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Pican in Oakland: Review

Last night I ate at Pican in Oakland with two other hounds who may chime in.

We shared:
-Buttermilk fried chicken with smoked gouda mac and cheese
-Bourbon and molasses lacquered duck
-"Southern foie gras" (pan-fried chicken livers with Benton's bacon)
-Crispy smoked pork belly with poached egg and black-eyed peas
-Cole slaw
-Lemon pie
-Chocolate pecan tart

What I loved:
The food was really excellent, skillfully and carefully prepared. I enjoyed everything we ordered, including the surprise star: coleslaw. Coleslaw? Yes, even the coleslaw was great, and a nice break from the fatty meatiness of our other dishes. Our other vegetable option, california collards (trademark!), were solid but not life-changing.

The fried chicken, however, was the best I've had in the Bay Area, bar none. In fact, when they set our shared platter down on the table, I threatened my tablemates with physical harm should they attempt to hoarde the drumstick. Thankfully, cooler heads (not mine) prevailed and we shared--the seasoning, skin and meat was just perfect, exactly what you'd want in chicken: crispy, crackly, moist and salty magnificence. I liked the little sidecar of mac + cheese, especially the crispy bits.

Pork belly was great, especially with Benton's bacon, but "Southern foie gras" was just lovely--I'd have this again each time I visited. And I agree with the poster who wrote the excellent early report on Pican and noted that people who generally turn up their noses at liver or offal might be swayed by this fine dish.

My favorite dessert was the chocolate pecan tart, rightly noted to be of a size for sharing. The lemon pie filling was nice enough, but the crust was too thick for my taste.

Of the intangibles: the dining room was lovely, with well-spaced tables and strangely, not deafeningly loud. Perhaps because I dine mostly in San Francisco, I expect cramped tables and to have to lean in to hear anyone. Oakland, maybe you're on to something?

What I didn't:
Service was very friendly but a bit rough around the edges. We received our entrees quickly...in fact, so quickly our appetizers hadn't appeared. When the server was alerted by the busser, he apologized and asked if we should be served that course after we completed our entrees or as the dishes were ready, and we chose the latter.

The pacing seemed a bit off at times--we spent a while waiting to order dessert and waiting for our check. All in all, the meal had a relaxed pace--I think we sat down near 6:45 and left at 9--but many of our fellow diners appeared to be dining before a show at the theatre next door, so I don't doubt they can speed your meal along if you request it.

So my advice is: go now, but save some chicken for me.

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Pican Restaurant
2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

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  1. Love your report, could you say more about the coleslaw pls? Vinegared style or cream dressing?

    6 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      A light coating of a peppy, cream-based dressing. Not your grammy's picnic 'slaw, this was light on its feet, with still-crunchy vegetables and a kick of heat from jalapenos.

      1. re: pane

        Sounds similar to Bakesale Betty's coleslaw, heaped onto their fried chicken sandwich. Perfect combination.

        1. re: dordogne

          Though Bakesale Betty uses only oil, vinegar, and mustard in the dressing (no mayo, sour cream, or anything else creamy).

          1. re: lexdevil

            Unrelated (well, sorta related)...but I also met my match recently in the Bay Area's best fried chicken sandwich. And it's at Kitchenette, not BB's (which I tried and liked very much).

          2. re: dordogne

            Chiming in about the slaw, which like pane I adored: it wasn't like Bakesale Betty's slaw (which I also love, and I hated coleslaw for many years), the dressing is creamier, and it's less vinegary than the BB slaw. Lots of carrot, and peanut, and wow, just delicious, though the cream dressing is very light, just enough to gently coat the vegetables. I'm glad that we listened to the waiter and ordered it.

            I also adored the chicken livers, and I don't like liver about 70% of the time. I could have had two servings of these, though. And my only complaint about the fried chicken is that there was no thigh (my favorite chicken part), but man, even the breast meat was good, and so well seasoned throughout the meat.

