The story: Blind Tiger is the bar and small plates restaurant from Edward Yoo and his partners. Yoo also owns the popular Korean barbecue restaurant Gogi Time in Oakland’s KoNo (or Koreatown/Northgate) neighborhood. In fact, Blind Tiger is located right underneath Gogi Time on Telegraph Avenue, serving up a Pan-Asian menu and cocktails.
Why I went: My friend Than suggested we check out Blind Tiger because he’d heard some buzz about the place from others. Blind Tiger was already on my radar, so I jumped on the idea of visiting, making plans to get together Saturday for happy hour and an early dinner.
The vibe: There’s a club vibe to the place because, first of all, it’s in the basement level and you feel like you’ll need to walk past some bouncers as you go down the steps. While there’s a cave-like feel in the expansive space, Blind Tiger really created a festive vibe with a large bar with bright lights, an open eating area with large communal tables and paper lanterns, and a more cozy, contemporary area in what’s like an A-frame structure. There are large screens showing vintage movies (it was showing “Little Shop of Horrors” while I was there). The large tables make it an ideal place for groups of friends to hangout, and that was definitely the vibe with a few large groups arriving for happy hour. It’s young, it’s hip, and it’s fun.
The booze: The bar menu has a mix of house cocktails, beer, wine and sake, all by the glass (except beer that you can get in pitchers). Than doesn’t drink, but I wanted to try one of the house cocktails. While many have Asian twists to them (think pineapple, coconut, Thai chili, etc.), it can be a bit overwhelming so I ended up with something classic, ordering the B.T. Old Fashion ($11), Blind Tiger’s version of an Old Fashioned, using Elijah Craig bourbon, Diplomatico, coconut water, sugar, and cocoa coffee bitters. The overall drink tasted like a classic Old Fashioned, so it really didn’t have much of a Blind Tiger spin, though it does hold a punch (because, well, it’s an Old Fashioned with bourbon!).
The menu: It’s an eclectic menu with a whole bunch of small plates in all forms, from raw to cold to hot to skewers. There are a variety of fresh oysters (which Than tried because they have happy hour specials of $1 per oyster) and raw fish in the form of ahi tuna poke, sashimi and ceviche. Then there are a few cold dishes (mostly salads, like the shaved asparagus salad, $9, that I tried), and a lot more hot dishes that ranges from grilled duck hearts to a burger. Since Blind Tiger slants toward a bar menu, there’s definitely a good amount of deep-fried foods. In fact, I broke my rule of not eating deep-fried foods because I saw frog legs on the menu and it’s been awhile since I’ve had them (I generally like them pan-fried the French way, but Blind Tiger’s was deep-fried).
There’s a real Asian-fusion feel to the flavors (you know, how sauces get a bit too sweet-sour like the overdressed asparagus salad), and some dishes are successful (like the frog legs and B.T. crispy chicken wings) while others fall apart (literally in the case of my steamed shrimp and pork shumai where the skin fell off as I picked them up).
For desserts, there’s only Taiwanese snow ice ($6) in a variety of flavors (you have to choose which flavor, I initially thought that the bowl came with all the flavors mixed together). I tried the Thai iced tea flavor, and it had the right flavor of my favorite Thai drink, and the ice was shaved perfectly like the authentic Taiwanese snow style that’s light and fluffy, piled high like a mountain.
Side note: Because we went during happy hour, some items from the happy hour menu is cheaper, so it’s noted. Also, drinks are $1 off house cocktails.
My favorite dish: Ironically (because I’m not a deep-fried foods fan), I found the Szechuan pepper frog legs ($12) the best dish we tried because it was perfectly fried with the right crispiness that didn’t feel greasy, and the frog leg meat was tender, falling off the bone. Even Than said it was his favorite dish, even liking the bed of cucumber fennel stir-fry.
The last bite: While the menu is a bit all over the place, and the consistency of each dish is up and down, there’s something for everyone and the festive space and friendly service makes Blind Tiger a fun gathering place. Don’t expect a lot out of the food, but do expect to party.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Blind Tiger, 2600B Telegraph Ave. (at 27th St.), Oakland. PH: 510.899.9694. Open daily 5 to 11 p.m.; happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.blindtigeroakland.com
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