Appreciate The Dock for Its Angles
The menu at The Dock on Linden Street is both Gastro-pub and fine dining destination: One can choose casual dishes to go with artisan draft and bottled beers as well as complex flavors an gorgeously plated selections paired with cocktails or fine wine.
Grilled ocean trout and the West Oakland tan sundae.
Photo by Lori Eanes
A menu is like a story. A good one has a tantalizing beginning, a robust and compelling middle, and a memorable ending. At The Dock at Linden Street, co-owned by chef James Syhabout and craft beer star Adam Lamoreaux, the menu, conjured by Syhabout and chef de cuisine Geoff Davis, also includes a preface: “snacks” such as almonds roasted with chorizo spices, Caesar popcorn, and pork rillettes on crouton toasts. Then it moves on to a seven-paragraph beginning of starters (from onion rings with caviar ranch dip to tuna tartar), five chapters of mains (toasted faro with trumpet mushrooms, grilled flounder, lamb shoulder stew, roasted duck breast, the Shed burger), and, depending on your sweet tooth, either a denouement or climactic ending of buttermilk panna cotta, spiced date cake, or the West Oakland tan sundae.
Dotting that narrative are splashes of whimsy: The popcorn (a Syhabout signature) is seasoned with anchovy, lemon, black pepper, chives, and grana padano cheese; the coarse, cheesy pancake is topped with a salad of grilled brassicas and beef cheeks; and the sundae, texturally reminiscent of the Hawker sundae at Syhabout’s Hawker Fare, sees BB-size malt balls, house-made Graham crackers, chunks of fudge brownie, and salted scotch caramel decorating a swirly mound of chocolate soft-serve. There is the ambitious, intellectual reach you’d expect of a chef-owner with two Michelin stars (at Commis): The tender stew includes diced, crunchy rutabaga, baby leaks, young kale, and provocative accents of mint and smoked caraway; the flounder comes in a Meyer lemon dashi accompanied by seaweed, wilted spinach, and starchy sunchokes that have been smashed and fried into slightly crisped, soft-centered nuggets.
And there is tension, too, mostly around questions of identity: Is this the menu of a gastro-pub, with dishes like popcorn, onion rings, jerk-spiced chicken wings, and a classic hamburger with iceberg lettuce and American cheese that are designed to be casually consumed in a party atmosphere with Lamoreaux’s extraordinary list of local, U.S., and European artisan draft and bottled beers? Or is the menu’s dominant through-line that of a fine dining destination, where you start a meal with one or two of head bartender Tayler Buffington’s inventive cocktails, such as the Stone Fox, essentially a tequila martini, the Fair & Warmer (think Manhattan with rum and orange liqueur), or the wondrous rye-Oloroso sherry-amaro El Camino? Does the plot then linger over and attentively parse the complex flavors of crispy Brussels sprouts made uncommonly rich and savory-sweet with sage, sugar pie pumpkin puree, and maple vinegar; raw tuna melding into fermented turnip greens, egg custard, Korean chili flakes, pear, sesame oil, and puffed rice; or any of the gorgeously plated main dishes? Meanwhile, you might be pairing the fare with something from a small selection of Spanish sherries or the short, interesting list of reasonably priced sparkling, rosé, white, and red wines from California, France, Portugal, Italy, and Austria.
The Dock’s design doesn’t tip the balance in one direction or the other. The adjoining Beer Shed is clearly in the brewpub camp, although the full menu can be ordered there as well. But the Dock’s dining area has just enough post-industrial panache and finesse—a gleaming stainless steel open kitchen, dark wood tabletops, mindfully placed drop lighting, a deftly designed and illuminated back-bar—to transform the brick-walled former warehouse and loading dock into a space worthy of the latest high-end San Francisco hotspot. It is in same general sweet spot as Camino and Duende, and it feels equally welcoming to nibblers who are primarily tippling and diners who are focused on the details of the culinary experience. Both demographics were in evidence on the two nights we visited, with Oakland’s range of ethnicities and generations well represented.
The story of a restaurant doesn’t stop with the menu, the lineage, or the architecture and appointments, of course. It’s an evolving narrative that shifts organically night to night, or even within a multicourse meal, affected most noticeably by service and execution. During our dinners, servers Kwesi and Aaronette (names on the receipt, not announced as in “I’ll be taking care of you tonight”), were informed and efficient, able to describe the preparations and gracious in their deliveries and follow-ups. Where the plot went off the rails a few times was on the plate and in the glass. The Caesar popcorn, appealing in concept, arrived cool and unevenly drenched with the dressing. Robin bailed quickly, and I snacked until I bogged down in sogginess. The onions rings were fine, but the caviar barely lifted the dip out of blandness. And, after being tremendously impressed by our El Camino and Fair & Warmer cocktails, we thought we’d test the bar’s way with our standards, a sazerac (me) and a sidecar (her). The bar failed. The sazerac was weirdly pink, opaque, and bitterly citrusy, as if New Orleans were on another planet. The remake was OK, but still out of whack, and Robin’s sidecar was hardly platonic. In the future, I’d stick with, and go back for, the house specialties—they are probably rigorously rehearsed, and they certainly tasted more nuanced and balanced.
Everything else we tried displayed a refined touch, especially the unctuous rillettes with sauerkraut and mustard seed relish, the lamb stew, served in a cast-iron skillet, and the buttermilk panna cotta, distinguished by blackberry cassis puree and cereal crumble. That last filled the bottom quarter of a small glass ramekin, a perfect portion for one eater with little room to spare, but too paltry to share. Robin had reservations about the size of and Japanese tinge to the flounder, but rightly or (probably) wrongly, I attribute her reaction to the mood that set in when she was told, after ordering, that the kitchen had run out of burgers. I, the Japanophile, found the flounder nearly perfect, and it was I who had the burger on our second visit. Accompanied by excellent salt-and-vinegar fries, it was served on an exemplary small, egg-washed bun, slightly seared around a medium rare core, and accented by melted onion and “dijonaise.” Haute cuisine one night? Superb bar food the next? I guess there are more than two sides to this story.
The Dock at Linden Street
American. 95 Linden St., 510-338-3965. Snacks $5-$8, starters and salads $9-$15, mains $12-$26, cocktails $8-$11, beer $5-$13, wine $11-$13/glass $44-$52/bottle, desserts $7-$8. Hours are 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m Fri.-Sat. (The Beer Shed serves food 1-8 p.m. Sundays, as well.) www.TheDockOakland.com. CCG%X$$–$$$$