Camino - Oakland, CA

Dinner - Friday, August 29, 2014

The heat of the blazing fire is palpable from across the pass. It's amazing how the kitchen stands by it all night, feeding it and feeding off it. This is Camino, where Russell Moore brings the full force of two decades at Chez Panisse to bear. Camino is six years old in 2014. Six years for us to have our first meal here - unforgivable.

The menu is small, focused and ever-changing - less than a dozen savoury dishes, and a few desserts. We managed to sample about half the offerings tonight, and I wish we had room for all of it.

Fried local anchovies, maitake mushrooms and sweet peppers with yogurt
The batter was ethereal - like eating clouds. I would put these up against the upper echelons of tempura mastery (although the textures are altogether different). A side of cumin-spiked yogurt was a spicy, tangy bath for the various fried items - a very impressive start.

Tomato and herb salad, grilled summer squash, crème fraîche, sesame
Grilled local squid, smoky eggplant, beets, almond, lovage
Tender squid, its tentacles charred and kissed with smoke. The chunky "gremolata" of almonds and lovage put this one over the top - probably a tie with the duck (see below) for my favourite of the night.

King trumpet mushrooms, new potatoes, tomato confit
The mushrooms were cooked in a parcel by the fire. We emptied the parcel, juice and all, over the crispy potatoes and blistered tomato. A generous glug of good olive oil tied the ingredients together - satisfying.

Peperonata, romano beans, polenta, wild nettles, olives, fire-cooked egg
Grilled duck breast and slow-cooked leg
Red lentils, black kale, cucumbers, preserved lemon
Crispy skin and well-rendered fat - things that so many places seem unable to get right. This breast was perfection, matched only by the equally delicious, fall-apart drumstick. The hefty portion of meat was piled atop a rather spicy lentil purée, whose heat was softened by the raw cucumber. Wonderful.

Peach cobbler with cream
Poached quince, jaggery ice cream, benne seed wafers
The slightly tart quince, its flesh still firm, offset the sweet jaggery ice cream. Toasted sesame crisps added crunch. Three components - the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This is not simple food (I dislike it when people use the term like some sort of throwaway) - every ingredient is thoughtfully considered, every component prepared with precision. I was quite startled by how much intensity there was in every dish - almost a little overwhelming. Yet, there is subtlety in the careful blending of strong flavours (the duck, kale, lentils and preserved lemon comes to mind immediately). The Cal-Mediterranean flavour profile is not something that entices me on a regular basis, but when I'm in the mood, this is where I'd go.

3917 Grand Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
Phone: (510) 547-5035