Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Plum: A New Heavyweight Contender on the Local Brunch Circuit

By Luke Tsai
Tue, May 17, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Daniel Patterson’s Oakland outpost, Plum, is the latest local gastronomic darling to turn the attentions of its talented chefs — to say nothing of its sous vide immersion circulators and Pacojets — toward that most maligned of meals: the weekend brunch.

Anthony Bourdain, that curmudgeon of the culinary world, has written that restaurant brunches are “a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights” and “punishment block for the B-Team cooks.” Fortunately, the Bay Area is chock full of restaurants that fly in the face of that kind of thinking — Canteen in San Francisco and Oakland’s Camino immediately come to mind. And at Plum, where Chef Charlie Parker has been heading up the kitchen since December, the brunch menu is just two weeks old and perhaps a work in progress. But the food, already, verges on magical.

nomnomnom corn bread
We loved our starter of Anson Mills Corn Bread ($7), served with a smoky, caramely bacon butter. The corn bread itself was super-moist and buttery with a light crumb and just a hint of sweetness — slathered thick with the bacon butter (because why not?), this was double trouble.

Is there anything that this so-called “molecular gastronomy” has done wonders for as much as the humble egg? Case in point is Parker’s Corned Beef and Pork Belly Hash ($12), which is as decadent a breakfast as you might imagine it to be and which resembles a traditional hash only in that it contains the same basic components: smoked meat, potatoes (halved fingerlings) and onions (also, somehow, smoked). Fava beans add some seasonal freshness. And of course the whole thing is topped with an egg — a slow-cooked beauty that oozes, just so, into everything after you cut into it with your fork. This is not a dish for folks who are shy about salt, but suffice it to say I cleaned the bowl.

French Toast Casserole!!
But the real stunner was something called a “French Toast Casserole” ($11), which, without being too hyperbolic, seems like a stroke of genius. You start with good house-made brioche that’s soaked in almond cream and a touch of Grand Marnier, then topped with almonds. The whole thing is baked in a rectangular skillet with the brioche sitting on top of some halved strawberries, which then plump up and soften while the bread toasts and forms a nice outer crust. We agreed that this may very well have been the best French toast ever.

My wife ordered a side of bacon to eat with her French toast — and at Plum a side of bacon ($4) means two sizable slices of braised pork belly, redolent with Sichuan peppercorn. Coffee was $3 for a French press pot of Blue Bottle, which was plenty to keep the both of us adequately caffeinated for the course of our meal.

The best part about the brunch at Plum? For now, anyway, it seems you can walk in without a wait, though I doubt that lasts. Make no mistake: This might be the best brunch in Oakland.

Plum is open for brunch from 10am-2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations can be made through PlumOakland.com or by calling 510-444-7586. The restaurant is located at 2214 Broadway, Oakland.


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