Verbena Opens for Dinner: Due to a miscommunication, we recently reported that Verbena, located in the Shorenstein Building in downtown Oakland, wouldn’t open for dinner until after the New Year. Not true, says front-of-house manager Jennifer Tom — Verbena started serving dinners the last week of November. From 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on weekdays, the restaurant is putting out heartier versions of the “light, bright, fresh” California food it offers during the day. The dinner menu, which tops out at $18.95 for a rib-eye steak, includes some of the same pizzas, salads, and entrées as lunch. New to the evening meal are a lemon and herb cured boneless half chicken with soft polenta and broccoli rabe ($13.95) and buttered fusilli pasta with Parmesan, parsley, and shortrib sugo ($14.50), a dish so good you’ll want to work late just so you can order it again.
Fenton’s Burns: As many of you know, much-beloved Oakland landmark Fenton’s has closed temporarily after a fire on November 21. Three employees apparently set the fire during a late-night robbery; they were apprehended on the scene. Scott Whidden, who has owned Fenton’s since 1987, told me late last week that the hundred-year-old creamery will definitely reopen, hopefully this spring. Current employees are on payroll until the beginning of the year but will have to make arrangements after that.
Whidden says the response from the community and the city has been tremendous, with patrons even offering to help run fund-raising efforts. For updates on the repairs and notice of fund-raising events, visit www.fentonscreamery.com. Through the site you can also e-mail Whidden stories, letters, and photos that he’ll post online. “We want to focus on the good things,” Whidden says. “In the long history of Fenton’s, we consider this just a pause.”
Mazzini Gets New Chef: Jim and Laura Maser, owners of Mazzini Trattoria, have hired a new chef, William Gioia, the former sous-chef at Oliveto. Gioia replaces Dija Amer, who left Mazzini to continue her culinary education at New York University. Before spending three years working with Paul Bertolli, Gioia attended the Culinary Institute of America and did stints in France, Michigan, and upstate New York. Jim Maser describes Gioia’s food as “closer to the Italian peninsula” — which I assume means fewer California touches. Dishes on the current menu include spicy Monterey Bay squid crostone ($7.75), grilled swordfish with cannellini beans, olives, and capers ($19), and braised Napa Valley lamb with celery root puree.