Get Your Hands Dirty at alaMar, Uptown Oakland's Newest Addition
The Spanish major that I am, I've been wondering about the signs for alaMar Kitchen & Bar on the corner of Grand Ave and Valdez Street in downtown Oakland for some time. A la Mar means "to the sea," and as I learned after talking to an equally grammar-curious friend, Mar is one of the few ambiguous words in Spanish that is both masculine and feminine. It is technically correct to call it el mar or la mar, but la mar is considered by some to be more poetic. That makes sense for Chef Nelson German's first restaurant, where the food can technically be described as upscale seafood boil, but he's aiming for it to be more poetic than that.
Ferron Salniker The Lucky Bastard at alaMar Bar & Kitchen: tequila, pineapple, Drakes IPA and a fiery tincture called the Bastardo.
"It's a new American peel and eat concept," he says. "I wanted to sophisticate and refine the crab house type of place. I wanted to branch it out beyond Asian Cajun, and go back to its roots. That style of food first started in the Mediterranean islands, where it was as simple as seafood with a sauce and bread on the side. So I'll be doing that and adding some Latin flare-- I am Dominican and I gotta make my momma proud."
While the modern-industrial, nautical-themed interior does give off a vibe indeed too sophisticated for plastic bibs, you can still expect to roll up your sleeves here. In fact, that's the goal. Dinner features a mix of crustacean boils and Latin-tinged starters and sides, most of which are designed to eat using your hands. Expect main dishes like the whole Dungeness chili curry crab and fresh Louisiana crawfish, starters like local oysters and blue crab poppers, and a number of veggie and non-seafood items too. Between meals a copper sink sits ready for guests to clean up while overlooking the open kitchen.
A New York City native, Chef Nelson German relocated to the Bay with his wife after over a dozen years working as a chef in New York staples like the Gramercy Park Hotel. His most recent San Francisco stints include Supperclub and Marbella.
Ferron Salniker Chef Nelson German at work in the alaMar kitchen.
On Tuesday evening, alaMar hosted a preview event featuring a selection of local wines, a sample cocktail and small bites from the menu. The coconut shrimp lollipops topped with pistachio dust and a thai basil cocktail sauce were delightful, and I ate a few too many of the crispy stuffed goat cheese balls (does the red beet puree make it count for a daily vegetable serving?). The featured cocktail, the Lucky Bastard, was a tropical and subtly hoppy blend of tequila, pineapple, Drakes IPA and a housemade fiery tincture called the Bastardo (a habanero shrub and Chinese five-spice infused everclear). I'd get it again, but not before I try the tequila sno-cone or pisco punch bowl.
alaMar opens for dinner tonight. Lunch Service will roll out in a couple of weeks featuring a sandwich menu, and all-day Sunday brunch will launch shortly after.