Outdoor Dining More Than Just Picnic

July 4, 2007
Section: Bay Area Living Food
Chrissa Ventrelle

FOOD simply tastes better with a side of fresh air. Whether escaping a stuffy office or stepping out on a warm summer night, you'll find dozens of East Bay restaurants at the ready with al fresco seating.

Two more spots with outdoor dining have popped up in the past month, a nice reminder of how lucky we are to live in an area with such variety.Sidewalk chicFor the hip city mouse, there's Old Oakland's new Levende East, a swanky supper club that opened in June. Sidewalk seating with market umbrellas lines Washington Street. On Fridays, a farmers market bustles in front of the restaurant. An outdoor patio in back is expected to open by the end of summer.Co-owner Kiri Eschelle identifies the beef carpaccio or roasted beet salad as great starters for hot weather. Tender guava-glazed barbecued baby back ribs served with mashed plantains bring new flavor to the all-American rib.A chocolate-peanut butter pie is a house specialty for dessert, Eschelle says. She recommends a ginger drop martini as the quintessential summer cocktail.Owners Eschelle, Dirk Kahl and Ben Doren all live in Oakland and wanted to bring the energy of their popular Levende Lounge in San Francisco closer to home."I had my eye on this space for two to three years," Eschelle says. "I love this neighborhood. It's full of trees and has a good vibe."The interior decor is a lounge-like place for young and trendy sophisticates. Exposed brick, dark leather banquettes, a stunning bar display and wine wall frame the room. Live world music and a selection of 30 different tequilas rev crowds for a late night. 827 Washington St., Oakland, (510) 835-5585, http://www.levende.com. and http://www.levendeeast.com.New spots to exploreIn the past year, several new restaurants have opened with al fresco dining. Here is a sample of some new spots around the East Bay. Each has recommended a dish and drink from their menu that defines their style of summer dining.-Campo Di Bocce: Come roll a few balls and dine under an expansive covered patio. The outdoor area boasts two fireplaces, a bar and a couple of secluded areas for private parties. This spot is a crowd pleaser for every age. Stop by during happy hour when appetizers are half price.Summer picks: Caprese salad or seared ahi tuna over Caesar salad. The most popular drink here is the margarita. 175 E. Vineyard Ave., Livermore, (925) 249-9800, http://www.campodibocce.com.-Hiro's Steak and Sushi: Hiro's doors open to a patio, greeting diners with a center fountain, palms, and vibrant birds of paradise. In addition to steak and sushi, Hiro's also offers robata, the Japanese version of barbecue that is typically served on skewers.Summer picks: For lunch — the assorted sushi platter of eight pieces of nigiri sushi with a California roll and a glass of Hannah Nicole Fume Blanc. For dinner: the steak and lobster combo with the Gary Farrell Pinot Noir. 613 First St., Brentwood, (925) 634-3129, http://www.hirossteakandsushi.com.-Oasis Fusion Grille: Oasis offers some porch seating in front, plus a larger rose garden that escapes the late afternoon sun. White tablecloths, wicker chairs, and umbrellas create a calming space among the roses.Summer picks: Chopan kabobs, which are grilled lamb chops served with onions and peppers. Among their "exotic Champagne cocktails," the favorite is the Pom Royale with pomegranate juice and Champagne. 780 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 417-8438, http://www.oasisgrille.com.-Riva Cucina: This huge brick courtyard has a gorgeous fountain and seating for 44. The restaurant grows its own cherry tomatoes and herbs in the courtyard with the helping hands of toddlers from the adjacent preschool.Summer picks: Prosciutto with melon and olives followed by grilled New York strip steak with melted Parmesan and topped with arugula and balsamic vinaigrette. Paired with Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine served chilled. 800 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, (510) 841-7482. http://www.rivacucina.com.-Sahara: The back patio of this Middle Eastern restaurant is situated in the middle of a vegetable garden — a little oasis in town. Tomatoes, lettuce, and bell peppers are planted now, with olive trees in back. Some of the produce may turn up on your plate.Summer picks: The Sahara Offering with tastes of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, and falafel. To drink, try the iced tea with mint or a drinkable yogurt shaken with mint and a hint of garlic. 907 First St., Benicia, (707) 746-0505.-Somerset: A wisteria-covered trellis shades Somerset's charming private patio. Wood tables and padded metal chairs enhance the garden setting at this popular brunch spot.Summer picks: Lemon ricotta pancakes, grilled peach salad, or barbecued pork spareribs with potato salad paired with a crisp Verdad Albarino. 5912 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 428-1823.-Tomatina: When this Dublin offshoot of the Walnut Creek Tomatina opened last year, it scratched an itch of the many nearby businesses for casual outdoor dining. The 48-seat patio is often crowded as diners satisfy their cravings for Tomatina's signature piadines (warm, folded flatbreads stuffed with salad).Summer pick: Turkey piadine with cilantro aioli, mixed greens, feta cheese, and red wine vinaigrette washed down with homemade sparkling lemonade. 4590 Dublin Blvd., Dublin, (925) 803-9997, http://www.tomatina.com.-Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard: Uncle Yu's is on the brink of its one-year anniversary in Livermore. Sommelier Nick Liang has developed a loyal following for his unique pairings and affinity for Champagne. Hit Uncle Yu's on Tuesday night when the shaded patio provides perfect seating for live music at the adjacent corner park.Summer pick: Chilled Peking duck spring rolls with a light-to-medium pinot noir. Specifically, Liang suggests the 2005 Martin Ray Vineyards Angeline Russian River Pinot Noir. 39 S. Livermore Ave., Livermore, (925) 449-7000, http://www.uncleyuathevineyard.com.Reach East Bay food writer Chrissa Ventrelle at cventrel@hotmail.com.