A lot of ingredients can go into opening a restaurant: months of hard work, cashed-in savings accounts, design plan updates, unexpected renovations, a big push from an Internet funding platform.
Well, actually, not all would-be restaurateurs tie their dreams to a Web-based fundraising tool, but wife-and-husband duo Silvia and Cory McCollow were able to open Nido near Oakland's Jack London Square after raising more than $16,000 on Kickstarter.
Despite its digital age beginnings, Nido has ties to the past. It's a "farm-to-table" Mexican restaurant with many recipes that stem from chef Silvia McCollow's family, whose roots are in the coastal Mexican state of Nayarit, northwest of Mexico City.
One of the
Another family dish is the Chile Relleno, a lighter version than what most diners are conditioned to expect. It's prepared with an Oaxacan cheese blend with potato and is served in warm tomato broth. At $9 for dinner, it's one of the best deals on the menu.
Silvia McCollow's kitchen competence doesn't just come from her family. She worked at Old Oakland spots Cosecha and the now-shuttered B Restaurant, and she trained at -- perhaps you've heard of it
At the bar, you'll have your pick of about 10 tequilas, mezcals and -- breaking from the south-of-the-border theme -- whiskeys. For cervezas, such Oakland breweries as Linden Street and Dying Vines are represented alongside a rotating Mexican draft beer (all $5). The house cocktails ($8 to $10) are spins on classics and include three margaritas, with the Margarita la Maxima a standout. During a recent weekend brunch, a Bloody Maria special ($9) with Milagro tequila spiced up the midmorning and paired surprisingly well with beef Chilaquiles al Horno ($13), topped with red sauce, crema fresca and queso Cotija.
Nido means "nest" in Spanish, and the restaurant's interior nods to this theme without overdoing it. It's a tidy, minimalist design with concrete walls, bird cage light fixtures, potted aloe and other succulents, and shipping container sides hanging like blue-collar-tough art pieces. The space is comfortable, but the lack of sound-deadening materials means it can get loud on busy nights.
But it's the lively platos de cena, or main entrees, that really make the noise at Nido. The care of the kitchen is apparent in such dishes as Pollo Sobado ($16): roasted chicken with a smoky chipotle rub, mashed sweet potatoes, Mexican cinnamon glaze and cilantro oil. This isn't a standard Mexican plate of spicy chicken "diablo" with no depth; it's a complex dish with layers of flavor.
Less complex but just as satisfying is the Ollita de Pobre ($14), a "poor man's pot" filled with avocado, pico, house salsa, beans and soft and plump Spanish rice made with organic carrots from Catalan Family Farms in Hollister. The pot, which is almost always on the menu, comes with house-made corn tortillas and a daily protein; try the carnitas if they're making it.
With entrees this good, you want to love everything about Nido. Regrettably, on a recent busy evening, the service was, to be gentle, uneven. The server stumbled over explanations, forgot an appetizer, then had it brought by runners at the same time as the entrees without warning the diners or the runners. Her solution? Throw down a second plate of the appetizer without asking. Also, the check was tossed on the table without a "thank you," "goodbye" or "adios." A shame after such pleasing food.
On a lunch visit a week later, the service was spot-on. A dad at a neighboring table got up to walk his wailing baby outside. The server immediately asked if he could keep the dad's plate warm and put his beer on ice. A simple and sensitive move, one that we hope is indicative of the service at Nido on most nights.
Service aside, the delicious, tell-your-friends food doesn't stop at dinner. Jaynelle St. Jean's PieTisserie is set up in a corner near Nido's kitchen, with a window opening to the street where the baker sells her "random acts of sweetness." Usually, pieces of pie are available at your table after dinner. But if you try a piece for dessert, you'll probably end up taking more than a few pieces home.
How do these sound? Chocolate cream pretzel, with scratch-made bittersweet chocolate cream over a pretzel crust, and the Nido pie, a layered key lime pie with fresh-pressed magenta prickly pear atop a graham-cracker crust. Be careful letting those cool by the window; they might disappear.
The McCollows were inspired to bring in the pie shop when they took a trip to Mexico City and visited a restaurant that had three businesses under one roof: a bar, bakery and deli.
They thought a place where patrons and food professionals could come together in an inviting space with family-influenced tastes was a recipe for success. In a way, they wanted a nest. In Nido, they have one.
Follow Tim O'Rourke at Twitter.com/timothyorourke.
* * ½
FOOD: * * *
AMBIENCE: * * ½
SERVICE: * *
WHERE: 444 Oak St., Oakland
HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturday; brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
CUISINE: "Farm-fresh" Mexican
VEGETARIAN: Options are always available on the ever-changing menu.
BEVERAGES: A full bar offers expanded whiskey, mezcal and tequila selections, along with rotating beers and wine.
RESERVATIONS: They're recommended on weekend nights.
NOISE LEVEL: Cover your ears when it's busy.
PARKING: Street parking
KIDS: No separate kids menu, but plenty of fun dishes are available for them to enjoy.
PLUSES: Find belly-pleasing Mexican comfort food and lots of drink options in a hot part of town.
MINUSES: The service can be uneven.
DATE OPENED: October
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Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.
$ Most entrees under $10
$$ Most entrees under $20
$$$ Most entrees under $30
$$$$ Most entrees under $40