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Sidebar in Oakland

This new place in the old Trio space on Grand Ave. across from the lake looks like it just opened. It seemed quite busy last weekend, and the website says that it will start lunch service next Monday. It's calling itself a gastro-pub.

http://sidebar-oakland.com/index.html

Two of the three principals are from Zax (see website).

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  1. I'm going to try to go this weekend, the menu looks good, and I always liked Zax.

    1. We went last weekend and enjoyed it. I had a delicious, thick, and well prepared porkchop. My salad was dressed with bland but sufficient oil. My buddies had a burger, yummy soup, and cooked greens. The service was great.

      1. My wife and I just had dinner at Sidebar tonight and had a great meal. We both ordered the burger, which I thought was quite nice. Perfectly cooked Niman ranch patty, simple but tasty garnishes, and not overly fussy or hard-to-eat like you get at some places. It's $10 and comes with oven-baked fries, and I much preferred it to, say, the $13 burger at Wood Tavern.

        The real winner of the night, though, was the "Almond Joy" dessert, which sounds as though it would be some cloyingly sweet confection, but wasn't that at all. It's a chocolate pavé (kind of like an upscale brownie, I guess) served with toasted almonds, coconut ice cream, caramel, and whipped cream. All the components go together perfectly, and somehow it doesn't end up feeling too rich or too sweet. And, unlike those desserts where there's just a random scoop of hard ice cream that just slides around the plate and doesn't really go with anything, here, you get a little bit of each component in every bite. Perfection. One of the better restaurant desserts I've had in recent months.

        Also, for $3 you also get your own little French press-full of Mr. Espresso brand coffee--more than two cups-worth, which I thought was great bang for your buck.

        Wasn't very busy at all on a Thursday night, but I'm sure it'll get crowded once more people find out about it. Pleasant space and very friendly service. Oh, and, whoever picks the music has good taste too! =) We'll be back, often, I'm sure. It's nice to have a restaurant of this quality (and at a fairly reasonable price point) by the lake.

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        Sidebar
        542 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA

        1 Reply
        1. re: abstractpoet

          Went back for dinner tonight and had the roasted pouisson based on the waiter's recommendation. It was tasty! A small chicken butterflied and pan roasted, served over a bed of potato hash (something akin to hash browns) with some whole grain mustard jus. The skin on the chicken was nicely seasoned and beautifully crisp. Distinct hint of celery salt (I think). Anyway, it was a nice dish. Had a nice bowl of mussels too as an appetizer.

          Word seems to be getting out, as they seemed to be doing good business. We got there at about a quarter after five on a Friday night, and they were booked. But they offered us a seat at the bar or by the kitchen--we opted to sit at the counter by the kitchen, which I really enjoyed. Nice to see how everything is made and scope out things I might like to try in the future. Really nice vibe to the place, and the food is honest and unpretentious.

          We tried the Angel Food Cake with Strawberries for dessert this time. It was OK, but not spectacular like the Almond Joy dessert we had the first time we went. Oh, just an FYI to update my last report--they seem to have different coffee now. Still French press, but not Mr. Espresso. $2.50 for a single pot; $5.00 for a double.

        2. I had lunch there last Thursday and was thoroughly unimpressed. My friend and I split the chopped salad and the Spanish shellfish stew. The chopped salad was overdressed and soggy. The smoked mozarella squares were huge and overpowered (and outnumbered) the rest of the ingredients in the salad. The shellfish stew was both bland and over salted. Maybe I should try them again for dinner, but I won't be returning for lunch.

          7 Replies
          1. re: 718eater

            I had dinner there about a week back and was also very unimpressed. I had the same chopped salad and agree it was way overdressed. It needed croutons or something to break up the soggy texture. I could have done without the mozarella, they should rethink the salad and ingredients. There were garbanzo beans in it but probably a total of 3, what's the point?

            We also had the clams, which were fine.

            Mains were the pork chop and poussin. The potato hash with the chicken was similar to home fries one would get with a breakfast, and the poussin was quite small, it was juicy but lacked any real flavor. The pork chop was cooked fine but again lacked any real flavor. Everything needed salt.

            I won't be rushing back. The service was nothing special, no huge gaffes but just barely competent. They seem to keep their prices on the lower end by not providing any vegetables with the entree. Basically your meal is meat and starch and you have to order a vegetable on the side.

