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Feb 9, 2009 04:44 PM

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.

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.

        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.


                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.