Exploring the Tri-Valley Restaurant Scene • Tour Travel Hotels
Although I spent more than a decade living in San Francisco, I had never explored the food and wine scene anywhere east of Berkeley. Who knew that a boatload of food gems existed in an area known as Tri-Valley and even lesser known is a whole region of vineyards, many of which have wine tastings.
See our write-up on the Livermore Valley wineries et al., where we sampled many of Livermore’s delicious wines, many of which were on local restaurant menus as well. We had an opportunity to explore some of the area’s eateries, cafes and restaurants during an early summer trip this year.
Terra Mia for Authentic Italian
Surprise number one goes to Terra Mia, which serves traditional Italian cuisine, including homemade pasta. The ambiance inside the restaurant is very authentic. With a rustic down-to-earth flare, echoed in the details, such as a brick fireplace, wrought ironwork, paintings and wines displayed throughout.
Now, let’s move onto the food.
For those not ready to dine inside yet, although the restaurant is spacious with plenty of room in between tables, they offer an outdoor patio, which is perfect for the upcoming summer months. Luca, one of the three owners — all Italian-born — greeted us upon arrival with suggestions from the menu. For starters, we kicked off the evening with buffalo mozzarella (imported, of course), with organic red beets, toasted walnuts, cherry tomatoes, red onion and spinach tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.
We also went for the Prosciutto with fresh melon, a classic in both Italy and France.
We wanted to start with something a little lighter to make room for one of the homemade pasta. Also on the appetizer menu is a Bruschetta, Fried Calamari and Smoked Salmon with peppercorns, lemon and fresh dill, and garlic bread, a must-have for carb lovers. They also offer a mean Antipasto with salame toscano finocchiona, calabrese, crostini, green olives and local cheeses as well as Crotonese pecorino. The night’s species included a Chicken Cappellacci and a pan-seared wild local sole with lemon, butter and white wine sauce.
For entrees, there are countless homemade pasta dishes to choose from. Still, because we hadn’t had Gnocchi in a while, we had to give a try since they offered a small plate with a traditional cream sauce as well as one with homemade pesto — it’s hard to resist a good pesto sauce regardless of what it’s paired with, right?
Especially with a glass of Italian Barolo. Anthony is in heaven, can’t you tell?
I went for their lamb chops which they prepare with Italian herbs, broccoli and sauteed potatoes.
A few other call-outs on the menu are a pan-seared wild-caught plate of prawns served with garlic, capers, and white wine, the oh-so-traditional veal scaloppini served parmigiana style melted mozzarella (yum, right?). Of course, veal marsala, a dish Anthony and I both grew up with. If pizza is your thing, they have a few fun, creative combos, and the same holds for their pasta offerings. From eggplant and smoked mozzarella and ham to lasagne bolognese, homemade ravioli, fettucini with pesto, cheese, garlic and pine nuts, and a heavenly Tortellini stuffed with meats, mushrooms and cream sauce.
This was our introduction to the Livermore Valley food scene, so we were surprised to find both Italian and local wines on the menu, including a small bottle of Barolo which we had to try, such a perfect pairing with the lamb.
What about dessert, you ask? In addition to Spumoni (oh so classic), seasonal sorbet, Dolce del Giorno and Granola, they had two stand-outs that well deserve mention. First up is their Cioccolato, a creamy chocolate ice cream on a layer of chocolate cheesecake (yes, really), topped with fudge and covered with mint chocolate chips. I am not a huge fan of mint chocolate chips or ice cream, but this one had me at hello and together, we polished it off before the coffee arrived.
Then there’s the Tiramisu — it’s so hard not to order it when it’s offered, as every Italian chef has their own unique way of making it, even if based on a traditional recipe.
They offered Italian dessert wines as well as Cognac, Port and Grappa. All three proprietors — Francesco, Luca and Anthony — were born and raised in Italy to traditional Italian families whose daily essence involved lunchtime “pranzo — home cooked by mothers and grandmothers.”
They import the pasta, some of the cheeses and other items on the menu, and everything is incredibly fresh and cooked with love. Their food is made from scratch, old-fashioned style, like the trattorias and ristorantes in southern Italy. We loved our experience and would definitely return — Buon Appetito!
