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.

The large space had a colorful and festive atmosphere. This shot I accidentally capture Sandy snapping away.

The large space had a colorful and festive atmosphere. This shot I accidentally capture Sandy snapping away.

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.

Paella Portions
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.

Fideua ($38) is similar to paella but is made with tiny pasta pearls and cooked with duck and wild nettles.

Fideua ($38) is similar to paella but is made with tiny pasta pearls and cooked with duck and wild nettles.

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.

Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
3-snaps

 

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.

Duende on Urbanspoon

Ensalada de Col ($11.5) with savoy cabbage, green olives and pistachios topped with a mountain of Mahon cheese shavings. The dressing was creamy but light with anchovy flavors.

Ensalada de Col ($11.5) with savoy cabbage, green olives and pistachios topped with a mountain of Mahon cheese shavings. The dressing was creamy but light with anchovy flavors.

Duende plays of the pinxtos bar snack tradition of Spain. A pickled herring on toast ($1.50) was a bright beginning to dinner, along with my drink Lillian's Bluff ($9) made of cava and vin de noix.

Duende plays of the pinxtos bar snack tradition of Spain. A pickled herring on toast ($1.50) was a bright beginning to dinner, along with my drink Lillian’s Bluff ($9) made of cava and vin de noix.

Pebrots Farcits was a tasty stuffed piquillo pepper with lamb, currants, and pine nuts, but also a good example of how the restaurants small plates are pricey (this went for $12.50 for the two stuffed peppers)

Pebrots Farcits was a tasty stuffed piquillo pepper with lamb, currants, and pine nuts, but also a good example of how the restaurants small plates are pricey (this went for $12.50 for the two stuffed peppers)

Txiperones ($13.50) or baby squid with frisee and a slow cooked egg. The egg was like it was made sous-vide stye.

Txiperones ($13.50) or baby squid with frisee and a slow cooked egg. The egg was like it was made sous-vide stye.

Chefs working at the open kitchen at the center of the restaurant

Chefs working at the open kitchen at the center of the restaurant

Lenguas y Orejas ($10.50) was a plate of pork tongues and ears with salsa diablo (aka devil's sauce). It was like a layering of tongue and ears, and while the tongue was tender and nice with the sauce, the ears was glutinous-like, giving the overall dish an odd texture.

Lenguas y Orejas ($10.50) was a plate of pork tongues and ears with salsa diablo (aka devil’s sauce). It was like a layering of tongue and ears, and while the tongue was tender and nice with the sauce, the ears was glutinous-like, giving the overall dish an odd texture.

Botiffara ($16.50) is a traditional Spanish sweet sausage, and Duende's version tender and loose and served in a casserole with huge emergo beans, spinach and turnips.

Botiffara ($16.50) is a traditional Spanish sweet sausage, and Duende’s version tender and loose and served in a casserole with huge emergo beans, spinach and turnips.

Dessert was a chocolate tart ($9) with ginger poached pears and creme fraiche. The pears were faint in taste, but the chocolate was wonderfully airy and light like mousse or silken tofu.

Dessert was a chocolate tart ($9) with ginger poached pears and creme fraiche. The pears were faint in taste, but the chocolate was wonderfully airy and light like mousse or silken tofu.

Next door to the dining area is a bodega selling Spanish wine and pinxtos. It's also open during the day selling pastries and coffee.

Next door to the dining area is a bodega selling Spanish wine and pinxtos. It’s also open during the day selling pastries and coffee.

Duende is a bright light among the flurry of Oakland restaurant openings.

Duende is a bright light among the flurry of Oakland restaurant openings.

Check out Christina’s take on Duende on her East Bay Dish.

2 Responses to Duende Opening Pumps Up Oakland’s Restaurant Scene

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Can’t wait to check this place out, as I love a good paella. But yes, that pricing system is way confusing.

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