The City of Oakland is sprinklered with great pockets of shops, business districts and sites worth visiting. On a weekend, one would have quite a few formidable options to ponder for one’s activities. I love my Oakland local shops and I suspect Oakland weekenders feel the same with the fear that if the secret is out, it won’t be a local dig anymore.
If one wakes up like I do and immediately thinks of dinner, snack and lunch though not in that order, one cannot disregard Oakland Chinatown. The freshness of the produce and the price make it my favorite food for everyday shopping stop. Fresh Dungeness crabs, in season or not, beat any price elsewhere. No need to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. You can boil the crabs for 20 minutes and serve them with lemon, salt and pepper. The hard to spot spotted prawns are also readily available at the meat and seafood shop on 8th St. between Franklin and Webster. The fish there are scaled and cleaned to order. Browsing the unfamiliar products with signs in Chinese characters, I close my eyes and savor the sounds of people around me bargaining, asking for prices and probably talking about the seasonal fruits. It’s what the sound of life should be to me – in a foreign language that I always wanted to learn, reduced to chirps and sing song like melodies. I love the dried goods just for their textures and the slight anxiety I feel at the question of where do these come from? What is their original form before they shrivel up like that?
Piedmont Avenue promises easy parking to everything you would need on a busy Saturday. La Farine just opened its third shop and touts local favorite morning buns and rustic baguettes. I myself count on them to still have a raspberry croissant left whenever I drop in. Down the street is the A. G. Ferrari deli with the most amazing fresh salads, ready to go lunch savories. Little known there are the Italian mint chewy candies that I crave now and then.
Sometime I find myself zig zagging across the Temescal area shops where 51st Street meets Telegraph Avenue. Yes, there is a stretch of Telegraph Avenue that is as worth seeing in Oakland as in Berkeley. The plain, straight to the point Bakesale Betty always sports a long queue for its famous Fried Chicken Sandwich. The popular sandwich may look simple to make but there is an art to this fryer and slaw plus some secret ingredients that were slipped in when not in full view of preparation.
I sometimes get a nagging tug to update my wardrobe by way of diy in a creative way and find myself going into Article Pract and try to convince myself that I can still knit a mean sweater. Look at those colorful skeins of wools and cotton, wouldn’t anything that comes out of them be special? I find myself swooning by the soft muted colors in this shop from which the amazing technicolor dreamcoat can easily be found – assembly required of course.
Going toward north is the ever so busy stretch of College Avenue. Close to the start, near Broadway is Bittersweet – the chocolate haven for all chocolate gourmands. It is there that I found my favorite chocolate bar with crystallized ginger. I go there for its summer chocolate coconut drink – a concoction which plays off the smokiness of hot chocolate against the sweetened depth of fresh coconut milk.
Not too far from Bittersweet and Diesel, the bookstore that shelves only the must read books for amateur and serious readers, Bella Vita’s store window is among the most eye catching on the avenue. I barely step in and I find myself wishing for an occasion where I would need such dresses and accessories. Thoughts of spring picnic, Le Dejeuner sur L’herbe, and me Under the Tuscan Sun…
When in search for a treat after a well finished project, the surest place to be is the Rockridge Market Hall. Enter it at your own risk – one hour goes by so quickly and you would still not be able to decide which cheese, which Mariage Freres tea and which sweets to bring home to reward a kid. This is where I go for my fabulously mild French Jambon – the perfect match with the Acme baguette and a must for a simple but satisfying croque monsieur. Outside the Pasta Shop, Bloomies has just enough selection of flowers for you to bring home, baguette in arms. Across the street is where I take care of my eyes when my tummy is already promised a feast. Maison d’Etre is exactly what the doctor recommends when my home needs extra touches here and there with placemats, kitchen towels and French cookeries. The scented soaps will lull you to images of Provence and its fields of lavender and the Moor that brought jasmine to Grasse.
The end of College Avenue, Oakland – what waits there that one cannot find anywhere else? Yasai Market and The Meadows give me my last chance to decide on a dinner dish and its decoration. La Farine crowns its fabulous tartes in a proper patisserie case. Tara presents me with exotic ice cream flavors telling me to forgo dinner and eat while I shop.
I rest my case with the local best of Oakland. It’s a great community of shops and charms. Maybe tonight, I will make dinner in their honor after all…