Farmers Union redux: How competitive is the scene at San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose? So competitive that less than a year after opening, The Farmers Union owners shut down their cavernous enterprise for two weeks for a total overhaul -- from the restaurant's mission to its decor, chef and menu.
Upscale gastropub is the vision now, with 40-plus craft beers on tap. Gone is the 200-inch projection TV intended to draw sports fans. Booths with burlap curtains and tables with high-back chairs now line that wall, and an outdoor patio with 34 seats has been added. (Thankfully, those ultra-comfy bar stools remain.)
The new executive chef, Alex Jimenez (the restaurant's third; his resume includes Dry Creek Grill and E&O), has revised the menu, though fans will still find many faves from before, including the Mac & Cheese and the Little Gems salad. Look for house-smoked ribs with bourbon-cola barbecue sauce and king salmon with summer corn succotash. Details: 151 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. www.thefarmersunion.com.
The 'Ridge' arrives: Last week, East Bay buddies Mark Flaherty and Christopher M. George opened their much-anticipated Walnut Creek gastropub, Sunol Ridge Restaurant and Bar, in the spot formerly housing Cypress at 1388 Locust St.
The restaurant features a rock waterfall near a communal table where diners can nibble on gourmet American comfort food (pork belly, bone marrow and the like). The serpentine bar is home to 49 craft beers and 51 wines "from the region" (Nor Cal, we assume?) in a chic yet rustic setting. Read: There's a fire pit and gorgeous patio.
Certified cicerone Chad Moshier (Handles Gastropub) will be in charge of the booze program, while Frank Jordan, former chef de partie for Season 6 "Top Chef" winner Michael Voltaggio's Hollywood restaurant, Ink, will serve as executive chef. Sunol Ridge is open 3 to 10 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays; and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. http://sunolridgerestaurantandbar.com.
Tomatina multiplies: The Bay Area's Tomatina, a casual Italian chain that specializes in piadine flatbread sandwiches, chopped salads, pastas and pizzas, will expand from five locations to eight by year's end. The additions represent the first new restaurants for the chain since 2010. First up was San Jose, which opened on June 27 in the West Valley Shopping Center at 5245 Prospect Road. Next comes San Mateo, due in August, and then Union City, scheduled for November.
Never been to a Tomatina? The restaurant's top sellers include the garlicky Shrimp Capellini, the Caprese piadini with house-made mozzarella and oven-roasted tomatoes, and the Carne Combo pizza topped with sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto and sauteed mushrooms. Tomatina counts its Walnut Creek restaurant as the first. The Santa Clara location opened a year later, in 1999. Other locations include Alameda, Dublin and San Rafael.
New chef, menu: There's a new toque in town at Walnut Creek's Corners Tavern. Well, not new, exactly. Just toque-ier. Gavin Schmidt, whose resume includes stints at Coi, Campton Place and Aqua, has been there since Day One. But he's just been named exec chef.
Schmidt is taking the chic, stylish gastropub even further in the farm-to-fork direction, with a new menu that showcases fare from farmers markets and local ranches. Fans of the fried chicken and ale-battered fish needn't worry about those items disappearing from the menu, but Schmidt has added a "weeknight suppers" spread -- $30 for three courses, including fried chicken (Mondays), grilled leg of lamb (Tuesdays), slow-roasted pork butt (Wednesdays) and smoked coffee-rubbed brisket (Thursdays). Yay.