Occupation: Investment Company, Partner
Favorite Restaurant: Bay Wolf Restaurant
Reviewed Bay Wolf Restaurant: Friday, March 9, 2012
When we moved to Oakland from San Francisco almost 12 years ago, the restaurant scene was much more sparse and fragmented than it is today. The choices for fine dining were basically Chez Panisse, Oliveto, Garibaldi’s and Bay Wolf. Since our first trip there, we fell in love with the rustic atmosphere and quality of the food. Bay Wolf opened its doors more than 37 years ago only a few years after the venerable Chez Panisse. Its focus on quality local ingredients continues to this day.
Bay Wolf is in the Piedmont Avenue section of Oakland, which is abuzz with many shops and a variety of other restaurants that run the gamut of cuisines. When you arrive outside the restaurant, it is like arriving at someone’s home, as it is a converted Craftsman. Walking up a few steps, you enter the enclosed porch with tables on either side of the walkway. The interior is simple and rustic with a nice wood bar welcoming you to a clean and crisp interior.
The restaurant only serves beer and wine, so the four of us had a cocktail up the street at one of the other popular restaurants in this section of Oakland. I had requested to sit on the porch area, as I find it a more charming space to enjoy dinner. With the heat lamps and the enclosed area, it is always warm enough to dine al fresco.
The menu changes monthly (with tweak during the month, depending on what is available locally). This month’s focus leaned toward Southern France and, as usual, decisions on what to have were quite difficult. The wine list has a focus on domestic choices as well as mostly offerings from France and Italy. The food is typically focused on the same regions – California, France, Italy and the Mediterranean. We enjoyed a Vermentino from Sardinia while we perused the menu. It was crisp as well as lush, with just a touch of minerality, really delicious. I knew it would pair well with any of the starter choices.
I decided to go with the grilled calamari. It was perfectly grilled and super tender. Accompanying this was a butternut squash-fennel tian that was deliciously seasoned. All was topped with a smoked pepper sauce that accented the dish with just the right amount of warmth and spice. This can be ordered as either an appetizer or entrée. My dining companions had equally tasty starters. Super light and flavorful gnocchi accented with spring peas and asparagus glistened with a beautiful crème sauce. An appetizer portion of the Lyonnaise sausage with French lentils was warm and comforting, my friend who ordered it thought it was perfect. Finally, the asparagus soup was bright with a lemon accent, and not as heavy with cream as you find at many other restaurants.
Onto the main courses. A 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape seemed to be a good choice for all of our entrée choices. Two dining companions had never had a CDP, so this was a chance to show off this wonderful wine region. While the menu changes monthly, there are a few staples – the Caesar Salad and Duck Liver Flan are regulars in the appetizer section of the menu, and some preparation of Liberty Ranch Duck is always an entrée choice. Loving duck, it is one of my regular entrée choices. Tonight’s version was Duck Bourguignon – a crispy skinned leg and breast braised in red wine sauce with bacon and beautiful shiitake and cremini mushroom caps. It was comfort food at its best. A dining companion’s Steelhead Salmon was beautifully seared and accented with a citrusy Tangerine Beurre Blanc. The other entrée choice was a thinly pounded Crispy Chicken Scaloppine accompanied with tangy Lemon Mashed Potatoes and an interesting Endive Slaw.
Onto dessert, as we still found some room for dessert. The Lemon Tart was zesty and accented with a creamy meringue. Next the Espresso Sundae with Tangerine Ice Cream. I generally don’t like espresso desserts, but this was really perfect. The espresso just played a perfect highlight in the background to the ice cream and chocolate.
Bay Wolf satisfies on so many levels – fresh ingredients, simple yet elegant preparations, and prices remain very reasonable for the quality. Oakland’s restaurant scene has exploded over the last ten years. New places continue to pop up weekly. While some of the new restaurants could be considered more “unique”, hipper, and have a higher buzz factor, we continue to be drawn to Bay Wolf more than any of the other choices. Walking into this lovely Craftsman, it is like walking into a best friend’s home.
Occupation: Graduate Student
Location: Palo Alto
Favorite Restaurant: Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill
Reviewed Bay Wolf Restaurant: Friday, March 2, 2012
I wanted to love Bay Wolf, but it fell a bit flat for me.
AMBIANCE: Super cute and rustic. My dining partner and I chose to be seated on the outdoor patio, under the heat lamps. Crowd was quite eclectic-- we were surrounded by older couples and groups (I'd say well into 50s-60s), but I saw a bunch of (hipster-ish) duos in their late 20s-30s on the other side of the deck. Tables are fairly close together, and as a result you can partake in all the intimate details of your neighbors' conversations. We overheard topics that ran the gamut, including an uber-Republican group (older) who lamented that a potential Obama reelection would equal the end of the US (word for word: "If Obama gets reelected, the US will turn into Greece; it will be unsafe to go outside!.") Seriously?!
SERVICE: SLOOOOW, but with a smile. Our server was really friendly, but man... our meal felt like it was crawling at a snail's pace. I understand that they want to give patrons time to chitchat, but come on! We had to wait a while for everything (including water refills), which I didn't expect at a place like this.
