Shaking Up Lakeshore at Shakewell
The Iberian-Mediterranean trend lands near the lake.
Tortilla Espanola, bacon-wrapped and chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, and roasted delicata squash salad.
Photos by Lori Eanes
The Giants had just won the World Series when we set out for our second dinner at Shakewell, the new, Spanish-inspired restaurant on Lakeshore Avenue. We figured baseball fever would have cut into business. We were wrong. Most of the 70 seats were filled at 9 p.m. when manager (and pastry chef) Tim Nugent greeted us at the door. Nugent told us the wait for a table would be just a moment, and in that moment, apparently, Yamona, the server who waited on us one week earlier, had spotted us and requested that we be seated in her section. “We remember people here,” Nugent said, before we were escorted to “our table” at the rear of the restaurant, beyond the long bar, with its shelves sparkling in multicolored hues, and near the open kitchen and wood-fired oven.
The space, which previously housed Mezze, was radically remodeled by The Bon Vivants design-build team who went with an eclectic mix of concrete, wood, stone, metal, and glass. Your eyes rove from low walls made of caged rocks to pendant lights poised like tears at the end of arching rods, salvaged Douglas fir pillars supporting nothing, a slatted dropped ceiling, high-top and low-top and communal tables, counter seating, and more. It’s a refined, if slightly overwrought hodgepodge with more panache than personality. If there’s an off-note, it might be the white steel tables that reflect an almost cafeteria-like glow.
In keeping with the spirited vibe, Robin ordered the same house sangria ($10) that pleased her on our first visit, and I kicked things off with a house cocktail (all $12). The Smoking Gun (scotch, Campari, sweet vermouth, and orange peel) had already become an instant favorite; this time I opted for the seasonally apropos and surprisingly feisty Autumn Cozy (cinnamon-infused rye, two different amaros, house-made maple bitters and clove tincture, and orange peel). Yamona said she had planned to recommend it—she being the kind of server who is cheerfully forthright about her suggestions, noting what dishes might go well together as well as ones that might not be quite up to snuff on a given night. When Robin commented that the sangria was slightly thin and sour compared to what she’d had before, Yamona took it to the bartender, who came to the table and explained that the recipe was his, but that someone else had made it that night. He took it back and made it richer and sweeter.
With the front of house running smoothly under Nugent—a veteran of Zuni Cafe, Perbacco, and Café Rouge—Shakewell’s kitchen is the purview of chef/partner Jen Biesty, who has worked with Jamie Oliver, Traci Des Jardins, and Loretta Keller, among others. Her most recent gig was as executive chef of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, where Nugent was executive pastry chef. Inspired by travel, Biesty has taken on the challenge of mastering classics and lesser-known dishes of Spanish cuisine while imparting her own personality to that broad palette of ingredients and influences. I’m not sure her vision is fully realized yet—not every dish is a home run—but her on-base percentage is high.
The Bay Area is experiencing a mini Iberian-Mediterranean boom, as one chef after another steps up to the paella, or, in Biesty’s case, the bomba, a rice dish wood-oven-baked in a clay cazuela, topped and mixed with anything from chicken, prawns, olives, and piperade to clams, chorizo, and green beans to the especially luscious combination of squid, fennel sofritio, squid ink, stewed garlic, pickled chilies, and preserved lemon. The bombas are priced around $23 to $26, putting them at the high end of the large dishes, which might include grilled calamari ($16), pan-seared cod ($24), chicken albondigas ($16), lamb kefta ($19), and grilled steak ($24).
With another 15 or more pinxto-and-tapas-style small plates, salads, and side dishes to choose from, just getting to the mains, let alone the desserts, can be problematic. At our first dinner, Robin and I did work our way through both a bowl of huge Saltspring mussels ($16), garnished with bits of roasted apple and ham, scallions, toasted garlic, and fennel pollen (the mussels were superb, but the white wine broth lacked depth and zing), and a magnificent braised pork shoulder ($18)—an exquisitely fork-tender chunk of boneless pork that was so rich it was almost sweet. A handful of pickled green tomato slices added a wonderfully tart contrast; a few dashes of house-blended carrot-habañero sauce provided refreshing jolts of heat; and a several slightly oily triangles of grilled Lebanese flatbread introduced another welcome texture (as well as another cultural reference point that pops up in Biesty’s dishes).
Shakewell allows for multiple dining strategies. Pop in for a cocktail, a glass of wine, or a sip of sherry, and a bite or two. Bring a big party and graze through the ever-changing menu. When they’re available, we’d readily order the pork shoulder and chicken meatballs again, but we’d front-load the line-up with small plates of fried olives stuffed with aji pepper and fried anchovy ($5); deviled quail eggs with pimentón and serrano ham ($4); sardines with avocado, pickled onion, and arugula on little toasts ($8); piquillo peppers stuffed with duck, quinoa, and pine nuts ($10); grilled flatbread with labneh (herbed strained yogurt) and fried garbanzo beans ($10); stuffed and tempura-battered fried squash blossoms ($9); fried cauliflower, also tempura-battered ($8); and mojama (cured tuna) on white bean puree, with olive tapenade ($8). A full meal could be made of the well-composed salads, such as roasted delicata squash with black lime, sriracha yogurt, toasted pumpkin seeds, and watercress ($12), and grilled little gems with fresh anchovies, Manchego cheese, pickled onions, and avocado ($13). We’d also ask the server to monitor the pacing, which felt rushed from the kitchen on both our visits. For dessert, because we still cling to platonic ideals acquired in Barcelona, we’d probably pass on the churros with spiced bittersweet chocolate sauce—ours were overly browned but undercooked inside—and the flan Catalán (both $7), and take a swing at Nugent’s bittersweet chocolate torta with chopped pistachios and cocoa nibs ($8) or one of his fruit tarts with cheese ($8).
Of course, we’d need to rally a large group to manage a meal like that, or else just keep coming to enjoy the identity that will no doubt pull together and harmonize in the coming months—and maybe find out what Shakewell really means.