I hooked up with Single Guy last week to check out Daniel Patterson’s new restaurant Plum, which opened recently in the area known as DTO (downtown oakland) to the locals or Uptown, depending who you’re talking to. (You can read his informative post here, that boy really does his homework). The dining room seats 45 along mostly communal tables and features an open kitchen with an 11-seat counter. The ingredient-driven menu features new American cuisine and is broken down into four sections: snacks, starters, vegetables and grains, animal, all of which range in price between $3-$19.
I liked the overhead edison bulb lighting, although with the black recessed ceiling, the ambience seemed dark and moody. The darkly stained walls looked vaguely creepy like something from the set of a horror movie. The anatomic photographs of plums by Mills art professor and artist Catherine Wagner hang along the two side walls, tryptich panels depicting a series of plums against a black background. One is of whole plums, we sat by juicy cross sections and all of the seats are hard and edgy, kind of like the restaurant…
We decided to share everything to expand our sampling options. I insisted on ordering the Potato Chicharrones with black pepper and lime ($4), forgetting that my dining partner has an aversion to fried foods… From the looks of the airy translucent tendrils, I expected something akin to the ethereal wisps of pork skin made by 4505 Meats, but these had a dense burly texture, slightly brittle in the manner of japanese rice crackers with not a hint of grease. Predictably Singleguy was not into these, so I had them all to myself. I found the spice mixture and crunchy surround sound sensation to be irresistable. Our server said that the chicharrones were very labor intensive to make, a laborious process involving dehydrating the potatoes and then forming them into the stick shapes and frying them.
The next course was the Artichoke Terrine ($10) which was a lively composition of great beauty. The terrine itself was a slender block of artichoke mousse, topped with creamy Andante goat cheese, chunks of artichoke heart and piles of an invigorating fennel slaw and fresh chervil and served over an olive tapenade which said black olive but seemed like kalamata to me… I liked this, interesting combinations of textures and flavors.
The Chickory Salad ($9) presented a colorful assortment of bitter greens dressed in a date-yogurt vinaigrette and garnished with pomegranate seeds, flecks of fresh mint and crisp slivers of pear. It was a generous portion with a sweet and sour dressing, impeccably fresh but I was glad to let the Singleguy munch away as I am not a fan of sweet salads.
We split a carafe ($25) of Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades, a silky melange of Pinot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Viognier, which amounted to a glass and a half each. It was served in a laboratory beaker with clearly marked measurements, no cheating here!
We debated over roasted cauliflower or an intriguing vegan beet sausage but ended up with the comfortable Olive Oil Braised Cauliflower ($12). It was served over bulghur, toasted almonds and was drizzled with a zesty dandelion salsa verde
Next came the Manila Clams grilled La Plancha with beans and topped with escarole, green beans and heirloom beans ($17). This was not exactly what either of us was expecting, especially with the lettuce on top and beans underneath. An interesting twist on surf and turf… Manila clams are quite small, each one yields a tiny morsel the size of your thumbnail, but the flesh was tender and infused with an excellent spicy sauce.
The burger made from beef cheeks and oxtail ($15) and served on a decadent brioche bun was my favorite.
Inside the burger, look at that buttery brioche bread soaking up the delectable juices. The meat was slow cooked until it was so tender that it seemed to melt in your mouth and had no need for gooey cheese.
I loved the salad, bitter peppery stalks of some sort of green (I think it is kohlrabi) along with autumn pickles made from paper thin slices of pickled daikon and carrots. It was densely textured and had a pungent kick that almost brought tears to my eyes.
Our server encouraged us to try the Roasted White Chocolate Parfait with Huckleberry ($9). It was not super sweet as you expect with white chocolate, but very rich and had a smooth buttery texture that melts in your mouth which paired nicely with the crispy bottom. I thought the serving very small. It was garnished with wispy fronds of fennel and intensely flavorful huckleberries, the mad relative of the mild-mannered blueberry which grows only in the wild.
The service was attentive, although no one identified themselves as our particular server. Perhaps it is a revolving crew, which may explain why they include a 16% gratuity to the bill, thus simplifying the financial arrangements in the end. I greatly enjoyed the creative and artistic fare, and look forward to exploring the menu as it changes with the seasons.