Plum, Oakland

When Daniel Patterson of COI announced details for his upcoming venture, much was written, blogged and tweeted about Plum’s chef that never was—Jeremy Fox. The produce maven of Ubuntu fame had signed up to head the kitchen at the much-anticipated restaurant with great fanfare. But days before opening its doors–anticipation at its peak, foodie newswires were flooded with comments on the sudden departure of the chef. To add to the drama, Fox quit in the eve of a Plum demo week at Il Cane Rosso—Patterson’s casual restaurant. The clock was ticking, the reservation books filling up; the question was, what now?

Unlike COI and Il Cane Rosso, Plum is located across the bridge. Patterson has publicly complained about the costs of running a neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco and considering that the chef lives in the East Bay (I’m not stalking him, that’s also public information), the location seems fitting.

Truth be told, Uptown Oakland can be slightly sketchy at night, but the upside pays off. Space is abundant and parking, a breeze.

Plum is by no means a large restaurant; the dining room fits only 48 people between large communal tables and a chef’s counter. And while the idea is that you sit together with other people—this is a neighborhood restaurant after all, you don’t feel crammed among strangers.

The décor is simple and warm. Dimly lit by hanging Edison bulbs, the room features reclaimed elm tables and benches set against dark walls with artwork by Catherine Wagner depicting Santa Rosa plums. It’s rustic meets urban, if there’s such thing.

Plum is somewhere between COI and Il Cane Rosso, bringing together the best of both worlds. From his fine dining restaurant, Patterson brought the precise techniques seen here from a perfectly poached egg to the complex aromas of a mushroom-infused dashi. From the Ferry Building rotisserie, Plum inherited the accessibility of simple, comfort food.

The result is a sophisticated yet approachable cuisine in a welcoming, casual atmosphere. And while the democratization of fine dining is an undeniable trend (Commis, Saison), Plum diners can experience it at a much lower cost.

The menu

Plum’s menu changes daily and is divided in six sections called Snacks ($4), To start ($9 to $12), Vegetables and grains ($12 to $13), Animal ($15 to $18), Cheese ($13) and Sweet ($6 to $9). Portions are on the small side giving you a chance to try a few different things—three or four dishes per person are recommended. A 16% service charge is automatically included in your bill to be shared among all staff; a common practice in fine dining restaurants like COI and The French Laundry.

The meal

Plum opened its doors with chef Lauren Kiino from Il Cane Rosso running the kitchen and Patterson signed up Charlie Parker to follow suit. The food is prepared with only organic vegetables and pastured meat, poultry and eggs from small farmers.

Heirloom Popcorn, escabeche powder. Lightly dusted with the Peruvian pepper, simple popcorn becomes an irresistible snack you can hardly stop eating.

Also from the Snacks list, Devilled eggs, caperberry-tarragon relish. Cooked perfectly the egg whites hold a yolk cream that is light and fluffy like a well-whipped hollandaise sauce.

From the To start list, Turnip and apple soup, miso, pepper cream. Lightly spicy, creamy and delicious.

From the Vegetables and grains list, Mushroom dashi, yuba, tofu, greens. A delightful soup that warms the body and soul. Raved by Michael Bauer (SF Chronicle) as “the foie gras of broth”, it has Patterson’s signature layering of flavors and aromas. Served with ribbons of tofu skin.

From the Animal list, Slow-cooked farm egg, savory fried farro, chicken, sprouts. A few years from now we’ll look back at the slow-poached egg as the poster child of the organic casual fine-dining revolution—much like tuna tartar towers marked the fancy plating in the nineties. Thanks to sous-vide circulators and talented chefs like David Kinch (Manresa), James Syhabout (Commis) and Patterson who have perfected this dish, the slow poached egg shall not become démodé—unlike the tuna tartar towers. It is and will be the basis for some of the most exciting and prolific concoctions today and in years to come. Here at Plum, the egg meets the chicken in all their deliciousness.

Roasted pork, warm salad of fall vegetables and greens, spicy squash puree, vadouvan vinaigrette. The fork-tender pork is very flavorful. The emulsified vadouvan vinaigrette brings a delicate acidity to the dish.

The Sweets are by themselves worth the trip across the bridge. Milk chocolate cream, tarragon, hazelnuts. Rich and sumptuous with a beautiful textural play, this is the kind of dessert I could eat three of. Okay, maybe four.

Goat cheesecake, poached quince, olive oil ice cream. Another great dessert with beautiful flavors thoughtfully balanced.

In short

Despite the initial rumor mill, Plum survived without a glitch and it has been collecting praises and plenty of stars from all over the Bay. I found it to be refreshingly original. It is surprising yet delightfully welcoming. As for Patterson, he’s not done expanding. Two other additions are in the works—a bar adjacent to Plum and a new restaurant in Jack London Square to be called Bracina. I’m already looking forward to it.

Plum is at 2214 Broadway
Online reservations


pofu said...

I wanted to like the place ....

some of the dishes I had were quite good, but after spending around $40 a person on food, I felt far from satisfied;

and the place is really uncomfortable, service was just okay.

Brad said...

One of my best meals of 2010. Wait and see what my Parker has in store! His oyster stew: damn!

Brad said...

One of my best meals in 2010. Go back and see what mr Parker is up to. His oyster stew: damn!

river west said...

Plum is very good- do not forget the help(corporate chef) he brought in before Plum's opening, the taller Chef behind Daniel in the one photo- Two Star Michelin Chef Ron Boyd...not what I would call roughing it alone...

gil said...

"the slow poached egg shall not become démodé—unlike the tuna tartar towers. It is and will be the basis for some of the most exciting and prolific concoctions today and in years to come."

Doubtful....these 'innovations' and the 'masters' that conceive them are as disposable and forgettable as anything that has come in recent culinary history.

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