NIDO Kitchen & Bar: Nestling in at Abuela’s Table

Ceviche

Aguachile Verde de Pescado

When I set out to dine at a new restaurant, particularly one in Oakland, I’m always looking for that restaurant’s point of view. What is the experience intended for the diner? What’s my takeaway other than a satisfied appetite? In the case of Nido, it’s the easy comfort of dining in your grandmother’s kitchen.

Nido’s interior is what I can only describe as “inviting industrial.” The ceiling and walls are color-blocked with various shades of gray and bear the texture of rough-hewn cement, the starkness of these surfaces thoughtfully broken up with brightly-colored frescoes celebrating the spirit of Mexican culture. Birdcage chandeliers dot the ceiling, casually offset with delicate strings of golden bulbs that break up the space above its guests like sstars in the evening sky. It is an eclectic and inviting interior, one that appears to have been arranged with the random abandon of a bird feathering her nest. Yet the sense of deliberate thought for detail comes through loud and clear. The space is successfully organic, and the vibe it creates enhances beautifully the experience of dining within its walls.

We’ve been to Nido several times now, each meal more rewarding than the last. On this most recent visit, we began with cocktails, the mixologist at Nido being a master craftsman. Nothing is quite as delightful as beginning the weekend with a salute to the accomplishments of the past week, and a perfectly mixed cocktail is a great way to salute anything. The Vuelve a la Vida, with its smoky mescal base, accented with blood orange and absinthe, was subtly complex and rewardingly delicious. My companions had the Isla de Sangre and Tres Rojas. A sip of the Isla de Sangre revealed it to be herbacious, not too sweet, allowing the flavor of the aged rum to be highlighted on the palate. The Tres Rojas by contrast, was deliberately on the sweet side, the pomegranate and hibiscus taking center stage with every sip. Depending on your preference, all three drinks served up a great balance of flavors.

Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo

Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo

We began our meal with a selection of the appetizers. One has to try the guacamole and chips in any Mexican restaurant, and Nido’s take on the classic was spot on. The Aguachile Verde de Pescado arrived right behind the guac & chips, and was as pretty as it was delicious. I’ve developed an obsession with all forms of ceviche, but the bright flavor-forward taste of the Mexican version, if done well, always resounds. Ceviche is a simple dish, but one that must be executed perfectly to succeed, as it fails if it isn’t balanced. At Nido, every bite of citrus-bathed fish was appropriately tender, it’s soft, briny texture countered beautifully with the addition of watermelon radish and shredded carrot to keep each mouthful appropriately toothsome. Finished with a nice kick of the roasted serrano chile at the back of the throat, the lasting impression is one that any seafood lover will enjoy.

These tasty appetite-whetting bites led us nicely into the Pozole de Chile Negro y Pollo. If you’ve never experienced a good Pozole then it’s time you did. In my grandfather’s kitchen, the equivalent would have been a peasant minestrone, but in Abuela’s kitchen, it’s a Pozole. In Nido’s offering, each hearty, melt-in-your-mouth spoonful of chicken, steeped in flavorful golden brown broth, is laced with the same level of love in the preparation as the peasant minestrone my grandfather would serve me as a child. “Cooking with love” has become such an over-used term in culinary circles, and is such an obvious “go-to” phrase, but it resounds in a well-done bowl of soup nonetheless. Soup is the food that reminds us of mothers bearing gently warmed bowls of chicken-broth to a sickbed, or piping hot cups of tomato goodness to the kitchen table to greet us when we’re still rosy-cheeked from a day of outdoor chill. It simply is love in a bowl. If that ingredient is missing, it fails. Fortunately for the patrons of Nido, somebody in the kitchen loves you. A lot.

We followed the Pozole with a trio of soft-shelled taco selections: the Barbacoa de Res a mouth-watering little flavor bomb of slow-braised beef and peppers; the Puerco Adobado chock full of tender pork meat with the bright, refreshing balance added by citrus-y fruit salsa; and the Muslito de Pollo Asado a blend of glazed and grilled chicken, topped with a bit of the delectable fruit salsa mentioned above. Each one had that blissful marriage of meat and acid, that takes full advantage of the naturally rich characteristics of the meat protein, successfully offset by either the acid in the peppers or the tang of chopped fresh fruit.

