If you live in the Lakeshore area of Oakland, a restaurant is opening July 2 that hopes to be your new, neighborhood place. The kind of place you meet friends for drinks and small bites after work; the kind of place you return again and again, up to three times a week.
At least that’s how chef-owners Jen Biesty and Tim Nugent — both former contestants on the TV show Top Chef — envisage it. They are hoping it has staying power, too. That this is their last kitchen, and that they’ll still be open from now, 30 years down the line.
The name of this neighborhood place is Shakewell. “We thought it has the connotation of a ‘well’ drink, and being welcoming,” Biesty explained, “and then also shaking hands and shaking a drink, we thought it was fun and worked with the handcrafted concept.”
That concept is Spanish-Mediterranean food, which is a bit of a departure for Biesty, who incorporated some Spanish flavors into her food at Coco500, but otherwise has cooked mostly Italian and French cuisine, most recently at Scala in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, which is where she met Nugent.
“I travelled quite a bit in Spain, and I really liked the culture and the food,” Biesty said. “I’ve always loved paella and tapas and the culture around eating tapas. The Spanish believe in having a little bit, often, which is a great way to have a dining experience in which you eat and drink lots of little things.”
The “bomba” section of the menu will be a highlight, with four types of the iconic Spanish rice dish available, all baked in the wood-burning oven. Biesty chose to call them bomba rather than paella so she can experiment more freely with technique (Bomba is the kind of rice that traditional paella is made with).
For example, she said, one will have squid and squid ink, one will be vegetarian – now it would be artichokes and peas – one will be more traditional, such as clams and chorizo, and another will have chicken and prawns. Each one will have its own unique stock as a base, so the flavors will be entirely different.
Eight to 10 tapas choices are in the small plates section, like fried stuffed olives, fried sausage sage leaves with ginger aioli and falafel with gypsy pepper and dried chorizo. The greens section includes four salads; the little fish section has selections like sardines on toast with avocado, radish, arugula and chili oil and albacore with smoky eggplant, sugar snap peas and ginger; and the meat section has a chicken albondigas (meatballs), chili-chocolate braised short ribs and a grilled lamb kevta.
[Take a look at the Shakewell menu.]
“We are taking a healthier approach to our menu,” emphasized Nugent, “using lots of olive oil and harissa and romesco as opposed to heavy, oily veal stocks. We’re trying to be kind of healthy because we sense that that’s what people want now. Yes we still go out to have something bad like French fries, but a really good salad is great too.”
Nugent who has worked both as a pastry chef and in the front of the house in such restaurants as Zuni Café and Perbacco, designed the dessert program, though once the chefs are trained, he’ll be the general manager. Churros with a chili-chocolate sauce will be fried to order, and a Spanish interpretation of his childhood favorite from Vermont, apple pie with cheddar is reconfigured to be a blackberry tart with manchego. A flan will be flavored with lemon zest and fennel pollen.
The cocktail program will feature six classic cocktails with six rotating seasonal ones. The bar will be the centerpiece of the restaurant, which will have Spanish and Moorish influences.
Both Nugent and Biesty are excited to be opening in Oakland, though Biesty admitted they would have just as easily opened in San Francisco. They were looking at places in the city first, and nothing seemed to fit their specifications. When the realtor brought them to Oakland, this was it. “It had a lot of the right formula that you need to run a successful restaurant,” said Biesty.
Nugent has lived near Lake Merritt for 12 years, while Biesty moved to Oakland a month after the lease was signed.
“I figured ‘why not,’ I had been in San Francisco for 17 years,” said Biesty. “Something is really happening over here, so I thought ‘why not be a part of it?’”
Nugent and Biesty raised more than $100,000 via Kickstarter last summer to fund the start-up.
Both Nugent and Biesty both competed on Top Chef; he on “Just Desserts” season 1, and she on season 4. Biesty said she is used to the fans by now, and if it helps, great, but it was just one blip in her long culinary career.
“It has been fun to meet so many people who are excited to meet you just because you did something silly on TV, but thanks, glad you love me,” she joked.
Hail all foodies! Nosh will soon launch Nosh Weekly, a free weekly email that will keep you bang up-to-date on all the delicious food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay. Want to be one of the first to receive it? Simply sign up here