There was nothing "soft" about last night's opening of Encuentro (http://www.encuentrooakland.com) - as soon as they opened the doors, the Jack London Square neighborhood restaurant was packed and stayed packed all night long, steaming up the elegant glass front of the restaurant.
Eric Tucker, founding chef of the highly regarded (even famous!) Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco, along with partners Lacey Sher and Linda Braz picked a quiet corner on the ground floor of a building of lofts at 2nd and Jackson adjacent to the Amtrak Station in an area which transitions from wholesale grocers to residential lofts within just a few blocks off Broadway.
The krispy kale chips were positively addicting - olive oil and sea salt roasted kale chips served in a mound on the plate with our first glasses of wine - a Philo Ridge chardonnay and Wellington Vineyard zine/cab/grenache blend.
My friend found the chardonnay to complement the Uncle Eddie’s Wild Hen Devilled Eggs very well, while the red wine I ordered was perfect with the Truffled Mushroom Pecan Pate (vegan) which was served with grain mustard, fig onion marmalade, caper berries. The pate was so rich and delicious - I have honestly never tasted anything like it and will do my best to find out how to make it!
My friend and I both ordered the same sandwich - Peppered Portobello mushrooms with caramelized fennel/onions - he had the
smoked goat cheddar and I had the smoked pecan cheese (vegan) with caper aioli.
This was probably one of the best sandwiches I have ever had - and now I now what Eric means when I asked him about cooking baby fennel - his response was "You cook the $hit out of it" - the fennel and onions were so tenderly caramelized that the flavors of both came through in each bite without being mushy or dissolved into one big roasted mess.
The velvety texture of the mushroom was countered by the thick lightly toasted rustic bread - toasted just enough to provide a crunch without falling to crumbs when I bit down. The smoked pecan cheese was unlike anything that I have had yet - and I can't wait to go back and order the vegan cheese plate trio of Smoked Pecan / Brazilnut / Herbed Cashew and Pumpkin Seed cheeses.
The Nuevo Mundo Cab/Carmenere went really well with the sandwich, by the way. The printed wine menu in the restaurant includes some of the most apt & mouth watering 2-4 word descriptions of the wines - "tobacco/dirty blackberry" and "chocolate/tobacco/new wood/blueberry" and such.
I can't wait to go back - the Encuentro team has put together an outstanding menu and the space is gorgeous. Though the restaurant is not large and the ceilings are a bit high - at no point did I feel like I would lose my hearing and I was able to converse easily with my friend and with the two folks seated near us. I hope they get to use the broad sidewalk for outdoor seating in warm weather (please Oakland! we need more seats at this amazing restaurant!).