Thursday, June 14, 2007

HFF Returns: Wood Tavern

I'd never put much stock in how outside forces can conspire to muddle one's enjoyment of a dinner out. Until, that is, I went to Wood Tavern (6317 College Ave, Oakland) for the first time and service was so goddamn weird (even before the credit card debacle at the end) that it put an enormous damper on the meal.

Our return visit, however, was exceptional.

We were greeted warmly and offered a spot at the bar while we waited for our table to be ready (a nice big table in the window). We got a bottle of the 2002 Au Bon Climat "Hildegard" white table wine (pinot gris/pinot blanc/aligote). It was crisp and honeyed with light toasty oak and refreshing acidity. I would've liked a little more complexity on the finish, the wine fell off pretty sharply after moving warmly across the palate, but other than that it was tasty. Perhaps it was just the slightest bit too old. Wood Tavern's wine list is still middling at past, lacking significant geographic and varietal diversity and depth. I'm sure it'll grow with time.

First course. Charlie had the english pea and mint soup (with suprisingly no pork products). Really fresh green pea flavor and pronounced garlic. The mint flavor was present but subtle. I had the ahi tuna tartare which was a trio of small plates--a molded disc of diced tuna, another disc of Oregon bay shrimp with spicy chilies, and a dollop of fresh light cucumber and avocado mousse. All three were good separate and combined, though the tuna was of mediocre quality.

Entrees. I had the "Wicked Good Seafood Stew." It was excellent. Truly spicy tomato broth filled with chunks of meaty linguica, monkfish, clams, Oregon shrimp, mussels, and a shit ton of octopus. Other than a few tough bits of octopus, the disparate ingredients were each cooked impeccably. Charlie had pan-roasted chicken wtih artichokes and bread crumbs. Chicken was rich and moist, accompanying veggies were cooked nicely. The added pan jus, while buttery and flavorful, was very salty.

Desserts were much more interesting this visit. Charlie had the profiteroles filled with bright minty ice cream and I had the strawberry shortcake which was surprisingly moist. Strawberries were sweet and juicy and the obligatory balsamic glaze was complementary without being trite.

Service was friendly and approachable but professional. No weirdness, though I'd say that Wood Tavern still needs to figure something out with their water service. Having the first thing a server ask you is if "tap water is okay?" is something of a turn off.

Without the distractions of my previous trip, I was able to appreciate more the decor which is tony but unpretentious. The dark wood is fabulous, tables spacious, and the mismatched vintage (real silver) flatware is a great touch.

I thought the menu was taking what I viewed to be bigger risks with flavors and preparations this time. Sure Wood Tavern still had the obligatory menagerie of animal products available, but many of the preparations seemed more creative. I don't know if this is a product of a successful review or the opportunity to use more diverse late spring/summer produce, but whatever it was I appreciated the evolution of the menu.

So consider my opinion changed. Add Wood Tavern to rotation.

Still need to get back there with a bigger group to try the charcuterie and cheese plates.

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