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Recently, Pastena identified a need for a defining downtown tavern, hence the Tribune Tavern, which is due in March. He also believes the Jack London waterfront remains woefully underused, hence all the more incentive for a place that will enthusiastically optimize large patios with trellises and heat lamps, and coastal Italian fare that matches the climate and local ingredients nicely.
At the Tribune Tavern, customers will be greeted by a big U-shaped bar, and a lounge area will beckon with a tall ten-top table and old palm wood lounge chairs. "People are going to be racing to sit in these chairs," Pastena predicted.
The restaurant is being funded in part by local businessman Tom Henderson, whose group of investors purchased the Tribune Tower, where the Tribune Tavern will be located, in December 2011. Henderson has partnered with Noor and Pastena to form 5 Terraces, a restaurant group that's behind the Tribune Tavern, Lungomare, and Hive concepts. (For more on Henderson, see the sidebar "Distant Local Love.")
"Chris [Pastena] and I have discussed doing restaurants for several years, and the Tribune Tavern was a perfect fit to partner together," Henderson said. "His ideas on fresh foods and the creativity was exactly what we were looking for. This is the first of many restaurants to come."
Elements like a tin ceiling, casual bar-area tables, and roomy booths will be intentionally visible from outside, and large windows will slide open to create the kind of indoor-outdoor environment that gives Chop Bar its neighborhood-y vibe. The bar area will blend more into the private dining sanctuary behind it, and the customized kitchen will be designed to allow for in-house butchering and bread-making. The menu will take gourmet pub fare and spark it with the same relentless sourcing and creative twists that have been Chop Bar hallmarks.
Far less work will be required with the Lungomare project, which will take over the space currently occupied by Miss Pearl's Restaurant and Lounge, which shutters in December. The restaurant is pretty much ready to go, but Pastena and Noor still need to hire and train staff; update paint, furniture, and flatware; pimp out the patios; and revamp signage. They've already tapped high-profile people in the business to head up the restaurant's leadership, and are giving them full control to develop the place's identity in their own way. That means important creative control for Executive Chef Craig DiFonzo, who moves from Napa Valley, where he was a chef for Francis Ford Coppola Presents. Saeed Amini is on board as wine director, after a recent stint at Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Longtime Pastena friend and colleague Rob Soviero — a restaurant veteran who has opened restaurants around the country — will act as general manager.
The prospective menu will hone in on fresh pastas made in a special on-site pasta room, rustic seafood, regional pizzas, and other dishes to pair with well-curated Italian wines and Northern California takes on Italian varietals.
Meanwhile, over at Linden Street, Lamoreaux is talking with Commis mastermind and fellow Oakland '09er James Syhabout about putting together a restaurant in the beautiful 2,000-square-foot space with brick walls and old pine floors next to his tasting room as early as spring. Oakland's bearded minister of beer is also aiming to ramp up production toward his ultimate goal of 20,000 kegs a year (he's currently about one-sixth of the way there) by expanding into a second existing tank room, and spilling tasting-room action onto his 1,500-square-foot outdoor landing. Across all his various endeavors, Lamoreaux insists on one consistent quality:
"You will not be successful if you're not 100-percent authentic," he said. "This town sniffs a fake."
There's a circular theme to this story: People are again calling Pastena nuts for what he's attempting.
"I've been called crazy by a lot of people," he said. "But it's nice when people close to me in the industry say, 'That's insane, but if anyone can pull it off, you can.'"
There are five main reasons he will. He listed the first two: "We can do anything we want if we have a good team and finances." He added a third and fourth as an aside: clear roles and communication.
The fifth was more implicit, and may explain what will make the other pending restaurants successful as well: This isn't another hyped "Oakland renaissance" story — these projects won't work because they promise to make Oakland a great new food city, or because they'll introduce some unprecedented fusion of flavors. They'll work because, like Linden Street, Chop Bar, and Grand Tavern, they're giving Oakland the fundamentals it needs (and deserves): namely, what it used to have — a sturdy waterfront spot, a downtown tavern, a worthy brewery/restaurant, and a community across venues. These guys get it.
"I've always told people we're not trying to reinvent anything," Lamoreaux said. "We're trying to remember. For us, it's been easy to embrace Oakland's amazing history, especially 1890 to 1920, looking at what worked in that timeframe and putting in a modern twist — what breweries meant to Oakland, why they were here, and who they served. All we have to do is remember and embrace it."
Pastena sounded a similar note. "It's not about trying to strike when the iron's hot," he said. "It's about great places for people in Oakland to enjoy. What we're about is Oakland, the people, what is already happening. We all have a passion for the city itself."
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