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Nov 10, 2007 09:14 PM

Flora Report (Downtown Oakland)

Grocerytrekker had asked for reports on this new spot from the Dona Tomas team, located in downtown Oakland, across from the hopefully someday to reopen Fox Theater, and posted the menu:

.....well, I had to fly in to Oakland this afternoon after my business trip to Palm Springs, and hubby nicely offered to come get me in the rain, if we could have dinner in Oakland after before tackling the bridge. Seemed a perfect excuse to try this new spot...Hubby was warned when he made the reservation that they don't yet have their liquor license (apparently it is coming next week), but that was fine with us, just as well not to drink with all the crazies on the road who have forgotten how to drive in rain.

We were able to park almost in front (the neighborhood may be up and coming some day, but isn't quite 'there' yet)...and seated immediately for our reservation at one of the nicer two tops along the window. Two tops in the middle of the room are very closely spaced, so definitely request one on the side. For larger groups, there are some nice booths in the corner.

First impressions: very, very positive. The space, which hubby for some reason thinks might have been a flower mart (?) has been restored in an art deco style, and is absolutely beautiful. Easily the most attractive restaurant in Oakland, IMO (but then I am a sucker for art deco). Since I work nearby, I look forward to having an after-work martini at the bar along one wall, when it is able to serve me one (there are also a few loungey tables in the bar area....


Rest of our impressions after that first good one: eh. While I would go back for the atmosphere, I'd be reluctant to dine there unless it improves....basically, the food and service left us cold.

And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Granted, I was still in light, Palm Springs clothes, but I did have a jacket and kept it on the entire meal, and still shivered! Hubby NEVER gets cold and even he conceded that the room was a bit 'chilly'.

Service was fine, and pacing seemed good (the place wasn't at all crowded) but there were a few glitches that they can and probably will work out: we never were offered bread or any bread substitutes (nor did I see any going to any other tables); we were brought individual salt and pepper dishes but no little spoon (did they expect us to shake it out of the little bowl, or use our fingers to grab a pinch?); two dishes were served in flat low profile bowls but with no plate underneath to catch a drip or to hold a knife or spoon when not in use.....basically, all of these were minor but gave the impression of a work in progress.

But it is the food that counts: and again, our reaction was mostly 'eh'...

Hubby started with the little gems salad, with potatoes, hard cooked egg, caramelized shallot, shaved pecorino, and black truffle vinaigrette: the better of our two starters, though I thought it was slightly overdressed and certainly couldn't taste any truffle. Not a bad salad, however.

I had the potato/cabbage soup of the day, which was vegan. Ordinarily, potato soup is not a favorite dish of mine, but I was soooo cooollld that I needed soup (yes, this one was served hot, not cold). It was simple but reasonably tasty.

Mains: hubby had the 'pan roasted duck breast with fig and port reduction, wilted cabbage, sweet potato puree'. The 'sweet potato' puree was almost surely pumpkin, which was fine though some might not be happy with the stronger, less sweet taste of the pumpkin. The figs were good, the port reduction added nothing to the dish, and the cabbage was MIA. Hubby did find a bit of spinach hidden under his figs, however. Portion seemed a bit small, particularly since we had seen the same dish go to a neighboring table with much larger portions and with some evidence of cabbage (perhaps they ran out ?) Most importantly, the duck was somewhat overcooked and rubbery. Not a success.

I had the 'pasta norma - bucatini, eggplant, olives, marinara, ricotta salata, olive oil
with crisp pork and beef meatballs'. Unfortunately, the only part of the dish I truly enjoyed was the eggplant,which had a lot of flavor. The pasta was al dente, but the sauce wasn't memorable. As for the meatballs: well, let's just say that it would take more than some tweaking before Pizzaiolo has to worry about any competition from these...crispy would have been fine, but these were just plain dry and way overcooked, with cumin and other spices: with my eyes closed you could have easily convinced me it wasn't meat at all, but rather falafel...

Ok, so far dinner hadn't been a hit so far. Still, I loved the room so much that I was hoping dessert would redeem it. As it happens, close, but not quite. Hubby had the affogato, made with cardamon ice cream and Blue Bottle expresso. Can't really go wrong there, though I am not sure the cardamon added much. I had the apple galette with butterscotch ice cream. The galette filling was nearly perfect: right balance, not too sweet, delicious. Indeed, this dessert would have been outstanding, were it not for the fact that the crust was too thick and seemed clunky. ( I've made better crusts myself, and if that is the case, well, it almost has to be clunky...) The ice cream was fine but not memorable.

Total for one ginger ale and all the above, with tax and tip: about $95. Too expensive for what we got, IMO (remember, we had no alcohol). I hope they figure out how to make the food as lovely as the space, but for now, for me this will be probably more of a drink than a dinner destination....If I did get hungry, I might try the burger: it looked great when I saw it going to another table....but even then, I'd probably ask for it very rare, just to try and assure that it wasn't served very well done....

Hope to hear more positive reports from other hounds, but can't say I recommend Flora.

