Food and drink writer Virginia Miller picks her favorite new dining spots outside of San Francisco
Earlier in the week, I listed the top 10 new restaurant openings of the year in San Francisco. Now I list an additional four best new Bay Area openings: one in the South Bay, two in the East Bay, one in Wine Country. In the midst of Oakland’s continued proliferation as a dining hotspot and the new downtown Napa reign of celebrity chefs from Tyler Florence to Morimoto, here are a few that rose above, in alphabetical order.
BAUME, Palo Alto
In the realm of all-senses-engaged gastronomy temples like Chicago’s Alinea or the whimsical decadence of Jose Andres' The Bazaar in LA, San Francisco is shockingly lacking. We have the talent and creativity here of the best food cities in the world. But it seems at times there can be a fear of getting too experimental. Thankfully, in 2010 Chef Bruno Chemel (formerly of Chez TJ) opened Baume in a non-descript, ’70’s-looking Palo Alto building. Yes, it’s crazy expensive (tasting menus), special occasion dining, but it stands out with well-orchestrated service and a simple but striking dining room of elegant orange and warm browns. You are teased with ingredients, like liquid nitrogen, curry, leek, seaweed, endive, then await the presentation like a gift. The best part is that Baume is not merely molecular showmanship... dishes are rich with flavor and heart. Don’t miss Chef Bruno’s 62-degree sous-vide egg. I had it with wild mushroom and Noilly Prat dry vermouth foam paired with shots of fresh celery and lime juice punctuated by roasted rosemary stalks. Currently, he’s serving the egg with lichee, lilikoi, espresso, chocolate. I’m intrigued.
A December 2009 opening, Gather is the best thing to come along in Berkeley in ages. It reads typical Bay Area at first glance: local, sustainable, organic everything, from meats and veggies to spirits, wine and beer. The rounded corner room, with bustling, open space in full view of the kitchen is holistically casual and urban. And, yes, everything you have heard about the raved-about vegan “charcuterie” is true. Decidedly non-vegetarian, I marvel at this artwork array of vegetables on a wood slab, five delicately-prepared (and delicious) combinations for $16. You might have roasted baby beets with shaved fennel, dill, blood orange, horseradish almond puree and pistachio as one item, then King Trumpet mushroom crudo with parsnip-pine nut sea palm risotto as another. Exec Chef Sean Baker and team do meat right, too. Whether sausage pizza with pork belly and chiles, or house-cured ham topped with crescenza cheeze and cardoon-walnut salsa, carnivores will leave happy. Gather displays an ethos and presentation one can only dream of being a standard everywhere.