The Comfort of Camino

The front of the kitchen here has an almost altar-like setting, with large bowls prominently brimming with heads of bumpy cauliflower, prickly artichokes, stalks of asparagus and bulging pods of favas.

Overhead, medieval, church-like iron chandeliers are strung with a profusion of fragrant bay leaves that illuminate two 30-foot long, bare redwood tables spanning the length of the dining room, almost like stretched pews.

Welcome to Camino restaurant in Oakland, where what’s worshiped is rustic California cuisine in all its purity.

If you feel shades of Chez Panisse stepping inside, it’s no coincidence. Camino’s husband and wife team, Chef Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain, are alums of the fabled Berkeley restaurant.

As at Chez Panisse, there’s a wood-burning fireplace in the kitchen, which the chef puts to good use to roast both veggies and meats with a smoky allure.

My husband and I recently met a friend for dinner at Camino — a first time for all of us to this restaurant, where the food isn’t dished up with flourishes, tricks or trendiness, but with straightforward simplicity.

Camino might not be the ideal place for a picky eater, as the menu is fairly concise — just half a dozen first courses; a dish or two that are slightly larger but smaller than mains; and three entrees to choose from, one of which is usually vegetarian.

We couldn’t resist getting an order of the duck cracklings ($4). These nubbins were super crispy and nicely salty, but without the slightly melt-in-your-mouth quality of chicharróns.

After eyeing that display of spring veggies at the counter, I had to go for the starter of tender fava beans, artichokes, and saffron with spreadable  sheepsmilk ricotta ($10). Fresh mint was a nice touch to this dish that epitomized its season in full glory.

Grilled local sardines were balanced by a perky hit of Meyer lemon and green olives ($12). Underneath, were garbanzo beans that had been mashed but left chunky, creating a whole new texture experience.

We also tried both of the larger starters that night. First up, the wood oven-baked ling cod brandade ($10) that arrived with a wonderful crisped top that gave way to an airy, whipped interior that only suffered from being a bit too salty.

Better was the second larger starter of slow-cooked goat ragu ($13) with yogurt and chiles. The meat reminded me a little of oxtail in texture — robust yet wonderfully tender.

From the short entree list, we ordered two. Grilled duck and braised duck leg ($25) brought a generous serving of juicy, silky poultry with grilled cauliflower, baby turnips, lentils and a touch of mustard.

The grilled squid ($21) was the standout dish of the night — charred, smoky, soft and supple with a little kick of spice. English peas on the plate were simple and sweet. The accompanying polenta had the bright taste of corn, and the unexpected texture of grits.

We ended with house-made strawberry ice cream ($8.50) full of vivid fruit flavor, and paired with an earthy, crumbly buckwheat cookie.

Camino isn’t a place you come to for fireworks or to be seen. It’s a place with a laid-back, neighborhood-friendly vibe where the ingredients are the celebrities.

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Date: Friday, 11. June 2010 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Restaurants

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24 comments

  1. 1

    This place looks so great! Very atmospheris and nearly church-like. The food there seems fantastic too!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    I love how this restaurant really emphasizes fresh, seasonal food! The flavors of all of these veggies are really allowed to shine through. The atmosphere also sounds quite lovely.

  3. 3

    What a pretty restaurant. I love the pictures of the dishes and the gorgeous chandelier.

  4. 4

    oh YUM! Those fava beens and duck cracklings are calling out to me. Even the goat ragu sounds amazing. And how delicious is sheep’s milk ricotta? I just had it in NYC this past weekend (in a sweet presentation with burnt orange toast).

  5. 5

    All you had to say was duck cracklings. Who needs chicharrones if those are around?

  6. 6

    I agree it’s a beautiful room. But I felt the food was a bit ordinary. The few times I went the offerings weren’t as enticing as what you photographed. I think you lucked out on your night because I love both duck and squid! (Neither was offered the times I went.)

  7. 7

    Squid and sardines? Oh my. I really want to love cod brandade but most of the ones I’ve tried are so salty (and I love salt). You sold me on the duck cracklings!

  8. 8

    Love the chandelier with the bay leaves and the rustic setting of the restaurant. I have never eaten cod brandade but despite it being ‘a little too salty’, it looks delicious.

  9. 9

    Oh I am so glad you went to Camino – my favorite spot! I always feel so at home there and leave with a very happy belly.
    -E

  10. 10

    Wow, every single thing you ordered looks fabulous. You had me at duck cracklings, though…

  11. 11

    I don’t know why but I seem to be liking the food….it’s the veggies maybe? All the greens accompaniments are fabulous. And grilled sardines, I can’t wait to try them

  12. 12

    It sounds like the kind of place you’d want to have as your local-good reliable comfort food. And goat ragu? That sounds absolutely divine! :D

  13. 13

    Pure simple food, indeed! I would love to have a go on those sardines. You don’t get food like that anymore! Everything is fancy schmancy! This is the kinds of place that makes me wanna tap-dance to folk music and drink meade. ;-p

  14. 14

    oh my..duck cracklings??!!

  15. 15

    Sophia: I think you have us all wanting to see you tap dance to folk music now! ;)

  16. 16

    What a fun place…would love to try the grill squid…although everything looks very yummie :-)

  17. 17

    OK, my list of restaurants to try, thanks to you keeps getting longer and longer. Here’s another sure winner that I need to sample soon.

  18. 18

    Though I live far far away from all the amazing places you describe, I’d love to visit the US one day – both my sister and my brother’s girlfriends are from there too so the food is a bonus. I was looking around thinking what great writing and pictures and then I saw your “About” page and figured out why!

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