The Grand Tavern, Oakland CA
Monday night can be the most challenging to find a good restaurant for dinner. If you’re looking for a restaurant that’s better than good, you’ll be even more hard pressed. Luckily there is The Grand Tavern, a gastropub with New American cuisine and a cozy venue that’s bustling with the sounds of happy patrons every Monday.
Almost wagging their fingers at restaurants closed on Mondays, The Grand Tavern offers Happy Hour all day long for just about everything from the bar. With that incentive, we tried a cocktail named for a hummingbird in Spanish, el colibrí. Delicately tart and mildly effervescent with pisco, lemon juice, hibiscus liqueur, peach bitters, and sparkling torrontés, the light taste belied the strength! It was very tasty, but should be sipped gingerly.
Californians can’t get foie gras so easily anymore, but at least there’s still pâté. This duck liver with bourbon was layered with house-made blackberry jam and served with Acme garlic toasts. The bread was toasted just enough to provide something substantial to bite through, as opposed to shattering when bitten (as crostini sometimes does). Enough about the bread, the contents of the Mason jar were the star. The mild mineral flavor of the pâté was enhanced by a medium herb background and faint bourbon essence. Pâté and good bread is already a nice starter, but the blackberry jam set it far above average with a dark sweetness to balance the liver.
King oyster mushroom in paprika tempura were a delightful vegetarian nibble after the intense pâté. The crispy breading coated thick mushroom slices with excellent texture that was nowhere near mushy. The bites were salty and lightly spiced, not spicy, but all three of the sauces had their own kick. Salsa verde had mild flavors with a medium burn, while jalapeño chutney was more tangy and salty with a strong jalapeño flavor rising above the heat. The spiciest was the creamy habanero aioli; August, who avoids spiciness when possible, thought the aioli was “super tasty, but what a burn!” She really wanted a second mushroom with aioli because the flavor was that good, but the heat kept her back.
The beets in this salad really helped cool down our mouths after the mushrooms’ sauces. It’s important to get more vegetables than just tempura’d ones, anyway. The braised golden beet salad on arugula had called out to us from the sumptuous selection, and ended up coursed perfectly to relieve the heat. Toasted pumpkin seeds, fennel frond, fat blueberries, and faintly tangy citrus dressing complemented the sweet, earthy beets and the zippy arugula.
Where there is lamb, August tries it. In this dish the shoulder was tender, savory, and not gamey, mixed in with al dente rigatoni noodles. Meaty mushroom slices joined the fun, and the sunny-side up egg provided a soft tender element. Tomato, yellow onion, and chili flakes made up the chunky sauce, but it was garlic, one of the most important ingredients in the world (tied with chocolate), that brought everything together.
Zach’s chicken was “very, very juicy” with subtle harissa flavors. The tender chicken rested across corn and mashed potatoes, but not just any corn and mashed potatoes. The corn was sautéed with cherry tomato halves and wild arugula, resulting in a sweet, crisp, and exceptionally fresh side. The mashed potatoes were rich with butter flavor and an intriguing horseradish aftertaste. Jalapeño chutney made an encore appearance here, showing its range in pairing with other ingredients.
Because the restaurant tries its best to work with the seasons, the menu changes somewhat often. Frequent diners will never tire, and first-time guests will have different stories to share about their wonderful meals and beverages. And, of course, one thing we can always rely on is that it’s open on Mondays.