There's something inexplicably sexy about Old Oakland. She's like a woman unaware of her charm. Yet every time I visit this section of town, I'm drawn to the classic beauty of those red brick Victorian buildings that hearken back to a simpler time.

Strings of lights add a cheerful glow to the neighborhood that is home to some of Oakland's trendiest restaurants including a new place for regional Italian cuisine -- Desco. Opening last month in the century-old building at the corner of Ninth and Washington, chef/owner Donato Scotti (Donato Enoteca in Redwood City) has a winner here. His north Italian fare is light and savory, with much of the food house-made.

One standout dish is the wood-fired pizza -- perfectly blistered and topped with house-made salsiccia sausage, friarielli and mozzarella. The pasta dishes are also lighter than you find in many Italian restaurants -- with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Scotti is going for the feel of an authentic Italian restaurant with old European charm. The ambience and excellent service go a long way in helping him achieve this goal.

Street talk: With school back in session, many parents are pleading with motorists to drive cautiously. Shepherd Canyon Road and Mountain Boulevard are known hot spots for speeders, and citizens have tried everything from handmade signs to speed bumps to slow drivers down. On Snake and Thornhill, reader Bennett Hall sees what he calls the "Grand Prix" approach to driving. "It seems when people enter cars, they cease to be human in these cocoons," Hall says.


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Email bag: Reader Catherine O'Connell is looking for volunteers to help Fremont High students with their English assignments. The Oakland school is one of several in the East Bay that use trained community volunteer as writing coaches. She says the commitment is only one to two hours, as little as two times a month. For more information, see www.writercoachconnection.org or email Catherine at catherineoconnellwcc@gmail.org.

Animal tales: When fluffy gets stuck in a tree, who can you call? Graham Tree Service, that's who. Montclair's Ray Graham says he gets several calls a year from frantic cat owners who can't coax their kitties out of trees -- even with tuna. For $100 (which goes to his climbers), he'll send out one of his guys to make the rescue. But he does draw the line at aggressive iguanas. Graham once turned down a job that involved capturing a four-foot long reptile that was 20 feet up a tree. "This thing was hissing at my guys -- like a prehistoric hiss," he says. The clincher was when he saw all the scratch and bite marks on the owner's arms.

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by phone at 510-723-2525, by email at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or on the web at www.ginnyprior.com.