The last dish was the Ollita de Pobre, another standout dish with peasant origins. Have you ever wondered why so many of our best current dishes came from the humble tables of our past? Because when you have simple ingredients, and often very few of them, the cook must be creative to make it palatable. When a cook in that environment stumbles upon a rewarding dish that can be recreated on a meager budget, that cook remembers the recipe. This dish clearly originated in the mind of a clever cook making magic in a pot with rice, beans and meat. A little pico de gallo and the right spices, and you’ve made yourself some magic. Here it’s served in a happy little blue pot. One knows when you pop that lid, you’re in for some good grub.

Puerco Adobado - Muslito de Pollo Asado - Barbacoa de Res

Puerco Adobado – Muslito de Pollo Asado – Barbacoa de Res

Somehow, over centuries the best dishes held, and these have been passed on in various cultures to bring us the flavor combinations we rave about in this age of accessibility. You no longer have to know someone with a Mexican Abuela to taste the dishes of a different culture’s family table. In this case, you can head to Nido and taste them for yourself. So grab a friend, break some bread and make a memory of your own. Mangia!

Nido Kitchen & Bar
444 Oak Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-6436
http://www.nidooakland.com

BOCANOVA Revisited ~ The Echo of Pan American Rhythms

Cocktails @ Bocanova!

“When marimba rhythms start to play,
Dance with me, make me sway
Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore,
Hold me close, sway me more”

Early in April, the lovely weather and my hearty appetite convinced me it was time to revisit Bocanova, a Pan American Restaurant down on Jack London Square. The restaurant is still lovely, a big, open, slick barn of a place. It is still located just next to the new train station where the Old Spaghetti Factory used to be in the heart of Oakland’s Jack London Waterfront. Tables overlook the water, along one side of the establishment and the bar at its center is glistening and chic.  It fell a little short on our first visit.  I went again to see what might have changed.
Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs

To begin our meal on this, our second visit, we shared the Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs. Now I love deviled eggs, but these were extraordinarily well done. It may have been that the whites were just firm enough, and the fresh, creamy centers of whipped egg and crabmeat, were just awash in delicate flavors. The BH and I both found this dish outstanding.

