I know what you’re saying right now. ”Dina actually made it over the bridge again?” Miracles of miracles, right? But c’mon, another dinner with my best Eastbay gal pal lured me. Plus, she was paying for a belated birthday dinner. Yes, I’m cheap.
And of course I’ve been anxious to try Daniel Patterson’s new venture Plum (Patterson of Coi fame). I heard that it was fun, casual, and good. That works for me. So I left my house excessively early, sat in traffic for an hour, and managed to arrive 5 minutes before our reservation (if you’ll recall my recent review of À Côté, you’ll also remember that I do not enjoy driving distances that require me to channel surf the radio). I know I’m jumping the gun here, but everything was worth the hike there. The food, the ambiance, the service, and of course, my pal. Really, nothing better than sharing really great food with a really great friend. But damn, I wish she lived in the city.
Ok, on with the show…
Plum is located on this funny little corner on Broadway in Oakland. If you blink twice, you’ll miss it. The front is recognizable only by a low etching of the restaurant’s name on the window. Walk in, and you’ll immediately notice the large art installations on both sides of the wall, featuring grids encasing — what else? — plums. The walls echo the theme, nearly black but with deep purples and magentas peeking out under a varnish treatment. The look is clubby and the insulation on the ceiling affirms that; but in a concrete space like that, the insulation afforded a manageable noise level for conversation. A good consideration since the tables are shared. Meaning, unless you come with exactly 6 people, you’re likely to share a table with fellow diners. In the back is a 10 seater bar and it seemed equally comfortable to park your tush down there, too.
I liked that the menu had a section for snacks, and was supremely bummed out to learn that the foie gras mousse was sold out. I whined about it to our waiter, who ended up consoling me with food (read on). So we ended up ordering the wild green panisse as a snack. Pureed nettle greens and polenta fried to a nice crisp and served with a housemade yogurt. They were savory, texturally gritty, and satisfying — really good beer food. And I was glad that there were only 5 on a plate, because this is what I would call a “trigger food” for myself; in other words, once I eat one, something triggers and I have to eat all of them. I really wish that I could meet something fried that I don’t like. Seriously.
Then came the savory dumplings, with artichoke, cardoon, crescenza, shallots. This dish was homey, rich, and earthy: The dumplings struck the right note between density and airiness; the crescenza grounded the dish with its assertive flavor; and the sweet shallots and mellow artichokes were perfectly seasoned and matched with its heavier partners on the plate.
Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but you can’t go wrong with a beet salad. Beets are like pizza for me. Even the bad ones are still pretty good. Well, this was a far cry from bad. The roasted beet salad was served with white strawberries (that go red once they are cooked), goat cheese, and rose. I loved the freshness and purity behind the dish. The beets were the star, everything else there to support.
Our next dish was a beautiful spring lamb, with torn bread, carrot, garbanzo bean, and new onion. To be honest, I don’t even know what to say. The lamb tasted like lamb. That’s probably the biggest compliment I could possibly give. It was succulent, juicy and rare, and not undermined by a heavy jus or seasoning. It made me giddy.
To counter the meat, we also ordered the line caught halibut, with fingerling potato, sugar snap, pea, and clam. The clam broth is poured tableside and adds a wonderful salty element to the dish. The halibut had a nice sear on it and the fish was quite tasty without all the accoutrements. Deeper in the dish and under the fish (hey, I rhymed!) were the potatoes and peas. For some reason, the bottom of the dish glistened and my calorie-watching eye suspected a good dose of olive oil on the potatoes. It was delicious, but my fat ass protested once I dipped my fork in for more. So I stayed mostly tip of the iceberg on this dish and focused mainly on the lovely, meaty fish.
Then, we had a serious line up of desserts (my calorie-watching eye must’ve gotten tired by dessert): Cheesecake in a jar, sour cherry, and teecino crumble; Graham cracker cake, buttermilk ice, meringue, and lemon roasted strawberries; and Dark chocolate crunch, rosemary-caramel ice cream, pistachio. The latter was a gift from the waiter, because of all my bitching about there not being any foie gras mousse left (and no, I wasn’t wearing an extremely low cut top that night and truth be told, even if I was, it’s not special enough to warrant a free dessert). The desserts were totally gratifying. The cheesecake in a jar, although somewhat awkward to eat in that you really should have a very long spoon to reach the bottom, was light but still luscious. The graham cracker cake was not at all what I expected — airy and not all decadent, giving your mouth that bit of sweetness that you long for at the end of a meal. And the chocolate crunch. Oh, holy good. That stuff was rich, deep, and demanding. It was ‘time to unbutton the top button’ demanding. But every bit of it was worth the spin class that I had to take the next day to make up for it.
Chocolate crunch (named so for all the crunches you have to do in the gym the next day)
I imagine when a chef like Patterson opens up a restaurant like Coi — that is so cutting-edge and critically-acclaimed — there must be a part of the chef that doesn’t feel fully expressed. Meaning, a chef of that level of talent has a deep arsenal of food ingenuity and ideas. I have to believe that critical fame is a double edged sword. Sure, it brings in diners, duckets, and fame. But isn’t it oppressive, too? To have to worry about maintaining a certain standard — a standard that you didn’t necessarily dictate? In any event, Plum feels like a big Patterson sigh. It feels easy, relaxed, and uncomplicated. Maybe it’s the Patterson that likes peanut butter and jelly every once in a while. That, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Plum has delicious, straightforward, satiating food. And it’s worth the travel over the bridge. ’Nuff said.
The dirt is that when my Eastbay gal pal and I get together, we cover virtually the same topics every single time. Kids, family, and vacations. Oh, and our weight. Neither my friend nor I are obsessed with it (if you couldn’t tell by the amount I eat), but I do find it fractionally ironic that the topic comes up when my lovely Eastbay friend is exactly that — lovely. You. Would. Die. For. Her. Bod. And for the issue of weight as as dinner topic, I blame Us Magazine.
Bauer’s two cents here.