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Great dinner at Oaktown Cafe

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I've hesitated to post about Oaktown because the owner is a good friend, and, in the past, there have been ongoing service "issues". Lou has a pretty solid crew these days and the food is better than ever.

We had dinner Friday night; started with heirloom tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls with pesto and fought over the remaining pesto for our bread. We also had a bowl of wild mushroom broth that was earthy, clean and perfect for the cold night.

I had the porterhouse-cut pork chop that was brined and cooked in the wood burning oven to perfection-crispy on the edges but juicy and tender throughout, served with apple sauce and mashed red potaotes with turnips. (This was the most expensive dish on the menu at $16.50). Everyone else had dishes from the specials menu: duck breast risotto, pork stew and seared sea bass, none of which I tried, but all eliciting "oooohs" of delight. We all were carefully guarding our plates from friendly raids, convinced we each had the best dish on the table.

We ordered 5 of the 6 desserts and shared (the coconut sorbet was deemed too healthy) : Chocolate pot de creme, pear cranberry crisp, creme brule, brownie hot fudge sundae, and due to my chocolate coma, I've forgotten the 5th. Again we argued over "the best" with a 3 way tie between the chocolate pot de creme, the creme brule and the crisp. In the past I've had butterscotch pudding that I swear is the best I've ever had-if it's on the menu, order it.

Dinner for 4 with a bottle of wine, a few beers and tip worked out to about $150. Not bad for a night out and a great, down-home meal.

Oaktown Cafe
4999 9th Street
(corner of Washington & 9th, downtown Oakland)
510 763 4999
Lunch Monday-Friday
Dinner Wed-Saturday (but call first to verify)

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  1. I love that your 4 diners ordered 5 desserts!

    My lunch at Oaktown a few months ago was good, but as you say, the service was loose. Glad to hear there's improvement in that area.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I had two meals in the past month at Oaktown Cafe and both were hugely disappointing. Service was just dreadful—slow for no reason, laconic servers who were simply spaced out. But the food was bad, too. I had a pizza with a beautiful crust but soggy toppings. The whole thing was infused with a bittertasting garlic that made it inedible. My husband's pasta was a little better, but all the ingredients kind of sat on their own. Nothing came together the way flavors in a skillfully made dish do. Our dinner was even worse. A soup that tasted like canned tomatoes, a shoeleather steak, etc. Really no redeeming qualites that I could find.

      There's something so likable about the look of this place and I went there both times hoping to love it, but after those two meals I don't think I'll be going back. Especially when Caffe 817, with it's wonderful daily specials--try the smoked pork chops or fresh porcini salad, is just across the street.

      1. re: augie's pal

        By coincidence over the weekend a friend mentioned that he's been enjoying a lot of meals at Caffe 817. I think he said the cook is from Florence?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Yes. Sandro Rossi is a former electrician from Florence. The menu is very limited and they only serve breakfast and lunch, but everything I've ever had there is wonderful. The food is on par with the best Italian restaurants in the Bay area and I've never seen anything priced over ten dollars.

          1. re: augie's pal

            What would be typical for breakfast?

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Hello.

              I can ditto the good food at Caffe 817. I've been going there for years.

              For breakfast, I can always enjoy their polenta dishes.

              Polenta with poached eggs and Telaggio cheese.
              Polenta with maple syrup.

              In addition,

              a nice fruit salad (good over granola).

              Croque Madam

              Excellent espresso drinks. They use Illy coffee.

              Try the lunch specials.

              Usually a pasta, polenta or soup dish.

              Can't ever remember having a bad meal there.

              Hope you have the same experience.

              Also, try Nizza la Belle in Albany (on San Pablo
              near Solano).

              1. re: Larry Yung

                Ooh, the polenta eggs sound wonderful. Thanks for posting, Larry.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I usually drink a single expresso, but one day the guy
                  behind the bar was taking a break and drinking a double cap. I had one too.

                  His "special" double cap is 2 short espresso shots, so
                  the espresso will be less bitter and the usually 1/3
                  steamed milk and 1/3 foam.

                  He tops it off by drawing a design on the foam with a chocolate syrup he makes from Schaffen Berger (sic ?) chocolate, sugar and something else. It's pretty good.

                  If he has time, he might do it for you.

                  BTW, if you like Caffe 817, do try Nizza la Belle in
                  Albany. It's a sleeper for breakfast/brunch. The place is usually pretty empty though. The lady behind the bar does excellent espresso drinks and the food is
                  good too.

                  Hope you find both places to your liking.

                  1. re: Larry Yung

                    Didn't know it was open for breakfast. I've been wanting to try Nizza la Bella for its provencal specialties...so many places...

                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      After 10:00 am on Saturday. I think after 11:00 am weekdays.

                      Not sure about Sundays, better call 510-526-2552.

                      Southern France/Northern Italian cuisine.

                      Baked Eggs
                      Crepes
                      Pizza
                      Salad

                      All good.

                2. re: Larry Yung
                  j
                  jenniferfishwilson

                  Thx for the breakfast description, Larry! I can see Caffe 817 from my office window and yet have never tried their breakfast. Melanie: let me know when you're going to try out the polenta and eggs and I'll meet you there. BTW I thought owner Rossi was an architect? Also heard the restaurant was originally storage space for Ratto's next door.