            1. re: dordogne

              not so much like bakesale betty-we use duke's mayo, cider vinegar, buttermilk, sugar and spice, and of course lots of love

        2. This sounded great. After trying Brown Sugar Kitchen and Farmerbrown I was a bit disappointed in "soul food" in the Bay Area, but now I will have to make it over to Pican.

          1. Did anyone try their Mothers Day brunch? I was going to, but they never put a menu on-line, and then, at the last minute, announced that it was a $45 per person Champagne brunch. I canceled (and went to Camino), as I thought it would be tough for a brand new restaurant that doesn't usually do brunch to pull off anything worth that kind of price tag. Sounded like a recipe for disaster. At the same time, I'd love to know what their breakfast fare was like.

            1. Great report (and thanks for referencing my earlier review)...based on my one visit, this is the best Southern food I've had in the Bay Area, by a wide margin. Totally agree about the fried chicken--just fantastic--my only complaint was that serving it with a side of really creamy mac and cheese made for a HEAVY meal, but it sounds like ordering that extra side of coleslaw balanced things out.

              Pork lovers have got to try the Berkshire pork chop with hoppin' john, chow-chow and pork belly--two months later, I still have dreams about this dish.

              On a separate liver-related note: I recently went to Trattoria Corso for the first time and had the crostini trio--the one with chicken liver pate might take the cake as the tastiest chicken liver preparation I've ever had. So good.

              1. I was initially biased against the restaurant because of the precious little accent over the "a" in "Pican", and the somewhat overwrought prose on the restaurant's website, but I'm glad I got over it. This was a really good meal.

                The fried chicken was stunning. The seasoning permeated the chicken thoroughly, and the breast was miraculously tender, almost velvety. I'm not sure what kind of chicken they use, but the dark meat was extremely flavorful, almost bordering on liver-y (in the very best way). I thought the duck was also fantastic - ultra juicy and flavorful, with an almost Peking-duck like skin.

                I enjoyed both the pork belly and chicken liver appetizers, but since they came after the entrees, I think they both got a little overshadowed by the fried chicken.

                I was skeptical about the coleslaw at first - the menu description included the jalapeno and peanut components, so it sounded like it could have been a weird Thai-fusiony disaster, but the components melded incredibly well. The collards were still bright green, and had a nice kick - they are sauteed, not stewed, so they still have a bit of snap and chew to them. The mac and cheese consisted of large elbows napped with a loose sauce, rather than a block of casserole - I love all forms of mac and cheese, but I immediately thought of another friend who frequently bemoans the lack of "slippy" mac and cheese. She'll like this one.

                I thought desserts were not as strong as the apps and mains, but I was also very, very full by this point.

                Mint juleps were very strong and barely sweet, despite listing rock candy syrup as an ingredient.

                For the amount and quality of food, I thought it was a surprisingly good value - 2 apps, 2 entrees, 2 sides, 2 desserts, 3 drinks for 3 people, with tax and tip, came out to about $55 pp.

                4 Replies
                1. re: daveena

                  I found the prices`WAY out of line . $55/person is outrageous

                  1. re: mustardgirl

                    That's what I thought, until I ate there. I'm not generally a fan of humble cuisines gussied up (I dislike Yank Sing and Slanted Door), but Pican's not just serving prettily plated Southern food in a posh environment - they're serving really good Southern-influenced California cuisine. The pork belly and duck dishes could have been from Wood Tavern, and the prices are commensurate. I think $55 pp was extremely reasonable for the quality of the food (not to mention the upscale ambience).

                    1. re: daveena

                      Yeah, I agree with Daveena. $55 per person is not in everyone's budget, but if that itself isn't a sticking point, I didn't feel hosed by the bill. For the atmosphere, service, and food, the price seemed on-par with similar quality restaurants.

                      1. re: pane

                        Agreed with the above, and I also think that you can get out for way under that -- we tried almost everything that looked good to us, so that $55 was for two apps, two entrees, two sides, two desserts, and three drinks, plus tax and tip. You could have easily taken away one app, one or both sides and a dessert and had plenty of food, and paid around $30 less total.

