Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Discovering Pan-America at Bocanova in Oakland

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

A shiny symbol of Jack London Square’s revitalization, an upscale and artful Bocanova is owned and operated by the restaurant industry veterans and spouses Meredith Melville and Chef Rick Hackett.

Their kitchen pursues a special brand of harmony found in the flavors of the Americas – jalapeno, habanero, avocado, jicama, tomatillo, chimichurri…
The menu meticulously lists pantry, raw bar, garden, oven, etc. – the many locations a cornucopia of earthy delights is coming from. Choose any or choose all. You can’t go wrong with Bocanova’s creative approach to traditional dishes from different countries of origin successfully integrated into a Pan-American feast.

Start with cocktails, like Premier Paloma or Tangoed Up in You. Tequila, agave nectar, and cava surely set the mood for a culinary journey.

Mushroom escabeche with olive oil and cilantro is a great little starter coming from the pantry.

From the raw bar, Pacific rock fish ceviche is a definite winner with spicy lemony marinade nicely balanced out by a heap of starchy plantain chips.
And speaking of enticing starches, no matter what you order, don’t miss sweet potato and chipotle gratin from the oven.
On the night my husband and I first visited Bocanova, that was the dish that blew me away and shook the very foundation of my tastes and likes. I never really liked sweet potato considering it a cloying cousin of a perfect food, which is a highly-versatile regular tuber. But I do like chipotle, and when our knowledgeable server suggested the dish, I decided to give it a try.

Was I rewarded for my decidedness! A geometrical construction of thin golden layers, dusted with cilantro, which is Bocanova’s sweet potato, came as a true discovery – creamy, spicy, smoky, and incredibly well-balanced. I couldn’t stop eating it, but when I did, I asked to box a remaining tablespoon-size piece for me to take home and relive the experience.

Another surprise came from the grill. I’ve eaten quite a few pork loin plates in my life. However, this juicy Prather Ranch piece of meat appeared to be the best-dressed one, with tart tamarind glaze, crunchy jicama slaw, and bitter watercress, making it simply unforgettable.

A glass of Tamaral, full-bodied smooth tempranillo from Spain made a good match.

For dessert, a decadent warm chocolate croissant bread pudding paired with Lagrima white port from Portugal rounded up the delightful experience.
A big part of Bocanova’s attraction is its gentrified factory building ambience with high ceiling, ample seating and stylish light fixtures, as well as Villeroy & Boch fine china from Germany, and gallery displays of local artists’ work.
Sculptures by Jeff Margolin (www.jeffmargolin.com), paintings by Carrie Nardello (www.carrienardello.com) and shadow boxes by Meg Abraham (MegAbraham@gmail.com) are on display throughout the dining hall, private room, and even restroom hallway areas.
Bocanova is located at 55 Webster St., Oakland, CA. Call 510-444-1233 or visit www.bocanova.com.

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