveaway -- add in new culinary events and support for hunger relief agency Open Heart Kitchen. The third annual Taste Tri-Valley Restaurant Week recently highlighted the food and drink scene in the region.

Held from Feb. 24 to March 5, the 10-day restaurant "week" attracted people from near and far for exclusive events and deals at their favorite restaurants and wineries. This year the number of participating businesses grew from 45 last year to 58, including 11 wineries featuring many opportunities to sample new cuisines and beverages while saving money.

Like 2,000 others, I signed up for the new mobile pass option to get texts and emails about the participant discounts. I mapped out my route to new and favorite restaurants and reserved online for special events. Along the way, I savored interesting food while discovering local, family-owned businesses and learning about upcoming restaurant openings.

Early on, I tried to reserve the new Taste of the Tri-Valley Food Tour presented by the Livermore Wine Trolley with dining stops at three restaurants but no luck. Fortunately a second tour was added by Visit Tri-Valley, the marketing destination organization for Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Danville that sponsors the restaurant week.

During the tour's stop at Coco Cabana tapas restaurant in Dublin, I asked Alexa Paulino of Antioch how she learned about Taste Tri-Valley. "I used to go to Napa and San Francisco for wine tasting or a night out, but now I keep my eye on LivermoreVine.com and visit Livermore Valley wineries and often dine here."

Taste Tri-Valley winery dinner

The Taste Tri-Valley kickoff was a five-chef collaborative dinner at Wente Vineyards. Fifth generation winegrower Aly Wente introduced the Wente wine pairings and encouraged everyone to lean in during the week to explore the renowned Livermore Valley wine region.

The vibe at the opening event was upbeat with strong community support. In her welcome remarks, Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown said, "Today we honor the diverse culinary options in the Tri-Valley and support Open Heart Kitchen which is an important way we serve those in need."

Over $5,000 was raised during the live auction to support Open Heart Kitchen, the Livermore-based organization that has fed over 7 million hot meals in the Tri-Valley since 1995.

At the dinner I met Jim Hutton from Mountain House who learned about the event from a Wente wine club newsletter. Hutton was interested in the dinner offer at LB Steak at City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon.

Though the city of San Ramon is no longer associated with Visit Tri-Valley, this year City Center Bishop Ranch -- a dining, entertainment and shopping destination -- partnered on Taste Tri-Valley Restaurant. LB Steak and six other restaurants signed up to participate.

One of the star chefs at the dinner was Roland Passot, co-founder of Vine Hospitality which owns the two LB Steak houses and multiple Left Bank brasseries. Foodies may link Passot to La Folie, his Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant which closed in 2020. Passot remembered me from writing about his foie gras presentation at La Folie.

"It is a great honor to be in Livermore tonight to support such a good cause -- and I get to cook with my San Ramon chefs," said Passot, who lives in Marin County.

Passot stayed busy in the kitchen preparing the main course: Black Angus short rib Bourguignon, or what he called a "short rib lollipop" with the meat wrapped around a small bone. My husband, an avowed pescatarian, was pleased we weren't served foie gras and devoured the delicious, tender meat.

Chef Sean Baker served deeply flavored beets prepared three ways for the first course.

Currently the chef at Gather restaurant in Berkeley, Baker will oversee the plant-based menu at Blossom & Root restaurant slated for a July opening in Danville. The menu at Blossom & Root will feature vegan "ice cream," grain-and-legume burgers and more.

Culinary explorations

With your mobile pass as a guide, you could find 76 one-time offers from participating businesses.

The diverse deals included prix fixe (set price) lunches or dinners, percentage off a food item or your bill, and two-for-one options. Without coupons or QR codes, businesses required location services turned on to confirm redemption. From redemption data, Visit Tri-Valley will identify which types of offers were the most popular. Each redemption equaled a chance to win the grand-prize giveaway -- a hotel stay, e-bike rentals, gift cards and more -- worth $700.

Given a recent pizza craving, I used my mobile pass for 15% off on my order at Much Ado About Nothing in Pleasanton. I had heard that pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Kira Zabrowski had placed fourth in the world at the 2022 International Pizza Competition. Soon I asked myself, "Why did I wait so long to taste her house made, thin and crispy sourdough crust?"

Much Ado About Pizza has a Stratford-on-Avon ambiance. Seeking a photo, I asked Kira to stand by the wall-length mural of a river-side cafe with "William Shakespeare" peering out of a window. The lifelike mural blurred what was fiction and whether the Ninja turtle pizza party game was real.

The reality of the pizza pleased me very much. I ordered the "As You Like It" custom-designed version. On my half, the pepperoni was New York style, thinly sliced and baked until crispy and curly which pleased this East Coast native. The husband's half was covered in multicolored zucchini and mushrooms.

Reflecting the bard's era, Kira and husband Mark Zabrowski often wear theatrical hats. The theme makes sense -- Kira yearned to be an actress but ended up teaching Drama and English for 25 years.

