Friday, September 2, 2011

Camino Royale...

Is it okay to have two favorite restaurants?
I don't know if it's allowed, but I'm doing it anyways.  My longtime favorite restaurant, Bar Tartine on Valencia is tied for first with Camino, on Grand Avenue in Oakland.  
Camino is so beautiful, with rustic table settings and light fixtures, and the best menu I've ever seen.

Menus with too many offerings make me anxious; too many choices make it difficult to decide what to order. 
Camino takes care of this.  
There are only three selections per course on the daily rotating menu.  From the list, we chose pork head fritters as an appetizer, had a starter of wood oven roasted oysters with absinthe remoulade and fennel stalks that came with a lemon pickled potato and frisée salad, then we shared a dish of ricotta baked in fig leaf with sauteed king trumpet mushrooms.  The main dish was pork belly and pork leg, with a little corn salad and braised bread soaked in aged balsamic vinegar.  Alongside all of this we sipped a cocktail of Mescal (smoked agave) tequila, with honey, rosemary and foamy egg whites.  This is a meal I will never forget.

Camino was so cozy, and every detail of our dining experience was attended to, from the hand formed and glazed bowls that the first courses were served in, to the community table below homemade chandeliers of wine barrel hoops and old menus.  The tall rusticated walls and warm wooden tables and chairs made for an intimate setting, not only for a romantic meal for two, but also for an intimate meal between groups of friends or family. 
After dinner Ryan and I went to watch the cooks at work in the open kitchen. Behind bowls of vegetables, the cooks plated entrees, stoked logs of fig, cherry and walnut in the wood fire and butchered fresh pink pigs for the next night's menu. 
Whilst we looked on, we were approached by a woman who introduced herself as Allison.  We had seen Allison during dinner, walking about the dining area, greeting patrons like old friends and checking on their meals.  Allison asked us how we enjoyed our experience and how we had came across Camino. I explained to her that I had seen pictures from the Selby Dinner in Brooklyn, that featured Chad and Elizabeth from Tartine, The Mast Brothers, and the owners of Camino among other idols of my culinary world.  "Yes," she said, "Todd is so amazing, so nice, he comes in often!"  
Excuse me?  Did you just say you knew Todd Selby?!  
As it turns out, Allison isn't just a restaurant manager, fulfilling her job of making people at home in Camino, she's the owner!  And she was at the Selby dinner at ISO!
The rest of the story was told to by Kendra when I got back to work the next day.  Russel and Allison both worked at Bar Tartine while Kendra there.  The couple were looking for a place to open their own restaurant, but at that time, San Francisco had just passed several taxes that took a great toll on restaurants.  So, Allison and Russel chose a spot across the water and settled on a location in Oakland where restaurants were being given grants in order to bring more businesses to the community.  Now, Camino is flourishing in a rapidly growing culinary hotspot.

As I'm sure you can tell by now, good food is hugely important to me.  Every aspect out dining intrigues and excites me:  the food, the fusion, the creativity, the means in which it is displayed, presented...While I love working in the kitchen at The Penny, I know that I don't want to stay in the back forever.  I want to find a marriage between food and ritual of eating in a way that Todd Selby, Katy (from Outstanding in the Field), Zach and Kendra, and the legendary Alice Waters have found.  The possibilities are endless, and very, very exciting.