Alameda, CA

alley & vine has found its place in Alameda

Clay Kallam

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alley & vine lives up to its name.Maggi Brown

Every restaurant needs to know its place.

And that means more than just accepting its spot in the food chain, the chain that extends from Michelin stars to that Thai place down at the strip mall. In its most basic meaning, “place” of course simply means “physical location,” but the idea really extends beyond street address to include such disparate factors as potential clientele, seasonal food sources and even access to unusual or high-end ingredients.

Combining all of that, Alameda’s alley & vine can access yet another meaning of “place,” a place on the list of top date-night restaurants in the East Bay, for its balanced blend of fine food, casual atmosphere and pitch perfect sense of place make it a spot worth seeking out.

Let’s start with the name. Aside from the somewhat twee lack of capitalization, alley & vine is actually in an alley off of Alameda’s busy Park Street, and its outdoor dining area is shaded by vines. The mix makes for a peaceful bubble that sets the stage for the carefully crafted meal to come.

And that meal should begin, whether you know it or not, with caviar. Yes, caviar, even though for most of us, the idea of spending big bucks for tiny fish eggs makes about much sense as expecting a high-end burger at McDonald’s. And I confes, I was one of the non-believers. The fish eggs, or roe, that had crossed my plate before basically tasted like a tiny gob of salt, with no subtlety or flavor – and you know, there’s a salt shaker on the table already and it doesn’t cost $10 to use it.

But thanks to the persistence of our server, we went for the caviar bites on the appetizer menu, and my opinion of caviar has changed. One reason? alley & vine sources its caviar from the California Caviar Company in Sausalito, and is the only non-Michelin-starred restaurant to do so. And that sourcing not only involves getting the best fish eggs, but actually picking out the particular white sturgeon the eggs come from.

The result is that I will never disdain caviar again. Yes, there was salt, but there were layers of flavor from the caviar, buttermilk biscuit and chives that made me understand why some people might want to pop for the $105 caviar special tucked at the bottom of the menu.

Of course, cocktails had preceded the caviar, and then it was on to the rest of the meal in the spacious, two-story indoor seating area. The asparagus salad was not only pretty on the plate, but delicious as well, and the following dishes kept the momentum going (especially the strawberry shortcake with lemon whipped cream for dessert).

Note that alley & vine is also open for brunch on weekends, which is a perfect way to start a day in Alameda. There are plenty of parks and beaches, and Park Street itself is worth a little exploration. (There’s a reason people who grow up on the Island tend to stay there – it’s a hidden East Bay gem.)

Maggi and I will definitely return, maybe after a stop at one of the first tiki bars in the area, The Forbidden Island, or a visit to the northern end, where the Naval Air Base used to be, to sample some of the spirits distilled there. It’s sad that St. George’s Spirits hasn’t been open to the public since the pandemic began, but hopefully tours and tastings at one of the first independent craft distillers on the West Coast will start up again soon.

But even if alley & vine were the only attraction in Alameda, it would be worth the trip. It has found its place just off Park Street, a place that combines charm and a top-end kitchen – and also includes caviar that you really need to try.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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