Saturday, September 13, 2008

Back for Seconds: Wood Tavern

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Pure Pastrami Bliss
6317 College Ave., Oakland
Outer Rockridge neighborhood
PH: 510.654.6607
Lunch, Mon.–Sat.; dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: February 2008

At times when I feel like indulging on the weekend, I make my way to one of the best restaurants in my Rockridge neighborhood, the charming and handsome Wood Tavern right near the Oakland-Berkeley border.

This was the restaurant that won me over when I finally visited earlier this year after being rebuffed a few times when it first open. So now I know the trick of eating at earlier or later times. For lunch, that means getting there when the door opens at 11:30 a.m.

I don’t know if it’s the poor economy or whether it was just too hot for people last week to stay inside a restaurant, but on this Saturday Wood Tavern was near empty when I arrived, which is a bit unusual for them. When I asked for a seat at the bar, the host gave me a look as if to say: “Don’t you want a table? We’ve got plenty of them.”

As a solo diner, I still prefer the copper-trim bar where I watched some U.S. Open tennis action and chatted with the bartenders. I also started my lunch with a Cool Breeze, which sounded great on a hot day. It’s a mix of grapefruit and other juices along with alcohol (gin, I think) but I asked to get a virgin since it was too hot a day for alcohol.

The lunch menu changes with the seasons, but Wood Tavern stays true to their categories. So even though the ingredients change, you still can expect selections of charcuterie and cheese, a soup and something with pork belly, sandwiches, and entrees (the Niman Ranch hamburger seems like a regular standby).

Of course, I already knew what I was ordering, and that’s my indulgent lunch of the hot pastrami. I’ve heard a lot about this sandwich as being one of the best in the Bay Area, and while I rarely eat pastrami because of all the fattiness, I so love the aroma of hot pastrami. Just writing about it now after the fact is making my mouth water.

The description for Wood Tavern’s Hot Pastrami sandwich ($10)—another consistent menu selection over the seasons—is pretty cryptic, with only notes of emmenthaler cheese and Dijon-horseradish dressing. It comes with the Tavern slaw.

When it arrived, I just marveled at the thin layers of pastrami, which I’m guessing is Niman Ranch. Just looking at it I could tell that it’ll taste so tender because all the slices looked like they melded together while still creating the look of individual slices.

I couldn’t tell what kind of bread it was on. I’m guessing a crusty French roll. While the bread was fine, I don’t think it’s the perfect match for the pastrami. It did its job of keeping all the meat together, but I think some kind of rye bread would better serve the luscious and tasty pastrami inside.

The pastrami was indeed tender, and amazingly they all held together when I would bite into the sandwich. Sometimes pastrami can be chewy so your bites would tear the rest of the sandwich apart, but at Wood Tavern the pastrami is so perfectly tender that it easily tears away with each bite, leaving the rest of the sandwich in tact for your next bite. The dressing was very minimal although it had a kick from the horseradish, and the cheese pretty much melted from the heat of the pastrami so that it was basically just goo keeping everything together.

The Tavern slaw was a simply shredded cabbage with green specks that tasted like basil. I thought it was refreshing but the dressing tasted primarily like lemon juice. It needed a bit more sweetness to balance the tart. It didn’t compare to the perfection of the pastrami meat.

Still, the pastrami itself—the way it’s sliced, the taste of the flavors, the warmth of the meat—all combine to make it one of the best in the Bay Area. And it’s a real value lunch at only $10 when you consider the quality and the ambiance of the elegant Wood Tavern.

Update experience (previous 4.25 stars): Still going strong


Anonymous said...

I don't eat pastrami much but noticed that Arby's and Weinerschnitzel have pastrami sandwiches on their menus.

Anonymous said...

ooh, I just love a good pastrami sandwich and that looks delicous. I agree about the rye bread, that bun looks like it adds too much heft... Good grief, I just had dinner and now I want one of those sammies!