What was the Livermore Wine Trolley doing on a Thursday night on Main Street in Pleasanton, with nary a winery within three miles?
For years I had spied the green and red Livermore Wine Trolley at local wineries. But the new "Taste of the Tri-Valley Food Tour" on Oct. 20 spurred me to hop on.
The three-hour adventure at three restaurants, including Oasis Wine Lounge on Main Street, satisfied my tummy with appetizing treats, enabled me to sing along with a well-curated playlist and converse with many happy guests.
During the journey I asked Chrystallynn Sakata of Hayward to describe the experience. She replied, "This is a multi-sensory event which makes the evening more memorable."
Yes, the Livermore Wine Trolley manifests elements of a "party bus". But owner Brian Luke had broader aims when he started the business in 2014.
"I saw a need to offer a fun getaway highlighting our Livermore Valley wine country," Luke said. "The tours are somewhat like field trips for adults, especially the 'Sip & Savor' to three wineries and 'Lights of the Holidays' in December. The holiday tour also offers a family-family schedule. But I always wanted to feature the Tri-Valley's amazing restaurant scene."
The new tour simplifies decision-making on where to dine. A search of "restaurants in Pleasanton" on TripAdvisor yielded 246 entries, which included multiple fast-food outlets. I turned to Pleasanton city staff, who reported 220 city-licensed restaurants. As for the broader region, Visit Tri-Valley has researched the area's restaurant scene and counts 150 family-owned or unique restaurants -- a daunting number.
Along with 21 others aboard, I trusted Lisa Tolido, general manager of the trolley company, to find three tasty restaurants and leave the driving to them.
After boarding at Stockmen's Park in Livermore, Tolido handed out plastic wine cups and poured Las Positas Vineyards Coccineous red blend, a smooth, approachable wine. Reflecting Luke's mission to educate guests, many from out of town, Tolido briefly described the Livermore winery as reminiscent of Tuscany with its architecture and scenic vineyard views.
I underestimated how quickly the happiness factor would rise on the trolley, one of three in the company fleet.
As we rolled onto Railroad Avenue to Terra Mia Ristorante Italiano in Livermore, Dean Martin's voice crooned "That's Amore" and "Volare", a perfect pairing to get us into the mood for a warm greeting by Luca Speroni, one of the owners.
A bonus of the tour was seating in quieter, semi-private dining rooms. At Terra Mia flanked by Italian prints on the wall, Speroni introduced the no-host wine recommendations including Italian red blend "Tatone" Montepulicano d'Abruzzo and a local Livermore white wine from Darcie Kent Vineyards.
Speroni also spoke about the homemade elements of our food. House-made bread was toasted for the three bruschette: full-on garlic bread, one slathered in pesto and another topped with diced tomatoes.
The second course was pasta made with imported Italian 00 flour. I enjoyed the savory pasta with mushrooms and sausage but grew cautious about devouring the entire near-entree size pasta at the first stop.
Back in the trolley, the music took a rock 'n' roll turn. By the time we rolled into Pleasanton, most everyone joined in singing "Party in the U.S.A." and followed singer Miley Cyrus' request for periodic "hands up".
Luke's other "day job" is a world away from getaways. In addition to owning the wine trolley and Golden State Trolley private charters, Luke works two, 24-hour days on and then four days off as a fireman-engineer with the Santa Clara County Fire Department. Before the tour, I asked him about the contrast between his CEO role and driving a fire truck to handle emergencies.
"No one is unhappy on our Livermore Wine Trolley," he quipped.
For the second stop, at Oasis Wine Lounge, the word spread to order cocktails. Our table chose no-host drinks from a chocolate espresso martini to a Moscow mule. The decor at Oasis tracked the owners' Afghan heritage with copper mosaics and Middle Eastern table lanterns.
Oasis co-owner Sadaf Shaghasi served pumpkin borani, an Afghan specialty, and a Greek-Turkish style mini-gyro. The slice of pumpkin in the borani was slow cooked in traditional Afghan spices and topped with garlic yogurt. The "mini-gyro" was a hearty portion of spiced, spit-roasted beef on a large pita bread.
Veteran trolley riders Wyn and Jenny Davies of Livermore enjoyed the Oasis food. Jenny added, "The tours are always a good date night because it's planned, and the drive home is short."
Though traveling to three places for dinner may not be everyone's cup of tea, Shaghasi told me later that after observing the guests' happy vibe at Oasis, she too wants to ride the trolley
On the short ride to BottleTaps in Pleasanton, the festive atmosphere accelerated with the first chords of the classic sing-a-long, "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.
We received a warm welcome at the final stop, brew pub BottleTaps, before being led to the side room.
BottleTaps was a new dining experience for most guests, prompting owner Eric Wall to share his views on beverage pairings. "We are on the edge of Livermore wine country and want to show how good food and good beer pair well -- or better -- than food and wine," he said.
Stephenie Sargiotto of Discovery Bay and others were ready for beer. "I've been on the wine trolley tours before," Sargiotto said, "but I like this one with BottleTaps because I also like beer."
The first complimentary, 4-ounce pour was English Pub Ale from East Brother Brewery in Richmond. Wall described why the ale paired well with BottleTaps' fan favorite smoked pastrami slider, saying, "This pale ale is richer than most ales. The malty and layered flavors in the ale complement the smoky pastrami."
A slider is theoretically smaller than a sandwich. But the soft bun piled high with meat engendered requests for takeout boxes. I ate my slider with gusto then reached for a box when the chocolate ganache cake arrived. I did, however, sneak a taste with the second complimentary beer, Blonde Coffee Stout from Faction brewery in Alameda.
At BottleTaps several guests told me they appreciated tasting different cuisines in one evening.
Self-professed foodie Asal Daoudi of Danville enjoyed having smaller plates rather than one big meal, and I concurred with her dining philosophy. On her first trolley ride, Corrine Davies of Livermore was pleased to see so many happy faces throughout the evening.
As we drove into Livermore, the final song was "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond with the words, "Good times never seemed so good."
More "Taste of the Tri-Valley" tours are scheduled bimonthly in 2023 starting on Jan. 26.