A Cote isn't necessarily a secret: It's been known as one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area for years,collecting accolades from Bon Appentit, Esquire, and The New York Times for its exquisite small plates. If the danger of visiting tapas restaurants is that your bill fills up long before your stomach, the secret is to visit A Cote for late drinks and order a couple of iteams a la carte, like the famous mussels or the pommes frites.
Rod Dibble plays piano nightly at this Lake Merritt bar, often with vocal accompaniment from local amateur cabaret crooners. Designed like an old saloon with relatively private diner-style booths (where you can order a burger, steak, or fries to go with your drinks), the Alley is characterized by its vintage clotheslines, pink and baby-blue restroom stalls (much cleaner than those at your average East Bay haunt), and the thousands of marquees and business cards stapled to its walls. In contrast to the swankier Kingmans Lucky Lounge across the street, the Alley stays true to its namesake, and the cluttered decor makes it seem homey.
This sleek, loungey little wine/sake bar boasts an interesting menu of nigori cocktails, a dozen or so largely satisfying noshes, and an ambient conviviality that belies its proto-IKEA design scheme.