Downtown restaurant a catalyst for change

I’ve lived in Oakland since 1988 but never really knew downtown until last fall. Taking a job at 19th and Franklin opened my eyes to the city’s renaissance — and I’m excited.

My husband and I went to the hip new Levende East in Old Oakland the other night. Montclair restaurateur Ben Doran opened this place a few months ago at 827 Washington St. and it oozes cool, with an eclectic crowd of hipsters and after-work professionals chatting it up as they sip specialty cocktails.

Doran calls his food world fusion and the menu reflects this vision. We thoroughly enjoyed dunking our bread in the Peruvian dipping sauce; tasting each offering on the exquisite Italian cheese plate and sharing a savory side of mac n’ cheese with smoked apple wood bacon.

I kept thinking to myself “this place is so hip.” Even the bar looks like a piece of art with each bottle of liquor bathed in soft light. It turns out Doran’s partner, another Oaklander, did the design. Kiri Eschelle spent months studying the space and did a great job of making it seem open and airy and at the same time, welcoming.

Of course, the location is just one of the reasons Levende East is so popular. Chef Arren Caccamo is another. His food (he also cooks for the partner’s other restaurant, Levende in San Francisco) is masterfully prepared and really, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Doran does a great job, too, of picking the wine, with more than 20 selections by the glass. And the cocktails, I’m told, are “to die for,” with names like Pear Bliss (pear infused vodka, pear liquor, amaretto and a cinnamon sugar rim) and Pink Amour (brandied cherries, Plymouth gin and St. Germain Elderflower liqueur).

Levende East is one of the catalysts for change in downtown Oakland. It’s revitalizing the city’s nightlife and helping to brighten the image of our town. I, for one, plan on dining there — a lot.

WORKING TOGETHER: Neighbors in North Oakland call it their “field of dreams.” It’s the new baseball field they built with hard work and almost $300,000 in donations from the community.

“It’s still a diamond in the rough,” says Oakland Tech varsity baseball coach Eric Clayton, using a clever metaphor. “But it’s a jewel compared to what we’re used to,” and his team looks forward to playing it home games on the field at 45th and Telegraph.

As a sidebar, Oakland’s urban neighborhoods have produced some of history’s greatest ballplayers, including Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson.

E-MAIL BAG: Readers are talkin’ turkey again. An e-mail from Piedmont’s Anne Nunno says a brazen bird all but challenged her cat the other day, strutting toward kitty on Sunnyhills Road.

“My cat puffed up to three times her size with bottlebrush tail,” writes Nunno, who thought the turkey actually looked quite elegant. Minutes later it flew up to the roof of a neighbor’s house to take in the view, leaving pussy below to regain her composure.

On another topic “… reader Adelaide Rule has a suggestion for making Oakland a more energy-efficient city. She suggests tweaking the traffic lights to move cars more smoothly through intersections.

“I live off Mandana, and going down towards Lakeshore, and then on Lakeshore, Lake Park and onto the freeway, one cannot make a single light,” she vents.

Rule says rather than spend the money for an unwanted stop light in Montclair, it should be used to hire a decent traffic engineer to “band” the city’s existing traffic lights.

LOCAL CELEBRITY: Actor Clyde Bruff (“The Commander”) has just finished filming “Milk,” the story of the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. He says working on the movie was “a real trip.”

“Lead Sean Penn as Harvey Milk is phenomenal throughout,” he writes, but the highlight was getting to exchange barbs with director Oliver Stone. Bruff, who lives in Montclair, is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild with a resume as long as my arm. He’s played everything from a boxer to a bowler and does dozens of character voices. But I’m sure he’d tell you his real claim to fame was having his photo next to mine at the old Montclair Malt Shop.


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