If a new wine-focused restaurant with proprietor-sommeliers who “specialize in obscurity” sounds like a great night out, then get yourself to The Barrel Room in Rockridge.
Sarah Trubnick and Carolyn Johnson are in launch mode for The Barrel Room, an expanded version of their San Francisco wine bar of the same name. They’re furthering a win-win trend of successful businesses like A-16 (also in Rockridge) that are crossing the Bay for better rents and eager, sophisticated diners in Oakland.
As media guests, we visited this new restaurant with “a twist,” which builds a menu around the wines rather than vice-versa. They feature a rotating wine list with an emphasis on small-production, “terroir-expressive” (buzzword alert) wines from around the world.
Accompanied by a food menu slated to change every 8 weeks, the idea is to keep it fresh and inventive, sharing new food, wines and wine education without a lot of pomp.
The Barrel Room in Oakland will feature the gifts of Chef Sam Paulding, (formerly of Paulding and Co., and Oliveto) an East Bay native, excited to live and work in Oakland as a part of this creative venture.
Open since mid-December, they’re starting with a French-influenced menu including classic charcuterie options paired with the certified sommeliers’ wine flights.
In the coming year, diners and drinkers can look forward to German, Italian and other international and regional menus, sure to be inspired and surprising.
Because we’re lazy and trust, we let owner Sarah Trubnick choose our food and wine pairings. We weren’t disappointed.
From their small plates, we started with dates perfectly complemented and stuffed with blue cheese, walnuts and pancetta ($7) and we adored the tea-smoked (Liberty) duck breast with arugula and persimmons ($10), both paired with a peppery Mondeuse from the Savoie region of France and a lighter French Crozes Hermitage Syrah.
My friend Anna’s favorite of the night was this brandade of true cod, cream and potato with toast ($8), balanced and delicious, and in her words “phenomenal.” It was paired with a fresh white wine from Italy, Kerner Alto Adige, and a much richer Savagnin from Jura, France. (We favored the Italian wine).
And though perhaps not picturesque, but a fabulous favorite, the Basque chicken, “poulet basquase” ($10) paired well with a surprising “Vitatge Vielh” white French wine and a classic Madiran Tannat.
We also shared the pork tenderloin, arguably the prettier main dish served with prunes “porc aux pruneaus” ($10) and perfectly cooked in the sousvie method (sealed and boiled). It was paired with a Chenin Blanc from France and Blue Rock Cabernet from the Alexander Valley (my fave).
For dessert we had crème brulée ($7 and above-average delish), and an outstanding cranberry walnut brown butter torte with brown butter ice cream. The ice cream was homemade by Chef Paulding’s mom, simply divine, and paired with a lovely Sauterne.
Co-owners Sarah Trubnick and Carolyn Johnson have worked side by side for years and share a fondness for quirky and little-known wines. We enjoyed Sarah’s mini-overviews of the wines, as it made the night more enjoyable and left us with the feeling that we learned a bit. Although The Barrel Room’s wine list seems heavily European, with some California wines, Sarah assured us that they are always looking around and not afraid to serve a wine from Texas if they find one they like.
The Barrel Room is a great addition to the growing list of excellent places to eat in Rockridge (and Oakland in general). Compared to like places, their dishes are ample and more affordable than many, with large plates offered from $7 for quiche to $16 for a huge portion of cassoulet.
Some other details: 30-seat dining, 50 wines by the glass, 200 by the bottle, some wines available for retail sale, craft beer served as well.
Go and enjoy!
5330 College Avenue
Oakland (between Manila & Bryant)
Open Tues-Sun (11am-12 pm, kitchen closes at 10:30pm but you can sip and eat charcuterie till midnight).