The Moraga Bar(n) - a French Laundry For Moragans?

We refer to the much-written-about Yountville restaurant and wonder if, perhaps, Moragans won't have to make the trip north to get the same dining experience in the future.

Lamorinda Patch had the pleasure of joining and the for a small get-together at the Moraga Barn Friday, and learned there are plans afoot for Moraga's venerable watering hole.

A team of local restauranteurs hope to bring a "Napa Valley" dining experience to Avant's recently LEED Platinum-certified landmark structure, and talking with locals around a blazing outdoor fire pit cemented our longstanding impression of a pent-up local demand for such a venue.

Mayor Karen Mendonca was on hand for a briefing on the proposal, presented complete with renderings and a sample menu, and the idea did sound appealing.

Avant and the restaurant team said that, if approved, their proposal would lean heavily on locally grown and produced foods and wines, could provide the town with $125,000 in annual sales tax revenue, and would be built without threatening the Barn's coveted LEED Platinum certification - currently the only one of its kind in Contra Costa County.

"We have a commitment to green building and feel we have demonstrated that commitment," Avant said Friday. "At the same time we feel we can bring this building back to its former intended use and benefit both the town and the people of Moraga."

Therese Meuel June 28, 2011 at 06:22 AM
Maybe getting a top notch restaurant in town would bring in some of the people from the surrounding communities to us for a change. As noted earlier many Moragans go to Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Oakland and the City for fine dining. Could it be open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner? Probably not, but if you have a great local bar you'd probably do just fine! As someone who works in the Napa Valley and loves lots of the restaurants up there for the quality of local ingredients prepared well at a reasonable price I say bring it on!
CJ June 28, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Eileen- I have inside knowledge that the Safeway expansion of their "Organic" section and offerings is a scam designed to extract another 10% margin from those products(I was in the meetings years ago). They are preying on you. There is little difference in the produce and products they call "Organics" . In fact many of those products come from the same suppplier as the Non-Organic. Just are able to document a slightly different process before going to market. I love Asia Palace but after they get done frying and saucing up all that food. The last thing you should be concerned about is whether it is organic. In fact the constant use of the term in his restaurant tells me it is another marketing "tool" as is most things that advertise "organic". Frankly I would prefer a cheaperbill at the end of the meal, than a bag of leftover "organic produce" when I leave. Bless his heart. I am just commenting on a little read local forum here that IMO this idea would never succeed. The area hardly supports any restaurant idea that opens because of it's own demographics and habits. People will never drive out to Moraga to eat unless it is some kind of shrine to fantastic food, which do not just open up and become such. The window for profitibility is very narrow for these establishments. If you want organic and it really matters to you, you need to grow it yourself. Otherwise, it is mostly a scam with few exceptions.
Chris Nicholson June 28, 2011 at 03:00 PM
In selecting restaurants, carbon footprint, etc, is not very far up my list. Last I checked, Zagat's doesn't give may extra points for LEED status. "Green," "Organic," "Sustainable," "Fair Trade," etc. are MARKETING terms and not indications of quality or value.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) June 28, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Folks - Which came first, the Platinum LEED certification or the oven-fired pizzas? Frankly, I'm a little baffled by the assertions that owners/operators are trying to "con" or "scam" people into paying higher prices because they strove to attain green building's highest certification. I have no dog in this hunt except grand memories of the old Barn and high hopes for Moraga's future so these assertions do seem a little strange to me. I thought we had pointed out that the Barn had been rebuilt as headquarters of Canyon Construction with an eye toward hosting a possible wine bar and art gallery. This latest idea was sparked when some local restaurant people talked with Chris Avant about broadening the mission and turning it into a restaurant because the space would be conducive to such a use. Saying the LEED certification is some sort of greenie ruse to lure Moragans in and make them pay higher prices is just a little... well, confusing. So now we have Green scams and plots and ruses and conspiracies at Safeway. I just thought Moragans would like a nice place to have lunch, in an old building with character and new appeal. As for "little read local forum" boy, did you swing and miss on that one! Editor
CJ June 28, 2011 at 03:45 PM
JD-Nobody said that, except to make the generalization which is valid, at least to me and many others. The conversation obviously expanded into other areas? Isn't that what Huffpo and AOL want in here. To generate lively discussions? It would be cool if someone opened up a nice inexpensive restaurant that was kid and family friendly. if you want LEED/Greenie then I guess that would attract some diners according to this forum's opinion.
