The Kitchen Sink 

Experienced couple sets up shop at the Zax Tavern, but who's the rock star behind Rudy Can't Fail Cafe?

In the East Bay, restaurants are planted in fertile ground. Even if one sprout doesn't make it, another soon pops up to take its place -- often literally. These past couple months have seen a couple new restaurants take root in old surroundings.

Mark Drazek and Barbara Mulas, the husband-wife team who owned the well-hidden but critically adored Zax Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, have decided to let their talents shine -- on our side of the bay. When their SF lease ran out several months ago after nine years of business, the East Bay couple pulled up stakes and moved to Berkeley, to the former Trattoria Mazzini space, a larger and more prominent location.

At the new restaurant, Zax Tavern, Drazek and Mulas will continue to run the line together. They've teamed up with another couple, Adam Shoehalter (Italian Colors) and Michael Modos (Lalime's), who will take charge of the front of the house. The four partners say they've made only minor cosmetic changes to soften up the already-romantic room and expand the bar.

For the tavern, Drazek and Mulas have expanded their menu and dropped their prices. Expect entrées such as local salmon with dill-sour cream mashed potatoes and lemon vinaigrette ($15) and lamb stew with fall vegetables and crispy polenta ($14). These continue the Zax tradition of simple but technically adept seasonal Californian cuisine.

Zax Tavern plans to open Tuesday, September 17, and will serve dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Sunday dinners and lunches are under consideration.

Retiring owners closed Eugene's Ranch House, a well-known Emeryville landmark since the early 1960s, in 2000. The restaurant sat vacant until a team of new owners gutted the place and reopened as the Can't Fail Cafe on September 7. Named after a Clash song ("How you get so rude and reckless?/Don't you be so crude and feckless/You've been drinking brew for breakfast/Rudy can't fail"), CFC serves American-style breakfast and lunch seven days a week. At lunchtime, the cafe stocks prewrapped sandwiches for area workers to dash in and pick up.

According to Margo Graham, front-of-house manager, the cafe's "diner food with a twist" is made with all-fresh products from local vendors such as Semifreddi's, C&L Produce, and Peet's Coffee. Heidi DiPippo, former executive sous-chef at LuLu in San Francisco, is head chef.

The owners are Steven Mills, who has redesigned many a restaurant with his business Mills General; Jeffrey Bishoff, owner of Oakland's Cinder Block; accountant Zachary Zeilsler; and an anonymous fourth, rumored to be a millionaire rock star.

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