1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

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  1. That lovely blue tile building was once the Floral Depot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lexdevil

      thanks, with this additional info I was able to find the following:

    2. Give them a break - they've only been open a few days - they are from a class act.

      4 Replies
      1. re: marty S.

        Have you eaten there? I'd like to hear reports from people who do. There are plenty of restaurants affiliated with class acts in terms of chef lineage or ownership that I wouldn't go back to because the food doesn't measure up (Mijita in SF comes immediately to mind).

        I am just reporting my experiences; and while the minor details can and probably will be addressed (for example, hubby had read complaints about the lighting on other forums, ie that it was too bright: hubby and I both thought the lighting was perfect and not overly bright at all, so perhaps the lights got dimmed)....but the food, that may be harder to fix. and to me, it is ultimately about the food. Of course, not overcooking all the meat would help, so perhaps they can. Since I love, love, love the room, I certainly hope so.

        1. re: susancinsf

          Well, I finally did get there tonight. As you say it is a very attractive room. But it is cold!!! The windows near the ceiling are nearly all open and I was told that they are stuck that way and can't be closed so if you go on a cool night bundle up. They needed heat lamps or something.
          As for the food, it has a way to go to pass muster. Too much salt is my biggest criticism. One of our party sent back their duck breast because the salt made it inedible. I had the steak which was also too salty but not at all overcooked. All of us agreed that the sides were very good but the salads not so much. I think they are struggling a bit but I still say it's too soon to give up on them. I can see the potential and they were also very open to our critiques and did comp what we didn't eat. We were there pretty early and the place was pretty full and getting more so. I certainly hope they can pull it together. I will go back again in a few weeks.

          1. re: marty S.

            not sure what to think about those windows. I remember looking up and around to see if any where open as an explanation for the cold, and didn't see any that were, even though we did look, (partially because hubby was commenting on some of the architectual details in and around the window area). Possible that they were open and I missed it, but given how cold I was it seems unlikely. However, if it is true that they can't be shut, it seems like a major issue, especially for a restaurant trying to get its legs at the beginning of winter. (and that probably is fairly difficult to heat anyway, given the high ceilings).

            Hubby's duck wasn't oversalted, FWIW. It would definitely be nice to see them get their act together on the food.

            Did they already have the liquor license? Did you happen to see a drinks or wine list? Curious what it is like....

            thanks for the report back!

            1. re: susancinsf

              They do have their liquor license and the bar was very lively. We didn't have cocktails - just wine. The wine list seemed fine - not outstanding but fine. I heard that the cocktails were very good.

      2. They're finally open? Wow.

        The lunch options look.. not too amazing. The sandwich place in the old Magnin building seems like a better bet in my opinion. (and, hopefully, Lady's Place!)

        1. The original comment has been removed
          1. We had a good meal the other night. Unusual salad of Little Gems and I forget what, braised sparerib appetizer, salumi plate, bucatini alla Norma with meatballs. Everything was good, really wish I'd had the appetite to order more but we'd already had happy hour at T-Rex. Nice space, good service. Looking forward to going back.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Had another good meal. The Little Gems salad includes hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, and has black truffles in the dressing. Good hamburger. Occasional latency in the service, prudent to order defensively (e.g. get the wine on the table, then order the appetizers).

              They have closed those windows. Also added a curtain across the entrance to cut down on the draft through the open door.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I've had two dinners there, and I want to love this place, but so far I just don't. It is inexcusable for a restaurant with prices like that to have such poor service and spotty food. My husband's hamburger was $16 with cheese, and was nothing special. When I asked the nervous and extremely inexperienced waiter if I could get another glass of wine, he replied, "Totally." I felt like I was ordering fries from a fish shack on the beach.
                I hope they get their act together soon.

                1. re: laurenlyle

                  I found Flora's prices reasonable given the atmosphere. $16 is steep for a cheeseburger but cheap for a main course at an upscale restaurant.

                  All the food I've had has been good and the wine list is one of the most interesting in the East Bay. Service could be more polished (and likely will be after the staff has more experience) but we've gotten what we ordered and the hot food arrived hot.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Went to Flora last night. (We actually planned on going to Duende next door but it was closed for a private party.) I want so much to like this restaurant because it has all the elements - hip scene, excellent cocktails, great service, convenient location for me, etc. But every time I go, (about 6 times in the last year, all for work) the food is disappointing. And unfortunately, last night was no exception.

                    I ordered the steak entree and the whole dish, sides and all, came out cold. I generally would have sent it back but I was with business colleagues and didn't want to make an issue of it. The others at the table didn't eat much of their plates either.

                    Dessert I had the cast iron gingerbread which sounded delicious but was so sweet I only had a bite.

                    Flavor wise I thought the food was just okay, nothing special. (In the past I've ordered the burger, chicken, salad, pork and always left underwhelmed.) Yet the restaurant is always packed. The drinks are still excellent and the service was still good though. I'm curious what others have experienced in recent months.