The story: Lungomare is a restaurant that opened up in the former Miss Pearl’s space in the heart of Oakland’s Jack London Square, specializing in Northern Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. The restaurant is the bold gamble of owner Chris Pastena, who co-owns the nearby Chop Bar and Grand Tavern.
Why I went: Along with the food, including house-made charcuterie, Lungomare is known for its cocktail program, which features many ingredients and liqueur that are house-made, from the brandied cherries to the ginger bitters to the Meyer lemon chartreuse. I was invited by the restaurant to taste some of its craft cocktails and a few bites. I invited my foodie friend Christina of East Bay Dish, who joined me as we sat at the bar drinking and eating. (I wanted Christina to partner with me for the meal because this girl can hold her liquor and is not afraid to order “big girl drinks.”)
The vibe: The restaurant is a huge space, with the waterfall glass screen at the entrance giving it a hotel feel. We were there on a weeknight, so it wasn’t as crowded except for what looked like an after-work group on one side of the bar. The decor had a formal touch, which didn’t seem to jive with the pizza oven and casual attire of the bartenders.
The menu: As mentioned earlier, the food picks up on the cuisine of Northern Italy, a bit of blending of Tuscan and Ligurian. There are seafood plates, pizza and pasta. Chef Craig DiFonzo also makes a lot of the charcuterie offerings, including nduja, coppa, soppresatta, and breasola. Pastena sent out some dishes to pair with the cocktails we were having, and they included a lovely grilled octopus and ox tongue ($14), pork belly ($13), butternut squash ravioli in brown butter ($16) and nduja-stuffed Medjool dates ($10). We topped off our meal and cocktails with a mousse-like chocolate budino ($10).
The booze: Since the original invitation was to check out the cocktail program, we didn’t hold back trying the various cocktails on the menu. We started with the Italian Job ($11), a rye drink that Christina originally tried at the Tribune Tavern (Pastena was a co-owner of that restaurant when it opened but recently divested from that partnership), and the Tuscan Sun ($11), which sounded interesting with the topping of orange granita to simulate a sunset. The “Conclusion” ($11) was light and refreshing, featuring house-made Meyer Lemon Chartreuse, and the Nero ($9) of Scotch and basil-grapefruit shrub was almost the same except darker in shade. The Rye Cider ($10) with house-made apple syrup and spiced bitters had a unique garnish of “apple dust.” We capped off the evening with two types of house-made liqueur (the fig and the nocino, a walnut liqueur) with our dessert. What I appreciate about the cocktail program is the creativity of the presentation, house-made ingredients (of course) and the balance in flavor and alcohol.
My favorite dish: I don’t know if it were the cocktails or just the brilliance of the kitchen, but the food was so satisfying. I had two favorite dishes: 1) the octopus and ox tongue because it was beautifully plated, the octopus was tender, and the combination of all the ingredients were balanced, and 2) the nduja-stuffed Medjool dates, which Christina called an “umami bomb” because each bite was an explosion of salty of the nduja and sweet from the dates. It also helps that they were wrapped with prosciutto.
Insider tip: For some nostalgic fun, Lungomare’s bar program also includes a few fountain sodas that can be made perfect for adults with the addition of alcohol.
The last bite: Lungomare celebrates its two-year anniversary, and it seems like the food and bar program have grown into their own. DiFonzo’s well-executed dishes are supported by a creative and smart cocktail program. The space might seem huge but the food and drinks are intimate and personal.
Thanks to Pastena and Lungomare for the drinks and meal!
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Lungomare, 1 Broadway, Jack London Square, Oakland. PH: 510.444.7171. Open daily dinner, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday); weekday lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and weekend brunch, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.lungomareoakland.com
NOTE: Lungomare is celebrating its two-year anniversary with a Mardi Gras party on Saturday, Feb. 7, that’s a benefit for the Peralta Colleges Foundation. Tickets are now only $20 each for a night of appetizers and drinks. Purchase tickets here.
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