I MAKE IT A point to bow down to Dionysus, the god of wine, for dynamic venues like Zza's Enoteca. Open seven months, Zza's has quickly become a much-desired staple in and around the Lake Merritt area. Like Wood Tavern on the Rockridge-Elmwood border, the lower blocks of Grand Avenue, where the lake's twinkling lights beg for the patter of evening foot traffic, Zza's has filled a void for Oakland foodies and wine enthusiasts so willing to invest in their neighborhoods and spend yet another night off the Bay Bridge.
And Zza's is in great company: within miles are the equally young and promising Franklin Square Wine Bar and Vine Wine Bar, further cementing Oakland's place as an emerging hub of the NorCal gustatory scene. But where Vine Wine Bar is working out the kinks, Zza's shines with confidence.
If you're in the mood for a quiet dinner, stick to Zza's full-menu dining room. I'll leave the food to the restaurant critics, but as a Persian, I am against battering and frying whole chickpeas (as opposed to falafel). That's all I've got to say about that.
To the left of the restaurant, beyond the red curtain, is the wine bar, a sort of library for wine geeks. Even the way bottles are presented, upright on opposing dark, wooden shelves, boasts their booklike status. Add to that the Trapper Keeper-esque 10-page wine menu, and there's nowhere I'd rather go back to school.
With its deep sage walls, the wine bar is lit by candles and funky lamps that resemble upside-down crystal bowls. There are 10 intimate tables "" most are for two, with one for up to eight in the middle of the room "" that set the space's moody vibe. Snake the right seat and you might just be able to see the lake through the bar's large window, which is trimmed with pink lights.
Back to that list: if you fancy a flight, choose from three, including the Siesta Flight (Iberian Peninsula). It's $16 for three 2.5-ounce pours. Decent. Of the 62 wines on the list, all of them with the exception of the dessert wines (who wants six ounces of Tawny Port anyway?) are available by the taste, glass and bottle, and you can purchase a bottle to take home for 30 percent off the list price. Again, pretty sweet.
What's more, save for a Barolo, Brunello and Super Tuscan, you won't find bottles for more than $50 here. I was particularly impressed to see affordable Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Bonneau, $36 a bottle), an organic Assyrtiko from Greece, and Zza's own Lafite Around the World, a program celebrating the domaines of Barons de Rothschild, from Bordeaux to Mendoza. These are affordable as well. Ask for a flight or pairing suggestion. Led by wine director Katie Schoen, who cut her teeth as a bartender at Bay Wolf, the wine bar staff is willing and able.
Schoen adds spirit to the list with lively descriptions that linger on the brain, like a passage from a good book. Here's her take on the 2005 First Drop, First Love from the Barossa Valley in Australia: "An eventful day at the boardwalk ends in the perfect culmination "" the first kiss! Her lips taste like strawberry lip gloss and the salt water taffy she's been eating all day." Sold. Especially at seven bucks a glass.
Reach Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanews group.com or 925-943-8155. Reach her wine blog, Corkheads, at www.ibabuzz.com/corkheads.
n WHERE: 550 Grand Ave., Oakland.
n HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays-Tuesdays; until 11 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; and until midnight Fridays-
n CONTACT: 510-839-9124; www.zzaswinebar.com.
n CROWD: Everyone is
welcome. It's Oakland, baby!
n ATMOSPHERE: Put on your glasses and let down your locks; this is a wine librarian's lounge.
n EXTRA POINTS: Kitchen open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Woohoo!