The 3rd Annual Alameda Restaurant Week (ARW) on January 16-26, is an excellent opportunity to taste what’s up in restaurants across the island. From rustic Italian to Korean BBQ, brightly lit lunch spots or a favorite nostalgic haunt, ARW invites us to explore this booming culinary culture as participating restaurants offer prix fixe menus that showcase their favorite fare. Here’s a closer look at five of the diverse participants in Alameda Restaurant Week 2020.
Chef-owner Rudy Duran knew he wanted to create more than the flavors of his native Tuscany when he opened C’Era Una Volta Ristorante Italiano in 2004. His vision was to craft an ambiance that serves as a community gathering place for friends and families. Within vibrant yellow walls reminiscent of fields of Tuscan sunflowers, accented by expressive artwork and high-ceilinged expanse, C’Era Una Volta achieves its founder’s vision on a nightly basis.
The menu leads us on a journey across Cucina Tuscana, starting with a variety of pizzas such as Pizza Acciughe, the sublimely simple combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies and capers, and a Pizza Bianca with freshly cured prosciutto, truffle oil, and other savory ingredients. The organic salads and locally sourced antipasti speak to Chef Duran’s focus on the freshest ingredients.
If you’ve ever settled into a meal in Siena, you’ll know what to expect next from Rudy’s menu. The Primi Piatti offers spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli and gnocchi gorgonzola that alone is worth the visit. Secondi Piatti expands to an incredible roasted eggplant, a filet mignon in gorgonzola cream sauce and a salmon filet.
"It is so rewarding to see the joy of a customer discovering the experience they find here, where they start with an Aperol Spritz and finish with a Grappa," says Chef Duran.
Another culinary powerhouse of Alameda is East End. It's hard to imagine East End hasn’t also been around for years when you walk in the door, given the exposed cement columns and reclaimed wood that defines the space. A broad picture window frames the front of the restaurant, allowing sunlight to spill in across the tables almost to the wood oven which produces the pizzas for which East End has quickly become famous.
“Our wood-fired pizzas are what put us on the map,” says founding partner and chef Paul Manousos, “but we do some really great things with dishes that are a little rustic and involve layers of flavors built over time like our Oxtail Risotto.”
Chef Manousos is not the only one singing the oxtail risotto’s praises, Carolyn Jung recently featured the dish in her new cookbook, East Bay Cooks. The risotto is joined under cover by Imogene’s Betrayal, a signature cocktail that consists of High West American Prairie Bourbon, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, yellow chartreuse and orange bitters. East End is so aesthetically complete, dinner here feels more like an evening event within a roomful of friends than a meal out.
The authentic culinary scene and the convivial Alameda community are two reasons chef-owner Paul Kwon opened Ohgane Alameda this past year. He decided to add his Korean BBQ, widely touted among the Bay Area’s best, to the booming mix “of great-tasting restaurants almost the moment you get over the bridge."
Chef Kwon’s signature dish, LA Short Ribs, can be challenging to describe. That’s because Chef Kwon perpetually alters his recipe even though this delectable dish, principally comprised of beef marinated for 72 hours in garlic, soy and sesame oil, has already garnered recognition in the fabled Michelin Guide.
“We constantly modify and improve our marinade for the LA Short Ribs to ensure the best taste,” he says. “This type of meat was first established in Los Angeles by early Korean immigrants and we are so thankful for it. It allows diners to enjoy juicy parts of the short ribs as well as the meat around the bone without being overwhelmed.”
Meals are community affairs at Ohgane Alameda, starting with easily shared appetizers like US Kobe beef brisket salad, dumplings, and seafood pancakes. Then it’s on to Soot-bool, traditional mesquite tabletop grilling. People can choose New York steak, one of several short rib styles and pork belly platters or the popular Ohgane Combos in 3 and 5-person sizes.
Chef Kwon’s aesthetic eye is praised almost as much as his talent with marinade. Anchoring a corner of the Southshore Center, expansive blue-paned windows spread across the façade, the brightly lit industrial space encourages interplay among friends and family as well as throughout the entire room. Something about actively cooking one’s own dinner lowers inhibitions and makes every night a party inside Ohgane Alameda.
Alameda’s reputation as ripe for new culinary statements like East End and Ohgane Alameda without losing sight of more familiar rooms such as C’Era Una Volta has everyone excited on either side of the counter. Wescafe owner Monica Trejo for one, couldn’t be happier.
“When we opened in Webster it was pretty desolate but now I think our street rivals Park in its offerings,” she says.
Wescafe Café and Diner pulls off that rare combo of booming breakfast spot and sophisticated lunch locale come afternoon, the espresso machine's steam rising to shroud the impressive vertical wine rack that ascends behind the bar. Daily specials are written in chalk, the ingredients collected from the biweekly Webster Street Farmer’s Market, and the cheerful attitude within the bright environment never wavers. Like its dinner companions above, community remains the most cherished commodity on offer each day inside Wescafe.
Sandy Russell, owner of the venerable Fireside Lounge, understands the appeal of the social milieu very well. “The Fireside once served the Naval Base when there were bars all over this area. Today’s Fireside is a great neighborhood bar where everyone is included and feels comfortable."
Russell takes the role of community living room seriously, putting on live music several nights a week, and adding weekly karaoke, open mic, and ever-popular trivia in addition to a monthly drag show.
Russell will throw her annual birthday bash during Alameda Restaurant Week, offering the famous Filipino-style garlic noodles that have been appreciated locally for over 30 years.
The Alameda Master Mixologist 2020 Kickoff event also promises to be a night of community spirit, when local bartenders representing seven local bars compete in a fundraiser for the Alameda Food Bank. Starting January 16th, pick up your raffle card at a participating restaurant, collect six stamps from your dining adventures, then enter to win over $1000 in Alameda restaurant gift cards. However you choose to play from January 16-26, Alameda Restaurant Week presents an exceptional opportunity to sample the island’s growing culinary scene. Visit the ARW website to start booking dates to dine with family and friends.
4 things we’re looking forward to trying:
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C'era Una Volta Ristorante
New York Steak
Alameda Restaurant Week 2020: Five Diverse Establishments Lead the Way