Located in downtown Walnut Creek, Sasa is considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in the area. The accent is definitely Japanese and the style is ‘izakaya.’ If you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s how it works. A large menu is presented and food is ordered in relatively small portions throughout the course of your meal. You can even continue ordering through dessert. Sharing of all items is encouraged, making for a festive dining experience.
The menu is wide ranging including “In the Raw” appetizers, “Skewers and Sticks,” “Diablo Valley Farmer’s Market” (vegetarian), “Tsukii Fish Market,” Walnut Creek Meat Market.” And “Grains and Sides.” That’s just page one of the menu. There are also 26 “Nigiri” (pairs) and 17 types of “Maki Mono” (rolls) to choose from along with some nice larger platters (Omakase) and, of course, desserts.
We chose the Hokkaido Scallops Ceviche and Ginger Chicken Meatballs for starters followed by Chicken Skewers. All were bold and tasty and set the mood for the rest of the presentation. After Tempura Prawns Lettuce Wraps, Chicken Lollipops, Grilled Baby Back Riblets, Popcorn Chicken Kara-Age, and Herb Roasted Tenderloin Medallions, we were happy and joyful from the sampling and sharing, but not quite done. We indulged in California and Rock-n-Roll wraps and braced ourselves for dessert.
The desserts are all fairly light and flavorful and won’t leave you waddling out. Selections such as Spring Berries in Lemon Mousse, Chocolate Salt Flake Cake, PB&J Sandwich and Shake, and a variety of Gelatos are all good choices.
The décor is inviting and friendly. Asian art and design abounds along with some lush foliage and a waterfall. It’s very busy so make your reservations for Friday or Saturday 2 or 3 days in advance. Because of the food sharing and the izakaya style, Sasa is active and a little noisy so I wouldn’t recommend it for a quiet, intimate date.
Pricing is moderate. We spent about $150 for a party of 7, without alcohol.
Sasa is located in a 100-year-old building, which once housed the historic Walnut Creek Meat Market, 1432 North Main St. in Walnut Creek. You can make reservations on line at: www.sasawc.com or phone (925) 210-0188. --BS
Last Updated (Saturday, 08 January 2011 23:09)
We won’t lie. We were spurred to try Mangia Mi because we had heard Brad Pitt had dined at the downtown Danville eatery while in the East Bay filming some scenes for the "Moneyball" movie. But we had also heard that owner and chef Peter Cedolini makes the pasta sauces using his grandmother’s old-country recipes. One or the other had to be true, so we headed there on a rainy Sunday. Many people had the same idea.
There was a steady stream of diners in the quaint restaurant tucked off Hartz Avenue. High-back chrome chairs line a bar that overlooks an expedition kitchen, and cooks gave us welcoming smiles as we sat down at a table with cozy bench seating.
Manager Jenny True told us we wouldn’t want to pass up the brushetta, oven–roasted tomatoes over garlic-rubbed crostini with balsamic vinaigrette, basil and parmesan. The three large crostinis ($11) are the perfect amount of food to whet the appetite but not overstuff you before you dig into the salads and main entrees.
Two other antipasti that stand out are the olive marinate, house cured and marinated imported Italian olives ($8) and the Assaggi di Salumi e Formaggi, a plate of mixed artisan salami and cheese for two ($16). If you are looking for a very healthy, low-calorie meal, try the Italian Chopped Salad ($11) made with chopped iceberg and romaine lettuce with fresh mozzarella, garbanzo beans, salami, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette then topped with basil and cherry tomatoes. To cut some fat, you can skip the salami and add chicken for $5 or shrimp for $6. Insalata della Casa, an iceberg wedge with gorgonzola dolce, caramelized onions pan-roasted pancetta, and topped with gorgonzola dressing was another (not low-cal) favorite.
The Caesar salad with romaine hearts and homemade Caeser dressing (just the right amount of garlic) and shaved parmesan ($10) is authentic and delicious. Between our salads and our entrees we asked about Brad Pitt.
