Excellence Takes Flight at Albatross Restaurant in Danville
Danville's new global eatery is a rare bird indeed.
Chef Brian Bowen changes the Albatross menu based on ingredient availability and the culinary team's imagination.
No expense was spared in hatching Albatross, a Danville restaurant whose decor is as sleek as its namesake: a seabird that catches the air currents for hours without a single flap from its 11-foot wingspan—the longest of any living bird.
Happily, our sense of ease in the dining room, which was unveiled just a week prior to our first visit, matched the maritime bird’s effortless flight. A weathered plank floor and simple wood tables ground the airy space. However, the most luxurious napkins in the East Bay set a tone more gracious than casual (and echo the staff’s long, striped bistro aprons).
The cuisine from the well-arranged kitchen soars, but the precise presentations and complexity of flavors belie the galley’s relative calm. Executive chef Brian Bowen—whose CV includes three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, as well as the acclaimed Cavallo Point Lodge’s Murray Circle in Sausalito—characterizes the prep work involved as not simply crazy but “insanely crazy.” (And this was before Albatross opened for brunch.)
Take Bowen’s Spanish octopus, poached overnight with bay leaves and served with heirloom potatoes procured from the Saturday farmers market across the street on Railroad Avenue. The tiny spuds are smashed with soft ’nduja (an Italian-style spreadable salumi) then paired with fleshy, flash-grilled octopus draped with capers, chopped parsley, and lemon oil—all presented on a distinctive ceramic plate dotted with brilliant saffron aioli.
Slices of pristine kampachi are alternated on a platter with razor-thin slivers of green apple. A wealth of winter citrus—Cara Cara orange, oro blanco, and lime—conspires with bitter endive and fiery serrano to cut through the naturally fatty fish. Also true to the winter season (Albatross launched in December) is Bowen’s loose chicken liver mousse, infused with juniper berry, brandy, and port, and aerated with homemade crème fraîche. It’s well matched with grilled La Brea Bakery bread.
All this indulgence comes at a price: The dishes mentioned are small plates ranging from $12 to $24. Our $38 Persian lamb ragù with too-crispy rice cake was the most one-dimensional of the offerings we tasted—delicious to be sure, but we would’ve been as happy with a simple shank and potatoes.
Our only other complaint was the spaghetti nero, squid-ink pasta with shellfish. Spiked with herbs, it had wonderfully bright flavors, but the pasta itself was slightly gummy, as if cooked in not-quite-boiling water. We ordered this as an entrée on our second visit (it comes in two portion sizes), while sitting at the stately bar. The crab cake starter was stellar—packed with sweet meat—and delicate despite being deep-fried. We finished with lemon meringue “pie,” an immense parfait of curd and caramelized egg whites garnished with a coin of puff pastry. It was intensely rich, warranting only a few bites, and stood in stark contrast to pastry chef Andrea Morgan’s complex and fascinating poached pear, which we sampled on our initial visit.
The service is reserved and above average, if not quite up to conveying the subtleties of the locally inspired global cuisine. The wine list, too, is a cut above—focusing on California vinos but with a serious nod to European bottles and even some Middle Eastern selections.
Mehrasa Bagheri, who is the owner of Primavera in San Ramon, devised the restaurant’s stunning concept, underscored by its thick white marble bar. Bagheri’s quiet presence lends grace, and she deserves kudos for investing so much in such a risky and burdensome business. Alabatross' name alone might seem daunting. After all, the bird—at least the wandering albatross—lives some 50 years. We sincerely hope this Danville restaurant stays put and achieves the same.
312 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 718-5445, albatrossdanville.com. Brunch Fri.–Sun., dinner Tues.–Sun.