Terra Mia Ristorante Italiano
4040 East Avenue
Sabio on Main
Sabio on Main has a great bar scene, so much so that you’ll equally love sitting at the bar as you will one of the tables in their trendy restaurant. Wine lovers will be thrilled to be greeted with their massive wooden storage wall as you enter the place. Impressive right? A stone’s throw from Livermore, where we stayed during our late spring escape, Sabio is located in the heart of Pleasanton, one of the four main towns which make up the Tri-Valley region.
More pictures from inside Sabio so you can get an idea of the chic decor inside, including the open kitchen where Francis X. Hogan, the executive chef and partner, cooks up his creative concoctions.
Not let’s move onto our 10-course meal, which Hogan recommended personally as he came out to greet us upon arrival. Since we sat out on the patio (it was such a lovely summer evening), we had the option of a la carte menu options or their 3 or 5-course meal. We opted to have a couple of dishes a la carte and the 5-course tasting menu to have a broad overview of the types of dishes they offer at Sabio. You’ll be fascinated to learn (we were) that Hogan swaps out the menu 13 times a year (yes, really), and we happened to be there during what he refers to as the “Cherry Blossom” menu.
Everything is seasonal, so it rotates depending on what ingredients he can get, resulting in regular fresh and creative dishes.
Before the 5-course menu kicked into gear, I had to get some of their oysters. With Covid lockdowns in place for months now, it had been a while since I last had my ‘oyster fix.’
The waitress then brought out their special Deviled Eggs with Salmon Roe, which appeared popular since many tables ordered them. Beautifully prepared as well, right?
They insisted we try their Caramelized Cauliflower with sambal sauce, and so we did.
The lightest starter was actually my favourite — the happy acre kale salad, which they serve in a roasted blueberry-chipotle vinaigrette cotija with Tokyo turnips and tossed with blue corn tortillas woven in — oh so delish. You could also opt for the roasted carrot and ginger soup with Thai herbs, crushed peanuts and chilli oil with lime. Notice how eclectic the offerings are so far? We had them from French, Spanish and Middle Eastern flavours and styles to Asian and California nouveau.
This Shiro Shoyu Cured California King Salmon appetizer brought back memories from Japan. This was oh so fresh with a Yuzu (lemon balm creme fraiche), sea beans, black sesame and ice plant flowers. It’s also so beautiful that we didn’t want to destroy Hogan and the team’s artistry.
Next up on the 5-course menu was the Cavatelli — Rabbit Ragu with olives, capers, currants and pine nuts. It looks light, right? It was and also perfectly balanced. The other option was a Bucatini with fava beans, ramp pesto, and black trumpet mushrooms. It’s hard to go wrong with either, but I have a soft spot for both rabbit and boar ragu.
The next dish was above and beyond my favourite: the Liberty Duck Breast and Leg Croquette, which he served with cherry agrodolce, farro, black walnuts and arugula. The breast was so tender and yet didn’t have that overly fatty taste that often comes with duck. If duck isn’t your thing, they also offered Pecan Smoked Day Boat Scallops, a Lamb Loin and an Artichoke and Oyster Mushroom Strata for entree options.
BTW, if you went for the 3 courses, your entree options were a Halibut with Borlotti Beans, Collards and Mussels with Rosemary Gremolata, a Chicken Breast with potatoes and English peas, or the strata as noted above. We were very impressed with the creative flair and twist in the menu offerings throughout and the interesting wines as well. We paired our evening’s dishes with a 2019 Typicite Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Franc L’Autre Cote from Livermore (also 2019) and the 2018 Chardonnay Occasio del Arroyo to go with the oysters.
Desserts were heavenly — if donuts are your thing, their Cannoli donuts had us at hello – OMG. My personal favourite is the Sonoma Chevre Cheesecake with Grand Marnier Berries — again, he adds flowers.
Below, the heavenly Cannoli-inspired donuts with Ricotta and Pistachio Sugar.
Two thumbs up. Would we return? You betcha! Thanks, Savannah, Francis and the team.
Sabio on Main
501 Main Street
Garre Winery & Restaurant
We primarily went to Garre for wine tasting. However, our booked time was smack in the middle of lunchtime, and so we had an opportunity to taste a few of their dishes while waiting for our tour. They offer two different patio seating areas, making it an easy choice for those still not wanting to dine inside just yet.
