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

DUENDE – a Dream is a Wish Your Mouth Makes!

Baccanora - Cocchi Rosa - Grapefruit!  Cheers

The TIERRA QUEMADA – Baccanora – Cocchi Rosa – Grapefruit! Cheers

The Name:

A duende is a fairy- or goblin-like mythological creature in Spanish folklore. Duendes are believed to be of a small stature wearing big hats, whistling a mystical tune, while walking in the forest where they dwell. One view of folklore would have you believe they are mischievous and furtive, luring young girls from their paths deep into the woods; in another, they are quiet and kindly aides to people lost in the forest, helping them find their way home.
Duende is a difficult-to-define concept in Spanish art, including performing arts. The closest English translation of “tener duende” (having duende) is “having soul,” and is an idea often applied in an attempt to describe the mysterious powers, both light and dark, of flamenco. Duende may be described as the force that animates art, deeply related to emotion, expression, and authenticity.

“All arts are capable of duende…” Federico Garcia Lorca, “The duende, then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a concept.  I have heard an old guitarist, a true virtuoso, remark, “The duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet.”  That is to say, it is not a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable style – of blood, in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made act.” Federico Garcia Lorca”The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.” Federico Garcia Lorca  [From the Duende website]

The Restaurant:

Soft-shelled crab, battered and served on soft roll with a lovely dollop of spicy mayo

Soft-shelled crab, battered and served on soft roll with a lovely dollop of spicy mayo

Clearly, the folks at Duende have put great thought into their concept.  The blending of food and music is a siren call to their customers, one they succeed in elevating to an impressively high standard.  There is nothing quite so enchanting as the work of an artist, or group of artists, who understand their message and express it clearly.  If you allow yourself to be open to it, a meal at Duende is as spiritually rewarding an experience as hearing Izaak Pearlman play the violin, or watching a perfectly paced film.  While dining there, you are an actor in their play of life.

Upon arrival, I expected good food, having read the many favorable write ups by critics, and been counseled by friends who had preceded me that a meal at Duende made for delightful dining.  I was not disappointed. Rather, I was blown away. Having worked in the arts for decades myself, I am familiar with the spirit of the artist.  In my experience, I have found that while many can sing, few can do so with an honesty that allows the listener to hear the emotion within the song, thus experiencing it themselves.  The ability to convey truth as well as tune, is rare.  It is a gift from whatever greater power one might believe in, the actor must tap into his or her own essence or experience, and be willing to share it in the moment.  This act of exposing the soul for one’s art poses a risk many will not, or cannot, attempt.  If you have the gift, only a fear of failing can hold you back.  But for those who have conquered that fear, the product that results is an unparalled gift.  At Duende, that gift extends to the kitchen.  They are fearless.

Everything about Duende resonates their concept.  The space is inviting, with high ceilings that evoke high goals.  The walls are decorated beautifully with just the right splashes of art, the color choices perfection.  Reach for the stars, it says.  We’ve got your back.

Salmon bites with avocado, and vibrant green spring peas

Salmon bites with avocado, and vibrant green spring peas

Visitors are greeted with smiles, cocktails resplendent with intriguing flavor and food that is blissfully transcendent.  When I visit a place that is so clearly dedicated to creating a dining experience, as opposed to merely feeding the hungry, I read the menu with an eye to selecting that which may be out of my comfort zone.  Rather than selecting the familiar ingredients or choosing from a list of that which I have experienced as enjoyable in the past, I try to select in a manner that will allow me to experience whatever culinary journey my hosts may see fit.  I sensed Duende to be a place where this would be a safe course of action, and I wasn’t wrong.