I found several other culinary surprises during Taste Tri-Valley. The third stop on the Livermore Wine Trolley food tour was at three-month-old Calafia in Livermore. Owner Angel Garcia jumped on the Taste Tri-Valley bandwagon by participating in the trolley tour and offering a $10 off pass.

Though we ate well at Coco Cabana and Sansar in Livermore, Calafia served up a three-course meal with three tasty shrimp in chipotle cream sauce, chicken piccata, and Brazilian red velvet cake topped with fruit and two layers of whipped cream. Satiated and happy from the food tour, we took home leftovers.

On the food tour I heard recommendations for the Mexican pizza at Taqueria Azteca in Dublin. I journeyed to the taqueria and found another themed wall mural. With Aztec pyramids as the backdrop, I discovered I like Mexican pizza, a large flour tortilla loaded with carne, refried beans and cheese. I appreciated the pass with 50% off discount.

A few days later, I arrived at Dumpling Time in City Center Bishop Ranch promptly at 11 a.m. and lined up behind other customers. This Dumpling Time, one of five in the Bay Area, menus an abundance of fresh Asian treats and has a full bar. Many of the dim sum (steamed or fried dumplings) are made in house behind an exhibition window.

Wing Kong, the Dumpling Time operations manager, was pleased to partner on Taste Tri-Valley and noted that most mobile pass visitors were new guests redeeming 10% off their entire order.

"This is a great platform for us to show the community our new drinks and food, and we were attracted to their diverse portfolio of restaurants," Wong said.

I transformed into a soup dumpling (xiao long bao) lover after eating their colorful tom yum version -- a round beet wrapper filled with spices and coconut milk instead of broth, evoking Thai tom yum soup.

Across the path resides the elegant and expansive LB Steak City Center where Passot serves up top quality beef. The Taste Tri-Valley specials were good value. Normally $78, the $65 three course dinner included an iceberg wedge with Pt. Reyes blue cheese dressing, 6-ounce filet and chocolate molten cake. I opted for the $25 lunch with a large iceberg wedge and the Australian Westholme Wagyu brisket sandwich cradling a mound of crispy fries.

Another new event, the Cheese and Wine Pairing at Page Mill Winery, caught my eye. Here guests mingled with two aficionados of their respective trades in Livermore, certified cheesemonger Brandon Wood, owner of The Cheese Parlor, and vintner Dane Stark of Page Mill Winery.

Wood's favorite and mine was the pairing with Purple Haze goat cheese nestled alongside crushed pecans. The herbal profile of the cheese and crunch of pecan matched well with Stark's smooth Page Mill GPS red blend of grenache, petite sirah and syrah.

Stark waxed philosophic on their pairings: "As wine artists and cheese artists, our work cannot be fully appreciated unless a marriage of the sensory elements of both are taken seriously." In other words, the cheese brought out the best in the wine and vice versa.

Page Mill hosts the Perfect Pairings group of their wine club to encourage creative food and wine pairings. Deborah Stevens of Livermore, one of the 26 guests at the Taste Tri-Valley event, had never visited Page Mill but saw the event on The Cheese Parlor's website.

"I never appreciated port-style wines," Stevens said, "but I liked Stark's version (Page Mill Se Découvrir)." Wood paired the dessert wine with St. Augur brie with local honeycomb, and we wanted more of it.

I wished Taste Tri-Valley continued for 14 days because the eight Danville participants eluded my schedule.

Fast-casual Hazy BBQ, which opened in December 2020, participated for the first time with a discount on brisket dry-rubbed and smoked Texas style over oak wood fires. I plan to belly up to the counter and order one of Danville native and owner Sean Harrigan's smothered queso brisket sandwiches. I also crave housemade pretzel bites with a Danville IPA at the Danville Brewing Company.

In Pleasanton I missed the offer of Dungeness crab specials from chef-partner Francis X. Hogan of Sabio on Main, a Michelin Guide-listed restaurant. How did I skip the five-course Wine vs. Beer Pairing Dinner at BottleTaps with the crowd favorite dessert course described by owner Eric Wall as a sundae with house made Port Barrel Imperial Stout-infused ice cream topped with cherries soaked in McGrail Vineyards' reserve cabernet sauvignon?

The topper of the 10-day culinary adventure was the Sunday Supper at Locanda Amalfi in Pleasanton with wine pairings from Livermore's Las Positas Vineyards. The closing event proceeds supported Open Heart Kitchen. Chef Francesco Esposito and the four chefs from the other Bay Area Locanda locations cooked up a memorable five-course meal including Australian rack of lamb in a Barolo wine reduction with wild cherry sauce and tiramisu for dessert.

A fitting end to an exploration of Tri-Valley culinary specialties. Now we look forward to what more is cooking for 2023.


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