Why is December unlike any other month? For one, it means many birthdays, besides the big one on December 24. I feel badly for those poor people who happen to be sharing a birthdate/month with the Christchild. It’s easy to feel lost in all the holiday hoopla. One thing I’ve learned about celebrating December birthdays is that you absolutely cannot use Christmas/holiday wrap on birthday presents, and the gifts had better not be remotely Christmasy or seasonal in origin. Don’t even use a Christmas stamp or holiday return address labels on birthday cards for December babies, either. Stick with jewelry, clothing and candy, throw in a little wine, and you should have it covered.

Whether you’re celebrating your birthday or someone else’s this month, it’s good to know there’s a new dining option to consider in Pleasanton: Sidetrack Bar + Grill, founded by local resident Todd Utikal and longtime restaurateur Skip Hinsley. The kitchen is overseen by Victor Escamila, whose 20 year background in restaurants includes previous roles at Blue Gingko and Piatti Italian Restaurant & Bar in Danville.

The restaurant’s name celebrates the historic Transcontinental Railway that previously ran alongside the restaurant site at 30 West Angela Street, half a block off Main Street. You’ll find a bar foot rail reclaimed from Niles Canyon Railroad and a reproduction of a 1900s photo of Pleasanton at this spot behind the former Girasole restaurant. Sidetrack serves both lunch and dinner, with signature small plates as well as handcrafted burgers, salads, sandwiches and more. Great shares include avocado egg roll with cilantro dipping sauce, Absolut! prawns served in a vodka cream sauce and Thai chili cauliflower wings.

You’ll find craft beers, wine, and spirits, with Jeremy Troupe-Masi lending his expertise to the beverage program, serving as Bar Manager and bringing experience from San Francisco’s Roka Akor and Pleasanton’s Sabio restaurant. (He also pops up to make cocktails at Ranch Life in Livermore: more on that another time.)

Also in Pleasanton, Salt Craft’s Matt Greco, has some new items for Christmas, including sides like rosemary bread, ham hocks and black-eyed peas, winter squash and ricotta dip, French potato gratin, swiss chard with cranberries and caramelized onions, all of which serve 6 to 8 people. Desserts, too: pear and almond galette and sour cream coffee cake. Order sides by December 23, and pick up by 4pm on Dec 24.

Salt Craft also has a new menu for New Year’s Eve. Check out the website for the full menu, which is $65 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity and will feature choices like warm pork sausage en croute with potato leek bread, pumpkin taglietelle and baked crab salad for the first course, and swiss chard-wrapped lamb loin, chicken hot pot and roasted swordfish with almond risotto as choices for the entrée. Dessert offers persimmon rice pudding, olive oil cake with lemon cream or chocolate amaretto cheesecake.

Wente’s new December 3-course wine pairing lunch menu (Friday through Sunday only) features the 2016 135th anniversary Chardonnay paired with prawn tempura and Petite Sirah with smoked duck noodle salad. They also have a wine pairing dinner menu for $95 that includes white truffle toast with poached egg, smoked duck breast and flourless chocolate cake with malted milk chocolate ice cream. Check their website for details. The restaurant is closed December 24 and 25, and then from Tuesday, January 1st - Monday, January 7th, during which time it will be closed for maintenance.


Concannon Vineyard rolled out the second installment of its Clone Series with the 2016 Concannon Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from Napa Valley. The Clone Series from Concannon Vineyard highlights the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon Clones, which account for an estimated 80 percent of all California Cabernet Sauvignon vines and have long been considered the backbone of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. The 2016 Concannon Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon is a pure expression of Clone 8, which typically exhibits blackberry, anise, baking spices and cocoa, along with firm tannins that soften nicely with age. Only 101 cases of 2016 Concannon Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon were produced. Suggested retail price is $95. Visit www.ConcannonVineyard.com for more information.


Winemaker Michael Chalkley of Enoteca Five knew he had something special with the 2017 Chardonnay he sourced from Duarte Vineyards in Oakley. There are only seven rows of Chardonnay in this heritage vineyard: the rest is old vine Zinfandel. The grapes were harvested by hand on August 21, 2017, and arrived at the cellar cold from an early morning pick. Chalkley pressed whole cluster and then fermented the juice in stainless steel, moving it to a French Latour barrel after it had fermented dry. To impart a creamy mouthfeel, the wine underwent twice monthly battonage (stirring) of the lees as it sat on the yeast for 15 months prior to bottling. The finished wine is Burgundian in style, very approachable, medium bodied, soft, and elegant with a kiss of oak. Chalkley says it reminds him of Meursault. He calls it “Wanderlust,” and the cheeky retro label evokes the get out and discover America movement of the 1950’s.

The wine can be purchased directly at the Enoteca Five Tasting Room, located at 2111 Research Drive, Suite 6, Livermore, open for tasting each Saturday and Sunday from 12:30pm to 4:30pm. You can also purchase online at www.enoteca5.com. Because there are only 25 cases of this beauty, we suggest you get yours now before it sells out! Price: $25/bottle; $300/case.