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Southern Pacific Almost Ready to Roar into Vintage Oaks

Music-food venue poised to open; Middle Eastern market and new Chinese restaurant for Ignacio; Maya Palenque loses its owner.

The 180-seat Southern Pacific Smokehouse about to open later this month in the Shopping Center is like nothing Novato has ever seen.

The scope of it: music five nights a week, a staff of experienced managers drawn from all over the country, a unique look and an investment of more than $2 million. in the Nov. 29 edition of Scoop, and now it is really something to write home about.

The project, which takes over the building previously occupied by a Shane Co. jewelry store, is the brainchild of industry veteran and managing partner Rick Riess and his primary partner, Nashville recording artist and Bay Area resident Philip  Claypool. Riess was previously the CEO of the PlumpJack Group and COO of Auberge Resorts.

Memphis-born Claypool knows his way around a tune. He was a Billb0ard-level  country star in the mid-1990s and released two albums, charting highest with a cover of Bad Company's 1975 hit, "Feel Like Makin' Love." He has all sorts of performance video clips on YouTube, including at least one on which he's seen jamming with Riess.

And Claypool knows his way around a barbecue pit. Many of the restaurant's recipes come from him, such as the Berkshire Kurobuta baby back ribs Memphis-style; dry-rubbed twice, smoked and then finished with a signature sauce that has a hint of vinegar. Although the recipes are top secret, the rubs and sauces will be for sale in the restaurant-music venue, which will be open seven days a week.

Other menu items executed under chef Ryan Barnett, who was most recently executive chef at the Rex Hotel in San Francisco, include an appetizer of barbecue rubbed prawns sautéed and served with crème fraiche, shallots and Worchestershire sauce. From the garden features wood-oven baked asparagus finished with lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil and Bellwether Farms crescenza cheese. Finales will include a luscious-sounding lemon icebox tart with a graham cracker crust.

Although there is a hickory smoker that weighs a ton, the restaurant will not only offer ‘que but a varied menu featuring fish and local farm produce. It is also not a train-themed restaurant. As Riess explains it, the idea is to offer the foods that one would encounter on the route of the Southern Pacific railroad.

Riess says he knows the market in this area and is determined that Southern Pacific will be a moderately priced restaurant and appeal to a broad spectrum of the community.

Speaking of the dollar investment, Riess said that there was a small group of local investors. He would not confirm the rumor this reporter heard of 10 locals each throwing in $100,000. Another important factor was that the landlord of Vintage Oaks, the Campbell Family Trust of Hawaii, gave the group substantial “tenant improvements,” he said.

The rest of the Riess-Claypool managers could be labeled a “restaurant dream team” drawing the general manager, Nick Rimedio and beverage manager, Alex Bachman, from the Charlie Trotter restaurant empire. Rimedio said the restaurant will have a staff of 60 with 80 to 90 percent living in Novato.

The interior design is by Marin-based Carrie Channell. It has leather booths, poured concrete, reclaimed wood from a split-pea factory and light fixtures made from motorcycle gears fitted with milk glass lights, softening the industrial look. Think tan, gun-metal gray and burnt crimson.  

A Cultural Culinary Breakthrough for Novato

We are so fortunate in Novato to have our first Middle Eastern store, Behnaz Market & Deli at 469 Entrada Drive in Ignacio Center. It was opened by husband and wife team Behnaz Moradi and Mahmoud Iravani two months ago. It’s located in the former Apela Collective marijuana dispensary.

Iravani, a contractor, did all the remodeling and has outfitted the store with a deli counter and a wall of refrigerator and freezer cases. There is also a full kitchen, which Iravani uses to prepare food for the store and service her numerous catering clients.

“There are about 300 Persians in Novato and more generally in Marin,” she said.

They carry a small selection of fresh vegetables, a large quantity of bottled and canned goods and a vast array of fresh and frozen items of Middle Eastern or specifically Persian derivation.

Every day, Moradi prepares two dinner entrees and the traditional Persian rice (polow), which is long grain rice cooked so every grain is separate and then steamed, and topped lightly with butter. A combined entrée of two stews, one with beef and yellow split peas and another of beef with vegetables, flavored with preserved lemon, atop a generous serving of Persian rice is just $9.99 Smaller plates start at $5.99.

For those with a sweet tooth, there is scrumptious walnut baklava.

Store hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Another Change at Ignacio Center

Green Bamboo restaurant, owned by Jimmy Huang of San Francisco, replaced the at 471 Entrada Drive, but it isn't apparent to the naked eye.

The change happened April 1, but although Huang brought in a second chef to help execute the new menu, and the signage haven’t changed yet. All that will happen in a couple of weeks according to the manager, Ling Liang, who previously owned a Chinese restaurant in Fairfield. The old menu will still be in effect with new additions. Until they’re printed, the wait staff is verbally informing customers of the new dishes.

New menu items include Szechuan crispy boneless duck and a very light and delicious version of walnut prawns, a Cantonese dish.

Ling said the former owners decided to sell after their son graduated college and sought employment outside the restaurant. She said they felt it was too difficult to continue since they relied on him because of their lack of proficiency in English.

Marking a Passing at Maya Palenque

The long-time owner of the popular Mexican restaurant and bar Young Soon Dugan, died April 2. According to her obituary posted on the Adobe Creek Funeral Home’s website, Young was born in Korea, was a prima ballerina and married to the late Col. Richard Anthony Dugan.

After her husband passed away in 1976, Young owned several businesses, the last being Maya Palenque.

Her son Arthur “Joe” Dugan has been the manager of the restaurant for some time. He could not be reached for this article.

Susie Hudson April 08, 2011 at 11:48 PM
I am most interested in Southern Pacific. I love live music and 5 nights a week to have live music is exciting. Plus a bonus is I love Bar-B-Q.
Norma Dawson April 09, 2011 at 03:48 AM
How did we get so lucky as to have GraceAnn Walden on our Novato Patch?? I listen to you on Ronn Owens whenever you are on. Thank you!!
Marcia McLean April 09, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Great to.have Geace Ann. Tnx
Erica Thrasher April 13, 2011 at 12:20 AM
how do i apply???
Gretchen April 21, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Will SPS serve lunch too, or is it dinner only?

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