Piedmont Avenue has been one of our favorite neighborhoods since we moved to Oakland. It’s a wonderful place for locally-owned retail. My favorite comic shop—Dr. Comics and Mr. Games—is there along with my go-to fabric store, Piedmont Fabric. (Yes, I have layers.) With fine dining places like Commis and Bay Wolf, Piedmont has been in need of a not-too-pricey dining joint with high-quality, thoughtful food. Newly-opened Homestead Restaurant is the perfect mix of high-quality, seasonal food with weeknight prices (all entrees are under $25).
We were delighted to have a first look at Homestead this past Thursday, only two days after they opened. Owners Fred and Elizabeth Sassen, along with general manager Abigail Reser, have created a warm, bustling atmosphere where you can see the chefs cook in the beautiful open kitchen. From our section, you could watch the pastry chef through an open wall of jars filled with seasonings.
We were Homestead’s guests for a four-course meal with wine pairings, and both of us can say there wasn’t a weak dish on the menu. From start to finish, the food highlighted seasonal ingredients, with tomatoes and corn taking center stage in many dishes, achieving a balance of refreshing and hearty.
We shared the baked ricotta with stone fruit, toast and lardo, along with the shaved summer squash salad with padron peppers and goat cheese. As starters, you can see that the ingredients shine and complement each other. The homemade ricotta is served with a peppery salad of mixed greens—more piquant than your usual mesclun mix. This is a dish where you really need to create a perfect bite: a piece of toast with the cheese, lardo, salad and peach—that mix of salty, tart, peppery, crunchy and fatty. The summer squash salad was even more of a summer dish. The acidity of the dressing really highlighted the absolute freshness of the ingredients. Both dishes paired well with the 2011 Grenache Blanc from Ranchero Cellars in Paso Robles that was chosen for us. This is a wine we will be returning to and our server knew the beverage menu, prepared with Stephen Laborde of Trappist Provisions, very well.
Our second courses were the pan-seared gnocchi with corn and chanterelle mushrooms, and the grilled squid with shell bean stew. Here’s where we see the thoughtfulness of the menu: both courses were a heartier and more savory progression from the first. The pan-seared gnocchi is a very typical dish for a farm-to-table restaurant, since the gnocchi provides a nice flavor base for other ingredients. Here, the gnocchi are perfectly seared—a little crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside. This showcased the meaty flavor of the mushrooms and the sweet corn.
The squid was even more assertive in its savory flavor. The squid itself was seasoned and cooked perfectly, giving it a chance to shine in this dish. The beans and the sausage were almost an afterthought to the squid. When the squid was eaten, the genius of this dish was the broth at the bottom of the bowl. The beans and sausage flavors were in full display with every spoonful. While the dishes are beautifully plated, there’s nothing precious or tiny about the portions. If we wanted to save our pennies, we could have just done the first and second courses and would have been satisfied.
Thankfully, we still had room in our stomachs, because the main courses we tried continued the theme of seasonal, ingredient-driven cooking. We shared the slow-roasted pork with creamed corn and tomatoes, and the salt-baked halibut with potatoes, pickled onions and Hollandaise. Because it was baked in a salt crust, the halibut had a tender but flaky consistency. It’s funny to call a sauce made of butter and eggs light, but the Hollandaise was wonderfully light and complemented the fish instead of overwhelming it. The slow-roasted pork was actually given to us two ways: with thin slices of the loin and a big hunk of the shoulder. It was hearty and well-seasoned, which was a great contrast to the pure summer flavor of both the tomatoes and the corn. The tomatoes were a close second to the ones growing in my garden. I am amazed at their sourcing!
If we were going to get a full sense of the menu, we had to try the desserts. Yes, we’re taking one for our Oakland Local readers! To try the range of desserts, we had the plum upside-down cake and the brownie with a semifreddo. The cake was a rich cornmeal cake, giving a nice heft to the fruit and the side of whipped creme fraiche. I was interested to see what they would do with the venerable brownie and it did not disappoint. The brownie was rich and slightly bitter to contrast with the creamy and silky texture of the semifreddo.
We are so happy that Homestead landed in Piedmont. The overall menu is so thoughtful and the service was warm and knowledgeable. They are doing a lot of things right, especially given that they were only open two days when we went. As a testament to our enthusiasm, we immediately texted a friend whose birthday is coming up and told them we are taking them to Homestead.