Is Walnut Creek’s LITA the hottest new restaurant in East Bay?



Give me guava ceviche, clarified milk rum punch and all the golden insides, without flying to Florida.

It’s LITA, a new Miami-inspired restaurant opening today in downtown Walnut Creek that has already had dinner reservations through the weekend. Located at 1602 Bonanza St., LITA has been in the works for two years and brings together veteran talent from San Francisco, Oakland, Miami and Mexico. Owner Ghaben Partners, the family of restaurants behind neighboring Broderick Roadhouse, has managed to create a one-of-a-kind spot that fuses modern Cuban and Jamaican fare with Miami vibes and still feels like the Bay Area.

LITA is a showstopper, and these can sometimes tire me, especially when backed by investors who know little about restaurant management. But the Ghaben cousins ​​have run restaurants in and around Walnut Creek since the 1980s, including The Original Mels Diner, which closed in August after 20 years but will soon be home to a hot fried chicken concept of a new generation Ghaben.

Jumbo Black Pepper Shrimp is one of the menu items served at LITA Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. The restaurant offers Caribbean and Latin American dishes. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

They “really love Walnut Creek,” co-owner Rolla Ghaben told me during last night’s preview, and felt that “the city really needs something like LITA.” They brought in executive chef Nick Peters from their Lafayette restaurant, Batch & Brine, to run the kitchen, which served the bustling crowd with clipped, confident speed, as if floating homemade mint syrup pearls in mojitos or turned poached Maine lobster into corn dogs. (it’s a Miami thing) is something they’ve been doing for years.

As you enter LITA, everything is brilliantly lit like an iPhone filter, from the marble bar to the custom infinity mirror by Orange County artist Nicky Alice. Purple-patched booths and bar stools are meant to mimic Miami sunsets. They provide a luminous juxtaposition to faux concrete walls, hand-sculpted by Miami-based Colombian artist Lorna Samara Ash. Gold accents are perfect.

Short ribs at Café Ancho Chili are served on a bed of mashed bacon and brussels at LITA restaurant in Walnut Creek. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

The food too. It’s surprisingly good. The dinner menu is divided into appetizers, ceviches, tacos and empanadas, larger plates and family favorites. Each has only a few options, all made with local ingredients whenever possible. Roasted pineapple and Fresno peppers give layers of gentle heat to crispy, coconut-braised pork belly in a soft homemade blue corn tortilla ($11). The fresh, buttery kampachi is marinated in guava and coconut milk, with cucumber and jicama for crunch ($20).

And the Ancho Chili Coffee Ribs ($30) are just as tempting as the demi-ventura jerk marinated chicken ($27) and its vegetarian counterpart, brimming with jerk maitake mushrooms, Caribbean slaw, tomatoes Scotch Bonnet and Coconut Rice ($18).

Bartender Noel Morales mixes two signature cocktails, the Chickcharnee, left, and Isla de Tigre, two of 10 craft cocktails available at Walnut Creek’s new LITA restaurant. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

LITA’s cocktail program is equally impressive. Curated by bar consultant Alex Arriaga, who brings his experience from Lafayette’s Barranco and Emeryville’s Trader Vic’s, the 10 craft cocktails are cutting-edge without being boozy. The dreamy St. Croix Crystal Milk Punch ($15), which comes with an edible flower popsicle, is made by steeping three types of rum with baking spices, citrus zest and pineapple and using a technique called milk clarification to make the drink crystal clear. – and far too drinkable.

Seriously, go for it.

LITA is open for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday;

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