Wood Tavern, Oakland CA
Last night we practically closed the restaurant. Despite having 8:45 reservations for a party of four, Wood Tavern is so popular that we had to wait for other guests to clear their checks and leave, which meant we ended up getting home after midnight; we hope you understand why we waited until this morning to post.
Before we even start talking about our wonderful meal, though, we must offer this disclaimer: Lighting was horrible. We improvised and did what we could, but the pictures aren’t as pretty as they could have been if the place was better lit. Dim lighting is “so 1920s” (according to Zach), and one votive wasn’t sufficient for mood lighting at the table, so forgive us for the funky shots.
We were immediately and graciously brought this variety. A “butcher block” and a “cheese board” were at the top of the day’s menu, but we got a combination of items from each. Brillat savarin (French triple crème cow’s milk cheese), head cheese, whiskey laced chicken liver pâté, honey chipotle almonds, sliced apple, and a pair of spreads were all delicious for smearing and placing on the rustic table bread.
We all loved the flavor of the tender pork belly. It was a bit rich for some (hey, it’s fried meat and fat) but that left more for August. With refreshing and tart green tomatoes, feta cheese, Sausalito Springs watercress, dry cured black olive aioli, and chili oil, this was a succulent salad-like treat.
Tiny, tender gnocchi were dressed with roasted wild mushrooms, ricotta salata cheese, sautéed wild ramps (a type of mild onion/garlic), rich and savory brown butter pan sauce, and truffle oil. The delicious mushroom morsels were varied and perfectly sautéed to provide a contrasting texture to the light and fluffy gnocchi. August and Zach already love mushrooms of all types, but our friend Jessica is a super-fan so this was particularly enticing to her.
Jessica ordered the halibut and gave us a taste. On a bed of Yukon Gold potato-fennel purée, roasted wild mushrooms, pea tendrils, and spring onions in a fennel broth, the fish was mild and delicately flaky with a crispy sear. The fennel flavor wasn’t overpowering (it can be too much for some). The mushrooms, pea tendrils, and spring onions melded well and added a lot of depth to the dish.
Our friend Tal picked out the pork chop with guanciale, Yukon Gold potatoes, spinach, fava beans, and green garlic-Marsala cream sauce. His creamy and rich sauce was the favorite at the table, as we all love Marsala. For being double cut, it was not overcooked at all – it was tender, moist, and juicy, so the thickness did not hinder the cooking process one bit.
This fresh, hand-made pasta concealed the wonders within: tomato braised lamb shoulder with tarragon, chili flakes, and ricotta salata. The pasta had a pleasant give to the bite, and did not compete with the texture of the braised lamb. The spices, in particular tarragon, pulled August back to the memories of food during a weekend jaunt to Morocco while she was living in Spain. The tarragon wasn’t overwhelming, and don’t be scared of the spiciness, either; she was apprehensive about the chili flakes, but the heat of the plate was minimal.
Zach was in a burger mood, and he added lots of optional toppings. It’s already served “with all the fixings” like pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomato, but he requested emmenthaler, applewood smoked bacon, and avocado (August is so proud that he’s liking avocado more, because he used to not). The La Farine baguette was artful for the burger and had an excellent crunchy crust with soft insides like a good European-style baguette should, but honestly it was a little impractical if you wanted to eat this like a burger; you can’t bite through both pieces of bread without the insides squishing out. Zach had to resort to a knife and fork to deconstruct it, but it was delicious all the same.
Like we said in the introduction, reservations are a must because the place is so popular, there is no room for walk-ins. Even still, be prepared to wait, because it’s worth it. Parking can be tricky as well, but College Avenue is easy to walk with lots of shops to distract you along the way.