Last week, Nosh was invited to preview soon-to-open Viridian, a bar coming to Oakland’s Uptown. This addition to the local cocktail scene leans heavily on California’s seasonal bounty and draws from the backgrounds of its talented team: William Tsui (Lazy Bear, Rich Table), Raymond Gee (Noodle Theory Provisions, Hakkasan SF), Jeremy Chiu (Shinmai, Mina Group), Alison Kwan (Lazy Bear, True Laurel, Moongate Lounge), Amanda Hoang (20th Century Café, Bird Dog) and Alice Kim (Lazy Bear). The co-owners, bar director Tsui and operations manager Gee, grew up in Oakland. Now, the childhood friends are delighted to open an establishment back in the Town.
At the time of the preview, the space hadn’t yet achieved its final look, but we got a sense of the color scheme and design concepts that Viridian owners and designers are going for: Colorful neon and hanging lights accent the stylish environment which aims to represent the concept of innovative fun. When the bar opens Feb. 4, the look will be complete with artwork, sculptures and plenty more dazzling neon. The room is long, with a 16-seat bar, a number of tables with high stools along the opposite wall and another shorter bar in the lounge area.
We tasted a curated selection of drinks and desserts throughout the night that would give a sense of how Viridian will set itself apart from other area bars. We started with the Golden Triangle, a cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire gin, yellow beet, Grand Poppy (a complex amaro made partly from California poppies by LA’s Greenbar distillery) and Suze (a bitter liqueur made from the roots of the herb gentian, which grows in the mountains of Switzerland and France). Kwan, Viridian’s general manager, and Tsui — who were both bartending that night — called this one a twist on a White Negroni.
While the Tomato Beef is not quite a trompe l’oeil, the drink is not tomato red, but absolutely clear. It’s made with Don Julio Blanco tequila, basil eau de vie, tomato water and “not lime.” Making the tomato water is an overnight process, resulting in a clear liquid that is unmistakably tomato flavored. The combination of tomato and basil captures the fresh flavor of a summer salad. And where’s the beef, one may ask? The subtle infusion of richness comes from tallow-washed tequila. The “not lime” is a combination of other acids that substitute for the citrus fruit. Keeping in mind the cost of limes these days, Tsui and Kwan came up with a solution that works without sacrificing the flavor profile.
Viridian’s Honey Walnut Ron is made with Ron Zacapa 23 rum, blood orange, walnut orgeat, vanilla and Oakland honey. This was perfectly paired with a blood orange and vanilla bean semifreddo, reminiscent of childhood favorite frozen desserts Push-Up Pops or Creamsicles, but visually stunning and delicious.
We were also treated to an offering from Viridian’s wine list: Johannes Zillinger’s Revolution White Solera Blend, an organic wine from Austria. The list is curated by master sommelier Andrey Ivanov, who’s chosen to feature wineries that all use sustainable practices. Wines by the glass, draft beer and a selection of bottled beers will be available, as will “temperance drinks.”
Viridian’s bar bites are a step above and beyond typical “grab and gulp” offerings found elsewhere; they are classified as “dim sum and delectables,” including a selection of desserts distinguished by both their artistic presentation and the unique blending of flavors, all inspired by the Asian-American backgrounds and experience of the Viridian team. We were offered Thai Tea Tiramisu (mascarpone, caramelized milk and roasted peanuts), Chili Garlic Milk Bun, served with jade-green charred scallion and ginger butter; and the delicate Rum Po Tat, executive chef Amanda Hoang and consulting chef Alice Kim’s take on this classic Portuguese egg tart: soft egg custard nestled in a flaky, buttery pastry.
According to Tsui, all the bites and the desserts are designed to be shared. (Sharing is nice, but it’s hard with dessert.) The full dim sum menu includes BBQ pork in a steamed milk bun, and salt and pepper chicken “nuggets.” Prices for bites range from $6-$11; all cocktails are $13.
To ensure these skillfully made desserts get their due, Viridian’s cocktails veer away from the sweet and lean toward the savory and botanical. Tsui mentioned using shio koji (a Japanese seasoning made from malted rice, salt and water), which enhances the umami notes of the cocktails. The menus will change seasonally, he said. But rather than creating an entirely new menu each time, some items will fall off and then come back, almost in real time.
When asked about his expectations for a restaurant in his hometown of Oakland, Tsui said he and the team want to forge partnerships and support local charitable organizations once they are up and running. Oakland, he said, is more “down to earth and not as plagued by trends” as other places. With Viridian, Tsui wants to perpetuate the great culture that already exists in the Town.
Viridian will be open 4-midnight, Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m. until late (kitchen closes at midnight), Friday and Saturday.