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Nov 12, 2009 12:28 PM

Bocanova at Jack London Square

I didn't see a post specifically on this place so thought I'd start one up. I ate here a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it although the service was a bit mix. (Bauer in the Chron also came out with a review of Bocanova this week and spent some time talking about the service too.)

This is actually a really handsome restaurant, quite large so lively. What's cool is that there are different spaces through the places that will offer up a different dining experience. As you walk in from the side entrance, there's the bar with friendly bartender. To the right is a dining area that's very elegant with a communal table. On the side are counter seating where you can sit and watch the cooks firing up food. It looks really fun and cozy. Then past the bar to the left is the second half of the dining room with window views, and then finally ther's the patio which has covered tables and outdoor heater lamps and of course the view of the bay.

The food is actually very interesting. The menu is broken up into sections depending on where the food is prepared, ie raw bar, salads, rotisserie, la plancha, etc. It's a mix of small and large plates, but I would say it's kind of medium. I think for the price and the size of food, it's a pretty good deal.

One of my favorite things I ordered was the turkey breast. It came from the rotisserie and just seemed so perfectly cooked. It came with a pumpkin mole. (The chef seems to be really into the seasonal ingredients, so the menu looks like it will change often.)

Also had a really nice wild shrimp ceviche and haurache that was a flatbread. The flavors are fresh and different, and the environment is really enjoyable and not super noisey, so my friend and I had a nice time catching up. I also like the fact that the lighting is nice and not low like a lot of restaurants. I like to see my food!

But they do need to pick up service. Looks like they have a mix of servers with varying degrees of experience. Some are super friendly and others are a bit standoffish. The server we had at our table seemed to keep rushing our dinner, asking if we needed anything else.

Overall, though, I think it's a nice addition to the scene. I feel the food is a bit more exciting than the new Miss Pearl's Jam House.

Photos and more detailed review:

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  1. Is this in the old spagetti factory spot?

    2 Replies
    1. re: skwid

      I believe it is. It's been redone really beautifully.

      1. re: singleguychef

        The whole building was gutted and renovated, so although it's the same location, it's not the same at all.

    2. This is the first place I've had pan-Latin fusion that was actually good. On two visits I've had only one dish I wouldn't order again.

      Spiced roasted peanuts: seasoned with chile and lime, remind me of street peanuts in Mexicao. I'll probably always order these.

      Beef, currant & green olive empanadas with tomatillo sauce: filling similar to Cuban ropa vieja. Delicious, crunchy, all three elements (filling, corn pastry, salsa) are delicious and they go very well together.

      Dungeness crab deviled eggs with chipotle aioli: all three elements are good individually, but there's a sour note somewhere that makes the crab taste off. Ill-conceived dish.

      Slow roasted pork arepas: awesome. Better than the arepas I had in New York.

      Salad of mixed chicories, Fuyu persimmon, pomegranate seeds, and cocoa nibs: wonderful. Brilliant combination of seasonal ingredients.

      Brunch "huarache" with winter squash, guanciale, and egg: this is really a pizza. Good.

      The Spicy Pisco Punch cocktail is delicious and refreshing. Nice wine list.

      I can't remember what else I've had there but as I said everything but that one dish was great.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Robert, are those arepas only available during lunch/brunch, or was it a special? Didn't see them on the dinner menu when we went tonight.

        I agree that the food here is better than you'd expect it would be, and a pretty good value, especially if you stick to the small plates. My wife and I shared the spiced peanuts, the huarache, a turkey gumbo, and some roasted beets. Everything was pretty tasty.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          The arepas could be lunch / brunch only. That's what the current sample menus suggest.

      2. I went to Bocanova last Tuesday night with my girlfriends. We were headed to Miss Pearl's but their dining room was closed -- bar food only.

        Boy, was that a lucky mistake. Bocanova was wonderful. A beautiful space, tasty food, not too noisy. I was amazed by how the designer treated the massive concrete pillars in the room -- wrapped them in a lampshade and turned them into lighting!

        We had two salads, the rotisserrie chicken with banana guajillo salsa, the roasted winter squash with chard, the scallops with brazilian green curry, and the stuffed plantains. We shared everything. Every dish was wonderful, but the chicken was my favorite -- a generous serving, wonderful marinade on the skin, juicy meat, and a very unusual mild banana salsa.