Carolyn Phinney June 28, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Hey, has anyone every eaten at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville? I think this community could sustain an eatery of that type and level and keep it packed. I drive that far for this little jewel and although not cheap, it doesn't break the bank.
Chris Nicholson June 28, 2011 at 04:44 PM
I do not fault owners/developers for pitching a "green" message. I'm just disappointed/confused as to WHY such messages seem to work on some people. It strikes me as odd and irrational-- especially when talking about the hypothetical desirability of a hypothetical restaurant and no mention is made of factors which might contribute to the quality of the food/service. But, hey, give the people what they want, I guess. Again, I believe in freedom, so I think the owners should pitch their wares how they like.
Nicholas June 28, 2011 at 05:07 PM
If they have a bike rack (horse post?) out front and good food I'm in. I wouldnt eat there just cause their green but it sure helps knowing they care about those standards. I'm looking for a cool local place to hang and the barn sounds fun. Sorry I missed its glory days, I hear a lot about that lately!
Carolyn Phinney June 28, 2011 at 05:19 PM
In the end, the only thing that matters is whether or not people enjoy the venue. Green is good for the community, so we can all appreciate that, just as we appreciate it when our neighbors drive gas efficient vehicles. Green has nothing to do with success of the place as a restaurant/pub.
Michael Taylor June 28, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Wow, we haven't even seen a menu, it's not even beyond the discussion phase and already people are trying to shoot it down as a Greenie Conspiracy. Forgetting that twisted logic, let's examine the long list of successful restaurants operating on the "fresh is best" concept and see how they're doing: Greens, yep still packing them in --- Chez Panisse, nuff said --- Breads, Prima, Va de Vi ---- all still banging and drawing big crowds (with many from Lamorinda) --- and then you have the Napa Valley and Sonoma, with people driving HOURS to get there. Agree with the people saying the food must be good (duh) but this sounds like a great location and I like the idea of eating a salad picked that morning from a local garden. Don't like the LEED certification, don't go - MORE ROOM FOR ME!
Kitty June 28, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Any new restaurant choice would be welcomed by me (and everyone I know here). I agree that we're long overdue for a family friendly place that could also do St. Mary's night, Mom's night etc., but this would be a step in the right direction.
Chris Nicholson June 28, 2011 at 05:54 PM
Fresh ingredients of the highest quality are the foundation of a great meal. I just care about what shows up on my plate. The political correctness of the supply chain does not (should not) impact my plate. If the best ingredients are NOT sustainable, organic, or fair trade certified, how much more money or lower quality should the chef tolerate in order to maintain buzz word compliance? Which do you prefer: (i) the best food available at a fair price or (ii) the best food available at a fair price, SUBJECT to the constraint that it be buzz word compliant?
CJ June 28, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Bistro Jeanty is AWESOME! Been there many times. Food that is as good as French Laundry w/o the insane wait,cost and pretense.
CJ June 28, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Michael-Looking at your list of places there. We would never see each other at the same place anyway. Been to all of those and found them.....less than satisfying.Well Chez Panisse in the 90's was pretty good but the Prix Fixe deal bugs me.
Eileen June 29, 2011 at 01:53 AM
@ Chris. You seem to be asserting that there is no meaningful difference in the structure of the food supply chains that bring different food itenms to your plate, and so consumers who choose the "green" labels are suffering in their wallets at thue altar of "political correctness." In fact, there are important diffences between, say farm-raised salmon and wild, line-caught salmon - in terms of the health of the fish themselves, the water they grow/live in. And, as a scuba diver and all-around aquatic life lover, I choose to pay more for the wild caught salmon. More and more people are making similar choices about their meat, produce, etc and thus "voting" for changes in food production with their wallets. They want to eat healthier food. Calling it only a drive to comply with some PC standard is a little short-sighted.
Carolyn Phinney June 29, 2011 at 02:04 AM
How did we get from "LEED Platinum-certified" to wild vs farm-raised salmon? Does LEED certification pertain to fish? Come on everyone, this is getting downright silly.
Eileen June 29, 2011 at 02:08 AM
I was responding to a prior post. Follow that thread and you'll see my logic. I don't think it's irrelevant to the broader conversation that's developed in reaction to this article.
Carolyn Phinney June 29, 2011 at 02:11 AM
