CAMINO, Grand Avenue at Jean Street, Oakland http://www.caminooakland.com/
From my vantage point in the back corner of the dining room I glimpsed something unusual coming in through the emergency exit. Even though conversations with old and dear friends should have kept my attention 100%, my peripheral vision caught something out of the ordinary. Was that, wait, did I just see half of a mammal make its way into the back kitchen? "Did anyone else see the 1/2 hog that just slipped in through the back door"? My dining companions stopped their conversation, "What?", "Where's the camera?", "Shit, how did I miss that?" Cameras ready, but distracted by talk, they also missed the other half slung over the meat delivery guy's shoulder as he whisked it around the corner to be expertly handled, I'm sure, by Russell Moore, the Executive Chef and Owner of Camino in Oakland.
It was brunch, and if the pork and herb sausages I was lovingly eating were any sort of preview for what this guy could do with a hog, then I was putting this place on the top of my list for dinner. One of the many Chez Panisse descendant restaurants, Camino had been open for about a year, and I had yet to enjoy a meal there. Centered around a huge wood hearth that's flames can be seen from across Grand Avenue, the food is reported to be a bit exclusive, with a very limited dinner menu. From all accounts, people either love it or will never be back. I wonder where I will fall on this limited spectrum?
It was my best friend Erin's birthday brunch, and most of our party of 7 had worked together for many years at O Chame' (Berkeley), so a game of catch up was in order. But first, we had to figure out what to eat off a menu that included baked eggs with cream and herbs; potatoes fried in duck fat; home-made doughnuts; organic polenta with maple syrup; a pancetta, tomato and escarole sandwich; sardines with eggplant, almonds and hard cooked eggs; french toast; charcuterie; housemade jams and nut butters... Let's just say it was hard to choose.
Their cocktails looked enticing too, it was early though, and I had to scoot off to work afterward, but had a sip of one of my companion's: Gin, tomato, lemon, salt, pepper and chile - a delicious bloody mary-like concoction that would have gone down my gullet with no problem.
We settled on a few orders of the potatoes, rough-cut russets with the heady aroma of poultry wafting from the bowl, like one's home when a fat chicken is roasting in the oven. The sausages, although a tad undercooked, were seasoned with a small amount of maple syrup, memorable goodness that I snuck more than my share of during the meal. The baked eggs in cream and herbs were decadent with a rich yellow yolk that spoke volumes about their freshness. Several orders of toast , a few doughnuts and some butter lettuce salads (to balance things out) completed the meal. Drip coffee, brewed by the cup to order, and ground with a hand cranked grinder, was strong and nutty, leaving that slick in the bottom of the cup, the kind that lets you know that you've probably had enough even when you think you want another cup.
Bottom line, I'm a fan, and can't wait to return for dinner!