Living in downtown Oakland, we’re incredibly lucky to live where the eating is good. We’re close to Chinatown. We’ve got the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market AND the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market. And we’ve got excellent restaurants right in our backyard. We’ve already talked about Tamarino, but I wanted to also mention two restaurants that also have locations in San Francisco. Both are excellent examples of fine California dining, using seasonal fresh ingredients and having interesting twists on classics.
Ok, we adore B’s service. There is one server in particular with the curly hair who we would love to have a drink with. The service is friendly, engaged, and prompt. Luckily, the food does a good job keeping up with the service. If you go, please get their pizza. The crust is excellent. A little different from the super-thing crusted pizza you would get at a hardcore Italian pizzeria. This has a more body and give to it. Their toppings are very California. In particular I’d recommend their pulled pork and sweet onion that has an unexpected taste of mint. Rather than fighting with the rest of the savory dish, the mint gives it a nice lift. The mushroom and thyme pizza is also a winner, pairing mushrooms with a nice salty fromage blanc. For starters, I loved the veal sweetbreads (intestines for the faint of heart). They were light as air and tender as can be with a celery root and apple puree. J loves shellfish, particularly clams, mussels, and oysters. B does mussels better than anyone. There just isn’t enough bread in the world to sop up their divine white wine and sausage broth. As a nice side, their truffle fries are beyond belief. Served with ketchup and a nice mayonnaise, they are perfectly cooked. I’d warn anyone with a heart problem about their braised pork shoulder. It’s wonderful tasting but very, very fatty. Overall, this is a fun, relaxing place to go.
Like B, Levende is a San Francisco restaurant that has opened in downtown Oakland. One claim to fame for the restaurant is that Jaime from Top Chef cooked there. Levende is a bit more upscale than B with a darker lighting and heavy furniture. This is also reflected in their food that is heavier and more entrée oriented. For starters, you must, must, must have their beet salad with pecan crusted goat cheese. The salad is less dressed than just kissed with a vinaigrette and the goat cheese and beet combination is out of this world. Another recommendation is to get their bread. While I normally chafe at paying for bread, they serve it with cilantro oil that is completely addictive. We’ve had many of their Next Step small plates which are well made if a little small. The steamed mussels and clams run a close second to B’s and their lamb burgers have a great complex flavor. The only entrée, I haven’t had is their risotto (I’m not a huge risotto fan). But the rest of their entrees, the ribs, the jerk chicken, the sea bass, and the steak are uniformly excellent. All have complex flavors. The sea bass in particular is deceptively simple. Finally, they leave no stone underturned food-wise and their sides area joy to eat, particularly the mac and cheese and the Brussels sprouts.