As soon as I walked into ~PLUM~, Daniel Patterson’s latest restaurant (his third) that has opened in Uptown Oakland, I was like, “Oh, wow.” I immediately wanted to beam it all up and teleport it to SF (sorry, Oakland). Designer Scott Kester’s interior is dramatic, with a suspended oval light fixture made from copper tubing that looks like a twinkling spaceship, chunky elm chairs and communal tables that made me think of Avec in Chicago (a fave), and two walls with images by Catherine Wagner of X-ray cross-sections of plums—the large pieces reminded me of a futuristic fruit keyboard of sorts. I dug the terrarium-like arrangement of plants in the front corner of the oddly shaped, almost trapezoidal building. The walls are a deep color, and upon closer inspection, had the mottled appearance of the skin of a Santa Rosa plum. Some of the design elements felt very Northern California, but with an edgy and late-night subtext.
Groups of diners will obviously have to gravitate to the larger communal tables, but if you’re solo or a twosome, the counter overlooking the open kitchen is where you’ll want to park it. The kitchen is quiet, super intent, and utterly fascinating to watch, with much painstaking plating to witness (and many tweezers in effect). To be honest, I expected the style here to be more casual than it is—but nope, that beef cheek and oxtail burger I was wondering about wasn’t even on the evening menu (you have to specifically ask for it—but you will see it on the lunch and late-night menus). But here, it’s not about “getting the burger.” Far from it.
There are four $4 snacks to choose from—start with the duck rillettes on crostini (which were a smidge too oily)—shockingly only $4 for four toasts. And try the tender wild green panisse, such delicate fried batons of chickpea batter (with added texture from dried chickpeas, and spiked with a nettle pesto) that you dip into a small pool of housemade yogurt with mint. The potato chicharrones were clever, but in the end, I say give me the pig skin, thanks.
One of the most scintillating dishes in the “to start” section was the leeks vinaigrette ($10), a horizontal and ceramic Heath plate paved with fresh goat cheese from Andante and a touch of crème fraîche, a canvas for an artfully arranged garden of leeks dressed in olio nuovo, perked up with fronds of peppercress and thinly sliced rounds of radish, plus a smoky note from the sprinkling of ash of charred leeks. Captivating balance in this dish. Contrastingly, the Monterey sardines ($10) ultimately tasted too oily and needed more acid in the dish (the portion also felt a bit skimpy).
Full disclosure: I’m a bit fatiguée of beet salads on menus, but was ultimately thankful when the kitchen (hell, they were right in front of us) insisted we try the roasted beets ($12), with thimble-sized Brussels sprout halves in garlic butter, with the crunch and tang from delicious ribbons of kohlrabi “choucroute” (it’s lightly pickled for four weeks—and is reportedly turning up in a pork Reuben on the late-night menu), and a citrusy punch of supremes of cara cara orange. I could eat vegetarian for days on plates like this. Same goes for the decadent young carrots ($12) cooked in hay and brown butter, finished with crunchy chicory root that’s toasted and then ground, plus pickled garlic and wood sorrel.
Nothing tooooo funky, right? Well, it’s time to get molecular on your ass. The oyster and potato stew ($12) could benefit from some quotes around the “stew,” because what arrives is a bowl of thick and fluffy (and lukewarm) onion soubise-meets-potato-spuma. One we got past the unexpected tepid temperature, the creamy texture quickly proved to be quite irresistible, velvety and rich, hiding succulent barely-cooked oysters within, rye croutons, little wisps of frisée, chervil, and dill, all dusted with piment d’Espelette. It was like talking to someone who isn’t very hot to look at, but packing loads of charisma.
Besides the leeks, the other dish that especially turned my crank was the slow-cooked farm egg ($16). The base of the plate is a bed of fried farro cooked with smoked onion and garlic, which then gets a hearty douse of stock made from smoked chicken (which was totally THE STUFF, the business, the shit), pieces of smoked chicken folded in, shaved fennel and radish, and the most custardy egg nestled on top, slow cooked for 45 minutes at the magic 63 degrees. And of course some foraged green something somethings on top. I no longer wanted to share with my dinner guest—I was ready to pull a convict hunch over the bowl and eat the whole damned thing myself.
While we were excited for the roasted pork ($18), I couldn’t get past the bitter note to the dish, and the meat was underseasoned. Hrm. Funny how the meatiest dish here was my least favorite.
As someone who eats out a fair amount (cough), I was really taken with the quality of all the ingredients (and their artful assembly on each plate), and at a tariff that is a far cry from fine dining. Plum offers total ingredient luxury, showcased with so much precision and technique, but at a price that feels very fair, and at some points, generous. This kitchen crew shows very deftly how much vegetables can kick ass.
When I dined there, it was a transitional time, with dishes from both the newly hired executive chef Charlie Parker (whose food blew me away when he was at Cellar Door Café in Santa Cruz), and from director of operations Ron Boyd, collaborating with Daniel Patterson—a total trio of talent. I have a feeling the menu will be constantly adjusting, especially with the seasons.
Pastry chef Deanie Hickox’s desserts are pure beauty, with a delicacy and wispiness that harmonize effortlessly with the aesthetic here, like the graham cracker cake ($9) with buttermilk ice cream, dollops of lemon curd, honey, and cigarette-sized batons of toasted meringue sticks. I was also happy to see the cheesecake in a jar ($9) make its way to Plum, with poached quince, teeccino crumble, and vanilla cream. Both are complete culinary courtesans, tempting you to indulge at the end of your meal.
Earlier in the evening, the crowd skewed on the older side (not sure what was at the nearby Paramount Theatre that night), but as the evening went on, the lights dimmed a bit, some industry people started winding their way in, and the music—a cool sound bouncing around from Manu Chao to Little Dragon—dialed up a notch. The kitchen serves until 1am (support it or it’ll go away, people!), and once their neighboring bar opens up in May or so, late-night business is sure to be even brisker. But for now, if you do wander in after 10pm, you’ll find $3 PBR tallboys on the menu, and the kitchen will possibly try out a few new dishes on you, asking what you think. There’s also a more casual lunch service.
Also, new to Plum is a five-course tasting menu for $59, available at the counter only. It’s designed to be very handcrafted and personal, with the chef serving you directly. (You can get wine pairings for $30.)
Service at the counter did pose a few challenges since it’s not as easy for servers to read your eyes and body language about whether it’s okay to clear, or if you’d like to order another glass of wine, because hey, you have your back to them.
I was really fired up on Andrew Mosblech’s food-friendly wine list, with many of the organic and natural wines I love (hello Occhipinti SP68)—geeky friends will be entertained. Pours did feel a touch on the smaller side, so maybe order a “flask” if you want to savor more of your moschofilero for a bit longer. Which, in this chic and atmospheric space, I certainly wanted to do.
NOTE: Your check will automatically come with a 16% gratuity added on—it’s shared with both the kitchen and servers. I know, I know. Pretend you’re in Europe, with “service included.”