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Apr 22, 2007 12:06 PM

Three Great Lunches at Wood Tavern in Oakland

After a weekend of heavy eating, the last thing I need on Sunday afternoon is the "death by brunch" of pancakes, hash and benedict. This is a big part of why I love Wood Tavern - they serve Sunday lunch, not an egg on the menu. Specifically, they do the "holy trinity" of lunch - soup, salad and sandwiches - incredibly well.

The soup of the day is consistently my favorite thing on the menu. The chef really understands balance. My first soup was an Italian barley soup with a wonderful tomato broth, not too tinny, not too acidic; perfectly cooked barley with a slight snap that then dissolved in my mouth; and a delicious, house made sausage. Surprisingly, the sausage served its purpose without dominating the flavors in the soup. My second soup was a cream of asparagus, my favorite of the three. It tasted of spring and had a lovely, silky texture. Mrs. Mousse and I were fighting over the last bite. Finally, I had the minestrone - good, but the least impressive of the set. The broth was delicious, with scraps of pork giving it just the right kick, and the vegetables were cooked perfectly, but the garbanzos were too firm. Regardless, with two fantastic soups, and one that was merely good, I can recommend the soup without hesitation.

If dining alone, order the cup of soup and grilled cheese. I know, it's just about the most mundane thing you could get - soup, sandwich and a mixed green salad, but Wood Tavern gets it right. The grilled cheese is on lightly toasted focaccia, the cheese melted just the right amount and the sandwich has an herb spread that adds to the flavors nicely. Dipping the grilled cheese in the Italian soup made for pure comfort food. The mixed greens salad was not just an afterthought - the greens were impecabble fresh and well dressed. At $10 for a satisfying and well balanced lunch, this is a dish I will order again and again.

The entree sized salads are also consistently good. It's always nice to find a place that takes entree size salads seriously, so often salads are portioned as starters. The Chopped Romaine is a menu standard, with slight variations every week. The first time it was a Greek Salad with chickpeas, feta and olives. Again, I was impressed with the balance. So often, Greek Salads overload on the add ons, and you're left with a cheesy, salty, oily mess, digging for the pieces of lettuce. This salad had just the right ingredient ratios to make it refreshing and satisfying.

The best of my three salads was the house smoked wild salmon and frisee. I'm really impressed that they were busy smoking fish during wild salmon season when the restaurant wasn't even open yet! Wonderful smoked fish, with a fresh horseradish dressing that gave it a nice zing.

Have I mentioned the house made charcuterie? I know, it's like they designed the menu just to make me happy. It's a simple but good selection of rabbit rillettes and smoked duck breast. The rillettes is my favorite of the two - a mellow, rabbit flavor, and just the right amount of fat. The duck breast is cut razor thin and not too smoky.They serve both the rabbit and the duck with crostini, whole grain mustard, and surprisingly sweet, wine pickled onions. At only $5 for one charcut order, it's awfully hard to resist.

Most of the lunch menu is $10 and under, which allows me to try a few different things without breaking the bank. I haven't really tried the "Heartier" dishes like the seafood stew, and lamb sugo top out in the mid teens. The pork belly was well cooked, but I just can't seem to enjoy Niman Ranch pork (the flavor of the pork contrasted with the perfect order of Kurobuta pork belly I had in LA last weekend). I also haven't tried the hamburger, because they use a hard bun (though the fries look great) or the Rueben, because they use Niman Ranch pastrami - bleh!

They have a full bar with good draft beer including Hennipen. Yes, I will definitely be back.

Somehow, I managed to eat here three weekends in a row. They just do everything right - it's the type of food I love and often crave on Sundays, at a price point I don't feel guilty about. The service has been incredibly friendly, and I can tell that everyone there is really enthusiastic about the food. If I worked in the area, I'd probably eat here a few times a week, but for now it's the perfect spot for a weekend lunch.

Try it out. You'll be glad you did.

Wood Tavern
6317 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 654-6607
Full bar.
Credit cards and reservations accepted.

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  1. Great report, Morton! Just a nitpick, though. True Greek salad doesn't have *any* lettuce, just tomatoes and cucumber, with maybe some feta and olives. Only American-style "Greek" salads have lettuce.

    1. well, you almost have me convinced: but grilled cheese on foccacia? Doesn't sound appealing at all! I'd prefer something a bit harder and perhaps thinner (sliced sourdough maybe?) to emphasize the cheese flavor. and didn't the foccacia fall apart when you dipped it in the soup? (can you tell I am not really a foccacia fan?) What type of cheese did they use?

      The smoked salmon salad appeals much more; are you saying they smoked their own?

      5 Replies
      1. re: susancinsf

        I just have to chime in here about the grilled cheese -- it really is amazing. I know, I was skeptical about the foccacia too, but I was seriously wowed by this sandwich. It didn't fall apart at all, and the flavor was perfect. Something that Morton the Mousse didn't mention was their fries -- they have some of the most amazing french fries in the East Bay, and I've discovered that they happily substitute fries for salad. A few weeks ago I went there for lunch and got the soup and grilled cheese, along with some of those fries, and it was the best lunch I've had in ages. On another visit I had a grilled proscuitto and cheese sandwich on a baguette, and it was good, but I don't really love pressed baguette sandwiches.

        1. re: JasmineG

          Thanks for the tip on the fries. I haven't tried them yet, because they come with dishes that don't strike my interest, and they weren't listed as a side.

          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            I always ask about getting fries on the side when I see them on menus, whether they're listed or not! And they didn't charge me any extra, which impressed me (I would have happily paid extra).

        2. re: susancinsf

          Maybe they didn't smoke the salmon, I know they smoke the duck breast in house. I can't remember now. The menu changes frequently, so don't go expecting a salmon salad.

          The foccacia worked well. It was thin, not too bready, and it didn't fall apart when I dipped it. Can't remember the type of cheese, this was about a month ago.

          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            Boer confirms in his review that the salmon is smoked in house. Impressive.


        3. Great post. Another gem coasting beneath my radar!

          1. Does Wood Tavern have a bar? How would the place be for drinks, dinner, and conversation?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Mick Ruthven

              They have a full bar. I hear it can get loud and busy in the evening, but so do most of the good places in the area.

            2. This is the first time I've ever heard of this place...has it been around for years and I have just been driving by it over and over?

              2 Replies
              1. re: oakjoan

                Replacement for Grasshopper. Not open all that long.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  It just opened in late January. And it has a full bar, and would be great for dinner and drinks...I'm not positive about conversation, because I've only been for lunch when it's quiet, but it has high ceilings and lots of wood furniture, so it might get loud when it's packed.