Michael LeBlanc – Owner, Picán Restaurant, Oakland
LeBlanc has made a name for himself and his eatery within the city, spearheading events that bring the community together and introduce people to the concept that Oakland is a hot spot for dining and a desired place to socialize. Picán has served as the flagship for Oakland’s newfound possibilities, attracting a myriad of patrons from within Oakland and around the East Bay. In addition, Picán is rapidly becoming a destination restaurant for the residents of San Francisco, which is no small feat. Getting people to cross The Bridge in the other direction says something about the restaurant that little else could say. Picán offers a beautiful ambience, reliably excellent food and, perhaps most importantly to its owner, a place to mingle with a mix of folk from all walks of life, a perfect mirror of the city that houses it.
When one asks LeBlanc to talk about his restaurant, he lights up – a man animated by his passion. Pican is for him far more than a business; it is an outward expression of his contribution to the betterment of society at large. It is a place that not only serves the remarkable food of the South with flair and artistry, but, more importantly to LeBlanc, that serves as a meeting place for a diverse group of man- (and woman-) kind. It is no accident that Picán seems to have slipped effortlessly into the role of Happening Meeting Place. LeBlanc made it so with a unique combination of vision and determination.
|Table Prepped for Bartending Competition|
Though he leaves much of the food to Chef DuPuis, LeBlanc, as a true Southerner, has a strong idea of the food he wishes to serve, and he is never afraid to speak up. He knows the tastes of his own upbringing, the richness of flavors, the specific foods that recall for him the best the region has to offer. To that end he insisted on having a variety of fried chicken on the menu. While skeptical, Chef Dean complied and the rest was history.
LeBlanc also shared with me a story of the origin of my personal favorite, a “fried peach pie” that was on the menu the summer right after Picán opened. At one point he found himself discussing Heubig’s pies with Dupuis. Heubig’s is a freshly baked version of a fried pie turnover packaged and sold throughout the South. Michael LeBlanc wanted his kitchen to produce an upscale variety. LeBlanc jokingly told me of his conversation with the kitchen and his efforts to convey how the pie was shaped and prepared. Not a cook, he guessed that the edges of the half-moon crescents would be forced into closure with a fork, much like my grandmother’s apple pie. “I don’t know how to make ‘em, but I know what they’re supposed to taste like!” LeBlanc joked. He is indeed a man with a hand in everything.
LeBlanc’s plan seems to be to bring them in with the food, give them great service, then wow them with the camaraderie of his great nightlife scene. When the company is good and the experience is unique, folks will naturally want to return for more. The decor of the restaurant is welcoming: open and sweeping, it’s lines evoking something very old and Southern, yet clearly modern at the same time.
Picán’s high ceilings create a sense of the columnar architecture throughout the South, reinforced by perfectly placed high doorways, while its comfortable overstuffed lounge furniture would fit perfectly within the hippest Manhattan Club. When glancing at the high doors at one end of the dining room, one is reminded intensely of the Old South — a whispered rustle of heavily starched hoop skirts whirling in a cotillion waltz. At the same time, the bulk of the restaurant’s decor is quite chic and current. LeBlanc has used shades of copper, a buttery tan and a brown that is so rich it appears almost black, all of which mingle to give the restaurant a distinctly urban feel. LeBlanc calls the decor “Modern Antebellum,” which, in my mind, is a perfect description for conjuring a mental image of Picán’s interior. From its inception, Picán was intended to be a place that evoked Southern charm, Southern flavors and Southern hospitality, while exorcising the more unpleasant ghosts of her past.
Picán is a lovely place to visit. Familiar and welcoming, inspiring and exciting. Frankly, my dear, they had me at “Fried Peach Pie.”
Oakland, CA 94612