                2. Tried it the other night. The room was grand and posh and cushy, and we liked the mix of people. Servers and the host were warm and pleasant. Corn soup with one fried oyster was sublime, very intense, delicious corn flavor, perfectly fried oyster floating in the middle. I thought the chicken was also perfectly cooked, tender with delicately crispy skin. They're good at frying! But the flavoring seemed a bit odd to me. I couldn't quite figure it out--it was almost musty. I didn't order the truffled butter, so it wasn't truffle flavor, unless they always put truffle oil in the chicken flavoring. The mac and cheese was scrumptious, one of the best I've ever had, and the coleslaw was to die for, creamy but not overly so, with plenty of zest and a little heat from the jalapenos. My friend's duck was good, but we didn't love it. It was very tender, but the flavor was a little sweet for my taste. I'd go back--definitely want to try brunch.

                  1. We went on Friday before a show at the Fox, first time there. The first thing I noticed was the dress was more formal (business casual) than I expected - maybe the thought of southern food goes along with a more casual environment for me. That said, even though we were a little underdressed (jeans and t's) no one said anything to us.

                    The extensive bourbon list is great if you enjoy bourbon (I do) and the prices weren't totally outrageous for what seem to be some harder to find/rare bourbons.

                    Onto the food - I had a panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes, peaches, spinach and small chunks of bacon. This was absolutely incredible. It tasted like August on a plate, absolutely outstanding.

                    Our table shared the fried chicken (with truffle honey drizzled tableside) and the ribs. Easily the best fried chicken I've ever had in my life. As mentioned before, it's a breast and a leg, no thigh which is kind of a bummer but oh well. The ribs were pretty good, not my favorite but some interesting flavor combinations - if it was all I ordered I wouldn't have been disappointed. The cole slaw was oustanding (as a few others have mentioned) - the peanuts and dressing were really nice and unique.

                    All in all, the place isn't cheap but the fried chicken is outstanding, the panzanella is outstanding and I will definitely be back soon. I will say, if you're going before a show at the Fox or Paramount, you'll probably want to let your server know so they can pace the meal accordingly.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mofo313

                      I have friends that went to the Dead show and said it was incredible, the best since before Jerry passed on. I should have remembered to send them to Pican first, it sounds like it would have made a terrific night even better.

                    2. I love this place. I've been for brunch and for drinks and a few bites at the bar. I am not normally a big breakfast/brunch person, but I have been raving about that meal for weeks. A friend and I shared the beignets, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken eggs benedict, and brisket hash. The beignets were light, fluffy and delicious - and are served fresh. Five large ones come in an order, so we had to use serious restraint not to eat them all. We devoured the fried green tomatoes, on the other hand, and wished there were more than just two. They are served with a great cucumber-tomato-feta salsa and buttermilk dressing - lots of great flavor. The fried chicken benedict was probably the highlight - this is a really great dish. The chicken is well-seasoned and flavorful. There was a sauce served on the side that I didn't care for, but at least it was on the side. The brisket hash, while good, wasn't as exciting as the other dishes. We had a few bites, and decided to save room for the rest.

                      I went back a couple weeks later and sat at the bar. We had the fried green tomatoes again, a seared tuna dish that was delicious, the mac and cheese (which was good, but nothing special), the Southern caesar (also good, but nothing special), and the hoppin John, which I was not a fan of.

                      1. visited Pican saturday nite for the first time with two friends and the food and service were wonderful! we sat at the bar and had the fried green tomatoes, southern foie gras (chicken livers), cole slaw, southern caesar, corn soup, and shared the pork chop and pork belly entree and pecan pie for dessert. there was not one bad note; everything was more than good and the chicken livers, cole slaw, were exquisite (really the best I have ever had). Looking forward to visiting the restaurant again with a reservation and trying some of the other dishes. The only restaurant in the bay area that I have enjoyed as much was Slanted Door. I will try the Fried Chicken next time but after Brown Sugar Kitchen I hesitated.

                        1. Finally got around to trying this place.

                          Complimentary cornbread was quite good, not too sweet, good grit.

