With the announcement today of the Season 12 cast of Bravo's long-running Top Chef, it seems appropriate to take a moment to look in on a pair of former cheftestants from the Bay Area who have just in the last month opened their first restaurant wholly owned by themselves. I'm talking about Jen Biesty and pastry chef Tim Nugent, both of whom formerly worked at Scala's Bistro in Union Square together for over four years, and who appeared on different seasons in the Top Chef archive Biesty appeared on Season 4 when she was still working at Coco500, and Nugent appeared on the first season of Top Chef: Just Desserts alongside SF's Yigit Pura. The two just opened Shakewell in Oakland about six weeks ago, and the menu is a labor of love for Biesty who says she's wanted to open a restaurant like this, filled with Spanish and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, for a long time.
At the 165-seat Scala's, Biesty and Nugent ran an extraordinary machine of a hotel restaurant that is one of the busiest in the city. As Biesty told the Chronicle last year when she left her post as executive chef, "During high season, November and December, we were doing up to 1,200 covers a day." That means serving 1,200 seated diners over the course of three meals a day, with a couple of turnovers at dinner and for comparison, the always busy Nopa only does 350 covers a night. She said she couldn't wait to have her "own little kitchen," and the open kitchen that sits at the rear of Shakewell (in the space formerly occupied by Mezze on Lakeshore) is a handsome one.
Biesty and Nugent successfully raised $100,000 on Kickstarter last year to complete their remodel. The dining room got a clean remodel with a few Moorish touches by The Bon Vivants Design+Build team, the same guys who did the interior (and the bar menu) at Trick Dog, and who are behind the upcoming revamp of Cafe du Nord. And Shakewell has a fine cocktail program as well, with some unique libations, a classic daiquiri, and artisanal touches like house-made tonic.
Highlights from a meal I had last week included some perfectly fried bacalao croquetas (salt cod croquettes), and a deeply delicious and deftly seasoned braised pork shoulder served with pickled green tomatoes, a surprisingly mild house-made habanero hot sauce, and grilled flatbread for soaking up the pork juices. Biesty is also featuring a quartet of bombas, which are paellas baked in the oven in ceramic dishes including one with squid-ink rice, piquillo peppers and squid; and one with manila clams and chorizo (pictured above).
Biesty told SFist that she and Nugent will most probably have more ventures up their sleeves in the coming months and years, too. "We're not done," she says. "I think this neighborhood could use really good taqueria." And she alluded to some other planned projects as well.
Could she and Nugent have their eyes on the recently vacated, iconic Kwik Way space around the corner? Stay tuned.
Shakewell - 3407 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland - 510-251-0329 - Open Tuesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch starts August 30, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and daily happy hours with small-plate deals happen from 4 to 5:30 p.m., and 9 to 10 p.m. - Reserve here