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Where to Eat Now: Eating, Drinking, and the Other Way Around
Rebecca Flint Marx, Josh Sens, Sara Deseran | Photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink | July 23, 2015
Bar or restaurant? You be the judge.
Read more of our ultimate Where To Eat Now guide here.
Ambitious cocktail programs play such a central role in today’s youthful restaurant scene that it’s often hard to tell where the bar ends and the dining room begins. The trend has given rise to a bumper crop of hybrids, none better than Starline Social Club (2236 MLK Jr. Way, Oakland), a bar–cum-restaurant–cum–performance venue on an otherwise lonely stretch of Oakland’s Grand Avenue. Located in a building that the owners claim opened as an Odd Fellows hall in 1893, it’s a cavernous, appealingly bare-bones place outfitted with raw plaster walls, a few potted palms, an impressive stamped-tin ceiling, and a shiny glulam bar that unfurls like a fat length of ribbon.
The creation of a trio of local artists and Ramen Shop co-owner Sam White, the place serves bar food, but only in the sense that you can eat it at the bar while drinking. Nowhere on its ever-changing menu, which is the work of Pizzaiolo vet Austin Holey, will you see the regulation burger and mac ’n’ cheese seemingly served at every other watering hole to open in Oakland over the past five years.
Instead, you might find a plate of grilled beets and avocado showered with nutty dukka ($12); plush pink tiles of rockfish carpaccio tricked out with olives, baby fennel, and sea grapes; and a morel-and-cranberry bean ragù, its rich, earthy cargo leveled by a healthy shot of harissa. Cocktails are of the potent variety: Despite its kiddie pool name and fruit cocktail ingredients, the Banana Boat, a mix of Navy-strength Jamaican rum, banana liqueur, orange cordial, and citrus, induces adult-strength inebriation.
Along the Oakland waterfront, the Dock at Linden Street (95 Linden St., Oakland) is a lively port of call—part watering hole, part eatery—adjacent to the small-batch Linden Street Brewery. Its menu is a melting pot of booze-friendly food from James Syhabout of Michelin-starred Commis, whose high brow–low brow cooking ranges from linguica corn dogs and Korean rice bowls ($16) to softshell crab po’ boys and jerk chicken wings whose habañero fires are best extinguished by a craft beer—or three. There are plenty of them, too, some imported by the bottle, but the best are brewed locally and pulled from a tap. Grab a seat in the warehouse-chic surrounds of the beer garden, armed with a half dozen oysters and a Czech-style pilsner brewed in Alameda. You’re forgiven for forgetting exactly where you are. A restaurant? A bar? The East Bay? Berlin?
Aatxe (2174 Market St.) doesn’t do poulet basquaise, but its kitchen whips up all manner of “Basque inspired” dishes. That’s chef Ryan Pollnow’s term for his tapas-driven menu, which, for all its X’s and other exotic spellings, offers plenty of California, too. The varied host of options ranges from pintxos to seafood conservas to hearty cazuelas, pulling influences from here and there along the way. Patatas bravas are much like the kind you’d find in San Sebastian.
Ditto the gambas al ajillo ($13), sweet sautéed prawns with a chili-and-garlic spike. But crisp-coated croquetas, while Spanish in name, are West Coast characters at their core, their starchy centers fleshed out with morels and ramps. In true tapas tradition, Aatxe puts an emphasis on lubrication. To call its gin selection fetishistic gives short shrift to a bar that’s backed by 54 varieties of the spirit. A color-coded menu groups them by style and shouts out to the tonic that mixes best with each. No matter where you sit—the bar, the kitchen counter, the main dining room—you’re treated to a soundtrack whose pumping base and cranked-up volume suggests a place that aims to be a late-night hangout.
That’s not misleading: Aatxe is located in the Swedish American Hall, which also houses Cafe du Nord, the historic concert venue, newly renovated and hosting live music. But step into Aatxe, with its clamorous acoustics and its young patrons crowded around a riot of small plates, eating and drinking—or drinking and eating—and it’s clear that this tapas joint is a party unto itself.
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Prix Fixe Holdouts and Casual Refinements: Fancy still has its place.
Keeping it in the Family: Platters are the new plates.
Destination Neighborhood Joints: Local spots with wide-ranging appeal.
France, Now and Forever: The bistro still abides.
Eating, Drinking, and the Other Way Around: Bar or restaurant? You be the judge.
Next Wave Asian: Redrawing culinary borders.
Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco