As a longtime caterer, Arnon Oren, owner of Anaviv Catering and Events and Oren’s Kitchen, is used to getting asked, “Why don’t you open a restaurant?” For him, the reason was a bit of “been there, done that.”
The Israeli-born, French-trained Oren got his start in the Bay Area by working his way up in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Oliveto. He served as executive chef at Café Cacao, Berkeley restaurant affiliated with the Scharffen Berger chocolate maker, and when it closed, he decided enough was enough of the crazy hours and turned to catering as a way to make a living as a chef while living a more balanced life.
But the question continued to be asked.
So now, the chef has an answer, and it’s called Anaviv’s Table.
Eating at Anaviv’s Table is an uncommon dining experience, and not just because of its location, found in a space right off the freeway in Richmond.
“Part of its charm is where the restaurant is; it’s the last place you would expect to have this kind of dinner,” said chef Ed Vigil, who is overseeing these dinners. “It’s next to a salvage yard of recycled metal and a place renting heavy equipment.”
The dinner occurs in a room where clients come to do tastings for Anaviv’s catering events, a space adjacent to the kitchen. It’s small and cozy and has a big table made from reclaimed wood from the old Cal stadium. Just the right size for a dinner party of ten, as it turns out.
Anaviv’s Table serves a multi-course tasting menu three nights a week (Thursday through Saturday) with only one seating per evening, so guests can stay as long as they like. The menu is conceived by Vigil, who has been working with Oren in the catering business and comes from many years in restaurants in West Marin. Originally from New Mexico, Vigil lived all over the world —because of his father being in the military — but originally learned to cook from his two grandmothers.
“I thought about how great it could be if we have this little restaurant. I didn’t want a big traditional restaurant, I wanted to do something a little different,” said Oren.
“This concept answered all those wishes that I didn’t want,” Oren continued. “I envisioned everyone at our one big table, and we would serve one menu to pair with local wines, and this highly emphasizing local farms, with some of the food coming from our garden.”
When Oren says “our garden,” he is speaking of the one nearby he and master gardener and educator Kelli Barram planted with the Plant to Plate program, an apprenticeship for Richmond high school students, in which they learn gardening and cooking skills, as well as professional life skills like money management as well.
On the night we dined there, the squash blossoms, cucumbers, and tomatoes all came from the garden. The rest of the produce came from the San Rafael farmers market, which Vigil visits every week, both for the catering business and now Anaviv’s Table.
“Arnon and Anaviv Catering is really dedicated to farm-to-table, he’s not just saying it,” said Vigil. “It’s great to work with someone with that same passion.”
Both Oren and Vigil love dinner parties, especially cooking for them, but as chefs, neither can entertain on their schedule, so this satisfies that urge.
“I’m in love with this concept right now,” said Vigil, “because it’s like having friends over and everyone, so far, has been really into the food. I love it because I don’t have a lot of time to do dinner parties at my house.”
Dining at Ananviv’s Table feels like a dinner party right from the evening’s start. Once guests are welcomed in with a cocktail, they are invited into the kitchen, where they mingle over several small bites. On our visit, during the restaurant’s second week, we sipped bourbon strawberry smashes and nibbled on squash blossom fritters with parmesan and basil, salmon rillette on a cucumber slice topped with an edible flower aioli, and grilled octopus and tapenade served on a Chinese soup spoon. In the kitchen, chefs Oren and Vigil introduced themselves and the concept of Anaviv’s Table.
We experienced the rest of the evening sitting at the communal table. Five additional courses were served, including a salad; a surf-and-turf dish with lavender and vanilla-cured pork belly, seared scallop and grilled wild prawn; a risotto with corn and chanterelles; a grass-fed steak with potatoes; and a saffron panna cotta. Wine pairings were equally generous and were chosen from Russian River and Sonoma wineries by Anaviv’s director of hospitality and operations and Vigil’s wife, Dee Wagner.
Of course there will be those for whom paying to spend the evening making small talk with a group of strangers won’t appeal, but for our crowd, it was easy (helpful hint: judging by our experience, it’s always easy to find common ground in discussing the downfall of our nation under you-know-who or Michael Pollan’s latest book, whether you’ve actually read it or not). But for everyone else, Anaviv’s Table is a fun, new high-end food experience in the East Bay.
Oren believes in the special alchemy that happens when people share a meal; he’s witnessed it happen countless times. Still, before opening, he and Vigil wondered how the concept would go over. The first week of its opening proved Anaviv’s Table was no exception.
“It’s amazing what happens when strangers come together over good food and the wine is flowing,” he said.
The cost of a meal at Anaviv’s Table, including service charge, is $125. Dietary restrictions are honored with advance notice. Reservations can be made on Resy for 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.