If like me you rarely make your way across the Bay, you know the feeling of coming out of the bridge when all drivers step on the gas to claim their lane's pole position. Without much notice you find yourself in a sort of urban NASCAR race where the end line is the fast approaching exit. "Take the next exit!" says my GPS, but she doesn't seem to realize I'm several lanes away. Like a high-speed Frogger, I make my way right dodging oversized SUVs, and barely make the exit. Failure to accomplish this would have caused my GPS to call me a defeat (in GPS language that’s “Recalculating", which around here means a good twenty minutes delay). But I make it and my recurring Bay Bridge nightmare is now behind me. Again, I don't come here often, maybe I should.
The high cost of running a restaurant in the city is making the East Bay a dining haven for local chefs. James Syhabout’s Commis and Daniel Patterson’s upcoming Plum come to mind. Besides the financial advantages, there’s the obvious benefit of space.
Camino’s glass facade gives Grand Avenue passersby a glimpse inside. The ample room is warm and welcoming with exposed brick walls, rustic wood planks and amber lighting cast from large iron chandeliers that hang from the high, tiled ceilings. The atmosphere is casual, sometimes too casual, as eventually you'll feel forgotten by the wait staff. But that's my only complaint.
Bookending the beautiful space, two 30-foot-long redwood communal tables frame a few two and four-tops. Right in the center, at the end of the room, a wide fireplace serves as the kitchen’s open fire, and from there comes the restaurant's main attraction.
The menu changes every day and features a few bar snacks ($3.5 to $6), 4 appetizers ($9 to $13) and 3 main courses ($20 to $25). The entrées usually include a meat dish, a fish dish and a vegetarian option. Chef Russell Moore who worked 20 years at Chez Panisse has lasting relationships with local purveyors and his fare derives directly from what’s seasonally available. His cuisine is a celebration of local ingredients like vegetables from sustainable farms and whole animals he butchers in the restaurant.
Most of the restaurant dishes are cooked in the fireplace or in the wood-burning oven to its side. Moore exercise simplicity and respect combining ingredients' flavors in his dishes and gracing them with the gentle smokiness of the wood fire.
The meal begins with house-baked bread served with butter.
From the bar snacks menu, the Chicken liver toast is a great choice. Creamy and flavorful.
Wood oven-roasted local mackerel with preserved lemon and mashed garbanzo beans. A flavorful dish that may require some deboning skills but is well worth the effort.
Grilled asparagus with mint, yogurt and beets. Here spring vegetables shine on the plate accented by the smokiness of the wood fire and complemented by a fresh yogurt base. Simple, superb.
Grilled garlic sausage and pork loin with lentils. Savoy cabbage and Jerusalem artichokes. A delicious dish that once again celebrates its ingredients.
Grilled local rockfish and Dungeness crab stew with artichokes, wild fennel and chilies. This light stew is worth getting your hands messy (cracking the crab will do that) and spooning the last drops of its flavorful broth.
Cornmeal-olive oil cake with strawberries and whipped cream. A simple yet tasty dessert.
Mastika ice cream with sesame candy. The ice cream made with a Greek liquor is complemented with the crunchiness of the sesame candy.
Camino is another example of great Bay Area cuisine. A celebration of local ingredients in a casual, welcoming atmosphere. A local favorite of East Bayers that, for outsiders, is sure to be worth the ride. Just make sure you don’t miss the exit.
Camino is at 3917 Grand Avenue