Our server, who works six nights a week, swore she’d never seen Pitt in the restaurant, but she too had heard the rumors that he was... there. Well, if he wasn’t, he missed out. For lunch, there are paninis, rustic Italian sandwiches pressed hot, as well as pizzas, pastas, and tramezzinos, rustic Italian sandwiches served cold. The types of paninis include meatball, prosciutto, wild mushroom, grilled chicken, Italian sausage and vegetable ($10-$12). On a rainy Sunday, the grilled chicken with pesto, sundried tomatoes, parmesan, provolone and mozzarella was stringing and delicious. Every bite was different, and that was a good thing.
We didn’t try the Tramezzionos, but there are three to chose from: the Tonno, a tuna salad sandwich with capers, tomato, dill and romaine lettuce; the Salami with pepperoncini, provolone, Dijon mustard, and arugula; and the Pollo with chicken, bacon, tomato, avocado, and provolone. All are served on a fresh bagette ($11 and $12).
Since it wasn’t looking like we were going to learn about any more about Pitt, we inquired about the house-made pasta sauces. Cedolini wasn't in the restaurant the day we visited, but we learned a little about him and his culinary background on the website.
"I spent almost every Sunday enjoying the richness of family and the delicious cuisine of the "old country." My nana would spend all day cooking, and one by one everyone would end up in the kitchen. Often, neighbors would smell the aroma of our Italian food and the next thing you know, they would join the festivities. There was always a houseful of people and enough food and wine to feed anyone who might drop by,'' he wrote on the site.
If you want to try some of nana's bolognese, marinara, alfredo, pesto or gorgonzola cream sauces pair it with penne or spaghetti and add meatballs or sausage if you wish. There’s also Maccheroni con Formaggio e Pangrattato, noodles baked with cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan, then broiled with seasoned breadcrumbs; meat or ricotta and spinach ravioli; Lasagne di Carne, fresh pasta with bolognese sauce, bechamel, and mozzarella; and Lasagne di Verdura, fresh pasta with marinara, béchamel, mozzarella and fresh seasonal vegetables. People also rave about the Gnocchi, fourteen hand-rolled potato dumplings, and the pasta con Vongole, which is pasta with fresh clams, white wine, garlic and pepper flakes. ($13 to $17) with $4 for meatballs or sausage added.
Still hungry? Try one of the "secondi," which include: Pepperoni Farcito, bell pepper stuffed with rice, ground beef, breadcrumbs, and cheese; Salsiccia e Pepperoni, grilled Calabrese sausage, caramelized bell peppers and onions; Melanzana Parmigiani, breaded eggplant, marinara, mozzarella, and parmesan; Polpettone, homemade meatloaf just like Nonna made it or Pollo alla Griglia, grilled breast of chicken marinated in rosemary, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil (a very low-calorie option for those watching their diets).
There's also Pollo Parmigiana, baked chicken coated with seasoned breadcrumbs and covered with marinara and mozzarella; Gamberi di Arancia alla Griglia, grilled shrimp marinated with a citrus and shallot reduction; Filetto alla Griglia con Pesto, grilled filet mignon, marinated in pesto and topped with roasted tomatoes; or Pesce del Giorno, the fresh fish of the day. The dishes range from $11 to $19 with the fish priced at market price. We didn’t get a chance to try the Spinci Saltati, sautéed spinach with garlic and extra virgin olive oil, but we’ve heard it’s out of this word. Brad Pitt might even like it.
Mangia Mi has a nice selection of beer and wine and is open for lunch Thursday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. The restaurant is closed Mondays. Mangia Mi is located at 406 Hartz Ave. in Danville. For reservations for parties of 8 or more, call 925-831-3276. --KB
Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 01:38)
I have long known about the benefits of ginger in helping with motion sickness, fending off winter colds, alleviating chills, lowering fevers and helping reduce inflammation. I started making ginger root tea in college when I came down with a winter cold. Cheaper than cold medicine and tasty too. But recently I learned about the Ginger People, a 26-year-old family-owned and operated business with ginger factories in California an Australia.
