UPDATE: The restaurant quietly closed in November 2016.
The story: Chef/Owner Rick Hackett opened the Pan American-influenced Bocanova at Oakland’s Jack London Square more than five years ago, and late last year expanded by opening Jack’s Oyster Bar and Fish House next door. With Executive Chef Peter Villegas (formerly of La Mar) and pastry chef Paul Conte (Bocanova’s pastry chef), the new seafood restaurant brings a high-end yet casual seafood restaurant to Oakland’s waterfront.
Why I went: All my friends have been posting about their meals at Jack’s that I decided I had to go see for myself. I mentioned it to my friend Christina of East Bay Dish, who of course already tasted the food when she was invited to a preview dinner, but she willingly agreed to be my dining part when we went for dinner last week.
The vibe: While the patio is popular, especially with the warm weather we’ve been having, we ended up at a table inside. The contemporary and modern decor had a dark mood, though, with the lounge lighting. Even the oyster bar was badly lit, leaving those poor fresh oysters in the dark.
The menu: For a menu that has just a few items, it’s odd that it had nine separate sections, from the cold section to sandwiches to small and large bowls to sides and large plates. Then there’s the daily specials to boot. I felt the menu, which of course emphasized seafood with a few meat options, was all over the place in style and pricing. The oyster po baos (a play on po boys but with steamed bun) and the firecracker shrimp had a hint of Chinese while the gumbo said Louisiana and the okonomiyaki hailed from Japan. A Dungeness crab roll went for $19 when the lobster roll on a home-made pretzel bun had a $28 price tag. Still, the quality of the ingredients were fresh and you can get special fresh oysters of the day for just $1.50 from 4 to 6 p.m. (We tried a new variety called Totten from South Puget Sound in Washington; they were plump and not super briny, a mellow taste.)
The booze: The full bar has a creative cocktail program. Christina was running late so I sat at the bar and tried the Cali Sour ($11) made with osocalis brandy, lemon, agave and my favorite egg white foam topping. Then at dinner I tried the Lavender Collins ($11), which was a light gin drink with lavender syrup, lemon and soda. Christina tried the Blood ‘N Sand ($10), a classic scotch drink with cherry bourbon.
My favorite dish: The most unusual dish was our starter oyster po bao ($14 for three buns). The steamed buns were stuffed with pork belly and a deep-fried oyster, a spin on the oyster po boys of New Orleans. Even though there’s a fried oyster, the crispiness blended nicely with the tender pork belly.
Insider tip: Be careful not to overtip because Jack’s Oyster Bar is one of the few restaurants joining the trend of automatically adding service charge to your bill. At Jack’s, it shows up as “Lift Up Oakland” for 18 percent. There’s also an additional 4 percent service charge, which I guess is for health insurance? Either way, I wished they had told me at the bar when I got my bill and didn’t realize what that line item was for and ended up tipping on top of my already-tipped check.
The last bite: While the food was made with quality ingredients, there were some misses like the overly smokey flavor of the gumbo ($21) and the bitter side of broccolini ($9). The service was professional but a bit inattentive. (We had a long break between our starters and entrees and our server didn’t come in to check on us or explain why, and she forgot to order our side of broccolini. When she put the order in, the kitchen didn’t seem to rush it and instead we waited even more just for a side.) It’s probably great to sit at Jack’s popular patio, but I feel like I can get overpriced seafood anywhere in the bay.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House, 336 Water St. (at Jack London Square), Oakland. PH: 510.271.7952. Open weekdays, from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (till 10 p.m. Friday); Saturday, 11 a.m to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. 18 % “Lift up Oakland” fee and 4 % service charge added to all bills. www.jacksoakland.com
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