SF: Wood Tavern (in Berkeley, CA) (June 2013)
When I went to Cal for undergrad, I must’ve walked by Wood Tavern a million times, and just never went in. What a loss. The cooking is phenomenal and while the menu has this rustic french feel to it, the food itself is wholly modern and “California” in style. It’s a true gastropub, but is very inviting at the same time and has this neighborhoody vibe to it that is easy to fall in love with.
First off, and I didn’t take a picture of this, but there’s complimentary bread from Acme! Acme bread is the bomb. If you’re in SF and haven’t tried it yet, you should. I haven’t tried anything from them that I haven’t liked. At Wood Tavern, the bread from Acme served was the walnut and regular baguette – both are great. Especially the walnut one-I could munch on that for hours.
For Starters: Duck Rillette with Fennel Mustard and a Dates “Butter”
I was torn between ordering this and the whiskey laced chicken liver pate, but the super friendly bartender/waitress pointed me in the direction of the duck. It was heavenly. The rillette is very smooth and fluffy, with a very rich and meaty flavor profile. The fennel mustard paired along phenomenally with it – just a little bit of sour and spiciness to cut through the richnes of the rillette. The dates “butter” was also great- and although it paired ever so slightly less well with the duck, it was tastier by itself and I could eat whole spoonfuls of this stuff. There’s no actual butter, but the chef purees dates and adds a bit of orange juice and other secrets to come up with this sweet sauce.
I kind of wanted to order the chicken liver pate at this point, since the rillette was such a home-run, but I had already eaten a whole basket of the Acme bread and knew I needed to save my stomach.
Second Starter: Crispy Pork Belly with Green Tomato, Watercress, and Feta Cheese, with a Cured Black Olive Aioli and Chili Oil
The other blogheads are familiar with my fascination with acid but this dish truly exemplifies how acid can brighten up a dish and make an otherwise great dish become perfect. This dish is pretty darn close to perfect. The pork belly was crispy on the outside like bacon and juicy on the inside like pork belly should be. So you get all this rich porky flavor and it’s intense, but the brightness of every single other element of this dish made it feel so light! The black olive aioli adds a little bit of earthiness and tang, and the green tomatoes do a rocking job of adding further acidity and a juicy texture. The feta cheese mellows everything out a little bit, and the creaminess adds a further texture, but the kicker is the chili oil – which is so subtle but lingers just enough so that you know the heat is there and adds one final complex element to this symphony of flavors. I think the execution of adding so much acid to the pork belly is genius, and the tangy earthiness of the olives worked incredibly well and was very creative.
Main Course: Pan-Fried Rock Cod Sandwich – with Brandade, Romaine, Scallions, Lemon Aioli, on a La Farine Baguette (La Farine is one of my favorite bakeries in Berkeley, and happens to be about 3 doors down from Wood Tavern on the same block!)
The quality of this sandwich rivals that of Gregoire’s, another Berkeley staple. The bread was fantastically fresh and toasted, and the crispy cod was brightened up by the salad that came on the sandwich. I think the lemon aioli really complemented the cod, as again, it all comes back to acid.
I was stuffed at this point, having also enjoyed a beer (I forgot to note what brewery it was from (maybe Almanac?), but it was from SF and was this great extra pale ale). I really want to try the whiskey-laced pate though, and all the other scrumptious noms offered during dinner. I’ve heard their seafood stew is good, and the desserts sound great…so be on the lookout for a second post! I can’t overstate how much I loved this lunch.