The Ginger People is the world’s only ginger producer of closed-kettle, artisan-style crystallized ginger. This unique, small-batch process captures all of the flavor that would otherwise be lost using the large open-vat cooking method. I tried the ginger chews, ginger soother and energizer drinks and the Gin Gins Boosts, ultra-strength ginger candy. I’m a runner so I often have aches and pains running 70 or 75 miles a month. I also have sinus troubles. The ginger was remarkably helpful with reducing inflammation, and I love the taste of the 20-calorie ginger chews.
I checked out the website: www.gingerpeople.com and found there is also crystallized ginger, ginger baked goods, cooking sauces, grated and minced ginger, lemon ginger beer and more.
I also learned a lot more about ginger on the site. As it turns out, ginger has been used in medicine in Asian, Indian, and Arabic herbal traditions since ancient times. During the Roman Empire, ginger was a coveted and expensive spice reserved for nobility and commanded a price 15 times that of black pepper.
It is believed that ginger originally arrived in Rome from India. After the fall of the Roman Empire, ginger nearly disappeared in Europe.Many attribute its return to the continent to Marco Polo following his travels to China and India. Ginger’s popularity spread to Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, and was consumed in large quantities in England. Queen Elizabeth is even credited with having invented gingerbread men. Today, ginger is one of the most worldly of spices, used in cuisines around the globe. Most importantly, it's really, really good for you.
The following health information was provided by the Ginger People from a variety of medical sources and studies:
Ginger and Motion Sickness: Why is ginger ale served on airplanes? Of all ginger's effects, its anti-nausea property is probably the best known. A 1982 Study from Brigham University and Mount Union College in Ohio found ginger more effective than the common anti-nausea drugs in blocking motion sickness. It’s no coincidence that ginger ale, a soothing beverage, is served on airplanes.
Ginger and Indigestion: Ginger increases digestive movement through the stomach, and has also been shown to stimulate several valuable digestive enzymes in the pancreas. The enzymes in ginger break down protein efficiently and rapidly, leaving the digestive system free of any discomfort.
Ginger and Morning Sickness: Ginger can relieve the nausea and vomiting experienced by pregnant women, say Australian researchers. Ginger does not prevent morning sickness but it may help ease some of the nausea experienced by
Ginger and Arthritis: The consumption of ginger is a safe and effective remedy for the pain and swelling caused by arthritis. Ginger juice has even been used in bath water to help ease aches and pains.
Antioxidant: Ginger is a good antioxidant. It contains two phenolic compounds, shogaol and zingerone, that protect fats from being damaged by highly destructive forms of oxygen (free radicals).
Ginger and a Healthy Heart: Ginger helps heart and circulatory problems. It helps dissolve blood clots in the arteries and diminish the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Working similar to aspirin, ginger reduces inflammatory eicosanoids without the side effects of other anti-inflammatory drugs.
Ginger and Cold Fighting: Ginger can assist in lowering a fever. It is also helpful in alleviating chills caused by colds as it warms the body. Its antibacterial/antiviral effects help reduce the incidence of colds altogether.
Ginger and Cough Relief: Ginger also can treat a cough. If someone is experiencing a dry scratchy cough, ginger tea will stimulate the secretion of mucus to help alleviate the cough, and the hot liquid will soothe the scratchiness. --KB
And with the holidays coming, the Ginger People offer this recipe:
Top this tender gingerbread with whipped cream and serve.
1 2/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup The Ginger People® Crystallized Ginger Chips, minced
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 extra large eggs
3 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup buttermilk
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 8 1/2 x 4 1/2
inch loaf pan. Sift first 6 ingredients into medium bowl. Mix in 3
tablespoons crystallized ginger. Beat the butter and both sugars
in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in
fresh ginger. Stir in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk,
beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Transfer to prepared
pan. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons crystallized ginger over batter. Press ginger
lightly into batter. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about
50 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.
