And if that piece of mind won’t stay
I’m gonna find myself a better way
And if that better way ain’t so
I’ll ride with the tide and go with the flow

Going with the flow is the inescapable result of time spent at Mockingbird. This cozy, intimate respite from the hustle of a long day at the office is a place to relax, reflect and, well, eat… or more accurately, to eat well.

The interior of Mockingbird’s revamped and re-imagined location on San Pablo in Oakland’s Uptown District is housed in the space that previously held Hibiscus. The dining room has been opened up, its entrance has been thoughtfully moved to a wall that allows prospective diners to enter the large, inviting and airy space directly, no longer having to pass through a narrow, darkened hallway to reach the reservation desk. The result of this revamp is a bright, open space that absolutely resonates Oakland chic. The far walls are painted a warm shade of white and are adorned with mask-like sculptures that morph with the viewing. One appears to be a tribal mask from Africa, another the faces of a modern robot. They are simultaneously modern and ancient, a lovely expression of an artist’s imagination realized. I’m fond of art that engenders thought and reflection when beheld.

While still enjoying the wall decor, we were swiftly seated. Our experience had begun. I’m not much of a service snob, but there is something about really good service that lightens the mood of the diner and allows for a concentrated enjoyment of what is being consumed. That natural helplessness that can arise while being waited upon, was artfully banished. It’s a good thing. If a diner doesn’t have what they need, he or she cannot just fetch it for themselves, and those moments of frustration can be a distraction. That was not the case at Mockingbird. Our waiter was not only attentive, he was engaging in personality, and adept at sound advice on the menu. He managed to be there whenever needed, without the hovering or lingering that sometimes creates that awkward phase, when you begin to feel your waiter is more of a helicopter parent than a helpful aid to good dining. He was marvelous and negotiated all the ins and outs of masterful service with an experience hand. Great help is a sign of savvy management, so my expectations for the food went up to a higher standard.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Tuna Tartare

Tuna tartare

We began with a corn soup. Rather than a cream base, this was a lovely chicken stock laden with fresh sweet corn, fresh greens, and a blissful complement of seasonings. Herbaceous and rewarding, each little nugget of sweet corn in that broth fairly hummed on the palate with the blissful sensations of the waning summer season. I find the first and last bites of fresh summer corn linger in my fervent imagination, the first with the promise of a summer filled with the bounties of sun-drenched harvest treasures, the latter with the echo of a long winter without them. Along with the soup we savored a beautifully prepared tuna tartare, rich fatty fish with a hint of delicate seasoning, served with lovely crusted crackers for texture. Sublime.

Hubs had a hamburger. This simple classic, when done right, is a reliable delight. You can tell a lot about a kitchen from their burgers. This version was done right. The meat itself was lush and fatty, calling to mind the mouthfeel of the coveted Japanese waygu, the brioche bun in which it was cradled, a lovely buttery companion to the meat itself. The plate held a mound of perfectly gilded fries, hot enough to cause their salted exteriors to glisten. Delightful simplicity.

Instead of a main, I’d decided on this visit to sample several starters. My next dish along those lines was a succulent chicken liver pâté, with a plate of house-made crisps on which to spread it. Like tartare, pâté is a dish that offers up fat and succulence, along with the chef’s particular choice of seasonings. This version was accompanied by a hint of wine, the pâté prepared in a more classic French style, which fairly floated on the tongue. It’s one of my favorite culinary go-to’s as, like a burger, sampling a chef’s iteration of this particular dish allows a compare-and-contrast opportunity to see into the window of his or her point of view. These familiar dishes offer a marvelous opportunity to examine styles of seasoning, blending and plating that some of the trendier concoctions do not. I was delighted with Chef Axelrod’s delicate touch, and her pâté will remain among my favorite interpretations.

