Peek Inside Duende's New Casual Bodega

Categories: Food Find, Oakland

Paul Canales duende.jpg
Molly Gore
Paul Canales in Duende's bodega.
"Nothing here was thought out at all," says Paul Canales, sweeping his arm across the massive, airy space of Duende. It's hard to believe. Duende in the mid-afternoon is beautiful--washed in daylight, the walls a raucous mash of beautiful and hectic Basquiat-esque canvases by Raymond Saunders (a friend of Canales), racks of house-pressed olive oil, and the rest an eclectic mélange of exposed brick, reclaimed wood, and roughed up stucco--an accidental byproduct of demolition that Canales loved. And there's something special about Duende, it's available in the daytime in a way few restaurants are. Meet the bodega: Duende's wine bar/café/social space that always feels like you've arrived to a friend's party just a little bit early.

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The bodega was a happy accident--what seems to be a theme around Duende--a solution to an extra bit of space sectioned off from the main dining area. The area doubles as a wine bar, featuring a wine and sherry selection arranged as an abstract map of Spain--each wine's placement on the wall corresponding to its origin within the country. The bodega serves coffee from Verve, the Santa Cruz-based superstar that's making sizable ripples in the coffee scene lately. Jeff "the Rambler" Garcia, Canales' coffee curator, lobbied for Verve from the outset, but it took a period of arduous and broad testing to reach that conclusion that he was indeed right.

And Duende does the coffee ever so well. Our cappuccino was finely textured, dense and silky, preserving the integrity of the espresso--offering us bright citrus and nuts of the crema upfront, rounded out by the sweetness of the milk. Excuse the details, but it's an exciting thing to find a spot that makes delicious coffee with such sweet and careful intention.

churros duende.jpg
Molly Gore
Churros in Duende's bodega.
Oh, the snacks. What we started as a modest sampling turned into a hedonistic pastry bender a few hours later. The bodega offers a kind of paired down selection of the restaurant's flavors, offering both sweet and savory. There's been a good bit of fuss around the churros, and rightly so. They are incredibly soft and doughy on the inside, dressed in a delicate crust dusted with cinnamon. The dipping sauces (a choice between chocolate and caramel) are both rich and dynamic, but only for those with a pretty high threshold for sweetness. The granola is wrangled from a family recipe in the South Carolina, tuned up with about half the sugar. A certain cookie marries sweet and crumbling shortbread with the unsweetened, chocolate punch of cacao nibs. Another presents a delicate balance of Valhrona and TCHO chocolate enlivened with a bit of sea salt. You can also order a plate of toast with Spanish goat cheese, all warm and caramelized as brûlée.

The bodega is consistently changing, and we're thankful for it. We came on a day someone decided to pair crème fraiche with the huckleberry jam that comes with the currant scones, a tart and creamy foil for the sweet fruit, inspired by England's clotted cream tradition. The entire thing made sense. Why we were never layering creams on our biscuits from the beginning, we don't know.

You can count on Duende's evolution, bodega included, to be an exciting thing to watch. Canales has been co-teaching an improvisation class with Raymond Saunders for years, and is used to taking cues from his environment to create something new and unexpected, surprising even himself. The restaurant itself is named for the thing that drives creative expression, the thing that shows up out of nowhere to those who tread without fear in their art. He is afraid of few things, and he's surrounded by a team of collaborators who consistently make their own stamps on the space.

"I get what I want a lot, and the problem with getting what you want is that that is all you get," Canales says. "When you get what other people want, you get the benefit of everyone's experience and ideas, and what they give to you of themselves." As long as Duende keeps that in mind, which it undoubtedly will, who knows where it will go. Canales tells us he wanted Duende to feel the kind of place where his friends would want to hang out and play music together, and let us tell you, we'll be back for the party.

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