Last Updated (Saturday, 08 January 2011 23:40)
The Wild Vine Hideaway opened in July in the quaint, boutique-lined alley off Prospect Avenue. The lunch and dinner spot, which aslo features comedy, music and special events, definately lives up to its' name: it’s hidden away for sure.
But here’s a tip: go out of your way to find it.
The Wild Vine Hideaway is owned and operated by Tami Bean, an energetic woman who takes orders, clears tables, and tends bar all the while greeting customers, explaining the ingredients of the house salad dressing and telling guests how the Turkey Panini is like “Thanksgiving in a sandwich.”
The restaurant, with its shaded, outdoor tables, diverse menu and reasonably-priced food and drinks is a great spot for lunch. I had the Mexican Salad with chicken ($13.95) (instead of blackened salmon), served on mixed greens with black beans, corn, avocado, onions, tomatoes, tortilla strips and cilantro ranch and my guest had the Grilled Vegetable Panini ($9.95) with eggplant, zucchini, onion, balsamic, bell peppers and provolone cheese. Both were healthy, filling and delicious.
Next time we go, we are going to get a few appetizers to share.
Wild Vine serves appetizers all day and they include: Hideaway’s Cevichi ($10.95), Cesar’s Famous Guacamole ($8.95), a Homemade Hummus Plate ($9.95) with cucumbers, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, kalamata olives and pita bread, and a Sonoma Blue Pear Quesadilla ($8.95) with goat cheese, blue cheese, pear and arugula served with mango chutney.
The menu also features many inspired sandwiches, including a Muffuletta Sandwich ($9.95), a Seared Ahi Sandwich ($11.95) and Nona’s Sicilian Frittela (pulled pork) ($9.95). Of course, there’s hamburgers, spinach and Caesar salads and a soup of the day. There is also a children’s menu that features pasta with red sauce or butter, a grilled cheese sandwich, a turkey and cheese plate and other kid’s favorites.
After 5 p.m., the Wild Vine Hideway, which is decorated in red and black and has a large selection of wines on display, changes its menu to include a Grilled Ahi Nicoise Salad ($12.95) with fingerling potatoes, mixed greens, green beans, hardboiled egg, kalmata olives and a cucumber wasabi dressing; an 8-ounce New York Steak ($15.95) with red mashed potato and grilled bell peppers; Grilled Ahi ($14.95) with wasabi mashed red potatoes and grilled pineapple; and a Mixed Grill with Chicken Kabobs, Pork Ribs and Sausage ($16.95) served with red mashed potato and green beans.
Specials have included: Four Jumbo Prawns with spicy olive oil served with cristinis ($13.95); Meatball Soup ($7.95); Scallops with emon Risotto, beurre blanc sauce and crispy leeks ($16.95).
Night fall doesn’t mean just great good at the Wild Vine. The bar list is extensive and includes several wine flights, bottles of white from Monterey, Santa Maria, the Napa Valley, Italy, France and Spain. Reds include a 2007 Satyrus Pond zinfandel and a 2003 Atalon merlot from Napa. And that's just the beginning.
Beers are $5 and include everything from Coors Light to Obsidian Stout, a creamy black malt with hints of espresso, to a Langunitas IPA. For $1 more, you can get a Maredsous Belgian Blonde or a Hoegaarden.
