District was San Francisco's first hot-spot wine bar when it opened near AT&T Park in 2007. Part sports bar, part tapas lounge, it quickly established vino as an adult beverage worthy of rowdy crowds. Five years ago, the idea that you could roll up your sleeves and watch the game in a chic warehouse over beef tartare and Bordeaux was a new one.
Now, whiskey is the thing, and District is again setting the bar, this time, in Oakland. Open since April in Old Oakland, District is equally chic, with exposed brick walls, chandelier lights, lux couches and a dramatic U-shaped bar. And the food is equally serious. Stop by after work for a scotch-and-bourbon flight with chevre-stuffed peppadew peppers; stay for a hangar steak dinner.
In all, there are 40 craft whiskeys on the menu sourced from Kentucky to Scotland. They are available by the glass or as flights. True to its roots, District Oakland also offers more than 40 wines by the glass or flight with selections from all over the world.
We went with the aptly named Identity Crisis ($12) a mixed flight of Woodford Bourbon, Templeton Rye and Benromach Traditional Malt Scotch. It was a solid introduction to these spirits, and allowed us to differentiate between grain sources -- corn, rye, barley -- and experiment with food pairings.
I found that the House Roasted Bar Nuts ($5) provided the salt-and-crunch fix you need when sipping spirits. The Tostino's style tortilla chip holding the meat in the Braised Oxtail Sombreros ($7), however, left something to be desired, though the oxtail was juicy and flavorful.
If you like pretty dishes as much as we do, try the Seared Sea Scallops ($14). They were gorgeous and scrumptious. The scallops looked like jewels, studded with caviar and candied jalapeño in a pool of bright, tangy ginger-orange sauce. So tasty.
District's menu is organized by Bar Bites, Cold Plates and Hot Plates. I think the Hot Plates section is where the kitchen shines. Take the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Meatballs. A steal at $11, they are three large meatballs swimming in a charmoula-inspired tomato sauce.
Charmoula is a smoky, irresistible mixture of cumin, lemon, garlic, saffron and other ingredients that is used to dress meat and fish in Morocco and Tunisia. If you ever make it at home I promise you will put it on everything, including salad. It's that good.
The Spinach and Fontina Arancini ($9) was an equally drool-worthy dish. The rice balls were lightly fried, crisp and bursting with flavor. The color alone, a bright evergreen on the inside, was inspiring. All the protein made us long for something green, but most of District's vegetable offerings were fried or dressing pizzeta on our visit.
We got our fix with a simple Organic Baby Lettuce & Shaved Beet Salad ($9), which came with a hazelnut-chevre crotin and a riesling vinaigrette so mild I thought the salad was naked. Still, I was surprised there weren't any gussied up green beans or other such offering on the menu. Not to say we didn't inhale the Mushroom Pizzeta ($16), a bubbling beauty of fontina, roasted spring onions, herbs and mushrooms.
The only disappointing thing was it left us too stuffed to try one of the 12 charcuterie selections and nine cheeses on the menu. Would it have been so wrong to ask for those to go?
* * *
FOOD: * * *
AMBIENCE: * * *
SERVICE: * * ½
WHERE: 827 Washington St., Oakland
HOURS: 4 p.m. to close Mondays-Fridays; 5 p.m. to close Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays for brunch.
VEGETARIAN: Try the Fried Squash Blossoms or Heirloom Tomato Salad and Burrata Tartine.
BEVERAGES: Comprehensive wine and whiskey program with 40 selections of each by the glass. Flights also available.
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate to loud
PARKING: Street parking.
KIDS: No, it's a bar
PLUSES: Most dishes are flavorful and well-seasoned.
MINUSES: Service can be spotty on busy nights.
DATE OPENED: April 27
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