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Friday, June 25, 2010

Oakland: A Restaurant Destination

Oakland's restaurants find strength in numbers

A number of restaurants touted as cool and hip — and offering delectable fare — have sprouted lately in Oakland, especially downtown.

"This is part of the surprising evolution of the restaurant industry in Oakland," said Mark Everton, executive director of the association.

Roughly 20 to 25 restaurants have opened in Oakland during the last 18 months, estimated Everton, who is also general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville.

"You are seeing an influx of cutting-edge restaurants in downtown Oakland," Everton said.

Restaurants that have opened in Oakland in recent years include Bocanova, Brown Sugar Kitchen, Camino, Encuentro, Flora, Geisha, Miss Pearl's Jam House, Ozumo and Pican.

"Oakland has become a Mecca for restaurants," Joseph Haraburda, chief executive officer of the city's Chamber of Commerce, said this week during a lunch presentation before a business group.

"One of the keys to life is to have a great meal, a great family event, to have a quality dining experience," Everton said.

The new restaurants are drawing patrons from a broader area than just Oakland or the East Bay, said Michael LeBlanc, owner of Pican. As much as a quarter of Pican's patrons live in San Francisco, LeBlanc said, and many others live in Mill Valley, Orinda, Lafayette or Moraga.

"People come here to dine and they are surprised," LeBlanc said. "They ask 'This is Oakland?' It's starting to be a destination."

Other estimates suggest that 60 percent of the patrons for restaurants in downtown Oakland come from San Francisco or travel through the Caldecott Tunnel.

Similarly, the bumper crop of new restaurants are becoming one of the ingredients that provide space for Oakland's economy in a unique way.

"We are changing the perception that people have about Oakland," restaurant owner LeBlanc said.

Read more at the Contra Costa Times

 In Oakland, Innovation Is on the Menu

Jack London Square has been reborn. The area on Oakland’s inner harbor was developed in the ’70s, and the city had hoped that the waterfront space would have a quirky, independent appeal. But chain restaurants soon moved in, and both local residents and tourists largely stayed away.

However, changes are afoot. The chain restaurants are largely gone, after their leases were not renewed in an effort by developers to reinvent the square (a plan approved by the city). In came a cast of big-name chefs — as well as a new six-floor, 72,000-square-foot farmers’ market scheduled to open later this year.

In fact, the effort to refashion Jack London Square reflects a larger trend. Unlike San Francisco, its sister city across the bay, Oakland hasn’t been known for its innovative menus. But in the last few years, a number of noteworthy restaurants have opened, some led by chefs who have fled San Francisco’s high rents, and a few of whom put in time at the legendary Chez Panisse in neighboring Berkeley. Michelin raised the stakes when it awarded a star to an Oakland newcomer, Commis. But, as a recent survey of its Oakland brethren showed, Commis is not alone.

COMMIS

The talented chef James Syhabout, who has logged time in acclaimed international kitchens like the Fat Duck, outside London, and El Bulli, plays with textures and flavors in a masterly and deeply satisfying way.

Commis has the feel of an almost-secret experiment in progress. The name of the restaurant, which means “apprentice chef” in the parlance of French kitchens, is nowhere to be found on the floor-to-ceiling windowed facade. Inside, splitting a spare 30-seat dining room and surrounded by a counter and stools, is the open kitchen, where Mr. Syhabout and his sous chefs quietly go about their work.

Commis, http://www.commisrestaurant.com/

BOCANOVA

One of the first restaurants to land in the new Jack London Square last September, it is run by the chef Rick Hackett, one of those Chez Panisse alumni. Unlike MarketBar, Mr. Hackett’s Mediterranean restaurant in the recently revamped ferry building in San Francisco, Bocanova looks south. The menu, it turns out, was inspired by a family meal — the restaurant staff dinner shared before service — at MarketBar. A couple of staff members made dishes from their South American homelands; Mr. Hackett was impressed and Bocanova was born.

Bocanova, http://www.bocanova.com/

CAMINO

Another former Chez Panisse chef is also doing his part to reinvent Oakland as a dining destination. Russell Moore, who spent 21 years at the venerable Berkeley restaurant, was the produce buyer for much of his tenure.

Later, I asked Mr. Moore why he settled in Oakland, and he said he hadn’t intended to. “We were looking at spaces in San Francisco for three years and used three different Realtors but we found nothing,” he said. “So we just decided to have a look around Oakland and we stumbled upon this place.”

Camino, http://www.caminorestaurant.com/

ADESSO

Up the street from Commis is another new restaurant that has set local foodies’ taste buds ablaze. Adesso is a laid-back Italian wine bar that cures its own salumi. With a book-sized wine list that covers all 20 regions of Italy and a two-page list of 40-plus salumis, eight pâtés and six panini, the restaurant is an Italophile’s dream.

Adesso, http://www.dopoadesso.com/

BOOT AND SHOE SERVICE

The Bay Area has been going through something of a pizza revolution recently. And it arguably started when Charlie Hallowell — yet another chef to have spent time at Chez Panisse — opened Pizzaiolo in Oakland five years ago. Last December, Mr. Hallowell opened a spinoff, Boot and Shoe Service (the name is a holdover from the previous tenant).

Boot and Shoe Service, bootandshoeservice.com


Read more at the New York Times

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