San Ramon, CA

San Ramon finds a food focus at its City Center

Clay Kallam

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The shaking beef is just one of many superb dishes at The Slanted Door.The Slanted Door

I sat in the Slanted Door on a sunny day, enjoying a glass of wine and some very good food. I could see into the large rectangular Square, designed to be a suburban version of an Italian piazza.

Small children squealed as they darted across the low sprays of water. Parents watched and chatted, eying the clothing stores and other shops that make up the City Center Bishop Ranch, as it’s officially known. Others sat under awnings, taking advantage of the shade and a cool breeze.

Most people, of course, just call it the “City Center” or the “San Ramon City Center,” but whatever the name, the modernist two-story structure is quickly fulfilling the promise seen by its developers.

“We opened at the end of 2018,” says Jeff Dodd, a senior vice president for Sunset Development, but the space was only half full. A year later, it was two-thirds full, “and then we ran right into COVID.”

But even during the pandemic, the City Center has been filling up, especially on the food side of the equation. Nineteen of the 24 planned-for food and beverage locations are in place, with full occupancy expected early next year.

The Slanted Door, of course, is the crown jewel, as its arrival in suburban San Ramon was a shock to pretty much everyone. Its San Francisco location in the Ferry Building is known not only for its scenic location but also its exquisite take on Asian flavors – and no one expected its first expansion to land in a newly constructed mall in the Contra Costa County suburbs.

But land there it did, with its signature shaking beef, sleek design and upscale vibe, and even though it’s tucked at one end of the Square, it’s the focal point, figuratively and literally, of the City Center.

But it is not the only sit-down option, however, as Dodd points out the plan was always to have one-third of the food and beverage options to be full service, one-third fast casual and one-third “walk-around” (think ice cream, coffee and such.)

Though most of the restaurants are spinoffs from other Bay Area operations – Delarosa, for example, and Curry Up Now (which will open in July) – the most interesting concept is The Lot, which sits directly outside the entrance to the 10-screen movie house.

Naturally it serves as the food and drink source for the theater (including delivery to moviegoers at their seats during screenings) but it also is open to any City Center visitor who wants to sample the menu (which offers alcohol, by the way, and is several steps above the usual theater fare).

The fast casual options (there are six right now) include C Casa and MIXT, and the walk-around category features ice cream from Portland-based Salt and Straw and the ubiquitous boba from Boba Guys.

Unlike more focused and affordable food courts like the Emeryville Public Market, the City Center array of options is an upgraded echo of what traditional – and dying – malls usually offered. The only full-on chain is Starbucks, as there are no Cinnabons or Panda Expresses or the other staples found in shopping malls. And there is no retail big-box anchor tenant in the two-story center, another departure from the previous norm.

But the food flexibility that comes with 19 options is still there, so it’s not as if a group of people all have to agree on the same meal. Some can opt for a sandwich from Mendocino Farms, while others can dig into a burger from ROAM Artisan Burgers. There’s beer at Fieldworks, and wine and tapas at the Social Affair, and upscale choices from the Slanted Door to LB Steak.

And with buildout just a few months away, and the pandemic hopefully sliding into the rearview mirror, City Center San Ramon is positioned to take full advantage of the widely anticipated return to normalcy.

“There’s a great sense of momentum,” says Dodd – and even better, a sense that the food fun has just begun in San Ramon.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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