The restaurant is an unpretentious looking establishment on Locust Street in downtown Walnut Creek, but the first time visitor has a pleasant surprise when passing through the front door and catching initial glimpses of the impressive dining areas. Large volume interior spaces and rough stone walls give an impression of elegant European-style permanence and stability. An enclosed Garden Room with tall windows provides a sheltered view of the sidewalk. The inner dining room lies behind the beautiful stone outer wall of the main building itself.
When the owner and head chef, Ari Georgsson, took over the facility, he said it had been a Chinese restaurant with an unappealing decor. Ari gutted the establishment, opened the ceilings, and dressed the surfaces with Italian stone and style.
Restaurateurs and other people interested in restaurant decor came from all over to see the innovations, and Katy’s Kreek became responsible for some subsequent industry design trends.
When we commented on how beautiful the restaurant was, Ari explained that, for obvious reasons, people in Iceland spend a lot of time indoors. As a result, he said, they have a cultural value of making interior spaces as comfortable and welcoming as possible. Also, Ari said, the restaurant incorporates Icelandic values of providing for children. He told us that businesses in Iceland always provide play areas for the kids. As a result, Katy’s Kreek has a children’s playroom that kids can retire to with Legos, toys, and movies while their parents are finishing a leisurely meal.
Katy’s Kreek is justifiably famous for its breakfasts including an Eggs Benedict entrée that has earned a reputation as “The World’s Best,” perhaps deservedly so. Chef Ari is now focusing attention on his dinner menu. His tagline is “An All American Restaurant,” but in my experience the cuisine and presentation surely resonate with Ari’s training at the Hotel and Catering School in his native Iceland. He did his apprenticeship at a luxury resort in Reykjavik and for a time served as Executive Chef at the country’s U.S Embassy. He became an Icelandic Star Chef by creating and starring in the first cooking program on Icelandic television.
Chef Ari served as chef in a number of elegant American eating establishments including the restaurant at Big Sur’s exclusive Ventana Resort, The Covey at Quail Lodge, and Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River Oregon. Ari said he played host to a number of “A List” celebrities during those years. For example, he had the opportunity of serving George Bush, Sr. and of hosting Shirley Temple’s 25th Anniversary celebration. Ari’s initial experience as a restaurateur in his own establishment came when he became proprietor of Carmel’s The Fish House on the Park.
Even though he had become a center of the Carmel food industry, in 1998 Ari decided to move to Walnut Creek because he realized that Central County was more family friendly and would provide a better environment than Carmel for his children to grow up in. As it turned out the schools and activities in the area really were superior. “That was the best move I ever made!” he said. When he made the move, Ari said that he did not bring his reputation as a master restaurateur with him, although he discovered some Central County residents had been fans of his when visiting Carmel. His first restaurant was San Ramon’s Katy’s Korner, which he opened in 1998. I’ve known about and enjoyed Katy’s Korner, and didn’t realize the connection.
We learned that Ari’s assistant, Chef Ramon, has been working with Ari for 32 years. He started working with him in 1981, as a 16-year-old bus boy at Quail Lodge. Ari’s wife, Benedikta (“Benny” to everyone), is the dining-room manager, and their five children, Anton, Viktor, Axel, Esther, and Tinna, have worked with him to provide the kind of personal service and attention that, Ari believes, guests expect and deserve. Ari said that his menu is a distillation of the best recipes that he discovered and created during his years of apprenticeship.
The Katy’s Kreek menu includes a wide variety of succulent appetizers, entreés, and desserts. We sampled the grilled Lamb Chops, which feature Australian lamb, fresh vegetables, and a side of delicious scalloped potatoes with cheese. We also enjoyed the Grilled Fresh Salmon, served with fresh vegetables, rice, and a dill hollandaise. Fried Green Tomatoes served with a spicy dipping sauce were a surprise dish. Delicious!
We enjoyed a libation that was a House Specialty — Pimm’s Cup served out of mason jars. Pimm's No. 1 Cup is based on gin. It is the color of dark-tea with a reddish cast, with spice and citrus fruit.
The Katy’s Kreek version is served with cucumbers, strawberries, citrus, and mint. Refreshing! Addicting perhaps!
We also were served a drink called Sazerac, which is New Orleans variation of a whiskey cocktail that traditionally featured Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac. In this case, the prime ingredient was Bulleit Rye Whisky, the so-called “mark of a gentleman,” together with St.
George absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, and flamed lemon. The server demonstrated the “flamed” part of the drink with a cigarette lighter that caused the drink to flash. The liquid wasn’t warmed by the flash, but the drink had a wonderful effect upon swallowing that my partner accurately referred to as “heart-warming.”
Central County, and Walnut Creek in particular, has one of the most wonderful collections of dining places on the planet, perhaps. We’ve enjoyed dining at many of them. Katy’s Kreek deserves a place among the top of the list. I am planning to go back for more than breakfast. For one thing, Chef Ari mentioned something about an entrée featuring Icelandic Char. I’ve got to try that sometime.