Cider at the Pub! “Sláinte.” It’s not often that one finds a place where the magic just happens. Three years ago July, my family and I found that magic on the Emerald Isle. We’d decided to go on an international adventure, … Continue reading
THE KLONDYKER’S DREAM
(Jack London October 1898)
“…He came in good season, the table was laid;
The rich, fragrant coffee was steaming and hot;
The pastries and puddings were all there arrayed;
The beefsteak was done, aye was done to a dot.
His fingers, were trembling, so rich was the fare,
And when Grace was ended he murmured Amen!
And took, of all dishes, the beefsteak so rare;
Ah! He was the happiest man of all men.
The jaws of the sleeper are moving with joy;
Food quickens his palate, his hardships seem o’er;
A feeling of plenty steals over the boy—
“O God! Thou has fed me, I ask for no more. …”
In The Klondyker’s Dream, the narrator is starving; he dreams of a glorious feast, only to awaken to find a wolf stealing the last bit of dried meat from his tent. Too late to catch the animal, he resigns himself to an immediate future of lackluster meals. Meals that will serve only to sustain his life, as the animal has absconded with the last, treasured, morsel of the precious meat that is the only foodstuff in his possession he actually looks forward to eating. Lackluster meals are the stuff of his nightmares.
Lucky for Oakland, Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House offers no lackluster fare. It’s location immediately calls to mind my own youthful sojourns, dining along Oakland’s magnificent waterfront with family and friends. When I walk along the Estuary, I cannot help but be reminded of a young Jack London, Oakland’s Favorite Son. This famed seafarer and writer, a man who understood the powerful relationship between a man and his meals, remains a welcome ghost whose spirit will forever define the City in one way or another, particularly its waterfront. His close relationship with Oakland has inspired a great many restaurants to take his name, or the name of one of his literary works, yet it never gets old.
Those establishments that make this choice, often have a great deal to live up to. If they are not spectacular, then they fall prey to the rote of the tourist trap: another storefront sporting yet another hollow iteration of the Jack London meme. Fortunately for the diners of Oakland, Jack’s Oyster Bar lives up to its name, and then some. This stellar new addition to the Oakland dining scene is one which Jack London himself would certainly have frequented. Though it is possible that he would have found himself overwhelmed with the inventive cuisine moderne being served there, which while honoring tradition, in no way resembles the seafood fare that one might have found in 1890’s Oakland.
As an example, we began our meal with blissfully executed cocktails, one of which is my new favorite: a dizzyingly refreshing brew the mixologist has entitled simply, a Lavender Collins. This lush glass of barely bruised gin drizzled in housemade lavender syrup and garnished with a spring of fresh lavender is vaguely sweet and delightfully herbacious. It comes in a highball glass and is served over ice. Magic in a glass.The other cocktails enjoyed at our table were similarly inventive. Another of our party enjoyed The Greek Martini – a robust and garlicy combination of vodka, americano, olive juice and garlic, which was a savory delight. While the olive flavor was universally present, but overall this cocktail was much more complicated on the palate than say, a Dirty Martini. Superb mixology going on here.
Having recently visited Jack’s on multiple occasions, I have learned that this is a focused kitchen, and that the executive chef has honed the menu with meticulous precision. That dishes we’ve ordered on more than one occasion arrive as expected, clearly this kitchen can turn them out flawlessly time and time again. A new restaurant with little to suggest that it is new, rather the dining experience here is one of polished precision. The menu is an array of seafood specialities, some familiar classics with a twist, some a complete re-invention of the expected. All are rewarding.
I won’t run through every morsel I’ve had on my three visits (soon to be more) but I will run through a few of the highlights. On my first trip my party and I sampled the Lobster Rolls a threesome of buttery plump lobster on pretzel rolls along with a platter of fresh, succulent oysters. We also sampled the Grilled Octopus, brilliantly charred and tender as a ripe peach. If you’ve never yet tasted octopus, this dish should be your first experience with this rather difficult to prepare seafood. When octopus isn’t done right, it can be tough and leathery, but this version is sublime. It bears no resemblance to the chewy calamari “are these onion rings” disasters of my youth.
On the second visit we again found everything we tried delicious, but there are always standouts. The Po’ Bau, a delightful concoction of fried oyster and pork belly tucked into a soft and delicate house made steamed bun was a perfect bite. I particularly enjoyed the Escargot Butter Mussels complete with escargot in the broth. The mussels and snail went together beautifully, and in my opinion one can never go wrong with garlic and butter on anything. Another spectacular treat is the Lobster Poutine which presents itself as a bowl of fresh lobster meat floating in creamy cheeses, beneath which hide a treasure trove of lovely steak fries. The bonito flakes atop the steaming dish flicker and beckon like a living thing. Fascinatingly delicious.
