Nibblers Eatery: A Deep East Bay Oasis

Nibblers Cheese Plate

When you think of artisan cheese, fine wine, and a diverse, sustainable menu, most people don't think of Pleasant Hill, a small city nestled between Concord and Walnut Creek. Pleasant Hill isn't known for its exotic food culture, so the few gems that are hidden within the town's borders are not only rare, but well hidden. Locals know the game, though. They know about Nibblers Eatery.

While the name doesn't exactly evoke visions of decadent cheese plates, locally grown produce, or handcrafted chocolate desserts, that's what you'll find on the menu at Nibblers. With a constantly changing cast of dishes, the offerings at Nibblers are not your run-of-the-mill Contra Costa County fare. Guests will be tempted by the large selection of small plates -- indeed they make up the entire menu -- all developed by owner and Chef de Cuisine Daniel Clayton. Clayton's background is diverse, with stints at Culinary Institute of America's Graystone campus and Lark Creek restaurant in Walnut Creek. Passionate about fresh, seasonal foods, he brought those values home when he opened Nibblers with his life partner (and Nibblers pâtissier) Trace Leighton.

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With a creative small-plate menu that rotates monthly, Daniel and Trace keep diners on their toes with a host of new things to try. Here's a sampling of their January dinner plates:

  • Crispy duck confit & fuyu persimmon salad -- baby lettuces, Indonesian long pepper, sundried cherry vinaigrette
  • Butternut squash risotto cake -- romaine chiffonade, sweet pepper aïoli
  • Pan fried Iacopi brussels sprouts -- roasted shallots, sunchokes, farm egg, aged sherry vinegar
  • Prosciutto wrapped Knoll kadota figss -- Shaft blue cheese, pedro ximenez glaze
  • Skillet fried Peruvian Lantern scallops -- Buddha's hand julienne, baby fennel, maitake mushrooms, citron emulsion
  • Frog Hollow warren pear flat bread -- Sonoma goat cheese, pignoli, Buddha’s hand zest

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Besides the dinner offerings, Nibblers' cheese selection is enough of a reason to make the trek out to Pleasant Hill. Just a few of my favorites off their recent cheese menu:

  • Achadinha capricious, portuguese style olive oil rubbed goat cheese
  • Azienda tetilla, galician semi-soft cheese with sweet milk flavors
  • Cypress Grove truffle tremor, triple créme goat with flecks of truffle
  • Matias torta la serena, buttery sheeps milk cheese with complex nutty flavor
  • Synnøve gudbrandsdalsost, norwegian caramelized goat's whey cheese

For those inclined to imbibe, I recommend taking a close look at the Nibblers beer and wine list. As one of the premier wine bars in the far East Bay, Daniel and Trace are known for stocking notable yet short-run vintages that will intrigue, possibly even educate, the most learned San Francisco wine snob.

Overall, Nibblers is a gem in the otherwise drab culinary culture of the deep East Bay. There are only a handful of fine restaurants east of the Caldecott, and Nibblers is definitely one of them. Perhaps, though, the Nibblers can best be described by their mission statement:

Why small plates?

Small circles of friends & family.  Small communities in big cities. Small family owned farms.  Small artisan dairies & bakeries. Small neighborhoods. Small, intimate restaurants. And many, many small plates of irresistible food.

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Creamy Red Kuri Squash Shooters from Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar
Recipe provided by Daniel Clayton and Tracy Leighton

Ingredients:
1 medium red kuri squash, rinsed, quartered, seeded
2 T butter
1/2 medium onion, diced fine
1 carrot, peeled and diced fine
2 celery stalks, diced fine
1 bay leaf
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
Pinch white pepper

Method:
1. Fill a 5 quart pot halfway with cool water. Heat to simmer.

2. Add quartered squash and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes to blanch. Remove squash to cool and reserve blanching liquid.

3. In medium pot, melt butter and add onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaf. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, scoop or cut squash out of skin.

5. When vegetables are soft, remove bay leaf, add squash and stir. Add 1/2 cup blanching liquid to squash and stir until moisture is evaporated. Repeat this several times, until squash is mostly melted.

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6. Add another 1 1/2 cups blanching liquid and stir in completely. Add milk and cream and mix. Add nutmeg and white pepper. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Puree mixture with immersion blender or run 2 cups at a time through food processor. Press through a fine strainer, return to pot, adjust seasoning, and heat to serve in tall, warm shot glasses.

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