Sunday, December 16, 2007

island livin'

Wow, we managed to go out last night for six whole hours and NEVER leave the island of Alameda. That's saying a lot, because, while B & I like the safe & quiet livin' in our little 'burg, we don't usually find ourselves spending an entire Saturday night in it unless we're having people over to our house (for wine & techno, hooray!).

First stop was dinner with Jessica at Bagan, the new venture from the Burma Superstar folks -- but with a much classier and far less crowded environment. I brought a Burgans Albarino for us to drink, and its lemony, mineral acidity was a winning complement to the samosas, tea leaf salad, pumpkin shrimp, catfish curry, basil chicken, and coconut rice that the three of us shared. The restaurant doesn't have an online presence, but you can peep the Burma Superstar menu here, which is very similar to what you can get at Bagan on Park Street without a trek out to SF's Richmond district. And for more info, check out the glowing praise of Yelpers.

We managed to leave room for cocktails at the Fireside Lounge, a recently revamped, former dive bar on Webster Street that Jessica wanted to check out as fodder for her Night Writer column. While I had never been to the bar in its previous incarnation, the old sign and beat-up door give patrons a glimpse to what was a shabby watering hole on the rougher west side of the island (its character was a result of its proximity to the naval air station that closed a decade ago). Inside, however, is a different story. Taupe walls, chocolate wood trim, comfy chairs and couches, a red-felt pool table, a fireplace, and nautical details make the lounge quite inviting. A few details have been overlooked since its July debut (some corners are prohibitively dark, the fireplace area is under-used and crying out for the pool table to be pushed up a bit to make room for a couple chairs...) but it's a darn decent spot. The specialty cocktails are inventive and yummy -- these include the Sazerac, one of the world's oldest cocktails and one that is made with the now-legal absinthe. The anise-flavored drink was very original and surprisingly quaffable. The cinnamon chai martini with cinnamon & nutmeg-infused vodka was tasty as well.

From cocktails we moved on to wine (we can only resist so long!), and once pastry chef-cum-paramedic-cum-bar owner Patrick discovered our affinity for vino, he was bustling about, pouring us tastes and going into the back to retrieve new finds, many from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley (he has a vacation home in Healdsburg). Two standouts were the Lago di Merlo Syrah and the Lockwood Malbec from Monterey (I had no idea Monterey could produce Malbec!).

The drinks were good, but the people were great. Patrick was very personable, attentive, and his enthusiasm for his bar was infectious. Cristi, the cocktail queen, we were surprised to learn, is a journalist that was a foreign correspondent in far-flung (and chaotic) places such as Nepal, Kashmir & East Timor who founded The Press Institute for Women in the Developing World to train local women to be journalists in their communities. Nonprofit funding is tight, so she still freelances and works with Patrick to make ends meet. Not exactly the type of person you'd expect to find behind an Alameda bar. We'll definitely be back for more good libations & conversation.

I don't think Alameda will ever become the place o' choice for the hipster scene, but then again, there WAS a line to get into the local (and reputedly quite authentic) tiki bar, Forbidden Island, two weeks ago!


Michaela said...

Sounds like a great night out! This is dorky, but it makes me happy that Jess and you are hanging out. SLO power -- ha!