Samantha and Darrin Stevens would feel, if not exactly bewitched, right at home at Bardo, a new lounge and supper club on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland. Remember all those afternoon cocktails Darrin served to his boss Larry Tate in their mid-century modern living room? Bardo’s decor is decked out in the same regalia — and with more cocktail options on the menu than even Don Draper could handle. Downstairs, the main floor could also be repurposed from the punctilious set of Mad Men. The owners, husband and wife team Seth and Jenni Bregman, have conjured up a period appropriate and visually distinctive escape from the 21st century.
Two chefs run the kitchen, Brian Starkey and Anthony Salguero. They started working together about ten years ago at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga where they became good friends. Years later they became co-chefs at Michel Bistro, a French restaurant that used to inhabit the space Bardo currently occupies. When the Bregmans bought Michel Bistro, Starkey and Salguero decided to team up with them to build their new concept. Starkey, in a recent telephone interview, told me that the inspiration for Bardo arrived, in part, from some books that Seth had from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“We were thumbing through them, looking for ideas,” Starkey says. “One was literally called How to Throw a Party.” At first, the food looked “comically plain and unappetizing.” But then they came across a dish called “Covered Olives.” He recalled the moment they discovered it. “We were reading about it, and it was basically pimento olives covered in cream cheese and Worcestershire sauce.” They thought It didn’t sound terrible and might even work as a bar snack. The chefs decided to take really good olives, make their own cream cheese, pimentos, along with an in-house Worcestershire sauce, cover the whole thing in homemade breadcrumbs and bake it in the oven. That’s when Starkey realized, “Now we’re onto something.’
“Then we started to make a few other dishes like that,” he explained. Meaning, using fresh California ingredients to update stodgy or novelty recipes from the past. But they didn’t build the entire menu around these vintage dishes. Starkey clarified their overall intent, “We're not trying to be a themed restaurant or bar. We're only in week three, but I think we're getting some good results.” The chef talked me through some of the specific choices they’d made on the upstairs dinner menu. Bardo calls it a supper menu and encourages their diners to share the courses with the entire table. But if you’re eating out on a romantic date night for two, it’s essentially a prix fixe menu ($59 per person).
For East Bay vegans interested in a seasonal dish, you won’t find a heartier dish than the pumpkin tart appetizer — a variation on a savory pumpkin pie. The pie shell, Starkey explained, is made almost entirely out of pumpkin seeds. “We blend them raw with a tiny bit of coconut flour, water and butter,” he says. The pumpkin mousse is made with tofu and topped with yuba and a bit of fennel. From the first bite, you can taste a melange of global cuisines coming through. Those mid-century cookbooks offered another takeaway for the chefs.