Sunday, February 14, 2010

BAY WOLF - Everything old is new again

It was another Friday, maybe a week or so ago.  The Grad Student wanted to meet her father and I for lunch, so we agreed to take her out. Again.  Such a sacrifice, I know.  She had requested that we go to Bay Wolf, having recently come across its menu on line and become intrigued. Bay Wolf struck me as an odd choice for my young foodie.  It's been around forever, and I expected it to be a bit, well 'dusty.' Yet her father and I were willing to indulge her. 

I hadn't been to Bay Wolf myself since 1977 or so.  Back then, it was the place to go for special occasions.  Either there or Chez Panisse in Berkeley; there were few other choices on this side of the Bay Bridge.  Bay Wolf was a high end  destination --- too high end a place to consider eating out at very often, given my meagre secretary's wages.  But that day was a special occasion, it was a pre-bridal luncheon from another lifetime.  I think I had their Salad Nicoise.  It was good, but not necessarily magic.  Not anything particularly memorable. 

So we arrived a bit early for our reservation and they had our table ready.  It was on what once had been the deck, but is now an interior enclosure that has expanded the eating area of the restaurant.  It was securely enclosed and had heating lamps to keep it toasty in winter (which it still was).  It appears as though in summertime this area can be easily reopened into a deck again, making it a nice convertible space for year around dining.  Smart.
As we perused the cocktail list, we realized they don't have a full bar here.  But they do have specialty cocktails of liquer and various wines.  I chose a Pear mojito and it was delicious --- a complete success.  Often with wine-only substitute cocktails I am left with a feeling that my drink is missing a flavor component.  Wine just doesn't enhance a cocktail in the way that hard liquor can.  It's not as varied in taste, at least not in that way.  In this case, their bartender is a magician, because the flavors in this drink were outstanding.  I was first struck by the strong but not overpowering hints of mint and lemon ---  these flavors gave way to a lovely anise kick --- and it all finished off with a lovely, soft kiss of pear.  What a nice surprise that cocktail was.

I chose to order a Salad of Anise-Scented Beets, even though it was wintry cold.  I love beets so much it is often hard for me to resist them when they're offered.  The dish arrived with a lovely simple vinaigrette caressing the beets, avocado and tangerine, all of which were fresh, ripe and magnificent.  There was a bit of fennel in the mix, which blended nicely with the acidic fruit to create a really memorable salad.  This time my salad was a memorable home run.

We also shared as an appetizer at the table a Duck Liver “flan” which was a lovely pate-style dish, accompanied by some toasts of grilled bread, little cornichons (baby dill pickles), and some really nice olives.  The taste of the duck liver went blissfully with the pickles and the olives, tasty stuff!

While I nibbled away on my salad, our PFC had the Double Celery Soup which he said was to his liking.  It was a lovely consistency and the tapenade toasts
Our PFC ordered for his main the Petit Cassoulet which was a lovely blend of duck confit, sausage and smoked pork in a wonderful country-style stew, laced with white beans and a fablously complex herbed sauce.  C'est Magnifique!

The BH ordered their Grilled Steelhead Salmon, which was a fabulous pink steak of salmon surrounded by roasted broccoli, fried new potatoes and accompanied with a fresh salsa verde.  The meat of the salmon was buttery-soft, moist and flaky, with that lovely briny quality of fresh seafood.  The broccoli was as well,  perfectly cooked with just enough of its crispness left intact.  Too often when I think about ordering salmon, I tell myself that fish is a healthy option and therefore somehow boring.  I can end up talking myself out of it, but I gotta say, when it's done like this, it is anything but.  The perfectly crispy exterior over all that moist, flavorful fish... wow.  I am always struck by how tasty fish really is when it's cooked well, perhaps because for a very long time most of the fish I ate wasn't.

The grad student ordered the Potato Gnocchi, which arrived awash in butternut squash, chard, mushrooms and sage.  The dish was bouncy with flavors, the puffs themselves the perfect consistency, all of it well-coated with sauce.  The dish was not at all mushy and the earthy finish from the sage chips flecked over all was just the right note.

Since we had saved room we ordered three desserts to share.  The first was a Meyer Lemon Pot de Creme a creamy soft affair blending lemon and vanilla in a well-executed marriage of citrus and sugars.  Excellent.  The next was one that had intrigued us.  It was an Ice Cream Sandwich of Persimmon Ice Cream and Oatmeal cookies.  The warm cookies were layered over and under this amazingly soft, gelato like house-made ice cream, and the dense texture of the persimmon really came through.  Persimmon is a really rich fruit, with a meat similar to that of a mango, so it had the potential to be a bit overwhelming.  Yet the addition of the oatmeal to the mix kept that from happening.  The powdery crunch of the oatmeal, with its soft, nutty, texture really brought the flavors all together, and the addition of a caramel sauce at the bottom of the dish caught everything together in harmony. 

We finished off our dessert trio with a Chocolate Souffle Cake sitting atop a plate lightly slathered in creme anglaise.  Each bite of cake was soaked it the bottom with the light vanilla flavored creme, so that the dark, bitter taste of the chocolate just popped.   Well done.
Oddly enough, I was both surprised and thrilled to find out that Bay Wolf hasn't missed a step in the past twenty plus years.  But it would appear that they have.  Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit!
Bay Wolf Restaurant
3853 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611-5378
(510) 655-6004

Table size: adequate
Noise Level:  TWO BELLS = Can talk easily
Dining Time: easily out in an hour if skip dessert
Service: excellent, just attentive enough