Boasting a bacchanal of wallet-friendly selections from local and international wineries (most bottles are under $25), Vintage Berkeley promotes an atmosphere of grape-loving camaraderie. Pick up a limited-edition bottle of 2007 Tayerle pinot noir ($15), culled from old-vine fruit in the Rio San Lucas vineyard in California, or a vivacious and slightly fizzy 2009 Muralhas vinho verde ($15) from Monco, Portugal. To lubricate a languid backyard barbecue or a daunting brick of cafeteria meatloaf, pick up a bottle of 2007 Chateau l’Estagnol ($10) from the Rhone Valley—with solid tannins and rich notes of blackberry and cherry, it has a meaty finish to tame even the heartiest of rib eyes. Celebrate an end-of-summer LAN party with a bottle of 2009 Preston sauvignon blanc from Dry Creek Valley in California, made from organic grapes and featuring flavors of lime, chive, and fig ($16).
Marc 49 serves up a fresh menu starring a savory cast of Italian-influenced appetizers, bruschette, salads, and paninis to accompany the lengthy list of libations. Pass a plate of the house-marinated mixed olives ($4) or share the meat and cheese plate ($9) among a gaggle of good friends. The fresh-shucked Buckley or Chesapeake oysters ($2 each/$20 per dozen) offer a sensational taste of sea for first dates, second dates, or "does this count as a date?" dates, while the menu's seven salads ($6) promise to fill any mouth with an elegant mélange of greens. Put Marc 49’s wine bar to the test by pairing any of the simple yet flavorful bites with grown-up grape juice, available by the glass ($7+), bottle ($24+), or flight ($11 for three 2 oz. tastes).
Have a look at Casa Vino's massive by-the-glass wine list and dinner menu upon entry, minimizing the time needed to order an appetizer such as its classic escargot ($8.50). Have a glass of California barbera from Valley of the Moon ($8) with a choice-cut rib-eye steak (with mushrooms and grilled onions, served with the vegetable of the day and choice of fries, mashed potatoes, or rice pilaf, $23.95), or pair a Russian River pinot noir ($8 glass) with a hearty, herbivore-friendly portabella-mushroom sandwich ($8). For dessert, partner an order of cinnamon flan ($6) with a sparkling glass of Domaine Carneros brut ($13) for a tag team that could best André the Giant.
Founder and chef Rebecca A. Bernstein operates Cioccolata di Vino with the belief that her delectable desserts and enticing antipasti taste particularly divine in a laid-back, warm setting that resembles a hammock made of cocoons. The soft lighting envelops patrons in a gracious embrace, where it's perfectly acceptable to stop by just for the blissful dessert menu. Choco-hounds flock to the succulent molten lava cake ($6.95), where a moist, spongy coating covers a warm liquid chocolate, generating a cocoa magma stream down Mt. Esophagus. Candy up your kisser with the award-winning, gooey chocolate-chip cookies (three for $3.95), which arrive packed with rich Callebaut Belgian chocolate and slivers of pecan. The light but feisty lemon tart ($6.95) is crowned with a fresh whipped cream, while the rich gelati and sorbetti ($4.95) rotate their flavors daily and their buckskin capes fortnightly.
Noeteca‘s owners spent their lives looking forward to running their own restaurant, so it’s no surprise that the French-inspired tapas spot feels comfortable in its own skin from early morning meals until late into the night. During the day, Noeteca seems like a cafe, where patrons sip on international coffees from local roasters brewed by the cup or for personal-sized French presses. At brunch menu, familiar dishes share space with ambitious French-inspired offerings—the croque monsieur becomes a croque Napoleon with slices of bread pudding layered with black forest ham and emmantaler. When the weather is nice, guests can wander out to a patio colored by a flower and herb garden to learn the sun’s secret handshake.
As evening falls, candlelight fills the dining room and guests switch their focus to wine. The award-winning list includes more than 30 varieties, each available by the glass or half-glass. For dinner, patrons can build their own cheese plates or share a tarte flambèe, Alsatian flatbreads the San Francisco Bay Guardian said have “a lovely thin, blistered crust that was a bit softer and more luxurious than a typical pizza crust”.
Of all the hooting and victory dancing coming from the group in the corner booth, only half of the commotion is a result of the game of Sorry! the group is immersed in. The other half occurs during breaks in the action when the competitors dig into the decadent morsels in front of them—desserts forged from ingredients such as rum mascarpone cream and homemade marshmallow. Evenings of spirited merrymaking capped with sweet treats are standard at Candybar, where seasoned pastry chef Cathleen Li handcrafts a rotating menu of cakes, ice creams, and sorbets.
To complement Li’s signature desserts, mixologists further tantalize taste buds with inventive cocktails ranging from the triple-chocolate bellini with chocolate sorbet to the blood-orange cocktail. Throughout the candlelit dining room, minimalist bulbs dangle from ceiling tracks, casting dancing shadows across plush red couches, black-and-white damask poufs, and contemporary artwork. A collection of board games infuses the dessert lounge’s chic atmosphere with a touch of whimsy and encourages good-natured rivalries between friends or high-stakes games to determine who gets the last bite of the ice-cream sundae.