Another unique thing about the Wild Vine is its entertainment line up, which includes live music, comedy on Tuesday from 8 to 9:30 and and ladies night on Wednesday evenings. Bands and singers who have appeared there include Blue After Dark, Ken Maffeo, Azure Moon, the Smokin’ J’s and Soney Loney and Mad River, which will play again on Oct. 9 and 23 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Wild Vine is located at 120 E. Prospect Lane in Danville. Reach the restaurant at (925)837-2206 or on Facebook. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. to Thurs. The restaurant closes at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Wildvine is closed Sundays. --KB
Last Updated (Tuesday, 11 October 2011 02:57)
In Japanese, there are many meanings for the word Akira, and we think several of those meanings fit the new eatery, Akira Bistro, on the edge of downtown Danville. Akira can mean “brighten, glow and shine,” while it's also translated into English as “stand out or distinguish.” We think Akira on San Ramon Valley Boulevard in the former Masala Indian Fusion spot distinguishes itself as a top-notch sushi bar and Japanese food restaurant.
We went to Akira, which opened in July, on a Friday night and the place was bustling. But even in the rush, one of the owners and a manager greeted us at the door and showed us to our table. The décor is welcoming: stylish lighting, orchids, overhanging Asian umbrellas, dark wood and lots of bamboo.
But one of the best things about Akira is its outdoor patio. Nothing beats sitting outside on an autumn night with a beer, a Bonzai Roll and a cool breeze. Akira is much more than a sushi bar. It’s a full-scale Japanese restaurant with appetizers, a grill, full dinners, a full bar, and a wide selection of noodles and rice bowls.
We started with an Ebi Su salad, ($7.95) a combination of cucumber and seaweed salad topped with large shrimp (ebi). The portion was substantial and the tangy vinegar flavor wets the palate for what’s to come. You can also choose the salad without any fish or with real crab meat or octopus.
Next we tried the appetizer of tuna poki, ($12.95) a delicious mix of fresh ahi tuna, white onions in a spicy dressing. Again, there was plenty for two people and the dish was so different from just plain ahi sashimi or a grilled ahi appetizer.
Other appetizers include: two oysters on the half shell ($4.95), deep fried, marinated squid ($8.95) and mixed tempura with shrimp and vegetables ($8.95). Another thing we loved about Akira: the large cast-iron pot of green tea the server brought to the table. Not having to ask or wait for a refill was a treat. But, there are plenty of other drinks too: Akira stocks a wide variety of sake and has a full bar if you want a cosmo or lemon drop with dinner.
At Akira, the sashimi and sushi offerings are varied. You’ll find the usual: uni, unagi, hotate, sake, and hamachi nigiri, but the menu also includes: fatty bluefin tuna, Japanese sea bream and Hawaiian butterfish. Nigiri-style sushi and sashimi are priced from $4.95 to $19.95 for a 10-piece sashimi combination of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, white tuna, and hirame. Maki-sushi rolls, from a spider roll to a spicy salmon roll to a rainbow roll, run between $3.95 and $11.95. Rolls are good-sized.
There’s also a menu with special rolls, which includes the Danville Roll: tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, real crab meal, and cucumber inside, and fried batter and hot sauce on the outside for $11.95; and the Mt. Diablo Roll with spicy scallops, real crab meat and avocado inside, and salmon and spicy sauce outside for $14.95. A couple of rolls, a salad and an appetizer is plenty for two people and you won’t break the bank. Not in the mood for sushi?
Akira has soba and udon noodles, with chicken and veggies or shrimp, scallops, fish and crab meat. There's also Donburi, rice bowls, that are served with fresh tuna, assorted fish, unagi and chicken with onions. Prices for noodles and rice bowls range from $8.95 to $16.95. At the grill, you can try a whole squid for $10.95, salmon belly for $6.95 or short ribs for $8.95.
Dinner combinations are served with miso soup, salad and rice and include: chicken and beef teriyaki, kobe beef, salmon teriyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura and miso seabass, salmon or hamachi. Dinners will run you $12.95 to $17.95.
Akira is also open for weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with lunch specials starting at $7.95. Lunch is served from noon to 3 p.m. on weekends. Dinner starts at 5 p.m. and goes until 9:30 Mon. to Thurs. and until 10 p.m. on Fri. and Sat. nights. Akira closes at 9 p.m. on Sun.
