Plum adds gourmet cred to Oakland's hottest neighborhood.
Photography by Ed Anderson
From a distance, Plum may not look open. It’s a restaurant of that understated hip variety, wherein lighting is low and signage obsolete.
Inside, however, the place is roiling with life. Prince blasts through the sound system, something’s smoking in the open kitchen, and
waiters swoop down on tables with bottles of lavender hydrosol, a liquid infusion mixed into the sparkling water for flavoring. Photo portraits of halved Santa Rosa plums adorn dark, thickly textured walls, while an oblong wrought iron chandelier of incredible proportion almost fills the entire ceiling.
“I set out to do something very bare bones,” says owner Daniel Patterson, “and it has turned into something very beautiful and unique.”
The fact that a chef of Patterson’s reputation opened a restaurant in Oakland at all, let alone on the corner of Broadway and Grand, in the not-too-long-ago deserted Uptown neighborhood, shows that the area is undeniably in an upswing. In the last three years, the neighborhood has seen the completion of a high-rise of luxury condo, the addition of two upscale restaurants, Ozumo and Picán, as well as myriad new bars, cafés, and smaller eateries.
But when Patterson—who also owns the highly conceptual fine-dining destination Coi and the rustic-chic Italian restaurant Il Cane Rosso in San Francisco—announced his intention to open Plum, it raised the area’s profile to new heights. The 42-year-old has already made his creative mark on the food world, coauthoring Aroma: the Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance, with natural perfumer Mandy Aftel, and earning two Michelin stars for three years and counting at Coi.
While much more affordable than Coi’s $100-plus multicourse prix fixe menu, the dishes at Plum (all under $20) are of a similarly wild and unexpected style, showing off Patterson’s complex flavors and painstakingly prepared produce (chefs pluck individual sunflower sprouts with tweezers for one dish).
“The Bay Area is kind of a swirl of cultural traditions,” says Patterson, whose menu brings in flavors from Japan, Italy, and France, among other places. “My cooking is always going to reference that diverse cultural influence. Reference, but not imitate.” Indeed, dishes like stir-fry “salad” wouldn’t likely show up in China, though cabbage, chilies, and Asian pears are familiar in that country’s cuisine. Mushroom dashi, a lively soup of pickled turnips, greens, and yuba (tofu skin), is another Asian-inspired dish you’d never find in Asia. Both are tangy and delightful.
Luckily, waiters are forthcoming, since the menu is packed with unfamiliar creations such as a must-try artichoke terrine with Andante Dairy fresh cheese, chervil, and black olive vinaigrette. It’s a study in the flavor of artichoke, composed of a cool, gelatinous bar of “terrine” (consisting of veggies and herbs) topped with thin shaves of tender raw artichokes and clouds of mild, creamy cheese.
Amazingly, Patterson hadn’t planned on Plum. His original idea was to open a larger restaurant in Jack London Market, Bracina. But with that project delayed, Patterson opted to take over the space at Broadway and Grand to employ the staff he had hired for Bracina, and break into the hopping Oakland scene.
So far, this accidental restaurant has proven to be an unexpected hit, one that will continue to develop—Charlie Parker from Santa Cruz’s acclaimed Cellar Door Café took over as head chef in mid-December. “I know Plum is a unique place, and not everyone will love it,” says Patterson, “but we’ve had people who’ve come in five times and say, ‘Thank you for opening in my neighborhood.’ I feel like we’re getting in at just the right time. Things are changing, and we can be part of that change.”
At a Glance
What makes it special: A neighborhood restaurant that caters to an urban scene. The music is loud, the food is edgy, and the place is open until 1 a.m. to feed cooks getting off work at nearby restaurants and crowds from the Paramount and Fox theaters.
The space: Scott Kester designed the space, where bold, modern elements still create a laid-back feel. Photos are by artist Catherine Wagner while the huge chandelier with exposed Edison lightbulbs was made in Brooklyn.
When to go: After 5 p.m., if you work in the area. The menu has a great snacks section. Also, for a dinner date or after a show. Look for Patterson to open an adjacent bar this spring.
Don’t Miss: Dessert. There’s a lot of polish in this course at Plum in plates like the frozen white chocolate parfait, with a crisp hazelnut feuillettée crust and huckleberry sauce.
Bonus: Waiters are enthusiastic and will tell you the entire story of the old Italian man who made the Brachetto in your aperitif. But they’ll also give you space, if that’s your preference.Contact: 2214 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7586, plumoakland.com. Hours: Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. Price: snacks $4, starters $9–$13, larger plates $16–$18. Alcohol: wine and beer only.