By Michelle Sieling
The city of Oakland spreads out over 78 square miles. That means there are many diverse neighborhoods spread throughout the city, and a number of them feel like towns of their own. Rockridge, nestled at the bottom of the Oakland Hills, is one of these neighborhoods.
Its main street of College Avenue stretches a little over a mile, from Broadway to Oakland’s border with Berkeley. The main drag is surrounded by tree-lined streets full of bungalows and Craftsman style homes. Residents can easily stroll to College Avenue to get their hair done, dine at a French bistro or shop for antiques.
In addition to shopping for treasures at places like LOOT Antiques, there are new and used books at the Oakland outpost of Pegasus Books. Ildi & Co has many precious and “twee” things, if not a bit expensive, like French tablecloths, milled soaps and hand knitted socks. If you like the finer things, there’s jewelry at Pavé. It carries eco-friendly and ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones, as well as uses recycled precious metals in its pieces.
If you want to bring home some treats to eat, there’s the Rockridge Market Hall. The European-style marketplace offers everything from freshly baked croissants and scones at The Market Hall Bakery, to cuts of meat from locally and sustainably raised lamb, chicken and goats at Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop to food friendly domestic and European wines at Paul Marcus Wines. You can complete setting your table with floral arrangements from The Flower & The B.
When most of the shops shut down in the early evening, the restaurant scene gets going. There’s no chance visitors will go hungry in Rockridge. The only issue will be where and what to eat. Rockridge has everything from the more basic and affordable, like burgers at Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers and burritos at Cactus Taqueria, to fine Italian dining at Oliveto Café & Restaurant.
New restaurants and cafes are opening all of the time, so it’s hard to hit them all. Though, here are few more recently opened ones to recommend for wine lovers, all with dining selections under $20.
First there’s Enoteca Molinari. This cozy candlelit space is perfect for dates, but there’s also a bar convenient for single diners. Its simple yet satisfying menu offers a small selection of antipasti, salumi, cheeses, salads and main courses that feature house-made pasta. The orecchiette con le cime di rapa balances what could otherwise be heavy pasta with the brightness of broccoli rabé, along with pecorino, anchovy and the spice of the peperoncino. For something more familiar, try the Tagliatelle al ragù, made with Marin Sun Farms pork and beef that has been slow-roasted for five hours, finished off with Parmigiano. Of course, the wine selection is Italian and feature choices from regions such as Umbria, Tuscany and Sicily.
Down the street at the spacious, almost barn-like, and more kid-friendly Toast, chef Rebecca Boice creates a sustainable and seasonal menu that highlights California ingredients, but flavors are influenced by the many cultures that permeate the Bay Area, like Asian and Southern. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, dining choices include braised pork shoulder and field and farm trout.
What oenophiles will like most at Toast are the hand-selected, small production wines from all over the world. These uncommon varietals and AVAs include Kerner, Granache Blanc, Vinho Verde, Lagrein, Charbono, Gamay, and Blaufrankish. In addition, a full bar offers cocktails for $10.50, like the Overland, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, vermouth perucchi, amaro montenegro, Underberg and the Secretariat, also with Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, honey, cinnamon bitters.
The Barrel Room is really more of a wine bar than a restaurant. Though, its small kitchen offers a limited selection of classic French dishes. This includes cassoulet with duck confit, Toulouse sausage, pork and white beans and boeuf bourguignon with oven roasted organic fingerling potatoes.
The main attraction, of course, is the wine, including domestic and European, with an emphasis on French. Flights are grouped in a variety of ways, including regions and varietals, but also styles, like “aromatic whites” (Valle Isarco Kerner, Gardies Malvoisie and Fausse Piste Viognier) or “big reds” (Prat Sura Vacqueyras, Berthoumieu Mandiran and Calincanto). There’s also a nice selection of international and domestic beers and ciders, like a Lev pilsner from the Czech Republic and Anthem pear cider from Oregon. Bottles of wine are also available for retail sale.
Still not full? Rockridge also features Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Parlor & Café. Though not as fancy as some other local ice cream shops, it is the only retail outlet for the Dreyer’s company, which is based in the neighborhood. Try the rocky road, which was created by the founder, William Dreyer.
By car, the Rockridge district can be reached by taking the Claremont Avenue Exit from Highway 24. Though, parking can be difficult, especially on busy weekends. The Rockridge BART station is a good option for those who want to ditch the car.
Featured image above: Braised pork shoulder with root vegetables from Toast. Photo by Michael Taffet.