The Food:

The Hubs & I ordered from every category: Tapas, Raciones and Platos Familiares.  All can be shared, each representing a slight increase in portion size to allow maximum flexibility to the patrons.  From the Tapas we selected the Bocadillo de Congrejito and the Pescado Crudo.  The first was a magnificent soft-shelled crab, served in an airy battered crust and fried to perfection.  The sauce, titled simply mayonasa picante, was killer good.  Complex and flavorful, it made the perfect foil to the delicate toothsome goodness of the fried crab, which was not at all greasy or heavy, its consistency reminiscent of an airy tempura.  This is my kind of fried food.
Likewise pleasing was the Pescado (salmon ) Crudo.  The dish was two lovely morsels of perfect fish, the edges of which had been seared by a hint of flame and accompanied by the addition of crunch in the form of verdant spring peas.  The finishing touch a delicate, citrus-y, sauce which made each bite unforgettable, the taste reminiscent of being kissed by dappled sunshine on a perfect Spring day.

The next plate they presented was a hearty lamb sausage atop a garbanzo torta.  The light bean “bread” was similar in consistency

Lamb Sausage with Garbanzo Torta

Lamb Sausage with Garbanzo Torta

to a polenta cake, and was as delightfully rewarding a mouthful as all the others.  The rich, earthy lamb was abundantly juicy and the moist bean cake captured the natural juice to perfection, not a drop escaping in the consumption of the dish.  By this point my palate was singing, so I ordered a second cocktail to celebrate.  (Oh, come on, they were SO good!)

We completed our savory exploration with a shared favorite, seafood Paella.  Theirs was as bright as 24 karat gold, and laden with Saffron. Its delicate notes of buttery goodness and delightful tang, played off the lightly spiced chorizo and manila clams, all individual ingredients having been cooked to perfection.  Paella is a dish I fell in love with when I first attempted to prepare it in the mid-seventies using an elaborate recipe in Bon Appetit.  I’ve never forgotten the complexities of its construction and the subsequent and lasting reward of its consumption.  In the hands of the folks at Duende, the dish was both elevated and hearty.  Duende’s kitchen turns out a magnificent version of this Latin classic.

Paella - food of the gods!

Paella – food of the gods!

By this point, the Hubs and I were feeling overwhelmed (in the best and most positive meaning of the word) by the savory courses, so felt compelled to sample a dessert to complete our culinary journey.  The hardest part of the evening may have been in the choosing of a single offering from the pastry chef, as all options on the menu beckoned irresistibly.  “Pick me,” they said, echoing the call of the Duende siren.  After painful deliberation, we settled on the Cherry Galette.  (I must confess, I’m a sucker for stone fruit in the summertime).  Within moments, we were presented with a flaky pastry laden with a mound of mouth-watering rich, black cherries, swimming in a perfect dollop of creme fraiche as light as clouds.  The cherry flavor of the dish was so robust that at first bite I found myself transported to the hot, lazy summer afternoons of childhood, when the world has slowed to a whispered heartbeat of promise and possibility.

I should note that the service was stellar.  Our team was always at hand when needed, everyone cordial and enthusiastic about showing us a good time.  As we were on our way to see the Broadway tour of Fela! at the Paramount, we’d asked to be out by seven o’clock.  They managed t

o meet our deadline without ever making us feel rushed.  Nicely done.

All in all, ours was the perfect meal. Great company, enlightening exploration of flavors and beautiful surroundings.  When establishments like this dot the corners of her streets, it is clear that Oakland has truly arrived as a culinary mecca.  One can walk a

Cherry cherry cherry galette!  FABULOUS!

Cherry cherry cherry galette! FABULOUS!

block in any direction and eat as well as in any major capital of the world.  Elevated food, beautiful music and lovely surroundings abound.  Duende is indeed, as magical as its name. If the Duende siren calls you, answer.  To fail to do so is to miss out on the meaning of life as seen through true culinary genius.

Check it out, bring some good friends or find them there, and make a lasting memory of your own.  Life is short, mangia!

Duende Oakland

468-19th Street

Oakland, CA 94612

(510) 893-0174

http://www.duendeoakland.com