Jack’s Oyster Bar is a delightful reinvention of the classic seafood “joint” that once populated Jack London Square. The food is sublime, it’s flavors inventive and contemporary, while the components themselves remain a familiar reflection of the staples that seafood lovers invariably crave.
If you haven’t been you should definitely check it out and make a few lovely dining memories of your own. I know I will, again.
Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House
336 Water St
Oakland, CA 94607
(Jack London Square)
Phone: (510) 271-7952
SUMMER MEMORIES: of Rivers and water-skiing…
When I was a kid, I spent every Wednesday of every summer on the river. My father was an accomplished water skier, and a skilled navigator. I would watch him cover the dining room table of my grandfather’s home with maritime charts, tirelessly mapping out new routes to explore on another of our weekly adventures. He knew where every island and inlet was along the 1,100 or so square miles of the Sacramento River Delta.
Dad kept his boat moored at Frank’s Tract. As soon as we arrived at the slip, my sister and I would race each other to the boat and pace back and forth along the narrow wooden dock to wait for the men to remove the tarp. The moment the familiar yellow of the boat beneath was revealed, we would clamber aboard and be off. My father’s boat was a Donzi, a newer, smaller, more compact and most importantly, even faster version of his last boat, the Cigarette. That craft had been lost to a late evening mishap that had damaged the hull and stranded my father and a group of friends overnight on an island in the Delta, an adventure that my 10-year-old self imagined straight out of Robinson Crusoe.
The Donzi fairly flew, skimming along the surface of the water like a giant hummingbird. The wind would whip our hair against our faces, as we struggled to catch our breath, but we
never slowed, not until we reached a spot far out from the other boats, isolated and removed, where the waters were glassy and still. Perfect for water-skiing. Dad would slow to a stop and kill the engine. Jumping overboard, he’d gesture to his friend Carl for a ski. Moments later he was flying along behind us, riding in and out of the wake of the boat, the sunlight hitting the sheets of water that rose from the edge of his skis in giant plumes of white foam. My father was a magnificent looking man. Handsome and slim, his caramel-colored skin damp and glistening. Cradled in that halo of light and water, he appeared to me like a god possessed of magical powers, spinning and cavorting in the wake of the boat, his acrobatics mesmerizing as he moved on the water with the ease of an athlete.
After a morning of water-skiing, we would always find one of our favorite spots to eat. Moore’s Riverboat, with its toasted bread and butter-drenched abalone sandwiches, was a particular favorite. I will never forget those carefree days, nor the peaceful meals we shared together as we watched the water from our tables along the windows. Everything tastes better when one can smell the water while taking a bite. Magic.
THE RESTAURANT: Dining on the water…
These were the thoughts that filled my mind when I recently visited Brotzeit Lokal, a relatively newish addition to the Oakland dining scene that is nestled neatly beside the docks on the Oakland side of the Estuary, near the site of the new Brooklyn Basin. The views of the water are spectacular, and with my inbred love of aquatic-themed dining adventures, I found it reminiscent of my days on the Delta. The briny air, the cool breeze off the water, all these things whet my appetite for a cold beer and something fried and yummy.
Brotzeit Lokal did not disappoint. Most Fridays my office often holds an out-of-office lunch meeting to go over our week’s progress while breaking bread and loosening up a bit after a week of the regular grind. This place is tucked away nicely, and a bit hard to find, so keep an eye out for the cloth banner at the front of the Homewood Suites, so you don’t miss your turn into the driveway.
There are plenty of communal tables outside on a spacious patio, a few in the bar, and another set of tables in a lovely little enclave between the outdoor seating and the barroom. These are protected by the wind, but the windows open to allow the sea breeze to brush against your face, so we decided that enclave was the best of both worlds. Same view and no breeze to whip those paper napkins about.
We tried a number of Brotzeit’s German-themed dishes, among them Mussels in Beer Broth, Sausages of several varieties, and my favorite, a fantastic rendition of a German potato salad. Traditionally served hot, this dish was chilled, but on a steamy summer day one could easily forgive the decision to leave it chilled & refreshing. German potato salad, when done correctly, is nothing like the heavily-mayonnaised versions found in most American picnic baskets. The German version is lighter, more acidic and to my taste, infinitely more delicious. The lovely small red potatoes used at Brotzeit are also my personal favorite, their unique and buttery natural flavor lending a balance to the dish that we all found irresistible.
Brotzeit Lokal is a solid little pub, with a respectably varied menu. It’s a great place to gather on the waterfront to watch sporting events, or collect your thoughts and refuel after a day on the water. I will be back to enjoy a beer and a Bratwurst, and almost certainly remember once again my own days spent skimming the wet fantastic. There’s nothing quite like it. If you haven’t been lucky enough yourself to spend time aboard a vessel, head over to Brotzeit, grab a beer and watch the boats go by. Pleasant indeed. Check it out, make a memory of your own.
Oakland, CA 94606