Where organic and sustainably produced wines are paired with top-notch vegetarian and vegan fare.
By Michelle Sieling
A few years back, wine bars were more of a novelty in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the number of wine bars opening up in the area now, it’s harder to stand out in the crowd. So, even though Encuentro is not the first wine bar dedicated to organic and/or sustainably produced wine, it is one of the first wine bars that is focused on providing vegetarian and vegan food to compliment this style of wine.
Encuentro, which means “to encounter” in Spanish, is a casual neighborhood café and wine bar located in the Jack London district of Oakland. It is a collaboration between Eric Tucker, executive chef at Millennium, the established fine-dining vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, chef and caterer Lacey Sher and partner Linda Braz. This team knows how to provide high end cuisine that doesn’t rely on animal products to bring out the flavor.
Following the Spanish model of enotecas or tapas bars, the vegetarian menu includes small plates, like bocadillos, salads, cheeses, and artisanal chocolates, made with organic and local and ingredients. Menu items run approximately $5-$15 and vary based on what’s seasonally available. In addition to the meat-free items, many of the dishes are appropriate for those who have allergies to soy or gluten.
On our visit, we tried the bright and toasty roasted beet and citrus salad from the “From the Market” section, which includes chicories, walnuts, pomegranate and arugula and goat cheese ($10). Vegans can request macadamia cheese instead of goat. We also had a three cheese plate that came along with fig chutney, grain mustard and a honey-like condiment made of walnuts ($15). There are also vegan cheese plates available and are made of smoked pecans and herbed cashews as well as macadamia nuts.
Other food choices included small plates of herb roasted potatoes with caper aioli ($6), small bites of stuffed dates with Redwood Hill Farms goat cheese or macadamia nut pate ($5) and bruschetta topped with avocado, olive oil and cilantro with chili jam and black salt ($5).
The wine list features a mix of organic and sustainable wines from small, local and old world vintners, like Owen Roe Sharecropper Cabernet Sauvignon, Dashe Dry Creek Zinfandel or Navarro Gewurztraminer. Wine is available by the glass, from about $7-12, or bottles at approximately $28-$50. Flights of three wines of your choosing can also be had for $17. A small selection of beers, like Racer 5 IPA, and non-alcoholic drinks, like juice, coffee and tea are available, too.
The setting is simple and modern and echoes the organic and sustainable theme with the use of recycled materials in the décor and bamboo for the bar top. Because of the small size of the space, the restaurant is better for impromptu gatherings of a few people than a big group. Though, it is possible to reserve tables for more than four people. There’s outdoor seating available when the weather permits. If you are planning to make it a night in, it’s also possible to take food and bottles to go.
Encuentro is located at 202 Second Street in Oakland, Calif. For additional information and hours of operation, visit www.encuentrooakland.com.
Encuentro’s bright and inviting interior. Photo by Gina Nguyen-Magdael