Openings in Oakland remind me of Christmas morning. Except instead of rushing in to find packages piled up under the tree, people rush to discover the newest addition to our entertainment scene.
They're just as eager to find out what new restaurant, bar, lounge or pub has been bestowed on them as I was about toys.
Nex, which opened in July, is one of the newest, and it's definitely the adult in the family. The restaurant is a neighborhood-style bistro set up with about a dozen mostly marble-topped tables, an open kitchen and a bar that seats six.
It is the latest venture of Hi Suk and Sanju Dong, who own Soizic near Third Street and Mua on the Broadway Auto Row. (Nex's décor will be familiar to fans of Soizic, which is closed during a remodeling overhaul.)
The couple took over the space that adjoins Mua after the previous owners left suddenly, taking everything with them except the custom-built wood-burning pizza oven.
"Mua is a different game. This is personal," said Nex chef John Mardikian. He moved over from the older, bigger sibling and created a menu to match the bistro atmosphere -- big gilded mirrors, spiral staircase, Edith Piaf. He serves marrow bones; gnocchi; lamb noisette; duck confit; and an asparagus, bacon, poached egg combination topped by green goddess dressing.
"How many chicken breasts can you eat?" he said.
Arturo Nieto, a Nex regular sitting at the bar, agreed.
"Sometimes you sit here, and John makes you something out of nothing," he said.
The Sudtiroler lagrein wine Nieto was sipping is one of the peculiar reds on a generally eclectic list. Choices range from a Navarro Gewürztraminer to an aglianico, which is the wine equivalent in taste to a red velvet curtain.
Mardikian offered up a glass of his favorite, a tempranillo that he drove three hours to buy after his first sip.
Nieto said Nex is one of the few places that knows pisco. Indeed, bartender Curtis Curtis (yes, that is his name) created a pisco-based cocktail for Nieto, who runs an auto body shop when he isn't educating Americans about the virtue of the grape-based liquor.
"I went through three wives with this guy," said the maitre d', Hamid Rashiei, who had been with the owners even before they started serving scones in the morning at Soizic 15 years ago. He is said to have the uncanny ability to match any wine to your meal.
"What can I do? I feel like family here," Nieto replied, shrugging his shoulders and laughing.
"Food," Rashiei added, "is all about family."
Nex is at 2442 Webster St. For more information, call 510-238-8224.
When the dark days of Mengistu's dictatorship descended on Ethiopia, Mesret Habte fled to Italy. He worked his way to Oakland, where he found work driving a truck. Two weeks ago, he and Fassil Sbhatu opened Café RandeVu.
The two men, one-time schoolmates, restored the former cell phone store to its original state as a restaurant, but they had to start nearly from scratch. "Everything but the roof," Habte said.
Perched at 25th Street and Broadway, Café RandeVu brightens up the long passageway in a way that Mua and Nex refuse to. Instead of studied casualness, Café RandeVu combines food with a club vibe.
The menu includes baby back ribs, fried calamari and a tofu Caesar salad topped with a "modern age" house dressing and served with garlic bread. They also serve mini burgers, chicken shawarma and grilled prawns.
Cocktails like the "Blueberry Muffin" are sweet and strong. The "Kryptonite" promises to make you feel like Superman. It is possible that they pour the largest glasses of wine in town.
Passers-by can see patrons through the picture windows drinking beer and chatting, sipping coffee while talking on their cell phones or watching soccer matches on a TV near the bar. (An optical illusion one night reflected the soccer game on TV through the window in such a way that it looked like the match was playing at a drive-in across the street.)
Habte still drives a truck in the mornings. But Sbhatu quit his job as a dispatcher for the Port of Oakland. They put all their savings into Café RandeVu, the namesake of a restaurant that can be found everywhere from Lithuania to Addis Ababa. They opened about two weeks ago, Habte said, adding that they plan to expand to lunch service. For now they open at 5 p.m. and close at midnight. On weekends, a jazz band plays. Happy hour is from 5-7 p.m.
Café RandeVu is at 2430 Broadway. For more information, call 510-893-1411.