Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bocanova: A New Taste in Oakland

To top off my day at the Eat Real Festival (see previous post), the boyfriend and I had dinner at Bocanova, a new pan-American restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square, two nights before its official opening on September 1. We scored seats at the soft opening thanks to the wonderful folks at Foodbuzz and the Bocanova coordinators.

Before I launch into my remarks, a very special thanks to WongCo's Food for these great photos!

The dinner on this particular night was a fundraiser for Marin Organic, an association of organic producers in Marin County dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture and encouraging a preference for locally-grown food. The association supports farmers' markets, conducts farm tours, and runs a program to provide organic lunches to Marin schools. Please check out their website for more info!

Located in a restored 1920s-vintage icehouse, the setting of Bocanova is very pleasing to the eye with its high ceilings, warm rustic touches, and eccentrically-shaped glass lights. It also has a great view of the waterfront of Jack London Square.

Executive Chef Rick Hackett has quite the resume -- a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, training in classical French cooking, and stints at an impressive list of restaurants, including Chez Panisse, Postrio, Oliveto, and MarketBar, where he developed a California-Mediterranean repertoire. He came up with the idea for Bocanova during staff dinners at another restaurant, where his Peruvian sous-chef and Hispanic staff members prepared and brought in dishes inspired by family recipes. Realizing that the food at these dinners was just as fantastic as the food they served to customers, Hackett began to develop a restaurant that would celebrate the cuisine of the Americas. Bocanova, which literally means "new mouth," was born.

The restaurant skillfully presents a blend of unique flavors from North, South, and Central American countries in a beautiful but relaxed setting. Hackett also has a commitment to using sustainable, locally-grown ingredients, again emphasizing a sense of community as he did in his staff dinners.

Wild Flower cocktail -- fruity bliss. I could barely taste the rum.

Starter snacks -- Spiced roasted peanuts (back) and Peruvian black olives (front)

Dungeness crab deviled eggs, chipotle aioli

A classy twist on the good ol' deviled egg. The crab meat was sweet and paired nicely with the creamy egg, and the chipotle aioli added a subtle kick. (Can you ever really go wrong with aioli?)

Heirloom tomato and bufala mozzarella huarache

A Mexican pizza? Huarache consists of a dough base, and here it was topped with sweet tomatoes and hearty mozzarella.

Forest mushroom and corn empanadas, lime cream
A little pocket of yumminess

Allstar Organics garden tomato salad, aji amarillo

One of my favorite dishes from the night. These were the sweetest, juiciest red and yellow tomatoes I have ever tasted. If I'd had a whole one, I would've been biting into it like an apple. The aji amarillo (yellow chili) sauce was surprisingly mild, almost sweet.

Marin Roots Farm burnt carrot and arugula salad, avocado vinaigrette

I like arugula, but I usually want it combined with a lot of sweet or citrusy flavors to cut the sharp bitterness. There weren't that many carrots in this salad, so after a couple forkfuls, I was overwhelmed by the greens.

Potatoes Delfina, Peruvian tapenade

These potatoes had a great texture, with plenty of action from the capers and anchovies in the tapenade.

Slow Roasted Clark Summit stuffed whole pig, chiltomate salsa

Yes, they actually roasted a whole pig for us! The meat was pretty tasty and tender, pairing nicely with the chiltomate (tomato and chili) salsa.

Allstar Organics pole beans, tomato and brown garlic
A simple, home-style dish

Cheese plate with organic honeycomb and figs

The desserts were no less impressive, starting with this pretty plate of cheeses. I'm not sure what the hard cheese wedge was, but the pungent nuttiness with the sweet stickiness of the honeycomb was a heavenly combination.

And finally, what really left an impression on me...

Warm chocolate bread pudding, chocolate caramel ice cream

Best bread pudding I've had, hands down! The bread was a soft, flaky croissant, with raisins and warm chocolate, and topped with creamy ice cream and powdered sugar. The contrasting temperatures and sweet flavors had me swaying in my seat (not kidding).

As Hackett indicated in a press release, "In the gastronomically rich Bay Area, mouths have changed. We're open to new flavors and experiences. I'm not trying to duplicate traditional dishes or experiences. What we choose to call pan-American cuisine has evolved from a conversation between ingredients and cultures, with the old meeting the new, the familiar meeting the unfamiliar." So if you're ever around Jack London Square, please give this wonderful new restaurant a try!

Jack London Square
Oakland, CA 94607


gin said...

i want to eat that bread pudding again!

Cookie said...

Wow, what a feast! Those crabmeat deviled eggs sound amazing! You really can't go wrong with Aioli!

foodhoe said...

Oh, I stumbled upon Bocanova this past week, I hadn't realized how much renovation was going on at Jack London Square! I just had a few things, so I am enjoying seeing pictures of dishes I saw on the menu but didn't get to order, especially that bread pudding. Next time...

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