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Prima, Walnut Creek CA

It’s prom season for high school students, and August’s classes are asking her for ideas.  Prima is a place both of us had heard of for years, and to be honest most of what August heard was about the vast wine selection.  Tonight we learned that good wine is made great when paired with excellent food, but you don’t even need wine to fully enjoy these plates.

grilled asparagus and frico di montasio

grilled asparagus and frico di montasio

From the antipasti menu we picked the asparagus.  Owner/Chef Peter Chastain personally explained the frico to us: Montasio cheese, which is much like asiago, is simply fried, crispy, savory, and artsy.  Zach especially liked the fennel seeds mixed into the cheese, because paired really well with the slightly sweet Montasio.  He also appreciated the shallots in the vinaigrette, adding a mild, spicy earthiness.  The asparagus from Victoria Island was fresh and grilled just right, and the sprinkling of fennel pollen was a nice addition.  A bite of the farm egg with half an asparagus spear, a section of blood orange, and a chunk of frico was simple but so refreshing and fulfilling.  Presentation, clearly, is fanciful and fun.

roasted seasonal mushrooms and medjool dates

roasted seasonal mushrooms and medjool dates

August may have found a new favorite salad.  If all restaurants served something like this, it would replace Caesar as her go-to leafy green mix.  This insalate had roasted hedgehog, cremini, oyster, and chiodini mushrooms, medjool dates, lacinato kale, pine nuts, and lemon vinaigrette.  She took a bite and said, “Zach, make this please?” and he said, “Okay, we’ll get Farm Fresh to You and start using more ingredients like this.”

gnocchi al forno

gnocchi al forno

Gnocchi, as you know, dear reader, is our favorite pasta; August also likes miniatures, so she thought the tiny cast-iron casserole dish was adorable.  The hand-made gnocchi was tender and light, and layered with ricotta, pesto, broccoli rabe, and melted leeks.  The pesto was mild and, due the nature of being baked, a little crispy to contrast the soft gnocchi.  There are many pestos that can be overpowering, either for the garlic or the basil, but this was very well balanced.

niman ranch bistecca alla fiorentina for two

niman ranch bistecca alla fiorentina for two

Alright, so the bone might make some prom goers snicker.  But the meat quality and taste with leave anyone at a loss for words.  This mass of porterhouse sliced off the bone was served on a bed of arugula with lemon and parmigiano cheese shavings, and green garlic mashed potatoes on the side. This is beyond perfect for a date night, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, prom dinner, or any other holiday of that ilk because it is ideal for sharing – well hey, it’s labeled on the menu as a dish “for two.”  Part of our conversations with Chef Peter was about sourcing of ingredients close to home and the quality found among smaller producers like Niman Ranch.  The meat was buttery, almost like it melted and required very little chewing, for it was that tender.  It was seasoned and cooked extremely well, bringing out the flavor of the beef.  The side of mashed potatoes was creamy, light in texture, and had a well-rounded garlic flavor but was not at all overpowering.

When we walked in we were surprised by hostess Sarah – she was one of Zach’s classmates from high school!  She, just like server Chris, were strong cogs in a well-oiled machine of collaborative staff.  Attentive, conversational, and knowledgeable (just like Chef Peter), every team member seemed to love working here.  How could they not, when they’re justifiably confident in the food they prepare and serve?

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Genova Delicatessen (downtown location), Walnut Creek CA

Genova is one of the places that Zach’s nonna would take him for fine Italian ingredients and meal basics.  There are two locations in Walnut Creek, but as we were coming back from a morning in Oakland, it was easy to get off Highway 24 and breeze into the ample parking lot off Mt Diablo and S California.

