Compared to its San Francisco counterpart, Oakland Restaurant Week unquestionably offers a better selection of restaurants and value for the money. A vast majority of the city's high-profile restaurants participate, compared to the motley crew in SF, and nearly all of them offer a dinner option, whereas a lot of the better SF options stick exclusively to lunch. This is perhaps due to ORW's more flexible pricing scheme, which allows for menus at both lunch and dinner at a price point of the restaurant's choice ($20, $30, or $40), as compared to the pre-set $19 lunches and $37 dinners for SF's Dine About Town. It's designed to allow more restaurants in a wider variety of genres to participate, and a lot of them even include a drink in the deal (a nonexistent sight on DAT menus). Still, as always, some options are better value propositions than others. As you make your Oakland Restaurant Week reservations, here's our back-pocket guide to the menus with the best and worst deals.
B-Side BBQ: Tanya Holland is considering closing down her West Oakland 'cue joint due to lack of patronage and moving it to more hospitable Uptown, but her ORW menu shows she's serious about bringing in new customers. For $20, diners get a full order of either her St. Louis-style ribs or her smoked brown sugar-rubbed brisket, plus two sides: spicy coleslaw and smoked mashed yams. Considering the meat alone typically goes for $18, that's a savings of $6, and probably enough food to leave leftovers for lunch the next day, especially if a couple each ordered one of the two meaty options.
The Star on Grand: For sheer quantity of food at a low price point, it's hard to beat this Little Star Pizza affiliate, which is offering a crazy $20 lunch deal that includes a small deep-dish pizza for two, a salad, and dessert. By itself, a small pie typically goes for $19, so the accoutrements are essentially free. Dinner isn't as good a deal, with the same combo going up to $30, but it's still $5-8 cheaper than the sticker price, depending on the choice of salad, and will feed two people for under $20 each, including tax and tip. Not too shabby.
Bocanova: This Latin-influenced restaurant outside Jack London Square is normally quite expensive, but even at the priciest tier of ORW, their $40 dinner menu is a good deal. The entrees offered (a flat iron steak or marinated sturgeon) typically go for $27-28 in and of themselves, and that's before adding in the two courses of seafood that precede them (salt-cured tuna and a Dungeness-avocado salad), a side of sweet potato puree or caramelized endive and arugula, and dessert, plus housemade chocolates. It all adds up to a roughly $10 savings at either lunch or dinner.
Nido: Critics have been all raves when it comes to this charming Mexican spot just outside JLS, and their DAT menu offers an affordable means to see what the fuss is about. For $20, diners get their choice of the signature ollita de pobre (slow-braised beef, rice, and beans) or al pastor pork skewers, which typically go for $14 alone. Add in a soup or salad and a draft Mexican beer or glass of house wine, and you'll save about $10, money that can potentially be reinvested in guacamole. Also, they note right on the menu that they're happy to adapt the bill of fare for vegetarians or vegans, a rarity on the Restaurant Week menus and a nice touch.
Á Côté: A Rockridge perennial, this cute Mediterranean small-plates spot is offering the opportunity to save $8-10 on its already well-priced and sizably portioned fare, with French onion soup and romaine-radicchio salad to start, seared scallops or butternut-squash ravioli as an entree, and ricotta fritters or a brownie sundae for dessert, all for $30. Blow the extra $10 on a nice glass from their extensive wine selection—they have over 40 options, at least half of which are $10 or under.
Flora: Flora's menu options are designed to change for each night of Oakland Restaurant Week, meaning the actual level of "deal" varies widely depending on when you go. For example, last night they served a grilled New York strip steak that goes for $30 and goat-cheese crostini that cost $11, plus a $9 dessert, making for a savings of $10. But tonight, they're serving a citrus salad ($10) and stuffed chicken breast ($22), which with that $9 dessert will save diners all of $1. Forcing diners into a game of deal roulette doesn't seem very much in the spirit of ORW, to our minds.
A16 Rockridge: A16's $30 prix fixe is a break-even proposition: with its $6 stuffed olives, $18 pasta, and $6 cannoli, it ends up saving diners precisely nothing. To add insult to injury, neither of the restaurant's specialties (seafood and pizza) are anywhere to be seen on the menu.
Juhu Beach Club: Preeti Mistry is offering quite a bit of food for diners' $30 during OWR, but she's not actually saving them all that much. Her combo of spiced "Desi jacks" popcorn, sev puri, a half-portion of moong dal, and chickpea or chicken curry, concluded with vanilla soft serve and a choice of topping, would go for $31.25 if ordered a la carte (and $29.25 for the vegetarian option). Juhu's a great restaurant, but there's no particular need to hit it up for ORW.
District: Even the most charitable interpretation of District's ORW menu has the price at break-even, with the $9 oxtail bocaditos, $14 hanger steak, and $7 dessert adding up to the $30 total price tag. Order incorrectly by getting the $7 arugula salad and the $12 duck sausage, and you could conceivably be out $4. $20 for a wine or whiskey pairing also seems high, considering that a lot of OWR restaurants are throwing in a drink—even A16 Rockridge, with its high-end Italian wines, is doing a three-course pairing for a couple of bucks less.
Grand Tavern: It wouldn't be a restaurant week without one spot actively ripping people off, and this go-round, that spot is Grand Tavern. Their $20 "deal" offers a burger with two toppings and a draft Linden Street brew. The only problem: the burger with toppings is usually $13, and the beer $6. Dine here, and you'll be getting charged an extra buck for no reason.
Had a great ORW experience, or one that made you question the whole enterprise? We await your tips in the comments or over the wire.
· Oakland Restaurant Week [Official website]
· The Best and Worst of 2014's Dine About Town Menus [~ ESF ~]