Diablo Magazine — February 2016
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Review | Gan And Sabio On Main
Nicholas Boer

A Pioneering Pair

• Two new restaurants are taking Pleasanton’s dining scene to a whole new level.

On back-to-back nights in December, I dined at restaurants that appeared to have an unremarkable connection: Both had just opened in Pleasanton.Here, the similarities seemed to end.Gan debuted quietly on an unmarked side street; Sabio on Main made a grand entrance in the center of town. Gan’s understated dining room was dressed in serene green and wood tones; Sabio was designed to dazzle—a feast for the eyes.

The driving force behind both restaurants, however, is a philosophy in which detail defines every dish (even when playful presentations downplay that sophistication). The chefs at both spots honed their skills at San Francisco’s best kitchens, but whereas Gan’s Peter Jee Oh Chung channels his talents into a modern Korean style, Sabio’s Francis X. Hogan delivers a wide-ranging selection of global small plates.

Their innovative menus might seem out of place in a city with hometown appeal, but consider how rural NorCal towns such as Healdsburg and Calistoga have become dining Meccas. Like Sonoma and Napa, Livermore Valley wine country can nurture and support ambitious restaurants: It’s a destination where the likes of Gan and Sabio have become pioneers rather than anomalies.If nothing else, Pleasanton is proving it can maintain its charm while giving more urban towns like Walnut Creek a run for their dining dollar.

So what makes these restaurants so special? “Simply delicious” best sums up Chung and Hogan’s food. But by deconstructing their dishes and looking behind the curtain, you can appreciate why these restaurants are a big deal, and how they are setting a new standard for the Tri-Valley and Contra Costa.

Take, for example, Chung and Hogan’s riffs on pork belly and beef cheeks—two of today’s top chefs’ favorite ingredients.

Chung’s pork belly is a masterful balance of rich and lively, the meat slow braised with Korean dates and chili peppers. The fat-rich pork comes on tender cranberry beans dressed with sesame oil and smoky black vinegar.Earthy wild mushrooms and curlicues of puffed pork skin finish off the dish.

Hogan’s pork belly—butchered in house from Kurobuta pigs—is brined for two days with citrus, chilies, and coriander; cooked sous vide for 14 hours; compressed overnight; and portioned into even blocks. When ordered, the pork is seared, layered with celery root mousse, spiked with pomegranate, and dusted with pulverized pistachio praline.It’s an explosion of flavor.

Chung calls his beef cheeks lacquered in ginger and soy—my favorite dish of all—his “meat and potato” dish.Its preparation is even more intricate than the pork belly, but it has all the salty-sweet appeal of Korean kalbi.Whereas those classic kalbi short ribs are typically served with rice, Chung’s plump cheeks are paired with creamycrisp potatoes and buttery Broccolini. A silky sunchoke and sesame puree underneath, and crispy sunchoke chips sprinkled on top balance the plate.

Hogan does a riff on poutine—that french fries and gravy indulgence—to accompany his 12-hour-braised grassfed beef cheeks. The accompanying potato wedges are brined, blanched, and fried in beef tallow to produce a fluffy fry with a crackling shell; the gravy is reduced beef braising jus enriched with port and sweetened with caramelized onions. Fresh mozzarella curds complete the poutine. It’s a dish as whimsical as it is rich.

A bevy of beverage offerings elevate each restaurant’s cuisine even further.Gan’s bar is a tenth the size of Sabio’s (as a tapas-style restaurant, Sabio’s bar is its centerpiece), but both offer a halfdozen signature cocktails and another half-dozen beers on tap. Sabio’s wine program—overseen by general manager Matt Clasen—is as carefully sourced as the food. Gan’s mostly California wine list isn’t nearly as ambitious, but the bar offers a refreshing selection of refined rice wines and Korean spirits.

