Oakland’s Oeste has branded itself as such a bar-centric restaurant, that guests must be 21 to enter (its adjoining café next door has no age limit).
But in addition to its craft cocktail menu, Oeste offers a dinner menu, a brunch menu and an outdoor deck menu that doubles as the late-night menu. And now as of this week, Oeste also serves lunch.
So with that, does this herald the return of the three-martini lunch? Hardly. But co-owner Lea Redmond said that “with lunch, we’re assuming that people won’t have popcorn and fries with their drinks, [they’ll] come here for the food.” Oeste’s new lunch menu offers hearty enough fare so that guests can “also have a glass of wine or cocktail to go with it, depending on what the rest of their day looks like.”
On my recent visit, it felt a bit too early to tipple, even for the sake of this story, but the daylight meant I could appreciate the space in all its glory. Oeste is a gorgeous space, with its copper chandeliers, brick walls and exposed beam ceiling. The bar takes up nearly one entire side of the room. It practically screams out for the beautiful people of Oakland to take up residence there.
Oeste is co-owned by three women of color — Redmond, along with Sandra Davis and Anna Villalobos. Aside from Villalobos, who co-owns popular Old Oakland restaurant Miss Ollie’s, the owners have minimal experience in the food industry. Instead, they’ve modeled and built their business around family (several relatives staff the restaurant) and with regard to Oakland’s diverse community.
“We created [Oeste] with the hopes to be a place anyone can come and feel welcome, as well as to get great cocktails and great food with great service,” said Redmond.
Under the helm of Chef Peter Jackson, Oeste’s menu showcases a combination of Latin and Southern influences, reflecting the co-owners’ Mexican and African American heritages, but dabbles in other regional influences as well, such as Asian and Mediterranean. Jackson grew up in the Bay Area and has worked with Chef Jeremiah Tower at Stars and at the Chez Panisse spinoff, Fourth Street Grill. He also worked for the Lark Creek Restaurant Group at several locations.
“We’re not just focused on Latin or Mexican or Southern or Creole,” said Redmond. “We wanted to have a lot of flavors that represent who we are and the community that we’re in, and [Jackson] embraced that.”
The brunch menu is indicative of this, with things like shrimp and grits with house-cured bacon ($15), biscuits and gravy ($13.50) and huevos rancheros with masa cakes ($13), as well as sweet potato pancakes ($10).
While all three co-owners may have ideas as to what they might like to see on the menu, they leave the execution of those dishes to Jackson, though they’ll weigh in on certain flavors and elements of a dish.
Jackson said his earliest influence might have been Paul Prudhomme’s first cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.
“Being a young cook back then, I did a lot of cooking from that book, which led to my visiting New Orleans a bunch of times,” he said, adding, “While Italian and French food are the basis of so many cuisines, I really prefer to cook American food.”
Comparing French and Italian food to classical music, he said American food was more like jazz. “I like what we’re doing here.”
Jackson makes everything from scratch — the fries are hand-cut, the bacon is house-cured and the salmon is smoked in-house. “The local, seasonal organic thing is almost cliched by now,” he said, but “I always do a recipe with the freshest ingredients possible.”
Take, for example, his fried chicken sandwich ($13). A staple on many restaurant menus, his is marinated in a traditional buttermilk brine, but he purees the buttermilk with fresh onion, garlic, thyme and other spices. “It comes out with a fresher flavor that way,” he said. “He’s also created his own green goddess dressing for the sandwich, using green garlic, now in season, but that will change once it’s no longer around.
Jackson shops for produce at the Old Oakland farmers market, and sources his meat from Richard’s Ranch in the Sacramento area and Marin Sun Farms.
Since opening, one of Oeste’s most popular dishes is the ropa vieja tacos ($14), especially at happy hour and late-night; it’ll now be available for lunch. Ropa vieja is a traditional Cuban dish of shredded beef that is popular throughout the Caribbean. Jackson uses chuck or flank steak and braises it with garlic, cumin, allspice and serrano chilies. The beef is then cooked with a sauce of red peppers and poblano peppers, tomato, vinegar and sugar. The tacos are served with a hefty portion of black beans and a side of pickled onions and tomatillo salsa.
Those in the mood for heavier bar food at dinner can get their fill on dishes like mac and cheese, which uses a bit of smoked cheddar ($10); a burger and fries ($15); duck confit ($16) and a seafood jambalaya ($19). But there are also lighter dishes such as a shrimp and halibut ceviche ($16) and the ever-trendy avocado toast with pepita pesto and Fresno chile ($7).
One of Redmond’s favorites from Oeste’s café that is now offered at lunch at the restaurant is the Niçoise salad ($16). It features a generous portion of house-poached tuna in olive oil, along with potatoes, green beans, olives, boiled eggs and tomato slices over butter lettuce in a tangy lemon vinaigrette ($16).
The lunch menu will also include several other salads and a catch of the day. And, Redmond said, the bartenders are figuring out some mocktails for guests like me, who aren’t looking for a drink with their afternoon meal.
“We’re going to find out how much people drink at lunch and will have some fun mocktails too to offer something different; we just haven’t come up with those yet.”
Oeste Bar is open for lunch and weekend brunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. The dinner and late night menu are available 3 p.m.-midnight, Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. The café next door is open 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday