HOMESTEAD Is Where the Heart Is

Tagliatelle with Truffle

Tagliatelle with Truffle

I often write about the familial connection to the foods we eat. The moments that lock in the collective memory each time we join together over a meal, the ones we remember for a lifetime. Some harken back to childhood holidays, and are rekindled by the scent of our grandmother’s apple pie, or a perfectly roasted ham at a long-ago Easter dinner. Others recall more recent gatherings, but each revolves around food. They wait in our consciousness like an unspoken anamnesis, to be released by a familiar smell or taste. We bite into a slice of that familiar pie, and suddenly Grandma is alive again, smiling at us from across the table, handing us a napkin for those inevitable spills. These fragile tendrils of connection are part of the fibre of our souls, reuniting us with our pasts, and brightening our todays. It is the most important of all rituals in human existence, embracing the best of life while breaking bread.

Nowhere has this sentiment of the abundant joys of home and hearth been more evident than it is at Homestead in Oakland.

 

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

The decor is a lovely sort of “welcoming homespun” elegance, just fancy enough for a date, but open and charmingly familial in its intrinsic warmth. The food itself is the freshest interpretation of “New American,” where everything is sourced “farm to table,” and the food is prepared to reflect the intrinsic properties native to each ingredient. The wine list is crazy extensive, if a little pricy, but nobody says you have to order from the “cellar” list. One can secure a perfectly lovely pairing from their “by-the-glass” selection if on a budget.

But Seriously… that asparagus…

I went there recently with the Better Half. We were out on one of our date nights, and had been meaning to get to Homestead, so on this occasion we made it a priority. I am so glad we did. The menu offers three courses, each one gradually increasing in portion size over the course of the options. We began our meal with our “First” course selections, his was the Butter Lettuce Salad with Blood Oranges, and mine was the Asparagus and Soft-cooked Egg. We share everything, so I was able to sample both appetizers amply. His salad was light and crisp and perfectly dressed, and I found myself having to pull back from guzzling up all his lovely orange slices. It was a lovely palate refresher with which to start a meal. Mine, however, was out of this world. I like asparagus well enough, but I’d ordered the dish because I’m obsessed with soft cooked eggs. (Obsessed.) The egg did not disappoint, but the asparagus was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. Each stalk was roasted to perfection, and without heavy-handed saucing or over-seasoning, the chef had managed to simply express the flavor of that particular vegetable as well as anyone possibly could. It was at that moment I realized that they were serious at Homestead about letting the flavors of the food shine through.

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yams

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yamsflavors of the food shine through.

“SECONDI”

For our “Second” choice, I selected the Pork with Wild Mushrooms and the BH had the Truffled Tagliatelle. The pork dish arrived with two different cuts, a beautiful sparerib and a moderately-sized piece of pork loin. The delightfully sticky black bean sauce gave the dish a sense of backyard barbeque, with the meat of that sparerib fairly falling off the bone. The meat had picked up all that beautiful smoke from the hearth, and the hearts of palm were succulent and flavorful. The buttery house made tagliatelle was toothsomely al dente, the aroma of truffle
a heady perfume with every bite. Really splendid.

And for the Main Course 

Our third course choices were a Steelhead Salmon for the BH and I ordered the Fire-roasted Poulet with Mashed Yams. The trout was buttery bliss. Soft and malleable, with a gorgeous flavor, accompanied by a lovely serving of black-eyed peas and spinach. When salmon is done right, it’s an experience not to be missed, and this was a perfect piece of fish. My chicken was everything I could have hoped for. Lovely strips of roasted chicken breast that just melted in the mouth; the yams were a nice accompaniment of sweet to offset the savory.

Desserts were similarly well executed, a lovely Orange Creamsicle Concoction and a dish of Profiteroles, Dulce de Leche and Chocolate. But the overarching delight was the sense of hearth and home that pervades every bite. Comfort food, elevated and executed well, is just as rewarding in its own right as any haute cuisine with all the modern bells and whistles of added “entertainment.” This is Grandma’s kitchen, food executed to extoll all its natural properties and flavors, without a lot of fuss and distraction. Just a stellar plate of food.

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

If you haven’t been already, take the family, and check it out for yourself. Relive a few cherished memories, or make some new memories of your own.

