Eat Real Festival Kick-off Dinner at Camino Restaurant – Review

Camino Restaurant in our neighborhood, Oakland, CA

Camino Restaurant in our neighborhood, Oakland, CA

Last night, a New York based organization, Civil Eats partnered with Camino Restaurant in our neighborhood in Oakland, CA, (1 min walk down from our house!) for their fundraiser as part of the Eat Real Festival’s Keeping It Real dinners.  As a Featured Publisher of Foodbuzz.com, I was invited to join the festivities – enjoy great, sustainable food and meet new people.

So here’s my report on what we got to enjoy.

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It’s a beautiful restaurant. Huge floor to ceiling glass windows in the front, staging-area with huge wood burning fireplace in the back, 4 rows of communal tables, adorned by huge Chandeliers with some wild flowers dangling from them.  Quite charming.  As the night gets darker, my impression is this restaurant is dark! It’s romantic with the fire in the fireplace and candlelight, but really difficult to discern what you are eating, or to read, let alone take photos! Some of my photos taken later in the evening have this harsh brightness…  I am sorry…  Either that or black frame.

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As we find our table,  we were greeted by a plate of Olives & Spicy pickles (carrots, fennel and onions on ours) was awaiting us.  They were quite good.

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Very cute place cards. Notice the one above is a night scene from Tokyo.

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We also had organic and biodynamic wines on the table– one white (Ukiah Chardonnay) and red (Grenache).  I never had these before, but both were very good and smooth.  Grenache had a very nice sweetness.  I’m not a wine connoisseur, so rather than trying to explain something I’m not good at and being wrong, try them for yourself.

2008 Ukiah Cellars Chardonnay
2008 Dashe Cellars Grenache

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*

First Course: Tomato, cucumber and eggplant salads with almond salsa and flatbread

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This I have to say, was my favorite.  The quality of their produce is superb. You really can taste the flavor of each vegetable, and the minimum treatment the chef does really let their individuality shine through.  Eggplant salad (I promised you guys on yesterday’s post, so I’m not going to try to figure out the recipe and put it on — at least for a while!) was creamy, garlicky, and delicious. This was the first time I had “almond salsa” or anything of that sort (except for Romanesco sauce, which has a lot of peppers and tomatoes in it, along with almonds), and it was out of this world!  We got this huge jar of almonds recently, so some fun experiments await me (possibly with more eggplants!)

*

Second Course: Chicken paella cooked in the fireplace with fresh shell beans, romano beans and scallions:

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By the time this course was served, it was about 9pm…  We were starving!  As you can see in the photo, they cooked the paella in their impressive wood burning fireplace in the back of the restaurant.  Even though it was the featured dish, to me, it was my least favorite.  Maybe because I’m Japanese and love seafood so much, I felt there was something missing which was probably seafood which is how I am used to eating Paella.  Maybe because I ate the crepinette first, the paella wasn’t as hot as it should have been, and it also needed a little more salt (again, this could be due to the crepinette’s saltiness.)

Crepinettes:

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Crepinettes are hamburger shaped sausage which is wrapped in caul fat (for details, click here for Epicurious Food Dictionary’s definition).  It may sound and look gross to some, and was a bit salty, but it was delicious.  My husband doesn’t eat red meat (and he’d certainly finds the idea of wrapped in caul thing gross), so this was a real treat for me.

Butter lettuce salad

As you see in the photo above, this simple dish was perfect match to crepinettes and paella. Very fresh greens (see the vibrant colors in the photo!  Sorry for the flash.  By then, it was way too dark to go without flash.)

*

Third Course: Cheese plate

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We had 5 kinds of cheese, mostly goat cheese (or goat cow mix). I was so hungry, and had already had a second helping of paella and salad, so by this time (10pm), I was getting quite full. But how many times can you have the chance to try 5 different types of Artisan cheese in the US?  The cheeses from Andante Dairy and Harley Farms were so delicious, and the walnut bread and tomato jam…  Savory, a bit spicy, and sweet…  Ah, out of this world!  This restaurant really does have a  magic touch with their vegetables.

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*

Fourth Course: Walnut meringue with pluots and cream:

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Again, they do simple things very well. The pluots were soooo delicious, and cream was the perfect match to their sweet, sour vibrancy.  The meringue was…  I don’t know what other people thought (by then, close to 11pm, everyone was eating quickly and ready to go home), but for me, it was like airy version of nougat, a little too sweet.  This late at night and after a huge meal, I could’ve appreciated something lighter.  As some of you know, I don’t like sweets too much, so it may be just me.

They served a little glass of lemon verbena tisane after the dessert… What a refreshing ending with a heavenly scent!  I wanted a huge pot to settle my stomach, from this over-indulgence.

At Camino, everyone sits around a large communal table.  We had 9 at our table, and for some reason, I was on the so called “birthday seat”, in other words, farthest away from center, where all the food was placed.  This concerned me a bit at the beginning, because I had to watch others digging in to the food, which is a torture for me, especially around all these foodies! Luckily, everyone was gracious enough to get more than enough food for me.  Plus, toward the end, it dawned (yes, it was almost at dawn!) on me that it was a blessing in disguise.  Had I sat so close to food, I would have kept eating, and my stomach would have really exploded.

Overall, great dinner in great atmosphere.  I know they were busy, but I wish they would have explained each dish when brought out, and that they didn’t leave us alone to figure out what each dish was based on the menu…  it was too dark to read!

Especially, the cheeses were so great, until an attentive waitress came after we were halfway through asking “Did anyone explain to you what they are?”, we didn’t quite know what kind of cheeses we were eating.  At that point, especially in the dark, I couldn’t identify what’s what.  So even though I liked some of them, I had no clue – what they were, the name, or where to get them. (If they prepared a little card explaining which cheese was what and where we could purchase them, the cheese company would’ve made some kaching, kaching, kaching!)

When we were done, it was 11 pm…  This was the most leisurely, and  longest dinner I’ve ever had in a restaurant in the US for sure!

Thank you, Eat Real Festival, CivilEats.com, Foodbuzz.com, and of course, Camino Restaurant for including me for this delicious evening and great cause.

Gracious host, owner of Camino Restaurant, Russell Moore (and me)

Gracious host, owner of Camino Restaurant, Russell Moore (and me)

Oh, if you go there, make sure to call us!  It’s literally down a short hill (Jean St) from our house, so we’d love to see you!

And don’t forget to check out the bathrooms.  Look at this ornate mirror in one of them.  Can you tell if this was found in the Lady’s room or Men’s room?

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About the Eat Real Festival:

Founded in 2008, Eat Real Festival is a social venture created to inspire eaters to choose tasty, healthy, good food. Through a vibrant, local festival in Oakland, CA, and a focus on delicious and sustainable “street food,” Eat Real puts eaters in contact with the real people — the farmers, chefs, and producers — who make our food. Eat Real Festival will donate a percentage of its profit to several California organizations promoting access to healthy and affordable food, entrepreneurship and economic development.

For event details (this Friday – Sun 8/28-30), click here.

About CivilEats.com:

Civil Eats promotes critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities. In our efforts, we support the development of a dialog among local and national leaders about the American food system, and its effects abroad. Civil Eats can be humorous, serious, academic, philosophical, conversational – its style of conversation is as diverse as its 40+ contributors – but it is always thought provoking, innovative, and focused on food politics.

Camino Restaurant menu changes everyday.   Click here for San Francisco Chronicle review of the restaurant.

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