Remember when buying a bottle of wine from your local wine merchant was a task best suited for those with a golden palate — or at least thick, condescension-proof skin? Well, those days aren't exactly over, according to Stevie Stacionis, who, despite having worked in the wine industry for ten years, said she still gets attitude when she visits certain wine shops.
Thankfully, Stacionis and her husband Josiah Baldivino — formerly the head sommelier at Michael Mina — are part of a new wave of younger wine merchants who want to dial the stuffiness and intimidation factor all the way down. At Bay Grape, a new wine shop that Stacionis and Baldivino are opening in Oakland's Adams Point neighborhood, the idea is to break down as many barriers as possible.
Stacionis said she wants customers to see high-quality wine as an everyday product rather than a "luxury purchase" meant only for special occasions. So, the vast majority of the bottles at Bay Grape — sourced from around the globe — will fall in the budget-friendly $15-$25 price range. And, because Stacionis and Baldivino want to break down the disconnect that exists between wine drinkers and wine producers, they'll focus on carrying bottles of wine that "tell a story" rather than simply taste good. According to Stacionis, most customers don't think about how one $15 bottle of wine was made by "a husband and a wife with a kid" while another came from a mass-produced, 10,000-case batch. She thinks they should.
Bay Grape, located at 376 Grand Avenue, will also focus on what Stacionis calls "low-key wine education." The store has a big communal table where the proprietors will host very casual themed classes and tastings (for $10-$20) four days a week. In addition, the shop will carry craft beer, artisanal sodas, and a selection of packaged food items that go well with wine — cheese, charcuterie, bread, pickles, and potato chips (because, as Stacionis put it, "potato chips and champagne is one of the best wine pairings in the world").
Even the wine-club option will be more personal than your typical wine-of-the-month subscription. Stacionis described it as a "bespoke" wine club or a "personal sommelier." Basically, a group of wine lovers can come in for a free consultation and set a budget, and then Stacionis or Baldivino will put together a customized subscription.
"It's just about community, you know?" Stacionis said. "It's just about people coming together and relaxing."
Bay Grape is currently awaiting final inspections and should be ready to open possibly as soon as the end of this week.
In the past two years, The Grease Box's gluten-free food business has gone from being a jury-rigged fried-chicken street cart that popped up every now and again to a full-fledged barbecue restaurant in North Oakland. Now, owner Lizzy Boelter is reinventing her business again — this time as a gluten-free bakery.
Boelter said that her breads and pastries have consistently been some of the restaurant's most popular items, and that customers were always asking her to make more of them. When she was doing dinner service six nights a week, she just didn't have the time — and, Boelter admitted, the neighborhood around Grease Box never got enough foot traffic at night for her barbecue dinners to really catch on.
What Boelter realized, too, was that even though gluten-free pastries are increasingly available, most of what's out there still isn't being made with all-natural ingredients, and wasn't up to her standard. So she decided to scrap the restaurant concept and focus on expanding her line of baked goods.
"I mean, eggs and bacon are already gluten-free, so that's not so special, you know?" she said.
New items of note include house-made bagels, which Boelter boils and bakes using the same dough she uses for her breads, which is made with brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and psyllium husks — no xanthan gum. Boelter is also making a variety of fruit pies that have an all-butter crust she claims is "perfectly flaky," despite having replaced the usual wheat flour with a mixture of millet, tapioca flour, and sweet white rice flour.
Don't worry, though, if you're a fan of Grease Box's gluten-free fried chicken. Boelter said that it will still be available for lunch every day. On weekends, the bakery-cafe will also continue to serve its full brunch menu, complete with table service, and there will be a couple of simple hot breakfast options during the week.
Grease Box's new hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Three months after Plum embarked on its sudden — and mostly smooth — transition to serving Japanese-inspired California cuisine, the restaurant now known as Ume (2214 Broadway, Oakland) launched weekday lunch service last week.
The lunch menu, served Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., will be fairly streamlined: a handful of seasonal salads, the two ramen dishes from the dinner menu (priced a few dollars cheaper for a slightly smaller portion), a yakitori-style turkey meatball sandwich, and a selection of onigiri (aka Japanese rice balls) with fillings that range from roasted eggplant with chile and mint to yuzu kosho barbecue chicken. Nothing on the current menu is priced at more than $13.
According to a spokesperson for the Daniel Patterson-owned restaurant, service at Ume will be quicker and much more casual during lunch hours — order at the counter, pour your own water, and so forth. The whole menu is available for takeout, and there are also a handful of tables outside where diners can enjoy the late-summer sunshine.
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