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Yesterday night I had my second preview of the next best show in Oakland. It’s a new bistro that will open near the now closed Mono restaurant, by the Jack London Square Amtrak station. It’s the finest I’ve had in vegetarian dining and it’s in a neighborhood in need of a revival. One selling point of the not-yet-official restaurant is that the owners prefer to cook with organic and locally-grown ingredients. Another is their menu; they take great flavors and reconceive them in refreshing ways.

My old friend M. and sister A. joined me to sample this new and yet undisclosed restaurant. We gathered around white tablecloths with neighbors, family and new friends. Then with the culinary luxuriousness of “Big Night,” a few Oaklanders tasted the finest in green cuisine.

Cocktail hour began with a few appetizers: Creole style deviled eggs, bundle of haricot vert with asian dipping sauce and crostini with heirloom cherry tomatoes and vegan basil mayo. I immediately went for the deviled eggs and liked the cilantro on top. Also wonderful was the crostini with vegan basil mayo, the best substitute I’ve had for the real thing. M. opted for the sauced-up haricot vert bundles that seemed hard to wield while standing and with only a paper napkin. But she assured me it was worth it.

After some apps. and a little sparkling wine, we had sweet corn soup with minced avocado thrown in, and chili and pumpkin seed oils drizzled on top. The corn meal and soft avocado gave it a complex texture, just like the chili oil drizzle and the sweet corn. I hesitated to turn down a refill on the soup but by the time the entree came I was glad I did. (This was about the time I found out from a teenager sitting across the table went to Montera Middle School and had the same art teacher as I did, but that was back when the Piedmont Pines school was still a junior high.) The empanadas were nothing like the hot pockets available to residents at the nearest liquor store, and more like pastries than calzones. They came with sauteed greens and a sweet onion marmalade and an ancho blueberry reduction and cilantro crema on top. This was a nice touch and another example of the fruity-savory contrasts of the evening. Definitely summer at its best.

By far my favorite course of the night was the peach salad. Grilled and juicy, the fruit was served on a bed of  arugula and red butter lettuce. I’ve always loved arugula’s peppery taste, and the butter leaves complimented the sweet fruit. With this and all the smoky dreaminess of the hazelnuts, onions and Pt. Reyes blue cheese, the dish had enough meatiness to make an entree. My sister A. and I agreed that we could’ve eaten a bowl of the stuff and called it an evening. Also a favorite was the paired wine: a pinot noir from Bink. The nose was a subtle floral but it had a rich taste, beginning with a fruit forward wash of cherries and followed by a spicy finish.

M. (also a Montera alumnus) fell in love with dessert. Vice Chocolates of Oakland supplied the almond and sea salt bars served with cheese and fruit. We savored them slowly, after the Mt. Tam cheese and macerated nectarines and before the rest of our port. I’ve been a fan of I-Li Brice’s chocolate since the first preview dinner, when she served her “Domina” truffle—a dark blend of earl grey tea, creme fraiche, bergamont and orange oil, rolled in gold dust and topped with candied orange peel.

the "domina" from vice chocolates

the "domina" from vice chocolates

Last night Brice stayed for dinner and kindly offered to drive us to her workshop afterwards. She made M. a take-away package including fig and anise bars, a favorite I discovered at the Temescal farmers market. It’s one of my top five Vices, along with her “Salty Dog,” a caramel that’s not cloying like the store-bought candies. At the second dinner, I preferred the sea salt bars for the bite they gave the smouldering cocoa in the dark chocolate. My plate was clear the Mt. Tam cheese and macerated nectarines before I finished the sea salt chocolate and port wine. All this decadence and we still left not feeling full. Just satisfied.

When this place opens this year, the neighborhood will light up. Or at least not resemble a dark movie set at night. It should provide a little cornerstore warmth to a swath of new condos. And when the Jack London Square market hall opens, both venues could feed on each other’s business. Then all would go home well fed.

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