Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chop Bar in Oakland

Casual Gathering Place Among the Warehouses
247 4th St. (at Alice), Oakland
Jack London Square district
PH: 510.834.2467
Dinner nightly, weekdays breakfast and lunch, weekend brunch
Reservations, major credit card accepted

This week is Oakland’s inaugural Restaurant Week – this city’s version of San Francisco’s Dine About Town. And it’s good timing since I’m without a kitchen and will be dining out pretty much all week.

For my first stop in Restaurant Week, I decided to check out Chop Bar, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary this month. The restaurant gets its name from the West African reference to a roadside eatery and community gathering place. It’s also environmentally focused, sourcing local ingredients and using reclaimed and recycled materials in its dining area.

When finding the restaurant, you have to walk a bit away from the heart of Jack London Square in Oakland’s waterfront, passed all the warehouses and empty factory spaces. Except for a few condominium lofts, there’s pretty much nothing else around Chop Bar.

I pulled up a seat at the massive half-circle bar of thick wood, with a view of the partially open kitchen. The bar is a very popular spot as more people arrived and chose to sit there instead of at the many empty tables, and even a bench used during the day by a lot of laptop sitters.

Side note: I did have a problem with the height of the bar. It was a bit higher than the stool, so that meant it was uncomfortable resting my arms on the side without feeling like I was in a constant state of shrugging my shoulders.

Oakland’s Restaurant Week allows its participating restaurants to create a prix-fixe menu for $20, $30, or $40. Chop Bar is offering a three-course prix fixe dinner for $30, but what makes it an especially valuable Restaurant Week special is that it comes with what’s advertised as “bottomless wine.”

That’s right, all-you-can-drink wine with your dinner. Now that’s a deal. Chop Bar offers a red or white wine (served on tap) and I chose the red. I can’t remember the name, but it was from Alameda and was actually very enjoyable and easy to drink. I didn’t really test the “bottomless” aspect, but the bartender did check on me a couple of times asking if I wanted a refill. I’d say I ended up drinking two glasses of wine.

For the first course, you have a choice between the arugula salad with Warren pears or the soup of the day. I chose the soup of the day, which happened to be curry carrot soup with yogurt.

The carrot soup was really thick, with a strong curry flavor and prominent undertones of cumin. I think the yogurt helped smoothen it out, but it wasn’t the most mind-blowing carrot soup I’ve ever had.

For the second course, Chop Bar is offering up either a pork shoulder ragu with polenta and fig-apricot mostarda or house-made pappardelle with broccoli rabe and tomato sugo.

I went with the pork shoulder ragu, which actually reminded me of kalua pig in Hawaii because it was basically salted pork that has been slow-cooked and then shredded. The pork was tasty (not too salty) and moist, and the polenta was extra creamy, almost like creamy grits. It definitely sticks to your ribs. The apricot and figs are a natural complement to pork, but I thought it would have been better if it was cooked a tad more. Still, the plate was absolutely cleaned when the bartender came to take it away.

The third and final course was dessert, and Chop Bar only offered one choice: pumpkin bread pudding. And really, it’s the only choice you need because this dessert is amazing. I’m normally not a fan of bread pudding, thinking it can really weigh you down, but this was not like any bread pudding I’ve had before.

The pumpkin bread pieces were light and fluffy, but the exterior had this crispy texture like a luscious croissant. The pumpkin flavor was definitely there, but it wasn’t the typical pumpkin pie overdose of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It just tasted like pumpkin, and being a fan of pumpkin, it was very comforting. The dollop of cream just pulled everything together.

Chop Bar’s menu is simple and clean, fresh with local flavors and ingredients. Its Restaurant Week offering is a great value, with the bottomless wine and an incredible dessert to give the meal a wonderful end. All for $30! So run, don’t walk, to Jack London Square, hunt down Chop Bar, and enjoy its Restaurant Week special before it ends this Saturday.

Even when Restaurant Week ends, I’ll probably visit Chop Bar again (probably on the third Sunday of the month when the restaurant hosts a pig roast). This is a place with friendly service and simple but satisfying dishes.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Relaxed and fresh)

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

Chop Bar  on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Carolyn Jung said...

That's a deal with the "endless'' wine. Heck, that alone plus the bread pudding are worth $30 right then and there. ;)