For Avi and Michaella Ben-Ari, opening a restaurant was an obvious step to take together. Avi's keen mind for business and his entrepreneurial experience, coupled with chef Michaella's degree from Tadmor Culinary Arts school in Tel-Aviv, made for a natural partnership. With the goal of introducing area diners to the warmth and hospitality inherent to Middle Eastern dining rooms, the Ben-Aris and their staff fill the restaurant with the aromas of handmade dishes and photos of each diner's grandmother. They make all of their Levantine staples from scratch, crafting them only with organic vegetables and meats. In the bustling kitchen, chefs eschew canned and frozen ingredients for healthful ones such as fire-grilled eggplant, antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, and freshly diced tomatoes and cucumbers.
In the Tao Restaurant kitchen, chefs labor over stoves during the three-day process of crafting housemade noodles and broth for their authentic Japanese ramen dishes. Iron grills sizzle with the meats and seafood of Japanese teppanyaki and teriyaki entrees, and sushi chefs slice up colorful maki rolls, adorning them with flourishes of cucumber flowers, slivers of radish, and intricately sculpted dollops of wasabi. Servers bear plates out into the dining room, where sunlight pours in through towering windows onto sleek tabletops. Nearby, pots of bamboo shake gently as though they were caught in a ge
Executive Chef Jason Scott and his staff of culinary gurus add colorful flourishes of sauce to deftly plate progressive American cuisine at Monaghan's On the Hill. A bouquet of aromas drifts from the golden crusts of chicken pot pie, swirling past a fireplace that warms hands and unrolled silverware. During warmer months, the strains of live Latin jazz, blues, and rock on the outdoor patio serve as a melodic backdrop to the syncopated click of billiard balls on expanses of green felt.
Amba's chefs take tongues on a Middle-Eastern tour with a menu full of vegetarian and kosher eats. Warm up stomach muscles with a savory bowl of lentil soup ($6), or put hand shovels to work using a pita to scoop up freshly made hummus bowls topped with chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil ($8.50). Pita pros stuff sandwiches with sabich—a mix of fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs ($8.50)—and falafel, made with fresh herbs and chickpeas recently hatched from eggpeas ($8.50). Diners can set taste buds on fire with the tomato-sauce-soaked shakshuka ($10) and quickly extinguish the flames with a grape-leaf blanket of dolmas ($2). Crisp green salads fill mouths in full ($8) or side sizes ($4), and any three varieties—such as Moroccan carrot, couscous, and baba ganouj—can be fused into one Transformers-style three-salad combo ($10).
A single weathervane squeaks as it sways in the breeze atop a peaked roof. Below it, a building dating back to 1948 houses Montclair Bistro amid fieldstone and brick pathways created in french provincial style. At 7 years old, future chef and owner Henry Vortriede began his cooking career by thumbing through culinary magazines and preparing meals for his family of eight. After going on to earn diplomas in food and wine at Le Cordon Bleu and L'Académie du Vin in Paris, France, he honed his skills as a chef in several French restaurants and created chocolate art showpieces at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.
Today, as owner and chef at Montclair Bistro, Vortriede draws on his culinary background to create a rotating menu that includes organic chicken scaloppini sourced from Petaluma Farms, duck-and-wild-mushroom quesadillas with brown-butter chestnuts, and thick, double-cut pork chops with sweet-potato-apple pancakes. Another menu of brunch fare combines traditional favorites such as scrambled eggs with black truffle and eggs benedict with lobster cake.
Vortriede's taste is on display not only on plates but also on the restaurant’s walls, where elegant painted canvases hang. Two hundred bottles of wine stand nearby on storage racks inside walk-in glass covered with the pressed noses of oenophiles. The decor, which includes dark carpeting and dark chairs, white-linen-covered tables, and flickering candles, helped earn the restaurant OpenTable's 2012 Diners' Choice award for romantic restaurant in East Bay.