We recently visited Bourbon and Beef as guests of the restaurant and enjoyed a dinner comprised of both small and large plates. Chef and Owner Munther Massarweh was born in El Salvador, raised in San Francisco, and grew up in the restaurant business. In Bourbon and Beef, Massarweh has opened a laid back spot that is both a bar and tapas joint. This is a lively and energetic place for an after work cocktail or a leisurely meal just across from the Rockridge BART station on College Avenue. The bar has a large television showing sports, which offers a bit of contrast to the modern decor with warm reds and oranges and art like the shiny spoon mural on the wall near their raised communal table. The menu offers a vibrant selection of Latin-inspired small plates and several large plates that are substantial enough to feed two people.
Here’s a quick look at some of Bourbon and Beef’s small and large plates we enjoyed for dinner during their third week of operation.
Puerco Con Curtido – crispy pork belly with jicama slaw and tortillas. ($14) When the Puerco Con Curtido arrived at the table, it seemed like it might be tough to eat. The cubes of crisp pork belly were tall, resting on small tortillas with a jicama slaw in between. No need to worry though, it was pretty straightforward to just dig in. The pork belly was definitely a highlight of the small plates. It was incredibly tender on the inside, crisp and satisfying on the outside. It was accented by a few drizzles of crema and just enough cilantro for each of the three servings. I would absolutely put the jicama slaw on the menu as a salad side dish. It had hints of spice and acid and was cool, crisp and delicious.
Torta de Camarones – Marcona Almond Crusted Shrimp Cakes ($14) The shrimp cakes were another winner. Perfectly cooked shrimp cakes, very lightly crusted in Marcona almonds and served with a dollop of a coconut mango chutney (think sweet and creamy more than spicy). This is definitely on the small side, but we would both order it again.
Chef Munther’s Seafood Paella ($30) Bourbon and Beef offers a beautiful, memorable paella that is definitely a dish to share. The paella is a generous offering of shrimp, mussels, crawfish, and rice cooked with chorizo. Two massive Tasmanian shrimp were substantial and satisfying served piping hot with a slightly crispy outside and meaty inside. The crawfish were succulent and the mussels were cooked through but still tender. The rice in the paella was a standout and it alone is worth a return. I have not had better rice in paella and have had worse a good number of times. It had more spice and complexity than simply relying upon saffron and was moist to slightly crispy in parts. The seafood and chorizo gave it beautiful shades of meaty flavor and the thoughtful moderation of salt meant no one flavor dominated the dish. At $30, it’s a bit on the pricey side, but for two people, it is a reasonable entrée to share.
Plato Salvaje Mezclado: Duck confit with wild boar and rabbit sausage, Peruvian white beans, heirloom carrots, and Spanish onions. ($25) Talk about a contrast. While the paella dish is rather striking in its presentation, the duck confit and Peruvian white beans dish was a bit less so. The duck itself fell easily off the bone and was a great match for the beans which were plump with just the right amount of give. The highlight was the boar and rabbit sausage which was smooth with just a slight gaminess. It provided a touch of salt that nicely balanced the otherwise comforting but quiet dish.
For dessert, there were two options, a rice pudding and an almond cake. I was surprised to not have a chocolate option or even a third possibility on the menu. Given that this is an accomplished kitchen, it would be great to have at least three or four desserts to choose from. My husband enjoyed the rice pudding dish served with a bourbon bing cherry sauce. He was less sure he would order it again if a chocolate item appeared on the menu. I would have to debate a bit given that I really enjoyed the almond cake I chose. It was spongy, nutty and served with a trio of berries and a lemon curd.
We enjoyed wine pairings throughout the meal, selected for us by our server. Everything was well paired and she had an extensive list to choose from including more than twenty wines by the glass. California wines don’t make much of an appearance, but one can easily go on a world tour through both their bottles and glasses.
About “Bourbon and Beef ”
We weren’t the first, and won’t be the last to be somewhat confused by the name Bourbon and Beef. Since our visit, I’ve asked half a dozen people what they think of when they hear the name. “Expensive steaks,” “steakhouse with cocktails,” and “a large bourbon menu,” were offered by several. I fear the restaurant is missing a good number of folks who will fall for their paella and thoughtful, layered, and technically excellent food because they are eating elsewhere.
I did speak with both Chef Massarweh and the staff about their bourbon program and the limited number of bourbon cocktails the menu provided. Chef Massarweh said there are 20 bourbons available and that the list would soon be on their website. The serving staff let me know that bourbon is used in the beef stock and some of the desserts. The good news is, whether the name is a perfect fit or not, the food is definitely worth a visit.
Bourbon and Beef
5634 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94620
Reservations through Open Table
M-F lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner nightly from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.
Sat.-Sun. brunch 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.