alaMar Docks In Uptown
New restaurant brings seafood boils to town.
The seafood dinners at alaMar are meant to be shared.
Saucy fingers flecked with herbs and crayfish mustard tear the slippery abdomen from the carapace, the pink flesh taking a dunk in Meyer lemon pepper sauce before lips close around it, slurping the dripping sauce off fingertips. Sure, you could use utensils, but dining at alaMar should be, as co-owner and Chef Nelson German describes it, a "nitty, gritty style of eating."
The new Uptown Oakland restaurant offering seafood boils, Dominican-inspired dishes, and handcrafted cocktails shows its Oakland pride from the décor to the locally sourced ingredients on the seasonal menu. Rotating works from local artists anchor an understated nautical backdrop-thick, tan ropes against a soft blue wall-that acts as a subtle nod to Oakland’s history as a port city. The bar sports a rope and pulley system and a stiff Bay Vieux Fashioned-a twist on an Old Fashioned with sarsaparilla and bourbon infused with bay leaf gathered from the Oakland hills-strong enough for the heartiest of sailors, though the Kentucky kick overpowers the bay leaf. The house-made seasonal sodas, such as the cucumber lemongrass soda, are inspiring in their subtle complexity and effervescence; perfect to sip on the patio while the cool breeze comes off Lake Merritt.
Lake Merritt feels like the ocean when Penn Cove mussels arrive. Swimming in a Spanish saffron, ancho chili, and Thai basil sauce, the bivalves serve as meal and utensil, scooping up sips of sauce along with the ridiculously tender mussels that could write the book on perfectly cooked shellfish. The accompanying dense, country sourdough from Oakland’s Firebrand Artisan Breads initially-and inexplicably-resists soaking up the sauce, but persistence pays off leaving you with a dangerously crispy crust encompassing a soggy burst of flavor.
Chef German’s support of the neighborhood that supports his passion extends beyond locally sourced ingredients and art; it lives in the sense of community alaMar brings to the table. Dishes are served family-style, and guests are encouraged to dig into every course-and their neighbors’ courses-with their bare hands. "It’s one of those things that bring people together. You come as a group, you go crazy on seafood."
After the table is wrist-deep in sauce, shellfish, and smiles, it would be a shame to waste the experience on a Wetnap, so alaMar offers a communal hand-washing sink that overlooks the kitchen. It’s a little touch, but one that shows German’s commitment to community dining is so extensive it even includes the kitchen sink.
alaMar, 100 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-907-7555, www.alaMarOakland.com