The restaurant is kid-friendly, and there is a good-sized parking lot out back. Another meaning for Akira in Japanese is to “give someone advice.” Our advice: check out Akira for great sushi, a lively and comfortable atmosphere and attentive service. Akira is located at 499 San Ramon Valley Blvd. For more information, go to sushiakira.com or call (925) 552-5888. --KB
Last Updated (Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:28)
Over the years, several restaurants and bars have closed down in the spot where The Door restaurant, serving modern Asian cuisine, sake and soju cocktails, now packs the house.
We hope The Door will be open for a long, long time.
For one, the place is beautiful. Done up by Shanghai-born international design firm, RED, the black and red interior is clean and elegant, while also hip and sleek. Low lighting, gleaming hardwood floors, a sprawling outdoor patio with umbrellas, a waterfall and lanterns make the restaurant ideal for a romantic date or a casual family dinner. Asian inspired décor surrounds the large, half-circle booths, two-seat tables and intimate six-seat bar.
Executive Chef Daniel Sudar, most recently from the Red Lantern in Redwood City and also formerly of the Waterfront Restaurant, One-Market and the Ritz-Carlton, all in San Francisco, has created a menu that is not only unique, tasty and balanced but also amazingly reasonably priced. The Door features food from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Asian cultures. The 140-seat restaurant opened in October 2009 after the closure of a Chinese eatery in the same spot.
We started with two salads: the Green Papaya Salad (below) with green papaya, prawns, pomegranate, herbs and sweet lime garlic dressing. If you are looking for your typical lettuce and vegetable mix drenched in dressing, this is not it. This salad (really a meal in itself) uses stringed papaya, a bounty of shrimp and a tangy dressing that brings out the flavors of all the ingredients. Price: $7.
My husband had the Korean Green Apple Salad with a bed of sprouts, chicken, herd and smoked chili vinaigrette, which had a bit of a kick to it. Price: $8.
Salads of this quality and portion size would typically run $10-12 in similar restaurants in the East Bay.
For an appetizer, we had the Chicken Mushroom Lettuce Wraps, a Thai favorite that we’ve eaten in many restaurants around Contra Costa County. The lettuce wraps are the best we’ve had –anywhere. The chicken and mushroom mix was hot and seasoned with faro, water chestnuts, chives and garlic. It was served with plenty of large pieces of iceberg lettuce for making your own wraps. We had plenty leftover to take home for lunch the next day.
As a treat, the manager brought us a watermelon cucumber salad with shaved watermelon ice, and sea salt. This is a new addition to the menu and great palate cleanser before dinner. The salt on the watermelon and cucumber brought out their naturals flavors.
For dinner, we shared the Steamed Chilean Sea Bass with sautéed mushrooms, fermented black bean and ginger relish. The sea bass was like a mix between lobster and halibut—not too fishy, but melt-in-your-mouth buttery. It was served with perfectly-cooked white rice. Price: $17. Amazing.
Other dinners include: Kluwak Beef, Beef Rendang, Wok Tossed Tilapia, Galangal Chicken, Thai Rice Noodles and Gulai Kambing (goat curry). Dishes range from $12 to $16.
Smaller plates, such as Chicken Sate, Pork Belly, Mustard Shrimp, Lumpia Crispy Vegetable Eggrolls Steamed Little Dragon Pork Dumplings and Gyoza Seared Dumplings range in price from $7 to $9.
But between 3 and 6 p.m. and again between 8:30 p.m. and closing, The Door offers a "Street Bites" menu with $3.50 beers and wine by the glass and an array of appetizers, including many mentioned above for $3 to $5. The Street Bites menu (and prices) is also offered from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends.
The Door offers an extensive selection of desserts, dessert wines, side dishes and a full lunch menu, where all entrees are $9 or less.
The Door is located at 1448 South Main Street. There is a parking lot and street parking available. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thurs. to Sun. and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 925-930-8088 or visit www.thedoorrestaurant.com. --KB
Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 02:37)