Monday, October 24, 2011

Haven Works Out the Kinks

By Jesse Hirsch
Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 5:53 PM

This May, almost the entire kitchen staff of Sausalito’s Plate Shop restaurant threw down their aprons and walked out in a show of labor solidarity. This left some of the area’s best culinary talent adrift, most notably executive chef Kim Alter. Alter was very much an “it chef,” and food blogs were agog with breathy speculation on where she would land. Oakland, as it turns out.

Last week, Alter kicked off a series of weekly pop-ups at Daniel Patterson’s Plum, trying out potential menus and building hype before she helms Patterson’s new Jack London Square restaurant, Haven.

For all the buzz surrounding the Alter-Patterson collaboration, the first Haven pop-up was mellow. Counter seats by the open kitchen were filled, but Plum’s communal tables never hit capacity. Alter and her all-male crew seemed jokey and relaxed, no first-game jitters to be seen. “It was, ah, slower than I expected,” said Alter.

The four-course menu skewed California casual, starting with a braised artichoke, caramelized sunchoke, and chicory salad; moving to clams and lardon in a barely detectable bourbon broth; then a bavette steak with chanterelles and cauliflower cheddar purée; finishing with a lemon ricotta green tea soufflé from Coi’s pastry chef, Matt Tinder. Alter has been sous cheffing six days a week at Plum (filling the void left by Charlie Parker’s sudden departure), and the pop-up menu wasn’t wildly different from any other night there. Still, it was her own.

“[Patterson] is notorious for being very specific about every detail, down to the plates used for each item,” Alter said. “For Haven, I’m getting more room to breathe …. I just want to make simple, delicious food that you can eat with a beer.”

The pop-up’s only anxiety belonged to front-of-house staff, who seemed hyper-focused on gauging customer reaction. After much prodding from our server to fill out comment cards, the general manager visited our table, introducing himself and asking for more feedback. After we left the restaurant, another server followed us into the street, asking us again if we had enjoyed everything.

“We’re working out the kinks. Like, we learned that some people don’t like eating soufflé out of the same dish. I guess that would be awkward if you were out for a business dinner,” Alter laughed.

To join the Haven focus group, make a Tuesday night reservation through Nov. 15 by calling 510-444-7586 or visiting PlumOakland.com.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com, or follow me on Twitter @Jesse_Hirsch.

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