There are various sandwiches for lunch starters, including more traditional grilled cheese, turkey and cajun chicken, and less typical options like pastrami, tri-tips, braised pulled pork, and cowboy burgers. Pizza lovers will love their flatbreads, from basic Margheritas to Hawaiian, Artichoke Hearts and Bell Peppers to Smoked Salmon and gluten-free pizzas made with a rice flour crust. Italian foodies will appreciate their Seafood Rigatoni creations with prawns, salmon, calamari and mussels tossed in a saffron-tomato broth, or their Florentine Ravioli. They also tout Jambalaya, Risotto with chicken, tuna, salmon or prawns, Cheese Tortellini and something they refer to as Nonna’s Gravy and Meatballs, which was Bob’s grandmother’s recipe.
For something a little lighter, there are delicious salads and starters. We started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, served with a crispy wonton and ponzu sauce — oh so yum, fresh and light. When we were there, they had two 2019 Chardonnays, one fermented in 100% stainless steel and their Reserve, which had aromas of golden apple, apricot and buttered popcorn – oh so delish! And, they were a perfect choice for our appetizers that day.
Anthony’s Roasted Tomato Soup, which was a special on the menu the day we were there, was to-die-for; although it had a bit of a kick, it was perfectly balanced and wonderful for a warm summer afternoon with just the right breeze. Although we didn’t try it, it’s worth mentioning their Beet Salad because they include yellow/gold and red beets, crumbled goat cheese, pistachios and red onion.
Anthony added Salmon to his Caesar — the focaccia croutons were a heavenly addition as well.
In addition to various salad offerings, such as the epic Caesar with Pecorino Romano mentioned above and Mixed Greens with Cherry Tomatoes, there’s something they call Wine Country Salad with crumbled Gorgonzola and figs as well – yum, right? I opted for the Baby Spinach Salad with apple, bacon, hardboiled egg, cranberries and candied pecans. I added grilled prawns to mine, which they tossed in a delicious molasses vinaigrette.
Great appetizers to share for the table include their Antipasto Platter, Chipotle Honey Glazed Prawns, Sweet Potato Fries, Garlic Edamame, Fried Calamari and Baked Brie with a blackberry chipotle relish and crostini. The latter is a perfect choice if you’re going to spend a chunk of your lunch wine tasting as well — remember that Garre is also a winery.
They have a lovely 2015 Cabernet Franc, which is loaded with red raspberry and bell pepper notes. We also loved the 2015 Primitivo, a smoke and tobacco aroma and their 2014 and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, so yum! Those wishing for lighter pairings can go for their 2014 or 2015 Sangiovese. If dessert is your thing, they’ve got you covered as well.
We then embarked on a wonderful tour of the property, where we learned about some of their wines and favourite picks. They grow all five Bordeaux varietals on the premises, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. We loved the 2014 Sangiovese, but our favourite goes to the 2014 Profound Secret Bordeaux Blend – oh so yum. They also grow Petite Sirah here as well. Anthony loved their 2018 Red Velvet Port, which we were surprised to find as an offering.
Garre Vineyard, Winery & Restaurant
7986 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA 94550
We had heard about Range for a few days before us visiting the restaurant. Funky and casual, this eatery appears to be targeting the millennial crowd based on the music they were playing, the vibe and the decor.
They had us booked on the outdoor patio, which is in the rear of the restaurant, surrounded by a wooden fence on both sides. A massive tree is a centrepiece here, with an artistic wall at the rear. Although there weren’t many tables, each one had its own heat lamp, which impressed us, as this often isn’t the case even at high-end luxury restaurants.
Again, as an oyster lover, how could I say no? Here, they don’t do the traditional half dozen or full 12, but more as a bite-size option. Your two Morro Bay grassy oysters come as one of their “snacks,” and they’re topped with pickled sea buckthorn. Unusual, right?
The chef sent out one of their more popular choices as a snack item: green garlic flatbread, which they top with a slice of Fiscalini cheddar cheese.
