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Satisfying Saturdays
Urban Wineries: An Urban Restaurant: The Bay Wolf

By Charles Olken

91 Bay Wolf 3853 Piedmont Avenue Oakland California 94611 510-655-6004

Sometimes you don’t have to go far from home to find a winery to visit. Here in Alameda, in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay, where I live, there are about a dozen wineries, the most famous, of course, is Rosenblum Cellars founded by local veterinarian and then award-winning home winemaker, Kent Rosenblum. The winery was sold to conglomerate Diageo a few years ago but still maintains a tasting room at the facility. Its view of water, bridges and downtown San Francisco has seen the Olkens wandering over a late Saturday afternoon for a glass of red followed by something sweet to wash it all down and send us on our way. And Alameda is not alone in hosting urban wineries. The short swath of land from Oakland’s waterfront up to Emeryville and Berkeley has another dozen producers of note. Most of these small, independent producers belong to the East Bay Vintners Alliance (, and some like Dr. Rosenblum’s new venture, Rock Wall and Jeff Cohn’s JC Cellars have enjoyed great critical success. Most happily welcome visitors though not all are open all the time.

It really does not matter where one wanders in wine country before one constant ultimately rears its hungry head. Sooner or later, it is time to eat. The East Bay has many famous restaurants headed by Berkeley’s world-famous Chez Panisse. We do not often eat downstairs where the menu is expensive and the reservations are hard to come by. Upstairs in the Café, there are more seats, the prices are more accessible and the food is that unique combination that foodies out here call Cal-Med—a sort of downhome cooking featuring local ingredients with seasonings that are inspired by the countries lining the Mediterranean.

Our long-time favorite is the Bay Wolf on Oakland’s tony Piedmont Avenue. The Bay Wolf, overseen by Michael Wild, has been an East Bay gustatory institution for about 35 years. it has a constantly changing menu with no more than a dozen choices from start to finish, yet the Olkens, who generally do not like to go back to restaurants after a couple of visits because things get too predictable, have spent more birthdays, office parties, book-launching dinners and meals with visiting winemakers who like to stop by to show off their wares here than at any other restaurant. There are, however, two menu items that one can always expect and they are part of the Bay Wolf signature. The duck liver flan first course is a slice of rich, creamy duck liver worked with magic into a smooth and light paste that comes to you in a size slightly larger than a deck of cards. It is the perfect starter to be shared. And the other item is also duck. Duck prepared differently each time we go back but duck nonetheless. You have not eaten duck until you have a double-duck dinner at the Bay Wolf.

The wine list is a two page listing of hand chosen bottles from around the world, all sold at reasonable prices. Scherrer Old and Mature Vines Zinfandel 2005, three stars/95 points in Connoisseurs’ Guide, with a retail price of $30 sells on the Bay Wolf list for $40. That is twice wholesale and extremely fairly priced. The wine by the glass program features a dozen and a half wines.

There is a reason, folks, why the Bay Wolf is rated so highly by Zagat and was called one of the top ten restaurants in the Bay Area by Gourmet Magazine. And it is not because the Olkens eat there. We eat there because the experience is that good.


Something Sweet?
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/23/2010 7:28:56 AM

"Its view of water, bridges and downtown San Francisco has seen the Olkens wandering over a late Saturday afternoon for a glass of red followed by something sweet to wash it all down and send us on our way."...biting my tongue.

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