510 Openings Include Mago and Grand Lake Kitchen Dimond

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The open and airy design of Mago, with a punch of purple. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Focaccia with seaweed tapenade at Mago. Photo: Isabel Baer.

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Mago’s potato gnocchi in lobster cream with summer squash and angelica. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Another magician in the house. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The new Grand Lake Kitchen Dimond. Photo courtesy of GLK.

Last Friday, I swung by the newly opened ~MAGO~ on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to take some pics and was so charmed with its colorful, breezy, welcoming style. Mago is former AQ chef Mark Liberman’s first solo restaurant, and he wants to offer a menu and experience that are affordable and approachable, but also technique-driven and highly seasonal.

It’s funny, I overheard people at the bar saying they thought it was going to be Spanish tapas, and others were surprised to find okonomiyaki (two people ordered it after seeing mine!), but really, why does every restaurant style have to be so pigeonholed? It’s his own personal take on what’s delicious, and expect the seasonal menu to rotate weekly with California’s micro-seasons, with some dishes staying on the menu longer. (The name comes from Liberman’s nickname from AQ, which means magician—which ties in with the mural you’ll see.)

You’ll want to begin with their housemade focaccia ($8), which comes with a seaweed tapenade made with Castelvetrano olives, sea lettuce, lemon juice, orange peel, chile, capers, and olive oil, and it’s marvelous. I’d buy a jar of it. There are a couple other snacks, and then small plates that increase in size as you read through the menu to large-format dishes. They are designed to be shared, but I had no problem enjoying the bowl of tender potato gnocchi ($20) napped in lobster cream all to myself, with my first bites of summer squash and angelica to cut the richness.

I posted a pic of the hearty smoked cabbage okonomiyaki ($21), which showcases the heart of the restaurant kitchen: the custom wood-burning grill—they use oak and almond wood. (You’ll smell it when you come in, and will make your mouth water for the beef ribeye on the menu, but you’ll need a couple folks to share it with you.)

Save room for desserts like a Bing cherry clafoutis ($10), so custardy and flan-like. There’s a wonderful cocktail list, from consultant Adam Chapman (Gibson), featuring housemade Campari, Cynar, and numerous infused spirits. I loved my Sbagliato (all $13), which uses housemade Campari made with sumac and schisandra berries. Don’t miss the Toasted Sour, with toasted rice whiskey (plus three other whiskies), kombu- and togarashi-infused sake, yuzu liqueur (and fresh yuzu), egg white, and sea beans. I mean, wow. (“Barkeep, make me another, please!”) You’ll also find a well-chosen wine list, full of small-production, Old World picks, plus some modern Californian selections, and Oakland-brewed beers.

Liberman worked with architect Wylie Price (Ramen Shop, State Bird Provisions, Trick Dog) on the design, which centers around an open kitchen surrounded by counter seating (they leave many seats open for walk-ins), a dining area in the front and back, a bar with seating, and there’s a back patio, but usage is TBD for the moment—it will be more for private parties and an on-site garden. (There are 45 seats total.) The minimalist space is full of light, plants, and pops of purple. The vibe is fun, with cooks serving dishes to guests, and a rock-y, upbeat soundtrack of LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear. Hours are Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 3762 Piedmont Ave. at W. Mac Arthur, Oakland.

Now open in the Dimond neighborhood of Oakland is the second location of ~GRAND LAKE KITCHEN~, from husband and wife, May Seto and Dave Wasem. They’re bringing their popular brunch and American deli-inspired menu, but they also have a full bar, more indoor and outdoor seating, and a private dining room. Look for their trademark warm service, a casual but stylish environment, a kid- and dog-friendly patio (coming in July), and more. Open 9am-10pm every day (except for Tuesdays in the month of June). Brunch 9am-3pm, dinner 5pm-10pm, with an all-day menu served… all day. 2042 MacArthur Blvd. at Dimond, Oakland.