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[whitespace] New Shop, Old Style

Riga European Bakery brings a taste of the Old World to a new housing complex

By Joe Mangelli

WHEN THE MIGHTY KAISER CUBS practiced at Hester School back in the '50s and SEP,IRA was just the name stenciled on the footlocker of the New Yorker two bunks down from your Uncle Joey in boot camp, all seemed well with the world. San Jose was slowly losing its reputation as a prune town and Silicon Valley was not yet a gleam in the public eye. The old Hester Park neighborhood on The Alameda near Hester Street was the village center of a real working-class neighborhood that encompassed The Alameda on the other side of Santa Clara Street. Not really part of downtown and not easily mistaken for the Rose Garden, it was an entity unto itself. Anchored by the Towne Theater and the Bank of Italy on one side of the street and the old Falstaff Brewery on the other, it had a vibrancy all its own. Over the years when folks went out to eat they might stroll over to the venerable Las Palmas Restaurant or over to Angelo's (Arena Cafe), which, amazingly, are both still alive. Or they'd fast for a few days and then attack the King's Table smorgy, which isn't.

But that, as they say, is history. The brewery is gone, the Bank of Italy is now the Bank Cafe, and San Jose is all grown up. Silicon Valley lives and it needs ... apartments, lots of apartments. Enter Avalon on The Alameda, a huge, well-designed complex offering all the amenities while striving to maintain that old neighborhood feeling. Avalon has added a half-dozen stores to The Alameda that most deem necessary for cultural survival: a Starbucks, a Blockbuster, a cleaners and, soon, a Juice Vibe shop. One real surprise is the tiny Riga European Bakery and Cafe. Master pastry chef Alex Kirkilevich, a native of Latvia, who apprenticed for more than a decade at many of the top hotels in his part of the world, offers state-of-the-old-art French pastries amid surreal prints of the ancient city of Riga on the Baltic Sea. This little bakery offers a delectable assortment of pampered oven goods--from Danish and flaky croissants to powdery cannoli--all baked on the premises. Just perusing the impeccable display case can cause the sweet tooth to ache. For Avalonians adding the next chapter to the history of Hester Park, this could be a great place to begin and end a day. Riga European Bakery and Cafe is at 1338 The Alameda, Suite 3; call 408.947.7442 for hours.

Cask and Candlelight

The Bay Area has always been touted as having, per capita, the most and the best restaurants. A passion for food seems to go with the climate and the availability of great food and fine wines. Mirassou, the oldest winemaking family in America, is doing its best to maintain that tradition by offering the ultimate gourmet experience with its popular Candlelight Dinner Series. There are seven more chances to partake of the Fall Program. Each evening consists of an eight-course feast featuring the creations of talented in-house chef de cuisine David Page, accompanied by a selection of Mirassou's award-winning varietals and sparkling wines. Held on Saturday evenings from 6:30pm in Mirassou's lush winery setting in the east foothills (3000 Aborn Road, San Jose), these romantic dinners are set among towering casks, flickering candlelight and the soft strains of classical music. There is also one more chance--on Dec. 12--to dine at Mirassou's Champagne Cellars, located on the historic Novitiate grounds in the Los Gatos foothills. For details on the fall dinners and reservations, contact Brent Jensen at 408.274.4000, ext. 218.

Wine and Wildlife

Wine lovers who also love the environment might wish to ante up $100 for a ticket to the 25th anniversary Wine Tasting and Wildlife Art Show at the Thomas Fogarty Winery (Skyline Boulevard between Highway 84 and Page Mill Road) on Oct. 15 from 5:30 to 8:30pm. Guests will witness the release into the wilds of a rehabilitated great horned owl. Proceeds go for a great cause--to help wildlife rescue workers continue their efforts. For reservations, call 408.494.7417.

Got tips for A la Carte? Send information to the Food Editor, Metro, 550 S. First St., San Jose, 95113.

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From the October 14-20, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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