Quinoa Shrimp Salad
When I first visited Bocanova, I liked about half of what I tried. Maybe more. On the whole, the food is good, with some dishes really being standouts. But the salads were a disappointment.  I found them overdressed.  I’m a fan of leafy salads with all manner of fresh ingredients.  I ordered the Quinoa, Wild Shrimp & Roasted Beet Salad.  Everything in the description was something I love:  Beets, Shrimp, mandarine orange vinaigrette.  Sounded lovely, but it was quite a disappointment. It just wasn’t balanced. Firstly, it’s not really a salad, at least not in the leafy sense. It’s more of a dressed quinoa affair, which resulted in a bowl of mush the consistency of say, a mashed potato salad. The mixture arrived in a large bowl, chock full of heavily “creamed’ quinoa with several big, chunky beets clumsily tossed into the mix. While the shrimp were large, plump and moist — and really well prepared —  that fact just didn’t compensate for the soggily dressed quinoa. The orange vinaigrette used to dress the mixture was the consistency of a really heavy mayonnaise rather than a vinaigrette and was much too sweet.   I really felt the flavors didn’t complement each other very well. The “salad” ultimately read on my palate like a bowl of paste. Soggy flavors, soggy texture. Just soggy all around, being much too heavily dressed. This was the second time I tried a salad here and found it to be mucky on the dressing side. Though every ingredient was one I like independently, the flavors were lost in the swampy bowl. This Chef apparently believes firmly in a soggy salad. For my tastes, that’s a problem, particularly since I think I have always enjoyed a little too much dressing on my salad. So if I am finding this too much dressing, I can’t imagine anyone who will find it to their liking. When I go back, I may ask for the dressing on the side to see if that might correct the problem, at least for me. My recommendation is to just skip their salads all together.  (Except the Beef Salad mentioned below.)
Mini Burger Sliders
Fortunately, many of Bocanova’s other offerings are so good as to make it worthwhile. We had several appetizers and small plates we shared, and really enjoyed. One of these such dishes, which might just be the exact opposite of the salad is their Mini Slider Burgers. This dish is absolute perfection. The meat is fatty enough to almost melt on the tongue, just rare enough, just bloody enough to conjure up every perfect bar-b-que of years gone by. The miniature bun is light as air, with just a hint of a warm crunch to the outer shell from brief, hot bath in the toaster. Meat has a nice rich hint of smoke to it from the flame. Condiments are provided, but this burger is so good it can be eaten plain. Nothing else needed. The mixture of meat and bun are the ultimate marriage of perfection.
Enyacados
We also sampled the Enyacados which were a bit like a stuffed latke. That’s a potato pancake, for those of you who’ve never had a bite of your Bubbe’s Chanukah treats. They contain a filling of roasted chicken with a tasty cilantro pesto perched atop the potato puff. The flavors were light, and the texture was crunchy. I found the patties to be just a little too soft for my tastes, since I prefer the grated variety of pancake. I think it may just be that I like my potato pancake less mashed and more like a hash brown. That said, it had a tasty filling and a good balance of seasonings.
We also shared a Bavette Steak Salad which contained big chunks of beautifully cooked red meat atop a lovely bed of lettuce. This is one salad here which I would say was not overdressed. The tomato vinaigrette really enhances the little gem lettuce, and the queso fresco was delicious. This meat was the best cut of steak I’ve ever seen on a salad, definitely no off cuts of meat.
The final of our appis was a Beef Currant & Green Olive Empanada. This dish was like a South American potsticker. Flakier and with a tomato-based rather than soy-based sauce. I really enjoyed the mouthfuls of tiny goodness. Really delicious.
The Yucatan Seafood Stew contained roasted garlic, grapefruit, & tomato. It had a beautifully balanced clear broth, chock full of mussels, shrimp, every imaginable kind of seafood. The BH is a huge fan of Seafood and Seafood Stew. This dish was both pretty and absolutely delicious.
Pear Tartelette
The next dish we sampled was a dessert of Organic Pear Tartlette. It was a splendid tartlette. The luscious, beautiful, slices of sugary fresh baked pear, covered in an airy, flaky crust over of fresh baked pear. The pear itself covered in tricklets of carmelized sugar. Melt in your mouth goodness.
We finished our meal with Bocanova’s Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. This may be one of the best variations on bread pudding I’ve had, right up there with the Bread Pudding Souffle at Commander’s Palace or the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding at Angeline’s. Bread pudding is a classic dessert, and to see it re-imagined with the flakiness of a croissant, and then baked with delicious eggy pudding. So good. Covered in chocolate sauce. Isn’t everything better with chocolate?
So overall the restaurant is a good one with significant dishes that are not to be missed. It also has a few dishes that fall incredibly short. If you go, just don’t order a salad. Or maybe you will order the beef! Check it out, and as always ~ Bon Appetit!
Bocanova
Jack London Square
55 Webster Street, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-1233
Noise level: lunch is fine, I imagine that all that open space is loud at night. 1-3 BELLS
Dining time: in an out in a little over an hour
Service: excellent

BOCANOVA – Pan American on the Square

“Is that where the Old Spaghtetti Factory used to be?” the answer is yes. After the new Bocanova was recommended to us by friends who had recently dined there, we decided fairly promptly to check it out. We were told by some it was the Old Spaghetti Factory. Others said well, no, it’s not. Different building. I can definitely say it takes up at least a large portion of the building that formerly housed the Old Spaghetti Factory at Oakland’s Jack London Square.
Our little traveling lunch party of three dropped by last Tuesday. We try to bring a third for any place whose specialty is small plates, it helps with the ordering.
When we first entered, I was impressed by the beauty of the place. It is a thoughtfully furnished room, well appointed and welcoming. Kudos to the interior decorator.

