When chef Nelson German opened Sobre Mesa, on March 5, 2020, it was the culmination of a dream — and an expression of everything he’s learned since he opened his first restaurant, popular seafood spot AlaMar. “Even that first night,” German tells Eater SF, “everything was going right. Nothing was a shitshow.” For a week, the Afro-Latino diaspora-focused cocktails were flowing, cheese empanadas and bacalao fritters were coming out of the busy kitchen, and waits to grab a table topped three hours. “Everyone wanted to be here,” German says, including Oakland city officials and local celebrities like NBA writer Marc Spears and rapper-activist Mistah F.A.B.
Nine days later, the lushly designed dining room was empty. Restaurants in the Bay Area, including Oakland, were shut down as the coronavirus crisis began. It was a whiplash-inducing moment, German says, going from wall-to-wall patrons and “full reservations” one day to complete shutdown the next. But at the time, German (like most of us) thought that this “might last a few weeks, maybe a few months.” Instead, Sobre Mesa is poised to finally reopen to customers on March 4, 2021, and will celebrate its first anniversary in business with a “grand, grand reopening” on Friday, March 5. It’s a year-old restaurant that’ll only have served customers for 12 days, Infinity-stone-snapped out of — and back into — existence.
Obviously, some things will be different this time. The days of wall-to-wall patrons jostling for a rummy drink are over, of course, and “we’ll be way more more crowd controlled,” German says. When Sobre Mesa reopens on Wednesday, it will be reservation-only (via Resy) for its heated outdoor seating area. The same will be true when Alameda County allows indoor dining, which German hopes will happen in coming weeks. The restaurant will also offer takeout and delivery of its menu by mid-March.
But a lot more of Sobre Mesa, especially the elements that made it so popular during its first, brief run, will remain. “We’re already getting that same buzz again,” German says of interest in the spot. Some of that interest, he says, was spurred by the news that he will appear as a competitor on Season 18 of reality cooking show Top Chef, which wrapped shooting late last year. At that point “I came home and got to work because I knew it was all coming,” German says. The Portland-set season kicks off April 1, at which point German expects the buzz to intensify.
Other aspects of the restaurant, such as its focus on “showcasing our diaspora” (German is of Dominican and African-American descent), will also remain, German says, including a menu of dishes like trout-roe-laden mussels escabeche, a crowd-pleasing stuffed roasted plantain, and those empanadas. Sunday brunch service will include items like super-savory salt fish chilaquiles and a stack of red-velvet pancakes made popular at sister restaurant AlaMar.
Bar manager Sadé Stamps is running the bar with an eye to small-production spirits, and has added some new cocktails to the menu this go-round, like Nina’s Spell (cognac, peach liqueur, ginger, lime, yuzu, and Angostura), a drink she first crafted for Oakland Cocktail Week, which is where German and Stamps met. (The full dinner and cocktail menu can be viewed below.)
According to German, the changes wrought by the pandemic will allow them to “really hone in on service,” which is something he says is more necessary in these stressful times. “I want everyone who comes here to feel like they’re part of my family, they they’re coming into my home and getting away from all the craziness,” German says.
“Knowing I can do that makes me even more excited than I was when we opened up a year ago.”
Sobre Mesa opens on Wednesday, March 3, and will be open on Thursdays from 5-10 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to midnight, and for Sunday brunch is 12-7 p.m. Seating is currently reservation-only and can be made up to 30 days in advance through Resy.