The second annual Taste Tri-Valley Restaurant Week kicked off in grand style with a Chef Collaboration Dinner on Feb. 17 and continued for 10 delicious days.
Held at Sabio on Main in Pleasanton, the collaboration dinner sold out in days with 48 on the waiting list. Busy preparing, the four chefs radiated energy for the kick-off event.
"The opportunity to work with three great chefs in my kitchen was special. The benefit for Open Heart Kitchen was an extra reason to cook together," Sabio host chef Francis X. Hogan said.
For chef Tullio Rosano, owner of the three Tri-Valley Locanda restaurants, the dinner was a chance to mingle with other chefs. "I know chef Eduardo Posada of Posada restaurant because he stops in our new Locanda Wine Bar in Livermore, and I met Hogan and chef Matt Greco of Salt Craft," Rosano said.
At the dinner, Erika Keene of Pleasanton said she knew the restaurants. "To eat from several of the best Tri-Valley chefs in one evening is so unusual," Keene added. "We enjoyed the sea bass ceviche from Posada and the Sabio five-spice Liberty duck, and we will try other Restaurant Week menu specials, too."
Keene had an array of choices for dining -- 32 restaurants with several partnering wineries and two breweries participating in the event that lasted through Feb. 27. Sponsored by Visit Tri-Valley, the mission of Restaurant Week was to encourage locals to dine out and attract others to discover the many food and drink options throughout the four member communities of the organization: Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and Danville.
Menus ranged from American and Asian/Indian cuisine to Italian and Mexican. With lunch pricing from $15 to $25 and dinner from $35 to $50, the restaurant owners said they aimed to keep costs reasonable.
The concept of Restaurant Week started 30 years ago in New York City, said Clark Wolf, the founder of restaurant consultancy Clark Wolf Company. During a political convention, added Clark, "The restaurateur of Windows on The World and the Rainbow Room presented a week-long lunch special to give visitors an affordable taste of the city. It caught on for dinner and then went nationwide to activate diner interest in slow or tough times."
During the 10-day event in the Tri-Valley last week, Sabio was busy during weeknights in addition to weekends, according to Hogan.
"It felt like a renaissance of people dining in restaurants with friends and family as the pandemic subsides," Hogan said.
Showcasing food and drink
Leigh De La Torre, owner of De La Torre's restaurant in Pleasanton, participated in the inaugural event last year when only outdoor dining and take-out were available.
"Both regulars and new guests dined this year. We added a winery partner after Larry Dino, owner of Cuda Ridge Wines in Livermore, reached out to us. The majority of guests who chose the special menu also enjoyed the wine pairings we offered," De La Torre said.
Serendipity is the word owner Dino used to describe the collaboration. "We dined at De La Torre's several years ago and liked their food," he said. "When I phoned Leigh, she emphasized bringing not-so-common wines because she wanted her guests to try something new. Our signature wine is Cabernet Franc, which paired well with the beef and ricotta ravioli with marinara sauce."
With three Locanda restaurants participating, Rosano customized the special menu by location.
"Since Locanda Wine Bar has evolved into a date-night destination, we emphasized that angle with a shareable antipasti of meats, cheeses, fruits and nuts, and then each guest chose an entree. With Locanda Ravello in Danville open since 2015, we highlighted guests' favorites such as Neapolitan ragu with rigatoni and Margherita pizza," Rosano said.
Bridges and The Vine and Spirits, two sister restaurants in Danville, also presented popular Restaurant Week menus.
A manager at both restaurants, Jeff Leiden noted that the best sellers at Bridges were salmon and herbed chicken. At drinks-oriented Vine and Spirits, a glass of wine was included with both the $20 lunch and the $50 dinner.
Many restaurants offered excellent pricing for the specials. Burma! Burma! in Dublin was also serving large portions.
According to managing partner Bradley Wills, nearly a quarter of guests chose the special dinner for two menu with one appetizer, two entrees from the long list of seafood, chicken, lamb, pork, beef or vegetable options plus two sides of rice. The meal prompted many take-home boxes.
Gobi Mongolian Grill in Pleasanton presented several value choices for lunch and dinner. At the restaurant, guests take a bowl, fill it with meat, vegetables and noodles. After handing the bowl to the chef to cook the ingredients on the grill, guests then season their dish. Prices ranged from $20 for one medium dinner and one kid's dinner to the $50 option for four medium dinners.
Bringing the fun
Taste Tri-Valley also featured two Tri-Valley Beer Trail members, BottleTaps, the beer-oriented restaurant in Pleasanton, and Shadow Puppet Brewing in Livermore. As a first-time participant, Shadow Puppet Brewing offered two events, a beer and food patio event and a three-hour "Beer Blending" experience.
"Beer Blending" on Feb. 18 presented an unusual opportunity for guests to experiment with various mixers and unlimited beer from 24 taps to create custom drinks. Shadow Puppet shared their "secret menu" for blends such as the "Creamsicle" with their Cinch Vanilla Cream Ale and a blood orange IPA or orange soda.
BottleTaps hosted a two-hour beer judging event and a "Foods around the World: Beer versus Wine" five-course dinner that quickly sold out. Owner Eric Wall and Heather McGrail, owner of winery partner McGrail Vineyards, offered a second dinner seating.
"We are thrilled to share wine pairings at full tables again," said McGrail, who admitted she didn't like beer until she partnered with Wall on these events.
After each course, guests voted for their favorite pairing, McGrail's wine or the BottleTaps-selected beer.
California inspired the first course BottleTaps chef Andre Muller prepared: crostini with date jam and Mt. Tam fondue paired with McGrail Chardonnay or Chimay Red Belgian Dubbel. At the first seating, guests voted for beer; at the second, wine won by a large margin. The second course of Polynesian-style ceviche was a win for McGrail's Peyton Page Sauvignon Blanc over a hazy IPA.
The Asian noodle salad with edamame surprised everyone -- the winning McGrail Merlot is usually paired with meat.
Keene also attended the BottleTaps "Foods around the World: Beer versus Wine" dinner and confessed she wasn't a beer drinker. Yet she voted for the Flemish Red Sour Ale paired with the main course of coq au vin rather than the Cabernet Sauvignon.
"The delicious pairing with the sour ale completely surprised me. The event was a lot of fun," she said.
With restaurant and beverage partners eager to try new pairings and special events, Robin Fahr, vice president of Visit Tri-Valley, expects to continue Taste Tri-Valley as an annual event. Stay tuned for more local food and wine adventures next winter.