Calavera bar

Collection of mezcals and tequilas at the large bar

venison heart

Special for Day of the Dead, a plate of Broken Arrow Ranch venison heart, pickled cactus, pasilla de Oaxaca, and mole de pepita ($16)

The story: Calavera is the new, grand restaurant in the buzzing new Uptown development known as The Hive. The restaurant is like a love poem to the regional cuisine of Mexico brought to life by restaurateurs Chris Pastena (Lungomare), Jessica Sackler and Miguel Iglesias (both of Coqueta and Oyamel).

Why I went: One of the early notes about the restaurant, which spotlights the cuisine of the Oaxacan region, talked about the fried bugs that are served on the menu. Known as chapulines, they’re imported from Oaxaca, and the novelty made me want to dip my feet into trying more Mexican cuisine, even though it’s not a cuisine I often crave. Knowing I would need support to try the bugs, I recruited my regular food-loving dining partners, Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging, Christina of East Bay Dish, and Brenda of Bites and Bourbon. It had been awhile since I’d seen these ladies so we drank and ate and chatted the night through.

Oaxacan folk art at the host station.

Oaxacan folk art at the host station.

Guacamole de la Serpiente Enplumada ($17) is guacamole verde with house smoked Mt. Lassen trout, trout caviar, and nixtamal totopos.

Guacamole de la Serpiente Enplumada ($17) is guacamole verde with house smoked Mt. Lassen trout, trout caviar, and nixtamal totopos.

chapulines

The infamous chapulines ($3) that we had with our smoked trout and guacamole verde.

The vibe: The spacious, sparkling restaurant is festive with Oaxacan folk art and decorations commemorating the Day of the Dead (we had dined in late October). The large bar, which has an extensive list of mezcal and tequilas, is bustling and impressive. Everyone seemed happy to be dining there, so it really had a party atmosphere.

halibut ceviche

Ceviche Costeno ($13) is local halibut crudo, avocado, salsa Mexicana, and toasted hominy. FYI, this came to our table accidentally.

Yellow fin tuna ceviche

The ceviche dish we actually ordered: ceviche de atun estilo jose ($14) or line-caught yellow fin tuna, maggi-lime marinade, crispy amaranth, and pecans.

The menu: The regular menu is a robust one with a wide selection of starters, ceviches, salads, tacos, large plates, and vegetable sides. The chapulines are featured as an added element to the house guacamole verde ($9 + $3 for the bugs), and on the night we went there was a special Day of the Dead menu with additional items that also featured the chapulines in a taco with white onion petals, mezcal, and mole verde ($6 each). We also tried other tacos, including the wild mushrooms ($4 each) and veal sweetbreads ($5 each). So what about the bugs? We actually ordered it with the guacamole de la serpiente enplumada ($17), which is gaucamole verde with house smoked trout, trout caviar, and nixtamal totopos. The chapulines came separately and were so small, I could hardly tell they were insects. You could have told me they were chocolate shavings and I would have believed you. I think because they were so small, I barely noticed any odd taste when mixed with the guacamole. Many of the plates were beautiful (even a side of cauliflower that was multicolored) but not all were packed with flavor.

salt air margarita

Salt Air margarita ($12) with the salt foam

Cocktail at Calavera

This is Christina’s cocktail, but I forgot what she ordered. I think the salt air margarita was hitting me at this point.

The booze: Along with the list of mezcal and tequilas, there’s an interesting list of specialty cocktails. I had to try the “salt air” ($12), which is a margarita made with Milagro blanco, Luxardo Triplum, lime, and an Oaxacan salt air foam that really had a salty taste. There’s a Mexican twist to classic cocktails, such as the “Truffled” Zapotec Old Fashioned ($13) made with rum, Vago elote mezcal, miel de huitlacoco, and an Oaxacan chocolate mole bitters. And yes, there are cervezas (beer).

Special chapulines tacos

Special chapulines tacos

Veal sweetbreads taco were served with pineapples (it had dragon fruit stated on the menu but they were out of dragon fruit).

Veal sweetbreads taco were served with pineapples (it had dragon fruit stated on the menu but they were out of dragon fruit).

The decor really paid tribute to the people of Oaxacan

The decor really paid tribute to the people of Oaxacan

My favorite dish: I loved the smoke flavor of the guacamole de la serpiente enplumada, and everyone at the table loved the fresh blue corn chips that we kept asking for more. How I wished there were more of the guacamole verde on the plate, but everything mixed with the trout roe made this a pimped out guac plate.

braised pork shank

Frijol con Puerco is braised pork shank with black bean espuma and salsa verde. $24

Calavera kitchen

The open kitchen at Calavera

roasted cauliflower

Coliflor Placera or roasted cauliflower with salsa placera and shallots ($9)

The last bite: While I liked the variety of options on the menu, I don’t know if I left getting a real sense of Oaxacan cuisine. The flavors didn’t seem prominent enough to be memorable. Still, the restaurant is beautiful, and despite a staff that sometimes seems overwhelmed, it’s a festive place in a hopping new Uptown home.

The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

2.5snaps

 

 


The deets:
Calavera, Mexican Kitchen and Agave Bar, 2337 Broadway (near Grand), Oakland. PH: 510.338.3273. Open weekdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Friday); Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. calaveraoakland.com

Calavera Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sandy said she had to try this molten Oaxacan drinking chocolate ($7) which came oozing out of its glass. She said it would have been better with a shot of mezcal. What wouldn't be?

Sandy said she had to try this molten Oaxacan drinking chocolate ($7) which came oozing out of its glass. She said it would have been better with a shot of mezcal. What wouldn’t be?

Calavera in Oakland

Calavera is one of two major restaurants that anchor The Hive development in Uptown

Check out Sandy’s take on our meal on her blog, Foodhoe’s Foraging.

6 Responses to A Review of Calavera in Oakland’s The Hive

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    I love Oaxacan food because of its famed moles. As for the crickets, you just have to get over the initial fear because once they’re fried, they’re pretty much like potato chips. 😉

    • Ben Ben says:

      I guess they did have a lot of moles as seen on the menu, but really when it all mixes with the rest of the ingredients, you barely notice the mole.

  2. Brenda Ton says:

    Your photos make the food look incredible. Wish it tasted up to par.

  3. Sandy says:

    That was a fun evening, I really like the festive atmosphere at Calavera. I went back for the brunch, which we really enjoyed, although I still don’t feel like I get their mole… Guess that means I need to go back! Fun reliving the thrilling chapuline.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I saw that you went back, and noticed you mostly were focused on eating the home-made tortillas! LOL. It is a festive place with that large bar. Hopefully the food just goes up from here.