The story: Chef Daniel Patterson, known for his fine-dining Coi in San Francisco, opened his first Oakland restaurant in Uptown and called it Plum, eventually spawning an adjacent Plum Bar. Over the years, though, the restaurant went through several lead chefs, and after yet another chef change earlier this summer, Patterson closed the restaurant for a week and reopened it as Ume (Japanese for plum) with a shift in focus toward California cuisine with a Japanese influence.
Why I went: Ume was the second Patterson restaurant I dined in within a week’s span (after trying his new San Francisco AltaCA), and it was more a suggestion from my food blogging friends Sandy (Foodhoe’s Foraging), Brenda (Bites & Bourbon) and Christina (East Bay Dish), who really wanted to try the revamped Plum now Ume. So we all gathered for a weeknight dinner recently.
The vibe: I’ve dined at Plum a few times and enjoyed the the space and large counter facing the open kitchen. That hasn’t changed, with the same decor and same photo artwork of plums on the walls. The only distinct difference (other than the food) is the Japanese pottery used to plate the dishes. The vibe is still the same, which can be sometimes raucous with the music playing in a room with high ceilings, and a clientele of mixed ages.
The menu: The opening menu was developed by Chef Brett Cooper, a Patterson alum who’s working on his own restaurant but in the interim is supervising the new menu. But much of the execution is from a cadre of young chefs behind the counter. The menu’s style references Plum, but of course with dishes sprinkled with Japanese ingredients like miso and yuzu. Ume continues the Plum tradition of small plates and (as I’ve noted in the past) the portion size may seem small for the price.
The booze: There’s a specialty cocktail menu that comes out from Plum Bar (which retained its name), ranging in prices from $10 to $11. Several of us tried the “Mule by Any Other Name” ($11) made of a choice of vodka, gin, rum, tequila or bourbon, and lime and PB Ginger Beer. It was fine but actually nothing spectacular for the price.
My favorite dish: We ordered several small plates and topped it with the fried chicken ramen ($17), but my favorite dish of the night was the umeboshi-glazed pork ribs with pickled greens ($11). The ribs were tender and the glaze was just the right balance, but I especially loved the crispy edge of the ribs providing just a slight crunch when biting into the tender meat. Another favorite was the marinated salmon with shio koji, yuzu, and turnip ($13). This salmon was served raw like a tartare, and the lightness of the shio koji and yuzu was a refreshing balance.
Insider tip: Don’t stay for dessert because Ume only offers two: a bowl of strawberries for $5 and coconut mochi bun with plum jam ($3 each). We tried the mochi bun and it wasn’t very satisfying IMHO. (Better to go to nearby Hawker Fare for some soft-serve ice cream.)
The last bite: Plum always offered pleasant dishes, although not necessarily filling. And Ume doesn’t seem to be a major departure from that, albeit the Japanese influence allows those new to Asian cuisine to get a hint of what it’s like. Ume is still a solid restaurant, but I don’t see it as a transformative redo.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Ume, 2214 Broadway (near Grand Avenue), Oakland. PH: 510.444.7586. Open for weekday lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday fro 5:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. umeoakland.com
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