Homestead Oakland
Reservations: 510-420-6962
4029 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
http://www.homesteadoakland.com

BAY WOLF – Everything old is new again

It was another Friday, maybe a week or so ago.  The Grad Student wanted to meet her father and I for lunch, so we agreed to take her out. Again.  Such a sacrifice, I know.  She had requested that we go to Bay Wolf, having recently come across its menu on line and become intrigued. Bay Wolf struck me as an odd choice for my young foodie.  It’s been around forever, and I expected it to be a bit, well ‘dusty.’ Yet her father and I were willing to indulge her. 

I hadn’t been to Bay Wolf myself since 1977 or so.  Back then, it was the place to go for special occasions.  Either there or Chez Panisse in Berkeley; there were few other choices on this side of the Bay Bridge.  Bay Wolf was a high end  destination — too high end a place to consider eating out at very often, given my meagre secretary’s wages.  But that day was a special occasion, it was a pre-bridal luncheon from another lifetime.  I think I had their Salad Nicoise.  It was good, but not necessarily magic.  Not anything particularly memorable. 

So we arrived a bit early for our reservation and they had our table ready.  It was on what once had been the deck, but is now an interior enclosure that has expanded the eating area of the restaurant.  It was securely enclosed and had heating lamps to keep it toasty in winter (which it still was).  It appears as though in summertime this area can be easily reopened into a deck again, making it a nice convertible space for year around dining.  Smart.

As we perused the cocktail list, we realized they don’t have a full bar here.  But they do have specialty cocktails of liquer and various wines.  I chose a Pear mojito and it was delicious — a complete success.  Often with wine-only substitute cocktails I am left with a feeling that my drink is missing a flavor component.  Wine just doesn’t enhance a cocktail in the way that hard liquor can.  It’s not as varied in taste, at least not in that way.  In this case, their bartender is a magician, because the flavors in this drink were outstanding.  I was first struck by the strong but not overpowering hints of mint and lemon —  these flavors gave way to a lovely anise kick — and it all finished off with a lovely, soft kiss of pear.  What a nice surprise that cocktail was.

I chose to order a Salad of Anise-Scented Beets, even though it was wintry cold.  I love beets so much it is often hard for me to resist them when they’re offered.  The dish arrived with a lovely simple vinaigrette caressing the beets, avocado and tangerine, all of which were fresh, ripe and magnificent.  There was a bit of fennel in the mix, which blended nicely with the acidic fruit to create a really memorable salad.  This time my salad was a memorable home run.

We also shared as an appetizer at the table a Duck Liver “flan” which was a lovely pate-style dish, accompanied by some toasts of grilled bread, little cornichons (baby dill pickles), and some really nice olives.  The taste of the duck liver went blissfully with the pickles and the olives, tasty stuff!
While I nibbled away on my salad, our PFC had the Double Celery Soup which he said was to his liking.  It was a lovely consistency and the tapenade toasts
Our PFC ordered for his main the Petit Cassoulet which was a lovely blend of duck confit, sausage and smoked pork in a wonderful country-style stew, laced with white beans and a fablously complex herbed sauce.  C’est Magnifique!
The BH ordered their Grilled Steelhead Salmon, which was a fabulous pink steak of salmon surrounded by roasted broccoli, fried new potatoes and accompanied with a fresh salsa verde.  The meat of the salmon was buttery-soft, moist and flaky, with that lovely briny quality of fresh seafood.  The broccoli was as well,  perfectly cooked with just enough of its crispness left intact.  Too often when I think about ordering salmon, I tell myself that fish is a healthy option and therefore somehow boring.  I can end up talking myself out of it, but I gotta say, when it’s done like this, it is anything but.  The perfectly crispy exterior over all that moist, flavorful fish… wow.  I am always struck by how tasty fish really is when it’s cooked well, perhaps because for a very long time most of the fish I ate wasn’t.

The grad student ordered the Potato Gnocchi, which arrived awash in butternut squash, chard, mushrooms and sage.  The dish was bouncy with flavors, the puffs themselves the perfect consistency, all of it well-coated with sauce.  The dish was not at all mushy and the earthy finish from the sage chips flecked over all was just the right note.