Again, they also had a Beef Tartare, again with a more unusual flare, served with shallot scapes and mustard oil. I had to try their Chilled English Pea Soup, which was my favourite item on the menu. Beautifully presented as well, right? It is made with salmon roe, lemon yogurt and sauce verte.
We also tried their Charred Lamb Shoulder Chop, which they serve with silk chilli and ramp greens.
Knowing we would have one deep-fried appetizer, I had to try the much lighter Yellowtail Crudo to start. They prepare with Caroselli cucumbers, Cipolla Verde, chervil fennel romanesco and gem avocado. It was divine – oh so yum!
Now for that deep-fried option, I just spoke of — meet the Fried Hen of the Woods Mushroom, which is made with Tempesta ‘nduja aioli’ and grilled eureka lemon. It tasted as good as it looks even though I rarely opt for a deep-fried option — how could we resist something with such a creative name and preparation? The mushrooms are apparently cultivated from a farm in Sebastapol, California, a spot we know well.
Neither one of us has had a steak in a while, so we selected the Steak Frites as one of our entree choices, which they serve with french fries and salted rosemary twigs. It also comes with a Sierra Porcini sauce as well. It paired well with a nice Livermore Cabernet Franc and Santa Barbara County Grenache.
We didn’t expect the Pork Loin Milanese to be deep-fried when we ordered it, but it is how they prepare it here, accompanied by romaine and Haruki turnip with blue cheese and fermented chilli. This dish has a bit of a kick of it but very flavorful.
Desserts were small but incredibly delicious — the dark chocolate gem on the left is a dark chocolate sorbet (yes, really). I was shocked at how tasty it was and wished I had eaten less throughout the evening as I could have easily downed two of these quite happily. On the right is their Cherry Panna Cotta with double 8 jersey milk and Kashiwa cherries.
Other dessert options included a cow and sheep cheese plate, a sourdough churro with huckleberries and a malted milk ice cream with honeycomb. Interesting after-dinner drinks included an Absinthe and Mineral Water, a Moscato D’Asti from Italy and a 10-year-old Tawny port from Portugal. Anthony would have tried had he not been the designated driver for the evening. Amari is also an option as well.
2160 Railroad Avenue
The only restaurant we tried in Danville is Revel Kitchen, which is one of three restaurants owned by chef and proprietor/owner Esin’s declaration. While we were walking around, I fell in love with the ambiance of Harvest Danville, a farm-to-table bistro with a European meets farmhouse style decor inside and a cute patio outside. I would love to come back to review their latest and greatest on a future trip.
We were thrilled with our experience at Revel Kitchen and loved the downtown area, which was full of shops and boutiques, as well as restaurants and cafes. Casual but hip with plenty going on, the twist and flare here are American-Mediterranean, as you’ll notice throughout the menu.
Although we continued with the Livermore wine theme into our Danville dining experience, cocktails are something they do very well here, apparently. One creative concoction after another flew past our table, so much so that we had to ask about their offerings and learn more. Let’s take a look at some of the manager’s favourite picks.
Inside, the bar scene in the trendy interior of this popular downtown Danville pick.
We had a chance to meet Esin, the owner (below), Frederic, the General Manager (originally from France — woot woot) and Yasmine, the assistant manager. Let’s not forget our accommodating waitress Sydney. Rarely do you know so many names of the people taking care of you at a restaurant or hotel — this is a testament to how friendly and welcoming they were when we dined with them on that Labor Day weekend afternoon.
Yeah, I know I know — oysters again, right? The dozen below are from Beausoleil from New Brunswick BC (I love Canadian oysters), although they also offered Hammersley oysters from Washington State.
Although Anthony’s never been an oyster lover, he is a huge fan of mussels from his time living in Belgium. Here, they serve them with Chorizo (has a kick), tomatoes, Calabrian Chili, white wine butter sauce, garlic, shallots, parsley and of course hand-cut fries.
I continued with lighter choices, so after the empty oyster shells left the table, they brought the General Santos Ahi Tartare, which they serve with cucumber, yuzu-ginger vinaigrette, chilli oil and avocado-cilantro salsa. It was oh so fresh, light and tasty.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their Deviled Farm Eggs (twice in two days — oh so yum). At Revel Kitchen, they serve them with Applewood Smoked Bacon and White Truffle Oil – gorgeous to look at as well, right?