Over several visits to these two restaurants, there have been some misfires, including cold or clunky dishes at Sabio, and shallow or overbearing service staff at Gan. All new restaurants are a work in progress: The important thing is to have a solid concept, which both of these do.The eclectic nature of the food and drink presents a steep learning curve for all, customers included. But it’s this very challenge that marks Sabio and Gan as exceptional restaurants.

To end at the beginning, my starters on that December weekend tell the whole story: Chung’s hiramasa sashimi with charred and pickled grapes came with a mind-boggling array of garnishes that harmonized the dish; Hogan’s Wagyu beef Vietnamese salad brought together the best of our region’s produce—including live microgreens (snipped to order).

The passion invested in each chef’s dishes is palpable. And Gan and Sabio suggest a new, exciting direction for Pleasanton—giving the city’s dining scene a nice jolt and cementing its reputation as a destination for a great meal.

Contact: Gan, 600 Main St., Ste. G, Pleasanton,(925) 523-3630, gan restaurant.com. Dinner Tues.–Sat., brunch Sat.–Sun. Sabio on Main, 501 Main St., Pleasanton,(925) 800-3090, sabiopleasanton.com. Dinner daily, brunch Sat.–Sun.


Sudsy Updates

What’s new in local beer.

By katie Henry


Wait Out the Zombies

Taste apocalypse-inspired suds at Concord’s Epidemic Ales’ taproom, which opened in December. Cozy up to the handmade bar for pints or a tasting flight of beers with an “end of days” theme—try the Nightshade Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout—alongside plenty of board games. On weekends, look for bites from rotating food trucks. 150 Mason Cir., Ste. J, Concord, (925) 566-8850, epidemicales.com.

A Family Affair

At Walnut Creek’s Farm Creek Brewing Company, which was due to open in January, you can sip tasty brews such as Favorite Daughter, a session amber with a slightly smoky finish. Bring a lunch and a group of friends, and spend the day relaxing in this family-run, six-tap (for now) tasting room. 1415 Pine St., Walnut Creek, (925) 818-2164, farmcreek brewing.com.


Buzz-Inducing Opening

The long-awaited brewery/taproom for Calicraft Brewing Co. In Walnut Creek is slated to finally open in early February. In addition to a taproom, beer garden deck, hop field, and bocce courts, Calicraft is creating a couple of taproom-only sudsy odes to Walnut Creek: Dub C, a hoppy ale for the city’s 100th anniversary; and The Nut, a dark and nutty amber reminiscent of a fall day in Civic Park.2700 Mitchell Dr., Ste. B, Walnut Creek, calicraft.com.

A Beer Infusion If you enjoy unique brews, don’t bypass Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, slated to open in early 2016 in Livermore. This artisanal brewery takes popular styles and infuses the base with all sorts of additions, such as hibiscus flower.For now, Shadow Puppet’s beers will be available only in its new tasting room, where you can sample a flight or take home a growler.4771 Arroyo Vista, Ste. B, Livermore, shadowpuppetbrewing.com.

For more beer news, including events and openings, visit diablomag.com/ beer2016.

Where to Find Pliny the Younger

People camp outside Russian River Brewing Company for a taste of the brewery’s once-a-year release of Pliny the Younger, but you can skip the sidewalk stakeout by heading to a local distributor of the limited-edition triple IPA.

On February 6, head to Hayward’s The Bistro for the 16th annual Double/ Triple IPA Festival, where Pliny the Younger is always in attendance. Entry to the festival includes a special glass and tickets for beer tastes, including Pliny—no special lines or waiting necessary.The-bistro.com.

Check in with the San Ramon and Pleasanton locations of The Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill in early February to learn when their Plinys will debut, and prepare to show up early to snag tickets. (Last year, the queue started before 7 a.m.) hopyard.com.

And on Valentine’s Day, grab your partner and swing by Danville’s Pete’s Brass Rail and Car Wash for a taste of the young Pliny. But plan ahead: Sign-ups for the beer’s lottery tickets begin a few weeks earlier, with a drawing the week before the kegs are tapped. Petesbrass rail.com.