Thursday, May 20, 2010

BOCANOVA Revisited ~ The Echo of Pan American Rhythms

Cocktails @ Bocanova!
“When marimba rhythms start to play,
Dance with me, make me sway
Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore,
Hold me close, sway me more”

Early in April, the lovely weather and my hearty appetite convinced me it was time to revisit Bocanova, a Pan American Restaurant down on Jack London Square. The restaurant is still lovely, a big, open, slick barn of a place. It is still located just next to the new train station where the Old Spaghetti Factory used to be in the heart of Oakland’s Jack London Waterfront. Tables overlook the water, along one side of the establishment and the bar at its center is glistening and chic.  It fell a little short on our first visit.  I went again to see what might have changed.
Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs

To begin our meal on this, our second visit, we shared the Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs. Now I love deviled eggs, but these were extraordinarily well done. It may have been that the whites were just firm enough, and the fresh, creamy centers of whipped egg and crabmeat, were just awash in delicate flavors. The BH and I both found this dish outstanding.

Quinoa Shrimp Salad
When I first visited Bocanova, I liked about half of what I tried. Maybe more. On the whole, the food is good, with some dishes really being standouts. But the salads were a disappointment.  I found them overdressed.  I'm a fan of leafy salads with all manner of fresh ingredients.  I ordered the Quinoa, Wild Shrimp & Roasted Beet Salad.  Everything in the description was something I love:  Beets, Shrimp, mandarine orange vinaigrette.  Sounded lovely, but it was quite a disappointment. It just wasn’t balanced. Firstly, it’s not really a salad, at least not in the leafy sense. It’s more of a dressed quinoa affair, which resulted in a bowl of mush the consistency of say, a mashed potato salad. The mixture arrived in a large bowl, chock full of heavily “creamed’ quinoa with several big, chunky beets clumsily tossed into the mix. While the shrimp were large, plump and moist — and really well prepared —  that fact just didn’t compensate for the soggily dressed quinoa. The orange vinaigrette used to dress the mixture was the consistency of a really heavy mayonnaise rather than a vinaigrette and was much too sweet.   I really felt the flavors didn’t complement each other very well. The “salad” ultimately read on my palate like a bowl of paste. Soggy flavors, soggy texture. Just soggy all around, being much too heavily dressed. This was the second time I tried a salad here and found it to be mucky on the dressing side. Though every ingredient was one I like independently, the flavors were lost in the swampy bowl. This Chef apparently believes firmly in a soggy salad. For my tastes, that’s a problem, particularly since I think I have always enjoyed a little too much dressing on my salad. So if I am finding this too much dressing, I can’t imagine anyone who will find it to their liking. When I go back, I may ask for the dressing on the side to see if that might correct the problem, at least for me. My recommendation is to just skip their salads all together.  (Except the Beef Salad mentioned below.)

Mini Burger Sliders
Fortunately, many of Bocanova’s other offerings are so good as to make it worthwhile. We had several appetizers and small plates we shared, and really enjoyed. One of these such dishes, which might just be the exact opposite of the salad is their Mini Slider Burgers. This dish is absolute perfection. The meat is fatty enough to almost melt on the tongue, just rare enough, just bloody enough to conjure up every perfect bar-b-que of years gone by. The miniature bun is light as air, with just a hint of a warm crunch to the outer shell from brief, hot bath in the toaster. Meat has a nice rich hint of smoke to it from the flame. Condiments are provided, but this burger is so good it can be eaten plain. Nothing else needed. The mixture of meat and bun are the ultimate marriage of perfection.

We also sampled the Enyacados which were a bit like a stuffed latke. That’s a potato pancake, for those of you who’ve never had a bite of your Bubbe’s Chanukah treats. They contain a filling of roasted chicken with a tasty cilantro pesto perched atop the potato puff. The flavors were light, and the texture was crunchy. I found the patties to be just a little too soft for my tastes, since I prefer the grated variety of pancake. I think it may just be that I like my potato pancake less mashed and more like a hash brown. That said, it had a tasty filling and a good balance of seasonings.

We also shared a Bavette Steak Salad which contained big chunks of beautifully cooked red meat atop a lovely bed of lettuce. This is one salad here which I would say was not overdressed. The tomato vinaigrette really enhances the little gem lettuce, and the queso fresco was delicious. This meat was the best cut of steak I’ve ever seen on a salad, definitely no off cuts of meat.

The final of our appis was a Beef Currant & Green Olive Empanada. This dish was like a South American potsticker. Flakier and with a tomato-based rather than soy-based sauce. I really enjoyed the mouthfuls of tiny goodness. Really delicious.

The Yucatan Seafood Stew contained roasted garlic, grapefruit, & tomato. It had a beautifully balanced clear broth, chock full of mussels, shrimp, every imaginable kind of seafood. The BH is a huge fan of Seafood and Seafood Stew. This dish was both pretty and absolutely delicious.

Pear Tartelette
The next dish we sampled was a dessert of Organic Pear Tartlette. It was a splendid tartlette. The luscious, beautiful, slices of sugary fresh baked pear, covered in an airy, flaky crust over of fresh baked pear. The pear itself covered in tricklets of carmelized sugar. Melt in your mouth goodness.

We finished our meal with Bocanova’s Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. This may be one of the best variations on bread pudding I’ve had, right up there with the Bread Pudding Souffle at Commander’s Palace or the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding at Angeline’s. Bread pudding is a classic dessert, and to see it re-imagined with the flakiness of a croissant, and then baked with delicious eggy pudding. So good. Covered in chocolate sauce. Isn’t everything better with chocolate?

So overall the restaurant is a good one with significant dishes that are not to be missed. It also has a few dishes that fall incredibly short. If you go, just don’t order a salad. Or maybe you will order the beef! Check it out, and as always ~ Bon Appetit!

Jack London Square
55 Webster Street, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-1233

Noise level: lunch is fine, I imagine that all that open space is loud at night. 1-3 BELLS
Dining time: in an out in a little over an hour
Service: excellent


  1. They are really good. So was the dessert. I think it's worth at least a trip there. Bartender is uniformlexcellent as well. I would just stay away from any but the steak salad!

  2. Love this place! Dined there a couple month ago. We too had the deviled eggs and the quinoa salad - both out of this world! Oakland is the new dining destination. Not sure if read the Diablo Magazine about a month ago - it highlighted all of the new places in Oakland!


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