Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dish on Dining: B Restaurant & Bar

Lunching It in Old Downtown Oakland
499 Ninth St. (at Washington), Oakland
Historic Old Town District
PH: 510.251.8770
Open for lunch and dinner, Tues.–Sat.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Oakland’s Old Town is finally emerging as a foodie hotspot, with trendy places such as Levende East and Trappist (the Belgian beer joint) opening in the hood. But one of the early pioneers (dating back to 2005) to combine a sophisticated décor with solid food is B Restaurant and Bar.

B (the initial is probably from its connection with San Francisco’s Boxed Foods Company) is a modern bar with good bones. Its décor reflects a trendy feel like any other concrete-emboldened place in SOMA in the city, but its exterior blends in nicely with the refurbished Victorian touches of the late 1800s.

B has been so successful in Oakland that it started its own reverse trend last year when it opened a second B Restaurant & Bar in San Francisco on Howard Street. I haven't checked that location out, but I'm sure the styling fits in nicely with the SOMA crowd.

I recently visited B (in Oakland) for the first time with my friend Jeanne. We arrived early to beat the weekday lunch crowd and were promptly seated at one of the restaurant’s clear resin tables, which add to the industrial look of the space. I could barely catch up with Jeanne, who recently moved to the Bay Area, because I kept getting distracted by the resin table. It was so clear. It was so large. Its bolts were clearly visible. It was definitely a conversation piece—at least the conversation in my head.

As we ate, the place eventually filled up and became very loud. I can just imagine what it must be like on a Friday night.

For the lunch menu, B offers a variety of salads, wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches. Of course, you could also order some of B’s signature drinks like the B Completo (a shot of tequila with a side of house sangria mix) or the Love On (Skyy vodka, raspberry puree and pineapple juice).

Jeanne and I skipped the drinks (but we did order the pomegranate lemonade, which morphed into a raspberry lemonade, which was very tart).

We started with the B Caesar ($9) salad. It was a towering green of bibb lettuce topped with pickled onions and parmesan crisps and croutons. It was dressed with a special silken tofu dressing that was rich and creamy. I liked the addition of the pickled onions, which helped to cut the richness of the dressing. But I have to say I’m a Caesar traditionalist and found the use of bibb lettuce distracting (maybe not as distracting as the resin table but still).

It was my first time eating bibb lettuce, which looked and had the same texture as butter lettuce, except bigger. While the yellow part was slightly crisp, which was somewhat like romaine, the green part was velvety and soft.

For our lunch, Jeanne ordered the P-L-T ($8), a play on the traditional B-L-T sandwich but substituting the bacon with pancetta. Jeanne enjoyed her sandwich, especially the nice toasty texture of the roll.

I went for the Pork and Slaw sandwich ($9)—slow-cooked pork served with a Napa cabbage slaw on a bun. The pork was nicely cooked but the vinegar from the slaw overpowered it, along with the bun. The bottom layer of the bun was already soggy by the time my sandwich arrived at the table, so I resorted to eating it with a fork and knife. While filling, I felt the sandwich wasn’t balanced between the smoky flavor of the pork and the vinegar of the slaw.

Side note: Our server was friendly but she didn’t seem to know the menu really well. She had to go and ask the kitchen for some answers to some of our questions, including the soup of the day. (The menu clearly states, “see server for selection,” so you’d think she would have been ready for at least that.) Many of the servers looked like they were primarily bartenders helping out at the tables.

While I liked the restrained creativity in B’s menu and its emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, I found the execution to be a bit average. Which in that case it probably should be known as the C Restaurant and Bar.

THIS JUST IN: After posting this review, I read in today's San Francisco Chronicle Food section that B Restaurant has changed its chef. Saman Javid is out and veteran David Seawell (who has worked with Jeremiah Tower) is stepping in with a lighter touch to B's American classics. Now, the question is when I tried B last week did I have a taste of a transition kitchen crew or the new flavor of Seawell's command? I'm hoping it was the former. I may need to revisit B in a few months to see if Seawell has improved the grade.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (more fun as bar than restaurant)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

B Restaurant in Oakland


Anonymous said...

I think Bibb lettuce is the same thing as Butter lettuce.

Chef Ben said...

Yeah, it tasted like it. Why don't they just call it butter lettuce?

Jeanne says they call it bibb lettuce because it's like a bibb you tie around your neck. It was kind of that big. That was cute.

Anonymous said...

It's probably regional like whether you say soda or pop.

bethh said...

I know my comment is 18 months late, but I'm hoping you get notified about new comments. I went to B restaurant on Sunday night for the $20-per-person family-style dinner and it was killer good. I highly recommend you visit again!

Single Guy Ben said...

Hi Beth, thanks for the update. $20 sounds cheap, how much food can you order for that amount? And is this the Oakland location or the San francisco one?