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    Eat, Drink, Repeat at Oakland Restaurant Week: March 18–27

    By David Landis–

    When it comes to great dining, many folks choose the well-known scene in San Francisco for its diversity, quality, and reputation.

    But Oakland, our neighbor across the bay, has in recent years become its own dining destination. From food trucks to Michelin-starred eateries and neighborhood gathering spots, Oakland has it all. Yet, people don’t always think of Oakland as a culinary capital. That’s one of the reasons the East Bay’s biggest city has decided to put its best dining foot forward with Oakland Restaurant Week—10 days of lunch and dinner specials taking place March 18–27 and sponsored by Visit Oakland.

    The Gay Gourmet had the pleasure of recently speaking with Visit Oakland’s CEO Pete Gamez for the San Francisco Bay Timesabout this upcoming foodie week—and all things Oakland. Here are some of the highlights:

    GG: Tell me a little bit about Oakland Restaurant Week. Any newcomers? And, why Oakland Restaurant Week? What do you hope to accomplish with this promotion?

    PG: Restaurant Week is a celebration of supporting our restaurant owners. We wanted to benefit the restaurants who had a tough two years. They’re the nucleus for neighborhoods to gather. We have such a variety of restaurants in Oakland and Restaurant Week is one of the largest programs that we promote. It’s a time when restaurants need it the most. Holidays and parties are over and it’s slower. We want to create a buzz for diners to come and eat here. It’s the best time to try out some of our restaurants and their new specials. This year, we are letting restaurant owners determine what their specials are—at different price points. We’re giving them the freedom to work around those price points—it might be something in season, or anything that is not on the typical menu that can be talked about and promoted. It encompasses all of our neighborhoods. It’s a great excuse to explore Oakland and its neighborhoods: Jack London Square, Uptown Oakland (the entertainment district) or Lakeshore or Lake Merritt. (Editor’s Note: Rockridge, Montclair, Laurel, and more too!) The week showcases the vibrancy of the neighborhoods plus the cuisines.

    Restaurant weeks usually have a fixed price, such as lunch for $20 or dinner for $40. In Oakland, we did something different. We listened to our restaurant owners and created a task force formed of restaurant owners. They suggested different pricing and value.

    “Eat, drink and repeat” is our tag line. It’s ten days because we want people to come more than once or twice. That way, you’re positively impacting our restaurants. Last year, we focused on the food truck movement. This year, Oakland is back open and we’re featuring new restaurants that have opened in Oakland during difficult times. This year’s Restaurant Week also has a philanthropic component. We’re partnering with Community Kitchens, a collective of Oakland restaurants that serves 10,000 meals a month for seniors and the homeless. For our industry night (private invite-only event for restaurateurs and chefs), we’ll be raising money for that cause.

    GG: Are there LGBTQ+ owned businesses participating?

    PG: Shakewell is gay-owned, as is Home of Chicken & Waffles in Jack London Square.

    GG: Tell me a little bit about your professional history—you also worked for San Francisco Travel and various hotels, correct? Why the move to Visit Oakland?

    PG: I’m honored to have this CEO job with Visit Oakland. I’ve spent 23 years with Joie de Vivre and Chip Conley. We grew the company into different iterations and sold to Hyatt. And yes, I served as Board Chair with SF Travel. The reason Oakland was attractive is that I have a higher need than being a CEO: I want to impact people’s lives. We need to get people back to work, get restaurants back open, help hotels that are re-opening, keep our attractions relevant, and tell the world about them. In 2022, Oakland is going off the charts: Oakland Zoo, a leading conservation zoo, is celebrating 100 years. Oakland is also home to the Chabot Space and Science Center, which is associated with the Kennedy Space Center; the culture and art scene in Oakland is amazing: we have a symphony, we have a ballet company, a great museum—being able to highlight those attractions was part of the reason for taking this job.

    I often ask people, “When was the last time you came to Oakland?” I tell them to come back to Oakland and discover these places. It’s a city where you can kayak in Jack London Square at 9 am and before noon you can be up in the redwoods, a 20-minute drive away.  It’s an urban city but we have a lake right in the middle of the city that shines throughout the day. I love going to the Lake Chalet and sipping a glass of wine on the pier while the lights light up the lake: it’s magical.

    GG: Is it challenging being gay in the hospitality industry? Tell us about your partner. Is he in the industry, too?

    PG: Not challenging at all. In the hospitality industry, it’s one of the few industries that is embracing of LGBTQ+ people. Regionally, living in the Bay Area, it’s easier. People in the hospitality industry are in general innkeepers—they have an innkeeper spirit, welcoming strangers into their homes. Working in hospitality, you’re being bombarded by different cultures and it opens up your mind. Ricardo Ramirez is my husband; he’s now consulting for Hunter Hospitality, specializing in luxury travel. We’re likeminded because of our love of travel and culinary. We last went to San Sebastian, Spain (a big foodie capital); we went across the world just for that.

    GG: How are restaurants doing overall in Oakland? Has the pandemic affected the industry?

    PG: There’s definitely a sense of coming back and hope, but there are challenges with the supply industry. Because of the vibrant neighborhoods, many restaurants benefitted; they got a little stronger because people were working from home. We want to also help revitalize our downtown restaurants.

    GG: Who are the up-and-coming chefs in Oakland? Names we should keep an eye out for? And what are some of the new restaurants that we should visit?

