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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 17, 2000

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Oakland's modest waterfront is colorful and active.

Across the Bridge

If you usually head directly to
San Francisco, it's time to
venture into the
new Oakland

More leg room, smooth flight
All aboard Napa's wine train

By Tim Ryan


THE aroma was familiar. A touch of soy, tempura, beer, olive oil.

But what were those long, thick, crispy green things people were munching? Asparagus! Not!

Welcome to the wonderful world of real veggies. And this is the weekly Farmer's Market at Jack London Square on Oakland's modest waterfront.

My wife and I had arrived at Oakland Airport the night before, trying Aloha Airline's new mainland route. Though here on personal business, we thought we'd spend some time sightseeing in the East Bay instead of San Francisco.

Friends were, well, not supportive about our plan: "Oakland? Why are you going to Oakland?"

Sure, we were wary, embracing what turned out to be out-of-date stereotypes about Oakland: dangerous; dilapidated; downright dismal; nothing to do. Heck, that's why we never left the freeway when we had to pass by Oakland.

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Nick Moura of Moura's Fish Market is anything but
crabby about Oakland's renaissance.

Let's make this perfectly clear: Oakland is none of the above. The city's historical buildings -- and there are many -- have been or are being repaired. There is lots to do, and when you do tire of the city, wine country is a mere hour away.

There are shiny new buildings in downtown Oakland; trendy shops and restaurants; a convention center; fancy wine markets; quaint neighborhoods a la the turn of the century, and probably the best jazz club in the Bay area. And Rockridge -- along College Street about four miles north of downtown Oakland -- is about as yuppified as an area can get. Thank the slow but inevitable invasion of companies for this.

Of course, there's Jack London Square at the water's edge, far less touristy than I imagined.

Which brings me back to these giant green veggies. They're called Deep Fried Asparagus and they are cooked for 40 seconds in tempura batter, beer, a touch of soy sauce and olive oil; $4 for a huge basket.

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Teachers volunteer at MOCHA (Museum of Children's Art),
above, to teach children art on a walk-in basis.

Farmer's markets are always fun to visit in new towns. This one -- each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. beginning at the foot of Broadway -- had some of the freshest fruits and vegetables I'd ever seen.

I counted more than 40 vendors offering broccoli and sweet baby cauliflower for $1 a pound; a basket of huge strawberries goes for $1.75.

I tried something called Kettle Korn where popcorn kernels are dumped into an enormous wok with a touch of sugar and soybean oil. A paddle is used to stir the brew for about 3 minutes. Helpings sell for $2-$6.

There are plenty of regular restaurants here as well: Il Pescatore, Scott's, El Torito, Kincaid's, Hahn's Hibachi and Jack's Bistro.

After two hours of walking -- and eating -- we rested in a small park at the edge of the square. Families gathered here to eat, drink, watch sailboats cruise by and view the San Francisco city skyline. I could also see FDR's Floating White House, the USS Potomac (information: 510-839-7533).

Needing some coffee to revive us we ducked into the square's Barnes & Noble bookstore to read the Oakland Tribune's Sunday paper.

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Fresh strawberries sold at $1.75 per batch
at a weekly Farmer's Market.

Although it was a sunny day, wind off the water cooled the air. That didn't stop people from renting canoes and kayaks from California Canoe & Kayak.

The first night in Oakland we stayed close to the airport -- the Airport Hilton, about 5 minutes away -- rather than drive the 20 minutes to Jack London Square and to Best Western's Inn at the Square.

The Hilton, designed for business people, is comfortable with spacious rooms, firm beds, a heated pool and workout room. There's even free HBO.

Inn at the Square (233 Broadway, $99-$139) is just three blocks from Jack London Square, and around the corner from where Mayor Jerry Brown lives in a gentrified former warehouse.

After a morning at the square we started walking the three blocks back to the Inn, but stopped by Go Wild Beverages, which features thousands of bottles of wine -- Marilyn Merlot for $19.95; a six liter bottle of champagne, $650 --beer, gourmet food, and cigars.

Across the street was Yoshi's Japanese Restaurant & World Class Jazz House (510 Embarcadero West), where, to my delight, singer Nancy Wilson was set to perform in about 10 minutes and tickets were still available.

Up the street was MOCHA (560 Second St.) a unique Museum of Children's Art, which gives all kids a chance "to explore their imagination" for free.

By Nancy Wilcox, Special to the Star-Bulletin
The Happy Belly Cafe & Restaurant is located in Jack
London Village adjacent to Jack London Square in Oakland.

The city of Oakland seems anchored around its City Center (1221 Broadway) with its dozen or so restaurants and specialty shops, busy -- but friendly -- business people hustling back and forth.

Up the street at the Paramount Theatre (2025 Broadway) -- a California and National Registered Historic Landmark -- we saw the work of renown San Francisco architect Timothy L. Pflueger. The theater was completed in late 1931, and is one of the first Depression-era buildings to incorporate and integrate the work of numerous creative artists into its architecture. A painstaking and authentic restoration was completed in 1973.

The theater has been meticulously maintained, and fully upgraded to modern technical standards, now serving all the arts. It's home to both the Oakland Ballet and the Oakland East Bay Symphony and, as one of the San Francisco Bay Area's premiere performing arts facilities, hosts a year-round schedule of popular music concerts, variety shows, and -- of course -- movies.

Moura's Fish Market (907 Washington St.) is in Old Oakland -- a neighborhood being restored to its turn of he century glory.

The fish market has been here for 46 years, started by Nick Moura's dad.

Nick said Oakland is the Bay area's undiscovered secret that "right now attracts adventurers and seekers.

"You get out of this city what you want to get, but it takes a person who's willing to look around a bit," he said. "Oakland is not what it was 10 years ago.

"Mayor Brown has worked very hard to get people to return to downtown Oakland. See, if you clean it up, they will come. It's clean and safe and they are coming back to Oakland."

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