The Wolf Restaurant is Open in Oakland
Piedmont has a venerable new kid on the block.
Though it only opened a few months ago, The Wolf radiates an old soul.
It’s part pedigree. The Oakland restaurant sits in a century-old craftsman-style home that for 40 years was the much-beloved Bay Wolf, one of the early pioneers of French-
influenced California cuisine.
And it’s part homage. The Wolf’s seasonal menu, while vibrant and creative, has a deliberately haute spirit, with echoes of the Bay Wolf. Timeless French sauces like béchamel and Bordelaise, for instance, find new life in reimagined classics like croque monsieur and escargot-laced osso buco.
This veneration for the past translates into a palpable sense of presence at each table. On my dinner visit, I was struck by how each party of two and four and six evinced a state of easy intimacy—each table like a private haven from a world gone mad. Any number of annoyances could have shattered the spell—showy service, a clumsy dish, bad lighting, a hard chair. But from my seat overlooking the enclosed front patio, I witnessed diners deeply engaged.
Between owner-operators Rich and Rebekah Wood, whose early dates at Bay Wolf cemented their relationship, and the quiet stewardship of general manager David Johnson and chef-partner Yang Peng—both veterans of the Woods’ popular Wood Tavern in Oakland—this young restaurant has all the assurance of a fine-vintage wine. The kitchen, where the walk-in refrigerator had been propped up with a car jack, is now a tasteful exhibition space. The patio’s original cloudy windows remain, offering refuge from Piedmont Avenue at night and—by sliding open at lunch—welcoming in the sun and the city’s rich spirit during the day. A European-style tiled floor, copper salt and pepper shakers, and plates from Sausalito’s Heath Ceramics also telegraph character and flair.
Rich Wood is dear friends with former co-owner Michael Wild, calling him his “Yoda.” Peng has a similar respect for the old culinary masters: “I will always choose classic over trendy,” she says. “There’s a reason they’re classics; they hit all the right notes.”
My visit was a testament to that. I started with a flute of champagne and a pair of tiny Beausoleil oysters flecked with chile and sweet citrus. Then, glistening steak tartare came atop cool hollandaise sauce, the soft meat and velvety sauce designed for piling on delicate toast points. Finally, lusciously decadent Alaskan black cod was lifted by a zing of lemon and brought back to Earth with a swipe of fermented black garlic puree, crisped potatoes, and whipped sunchokes. Peng’s attention to texture allowed each element to shine through.
A later lunch visit was equally dazzling, starting with a salad medley of plump butter beans and tuna confit laced with fresh mint, lemon peel, and zesty chile flakes. Then came a whimsical riff on banh mi, the vibrant Vietnamese sandwich. Instead of featuring the traditional pork and pâté, this iteration sandwiched house-smoked duck breast and rich rillettes between a petite Acme roll with pickled kohlrabi and carrots, Fresno chiles, and cilantro aioli. And in a classic dish that may have best shown off Peng’s expert technique, a plate of steak frites—fanned hanger steak alongside thick yet light and crispy fries. The grilled beef, served over just-wilted Bloomsdale spinach and topped with whipped bone marrow, had the flavor of prime rib—a mighty good excuse for a glass of Burgundy at noon.
Wood first met Wild while trying to sell Bay Wolf his wines (which Wild politely told him were horrible), and over the past 25 years, Wood’s palate has become evermore astute. He hopes to grow The Wolf’s wine list to 100 bottles or more, as he’d prefer offering older vintages and coveted labels at the “restrained and refined” Wolf than at the more “alpha” Wood Tavern and Southie, the Woods’ modest third Oakland restaurant.
The Wolf’s quartzite bar is perhaps the least soulful spot in the restaurant, but if you’re looking for good energy, a great glass of wine, and a distinctive bite, you can’t do much better. Try the rosé from Provence, if it’s still on offer, with rustic levain slathered with duck pâté and tongue-tingling pink peppercorns—inspired by Bay Wolf’s famous duck flan.
A string of synchronicities shows that The Wolf was destined to be Bay Wolf’s next chapter. Wood obtained the full liquor license (often a $100,000 investment) in a city lottery that took place a week after he made his initial application inquiry. And after Wood signed the lease, a friend revealed that the restaurant was once the home of her French aunt, an avid cook who prepared elaborate meals for her extended family.
So, whether or not you believe in reincarnation, there’s no denying The Wolf has soul. And while the food alone is worth a trip, it’s the sense of grace experienced while dining that draws you back again and again.
Contact: 3853 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 879-7953, thewolfoakland.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily.