Rumbo al Sur - Oakland
- Robert Lauriston Sep 1, 2011 10:22 AM
New place from the À Côté team in the old Compadres space at the corner of Park & Wellington in Oakland's Glenview neighborhood. Today's Chron says the owner "swears he'll open this month."
re: Robert Lauriston
The opening last week was a "soft opening" -- the official opening was this week.
Anyway, headed over there with a friend tonight and over all we were favorably impressed. The restaurant is dark and cozy and the bar area is glamorous in a way I can't quite put my finger on. It was about 3/4 full and noisy, but not unbearably so.
The menu is mostly Mexican, with some pan Latin American touches, but was surprisingly short -- maybe a dozen small plates and three larger plates.
We ordered four small plates: chorizo empanadas, chicharrones de pollo, beet salad and chile rellenos with butternut squash-mushroom-cheese filling.
The hit was the chicharrones de pollo (subtitled something like "crispy chicken") -- delicious little nuggets of unbattered (but spice rubbed) chicken with a sauce that looked like tartar sauce but was crema with chiles. The sauce was served on the side, which was nice since the chicken didn't really need it (the chicken was good and the sauce was good, but I'm not convinced they enhanced each other) -- there were also some veggies on the side that I couldn't figure out what to do with. The beet salad was good, but could have used a bit more acid (in addition to the small pieces of grapefruit). The pastry on the empanadas was tender and flaky, but I thought the filling was on the bland side, and again the sauce on the side didn't seem to add much. The disappointment was the chile relleno, which had gotten raves in the early yelp reviews. The chile itself was delicious and perfectly prepared, but the filling was bland and texturally unappealing and the brown sauce on it had no discernible flavor. The yelp review had also raved about the desserts, and on that that did not steer me wrong: the citrus flan was soft, silky and delicious, and accompanied by a scoop of light, refreshing tangerine sorbet -- one of the better desserts I've had in recent memory (although the caramel sauce could have been richer/more complex). All the desserts sounded delicious! We saw the fish Veracruz on an adjoining table and it looked amazing!
The wine list features South American wines. I had a nice Chilean riesling ($7 for a generous pour). There's also an extensive list of Latin American liquor: tequilas, rums, piscos, etc. They even had yerba mate served in a traditional Argentinian bombilla. Filtered water was provided in a bottle that was refilled as needed.
Total with tax but before tip was $60 for four small plates, one dessert, one glass of wine and one yerba mate -- sort of in the "not cheap but not unreasonable" range. Service was friendly and competent, but not completely versed in the menu yet.
Although I'd be interested in trying the large plates and seeing how the menu evolves, my initial impression is that it might be better to think of it as a place to have drinks and snacks rather than a restaurant.
Finally got around to trying the place. Foolishly thought since it was big and newish we'd be able to walk in and get a table at 8:30 on a Saturday, it was packed with a half-hour wait, so reservations are a good idea.
Atmosphere and general style, it's like an alternate-universe version of À Côté. The wine list is 100% Latin American and has some obscure stuff including Chilean Gewürztraminer and Riesling and a couple of wines from Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico. The booze has the same focus, tequila, mezcal, sotol (mezcal-like stuff from Chihuahua), pisco, and cachaça, plus a huge selection of rums. Beer, same deal. They have Negro Modelo on draft.
We tried a couple of cocktails, both great. The Tepache (tequila, pineapple, spice syrup) was pretty dry and somehow reminiscent of an Aviation or Last Word. The Atacama (pisco, guava, St. Germain, lime) was a little like a caipirinha but more complex.
The chicharron de pollo was fantastic, similar to Korean fried chicken. Ruth's description is spot on. The tartar-like aji amarillo sauce was delicious but I preferred the chicken without it. The crunchy pickled vegetables were a nice foil.
Lamb birria with Rancho Gordo beans and smoked salsa, really good, especially the salsa, I've never tasted anything like that before. Huge serving for $15.
Tamales tinga de pollo ($13), these were the flat style, steamed in banana leaf, then maybe grilled a bit, with crema and fantastic refried black beans. Best tamale I've had around here since Cafe Marimba closed. If we hadn't already ordered so much food I'd have gotten more of the beans ($6 as a side dish).
The baby back ribs ($14) with tamarind-guava glaze were tasty but seemed sort of out of place to me, more Caribbean than Latin, a parillada-style treatment would have made more sense to me, especially with the red wines I was drinking. The jicama slaw was great, I'd have ordered more if it had been on the sides list.
I tried a couple of Torrontes, both excellent and in very different styles. The simple unblended Mendoza Bonarda was good, the Valle de Guadalupe Zinfandel and a couple of Salta Malbec blends were to my taste overpowered by the spicy food. I finished with a Fidencio mezcal flight, hadn't had any of the three before, great stuff, plus a shot of the Hacienda de Chihuahua sotol plata.
Overall, excellent and something new and different. I'm excited to go back and try more things.
re: Bryan Gros
They made the unfortunate choice of distressed copper colored exterior signs which blend too well with the tile roof color. They need to repaint those in a more contrasting color.
There are two and not small at all, but standing across the street, they were difficult to read. We were walking across Park to look at their menu and my g/f commented that they should get some exterior signage. Doh!
Maybe they are lighted at night?