We were going to leave it there and wind down our evening with a hot cuppa Joe, but Yasmine suggested we try the Applewood Smoked Duroc Pork Chop, and although we were quite full, we were glad we did. Wow-what a surprise. This is plated with a Scallion Potato Cake, corn puree, snap peas and a cherry tomato-corn vinaigrette. You could say that it “had us at hello.”
If pork isn’t your thing, they also offer Short Ribs, Angus Beef Hangers, Burgers and a Roasted Chicken. If you want something lighter on the entree or what they refer to as the Heartier Menu, you can go for the Wild Grilled Salmon Salad or the Wild Prawns Salad with Quinoa, Strawberries and Fennel.
Esin makes the sweets, and we had our choice of a Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart with Caramel Sauce, a Strawberry Brown Butter Tart with Brandy Anglaise, a Lemon Meringue Tart with Raspberry Sauce, a Butterscotch Pudding with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Shortbread or the Blueberry Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding with Caramel, Brandy Anglaise and Whipped Creme. We opted for the latter two, both of which were a little heavy but absolutely scrumptious.
In typical European style, they offered a few Artisan cheese plates as well, which had we not been so full, we would have tried. Next time because there most definitely will be the next time.
In addition to the delicious fare (a cut above what we expected), the great service and ambiance also offered several coffee options. I mention this because we don’t always find any variety when it comes to decaf. Here, there was a choice of Decaf Drip Vita Bella, Decaf Espresso, Decaf Regular and Decaf Cappuccino — unheard of, so bravo! Of course, all of these options were available with caffeine as well.
331 Hartz Avenue
There are countless wineries in the area, and we sampled a few, so be sure to read our Tri-Valley wine write-up as well. It’s hard to pick favourites, but we loved our experiences sampling the Lineage Collection and the big, bold reds at McGrail Vineyards and Garre Vineyard, all of which are based in Livermore Valley. The more renowned Wente is also in the area, which boasts their popular Chardonnay and a variety of red options.
Elsewhere in the Tri-Valley
Outside Pleasanton and Livermore, where we spent most of our time in the Tri-Valley during this trip, you’ll find Danville and Dublin as well. Here are a few call-outs to eateries you may want to try when heading to the area.
There’s Locanda Ravello in Danville, which has a lovely courtyard, where you can order Epicurean pizza — think porcinis, burrata, prosciutto di Parma and their specialty meatballs. They’re on East Prospect Avenue in Danville. For sushi in Danville, head to Blue Gingko, where you can take in their delicious seaweed salad and small plates, such as soft-shell crabs and tempura prawn lettuce wraps. Yum!
I also mentioned The Harvest in Danville for its cute ambiance inside and out (see below for ambiance inside and out).
The cuisine at The Banana Garden, a casual Malaysian restaurant in Dublin, is quite interesting. Imagine toasted curry coconut dishes, as well as noodles and seafood char koay kak as options. Speaking of seafood, if you love crab, head to Hot Crab also in Dublin for Louisiana Cajun seafood loaded up with garlic, of course. Two more Dublin spots include Mayflower for authentic Cantonese cuisine and McNamara’s Steak House for meat lovers — there’s a classic mahogany bar with a dimly lit ambiance.
In Livermore, Uncle Lu’s at the Vineyard combines chic decor and a great wine list. Italian food lovers can also check out Barone’s Restaurant in Pleasanton, which we’ve yet to try. They apparently make a mean veal parmigiana, shrimp cocktail, and gorgonzola stuffed flatbread based on Main Street.
Beer lovers can head to Pleasanton’s McKay’s Taphouse & Beer Garden for burgers with bacon jam, craft artisan beers, pickles, pretzels and sandwiches. If you’re vegan or avoid meat, then Pleasanton also has Blossom Vegan Restaurant on Pimlico Drive. Think green papaya salads, curried eggplant and Indian pancakes. Sounds divine, does it not?
There’s also Gourmet Works in Pleasanton — it’s not a restaurant, but a shop loaded full of goodies, from artisan chocolate and bread mixes to olive oils, soups, dips and more. We loved strolling through it and looking at all the delicious products and offerings.