Bar Bites: Di Bartolo


Di Bartolo

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Like a glowing lighthouse on a dusty block of old coffee shops — including the decade-old Cafe di Bartolo next door — Jon Di Bartolo’s namesake western Mediterranean restaurant has made a splash in Oakland’s Grand Lake area. The fresh, seasonal bistro fare and haute mixology have drawn enthusiastic neighborhood patrons. The decor features crisp subway tile, clean marble bar tops, handsome exposed brick and soaring ceilings. And best of all for the stool-top diner: two bars from which to perch and dive in.

The vibe: Casual elegance amid neighbors hankering for a night out near home. Relaxed conversation paired with savvy cocktails, hearty shared plates, crisp pizzas, or steaks and frites.

The crowd: As eclectic as the neighborhood itself: college students, couples in their 60s, young families and hot daters — a melting pot of the 94610.

Best seat: How can we choose? The back bar is pure grit and bourbon — well stocked, old school, brick- and wood-heavy. The front-of-house stools feature prime vistas of the kitchen flames, flattering light and street gazing.

Killer app: Frites with garlic and fresh herbs ($5), a ubiquitous house favorite. A honking braised lamb shank ($18) is meal enough for two. And the Dungeness crab cakes with broccoli ($13) are pure butter and crumb indulgence.

Signature drink: Here, creativity is both shaken and stirred. The Mandarin Blossom Martini ($10) is Thanksgiving in a glass, featuring perfumey mandarin Hangar One vodka and crushed fresh rosemary tugging at a wishbone of triple sec and lime. The Grand ($10) lives up to its title with a deceptively potent potion of vanilla vodka, earthy Mission fig puree and fresh lemon. Even the humble gimlet ($10) gets arty with cardamom essence, which produces subtle, yet monumental, results.

Also on tap: A worldly wine list, with about a dozen reds, whites, and bubbles by the glass. More impressive is the small but substantial beer list of Belgian (and Belgian-style) ales and blonds.

Bonus: A happy hour with food and drink specials is in the works.

Vitals: 3308 Grand Ave. (at Elwood), Oakland; (510) 451-0576. Bar open 5-11 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., until 11:30 Fri. and Sat.; dining 5:30-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., until 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Karen Solomon,

This article appeared on page G – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle