Thursday, July 7, 2011

NEX OAKLAND - Lookin’ for Food and Feelin’ Hungry...

Pressed Watermelon Salad - pretty AND delicious!
 Ok, so maybe my song puns aren’t the best, but my experience at Nex in Oakland was something to sing about. It so happened that last April the BH and I had tickets to Paul Simon at the recently refurbished Fox Theater in Oakland. We made reservations at Nex, the sister restaurant to Mua. Both restaurants are owned and operated by the former owner of Soizic formerly on Broadway in Oakland. Soizic was one of our favorites right up until it closed some time after August of last year. Soizic was one of the first fine dining establishments in Oakland, featuring a hybrid of French-California “other” cuisine done very successfully, long before Oakland’s dining renaissance was a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

When we arrived, we were seated promptly and began to peruse the cocktail menu. One has to have a cocktail before a show, right? After all, ya need to get in the mood for music. Warm up the senses and all. Lucky for us, there were several scrumptious drinks offered, and while we pondered them, we noticed that Paul Simon was on the ambient sound system. Clearly this is an establishment that knows from whence it’s audience has come. The music continued to highlight Simon and artists of his genre, and the spot on music choices really added to our overall dining experience. A little “show before the show,” if you will. Kudos.
Pate de Campagne (Country Pate)

I selected my drink, which was a lovely concoction titled the Rex Gimlet. It was a light margarita-inspired mixture of Don Julio, cucumber and a hint of cilantro, herbaceous and refreshing. The BH had a pineapple infused drink, blended with just enough sweet to keep him happy. He’s a guy who loves himself a pomatini from time to time, after all. Both drinks had a well-blended mix to them. The world, post Scott Beattie, is a beautiful place.

We began with appetizers. Time to kill and bears in our bellies. Our Paté de Campagne (pickled red onion, radish, whole grain mustard, toast) - was the sliced meat version of compacted pate. The texture was dense and the flavor delicious, it was simple country fare with heart and a lovely combination of seasonings. Excellent as an appetite enhancer.

Melt in your Mouth GNOCCHI
 The Pressed Watermelon (feta, mint, olive oil) - may have been one of my absolute favorite versions of this dish. New to me, the flavors produced when the oh so sweet summer watermelon is blended with aromatic herbs and a dash of balsamic. Such a magnificent pop of palate-exciting flavor. The meat of this particular varietal was an amber gold color, its texture dense against the tongue before a burst of flavor as the sugars released into the light dressing it had been drizzled with. I cannot describe it aptly, as you kinda have to experience the taste for yourself to understand. Yeah, I know, you can imagine the taste of watermelon, but the way it blends with a tiny burst of acid and oil is spectacular when it’s done right. Mingle that sweet hit with tangy cheese and minty summer cilantro, yeah, now you’re talking. Watermelon has a way of releasing itself into the mouth, that when blended with the other flavors, cheese, tangy balsamic, fatty oil, well it’s just outstanding.

Scallops over Asparagus
After we’d primped and prodded our palates with appetizers, the Gnocchi (mascarpone cheese, Italian porcini cream) arrived. There was a nice hint of tomato in this dish that was reminiscent of one of the best gnocchi dishes I’ve ever enjoyed. Milano on Grand Avenue (before it changed ownership and lost its footing) had a spectacular gnocchi dish I’d insist on partaking of monthly. This really reminded of everything that was good about that gnocchi— the light fresh tomato sauce, the exact blending of spices in that tomato sauce, and the cheese. The gnocchi was soft but resistant enough not to just become mush. Just the way grandma would have made hers.

We shared another plate, this one was a Seared Rock Cod “Scallop” (grilled asparagus, English peas, lemon caper beurre blanc) . It was presented as this lovely flower of fish. It was lightly grilled as scallops should be, one side golden and the meat still moist, toothsome and flaky. The seasoning was also spot on. Really fantastically flavored.

The duck blew my mind. They menu titled it Grimaud Farms Duck Confit (white bean, carrot, frisée) and it may be one of the smoothest duck dishes I’ve had to date. I have to say, I’m on a duck-loving roll these days. It just got better and better, the buttery beans beneath the fatty meat melting against my tongue as soon as the fork had delivered them. Fab-u-licious.

Duck Confit, with spring carrots
with perfectly soft white beans...
 Of course, after a perfect meal, one must enjoy a hint of sweet to finish off the palate. The day had been lovely, so something that hinted at the summer around the corner, with its promise of stone fruit, fresh corn and lush garden delights in abundance... that mindset produced a longing for the Poached pear with Cranberry Torte & Vanilla Ice Cream. Can’t say it was a let down, even if pear isn't a stone fruit! We were in the mood for natural sugar and the high that goes with a great fruit blended into a pastry. This was a lovely little example of that delight. Made from cornmeal it had a weightiness to it that spoke of the farmhouse, conjuring up a dense summer pie chilling on the windowsill made by the hands of a loving Auntie Em.  No pie ever tasted better. ... just heavenly. The vanilla ice cream they paired with the pastry dessert was spiced, almost gingery. The chilled vanilla melting into the hot pear and cranberry, nothing could have been better than that.

After coffee we headed to the show. It was a perfect continuation of the evening. So Beautiful!
So What? you say? I say head on over to Nex and check it out for yourself! As always...Bon Appetit!

Poached Pear & Cranberry Torte
 Nex Restaurant
2442 Webster St
(between 24th St & 25th St)
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 238-8224

Table size: adequate
Price: moderately expensive
Sound levels: could get noisy, we enjoyed the ambient sound and had no problem conversing
Service: Excellent!