Days after dining at Oakland's new rustic chic Homestead, we're still talking about that meal -- and planning how soon we can return, even though we heedless, reservationless people waited more than an hour for a seat at the counter.
It was worth it.
But next time, we're making reservations, because what you want is one of the small tables tucked into the long, narrow dining room, where soft hues, warm lighting and rustic touches abound.
The creative and culinary vision is the work of Fred and Elizabeth Sassen. He was the executive sous chef at San Francisco's Farallon before moving to Oakland's Camino. She worked at Farallon and Waterbar. But Homestead is its own distinctive self, and attention to detail reigns supreme.
Everything on the small menu is fresh, seasonal and sustainable, from the colorful beet and goat cheese terrine ($11) to the candied persimmons adorning the peach leaf ice cream ($7). They make their own butter, then serve it in tiny bowls with a sprinkling of sea salt on top.
No reservations? They'll text you when a seat is available, from an iPad tucked inside an antique leather-bound book. The restroom doesn't have paper towels -- it has an entire basket of neatly folded small hand towels of white cloth.
And the vegetables are to die for.
We started with a salad of Little Gem lettuce, marinated radishes and assertively briny anchovies ($10), and crispy pork belly with grits and amazing black kale ($14). There's no doubting that vegetable's gourmet cachet, but the lines of punishment and nutrition can cross rather horribly in kale's culinary world. The pork belly was tasty and the grits everything you could wish, but this kale was amazing.
The menu has just four entrees, including a vegetarian option -- a curried butternut squash ($18) with roasted cauliflower, naan and a yogurt sauce. It was a wonderful dish, with bold flavors and bright color.
The branzino ($23) with a Marin Miyagi oyster chowder was tempting, but we opted for the prime rib of veal ($24), which was presented as a tender steak and a rib, with Brussels sprouts and a potato-squash gratin. The veal was fine, if a bit bland, but it paled in comparison to the flavors of the gratin.
There is something very lovely about small menus. You know the kitchen crew is focusing all its efforts on just a few beautifully constructed dishes. And diners can focus on their companions, rather than waffle anxiously about food.
Choosing from an array of four desserts, including a Coconut and Chocolate Baked Alaska ($8), wasn't going to take a lot of brain power anyway. But our choice was made even easier by a fellow reservationless diner, who had spent the wait for a table quizzing exiting diners on what they had enjoyed.
The exit surveys were unanimous -- and correct. The Pumpkin Chiffon Cake with brown butter-cream cheese icing ($7) was heavenly, and when you combined those bites with the garnish of pomegranate seeds and candied pepitas, it was incredible.
The candied persimmons and peach leaf ice cream knocked our socks off as well. It was a winning combination, more than the sum of its parts.
That's true of Homestead as well, where all those parts -- the impeccable service, myriad tiny details and creative flavors -- create a sense of overall delight. You don't even care that the veal didn't wow or that you waited so long for a table, because the whole thing is so lovely.
But next time, we're making reservations.
* * * ½
WHERE: 4029 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
CONTACT: 510-420-6962, www.homesteadoakland.com
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
CUISINE: Seasonal, sustainable California fare
VEGETARIAN: One of the four entrees on this small menu is curried butternut squash ($18).
BEVERAGES: Wines by the glass or bottle, craft beer and Navarro grape juice
RESERVATIONS: Recommended; a few seats at the small counter and a communal table in back are saved for walk-ins
NOISE LEVEL: Medium
PARKING: Parking lot behind the restaurant
KIDS: This is a grown-up place, but teens with adventuresome palates will enjoy it.
PLUSES: Seasonal sustainable fare, creatively interpreted, with incredible attention to detail
MINUSES: If you don't have reservations, expect to wait a very long time for one of the few walk-in seats.
DATE OPENED: August
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