And I was teasing you and responding to the broader conversation that developed, which was pretty far afield from the LEED certified building in which whatever food they decide to serve will be served. One thing for sure, all of US will be there on opening night to critique!!
Dennis Wanken June 29, 2011 at 02:42 AM
This discussion will go on and on given the passion of some these points of view. I, for one, would like to a reinstatement of just a plain old watering hole. I would love just to have one place in Moraga where I and others could go and have a cold draft beer and socialize. Maybe this is just simple an idea for this forum. However, I can still hope for a long bar in Moraga.
Glenn Savage June 29, 2011 at 05:46 AM
We are in a major recession, the building has been vacant for a couple of years and appears to have been way over invested for the area, LEED certification is way down the list of attributes diners will value - after concept, food quality, price / value, service, location, health considerations, cleaniliness, atmosphere, variety, etc. If the claim is true that this is the only LEED certified building in Contra Costa and it is vacant, that tells you a lot!
Scott Bowhay June 29, 2011 at 05:48 AM
Hey Dennis (and all)- I miss the Barn as it was...but not too far away from the old joint, Pennini has cold draft beer in several desirable varieties...by the mug or the pitcher. I had forgotten about the place, LMYA-MOL-MBA-etc, far in my rear view mirror And, I think the other pizza places have draft beer...yeah, our choices are limited...but there is huge upside for someone that can put together a watering hole with the right trashy ambience.
Carolyn Phinney June 29, 2011 at 03:21 PM
I've said too much already, but I will say that I am grateful for someone showing LEEDership and building a demonstration building from which potentially we can all learn. I am concerned by the notion that it will be a French Laundry type establishment. I don't see how that can succeed in Moraga. Napa Valley is a romantic place. Moraga at that location is not. I am certain these investors will do their due diligence and survey the community. This has been an inform survey here and I think Ellen McPeak is right that there is a movement toward sustainable food (just like LEED focuses on sustainable buildings). I think that adds novelty and gets your attention and gets you in the door. After that, it's the ambiance the quality for price, how much fun you have with your neighbors....because in the end, this will need to be sustained by Lamorinda and Walnut Creek. Unlikely people will drive to the romantic Moraga Road/Moraga Via crossroads unless they already live here or for a special event.
josh June 30, 2011 at 05:38 PM
I wouldnt get caught up in the "French Laundry" comparison. I think the concept of having a good restaurant nearby in a pretty cool building is great. I was at the event but didnt really look at the plans as I was busy trying to find a drinkable local wine. Hard to envision what the layout for the restaurant would be and how the kitchen would be configured etc. But if they can pull it off more power to them.
Larry Tessler June 30, 2011 at 07:51 PM
The $125,000 in sales tax is a reasonable estimate. But like all but the specific parcel taxes not all goes to the town. The town would receive about $12,500 of this amount.
Larry Tessler June 30, 2011 at 08:10 PM
I actually went to the presentation. Here we have a restored building done lovingly by Canyon Construction. Somewhere along the line the LaMorinda Wine Growers Association and others got together with Canyon and after a year or so of tossing around ideas thought this location would be fine for restaurant and wine bar. Two experienced restaurateurs (think Boulevard and Table 24) put together a plan. Nothing final, just a plan. A large wood fired oven to make pizzas and grill meats; a limited kitchen to turn out salads and such; a 16 stool wine bar. It is estimated that if approved it would take 42 weeks to construct and would include an outdoor "greenhouse" with the oven and seating. The building is green. Should that be a secret? The plan is to serve organically grown food. I don't care but then some do. Why keep it a secret?
Nancy Lee July 01, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Trader Joe, Diablo Foods and Whole Foods seem to be doing pretty well with fresh, organic foods and product lines - I would think a restaurant using those same products and fresh produce would be welcome. I would go FWIW.
Yoni Mayeri July 01, 2011 at 10:57 PM
"...Isn't parking a bit tight there among other issues?"--bcrane1 Where is parking an issue in Moraga?
Yoni Mayeri July 01, 2011 at 11:06 PM
The stands at the Moraga Farmer's market that sell organic produce also do very well. Yeah for this new spot!
Dale Walwark July 03, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Many of us have long expressed the need for a better dinner restaurant in Moraga. We and many of our friends will dine there and, if it is good enough, customers will come from far and wide. No French Laundry prices, but it would have to be more expensive than what is here now for the quality and ambiance that would set it apart. Parking for dinner wouldn't be a problem. Even lunch parking wouldn't if, as expected, the post office next door closes.
David Swoboda September 27, 2011 at 03:08 AM
I would love to know the progress on this project. I would love to see this really happen. Local wines and great food sounds great.


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