Oakland is in the middle of a restaurant boom, with several major openings in just the last few weeks. But none has been as anticipated as Duende, the restaurant and bar by former Oliveto chef Paul Canales.
The large restaurant, next door to Flora and kitty corner from the Fox Theater in Uptown, has been packed since it opened last month. I visited recently for dinner with fellow food bloggers Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging and Christina of East Bay Dish.
Spotlight on Spain
Canales and his partners have created a space celebrating Spain, with a menu influenced by Canales’ Basque heritage and an adjacent bodega selling Spanish wine and olive oil. The restaurant’s name, Duende, is a Basque expression to describe people or things that are other-wordly.
The menu itself is heavy on pintxos and tapas, the bar snacks and small plates popular in Spain. Some of the items are starkly Spanish, like the patatas bravas ($6) or crispy potatoes and pulpitos ($13) or baby octopus with fried artichokes.
But this mix of small plates are pricey for Spanish tradition. A plate of baby squid, frisee and milky-soft slow-cooked egg (txiperones) went for $13.50. California influences come into play with the salads, including a flavorful yet simple Ensalade de Col ($11.50) with Savoy cabbage, green olives, pistachios and what seemed like a mountain high shaving of Mahon cheese.
The large festive paella is also on the menu, but from the get-go this was the most confusing section for me and, apparently, the staff. On the menu the price for the paella is listed as $18-$19 per portion. So does that mean the paella is made for the number of people at the table?
Not so because the menu also says a 30-cm paella pan would serve two people, and a 34-cm pan serves four. So the 30-cm pan (which we went for) cost $36 even though there were three at our table. Why they don’t just list the price for a 30-cm at $36-$38 instead of saying $18-$19 per portion is beyond me.
We actually ate the Fideua, which is a traditional Valencia dish (where paella originated), but fideua is not made with the typical paella rice but something more like pasta (think orzo). Duende’s version included duck, wild nettles, olives and balsamico.
The combination was hearty and full of flavor, like many of the dishes at Duende, but I think I would prefer to stick with the traditional paella rice the next time.
The Last Bite
Chef Canales’ Spanish-inspired menu is bold and full of flavor, served up in lively and festival space (that seems almost like part restaurant part performance space). But the pricing can make it a premium night out, opposed to the more casual, fun bar experiences of Spain.
Duende, 468 19th St. (at Telegraph), Oakland. PH: 510.893.0174 Open Wed.–Sun., 5:30-–10 p.m. (till 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat.) Reservations, major credit card accepted. (Additional liquor tax added to bill.) duendeoakland.com.
Check out Christina’s take on Duende on her East Bay Dish.
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