ALLEY & VINE
DESTINATION DINING BLOSSOMS JUST OFF ALAMEDA’S MAIN DRAG.
Alley and Vine took the bold step of opening in December 2020, mid-shutdown, bringing farm-to-table fine dining to Alameda’s Park Street neighborhood. With its appealing vine-covered outdoor dining area set in a little alley that runs alongside the restaurant, Alley and Vine significantly elevated the dining options in the area, courtesy of executive chef Jason Ryczek. Sporting a CV bolstered by stints at San Francisco icons Waterbar and Farallon, Ryczek has created a sophisticated, ever-changing menu that promises dishes made from the finest in-season ingredients. This summer, standouts included the melon gazpacho with Serrano ham, a foamy starter that exploded with flavor, and the tender pan-roasted Spanish octopus appetizer. Seafood is a particular specialty, and Ryczek actually cures his own signature California white sturgeon caviar—sold by the ounce with accoutrements for $95 if you’re in the mood to splurge.
Entrées like the roasted dry-aged rib eye and the poached albacore tuna with clams were perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, supremely satisfying dishes that’ll leave you yearning for a return trip to experience the rest of the menu. Be sure to check out the creative craft cocktails, and the knowledgeable waitstaff can advise diners on the stellar wine list, which includes wonderfully unexpected by-the-glass options. alleyandvine.com. —Deborah Kirk
ELEGANT GREEK FINE DINING BREEZES INTO DOWNTOWN PLEASANTON.
With its airy ambience, top-notch service, and tasty Greek offerings, Elia—owned by restaurateur Fatih Ulas and executive chef Mehmet Duygu—is a breath of fresh air along Pleasanton’s charming Main Street. An expansive patio, turquoise umbrellas, and hanging flower baskets invite guests to dine alfresco, while the inside is just as welcoming with whitewashed Mediterranean decor accented by wood and splashes of blue.
Enjoy the complimentary bread rolls to start, then select from the mezethe starters. Delicious dips include tzatziki (Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, and garlic mint), taramosalata (caviar mousse), and melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, bell peppers, and garlic)—or just get the pikilia, which includes generous portions of all three with grilled pita. The saganaki— kefalograviera cheese drizzled with rum, lit on fire, and extinguished with fresh-squeezed lemon tableside—is an irresistible crowd- pleaser. For entrées, scalloped potatoes are a perfect comforting complement to the tender filet mignon souvlaki. Or, choose the fresh bucatini pasta, tossed in a white wine sauce with a generous helping of Maine lobster.
To accompany the meal, choose from an extensive list of wines, or try the refreshing white sangria. Don’t forget to save room for dessert—the red wine–poached pear covered in pistachio crumbles atop vanilla gelato is heavenly. eliapleasanton.com. —Gabby Vanacore
TIKI FLAIR MEETS UPTOWN CHIC AT THIS INSTANT OAKLAND CLASSIC.
Co-owners Christ Aivaliotis and Matt Reagan, of the nearby tiki bar Kon-Tiki, have transformed the former Flora space—in the deco Oakland Floral Depot building—into a tropical island.
The cocktails at this super lively supper club–style restaurant let you know early on that you’re off the mainland. Take the Floral Depot Punch. Served in just the right lowball glass with one jumbo ice cube, it’s pink and beautiful, a bit spicy, fruity, and refreshing, yet it is definitely a big-girl cocktail and packs a punch. A scallop crudo starter was equally stunning, the sweet pieces of soft, rich shellfish contrasting with crisp, tiny matchsticks of radish and crunchy tobiko and an off-the-hook tonnato-style aioli.
Palmetto’s chef, Manny Bonilla, formerly of Hawker Fare, presents entrées that can be summed up in two words: flavor explosion. A perfectly seared halibut came not only with olive oil mashed potatoes, but also shishito peppers, eggplant, torpedo onions, lobster butter, and tarragon. The quail was also expertly cooked and was surrounded by an extremely varied cast of supporting actors—sweet chili sauce and charred peppers, a fresh basil panzanella, and pickled fennel and cucumbers. Wine and beer geeks will have fun with the list. Mint chip ice cream hit just the right note after so many full-on flavors. palmetto-oakland.com. —Michaela Jarvis
EXPERTLY EXECUTED CLASSICS WITH STEAK-HOUSE COMFORT IN SAN RAMON.
Poached kelp with ají verde sauce? A vegan version of steak tartare? Not at San Ramon’s LB Steak. With restaurants everywhere pushing the culinary envelope, LB Steak is a welcome throwback to a simpler time and place, despite its location in the state-of-the-art City Center complex.