We began with cocktails. Once a week or so we indulge ourselves at lunch, provided we have no thoughtful writing to do after the noon hour. It’s the only way to accurately gauge a bartender’s skill — to actually have a drink. Not a big challenge, as we all have trouble passing on a well “mixologied” cocktail these days. I ordered a Red Passion Margarita which I found to be a welcoming blend of fresh & clean flavors, all swimming my my tequila. Fresh ingredients rarely carry the overly sweet or cloying attributes of say a traditional drink mix. The old-school mai-tais or rum punches made with a mix were just too too too. This drink was not. It was tasty and delish. My companions had a 1944 Mai Tai (a spicy crisp drink with a slight herbal aftertaste. I thought it was as good as mine) and a Cucumber Gimlet which was a simple concoction of vodka and cucumber with just a hint of citrus. Not as interesting to me as the others, more of a refreshing summer drink, but good nonetheless.

We followed our drink order with both ceviches on the menu, the Wild Shrimp Ceviche and the Halibut Ceviche. We all agree that the ceviche at Tamarindo is our favorite, but we are always searching for another variety that will make us feel it. That will challenge familiar perfection with a new brand of perfection — a different spin on the dish — giving us that special something. Bocanova’s shrimp ceviche is a spicy one. It is made with jicama, red pepper and cilantro, and comes with fried won tons to dip it out. We all thought it was okay, but not a challenge to our favorite and certainly not impressive. We also sampled the halibut, which was not quite as good as the shrimp. This dish is seasoned with tomato, zucchini, cilantro and aji amarillo (a blend of fairly spicy Peruvian chiles). We found the halibut ceviche to be a little fishy-tasting. We were not sure if it was the ceviche’s preparation or the fact that we ordered two different kinds together. It may just be that they don’t compliment each other. Either way, they were just okay. Not bad, but not amazing.

Next up on the menu was the Prather Ranch Mini Burgers with Guasaca Sauce. We all agreed that these were perfection. Really really good. Rarely is meat done that perfectly in a burger. This was moist and tasty and the sauce (which is a mix of an avocado guacamole base and horseradish, I believe) was perfect. It didn’t get in the way of the meat flavor, but complimented. Lighter than straight guacamole. They brought our Turkey Gumbo and it was not hot enough. It was good, but in my mind not as successful, being a bit oily for our taste, although with a nice rich flavor of sausage and turkey.

The salad I chose was a blend of Frisee, Grapefruit and Radish with a Mango Vinaigrette. The salad was light and tasty. I really enjoy a well dressed salad, and while this one had a lovely texture and good flavor, it was overdressed and there was no radish that I could distinguish.

We also ordered the “Huarache” which is a flatbread preparation of bufala mozzarella, peppers and an aji panca tomato sauce. I thought it was delicious. I think it also contained slices of meat, though none was listed on the menu. It was thin-crusted hot melty goodness. It was one of my favorite things they made here. The Peruvian olives were also delicious. We finished off the meal with the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. This dish was a lovely flaky buttery croissant melded with pudding-y goodness and topped off with a large serving of chocolate ice cream. Excellent and unusual. Everything anyone might want in a dessert.

Overall we really enjoyed our meal. It was not perfect but there were some really outstanding efforts in the mix. I would say that this is an establishment still finding its identity, with enormous potential. Among the best features, the mixology (superb) the huarache (or other flatbreads), the mini burgers and desserts. The other items needed work, but not so much as to say stay away. Another diner might find them just to his or her liking.

Head to the wharf and check it out!

Bon Appetit!

Bocanova
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
510-444-1233

Dining time: Tapas takes a bit, but if you told them to bring it all at once, you might be able to get out in an hour.
Noise: not a problem when we were there
Cost: Moderately expensive

PS: The restrooms while lovely, are not laid out well. I’m told the soap dispenser is really really low. I found the women’s rooms lack of towels really annoying, especially after getting some of the red tomatoey sauce on my best dress (ceviche). I don’t think a nice restaurant should ever expect its’ patrons to make do with nothing but an air dryer. That’s just too low rent for me.