Monday, November 22, 2010

Plum in Oakland’s Uptown

Patterson Puts His Mark Across the Bay
2214 Broadway (at 22nd St.), Oakland
PH: 510.444.7586
Open daily, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
(16% service charge automatically added to bill)

Chef Daniel Patterson is really turning out to be a big-time restaurateur. Already established with his fine-dining Coi in San Francisco, he’s opened the casual Il Cane Rosso in the Ferry Building and plans a restaurant called Bracina as part of the revitalization of Oakland’s Jack London Square.

But his most recent restaurant opening takes him to Oakland’s Uptown, where he’s taken over the space of a Louisiana-style fried chicken joint and opened a stylish and cozy neighborhood restaurant called Plum.

I work in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood, so having a restaurant by someone of Patterson’s caliber nearby was something I eagerly anticipated. The bus I catch home from work passes the restaurant, and every day I watched as the restaurant was gutted, then slowly renovated and redecorated until the lights went on three months ago and diners came calling.

I visited for dinner last week with my dining partner Foodhoe, who pens the adventurous and photolicious Foodhoe’s Foraging. I arrived early and was offered either a seat at the long 11-seat counter (facing the open kitchen) or one of the shared tables in the front. (The wooden tables and benches create a sophisticated park picnic feel, and I couldn’t keep my hands from rubbing along the smooth wood surface.)

As you can tell from my description of the tables, I chose to sit at one of the communal tables instead of the counter. The restaurant had a festive feel with the walls covered by plum photographs in grids and dangling lights that felt like they were strung up at someone’s backyard party.

When Foodhoe arrived, we dived into the menu, which reflected a seasonal spin that seemed to put a heavy emphasis on vegetables. Chef Patterson isn’t in charge of the kitchen (although there were reports of his sighting behind the stove during the early weeks of the opening) and supposedly his partner from Il Cane, Chef Lauren Kiino, served as the opening chef. But later news reported that former Aqua chef de cuisine Ron Boyd would be supervising the kitchen. I’m sure all these chefs have influenced Plum’s kitchen in these early weeks.

After ordering a glass of wine, Foodhoe ordered from the snack section to get the potato chicharrones ($4). Traditionally made from pork rind, this faux chicharrones came out looking like an interesting food sculpture.

Of course, I only tried just one piece because I don’t like to eat deep-fried foods, and I wasn’t tempted to eat more. Foodhoe and I agreed that while the pepper and lime spice sprinkled on the chicharrones was a perfect seasoning, the texture seemed a bit off, almost stale.

Heading into our meal, we started with artichoke terrine ($10), which is a cold dish made of layers, this time of thinly sliced artichokes that had been cooked tender and then beautifully created into this layered dish. The artichoke pieces were interspersed with Andante cheese (it was soft like goat cheese) and sat on a black olive tapenade. Even though this dish was a small portion, I enjoyed the complexity and subtle flavors.

Next came the chicory salad ($9), which I had heard some good things about. The crunchy salad of mixed chicory greens (we had to ask the server to identify the three types of chicory used, which included escarole and radicchio), pomegranate and pears were held nicely together with a somewhat creamy date-yogurt vinaigrette that was slightly sweet. I found the sweetness a nice change from the typical tart vinaigrette, but I think Foodhoe thought it was too sweet because she let me eat most of the salad.

Another dish that’s been getting some buzz in the blogosphere is the olive oil braised cauliflower ($12) with bulghur, almonds and dandelion salsa. The plate of cauliflower looked rich and roasted, and I enjoyed the interesting flavors. But I wished the cauliflower wasn’t cooked so soft.

For the larger dishes, we ordered first the Manila clams grilled on the plancha ($17). This was a dish that I totally got wrong. When I saw plancha, I thought the clams would come sizzling on a plancha, a type of Spanish metal plate. But instead, the clams came in a bowl mixed with escarole, so it ended up looking like a salad. I did like the slight heat in the flavor of the clams, but all the greens couldn’t keep me from thinking we were still eating a salad.

But while the clams were a low, a high was the beef cheek and oxtail burger ($15). This amazing burger had a unique texture that was slightly rich and flakey, darkened by the cooked cheeks and oxtail meat. It wasn’t the typical bloody hamburger, but this unique combination created a different flavor that was surprising and so satisfying. It came with some pickles and horseradish, which helped to cut into the richness, and was accompanied by a tiny bunch of simply dressed greens. (Plum plans to open for lunch in the future, and I really hope they offer this burger.)

We ended our dinner with the talked-about roasted white chocolate parfait ($9), which was a tiny slice of creamy parfait that had a texture similar to cheesecake but Foodhoe kept saying it was "like BUD-dha" (it actually reminds me of a parfait I had at Commis, another stellar Oakland restaurant). It was served with huckleberries, which seems to be the season’s in fruit at restaurants in the Bay Area. The dessert was enjoyable, and I especially like the flakey crumbly crust.

A note about the service: everyone was friendly, professional, and welcoming. Although Foodhoe and I thought it was odd that the waiter who took our orders and helped us at the beginning of our meal never visited us at the end. It felt like we were handed over to another server. I did appreciate how they clearly told us that there’s a 16 percent service charged automatically added to the bill so you don’ t have to worry about figuring out the tip. (Some restaurants add an automatic gratuity on large groups, but sometimes forget to tell you so I appreciate how Plum is diligent about telling guests upfront.)

The food at Plum is a mix bag of amazing (artichoke terrine, beef cheek/oxtail burger) to ordinary (chicory salad), but the effort is always appreciated, especially in the emerging dining experience of Uptown. Patterson, in his ever-expanding mode, also plans to takeover the space next door to Plum (formerly home for Franklin Square Wine Bar) to create a bar experience to complement Plum. He wants Plum to be a neighborhood restaurant, and I think he’s done just that while still throwing in a few culinary surprises.

You can read Foodhoe's take on our meal on her post here. Turns out she thought the decor was more scary than I thought.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (A few nice surprises)

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

Plum on Urbanspoon


foodhoe said...

Well Single guy, your lens definitely got clearer photos than my point and click did... guess I'll tote the bigger camera in the future. I'm excited to read they plan to expand, that intersection in uptown just keeps getting better over time. I can't wait to check out Bakesale Betty next door too after they finish settling in.

Carolyn Jung said...

OMG, that burger sounds incredible. First off, I just love oxtail. And to combine it with beef cheek? Wow! It must be super beef-a-licious tasting.

Unknown said...

The Oxetail/beefcheek Burger IS fantastic! Unfortunately, it is no longer on the menu....

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks for the heads up Jason. That's too bad, I loved it. I hope it makes a return in the future.