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May 20, 2009 01:26 PM

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 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.

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.