Grocerytrekker had asked for reports on this new spot from the Dona Tomas team, located in downtown Oakland, across from the hopefully someday to reopen Fox Theater, and posted the menu:
.....well, I had to fly in to Oakland this afternoon after my business trip to Palm Springs, and hubby nicely offered to come get me in the rain, if we could have dinner in Oakland after before tackling the bridge. Seemed a perfect excuse to try this new spot...Hubby was warned when he made the reservation that they don't yet have their liquor license (apparently it is coming next week), but that was fine with us, just as well not to drink with all the crazies on the road who have forgotten how to drive in rain.
We were able to park almost in front (the neighborhood may be up and coming some day, but isn't quite 'there' yet)...and seated immediately for our reservation at one of the nicer two tops along the window. Two tops in the middle of the room are very closely spaced, so definitely request one on the side. For larger groups, there are some nice booths in the corner.
First impressions: very, very positive. The space, which hubby for some reason thinks might have been a flower mart (?) has been restored in an art deco style, and is absolutely beautiful. Easily the most attractive restaurant in Oakland, IMO (but then I am a sucker for art deco). Since I work nearby, I look forward to having an after-work martini at the bar along one wall, when it is able to serve me one (there are also a few loungey tables in the bar area....)
Rest of our impressions after that first good one: eh. While I would go back for the atmosphere, I'd be reluctant to dine there unless it improves....basically, the food and service left us cold.
And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Granted, I was still in light, Palm Springs clothes, but I did have a jacket and kept it on the entire meal, and still shivered! Hubby NEVER gets cold and even he conceded that the room was a bit 'chilly'.
Service was fine, and pacing seemed good (the place wasn't at all crowded) but there were a few glitches that they can and probably will work out: we never were offered bread or any bread substitutes (nor did I see any going to any other tables); we were brought individual salt and pepper dishes but no little spoon (did they expect us to shake it out of the little bowl, or use our fingers to grab a pinch?); two dishes were served in flat low profile bowls but with no plate underneath to catch a drip or to hold a knife or spoon when not in use.....basically, all of these were minor but gave the impression of a work in progress.
But it is the food that counts: and again, our reaction was mostly 'eh'...
Hubby started with the little gems salad, with potatoes, hard cooked egg, caramelized shallot, shaved pecorino, and black truffle vinaigrette: the better of our two starters, though I thought it was slightly overdressed and certainly couldn't taste any truffle. Not a bad salad, however.
I had the potato/cabbage soup of the day, which was vegan. Ordinarily, potato soup is not a favorite dish of mine, but I was soooo cooollld that I needed soup (yes, this one was served hot, not cold). It was simple but reasonably tasty.
Mains: hubby had the 'pan roasted duck breast with fig and port reduction, wilted cabbage, sweet potato puree'. The 'sweet potato' puree was almost surely pumpkin, which was fine though some might not be happy with the stronger, less sweet taste of the pumpkin. The figs were good, the port reduction added nothing to the dish, and the cabbage was MIA. Hubby did find a bit of spinach hidden under his figs, however. Portion seemed a bit small, particularly since we had seen the same dish go to a neighboring table with much larger portions and with some evidence of cabbage (perhaps they ran out ?) Most importantly, the duck was somewhat overcooked and rubbery. Not a success.
I had the 'pasta norma - bucatini, eggplant, olives, marinara, ricotta salata, olive oil
with crisp pork and beef meatballs'. Unfortunately, the only part of the dish I truly enjoyed was the eggplant,which had a lot of flavor. The pasta was al dente, but the sauce wasn't memorable. As for the meatballs: well, let's just say that it would take more than some tweaking before Pizzaiolo has to worry about any competition from these...crispy would have been fine, but these were just plain dry and way overcooked, with cumin and other spices: with my eyes closed you could have easily convinced me it wasn't meat at all, but rather falafel...
Ok, so far dinner hadn't been a hit so far. Still, I loved the room so much that I was hoping dessert would redeem it. As it happens, close, but not quite. Hubby had the affogato, made with cardamon ice cream and Blue Bottle expresso. Can't really go wrong there, though I am not sure the cardamon added much. I had the apple galette with butterscotch ice cream. The galette filling was nearly perfect: right balance, not too sweet, delicious. Indeed, this dessert would have been outstanding, were it not for the fact that the crust was too thick and seemed clunky. ( I've made better crusts myself, and if that is the case, well, it almost has to be clunky...) The ice cream was fine but not memorable.
Total for one ginger ale and all the above, with tax and tip: about $95. Too expensive for what we got, IMO (remember, we had no alcohol). I hope they figure out how to make the food as lovely as the space, but for now, for me this will be probably more of a drink than a dinner destination....If I did get hungry, I might try the burger: it looked great when I saw it going to another table....but even then, I'd probably ask for it very rare, just to try and assure that it wasn't served very well done....
Hope to hear more positive reports from other hounds, but can't say I recommend Flora.
1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612