The cocktails are classics: Manhattans, martinis, and highballs. The wine list? Extensive. The soup? Lobster bisque. Salads? Caesar and wedge. (Yes, there are other options, but the direction is clear.)
And since the name of the place is LB Steak, there’s obviously going to be plenty to choose from in that regard as well. The Wagyu steaks come from Japan (one is from Australia), are of premium quality, and are sold by the ounce ($25 per ounce and beyond). The exceptional Wagyu carpaccio appetizer ($30), featuring top-grade A5 Miyazaki beef, offers a more affordable way to experience this luscious, melt-in-your-mouth product. Looking for more meat? The hand-cut prime steaks aren’t cheap, but if you’re going to LB Steak, you expect quality (which you’ll get), and you should also expect to pay for it.
Of course, the baked potato (with béchamel sauce, no less) is decadently delicious and the desserts are scrumptious, adding even more to a tried-and-true evening of tried-and-true dishes.
At LB Steak, tradition trumps the trends—with terrific results. lbsteakbishopranch.com. —Clay Kallam
VIA DEL CORSO
TWO EAST BAY ITALIAN FAVORITES MELD WITH DELIGHTFUL RESULTS IN BERKELEY.
It’s been a brutal year (or two) for the restaurant industry, so it was particularly gratifying to see Peter Chastain and his loyal Prima team back in their happy place, dishing out expertly executed Italian classics to an appreciative audience—with Berkeleyites versus Walnut Creekians now the beneficiaries.
After shuttering his decades-old Contra Costa destination, Chastain took over Corso, owned by his longtime high school chum Wendy Brucker. True to the name, Via del Corso kept Tuscan favorites steak alla Fiorentina and pollo al burro while expanding the menu with regional dishes from across the Old Country.
A zesty gem salad spiked with EVOO, parm, diced anchovy, and lemon whet the appetite (as did the refreshing Cicero’s Choice cocktail mixing vodka, elderflower, lemon, and grapefruit). In the entrée section, the tender and juicy brick of a pork rib chop perfectly balanced smoky char from the grill, red onions, and a vibrant chimichurri-like salsa verde. As expected, you can’t go wrong with the pastas: Our favorite was a briny, jet-black squid-ink linguine nested with tuna, capers, whole Sicilian oil–cured dry black olives, and tomatoes, which tasted as if it had sprung straight from the Mediterranean Sea. Welcome back indeed. viadelcorso.net. —Ethan Fletcher
THESE FIVE NEW DESTINATIONS HIT THE MARK FOR INFORMAL DINING AND DRINKING.
By Clay Kallam
When a fancy new restaurant opens, critics and writers always feel obligated to check it out—which means sometimes the more informal spots get overlooked. But as always, we’re here to help, so visit these five new casual restaurants where the vibe is more relaxed, the atmosphere more drink-centric, and the food still really good.
BIERHAUS, WALNUT CREEK
Of course, there’s beer at a bierhaus, but the reopened Walnut Creek spot with a new executive chef now has farro salad with slow-cooked egg and oven-roasted Mt. Lassen trout with beurre blanc to go with German favorites like bratwurst and schnitzel—plus a big patio to enjoy them on. bierha.us.
BLACK STAR PIRATE BBQ, RICHMOND
Where to start? The funky (to say the least) vibe? The historic lighthouse on one side and the last whaling station in the United States on the other? Oh, and don’t forget the food (brisket, ribs, pulled pork, the works). Even if you’re a Bay Area native, you probably didn’t know this place existed—but you should. blackstarpig.com.
DA BOCCERY, LIVERMORE
Clever, clever … but really, how often does bocce ball lead to debauchery? Still, fun is fun, whatever the angle, and there’s plenty on offer at the former Campo di Bocce (right on the border of Pleasanton): food, drink, axe throwing … wait, what? Maybe there is some debauchery going on. daboccery.com.
HAZY BARBECUE, DANVILLE
The Harrigan brothers grew up in Danville and always noticed the lack of a barbecue option—so they checked that box themselves. A classic barbecue menu, live music, and a full bar make for good times in bustling Danville’s busy restaurant scene. hazybarbecue.com.
HEADLANDS BREWING CO., LAFAYETTE
Look for the limited menu to expand soon, but there’s still a 20-tap floating tower of quality beer, a pair of outdoor patios (both dog-friendly), and a relaxing suburban vibe. And if you crave something more substantial than a hot dog, grab some takeout from local favorites Bonehead’s Texas BBQ and Locanda Positano right next door. headlandsbrewing.com.