Wednesday, May 9, 2012

HAVEN - Oakland: Memories are Fleeting

Birthday Candle(s)
Baked "California"
 The other night I took my mother to Haven for her birthday. Haven is one of Oakland’s newest restaurants, the latest in Daniel Patterson’s glittering string of eateries in the East Bay. I’d been to Plum and Plum Bar (both dynamic and delicious). Hearing good reports from friends, I was dying to check Haven out for myself and mom’s big day seemed the perfect opportunity. We met my parents there, as my youngest daughter, the Wandering Lawyer back from Rome, was kind enough to bring them to the restaurant to meet us for an early repast.

The BH and I were early, but they let us in a bit before opening and allowed us to be seated at the bar. We had cocktails. The BH sampled a Rum Punch and I partook of a lovely little Tequila concoction. Well, mescal actually. They were complex and inventive. The perfect beginning to a great meal.

Beet Salad

The balance of our party arrived promptly at five and we were shown to a lovely corner table. After a moment of the "who sits where" dance, we began to peruse the menu. Shortly after that we were brought beautiful warm, golden rolls. The chef at Haven is a young woman by the name of Kim Alter. I’d already tasted her cooking, having experienced a pork feast at Plum some time back designed to be a preview of Haven’s offerings. I like the new feature of "pop ups" and "guest chefs" that many restaurants provide. Evenings featuring talented cooks who have yet to land their own establishments, or chefs whose restaurants are some distance away, allow patrons to experience their food artistry without the additional travel and expensive hotel bills.
Mussels in Broth

We ordered, and soon were presented with all manner of delicacies. The WL received a lovely pile of fresh smoked pasta, which had been prepared in-house, and sprinkled with pancetta.
I got the most incredible presentation of fresh beets, with hints of chili, toasted almonds and these chocolate laced "chips," creative and delicious. I adore beets and these were spectacular. The BH had his favorite, a heaping bowl of mussels in a fabulous garlicy broth. So far, so good. Sooo good.

There were many choices on the menu, and we had deliberated over just what to get. We ended up with a selection of three of the mains between us all, as several of our party went with the "Chicken & Biscuits." I had the Roast Pork and the BH ordered the Bavette. Simple descriptions for very complex dishes.

Chicken & Biscuits

I’ll start with the Chicken & Biscuits, since it was a crowd favorite. Chef Alter has designed the perfect meal here. Lovely breasts of chicken that arrived smelling like Christmas dinner. Perhaps the most aromatic dish I’ve ever been served. It was delicious. A hint of lemon to balance the rich flavors in the dish. The meat was moist and toothsome and the biscuits were joyful.

My Roast Pork was likewise moist, the dish itself a study in contrasts. The lean white meat of the pork was accompanied by a crispy slab of caramelized pork belly, dripping fat and flavor equally. A smattering of crispy fried pig’s ears, fresh cold greens, and cauliflower rounded out the flavors. It was perfection on a plate. The fat of the pork belly with the smooth white meat were together a marvelous mouth of food. I’d also ordered my new favorite side, pan-fried brussel sprouts, brown and crunchy and magical. I adore this new preparation of my once most loathed adversary. As a child, the brussel sprout loomed up at me on the plate, bitter and vile, a foodstuff that g-d had certainly developed to taunt me. Who could have imagined they would become the stuff of dreams?

Roast Pork, Pork Belly
& Ear Chips
 Lastly I sampled my husband’s bavette. Tender strips of steak, cooked beautifully pink, so tender the Chef has added texture by pairing the meat with fresh fried potato chips. The sprinkling of greens a nice cool balance to the warm meat as it hits the tongue. I do love a thoughtful bite of food.

It was Mom’s birthday after all, so what better excuse to order desserts? We had three between us. Mom and Dad shared an imaginative take on baked Alaska. They call it Baked California, and it’s a pile of beautiful merengue atop house-made ice cream. A smear of avocado gives the plate it’s California touch. Tasty.

I had a slice of the banana and caramel concoction, delightfully punched up with whiskey and rum. Slices of banana with caramel grilled onto the surface, sitting on a sort of a stiff pudding cake affair, with a sauce of boozed up sugar. Booze, sugar and fruit, it all reminded me in the best possible way of the flavors of a New Orleans bananas foster. Yum.

Banana Caramel madness!

BH is a registered choc-a-holic, so he had the Chocolate. Perfect name, since all he ever does when looking at a dessert menu is look for the word. This made his decision SO much easier. This was a dense cake, made crunchy with hazelnut and covered in a dark sauce that could only have been made of the marvelous cacao as well. Chocolate with chocolate with more chocolate. He smiled and consumed every last bite. We were sated, and happy. And then I began to think...

Memories are beautiful things. They are the stuff of this blog. Pages and pages of my recounted reminiscences of lovely meals spent with even lovelier people. They are gifts life gives us to carry us forward. They are the pillars we lean on in times of sadness. Some last a lifetime, others are fleeting, but together they make up the fabric of our lives.

As the meal came to a close, and we all pushed away from our seats with our tummies full and our heads a little foggy with imbibed spirits, I couldn’t help but recognize a sad truth. My Step-dad. He’s been suffering from Altzheimers for a few years now, so his memories are being taken from him in ever-increasing numbers. He is visibly slowed now, and often confused. Slowly and persistently, this terrible disease is removing from his life that which I hold most dear. What must it be like to lose the gift of recalling a favorite shared moment? The recollection of a smile from a loved one fading into oblivion? I began to grow sentimental, and was momentarily saddened by the thought of his losing recall of those things that are the threads that bind us to those we love, shared experiences. It broke my heart a bit.  
Chocolate anyone?

But we aren’t quite there yet. He’s still with us, still telling his famous jokes and stories. Sometimes he tells them more than once, but we all laugh just as loud the second time. That’s the only gift we can give him at this point. The only way to combat such a disease is to compensate. To make more memories, to live in the moments that we have, and to be his collective memory for as long as we can. We can still share a meal. We can still recall and repeat for him that which he can no longer summon for himself. And so we do.

When I suggest to my readers that they should make a memory, perhaps now they won’t hesitate. I strongly suggest to all, that you not wait until a tomorrow you may not have to experience something you may wish to enjoy. Every day when you break bread, look across the table and be grateful. For the faces that smile back at you while they are still there as you enjoy a meal.

My advice today is to enjoy it at Haven. Chef Alter’s grasp of the perfect repast is significant, and Matt Tinder is no slouch at designing treats for those with a sweet tooth. Check it out. Make some memories of your own.

44 Webster Street
Oakland, California 94612
(510) 663-4440
Chef: Kim Alter
Pastry Chef: Matt Tinder