JACK’S OYSTER BAR & FISH HOUSE – A Seafooder’s Dream

Grilled Octopus Salad

Grilled Octopus Salad

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.

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Po’ Bau: Fried Oyster & Pork Belly on a steamed “Bau” bun

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.

Delectably Briny Oysters

Delectably Briny Oysters

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.

Peel & Eat Shrimp

Peel & Eat Shrimp

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
Web: http://www.jacksoakland.com

LONGITUDE: Of Transformation and Tropical Adventure

Oakland is a place of constant transformation. The landscape has been evolving into something different, something current, something well, happening, for quite some time now. Late night clubs, fabulous dining options, and delectable food truck offerings are appearing all over … Continue reading

TRIBUNE TAVERN – Who says you can’t go home again?

Guilty Fries anyone?

Guilty Fries anyone?

All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. THOMAS WOLFE

I have a thing for the Tribune Tower. Its history fascinates me. The “Trib” as I’ve always called it, where my grandfather once hung out with his buddy, Joe Knowland. Knowland, who purchased the paper in 1915 was a character right out of a black and white movie. I used to imagine the two of them sitting together in Knowland’s walnut paneled office, pouring scotch from a delicate crystal decanter and surveying the City from a perch far above. There they remain, in my mind’s eye, discussing politics or the day’s current headline, making decisions that would change history. It is always a scene cut straight from Citizen Kane. The Tribune Tower is a repository of much of Oakland’s history, and by a twist of fate, my own as well.

It was while working there as a legal secretary that I first met my husband. He interviewed me when I answered an ad in the Inter-City Express. I got the job. We worked there together for almost ten years, until the building was felled by the Quake of ‘89. While it didn’t quite come down, but it was uninhabitable for some time afterwards. I was devastated to leave it behind.
So naturally, I was thrilled to see it rise like a phoenix, after being restored. When the Tribune Tavern opened at the site of the former Oakland Tribune offices, I was elated. Ownership has reinvented the space into something new and modern, while managing to faithfully retain the spirit of its origins.

I’ve recently moved my own office back to the heart of Oakland’s 14th Street, only a block from our spot in the Trib. So recently, I grabbed my camera and headed out on a mission, accompanied by most of my family for a festive occasion, my mother’s “18th” birthday. My heart-to-food conversation with the Tribune Tavern felt long overdue.

THE FOOD

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

Golden Fried Fish & Chips

We all arrived on time, which for my family is a feat in itself. The evening started with cocktails, of course. I had my favorite of their talented mixologist’s concoctions, the Stolen Afternoon. A lovely blend of Hibiscus tequila and Earl Gray, with a hint of lemon. Cool and refreshing, its flavors hide quite a punch My kind of drink.

Absolutely starving, we ordered almost every appetizer on the menu. The staff was on it, and we were shortly presented with a lovely assortment of appetizers. The house made chips were light as air, and crisp which is not often the case with a house chip. They don’t add all the “stuff” that keeps chips crispy, which is good, but it often results in a slightly soggy chip. No so these. Whatever the chef is doing, it is being done to perfection. (The bacon in the dip wasn’t bad either.)
We shared a cheese plate, which though a bit on the small side as cheese plates go, was a lovely blend of flavors. The charcuterie plate, on the other hand, was abundant and really tasty. A nice selection of sliced cured meats, and a country paté. Delectable. My party devoured it all.

Moving on to the mains, several of us had the Ahi Tuna, which arrived on a bed of pureed greens. The fish was cooked beautifully, with a nice sear and a buttery pink interior. My eldest had the Burger, and it came with a fried egg on top. Did you hear the part about the fried egg? I’m as crazy for fried eggs as I am for the Tribune Tower. Yum.

Hubs had the Fish & Chips, which appeared as tender pillows of fish filet as puffy and light as a wispy spring cloud, on a bed of piping hot fries, both cooked to a golden perfection. The potato slices were likewise . My youngest had the Veggie Risotto, a dish I had opted to skip in favor of something with a bit more animal protein. Big mistake. I think it was the most flavorful dish of the evening. The tender bits of rice were rich and masterfully seasoned, each bite so good I wanted to eat her entire bowl. I think she sensed my predatory air, because she snatched it back before I could. Spectacularly successful dish.

Veggie Risotto bliss

Veggie Risotto bliss

TIME FOR DESSERT

We completed our feast by ordering three of the four desserts (with share plates and loads of spoons and forks, cause I’m nothing if not a sharer). The first of our desserts was a simple confection featuring the first Strawberries of the season atop a creamy house made ice cream. We also ordered the Bread Pudding & Caramel which presented as a creamy and toothsome pudding served with mango ice cream. The last dessert was essentially a piping fresh Turnover, chock full of blueberries and accompanied by a lovely serving of house made dulce de leche ice cream. All were delicious, but the pie, hot from the oven, with the cream melting into every nook and cranny was my favorite. Anything consisting of a flaky, buttery crust, berries and cream is pretty much heaven in my book.

The Tribune Tavern is a splendid jewel in the Oakland dining crown. The chef used simple, fresh ingredients, to produce complicated bursts of flavor, each dish was well executed; our service was attentive while remaining inobtrusive as we carried on with our festivities. In short, mom had a swell birthday party, and we left very happy indeed.

Places like the Tribune Tavern remind me that I no longer have to cross that beautiful sparkly bridge into Oz to experience a special evening out. If you’re looking to celebrate something in Oakland, then check it out. Break some bread, make a memory of your own.

Tribune Tavern
401 13th St, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 452-8742
http://tribunetavern.com/

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream

Blueberry Turnover with Caramel & Ice Cream