***Duck Liver Flan ($8.50): Quite the misnomer. I thought we were in for something super unique/new age-y, so imagine my surprise when a slab of duck pâté presented itself. I got over this pretty quickly, as this appetizer was delicious. The grilled Acme bread, pickled onions, and peppercorns studding the surface of the pâté really made the dish. The liver on its own had the usual slightly fishy/gamey undertones, but the sweet/sour/tartness of the onions, and the slight spice of the peppercorns enhanced the meaty flavor, and really cut through the richness of the liver. The crunchy bread, crispness of the onions and slight bite of the peppercorns added that extra sensory dimension of textural contrast to make each mouthful absolutely delightful.
- Duck Bourguignon ($22): You get a lot of duck in this dish-- 2 sections of breast and a whole leg on top (which was very good). Unfortunately, the duck breast was poorly prepared IMO; it was slightly undercooked, lukewarm, and stringy/tough. The meat was also bland, and couldn't even be helped by the additional flavors of the broth. Speaking of the broth, it had great depth of flavor-- definitely the highlight of the dish... just not enough to rescue it completely.
- Ragout of Spring Lamb ($22.50): Portion size was smaller than I expected, and again, the meat was bland and slightly stringy/tough. The lamb was also quite gamey (at least to me), but tasted fine if you could manage a bite that contained a bit of everything on the plate. The best thing about this dish was the sauce. I sense a theme here!
- Strawberry Semifreddo ($8): A very nice, light way to end the meal. You get three scoops of strawberry semifreddo, and chock full of fresh strawberry bits. I could've done without the chocolate sauce on the bottom of the plate, but the meringue and pistachio pairings were quite nice.
OVERALL: I can see this being a neighborhood spot for Piedmontians; I think the prices are fairly reasonable for the area and for what you get. The only thing that really impressed me about Bay Wolf was the duck liver flan (and the sauces); I doubt I'll be returning, especially since it’s pretty far for me to drive out to, but I wouldn't be against it if someone suggested it for dinner.
Occupation: Insurance Professional
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Green Chile Kitchen
Reviewed Bay Wolf Restaurant: Tuesday, March 8, 2012
My wife and I decided to spend the night before my birthday out with friends at a new restaurant. Neither of us had been to Bay Wolf in the Piedmont neighborhood of Oakland. It was our first time in Piedmont, and we were impressed by how pleasant it was to walk around the area. As we approached the restaurant I noticed that it was an old Victorian house with a newer structure in front that turned out to be a wraparound enclosed deck. As we walked up the entrance staircase we found ourselves in the middle of the deck facing the old front door to the Victorian house. The deck is filled with tables and heated with gas lamps. As we walked in the door, we were greeted immediately by the host. We were then seated back out on the deck, as were most people. It was a very nice space. The wood enclosed walls looked like they could open up to the outside on warmer nights.
We quickly ordered two cocktails: Lobo Beso, a pomegranate and sparkling wine drink, and I had a version of a lemon drop. Both drinks hit the spot. Our friends showed up and ordered wine and beer. The short menu had many great choices, and we had trouble deciding. The staff was very attentive and helpful during this process. At one point, I turned to look around to take in the room, and the host noticed me looking around and came over to see if the temperature was bothering me.
We decided to share all of the appetizers and all of the entrees. So we ordered the seared Tuna Bruchetta, the Shaved Asparagus Mushroom Salad, and the Grilled Calamari with Butternut Squash.
All three appetizers were excellent. The seared tuna was on a slice of toasted bread topped with olives and was my favorite. I also really like the salad with lemon dressing that really complemented the Parmesan and asparagus. The calamari was grilled and uniquely paired with butternut squash, which turned out to be a great combination.
With the help of the staff, we ordered a wonderful bottle of Pinot from the Willamette Valley. Our entrees were the Liberty Ranch Duck Bourguignon with bacon, mushrooms, crouton and red wine sauce; the Potato Gnocchi with fava beans peas, green garlic and crème fraîche; and Ragout of Spring Lamb with fava beans and fried artichokes. The duck was served in a stew bowl with what looked and tasted like wild mushrooms, and it was very enjoyable. The Potato Gnocchi was served in a white sauce and it was warm and comforting. The lamb dinner was nice with a rich sauce.
We saved room for dessert but had trouble picking just two. We ordered two from the host who took our order. A few minutes later he returned with three desserts including the one we almost ordered as a complement of the house. The Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Crème Anglaise; Strawberry Semifreddo with Candied Pistachios; and the Espresso Sundae with Tangerine Ice Cream were all fantastic deserts. The sundae, served in a cup with tangerine ice cream topped with a warm chocolate espresso sauce, stood out as a highlight of the meal and a perfect way to end our special occasion
In the end it was a great experience that I will be happy to repeat in the near future. The whole experience was enjoyable. It is a beautiful restaurant that is upscale and artistic without being pretentious. The staff was enjoyable, attentive and cheerful. The food was excellent. I thought the appetizers and dessert were a bit more exciting then the entrees, which tended to feel more like comfort food. I liked the fact that they use mushrooms often, which are locally grown and abundant in that area. It was an expensive meal without being overpriced. The noise level was moderate to low, making for easy conversation. Bay Wolf is a great place for special occasions, large or small.