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East Bay Eats: Paella, Pasta and Wine

venga paella

Yummy paella! Photo courtesy of Craig Lee/SF Chronicle

A hot new location for a paella powerhouse popped up near Jack London Square in Oakland and, further afield, the battle for the wine list over a bowl of delectable hand made pasta noodles is unfolding in Alamo. Both locations have chefs who grew up learning the ways of the kitchen, and their work seems to reflect a deep respect and passion for the culinary arts and hospitality. The fact that wine and spirits are a part of these new spots points to the fact that you can never go wrong with a fab wine list.

West Oakland’s warehouse district rocks a new joint called Venga Paella , where chef-owner Eduardo Balaguer creates paella and tapas in a cozy taverna setting. There’s cava, local craft beer (note Linden Street is but a few blocks away) and a tightly edited wine list to keep things lively. Venga’s Friday happy hour is becoming a thing and this space seems tailor made for just that.

Balaguer is of Catalonian descent and worked in his family’s paella restaurant in Valencia, Spain. He does offer something for traditional paella fans in the form of a seafood-laden paella with clams, prawns, calamari, mussels, red bell peppers and toothsome Prather Ranch chorizo. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to miss the Arroz Negro paella, a sexy and equally hearty dish with seafood generously bathed in silky black squid ink. At $12, this is a value meal in itself and the vegetarian paella version is $10; all paella orders come with a nice salad to keep things balanced. Intriguing starters include tortilla Española, stuffed piquillo peppers with creamy goat cheese; and fresh Gambas al ajillo. 229 Brush St., Oakland; (510) 628-0018.

Go for the wine, stay for the porcine pasta. Izzy’s Place in Alamo has a crazy delish sounding cresto de Gallo pasta dish that includes pork that is cooked to delectable tenderness for eighteen hours. Or, go for the clam pizza at this new dinner spot, an array of meats (that Bordos cured platter of salumi sure tempts), seafood (cava braised branzino with spinach and caramelized onion), pasta (goat cheese cavatelli with slow cooked lamb; whole wheat caputini with squash, kale pesto and Amaretti) and other “rustic Italian” fare to round things out. Izzy’s is the fun yet classy brainchild of Alamo residents David Waitrovich and Robert Gallo who are working with executive chef Joseph Panarello (who wisely included Grandma’s meatballs on the menu). The interior of Izzy’s has the kind of soft lighting and murals to make you feel all relaxed-like. Chef Panarello makes pasta by hand and started working in his home state of New Jersey at an Italian restaurant at a young age—he is now quite the butcher and fan of farmers’ markets in keeping with our own local traditions. Much of the menu can be paired with items from the Sweet 16 wine list, and we’re told the mini ice cream cones are worth the extra calories and definite shared fun factor. 3160 Danville Blvd., Alamo; (925) 820-1711.

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