Around the Bay: Destination Cocktails, Italian Bites & Caribbean in Oakland

Adesso’s Citrus Granita with Gran Classico pour


A couple recent Oakland nights included drinks at the relaxed, new Dogwood (with decent but not stand-out cocktails or atmosphere), and the following return visits:

ADESSO, OAKLAND (4395 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, 94611, 510-601-0305) – You last heard me talk about Adesso in the Guardian and here in 2009. It has been one of Oakland’s best bars since opening with a truly killer happy hour.

Barrel-aged Martini 

On a recent return, I was served the earthy, subtle Scottish Witch ($10): Old Raj 110 Gin, Strega, house coriander beet syrup, lemon, with an orange twist. A house Barrel-aged Martini is made with Karlsson’s Gold vodka, a sophisticated, layered vodka martini.

A simple, gorgeous dessert was a special for the day: Citrus Granita ($10) with biscotti and a pour of Gran Classico to douse the granita with. Sigh. Sheer goodness.

WINE on PIEDMONT, OAKLAND (4183 Piedmont Avenue, 510-595-9463) –   One of the best liquor stores I’ve seen in the East Bay is Wine on Piedmont. It’s small but well-curated from all over the globe.

Though wine is the predominant focus, the small spirits section is impressive. Locally-made favorites are well represented from Old World Spirits to Germain Robin. Proprietors Brian Goehry and Susan Sieggreen’s eye for the best means you’ll hardly find a throwaway selection on the shelves. Connoisseurs will be pleased but the proprietors’ knowledge means the novice can also find new treasures.


Phoulourie (split pea & wild nettle fritters)

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HIBISCUS, OAKLAND (1745 San Pablo Ave at 18th, 510-444-2626) – Hibiscus has settled into downtown Oakland’s dining scene as a destination restaurant for creative Caribbean food. I wish there were more experimenting as Exec Chef Sarah Kirnon is with island flavors of Barbados and Jamaica.

Crab Cornmeal Porridge

It’s a pleasure to return to Hibiscus, where I find I’m still a fan of the salty excess of Salt Cod & Ackee ($8.50), hot with scotch bonnet peppers. Cool off with house-made Sorrel ($3.50) or a Leeward Mai Tai ($10): Couer de Canne Agricole rum, Cointreau, lime, orgeat (almond syrup), orange peel.

This visit, my love is heaped upon Dungeness Crab Cornmeal Porridge ($18). Creamy, grits-like porridge is laced with chunks of crabmeat, butternut squash, carrots, King Richard leeks, and Bird’s Eye chili for a little heat. Sophisticated comfort food, this is the one I’m craving again.

Plantains in garlic oil

Vegetarians aren’t left out with dishes like Kirnon’s Market Plate ($16). This particular night it was chana (garbanzo beans), braising greens and potato in a flavor-rich cauliflower curry, with a mini-radish salad and gorgeous tamarind sauce.

Plantains are grilled to perfection in garlic oil ($4), while a starter of Phoulourie ($7.50) shows playful possibilities: split pea and wild nettle fritters are bound together in cornmeal and flour, with kumquats, arugula, shado beni providing contrast.