Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Oct 30, 2012 08:37 AM

new chef & menu makeover at Plum [Oakland]

Inside Scoop reports that Manfred Wrembel, former chef de cuisine at Incanto, took over the kitchen at Plum / Plum Bar yesterday and that the menu will change to a more conventional appetizers and mains format.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I can't imagine that the more conventional format is a good thing. Would that be a profit issue, or chef wants to appeal to the masses instead of us?

    14 Replies
    1. re: bbulkow

      The old format was "snacks," " vegetables and grains," and "animal." The first two were basically appetizers, the last was main courses. Patterson said some customers had trouble deciphering that. Reorganizing and changing the headings doesn't necessarily mean any change to the food or anything else.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        When I went the second day, this was part of the charm. The server particularly said the concept was a menu format where diners would question the structure of app/main, and think "poststructurally" about menus, and order what they desired, as opposed to what they thought they were supposed to order. The menu structure was designed to foster authenticity and increase dialog. I was dining with a professor of english who focuses on these kinds of analysis, so I remember the conversation quite well .

        That echos why the restaurant is named after the poem it is - one of the famous minimalist / poststructural poems.

        [ I will also disagree that the "veg and grain" section was appetizers. They were larger and heartier than appetizers, and the "animal" section was often smaller. This was clearly a statement about our eating habits and the traditional animal centered dinner. The menu really didn't have traditional mains, so I do think the food will have to change. ]

        Which all sounds kind of crazy, but did show a concept in the menu and philosophy that points to challenging the diner, which leads to "trouble".

        Which is why I made the comment about appealing to the masses. Yes, masses will be confused about not having apps and mains. You aren't confused, I'm not confused. We saw the sections, we looked at the food quantities, we ate, it was good. No confusion.

        [ I eat at plenty of restaurants now that just have a list of dishes, and spacing down the page. Dishes get bigger toward the bottom. The fact that quite a few restaurants have abolished app/main causes me further question about if this is really about decreasing diner confusion.]

        If patterson - or the new chef - is backing off on challenging diners ("creating trouble") in the menu, one would expect the restaurant will follow as a whole.

        I hope not.

        But I recognize concepts and experiences like Plum can't stay static. One can't expect a restaurant attempting to do something new to stay the same - it'll do something new after a few years. I hope their commitment to novelty continues, that Patterson hasn't given up, but even if he has, I'll thank him for several years of a great restaurant.

        1. re: bbulkow

          I wasn't confused, but I doubt I ate different dishes in a different order due to the grouping and labels. I never pay much attention to those anyway, I'll split a main course as an appetizer if it makes sense.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Right - you and I, people who like Plum as it was, won't really care one way or another, unless the food changes. So they're trying to appeal to a different set of diners, which is either a difference of vision in the new chef, or a profit issue that they're not pulling in enough people.

            1. re: bbulkow

              Or maybe the new chef just thinks it's pretentious and silly. I'll have to eat there soon and see how it's changed.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                It's also elitist: if you aren't "in the know" or food-sophisticated enough to "get it" then you're not welcome. Note bbulkow saying "...appeal to the masses instead of us."

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I have to agree with the elitist idea. The menu seemed almost confrontational in its refusal to give usable information. I would not drive from San Jose without some hint of what I am in for. I may not be the most adventurous diner but I am loyal and after the bloggers have moved on to the next new thing, restaurants need repeat customers to survive. This is an attempt to reach out to the other "us".

                  1. re: budnball

                    the recent Top Chef Masters revealed a little of the anti-elitist ethic of the new chef at Plum, when he helped his ex-boss Cosentino win the big $$ for charity (Parkinson's disease). they won with a final course of blood sausage and sunny side egg.

                    1. re: moto

                      With oysters poached in pork trotter stock, chive flowers, and buckwheat sprouts. That would not be at all out of place among the dishes I've had at Plum.


                    2. re: budnball

                      And I'm sure you have a lot of restaurants that will indulge what you want, and you give them that level of loyalty.

                      What Plum was (maybe is?) doing was unusual, in the level of confrontation, sophistication, complexity. And, critically, they were doing this without committing to a 10-course tasting menu.

                      I thought that was very cool, and I will miss it. Just from a menu perspective. I will consider that there are even fewer people like me, even in the bay area, that they couldn't make a go with their concept as it stood.

                      And, if they still have the level of cooking I've come to love, I'll overlook whatever they say on the menu and keep eating there. From RL's reports, it sounds like they might.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I think you can make exciting, creative food without "challenging" your diners with your menu design. I don't need Daniel Patterson to decide I need to be "challenged." That's why I love AQ: all the creativity, none of the pretension.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I love AQ but I don't find their menu less pretentious than Plum's was.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            The organization of the menu at AQ is pretty traditional in that it's grouped by price, in ascending order.

                    3. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I am of the masses and I liked the food before at Plum. Was I not suppose to. I did find the organization pretentious but lots of things at restaurants at that level are. I also didn't care that it was pretentious. EMP just has one word for each dish and I still enjoyed that too. Creen's place has a freaking poem but it's my favorite white linen place in the city.

        2. I like that Plum Bar, if not Plum itself, will be open for lunch in December.

          1. I went for dinner last night. Wrembel said he introduced a completely new menu on Monday. I got spaetzle, sardines, and pork belly, $11-13, all from the appetizers section, seemed as tasty and imaginative as previously. Portions might be a bit larger, that was plenty of food for one.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Okay, it's still early but I must need a second cup of coffee, Robert. I read your post the first time as if you had spaetzle AND sardines AND pork belly together, LOL! I was trying to imagine such a dish and failing entirely............(getting up to pour my second cup right NOW)

            2. I went for dinner last night before the Cat Power show at the Fox and wasn't as impressed as Robert. I'd been to Plum maybe 3-4 times previously, so not as much a regular as many. The food seemed less imaginative and more bland to me. The only thing I really loved was the cow tongue appetizer; the flavor combo on the sardine dish was too plain (basically tasted like sardines with a pat of mayo); the baked gnocchi was good but straightforward.

              It's not that the food wasn't good--it was. But overall the experience felt easily replicated by a host of mid-range SF restaurants, whereas before Plum felt interesting and sparky enough for me to want to cross the bridge. I don't think a week behind the wheel is enough to declare which way Wrembel will take it, so I'd certainly return, but it's worth saying that I wasn't as impressed as the previous menu.

              1. We went on Friday and were very impressed. Indeed, it may have been the best visit so far. The new chef is adding a German touch to the menu, which adds a different dimension, although I still thought the food reflected Patterson's vegetable/lighter touch focus. The spaetzel was great and light, and really dfifferent. The same with the beef tongue appetizer -- refreshing and tasty with a horseradish sorbet-like topping. The pork cheeks main dish were very rich on the otherhand, but great.

                I am thrilled with this direction and will returning soon (especially once they open for lunch).