            I am crossing Sidebar off my list.

            1. re: Scott M

              I thought the chicken was very well seasoned when I had it a couple weeks ago, and I've only had good meals the two times I went. Sorry to hear others have had bad experiences...sounds like the kitchen is a bit inconsistent.

              1. re: Scott M

                I had wonderful service when I was there, everyone kept checking on me. I ate solo by the kitchen counter which is great for solo diners. I agree the food isn't spectacular, but for the price point it seems to be really good quality. The poussin I had was executed really well by the kitchen. Didn't have flavors dancing off the wall but it was well seasoned and nicely pan fried before roasting. And definitely, the Almond Joy dessert is amazing.

                http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/200...

                1. re: singleguychef

                  Agreed. I think it's solid food, if not "spectacular", and reasonably priced. Probably not a destination restaurant you'd go far out of your way to go to, but a very good spot if you live in the neighborhood. I think there's potential for it to get even better, as it seems they're still fiddling with the menu a bit.

                  LOVED that Almond Joy dessert.

                  1. re: singleguychef

                    Hmm...just clicked the link to your review, singleguychef, and it appears to me that you may have been sitting just to our right the night my wife and I were there a few weeks ago on a Friday. We were at the kitchen counter too. Maybe you noticed an Asian couple?

                    Funny coincidence if that's the case. =)

                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      I remember you guys! I wanted to ask what you thought of the mussels because I love a good bowl of mussels. And what did you think of the desserts you tried because I would want to try another dessert but just want to order the Almond Joy again and again! :)

                      1. re: singleguychef

                        The mussels were good; not "amazing," but I'd definitely order them again. I thought the angel food cake with strawberries was fine...for angel food cake. But it isn't something I'd ever see myself ordering again. The Almond Joy is on a completely different level.

                        I agree with what you said in your review--we almost didn't order it because the description sounded tacky. But man was it good...We were there the week they opened, and the waiter said that the pastry chef had only just developed that particular dessert that day.

                        So I imagine there will continue to be some tweaking of the menu as they figure out what works and what doesn't work...but I think they're off to a promising start, and it's the kind of cozy neighborhood restaurant that I like.

              2. Had a burger w/fried egg at Sidebar a couple weeks ago. The burger was good, with a good soft bun and cooked medium rare. I didn't care too much for the oven baked fries though - they were a bit too mealy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Mr_Happy

                  They'll substitute the paprika fries, which are thinner and more crisp (more like frites), at no extra cost if you ask. I thought both types of fries were fine, but my wife much preferred the thinner ones...

                  I wouldn't recommend getting the burger with the optional bleu cheese, though I normally like bleu cheese on burgers. Theirs is too overpowering, such that you can't taste much else. With gruyere, though, it was great.

                2. I stopped by this place for the first time today for a quick dinner, and I liked it a lot. It's not a place I would go out of my way for, but I was in the neighborhood, and it's a perfectly good little neighborhood place. It reminds me of a less expensive and not as good version of Wood Tavern, which may sound like a criticism but is meant as a compliment. We started with the chopped salad, which, yes is overdressed, but other than that, I enjoyed it -- it was a good combination of ingredients, and everything was tasty and fresh. Next time, I'd ask for it to be light on the dressing. We then shared a couple of burgers, and this burger and fry combo* ranked up at the top of my favorite burger/fry combos in the East Bay. *We asked for the pomme frites that come with the steak instead of the oven baked fries that normally come with the burger, and they were great, they reminded me a lot of the Wood Tavern fries, very tasty, thin and crisp. The burger itself was delicious, though I will note that they undercooked both burgers (the one requested medium rare was much closer to rare, and the one requested medium was much closer to medium rare) -- the meat was very flavorful, the housemade pickles and pickled onions were good, and I liked the bun. They put thousand island on the burgers, though, which I enjoyed but my sister didn't.

                  The only thing that I didn't like about the food was the side of roasted cauliflower that we ordered -- I had to check the menu to make sure that it said roasted, because it really seemed like the cauliflower was steamed, except for a little browning on a corner here and there. I think that the problem was that the pieces of cauliflower were cut way too large, and they were also really under-seasoned.

