Some years ago I produced a comedy movie in San Francisco. It was called Chu Chu & The Philly Flash and starred Carol Burnett and Alan Arkin. She played a one-woman band, dressed in a Carmen Miranda outfit with musical instruments strapped to her body, playing on the waterfront for tourists. Alan, wearing a baseball cap and carrying a glove, played an ex-ball player who had pitched for one inning in the majors (before peeing in his pants and being sent back to the minors.) Together they find a briefcase with some sensitive papers and set out to sell them to the highest bidder. It was (barely) distributed by Fox, but I had a splendid time for three months living at the Huntington Hotel and exploring the Bay area. Our indoor sets were built at a huge former hanger at the Naval Air Station on the island of Alameda... and that is when I fell in love with this little community. Alameda Island is adjacent to the city of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay, not far from the airport. Its name is Spanish for 'grove of poplar trees' or alternately 'tree-lined avenue.' Someone told me that it had originally been a peninsula but the water eroded the connection. It is reached by three bridges from Oakland and a ferry, as well as the BART train. It has the only pedestrian/bicycle-only drawbridge in the United States. There is a large Filipino and Portuguese community and Tom Hanks once told me that his mother came from the Portuguese area of Alameda! (And actress Shirley Temple lives here.)
Alameda/Oakland Ferry. Photo courtesy of Alameda.
The Bay City Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge. Photo courtesy of Alameda.
On my recent 'eating' trip to San Francisco, I took a day to revisit this charming little East Bay city of some 70,000 people. Admittedly, I had an ulterior motive... I wanted to revisit the fun, funky Rosenblum Winery Tasting Room. When I filmed here, I discovered this unique venue and spent a lot of time there drinking their idiocyncratic Zinfandel. At that time they made several wines at the facility. Dr. Kent Rosenblum, a retired veterinarian, and wife Kathy had opened the winery in 1978 in Oakland and moved it here in 1987. A few years ago the behemoth London-based Diago spirits company bought it and moved the wine-making operation to Napa, but the Rosenblum Tasting Room has remained open here under the able direction of winemaker John Kane. I have never been a huge fan of Zin -- usually too powerful and heavy for me -- but when I first sipped theirs years ago I instantly became a fan of this cellar's singular-vineyard designated vintages. Happily, on my recent stop, I discovered these are still formidable, delicious pours and I tucked a few bottles into my bag for the trip back to L.A. Yes, fortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rosenblum Zinfandel with a BBQ Rib! Photo courtesy of Rosenblum.
USS Hornet at anchor. Photo courtesy of Alameda.
If you are planning a trip to San Francisco any time soon, may I suggest that you consider taking a day trip to this lovely community. Hop the Alameda/Oakland ferry for the twenty minute trip to the island; it lands just a few steps from the Rosenblum tasting room on Main Street. After spending time there, you should head for the laid-up U.S.S. Hornet Museum and exhibits. The now-retired aircraft carrier, which fought in WW II and retrieved the Apollo 11 and 12 capsules, is an amazing sight, and jump into the flight simulator to experience a virtual take-off from the flight deck. Breathless! Downtown Alameda offers a charming stroll, and there is a farmer's market on weekends. In Spring, a famous classic car show takes place, and you will be tempted by all of the antique store bargains. I happen to be a fan of author Jack London, so I always return via ferry to Oakland's Jack London Square, where I pay tribute to his Call of the Wild and White Fang, books which I grew up reading over and over again. Then head back to your S.F. hotel for a sip of that lovely Rosenblum Zinfandel in your bag and a quick nap before dinner. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Rosenblum's funky, fun Tasting Room in Alameda. Photo courtesy of Rosenblum.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), email him at jayweston@sbcglobal