(From left) Chef Arnon Oren, general manager Ashley Emery and chef Ross Kaplan of Sailing Goat at Point San Pablo Harbor. (Photo/Courtesy Sailing Goat)
(From left) Chef Arnon Oren, general manager Ashley Emery and chef Ross Kaplan of Sailing Goat at Point San Pablo Harbor. (Photo/Courtesy Sailing Goat)

Sailing Goat restaurant anchors an offbeat East Bay harbor 

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

It’s rare that God gets a mention in this column. After all, I write about food, not Torah. Most people I interview are pretty secular, but even when they aren’t, God doesn’t tend to play a significant role in their food stories.

That’s why I was so surprised when Arnon Oren of Anaviv Events gave God as the only possible explanation for how he came to find his chef for Sailing Goat, his new restaurant at Point San Pablo Harbor.

Oren had been invited by harbor owners Yaella Frankel and Rob Fyfe to bring a concept to the harbor’s vacant restaurant space. He thought Ross Kaplan, who had helped him launch his corporate catering division many years ago, would be the perfect person as chef. But Kaplan had left the Bay Area to help his parents, and the two hadn’t been in touch in years.

About a month later, Oren was talking on the phone outside his catering kitchen in Richmond when Kaplan just materialized, as if out of thin air.

“I don’t know how to explain it other than God,” Oren said. “I turn around, and he’s standing there.”

Kaplan, for his part, had been traveling through the area and decided to come by the Richmond catering kitchen, which he’d heard about and wanted to see. He didn’t necessarily think Oren would be there, but he was. Right then and there, Oren told Kaplan about the new restaurant project and drove him out to the location.

Asparagus and beet salad with egg and tuna at Sailing Goat (Photo/Alix Wall)
Asparagus and beet salad with egg and tuna at Sailing Goat (Photo/Alix Wall)

It’s a bit of a well-kept secret — you only know about it if you know about it. It’s off the last freeway exit on 580 before the Richmond Bridge on the East Bay side, and you have to travel a windy road until you end up at the harbor, a place where the Bay Area’s typical hustle and bustle completely disappear. The restaurant, which sits outside beneath an awning on the waterfront, is only one part of life at that location; there are people living on houseboats, an event space, a garden, Burning Man-style outdoor art, a landing dock for boaters and more. (Lunch guests had recently come to the restaurant by boat from Sausalito, Oren said.)

“I constantly say it’s 15 minutes from nowhere and about 30 minutes from everywhere, as you can get there from nearly anywhere in the Bay Area,” Kaplan said. “It’s a really nice escape, where you can give yourself a little reprieve.”

The restaurant opened April 28, with the name Sailing Goat to reference both land and sea.

Kaplan, 47, grew up in Columbia, Maryland, in a Jewish home where “food was the center of the household,” he said. As he followed a career in the food industry, he worked for a time for renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer at Union Square Café in New York. “He saw something in me that I didn’t even see myself,” Kaplan said.

One of his first jobs in the Bay Area was working for Oren, then chef at Café Cacao, part of the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory. Kaplan went on to open the first iteration of Bocanova, the Pan-American Oakland restaurant.

Oren has appeared in this column multiple times. Originally from Israel, he has both Chez Panisse and Oliveto on his resume and is a favorite caterer of many in both the Jewish and wider communities. He also runs Anaviv’s Table, a restaurant at his catering kitchen that seats 10 people per sitting.

The Sailing Goat kitchen is tiny, but there’s an open fire outside where they make pizzas and potjie pots, bubbling with stews (currently Moroccan spring vegetable and Brazilian seafood). The restaurant is open Friday through Sunday — always with live music in the afternoon.

The lack of pretension at the location is an inspiration, and the restaurant is not meant to be overly fancy.

“I’m inspired by the harbor and by being on the road with my cast-iron pan,” Kaplan said. He in fact had the pan when he stopped by Anaviv on that fortuitous day. “It’s simplicity. I’m not embellishing to embellish, we’re getting great-quality stuff, and we’re not overmanipulating it. I’m interested in all kinds of food and don’t want to be trapped. The concept is really an open forum.”

Oren said the restaurant concept is still in its early stages. He and Kaplan hope to start a small market where customers can take home the same fresh fish from their fisherman, or bread from their baker, or produce from their farmer. They also might offer cooking classes and host private events. They plan to offer brunch eventually, too, which could have some sort of Jewish/Israeli spin.

Kaplan recalled one of his earliest days at Café Cacao, when he was brand new on the job and asked Oren what to do about a certain dish.

“Make it delicious,” was Oren’s reply. It’s an answer that’s stuck with him until this day. He likes to think it still influences everything he makes.

Sailing Goat

1900 Stenmark Drive, Richmond, open 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. sailinggoatrestaurant.com

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."