    PG: Daughter’s Diner, a new all-day American café owned by a great married couple (Kevin and Justyna Wilson), opened their Uptown restaurant during the pandemic; also Tribune, a new American brasserie that has transformed the old Tribune tower, is owned by Omri Aflalo and Darrin Ballon; somewhat newish Duende is a Spanish-style restaurant that offers dinner with a Flamenco show; Agave Uptown restaurant, serving Oaxacan food, isn’t brand new, but they have amazing mole (they even sell it at their restaurant). They debuted in 2016 and are a locals’ favorite; of course, there’s Chef Nelson German (featured on Top Chef), who owns two popular restaurants – Sobre Mesa and alaMar; Split, another new American restaurant that touts “finger-licking real food,” has just opened a new location in Oakland.

    GG: I’m delighted to see Chef Nelson German (Sobre Mesa, alaMar) participating. I interviewed him when he was on Top Chef; he’s a great guy. And he’s doing some amazing things in the East Bay.

    PG: Nelson and his wife May German are terrific. He’ll be doing the private kickoff industry night event.

    GG: What restaurants do you like to eat at when you’re dining out?

    PG: There are so many places. It depends on what mood you’re looking for. Lately, I’ve been known to love Calavera and Agave Uptown. Between going to those two places, I have my mezcal and mole fix for the day.

    GG: Do you cook at home? Do you have a favorite recipe?

    PG: I’m the worst cook. That’s why I eat out at restaurants. I’m of Cuban descent, so I love Cuban cuisine. Black beans with white rice is one of my staples at home.

    GG: What else is happening in Oakland that we should know about? What’s next for Oakland?

    PG: I love February in Oakland. It’s Black History Month. The last Saturday in February is the Black Joy Parade. It’s a one-of-a-kind, only-in-Oakland event, celebrating everything about black culture. In March/April when families start vacationing because of the breaks, we’ll do a focus on the Oakland Museum of California, the Chabot Space Center, and the Oakland Zoo.

    Oakland Restaurant Week takes place March 18–27 with lunch and dinner specials throughout the city. The week features specially-designed dining experiences and offers from local gems and food trucks, to Michelin-starred restaurants and newly opened eateries. Launched in 2010, Oakland Restaurant Week is an annual dining promotion presented by Visit Oakland, a nonprofit organization marketing Oakland, California, as a travel destination. The celebration highlights the flavors of Oakland and is designed to support local establishments, enticing diners with menu offerings and experiences made available only during the promotion. All Oakland Restaurant Week participants will feature lunch and/or dinner menus at six different price points. Lunch pricing is offered at: $10, $15, $25; dinner pricing is offered at: $25, $40, $60. Reservations are available through OpenTable and can be made directly from the Oakland Restaurant Week page. Some of the participating restaurants to date include: Shakewell, Home of Chicken and Waffles, Duende, Italian Colors, Calavera, Chop Bar, Eating Saigon, Agave Uptown, Perle Wine & Cocktails, Saucy Oakland, Tribune, A Cote, Lake Chalet, Sobre Mesa, and alaMar.

    Oakland Restaurant Week: a complete list of participating restaurants, menus, special events and reservations is available at:

    https://tinyurl.com/bdhwaene

    Bits and Bites

    New in Carmel Valley: The luxurious Bernardus Lodge and Spa has a new chef at its beautiful indoor/outdoor restaurant, Lucia. His name is Christian Ojeda and he hails most recently from the Montage Deer Valley Resort.

    The buzzy (and tasty) Lazy Susan Chinese-American restaurant is moving from SFJAZZ in Hayes Valley and opening in West Portal this month. B-Side, the popular American bistro, will return to the SFJAZZ location.

    I’ve long admired the glamorous bar and restaurant Berber, the contemporary North African restaurant in Russian Hill that features cirque-like performances in its supper club on Fridays and Saturdays. Rooted in Moroccan tradition, Berber’s modern adaptation of signature cirque shows features aerialists, acrobats, dancers, and live musicians. The dinner show includes a multi-course prix-fixe menu, paired with a variety of contemporary cirque acts. Seating is designed in a cabaret-style layout, so every table has a full view of the round stage. Culinary offerings include: duck bastilla, tagines of all kinds, and shakshouka.

    Since it’s still Black History Month, I’d like to give a shout-out to Simileoluwa Adebajo, chef/owner of San Francisco’s first Nigerian restaurant, Eko Kitchen. Besides running the restaurant, she’s also offering virtual cooking classes spotlighting Nigerian cuisine (and music!). In addition, she’s the author of a new cookbook, From Eko with Love: A Modern Nigerian Cookbook.

    And, speaking of Black History Month, the San Francisco Proper Hotel is proud to feature wines from two prestigious Black-owned California wineries all month in February: Brown Estates (Napa Valley’s first Black-owned estate winery) and L’Objet (owned by Danny Glover). These carefully selected wines will be offered in The Lounge all month with a percentage of sales donated to La Cocina, a local organization on a mission to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses.

    Wine lovers, rejoice: VinOgo from Cork Pops is an affordable mylar pouch designed to hold a bottle of wine or other beverage. You can take it poolside, on a road trip, beach trip, hiking, or even kayaking—anywhere that you can’t take glass bottles.

    And finally, Nashville’s Chef Big Shake (Shawn Davis)—featured on national TV, but passed up on Shark Tank—is famous for their hot chicken and fish. Luckily for those of us in the Bay Area, you can now order it online anywhere.

    Oakland Restaurant Week: https://tinyurl.com/bdhwaene
    Visit Oakland: www.visitoakland.com
    VinOgo from Cork Pops: https://tinyurl.com/4mbscada
    Lucia at the Bernardus Lodge and Spa: www.bernarduslodge.com
    Chef Big Shake’s hot chicken and fish: https://shopbigshakes.com/
    Berber: https://berbersf.com/
    Eko Kitchen: https://www.ekokitchensf.online/
    San Francisco Proper Hotel: https://tinyurl.com/2p933esj

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: davidlandissf@gmail.com Or visit him online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

    Published on February 24, 2022