On May 31, an email from B Restaurant & Bar owner Kevin Best landed in my inbox. "You are invited to our celebration this Friday. As some of you know, Misty, Don and I have decided to sell our Oakland restaurant."
What? How can he talk about celebrating closing the only place in Oakland I genuinely liked? I am not a foodie or a cocktail snob. I look for the way a place makes me feel.
Best's email mentioned the phrases "difficult decision," "blessed with opportunities" and "friendship and support."
"To celebrate and give thanks for all that this restaurant has meant to us, we will be hosting a party this Friday night, with a family style dinner," he wrote. "We hope that you will have a chance to stop by."
We did. There were toasts and stories accumulated from more than half a decade on the corner of Ninth and Washington streets.
Eventually the talk shifted to why Best, his wife, Misty, and their partner, Don Harbison, pulled out of B Restaurant, announcing their last day the day before closing.
Some speculated business was slow, perhaps because Occupy Oakland drove away customers.
But the outgoing owners seemed happy during the closing party. They beamed.
Best said the new owners made them an offer that was too good to pass up and would allow them to expand the real moneymaking arm of their business, Boxed Foods. The San Francisco location of B Restaurant is unaffected.
And then Best said B
Crews would arrive Sunday to begin the transformation, he said.
But the trattoria, it turns out, is to be operated by Paul Ferrari, of A.G. Ferrari. Or at least his name is on the Alcohol Beverage Control license application.
A.G. Ferrari specializes in "artisanal" Italian pasta, olive oil, wine and other goods.
The company filed bankruptcy in 2011. Theories vary about why a store that sells $50 salamis and bottles of olive oil would go bankrupt. What worries me more is that La Bottega Italia will become a cosmetic version of an Italian trattoria -- lifeless, expensive, trendy. I left a message for Paul Ferrari, chief executive and third-generation family owner, about what he has planned. But we did not speak.
I once started a tour of trattorie in Oakland. The journey ended quickly because there are none. I had to go to Berkeley to start my search, starting with Luca Cucina, which was closest to a classic trattoria: Informal, decent food. But something was lacking despite the charm of a family having Sunday dinner at a nearby table, the brick wall, worn wood and open kitchen. They even write the menu on an oversized chalkboard. Customers at Luca walk in and order at a cashier counter. Food is served at the table, and we ordered more wine during the meal. Nothing to complain about, but the waitress seemed unpracticed and distracted, and there was just something cold about the people and the place. That said, the gnocchi with Gorgonzola was lovely, although it could not rival the little hole in the wall in Florence where I first had the dish.
I had high hopes for Riva Cucina, also in Berkeley. The San Francisco Chronicle included Riva on its list of the top five Italian restaurants. It was the least impressive, although I can see why it's popular. Tables of friends laughed and poured glasses of wine while they waited for the sleek dishes of pappardelle. It's a foodie kind of place.
"We have the pleasure of returning to Italy every year for a visit with family and friends," the owners write on their website. Their latest trip, the owners continue, included a coffee roaster outside Milan, where they learned the difference between Italian and American blends and arabica and robusto coffee beans, then a visit to a winery in the Piacenza hills and a visit to a cheesemaker near Asiago, where they learned how cheeses are made and aged.
I haven't gotten to Berkeley's Trattoria La Siciliana, Corso or Rivoli yet. The closest Oakland gets to trattoria is Marzano in the Glenview District and neighboring Bellanico. But Bellanico is not a cozy little place down the street, although the food is fantastic. Marzano is more of a pizzeria, like Pizzaiolo.
So you can see why the La Bottega Italia is so important. We are talking about the quality of life in our city.