Friday, October 23, 2009

WOOD TAVERN - A Home Away from Home

This is a place I've visited on a number of occasions. Every time I leave it I come away pleased. A sense of overall satisfaction. I find it a pleasing place to look at, a pleasant place to eat, a place where once the locale has charmed me, they feed me really well. I like that it's called Wood Tavern, and that the decor is like an upscale secret cabin getaway with a groovy bar. Don't get me wrong. It's not perfect. I don't mean to suggest that, it just has a sensibility I find particularly charming. Something about the design aesthetic and the presentation, that works on me on some vaguely personal level. Like I'm coming home.

So let's talk about the food, and maybe even some of the imperfections. My BH and I went with our daughter (she loves a good free meal) a week or so ago. It's convenient, since she's in grad school at Berkeley and we work in downtown Oakland. We can meet just about halfway, if we meet up just about anywhere along College Avenue. So on this occasion we met there. We began with drinks. It was a work day, but some just don't begin well, and by lunchtime I can be up for a cocktail. This was just such an occasion. The BH ordered the Cool Breeze, but I didn't find anything on the cocktail menu calling to me, so I asked the bartender if he could make me a Ramos Fizz. He did and it was amazing. It made me happy, it was a drink that actually tasted like a good mood.

We were pretty hungry so we ordered a cheese plate with drinks. The cheeseboard choices were a Fourme D'Ambert (French Cow Blue) ~ a Fleur Vert (herb encrusted goat's milk) ~ a Robiola Bosina (Italian Cow/Sheep's Milk mix) ~ Zamorano (Spanish Cow). I found the cheese delicious, particularly the Fleur Vert which was creamy and flavorful. I also found the portions a bit on the skimpy side. I'm really turned off by tiny cheese portions. When the slices are too small for a table of three to tast a mouthful of each, that's just not enough cheese. Doesn't have to be a big mouthful, but there should be sufficient cheese to go around. So that's one of the not so perfect things about Wood Tavern.

For our mains, we ordered for my BH Surf & Turf (Oregon Bay Shrimp, Proscuitto and Avocado with Romaine and a Smoked Paprika Aioli) ~ I had a Chili Ribbed Pork Roast Sandwich (with Roast Poblano Chiles, Grilled Scallion Salsa Verde, Avocado and a Romaine Aioli). Our daughter had the Duck with Wild Rice Soup and the Tomato and Arugula Salad.

I tasted the duck soup and it had an amazing broth. It was the perfect consistency, flavored with sweet corn and carrot. This soup definitely showed a master's hand. I really enjoyed my sandwich. It wasn't too spicy, the meat was moist (pork can tend towards the dry and cardboardy, this was neither). The flavors of the chiles and the onion all blended perfectly. Subtle and delicious. My husband really loved his sandwich as well, but he's never seen a shrimp or an avocado he didnt' want to make passionate love to. The addition of the prosciutto pretty much made it officially the other woman. The grad student also enjoyed her lunch, calling her salad fresh and raving about the tomatoes. So I doubt the tastiness was just the liquor talking, but hey, like I said, this place really makes me feel at home.
My family has a sweet tooth, and on this occasion although we had already lingered over drinks, they wanted dessert so I capitulated against my will. They wanted the blueberry crisp, which was ironically titled the "15-Minute Peach Blueberry Crisp" which of course prolonged the conversation about how much longer lunch was going to take. It turned up in rapid fire time, maybe five minutes after ordering and it was absolutely worth any delay. So crispy on the outside, fresh fruity goodness on the inside, that I didn't resent at all that I would have to put in an extra hour on my computer at home that night to make up the time spent over a long lunch. The ice cream gave it the perfect cold compliment to the just-out-of-the-oven warmth of the crumbling crisp. This was delicious.

Overall the food here is solidly above average to really artful. It's not perfect ~ some dishes really rock while others are just good. They know how to do fish, and they definitely know soup. Sauces are thoughtful and overall the menu offers selections for any palate. The place is welcoming, the food is well presented, and its' tasty with some really good surprises.

Bon Appetit!

Wood Tavern
6317 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-6607

Table Size: Adequate!

Dining Time: It really depends on where you work. College is not near downtown, so there's the drive time, and the parking (which on College can be a challenge). The service is reasonably prompt & attentive, so they can get you in and out in approximately an hour unless you order something with extraordinary cooking time, but for me this place is reserved for the lengthier lunch breaks.

Price: Moderately Expensive

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NINNA - Checking up on an old favorite

Years ago the BH and I used to walk with a co-worker to a place we liked on Piedmont avenue. The co-worker was ahead of the foodie curve, and she was always finding the latest yummy place to eat somewhere, as well as encouraging my BH to take long healthy walks. Needless to say, when she moved to Indianapolis, I was bummed big time to lose a valued eating buddy.

Their trademark is that they prepare food with a primarily mediterranean style, and fuse their dishes with hint of various traditional Thai spices.
The other day I had a doctor's appointment nearby, so the hubby and I walked over to Ninna to see if it was still as good as we remembered. We have always enjoyed the food there, so we were looking forward to a treat.

When we arrived at the early portion of the lunch hour it appeared just as we remembered. The pleasant woman who greeted us must be Ninna. We have always assumed she was the owner. She has the intimate presence of a person who is more than an employee and seems to care if you have a pleasant experient. She was very attentive, but we were the only patrons in the restaurant for most of our stay. One other patron arrived eventually, though it remained just the two tables for the better part of the meal.
She seated us quickly and brought us each a menu. I'm not sure if it was my memory, or if my food tastes have just outgrown this place, but the menu seemed to be lacking many of the previous dishes I had enjoyed. Most of the choices seemed uninspired and bare-bones. We were hungry so we tried to go with it.

The BH had the Fisherman's soup, a variation on a sort of bouilliabase, consisting of mussel's calamari and shrimp. He asked that they prepare it mild, and they said they could comply, though when it came it was visibly laden with red pepper flakes. He ate around them. I ordered the Grilled Chicken Breast with peanut sauce and spring mixed salad. My husband enjoyed his soup, but he didn't seem overly impressed. I found my chicken breast a bit dry and the sauce was ordinary. The salad was also a bit underdressed and notably unremarkable in its flavors. Remembering the delicacies of flavors enjoyed here in the past made it all the more unimpressive.

It seemed a bit of a shame, as this had been a place we had kept on the top of our favorite places to eat list for such a long time. I don't know if the restaurant has failed to keep up with current food trends, remaining true to is former self and being left in the dust by the natural passage of time, or the quality has actually slipped a bit. Either way, it was a disappointment. Nothing was terrible, it was an adequate meal, and the prices were reasonable, so no harm done.

Sometimes a walk down memory lane brings back experiences or tastes we can treasure. Sometimes it is just a walk. But a walk isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it's just me. If you want to prove me wrong, check it out. This is a tough industry and maybe they were just having an off day.

Bon Appetit!

Ninna Restaurant
4066 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611

Tables - cramped
Price Range - Moderate - Lunch entrees $8 - 12
Dining Time - in and out in easily under an hour over lunch time