The deli is small but stocks a lot.  There were many salads to choose from, and they all looked delicious.  Bread is brought in fresh from Boudin and Maggiora, and some of the desserts are made in house.

pesto pasta salad

pesto pasta salad

Zach tried this pasta salad with three types of beans, olives, and fine carrot shreds.  The pesto was fresh and mild, more like a vinaigrette than a full-on pesto sauce.  He liked the al dente pasta, so every element added texture to the mix.

creamy feta pasta salad

creamy feta pasta salad

August’s pasta salad had what was essentially Caesar dressing as its sauce, with thinly sliced onions and chunky feta cheese.  She felt that this was a good pasta salad, and could equally be a good potato salad, swapping out pasta for maybe red skin potatoes.

prosciutto stuffed peppers

prosciutto stuffed peppers

Carol our sandwich artist suggested these stuffed cherry peppers.  Wrapped inside the mildly salty prosciutto hides a hunk of white cheese like jack or provolone (today’s variety was jack).  The peppers themselves were pickled yet still crisp and fresh with a nice balance of tang and kick.

zucchini frittata

zucchini frittata

Essentially a quiche with no crust, August picked out this frittata for her lunch tomorrow.  Zach, having made these before and tried Genova’s version, can attest to the taste: it will be a rich, savory egg custard with fresh zucchini, garlic, and Parmesan cheese; it would be good served cold and paired with a salad.

august's pastrami

august’s pastrami

A simple french roll with all of the toppings made August’s sandwich pretty thick.  Besides the pastrami, it was loaded with green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and onions all fresh, pickles, peppers, mayonnaise, and mustard.

zach's ham and swiss

zach’s ham and swiss

Zach hand picked his dutch crunch roll for his favorite type of deli sandwich: ham and Swiss.  He nearly never waivers.  The ham was freshly baked, tender, mildly salty and smoky.  It brought him back to having ham sandwiches the day after Easter as a kid.  If you like simple sandwiches and that’s what you’re used to getting, then this ham won’t disappoint you.  It’s a refreshing alternative to typical processed deli meat.  Green leaf lettuce, fresh tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise were the only other adornments, and all were put together well.

If you’re shopping in downtown Walnut Creek and are willing to walk a little off the main drag, here you can try a nice lunch spot plus pick up some good Italian-inspired ingredients for your dinner.

Lark Creek, Walnut Creek CA

We’re already familiar with the Lark Creek Restaurant Group, since we’ve been to Yankee Pier a couple of times.  The group is part of the Seafood Watch Program through the Monterey Bay Aquarium that serves fish that has been “caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices.”  Lark Creek Walnut Creek has been on August’s radar for years, ever since living and working in downtown Walnut Creek, and finally tonight we went there for dinner.

lark creek 009

Crab month is over (we went to Yankee Pier in February so that’s when we found out the restaurant group does themed months).  That doesn’t mean, though, that crab is entirely stricken from the menu.  We started with a small cup of dungeness crab chowder with dill drop biscuits.

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The wood oven baked dungeness crab dip with olive oil crackers and grilled baguette was creamy and well seasoned.  The olive oil crackers were thin, crispy, and very light in texture, but with enough substance that they didn’t break when scooping the dip.  The baguette slices were like large, crunchy croutons, bursting with herbs.

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From February to March, the group changed from crab to lamb.  This California lamb shank was braised and served with polenta, Swiss chard, and a porcini reduction.  The meat was definitely lamb and not mutton, which August appreciates more than the average person, as her grandfather and great grandfather were sheepherders.  The portion was generous and fork-tender, not requiring too much use of a knife.  The polenta was very creamy with a rich Parmesan taste, and the porcini reduction was a delicate, savory icing on the proverbial cake.

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Every Thursday is Thanksgiving at Lark Creek Walnut Creek!  Nightly classics change throughout the week and are available until they run out; fortunately we arrived before it was too late and Zach got to order the organic roast turkey dinner with sage cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, and cranberry sauce.  The turkey was moist with a selection of both white and dark meat.  The mashed potatoes had a nice roasted garlic flavor, and the gravy was rich and creamy with flavors of sage and thyme.  The yams were tender and only mildly sweet with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.  They make a fresh cranberry relish for this dish, which was tart like it should be but not overwhelmingly so.

We’d like to come back for lunch when the weather turns and bring Bea the Dog, since this establishment has a pet-friendly patio (so does Jack’s).  Some items can be prepared vegetarian or vegan, and many can be prepared “in gluten sensitive fashion,” so this is a place welcoming to all eaters, including another species.