California is too vast and diverse a state to capture through just one medium. That's why Oakland Museum of California combines art, history, and natural science collections—more than 1.8 million objects total—to tell the state’s story.
Organized around themes of land, people, and creativity, the art gallery showcases more than 70,000 works from the 19th century through present day, ranging from paintings and sculptures to new media. Encompassing more than 100,000 artifacts, including several thousand bird eggs, the natural sciences gallery spotlights seven particular landscapes, including Yosemite and Mount Shasta. The history gallery includes more than 2,200 objects that trace major periods in the state's history, tying together the lives of the indigenous people, incursions by Spanish settlers, and the giggling mad dash of the gold rush. In a nod to the history of Tinsel town, the interactive Creative Hollywood station lets visitors create an animation, add sound effects to movies, and forget a personal assistant’s birthday.
Forming the roof of each level, verdant gardens separate the galleries, while more greenery and sculptures beautify the museum's outdoor roof gardens and courtyards. The museum uses more outdoor space to hosts its Friday Nights @ OMCA, a family-friendly market full of live music, dance lessons, and local cuisine. Local and seasonal ingredients, meanwhile, flavor the dishes available in the museum's Blue Oak café. The café doubles as a residency for jazz bassist Ron Crotty, a founder of The Dave Brubeck Quartet, who grooves his way through jazz standards every Friday.
A single weathervane squeaks as it sways in the breeze atop a peaked roof. Below it, a building dating back to 1948 houses Montclair Bistro amid fieldstone and brick pathways created in french provincial style. At 7 years old, future chef and owner Henry Vortriede began his cooking career by thumbing through culinary magazines and preparing meals for his family of eight. After going on to earn diplomas in food and wine at Le Cordon Bleu and L'Académie du Vin in Paris, France, he honed his skills as a chef in several French restaurants and created chocolate art showpieces at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.
Today, as owner and chef at Montclair Bistro, Vortriede draws on his culinary background to create a rotating menu that includes organic chicken scaloppini sourced from Petaluma Farms, duck-and-wild-mushroom quesadillas with brown-butter chestnuts, and thick, double-cut pork chops with sweet-potato-apple pancakes. Another menu of brunch fare combines traditional favorites such as scrambled eggs with black truffle and eggs benedict with lobster cake.
Vortriede's taste is on display not only on plates but also on the restaurant’s walls, where elegant painted canvases hang. Two hundred bottles of wine stand nearby on storage racks inside walk-in glass covered with the pressed noses of oenophiles. The decor, which includes dark carpeting and dark chairs, white-linen-covered tables, and flickering candles, helped earn the restaurant OpenTable's 2012 Diners' Choice award for romantic restaurant in East Bay.
Souley Vegan's proprietor Tamearra Dyson uses techniques she learned from her family in Louisiana to subvert that idea that healthy, vegan eating lacks flavor. She dredges tofu in a southern-style batter that mimics fried catfish and fashions a menu that appeals to meat-eaters and vegans alike. Tofu also gets dressed in BBQ sauce in burgers and tossed in sweet and sour and green peppers. Tamearra and her kitchen staff put a vegan spin on a roster of Southern classics, such as potato salad with black olives following a family recipe three generations old, as well as mashed potatoes drenched in vegan gravy made like her mom did. The eatery's mac and cheese made with yeast-based, non-dairy cheese earned it accolades from the East Bay Express, which said that it "is so perfect a substitute to its dairy-based kin that it leaves the eater convinced it’s the real thing," while also bestowing Souley Vegan with "Best of East Bay" awards for the past five years. USA Today has also recognized the eatery as among ten great places for soul food in the country.
Brightly painted walls and block-style prints of blues musicians lend a cozy Southern atmosphere to the restaurant, where diners gather around color-splashed tables or cluster on picnic style benches as they share family-style meals or play License Plate Bingo for the last piece of fried okra.
In 1941, Wilma and Henry Dorsey opened a modest family eatery on the corner of 18th and Market in West Oakland. Over the next four decades, devoted family members transformed the place with a relocation, the addition of a cocktail lounge, and the construction of a beautiful wooden bar. Today, Dorsey family members remain the sole shareholders of a bustling restaurant that celebrates their Texas roots with country-style meals of fried chicken, catfish, gumbo, barbecue ribs, and sweet peach cobbler. A rotating weekly menu makes fresh additions to the slate of hearty, homecooked food with such dishes as chitterlings and smothered steak, while sides of collard greens, yams, and black-eyed peas garnish every dish with Southern panache.
Far more than a mere restaurant, Dorsey's Locker also treats guests to a full bar and lineup of live entertainment. On Sunday nights from 6 p.m until 10 p.m., the restaurant waives a cover charge for live R&B and jazz music. Open mic events each Tuesday show off the hidden talents of friends and neighbors, while Monday, Thursday, and Saturday-night karaoke provides a socially acceptable outlet for singing a love song to a plate of breaded pork chops.
Ayalnesh Chanialew learned the art of Ethiopian cooking through observation. She first watched cooking techniques and styles in Ethiopia, where she was born. As a child, she frequently traveled to different countries with her father, an ambassador. Through her travels, she learned to adapt her palate and cooking style to incorporate those of different cultures. This knack for adaptation shines in her cooking, whether she is substituting herb-infused olive oil for the traditional butter in her restaurant's dishes or making chips out of Ethiopian flatbread for a new textural experience.
At Sheba Dining, guests feast on both vegan entrees and meat, ranging from lean beef and sautéed lamb to raw ahi tuna, all seasoned with signature spices such as ginger, cardamom, and chili. After testing out her injera chips on customers, Ayalnesh began packaging and selling them as a commercial snack, which are now sold at health-food stores including Whole Foods. Her desire to promote Ethiopian cuisine has led Ayalnesh to expand her commercial exploits to sauces and dips, including a spicy red-lentil sauce made from those lentils that fail their anger-management-therapy course.
Though Ahadu means “first,” Fisseha and Lula Araya are not the first owners of Ahadu Ethiopian Restaurant. When they took over, though, they brought with them 15 years of restaurant experience, which they now use to bring authentic Ethiopian eats to the community. Through an open kitchen, diners can watch Chef Lula as she simmers pans of lamb, beef, and chicken in spices and butter, and then ladles the thick stews into sturdy stone bowls. Just as America’s national dish is the hamburger and France’s national dish is the deep-fried beret, Ethiopia’s national dish is doro wat, which Chef Lula creates by simmering spicy chicken in berbere sauce before serving it with a boiled egg atop housemade injera bread. She also sautés portobello mushrooms with onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes to craft a flavorful vegetarian version of mushroom tibs or wat. The restaurant’s bar stocks Ethiopian beers such as Bati lager and Hakim stout as well as imported Ethiopian wines.