By Patricia Unterman from Unterman on Food
Jack London Square, an historic piece of scenic real estate along the Oakland estuary, has had its ups and downs over the years. Those of us who lived in Berkeley during the 70’s and 80’s remember JLS as a down market Fisherman’s Wharf. But over the last decade, the nearby warehouses that used to service the Port of Oakland before it moved, were converted into residential lofts, creating a neighborhood. Concurrently, the Ellis Company, the newest developer to take on the Square, hatched an ambitious plan along the lines of the San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The project stalled during the recession in 2008, but a year ago, Rick Hackett (MarketBar) moved his pan-American Bocanova into a huge, lofty space with outdoor seating in sight of the marina, and a few months ago, Daniel Patterson (Coi, Plum) opened the long awaited Haven.
Nothing revitalizes a neighborhood like good restaurants and a critical mass of two, plus a Sunday farmers’ market, plus ferry service, plus an East Bay clique of artisan food producers lured by affordable leases, all make Jack London Square a culinary destination. But, it took Haven, one of the most exciting restaurants in the bay area, to put the Square over the top.
Patterson’s young, creative chef, Kim Alter, cooks big, luscious, family style plates of vegetable-centric food. She uses meat and seafood, but also copious amounts of vegetables, herbs and fruits, which make her dishes vibrant. By ordering the $55 chef’s daily market menu, served family style for everyone at the table, diners get full immersion–a spontaneous meal of market driven creations, on and off the printed menu.
The meal started with vegetables: soft, smoky shisito peppers blanketed with papery bonito shavings; griddled summer squashes of all sorts, aromatic with curry spices that had seeped into soft sauteed onion; and fried brussels sprouts, in lime and fish sauce. The kitchen knows how to achieve uncanny balance between salt and acid, making vegetables, and everything else, taste so bright.
Golden marrow bones are heaped with raw celery leaves, spring onion, red peppers and gigantic crisp/soft croutons in vinaigrette, a fantastic contrast of fat and clean. Crispy soft shell crabs meld with long cooked potatoes and piquant tartar, everything in the same flavor range. [...]