                          Fried green tomatoes were nice. Sheep's milk feta was a clever accompaniment.

                          Pork belly was great. I was worried the dish would be too sweet but it was nicely balanced. Reminded me of some Chinese preparations, or a really good version of Chinese-American sweet and sour pork.

                          Goat cheese beignets were great, as were the andouille hushpuppies, but we should have skipped the latter, we started to feel over-full and so shared just one main dish.

                          Fried chicken was great, but what do they do with the thighs and wing tip? Mac and cheese was great, much lighter than the usual.

                          Marinated cucumbers were a really nice foil for the chicken.

                          Brisket-braised collards I swear were half brisket. Tasty but in this context I'd have been happy for more greens.

                          Peanut-jalapeƱo cole slaw was quite good.

                          Pecan tart, interesting riff on the classic but I prefer the style at Angeline's with lots of caramelized nuts. The buttermilk ice cream was great.

                          Found some good wines by the glass at a reasonable price. Overall, delightful and worth the price.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I finally tried it as well.

                            First up: the room is VERY upscale, and very large. Large means even on a First Friday with all the local galleries open late, there were a few open tables. The room is red velvet, but with a liveliness, not hushed. Our waiter was a large (like, 6'5") black guy with a big smile who had a habit of disappearing but was both pleasant and lively when we could find him.

                            The drinks I had were very good but not perfect. The uptown manhattan had a bit too much cherry heering, and was strong-heavy for my taste (and I like strong). The pican punch was weak. Maybe I should have poured one into the other.

                            The atmosphere was fairly perfect for a friday night with friends. We had a nice 6-top for the 5 of us, somewhat further away from others. They are running peach specials now, and we got some tremendous peach cornbread as a starter. I continued to eat down the specials list, with the peach pork shoulder, peach ceviche. None of my dining companions were sharing their dishes, which is a little unusual, and could only mean they really liked their dishes.

                            Prices are high, but not high for what you get. For a delightful evening out with friends, $60/pp with alcohol tax and tip was suitable - and I walked out somewhat unpleasantly stuffed.

                            What's interesting is the place was _not at all_ what I expected. I thought it was a different space, smaller, more intimate, instead of being one of the new restaurants under the lofts. I was just confused, this place is more modern, which is good and bad - didn't have much "oakland style" (not like Mua, which is aggressively oakland), but the big guy with a fedora and a white suit who looked like an owner, and the aggressively mixed crowd (I was the white 40-something in the grey hoodie, which did put me on one end of the spectrum) was very oakland.

                            ( Later in the evening we ended up at Yoshi's, because they have music in the lounge on those First Friday evenings. There were only 20 or so people there, but they had a great little bar snack menu up, and the atmosphere was pleasantly quiet and calm. Recommended.)

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              Good update, bbulkow - Pican had a new chef, Sophina Uong, taking over May 31, 2012. We have it on our list to return, just wanted the kitchen to settle down for a couple of months before trying them out.

                              We enjoyed the food at Pican on our first visit in late 2010, but have to disagree about the fried chicken. SR24's Josh Woodall made even better fried chicken! But Pican's mac'n'cheese, and the rib eye filet, were fabulous. We also loved the chicken livers, which we adore anyway (and I even snagged the only chicken heart in the bunch, woohoo!).

                              1. re: tre2012

                                My tablemate who had the chicken hadn't tried SR24, I'll let her know....

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  Sadly, SR24 closed a while ago, and I haven't heard anything about Chef Woodall resurfacing anywhere. This was his first restaurant and probably a crushing blow when he had to close up. A real shame, he was an excellent cook. His soups were amazing.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I'm really sad about this. Uong brought Pican's food up to a whole new level. We have been there nine times in the last two years and can attest that both dinner and Sunday brunch were absolutely wonderful. We much preferred Pican to Brown Sugar Kitchen, having tried identical dishes at both restaurants (waffles, fried chicken, gumbo, grits, jambalaya).

                              Normally we like to let the new chef settle in for a while before going, but I've got family visiting and had already scheduled Sunday brunch this weekend. Will report on any changes we discover.