West Coast Fall 2015, Part One



After my return from Copenhagen on the 14th we had a week in town before our scheduled trip out to the west coast to visit Jessica and Kris. Kim and Marty, Kris’ parents, stopped in early the next week for three nights giving us the opportunity to show them a bit of Charlotte. We’d spend our two full days with them driving around town, hiking to the summit of Pinnacle at Crowder’s Mountain State Park, taking in the small but well done museum at Kings Mountain National Military Park, and riding bikes out to UNC Charlotte on the greenway where I gave them a tour of the Student Union.

View from the Pinnacle at Crowders

The View from the Pinnacle at Crowders Mountain

Lest one think all we did was exercise and visit cultural outlets, there were stops at the Flying Saucer, Sugar Creek Brewing, and the new NoDa and Olde Mecklenburg (OMB) Brewing locations (they along with Birdsong have had to move to larger quarters to increase their brewing capacity, a sign that good beer is appreciated in the Queen City) and a fresh salmon dinner cooked at home that Wednesday night saw considerable damage down to a bottle of locally made Cardinal Gin.

On the Patio at OMB

On the Patio at OMB

Although our time together was short it was tempered by the knowledge that we would see them after Christmas when we would again fly to the west coast, but for now we dropped them off at the airport Thursday morning, returned home, finished our own packing and caught a ride back out to the airport for our flight to San Francisco (SFO). This is a journey now familiar, the American Airlines non-stop to SFO, claim our luggage, and hop on the airport rail shuttle to the BART Station for the forty minute ride to the 12th Street station in downtown Oakland.

That Bottle of Cardinal Gin

That Bottle of Cardinal Gin

It’s a walk of about a ¼ mile down 14th Street to Jessica and Kris’ apartment and the first few blocks have a number of bars and nightclubs that on a Thursday night are just getting going, reinforcing the centrality of this location, its provision of the many elements of urban living that make one’s time here full and complete. We arrived in due time at the apartment to a snack, some conversation and then early to bed given the three hour time difference we were carrying in our bodies.

Halftime sports bar

Halftime Sports Bar on 14th

Jessica and Kris had to work that Friday and their good friend, Kim now completing her residency in San Francisco, was coming over for a homemade pasta dinner that night and so Joanna and I took a walk down to the Old Oakland Farmers Market and the Smart and Final located at Broadway and Ninth Street. We set out before noon with an old Swiss Army rolling suitcase as our shopping cart and quickly arrived at our first stop, lunch at Cafe Gabriela, a small shop we’d eaten at our last time through.

Cafe Gabriela

Cafe Gabriela

We split the sandwich we’d had before, the Pulled Pork Adobo (Tender pork simmered in soy sauce, cane vinegar, garlic, and laurel leaves, with sweet sautéed yellow onions on a toasted French sweet baguette) and a large Iced Moroccan Mint Tea. The food was as delicious as before, similar to a Vietnamese Bahn-Mi. Tender pork with that soy sweetness, crisp baguette that you can only seem to get in Europe and in San Francisco, set off by the onions and greens.

Gabriela's Pulled Pork Adobo

Gabriella’s Pulled Pork Adobo

While we were eating we overheard an interesting series of exchanges at the front counter between one of the owners and a customer. It went something like this:

Her: Get your hands out of the tip jar

Him: I didn’t touch the jar

Her: I saw you; get your hands out of the tip jar. We work hard here and need those tips

Him: I didn’t touch the tip jar

This went on for a couple of minutes, would pause, and then start again. Later on he’d ask about some of the menu items, even ordered something. Towards the end of the encounter after denying time and again that he was in the tip jar he asked her for her phone number. She replied that she didn’t have a phone as they work hard there and couldn’t afford one.   Like taking part in some existentialist theater, chalk another one up to the vibrancy of city living.

We finished up and crossed the street to the outdoor market, picked up a few items there and completing our shopping list at the Smart and Final; glad to have the rolling bag to bring the supplies back to the apartment. Kim, Jessica, and Kris all arrived later that day at about the same time and we set about making the pasta, crafting a couple of sauces from scratch with the ingredients we’d purchased earlier and consuming a fair amount of wine. It was great to see Kim after a number of years, to track her progress in life, this girl we’ve known since Jessica’s Middle School days.

Old Oakland Farmers Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

On tap for the next day was a journey up to Sonoma for some wine tasting at three places Jessica and Kris are interested in, Ramsgate, Jacuzzi, and Cline. They have a membership at Ramsgate which entitles them to some privileges when you visit, so that was our first stop where we split a couple of tastings and some delicious small plates while sitting outside on the patio, a glorious view of the hills of Sonoma in the distance.

One Can Picnic on the Grounds

One Can Picnic on the Grounds

We left Ramsgate and drove a short distance to Jacuzzi where we tasted wine and some of their excellent olive oil combinations before ending up at Cline where we sampled wine outdoors while engaged with a very friendly and knowledgeable barkeep.

The Scallops

One of the Small Plates at Ramsgate

Before we knew it the afternoon had slipped by and with no dinner plans made, but a bit of hunger creeping up on us, we decided to drive back to Alameda and dine at that very good German place we’d been to the prior year, Speisekammer.

The place was crowded, a testimony to its good food, but we were seated quickly in the front dining room and settled in to enjoy a taste of Germany. I ordered an Andechs Export Dunkel (that monastery brewery just south of Munich that we’ve yet to visit) to drink while Kris settled on Hacker-Pschorr Marzen (Oktoberfest), it being that time of year. As mentioned in an earlier review of this restaurant, they offer full and half portions of the entrees and given the large servings, the small amounts were fine for us.

Speisekammer Front Room Web

Speisekammer Front Dining Room

Joanna selected the Smoked Trout Appetizer (with Horseradish Sauce, Onion and Radish over a bed of Spinach), Jessica the Sea Bass special, Kris the Wiener Schnitzel (Breaded Pork cutlet with fried potatoes), and I the Jägerschnitzel (Pork Cutlets, sautéed in Mushroom Sauce and served with Spätzle). To round out the meal we selected a Bread Dumpling (with Bacon served in savory Mushroom Sauce) and half order of Creamy Spätzle (baked with caramelized onions, cheese, and bacon.

Wiener Schnitzel


This is German food like I recall it, hearty and filling yet with enough subtle flavors to make each helping unique. For a brief moment we were all back in Germany looking forward to a bit more beer drinking and sightseeing. We finished our meal and worked our way back to Oakland to watch a movie at the apartment and recover from a long fun day. We’d had much more in store as the week would unfold.


Crowder’s Mountain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowder%27s_Mountain

Kings Mountain: http://www.nps.gov/kimo/index.htm

Cardinal Gin: http://www.southernartisanspirits.com/

Cafe Gabriela: http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-gabriela-oakland

Old Oakland Farmers Market: http://www.yelp.com/biz/old-oakland-farmers-market-oakland

Ramsgate Winery: http://www.ramsgatewinery.com/

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards: http://www.jacuzziwines.com/

Cline: http://clinecellars.com/

Speisekammer: http://www.speisekammer.com/

Andechs Abbey: http://www.andechs.de/en/the-monastery-brewery.html

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