Dark brown linen coasters, miniature tableaus of air plants, candles and ceramic salt cellars along with Heath dinnerware are the small formal touches that enliven the warm, natural decor of the rustic-modern space.
The ample wooden bar extends the length of the dining room and flanks the kitchen. If you enjoy a more theatrical dining experience, aim for a seat that affords you a view of the chef and her staff busy at work. We arrived early on a Monday night and were able to sit directly in front of the kitchen humming along with activity.
Executive Chef Kim Alter (with the purple head scarf) and her staff at Haven
I mentioned earlier that it's important to be as hungry as possible when dining at Haven. This is absolutely necessary if you choose the "Let Us Cook For You" option -- as my husband and I did -- and allow Executive Chef Kim Alter to spoil you with her 4 or 5-course family-style menu that's available for a table of two or more ($55/person for 4-courses, $65/person for 5). We elected to go with the decadent 5-course meal as this would give us a broad survey of Haven's offerings.
The meal began with a simple and delicious amuse bouche of a white anchovy on a crostini with celery root puree. This was followed by a light, creamy fennel soup made with Meyer lemon preserves and pearl onions. The server poured each portion into our bowls tableside, which had been "washed with absinthe" for additional hints of anise.
I hope the housemade Parker House rolls that arrived in between the next course remain a staple of the restaurant, as they're probably the best ones you'll ever sink your teeth into. Salty and toasted on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside, they were the perfect accompaniment to the Little Gem salad tossed in a gorgonzola dressing with celery, jalapeno peppers, and sprinkled with fried chicken skin. A small galvanized bucket filled with deep-fried caramelized Brussels sprouts seasoned with lime, mint and garlic had a delightful sweet and sour tang that reminded us of British "chips" with malt vinegar.
Following these three delicious renditions of classic comfort food was a twist on pasta carbonara. Haven's version with housemade fettucine noodles uses a thick-cut bacon that imparts a deep smoky flavor to the sauce.
Next up was a bowlful of clams with seared turnips and garlic toast, which we used to sop up the rich bacon and bourbon broth. A side of crispy, mildy spicy fingerling potatoes with seaweed, shiro soy, miso -- an unusual combination that worked well -- completed this course.
Here's where we began to feel quite stuffed, but there was more to come. The best dishes of the evening were served to us personally by Chef Alter: a sous vide and confit-prepared chicken (a mix of breast and leg/wing, respectively) with a generous portion of wheat berries and roasted parsnips and carrots in a sweet Banyuls-foie sauce, along with a whimsical reinvention of shepherd's pie prepared with ground pork, topped with a delicate rutabaga-derived foam and fried fingerling potatoes. And there was a savory baked cauliflower dish (garnished with a few raw florets) made with cheese from Andante Dairy and served in a cazuela.
Chef Kim Alter plotting to fill our stomachs to the limit with dessert
We had barely recovered from our main courses when the magnificent dessert courses arrived. The intermezzo was a grapefruit sherbet atop a tarragon custard, but the show-stopper was the baked California. Swirled with airy fennel meringue, filled with vanilla ice cream that rested on a lemony cookie crust and served with dollops of citrus and avocado, it was a sweet homage to native flavors.
When we finally put our forks down and savored the last bite of baked California, we had that same, blissfully full feeling as if it were Thanksgiving in January. Our hearty 5-course meal would have been plenty for three, so next time we'll sample some small plates or bring back a group to share in the bounty. And hats off to Chef Alter for a fine meal; I'm looking forward to the ongoing evolution of Haven.
44 Webster Street
Oakland, California 94612
Phone: (510) 663-4440
Facebook: Haven Oakland
5 pm - 10 pm
Friday & Saturday
5 - 11 pm