Town Crier: Old Oakland offers diners from hills amazing food, vibe

MONTCLARION: December 14, 2018

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me: a night out in trendy Old Oakland. What a dazzling display as we strolled past handsome Victorian buildings outlined in holiday lights. The streets were crowded with mostly millennials savvy about the restaurant scene and eager to be out on a starry night.

So we secured a window table at Benchmark Oakland (, the city’s newest culinary hotspot in an 1876 building at Washington and Ninth streets. The restaurant’s power-couple owners — chef Peter Swanson and his wife, Melissa — were serving to a packed house. Many were no doubt fans of sister restaurant Benchmark Kensington, where the word is out about the wood-fired pizza and made-from-scratch Italian cuisine.

We split the chicken, perfectly seasoned, and an intensely flavorful pizza with fried sage, fresh mozzarella, brown butter, lemon and shaved garlic. Our appetizers were muscles and a crisp green salad. Each dish was complemented by a unique, hand-crafted cocktail curated by Tamir Ben-Shalom of Bull Valley Roadhouse. What stood out to me was the vibe. Clearly, this restaurant fits into Old Oakland as we know it today — a perfect mix of old and new. And their homemade comfort food goes a long way toward making the neighborhood warm and inviting.

Around town: You may have noticed a new look at Lucky in Montclair. The Save Mart Companies-owned grocery has added hundreds of healthier foods to its store shelves — including several East Bay products. It’s no secret that locals have been lobbying for healthier grocery options like folks have in Rockridge and the Laurel. Lucky California’s response came after a series of meetings between company officials, Montclair MOVE and the Montclair Village Association.

Musical notes: Oakland’s Copper Spoon (4031 Broadway) has opened a live music venue in the back of their popular restaurant called the Golden State Lounge. It’s a pretty cool place with a speakeasy vibe and a new bar-bites menu. My friends Nicki Shaw and Brad Blemker played there last Saturday with their band Mojo Messengers and rocked the house until midnight.

Radio daze: And finally, it’s time for some shameless self-promotion as I give props to Murph and Mac in the Morning on KNBR radio. Reader Blair Jackson says my name came up while the boys were shooting the breeze and Murph called me the “Herb Caen of Montclair.” I am humbled, of course, but would never dare make such a comparison. No one can craft three-dot journalism like Caen could — which is why I use dashes instead.

Be sure to follow Ginny Prior on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Got news? Contact Ginny at



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