Richmond Flowers at Anaviv’s Table
This new dining spot offers elegant food in a surprising setting
By Alix Wall
Photos by Stacy Ventura
Most guests at this dinner party didn’t previously know each other, yet the conversation flows with the wine as the subject wanders from the abysmal state of our Union to micro-dosing and various experiences with psychedelics, the latter inspired by mention of Michael Pollan’s most recent book, How to Change Your Mind.
The food at this table, all laced with edible flowers, is … well … splendid, and for good reason: The hosts at this party are full-time chefs.
Arnon Oren and Ed Vigil both love the dinner-party experience, but given their professional and business responsibilities, neither finds much opportunity to enjoy that kind of casual, convivial atmosphere around food very often, either as guests or as home cooks.
The situation changed in September when the two launched Anaviv’s Table. They now host what amounts to three dinner parties each week.
The concept sprang from a comment frequently made to Chef Oren by his catering clients, who wished they could enjoy his Anaviv Catering & Events food without having to throw a large event. The dinners Oren and Vigil now hold at Anaviv’s Table satisfy that desire and also introduce potential new clients to the catering business’s farm-to-table menus. It happens in the cozy room adjacent to Oren’s catering kitchen in Richmond where clients have always come for tastings.
Chef Arnon Oren’s roots are in Israel with culinary school training in France. He came up in the Bay Area kitchens of Chez Panisse and Oliveto and then served as executive chef at Scharffen Berger’s Café Cacao for several years. He did his time in restaurants, but not wanting to work those long hours anymore, he launched Oren’s Kitchen, which caters lunch for corporate offices. In 2006, he upped his range of services under the name Anaviv Catering & Events. “Anaviv” derives from the Hebrew word anav, which Oren says means “modesty with a lot of depth to it.”
Chef Ed Vigil has roots in New Mexico, where he first learned to cook from his grandmothers. With a father in the military, he was raised all over the world and became acquainted with many different cuisines in the process, mostly by convincing his parents to take him out to dinner. Trained at the California Culinary Academy, Vigil served as executive chef at the Olema Inn and Restaurant and at Ramblas tapas bar in San Francisco. More recently, he worked as executive chef at Inverness Park Grocery, an upscale deli. His move to Anaviv came about in 2017.
The setting for Anaviv’s Table is surprisingly intimate. There’s only one seating per night, and guests gather around one large table made from wood reclaimed from the old Cal stadium. It’s just the right size for a party of 10, as it turns out. The cost per person, including service charge, is $125 for a generous set menu that definitely leaves everyone more than full. (Dietary restrictions are honored, of course, with advance notice.)
The restaurant’s charm, according to Vigil, comes not just from its coziness, but also from its unexpected location just off the I-580 Harbor Way exit in Richmond, next door to a recycled metal salvage yard and an equipment rental store.
From Farm to Anaviv’s Table
Vigil does most of his buying at the San Rafael Farmers’ Market, where he can choose from among the best of the season’s produce. That bounty dictates the Anaviv’s Table menu.
“I usually have an idea of what I want to do on the way there, but seeing what they have affects how I put together the menu,” he says. “I take notes as I walk around and do some of my best menu planning when I’m driving home.”
Oren says his original concept for this unusual restaurant was for everyone to sit at one big table. “We would serve one menu to pair with local wines, highly emphasizing local farms, with some of the food coming from our garden.”
“Our garden” is a plot about a mile from the restaurant tended by master gardener and educator Kelli Barram as part of the West County DIGS Plant to Plate program. The two-year-old program offers an apprenticeship for students in under-resourced Richmond high schools. They learn gardening and cooking skills along with life skills, like punctuality and budgeting, that support a successful career. Oren is the Plant to Plate culinary instructor, teaching knife skills, preparation of simple dishes, and other kitchen basics. He also hires students from the program to work in his catering business.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in which my business is really involved in the community, more than just donating to a cause here or there,” says Oren, who lives nearby in El Cerrito. When he met Barram, they quickly came together over this shared goal. “I was thinking about urban gardening, and she wanted to do something with kids, so we put our ideas together,” he says. Thirty Richmond high school students have been through the program so far, 15 each year.