To accompany my lovely platter of “buttery” animal protein, I ordered a side of blackened brussels sprouts, an obsession of mine since this poor, beleaguered, baby cabbage has been making its comeback as a delicacy. If you’ve never tasted a properly blackened brussels sprout, you really must check it out. They caramelize splendidly, the process breaking down the bitter cabbage-y natural flavor into something simply heavenly. When the Chef adds a bit of bacon, even better.

Blackened Brussells Sprouts

Blackened brussels sprouts

We had to head out to a show that evening, but the food had been such a delight we opted to order dessert with the bill. Our well-brewed cups of coffee, much needed after consuming a bottle of bubbly, perfectly accompanied the molten bread pudding that arrived shortly thereafter. Bread pudding is another food I “collect” with delightful abandon. Another of my favorite classic dishes (done to perfection in a soufflé version at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans), it presents yet another opportunity to revisit a favorite through a new chef’s imagining of it. Mockingbird’s version was impressively light, airy, and buttery, which is always a plus. Sublime.

The entire meal was one of lovely sensibilities. While I often write about the memories that come flooding back while sojourning through Oakland’s many new eateries, Mockingbird conjured for me more a mood than a reminiscence. There is so much of Oakland I have yet to fully discover, even after a lifetime spent on her streets. This was a place where I could not help but reflect upon the whole of the city, and her presence in the now was felt to my core. I left with the pride of a new mother, certain that upon returning to her bustling urban streets from my evening of culinary delights, I would experience something new. Something unique to my hometown. I was relaxed, satiated and in a great mood. It’s the kind of place that has such a good vibe, you can’t help but carry a more peaceful sentiment out the door with you when you leave.
Mockingbird is a restaurant you should check out for yourself, to make some new memories of your own. Trust me, you won’t be sorry you did, but you may leave humming a little seventies-era Boz Scaggs. It’s got that sort of groove.

Mockingbird
1745 San Pablo Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 290-0331
www.mockingbirdoakland.com

About The Author

Angela F. Lazear is an Oakland native and the author of EAST BAY FOOD SCENE: Essays on the Ritual of Dining (www.eastbayfoodscene.com). Launched in 2007, East Bay Food Scene was established to pay homage to Oakland’s fascinating history, while chronicling the city’s rebirth through a vibrant, ever-changing landscape of food offerings. Many of Angela’s fondest childhood memories involve accompanying her grandparents to Oakland’s finest restaurants and sitting with them at the “grownup” table. Twice a month her grandparents would take her out for shrimp cocktail and filet of sole, at what was then The Sea Wolf, on Jack London Square. It was on these occasions that Angela discovered that collective dining brought with it the opportunity to make lasting memories. To this day, a perfect “old school” shrimp cocktail will bring to mind one of her grandfather’s fascinating and colorful stories of Prohibition, bootleggers, and run-ins with “wise-guys” seeking to get alcohol to the masses. These colorful stories were a kind of live theater. When Oakland began its dining renaissance, Angela saw an opportunity to honor both her family’s legacy and the city of her birth. Contrasting Oakland’s past to its present, her essays focus on how sharing great food experiences with loved ones can enrich one’s life immeasurably. Food is more than sustenance, it serves as a landmark for recalled experiences with loved ones and family. It is this connection between food and family that drives Angela to experience and chronicle the current generation of chefs and restaurateurs, as they re-invent cuisine and elevate it to an art form. Her mission is to share with her readers the stories of an Oakland that was, and to connect them to the Oakland that is becoming, that its inhabitants might remain in touch with the City’s past, as they inevitably meet with its promising future. The ritual of dining is an experience so entrenched in our collective personal history that we run the risk of missing the point if we fail to savor the experience as much as we do the myriad of flavors. Each morsel has the ability, at a later date, to recall moments from our past as vividly to the senses as if actually captured on film. A self-titled “Philosophoodie,” she would encourage her readers to savor every bite as it comes, take the time to engage with one another over every meal, and “make a lasting memory of your own.” Twitter: @foodaprecianado; Instagram: Foodapprecianado Facebook: EastBayFoodScene

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