Dining Outside At Occitania
Chef-Owner Paul Canales thinks of his new Occitania restaurant in Oakland as the light to his more moody-vibed Duende that’s a mere five blocks away.
Certainly, he — and the rest of us — were badly in need of a little more levity when work commenced on this restaurant in October 2020 during the throes of the pandemic.
Taking inspiration from the Occitania linguistic region of Southern France, Occitania opened its doors in June of this year on the property of the Kissel Uptown Oakland, a Hyatt brand.
At the end of August, the restaurant added a few sidewalk tables, which is where I dined recently when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. The tables sport large umbrellas for shade, with heaters forthcoming.
You’d never guess the property was once a car dealership. The utterly transformed space that’s large and long evokes contemporary Europe. It sports massive arched windows, abstract gold-leaf sculptural pieces suspended above tables, and a bold, two-story mural by artist Sam Strand gracing the rear dining room.
The Fire & Orange Spritz ($14) is what you want to sip every day in summer. With Aperol, charred Cara Cara orange, rosemary blanc vermouth, a splash of Cava and sparkling water, it was like a Negroni-light with that same wonderful deep edge of bitter orange, but with a touch of fizziness.
When in France — even if just in spirit — you have to go with escargot ($20). These plump, wild Burgundian snails, the largest Canales could source, pay homage to his mentor Andre Soltner with its touch of Pernod. They arrive hot in the classic escargot dish, bobbing in deep pools of melted butter that get a lighter hand with the garlic. Use the torn, grilled pieces of bread to soak up all the butter for a totally guilty pleasure.
Charcuterie is made in-house with the terrine de ris de veau ($18) an especially satisfying option. Enjoy the thick slice of coarsely ground sweetbreads, veal, duck livers, and leeks with a smear of grain mustard and pickled carrots.
Canales also brought out a sample of the rillettes de porc ($16) for us to try. The spreadable mix of pork and duck is rich and creamy tasting.
The pissaladiere ($14) is offered up in a long, slender slice with a foundation of flaky, buttery puff pastry for sweet caramelized onions, black olives, and perky boquerones. Alongside was nicely dressed frisee.
For entrees, the boudin blanc au tian Provencal ($32) is one of the best versions I had, owing to the texture of the pork and veal sausage. As Canales explained, many versions use chicken in the mix, making for a somewhat grainier feel. Because he omits that, and adds enough cream, caramelized onions, and bread crumbs, this one is unbelievably smooth and so juicy. The ratatouille-like tian of eggplant, tomatoes and peppers was unctuous and sweet as can be, while grilled escarole offered up a gentle bitterness with its charred leaves and crunchy stems.
My husband opted for the “French Burger a la Cafe Midi” ($20), an homage to a favorite Bohemian cafe version that Canales used to enjoy in Fresno. Like that one, this one comes on a baguette, griddled with garlic butter. Right there, it’s already a winner. The medium-rare patty gets topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms, plus melty Gruyere, and a smear of grain Dijon-aioli-ketchup. The accompanying skinny fries are twice-fried so they stay incredibly crisp.
For dessert, the gateau Calisson ($12) is a refreshing way to finish. The light-as-a-feather almond cake sits on pool of melon coulis, an unexpected saucy component that’s so clean tasting and understated. The cake gets garnished with candied melon pieces and a shard of meringue.
Enjoy Occitania for a taste of France in Oakland.