                  The service was nice and friendly and competent, and it's not as noisy as other places that I'd compare it to

                  I'll be glad to go back for that burger, to try the steak frites (I saw it on a few other tables and it looked good), the salad, and to try the desserts -- the special dessert tonight was an apple galette with brown butter ice cream, which looked amazing but I didn't have time to try.

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                  Wood Tavern
                  6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                  1. Sad to see that they've taken the "Almond Joy" dessert off the menu. Damn, that was a great dessert. According to our waiter tonight, Hershey's legal team made a big fuss, so they pulled it. Humbug.

                    The good news is that the pastry chef is apparently planning to bring it back (tweaked slightly and under a different name) when the restaurant celebrates its one-year anniversary this coming February.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      I know, I was sad to see that off the menu too! But thanks for the heads up about it coming back in another version in February. I don't care what they call it, as long as it taste the same!

                      1. re: abstractpoet

                        I am a little confused. Can't they just change the name and call it something like Almond Bliss? I don't see how Hershey's can control ingredients someone uses, can they?

                        I have seen restaurants offering a housemade peanut butter cup, etc. is it illegal?

                        1. re: Scott M

                          I think the name change is the only thing Hershey would care about. Perhaps the pastry chef is just tweaking it to try to improve it or make it seasonal--though, to my taste, the chef''s original version was pretty much perfect.

                          1. re: abstractpoet

                            When a multi-billion-dollar company's lawyers send you a cease and desist letter, you probably want to drop the whole thing for a while.

                        2. re: abstractpoet

                          Pauline (the hostess) told us that Sidebar received the "cease & desist" notice from Hersey's, the pastry chef had already been thinking about rotating the dessert items anyway.

                        3. I think the food here has improved quite a bit. My first meal here was probably back in April, and very unimpressive (aside from the cocktails, which were superb). I remember getting the duck liver crostini and the porkchop - can't remember what was wrong with them exactly, just had an overall "meh" impression.

                          I went back again a few weeks ago, and everything was excellent - aside from the deviled eggs, which are comically overpriced, everything was very good. The mussels were small but sweet, in an excellent sauce, and I enjoyed the steamed clams and burger as well. Cocktails were superb again.

                          Sidenote: we are getting seriously spoiled with our cocktails in the East Bay. I didn't realize how much until a recent visit to NYC, when I went to one of those PITA speakeasies with the hidden doors and reservations and passwords. The cocktails I got there didn't even come close to the ones from Sidebar, Grand Tavern, Pizzaiolo, Flora, and Adesso.

                          1. Another day finds me on yet another search for food adventure. Always on the hunt for new Oakland eateries (particularly those near my office that offer lunch) I found today's target, Sidebar.

                            Sidebar is a relatively new Gastropub currently occupying the site that formerly housed Trio Bistro and Grill, on Grand Avenue, right between Coach Sushi and Zza's Pizzeria. More interesting to me on this venturing out, was the history of the site. Before it was Trio, it was an amazing French Bistro called La Brasserie. Both restaurants had essentially the same ownership. I never went to Trio, but I spent a lot of time at La Brasserie. Roger Martin was a delightful and handsome Frenchman who hosted the guests. In the years I frequented his establishment, I grew exceedingly fond of him. His wife, Kim, was the chef, and always in the kitchen. She was however, perhaps one of the best chefs I had ever come across. This was 1978, a time when more restaurants had fry cooks than chefs, never mind female chefs, and Kim could easily hold her own against many chefs of today. She was just that good. I can still taste the perfection her Coquilles St. Jaques. I have yet to taste its equal. So hats off to the Martin family. Wherever you are, know you made an lasting and wonderful impression on those of us who appreciate the ritual fo dining.

                            This is what is on my mind when we arrive at Sidebar. The amazing food-karma history of the place smacks me in the face when we enter. It is of course, different now. Nice different, with a large open almost circular bar filling the center of the space. Modern different, with hipster decorations and a youngish vibe. But nothing off-putting. This is what happens when you live in one place for a long time. Things change. It's the way. But I'm here and I'm hungry. So I shake off the Ghosts of Restaurants Past, sit down at a table an give the menu my undivided attention.

