When Oakland’s Bay Wolf announced it was closing after nearly 40 years in business, the neighborhood and regulars were in disbelief. The restaurant on Piedmont Avenue had risen in reputation and popularity for its intimate California-French cuisine — an answer to Berkeley’s Chez Panisse.
But hints of Bay Wolf, which officially closed last August, are still evident in almost an homage that comes in its replacement, The Wolf. The new owners Rebekah and Rich Wood (Wood Tavern) refreshed the interiors of the cottage-like setting but it remains cozy and homey, retaining the large heated covered front patio and side room.
I’ve dined at the old Bay Wolf a few times and was excited to check out its rebirth, so made a reservations for dinner Saturday night. Joining me was my friend Steve, who used to live in the area.
As I mentioned, the main bones of Bay Wolf seems to be intact, but the refresh includes the addition of a large bar in the front room and a renovated kitchen. Steve and I sat in the cozy side room, which is where I sat many years ago when I first dined at Bay Wolf. The homey feeling I felt back then is retained in the warmth of the room.
Service was professional and accommodating, especially since Steve was running late with bridge traffic. I settled in with one of its six specialty cocktails ($12 each), trying the “A Close Friend,” a rye drink with cocchi Americano, bonal, house-made orange bitters. It was like a lighter version of a Manhattan that was well-balanced yet boozy.
When Steve eventually arrived, he settled in with the “Well Played,” a tequila and grapefruit cocktail and then we dived into the menu.
The Woods brought in their lead chef from Wood Tavern, Chef Yang Peng, who created a simple menu of starters, soup and salads, entrees and sides with several familiar and classic ingredients such as steak tartare, a grilled little gem salad, Maple Leaf duck breast and veal osso buco. With the cool weather, Steve enjoyed the potato fennel soup ($10) with pancetta and popping with color from the watercress puree. I enjoyed the beautifully plated olive oil poached tombo tuna ($12) mixed with butter beans, mizuna, radish and salsa verde. The tender chunks of poached tuna were brightened by fresh lemon juice.
For our mains, Steve tried the grilled Niman Ranch pork loin ($27), which he enjoyed the flavor and the farro verde served with it, but he did feel the pork loin was a bit on the dry side. I ordered the Maple Leaf duck breast ($32), which was cooked more on the done side but still had a tender texture of the luscious duck meat. The hearty dish was complemented by polenta, maitake mushrooms, broccolini and a citrus-sage pan jus.
My duck dish was so comforting, and coincidentally I had ordered duck that first time I dined at Bay Wolf more than 20 years ago. So it also made me a bit nostalgic. The Wolf’s version of the duck breast dish is a perfect homage and connection to the old Bay Wolf, capturing the cooking style and generally intimate comfort that made the restaurant so popular.
There were only three offerings in the dessert menu, along with an assortment of sorbet. I ordered the Baked Alaska ($9), which looked like the same size of the Baked Hawaii from Liholiho Yacht Club, but I will venture to say that I liked The Wolf’s interpretation of this classic dessert dish. The accompanying citrus marmalade and crispy toasted oats were lovely complements to the velvety orange-vanilla ice cream encased by the sponge cake.
The last bite
For lovers of Bay Wolf, there’s a lot about The Wolf that they’ll most likely appreciate and, in fact, celebrate in relief. And for other diners, The Wolf is a charming, intimate restaurant with stellar food and great service that continues the tradition of comfortable yet elegant food on this side of Piedmont Avenue.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: The Wolf, 3853 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. PH: 510.879.7953. Open daily for dinner. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.thewolfoakland.com
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