Oren dreams of extending his hyper-local sourcing philosophy deeper into the Richmond community, perhaps by enlisting Richmond residents as growers. “We’d bring in an expert urban farmer who would put in organic soil and set up a garden in their yards. We’d only need small quantities, so the grower would then have some for herself,” he says, adding that it’s only a dream for now.
When guests arrive for an evening at Anaviv’s Table, they are greeted with a welcoming cocktail and an invitation into the kitchen for a few “delicious bites” before dinner. Vigil whets appetites by describing dishes about to be brought to table, and guests see the sliced and chopped components beautifully arrayed on the counter with a mound of whole, colorful vegetables on a pedestal nearby.
This particular late-summer meal stars Barram’s garden produce with squash blossoms turned into fritters with Parmesan and basil, and salmon rillettes set on the garden’s cucumbers. A salad features the garden’s tomatoes, heirloom lettuces, and melon.
Edible flowers are incorporated into nearly every course: in an aioli atop the salmon rillettes; infused into a salad’s vinaigrette; and also part of a champagne gastrique (a sweet-sour sauce) accompanying a dish of pork belly, diver scallops, and grilled prawns with frisée and tomatoes. (The pork belly has been cured in vanilla and lavender.) Sage blossoms are stirred into the corn and chanterelle risotto, and both the saffron orange blossom panna cotta and shortbread cookie to take home are decorated with edible flowers. The steak and potato course alone has nothing floral added to it.
As guests settle in at the table, Vigil introduces each course, and nobody is shy with their queries. One person is curious about a mysterious ingredient in the risotto. Samphire, Vigil explains, is a sea vegetable. When another guest inquires about a mysterious flavor in the risotto, Vigil ducks into the kitchen to bring out a favorite jar from his spice cabinet: grains of paradise, a peppery spice with notes of coriander and cardamom.
On a visit two weeks later, the menu has subtly changed. An heirloom tomato bisque and petrale sole with summer shelling beans have replaced the seafood and pork belly courses, and charred peaches with pistachio ice cream are now on for dessert. We have come especially to try a savory cobbler, a recipe Vigil has agreed to share with Edible East Bay readers who might want to make the decadent vegetarian entrée for a holiday meal. Rather than fruit, the cobbler is made from Lunga di Napoli. This Italian winter squash with vibrant orange flesh can grow up to 45 pounds and feed a whole village. Vigil says sugar pie pumpkin or butternut squash would be fine substitutes. The filling also includes celery root, chanterelle mushrooms, purple daikon, fennel, and red onion. The cobbler’s rich and buttery crumble topping features the flavors of cayenne and herbes de Provence.
Anaviv’s Table offers a new concept for Bay Area diners. Ben Ortega, a guest who attended recently, sums up the evening as “cozy and unpretentious.” He adds, “I thought meeting the chef, seeing him in action and having him describe each dish was a nice touch that made the experience more personal and intimate. The food was excellent, but at the end of the day, the evening was great not because of one thing only, whether the food, the drinks, the service, the great people, or anything else, it was the combination of all of the above that made it truly memorable.”
Savory Winter Vegetable Cobbler from Anaviv’s Table
2 cups medium-diced butternut squash
(peel before dicing)
2 cups medium-diced celery root
(peel before dicing)
1 cup medium-diced purple daikon radish
1 medium red onion, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
1 cup shredded chanterelles
(or other wild mushrooms)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ bunch fresh thyme, leaves only
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ ounces finely grated fontina cheese
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
8 tablespoons organic butter,
chilled and cut into cubes
¾ cup heavy cream, chilled
Preheat oven to 350°. Place filling ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat in the olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast for 25 minutes.
While vegetables are roasting, make the crumble topping by combining flour, fontina cheese, baking powder, and seasonings in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until well incorporated (about 15 minutes). Stir in the cream and mix until the mixture resembles biscuit dough. Chill for 20 minutes in refrigerator.
Remove roasted vegetables from oven and let cool for 15 minutes before placing in an ovenproof casserole dish. Crumble chilled topping over vegetables. Bake at 350° until topping is golden brown and vegetables have started to caramelize, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
A contributing editor of j. weekly, Alix Wall is a freelance writer and personal chef. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: the Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals. Find her at theorganicepicure.com or on twitter @WallAlix.
Food and lifestyle photographer Stacy Ventura has photographed for Good Eggs and currently for Sun Basket. She recently traveled around the country in an Airstream with her husband, Brian, and her dog, Bianca.