Fried Brussels sprouts. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.
Grilled chicken and roasted cauliflower. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.
A report by Dana Eastland. There is much excitement this week on Grand Avenue, with Charlie Hallowell’s ~PENROSE~ opening just across the street from his other baby, Boot & Shoe Service. It’s amazing to think this was the former home of the Lounge Nail Spa and Boutique, now filled with seating for 60 diners, plus 20 more at the bar.
The interior, from Eric Pankonin, is dramatic, with an illuminated, fan-shaped awning framing the wood grill and tall front windows made out of old framing wood discovered within the building during the remodel. The tables, made by Paul Discoe, have a butcher-block heftiness, and the mix of brightly colored metal bistro chairs and cushy leather armchairs gives the space an eclectic feel. Delicate glass lighting from Lee Miltier has an organic shape and is joined in the air by floral arrangements from Flora Grubb. The overall effect is like that of a luxurious but eccentric garden party or exotic conservatory.
The large, dark gray concrete bar, poured by Concreteworks, grounds all this airiness with a timeless sturdiness. At the front end of the bar, be sure to check out the mobile from Ruth Kneass, who carved the piece in “oak for Oakland” (it comes from salvaged white oak beams via Arborica, Evan Shively’s artisanal wood mill). Kneass says, “This is a Northern California story I have been longing to share in the town where I live. It’s a particular honor to be in the mix with Charlie and his merry band of creators.” Just in case you fall in love with it, the piece is for sale, although the artist hopes it will remain at Penrose over the next six months.
On the food side of things, Hallowell talks a lot about how this third project is a move toward a stronger narrative in his cooking. He is looking at the menu as a way to explore more adventurous flavors and farther corners of the globe than at the distinctly Cal-Med Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service. He’s looking more to North Africa and California in the context of cultural and geographical crossroads, where disparate culinary traditions have come together to create something he finds exciting. Even the name invokes against-the-grain exploration: his great-great-great-grandfather was Penrose Hallowell, a Pennsylvania Quaker of Southern Irish heritage who led the first all-black regiment in the Civil War. All that said, though, Hallowell says that basically “I wanted to build a giant fireplace where I could make food that turned me on.”
The head chef is Miles Schaefer, who has previously worked at Rich Table and WD-50, and brings a more analytical expertise to the table. As Hallowell says, “I cook like someone’s grandmother” but Schaefer has a strong background in technique, and the menu reflects this balance. The wood-fired grill drives most of the action, with a menu that is almost entirely either raw or grilled, with raw items like a lamb tartare with olive, horseradish yogurt, and grilled bread; of course oysters,; and a hamachi crudo with za’taar and radish.
As for grilled items, there’s a 16 ounce rib-eye with chimichurri, or a whole grilled fish with chermoula, celery, and golden raisins. You’ll also find grilled flatbreads (not to be confused with pizza, mind you), couscous, and a fried potato cake stuffed with sausage. For a peek at the whole opening menu, head here.
The full bar comes from Cate Whalen, from Pizzaiolo, and the cocktails are decidedly not overthought. Whalen says, “We aren’t reinventing the wheel here. We’re just taking classic yummy things and putting them together.” There is also a wine list and a small selection of beers, though no information was available about those at the time of my visit. The plan is to open this evening for dinner service, and hours are Thu-Mon 5pm-12am. 3311 Grand Ave. at Elwood, Oakland, 510-444-1649.