        They offer a wide variety of wines by the glass, we enjoyed some interesting selections from Argentina and Spain.

        We had a tiny but rich roasted banana cake with cream cheese ice cream for dessert. Not a common flavor combination, but very tasty.

        Our server was a little overeager but excellent. We didn't feel rushed at all. The restaurant did fill up, which surprised me -- Jack London Square seems quite desolate on a rainy week night.

        I hope they continue to do well, I plan to go back!

        1. We went to Bocanova for brunch this morning. This was our second time at the restaurant, but our first time for Sunday brunch. A few notes:

          - We shared the pork arepas with pickled vegetables. These were amazing -- maybe the best thing on the entire menu, certainly among the items we've sampled (including our first time here for dinner). I loved the crunchy pickled onions and peppers, which served as a great counterpoint to the generous portion of tender, savory pork. Too bad these aren't available on the dinner menu (but they are on the regular lunch menu).
          - My "huarache" breakfast pizza w/ bacon, egg, spring onion and romesco was also very good.
          - My wife's Dungeness crab omelette was just OK, I thought, but this might have been a product of it being so late in the season. The crab meat was most likely frozen.
          - It was great sitting outside (in the shade) on a nice sunny day. It's the perfect spot to people-watch, especially with the Sunday farmers market in full swing.

          On the downside:
          - Our waitress was very nice (and the service, overall, was fine), but they really need to train their staff on how to use a French press if that's how they're going to serve their coffee. I don't know if our waitress was new and it was her first time using the press, but this was an unmitigated disaster. She kept lifting the plunger up and down, then pouring w/ it not all the way down. My wife got a cup full of grounds, and the bottom half of my cup was so sludgy as to be undrinkable. Plus, the coffee was oversteeped. They charge $7 for a large pot, which is too much, especially considering that we barely got two wholly unsatisfying cups out of it.
          - On the whole, it's a rather expensive brunch, as the bill for the two of us came out to about $45 before tip. For the most part the portion sizes (even on the breakfast menu) are halfway between a tapa and a regular entree, so it would probably be a better deal if we came with more people and shared.

          Nevertheless, we'd still go back for the awesome arepas and maybe to try one of their sweet breakfast offerings. But we'll probably stay away from the coffee next time!

          55 Webster Street, Oakland, CA 94607

          1. I have a definite bias against "pan-whatever fusion", and have been avoiding this place despite the easy to get reservations on Opentable, and the many positive reviews from people I trust. Finally made it there on Friday night because I happened to be JLS and wanted a drink and some snacks, and am now kicking myself for not going earlier.

            The menudo was easily the best I've ever had - I'm not much of a menudo aficionado, but my bf loves it and orders it frequently. Most of the time, it's just too funky for me, but this one was, er, gutsy (for lack of a better term), with lots of tender, flavorful tripe, without being overpowering. Black-eyed peas were an unconventional but enjoyable addition, and the broth was excellent - great depth and body, nicely spicy and balanced.

            The halibut ceviche was excellent too - served with plantain chips, there was a bit more vegetable than usual (the menu lists tomato, zucchini, cilantro, and aji amarillo), which gave it a welcome crunch, and the spicing was perfect, with acidity and salt perfectly balanced.

            With one positive experience under my belt, I'm re-reading the recs on this thread with a new appreciation, and am looking forward to trying more of the menu... first, though, I'd like a big bowl of menudo. Hopefully sometime this week.

            1 Reply
            1. re: daveena

              We had another good Sunday brunch here today. They have this new item on the menu, a "Cuban shrimp sauce" served over polenta with a poached egg--kind of like a Latin twist on shrimp and grits. Very, very tasty. Belgian waffle was pretty good, too, though I would have liked it just a little bit more crisp. Arepa was as delicious as we remembered. The coffee issues we experienced last time seem to have been resolved, and I had a good strawberry-pineapple agua fresca too. Service was good.

              Again, it's on the expensive side as a brunch option, but the food is good and we really like sitting outside and watching the farmers market crowd go past. Nice low-key vibe, very different from dinner time, when it felt like a little bit more of a scene.