Since we had saved room we ordered three desserts to share.  The first was a Meyer Lemon Pot de Creme a creamy soft affair blending lemon and vanilla in a well-executed marriage of citrus and sugars.  Excellent.  The next was one that had intrigued us.  It was an Ice Cream Sandwich of Persimmon Ice Cream and Oatmeal cookies.  The warm cookies were layered over and under this amazingly soft, gelato like house-made ice cream, and the dense texture of the persimmon really came through.  Persimmon is a really rich fruit, with a meat similar to that of a mango, so it had the potential to be a bit overwhelming.  Yet the addition of the oatmeal to the mix kept that from happening.  The powdery crunch of the oatmeal, with its soft, nutty, texture really brought the flavors all together, and the addition of a caramel sauce at the bottom of the dish caught everything together in harmony. 

We finished off our dessert trio with a Chocolate Souffle Cake sitting atop a plate lightly slathered in creme anglaise.  Each bite of cake was soaked it the bottom with the light vanilla flavored creme, so that the dark, bitter taste of the chocolate just popped.   Well done.
 
Oddly enough, I was both surprised and thrilled to find out that Bay Wolf hasn’t missed a step in the past twenty plus years.  But it would appear that they have.  Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit!
 
Bay Wolf Restaurant
3853 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611-5378
(510) 655-6004
http://www.baywolf.com/

Table size: adequate
Noise Level:  TWO BELLS = Can talk easily
Dining Time: easily out in an hour if skip dessert
Service: excellent, just attentive enough

ADESSO ~ Salumi, Sopresato & Cheese, OH MY!

A few weeks ago on a Tuesday night, the Bh and I were finally convinced to try out the scene at Adesso, a happening little gem of a restaurant that has modeled itself after the Italian osteria.  Cured meats and wine, and a lovely spread in the late afternoon. Free. Yes, you heard me correctly.  When we walked into the Happy Hour at Adesso in Oakland, I knew I was definitely not in Kansas anymore. 
The space is small, the food is varied yet simple, and the bar is well-stocked. This little gem reminded me of Italy in a big way.  Situated as it is at the tip of Piedmont Avenue, the parking is tricky.  Street only, and not a lot of it, but it can be done.  They offer the free aperitivi every night from Monday through Saturday. They put platters out right at five o’clock and again at six.  I believe they put them out just before closing as well, which varies from 10:30 to 11:30 depending on the night of the week.
I do not know the names of everything they served on the buffet wall.  The pictures will, on this occasion, have to suffice.  In addition to the free aperitivi, I ordered a platter of their sopresato, which is a thick salami like meat that was delicious.  Various sausage-y meats and cracked pepper were all I could readily identify.  I believe all the meats are prepared on site.  Adesso has a full bar, and makes really tasty drinks as well.  One of us had a Grapefruit Gimlet, and I had this spicy ginger beer & tequila affair that tasted home made. I’ve never tasted home made ginger beer before, and I loved it.  It complemented the tequila perfectly. 
This isn’t the sort of meal I can wax prolific about.  This column is more of an amouse bouche.  A party of any size could fill up on their buffet, or augment it with some of their fantastic house meats and cheeses.  Essentially, the place reminded both my husband and myself of our first night in Venice.  We’d taken the taxi-boat into the heart of the City, and walked from our hotel looking for food. It was five o’clock there too, and in Italy, that is nobody’s dinner time.  We were jet-lagged and hungry and so Francesco at the hotel had suggested we try a local osteria, where he was sure we could get meats, cheese, and a glass of wine to quell our appetities.  It was the BH’s first meal in Italy and it really stuck, so eating here, at Adesso, woke up that adventure for him in a palpable way.  But isn’t that what dining is all about?

I believe that just about anyone can find something here they will enjoy.  If you haven’t been yet, do take the time to check it out.  Being free, the food goes quickly, so I would suggest you get there on time (either right at five or six when they set out the trays) Bon Appetit!

Adesso Oakland
4395 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA

510-601-0305

Note:  We arrived at about ten-to-five, and were not admitted.  They weren’t ready. When they say they open at five, they mean it, and not a moment sooner.  As promised, they did open their doors promptly at five.  Be there on time, and be ready for a treat.

Table size: we ate at the bar, so no idea but they looked adequate.  The bar was spacious and it had lovely little purse hooks underneath it which made a nice place to stick my bag, which is big.  Ladies will appreciate this feature.

Noise Levels:  As of today I will be using the SF Chronicles rating system for noise, for purpose of standardization.  They rate noise as follows:

ONE BELL = Pleasantly quiet; TWO BELLS = Can talk easily; THREE BELLS = Talking normally gets difficult;  When in full swing, Adesso is noisy folks.  It’s a bar. FOUR BELLS = Can talk only in raised voices; BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation.