East Bay Grease, or, I *Heart* Oakland

For a while there Oakland got a really bad rap: Crime, urban decay, you name the disease and this city suffered from it. Things began to noticeably change back during the first dot-com boom when rents and the cost of living in San Francisco became untenable for many of the working class and creative class (like that situation has changed any), a number of whom uprooted and settled across the bay. Maybe this mirrors the story of Brooklyn?

I first noticed that Oakland was serious about attracting City folk while visiting my sister once. At the time, she lived near Lake Merritt, just south of downtown Oakland, in a beautiful arts & crafts apartment building. She’d afixed to her a door an ad courtesy of mayor Jerry Brown asking San Franciscans where to move in their city to avoid the fog. Answer: Oakland. While I never took that bait, I have found some excellent destinations in Oakland. And, as a bonus for Bay Area foodies, parts of the city are becoming outright gourmet destinations, with former employees of Chez Panisse setting up shop south of their alma mater.

Today I found myself BARTing over after work to meet a winemaker from Napa to talk about an upcoming freelance project I’m working on. He’d suggested we meet at Café Van Kleef, a place I’d never heard of, but that didn’t matter: As a resident of San Francisco, many voyages across the bay become the stuff of adventure, and this place didn’t disappoint. A vast, creative space, shrouded in darkness and filled with 20th century bric-a-brac, it’s home to a variety of musical acts, many of whom will actively recruit bar patrons to sing back up. It also seems to exist in it’s own time warp, or rather its own universe. The best part? When I left, I felt a strong sense of déja-vu: I’ll be back.

*On my way home I stopped by my neighborhood wine shop, Arlequin, to pick up a few more bottles of Cascina Morassino‘s 1996 Barbaresco, available for the whopping price of $29 (they got it as a close out). It’s honest, unfussed nebbiolo, expressive and aromatic, with lasting flavors and great focus. And it’s drinking perfectly right now. We drank my last bottle over the weekend with pizza (and yes, Dr. J, I’d have to agree: Pizza and nebbiolo does rock!), so I needed some more. Wine deal of the year, dammit.