                            First up, the drinks menu. They have a nice cocktail menu, most offerings varieties of standards from different decades around the country, recipes from different bartenders. This menu has a lovely little twist: they have a "Classicist" version of each drink, with what one might call the more 'expected' ingredients, and a "Locavore" version, which is a spin on those ingredients that is all found locally or made in-house. I ordered the Clover Club which came in two 'flavors' as well. I requested the Locovore version, intrigued by the idea of House-made Grenadine. Next time I'll try the raspberry syrup. [Classicist: Gin, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, and egg white. Old Waldorf Bar Days, Albert Stevens Crockett (1931); Locavore: No. 209 Gin, House-made Grenadine, Meyer lemon juice, and egg white.] I loved the presentation. The drink was fluffy, light, and gently sweet, (a bit like a traditional Ramos Fizz), but with a strong kick of gin to keep it from being overly saccharine. It was splendid. My Better Half had a Castle Harbor Special, he had the Locovore version as well, which was billed as Charbay Rum, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, and House-made Grenadine, and lime juice. [Classicist: White Rum, lime juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine. The Gentlemen's Companion, Charles H. Baker (1946)]

                            At Sidebar, the bread served is Acme. They offer those big sourdough twists, that can be taken apart into separate mini-rolls. This is my favorite sourdough --- I first had them at Luka's Taproom. The crust is crunchy perfection without being dry, with that soft aerated center that can be peeled away to reveal even more crust. Gotta say we could have used a bread plate though, but we were given nothing but the bare tables. Not a critical flaw, just odd and a bit messy.

                            I think we all ordered the Potato Leek Soup it was cold out, and we were chilled to the bone. It was served piping hot, a velvety cream of potato that tasted like French Onion Soup. It's consistency was good, it had body and a hint of texture, but remained creamy and satisfying. The flavor was excellent, an oniony blend of caramelized leek and potato.

                            I shared two dishes with our Partner in Food Crimes. We had the Jambalaya a blend of Andouille sausage, shrimp, mussels, clams & basmati rice. Being a fan of true New Orleans food, particularly authentic Jambalaya, I was at the same time apprehensive and excited to try what might be a find. Real Jambalaya closer to home! When it arrived it was in no way a letdown. A spicy, seafood-laden dish, perfectly seasoned, rice awash in a flavorful sauce.

                            PFC and I also shared the Roast Pork Sandwich, which was described as seasoned and sliced pork with gruyere and ham. It came with a side of jicama slaw, a well-pickled vinegary affair that when layered onto the sandwich with the jalapeno relish, made it all somewhat similar to a Banh Mi. The soft warm bread over the tender pork meat, , the salty ham blanketed in a thin layer of cheese. The final perfect touch the sweet, hot kiss of the jalapeno relish.

                            The Better Half enjoyed his Monte Cristo Sandwich, a lovely concoction of Niman Ranch applewood smoked ham, smoked turkey, and gruyere which was essentially a "just like mom used to make" grilled cheese, but with a flair all their own. It had a nice little seasonal compote on the side and he seemed to love it.

                            Since we were so pleased with the food at this point, we opted to order a dessert. There were several choices that appealed, but I was drawn to the Cornmeal Pound Cake. I won, and noone was sorry I did. The cake was absolutely stellar. Now, I must preface this with my love of sweet corn. I love cornbread. I love sweet white summer corn. Really really love it. So, that said, this dish was amazing. It had the texture of a medium rough cornbread, moist and dense like a pound cake on the inside and a touch crunchy on the outer, all imbued with the taste of butter. Really an inspired take on an old standard. Add mascarpone whipped cream and voila!

                            We will most definitely return, and soon. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, you should check it out, and as always Bon appetit!

                            (510) 452-9500

                            http://www.sidebar-oakland.com/
                            Dining time: easily back in an hour
                            Table size: adequate, maybe just a tad small
                            Noise level: was okay for us, but with all that wood and windows, it might possibly be too loud for some
                            Cost: Moderate

                            -----
                            Sidebar
                            542 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA

                            1. I went for lunch yesterday and tried their Cuban roast pork sandwich ($10). It wasn't a very traditional cubano / medianoche, bread was just about right but there was a lot more meat, but it was nevertheless delicious. They serve it with spicy pickled daikon, carrots, and jalapeños on the side, stick those in the sandwich and you have a sort of Cuban bánh mì. Came with the oven-baked "fries," which were pretty good considering they weren't fried--similar to British chips but not greasy.