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First Bite: Wild Magnolia in Orinda

Michael Karp’s new restaurant is seasonally focused.


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Nicholas Boer

I’ve never understood why mussels were served with loads of winey broth—it’s too acidic to enjoy by the spoonful and too loose to coat the shellfish. But my first bite at Wild Magnolia—a jazzy new restaurant in Orinda’s Theater Square—surprised me: the flavorful liquid was viscous with a reddish gleam from bits of chorizo. There wasn’t a lot of sauce, but there was plenty enough for both the mussels (I use the shell like a spoon, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend) and the included fries.

Since it was moules frites, I had asked for a side of aioli as a dip for the fries, but the mussel sauce won out. In fact, we wouldn’t let them take away the dish until they brought us some grilled bread to mop the bowl clean.   

Owner Michael Karp also owns Fourth Bore (go for the beer and crispy cheese curds!) and ran Table 24 for six years before closing it to open Wild Magnolia. This new venture is designed to be fun but refined, and it makes a true effort to be seasonal. A flavorful gumbo we ordered featured cauliflower “rice,” and our lamb “lollipops,” brushed with sweet pomegranate, came with a scattering of red cabbage over devilishly rich mashed potatoes.

I’m not sure if the mussels qualify as seasonal—which is a good thing. Hopefully they will be available year-round. wildmagnoliaorinda.com.


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