Lafayette ‘Taste’ sold out, but there are more ‘Food Adventures’
By Lou Fancher
You can still buy tickets to Taste of Lafayette … for 2018.
This year, anyone not already holding a ticket to the 15th annual restaurant walk, the two-hour tasting spree at downtown establishments bookended by a wine reception and a coffee, dessert and raffle party is out of luck, as it’s sold out.
… Or not, because on the agenda of Chamber of Commerce President Jay Lifson is promotion of a new, VIP food experience coming to Lafayette. Prior to and after the tasting walk, Lauren Herpich will introduce the company she founded in 2014, Local Food Adventures. She and her team of guides conduct walking food tours in Rockridge and near Oakland’s Lake Merritt that include learning little-known facts about the areas’ history, along with tastings at locations along the easy, 1- to 2-mile journeys.
Since moving from Rockridge to Lafayette in the summer of 2014, the former college campus tour guide said she has “fallen in love with my new hometown.” Exploration of the area’s restaurants, along with research and conversations with local historian Mary McCosker of the Lafayette Historical Society, have Herpich eager to launch tours in Lafayette. Although many cities name their streets for former landowners or prominent people, Herpich discovered Lafayette takes a more populist approach.
“I absolutely loved learning that many of our streets are named for everyday people who lived here and who the community cared about.” Herpich said. “An example is Bickerstaff Road, named after Margaret ‘Jennie’ Bickerstaff, a local schoolteacher who planted the great redwood tree that now sits outside Diablo Foods. I love that about this town.”
At home, Herpich. her husband Chris Herpich and their 19-month-old son Connor feast on easy-to-make slow cooker meals or a mussels in white wine sauce dish that she said is delicious, sounds fancy and is deceptively easy to make.
“I have a link to the recipe on our food tour blog,” she said, instantly sending an email: http://www.localfoodadventures.com/mussels-white-wine-sauce-recipe/
But a personal love of baking reveals there’s a sweet tooth — and a reason why Food Adventures also hosts a popular ice cream and gelato tour in Rockridge.
“My personal favorites are a pineapple upside-down cake that I add a bit of dark rum drizzled on top and the Hummingbird Cake from chef Art Smith’s now-closed Table Fifty-Two restaurant in Chicago,” she said. Her eclectic taste that bridges cuisines and multiple categories informs Food Adventures’ broad range tours the website boasts “keep you satisfied, but not stuffed.”
The Lafayette tours begin June 24, and while still being finalized are likely to feature five locations — Papillon Coffee, Amphora Nueva, Rancho Cantina, Susie Cakes and a vendor at the farmer’s market.
Herpich’s culinary enthusiasm definitely puts a smile on the face of Lifson, who said “Don’t we wish,” when asked if the chamber would like to expand the one-night tour to a bi-annual or two-day event. Tickets priced at $45 sell out rapidly and proceeds go to the Lafayette Community Foundation and chamber programs and services.
“But it’s a real burden on restaurants,” Lifson explained. “That’s why we do it on Tuesday (and not on busy weekend nights). We have nearly 550 people attending. That’s a lot of tastes in two hours.”
Laura Magu, owner/operator of the French restaurant REVE Bistro, said participating last year raised their profile. With recent recognition — awarded No. 14 in the Bay Area and No. 1 French restaurant in the East Bay based on YELP reviews — the two-year-old restaurant is busy.
“We’ve been pulling people through the tunnel, which is always a challenge. Business has been great,” she said. Initial pushback about the menu that changes seasonally and a predominantly French wine list no longer concerns their customers. “They trust the food is good and don’t worry about things going on and off the menu. They understand we pair French wines with French food, so they no longer ask questions about Napa or Sonoma wines.”
Magu appreciates the value of special events like Taste and Food Adventures tours that introduce new visitors to Reve or satisfy regular customers with exclusive, special experiences. That is why the bistro is participating in Herpich’s June 6 “Love Lafayette Dinner Soiree.” Twenty guests will share a guided, progressive dinner at four locations — Amphora Nueva, La Finestra, Rancho Cantina and REVE. The single-course tastings include wine or cocktail pairings and table-side discussions with chefs and proprietors. Portions of the ticket sales from tours and the dinner soirees will go to Lafayette Partners in Education and the Food Banks of Contra Costa and Solano.
If the tours and soirees follow Taste tradition, it’s probably time to sign up — now. While you’re at it, make a note to snare a Taste ticket the minute they go on sale in 2018.