Oakland’s Jack London Square (JLS) has long held the promise of destination-worthy greatness. Perched at the edge of the Bay, with beautiful harbor views, the expanse is as picturesque and inviting as other cities’ visitor-friendly, waterfront locales such as Seattle’s Pike Place Market or Vancouver B.C.’s Granville Island. But not until now – with its current batch of haute restaurants and retail – has JLS realized its full potential. Now a must-see Bay Area destination, JLS is the hip place to be, and Haven is the epicenter. Here are seven reasons why:
Location, location, location
Amidst JLS’s vibrant restaurant row, Haven sits at the eastern end, and offers inside or outside dining. Either affords views of the harbor and the Oakland/Alameda estuary. It’s an energetic, salty-aired setting; there is something about proximity to water that always proves to be life-affirming.
After 13 years in San Francisco restaurants, such as Ame at the St. Regis, Haven’s executive Chef Matt Brimer made the move to Oakland to become a prime player in ‘Brooklyn by the Bay’s’ hopping restaurant scene. He carries on what former executive Chef Charlie Parker started at Haven – elevated, family-style prix fixe menus featuring modern American food. Brimer adds his own creative techniques utilizing fresh, local ingredients and bright flavors while continuing to drive the restaurant’s house-made charcuterie program, in-house pickling, curing, fermenting and whole-animal butchery.
They can’t count, but it’s to your benefit
At Haven, the numbers three and four (as in three- and four-course prix fixe) are merely generalizations. The first ‘breaking bread’ course alone included four dish deliveries – each artfully arranged on a canvas of Heath ceramics. The variety of texture, color and flavor is amazing and sublime: a basket of homemade breads and crackers, olive-oil drenched burrata, chicken liver mousse, charred scallion hummus, Monterey squid, Oregon Dungeness crab fritter, gem lettuce salad with pomegranate and sunflower. This is what Haven calls a first course.
Prix fixe, with a choice
While the rest of the daily changing menu is set, Haven always offers a choice of two entrees, usually a beef and a fish dish. Highlights from Brimer’s menu include: Wagyu beef with smoked potato pave, Scarlett turnips, new onions and Yuzu Kosho. Monterey squid on the plancha with Meyer lemon, celery hearts and fermented chili. Smoked Mt. Lassen trout rillette with horseradish, pickled beets, crème fraîche and dill. Brassicas with smoked egg yolk, bagna cauda and new onion soubise. (Vegetarian choices are always available.)
With so many other delicious flavors competing for diners’ attentions, the simple celery sorbet palate cleanser, made and served by pastry chef Hope Waggoner, was revelatory. A bit sweet, and very much tasting like the essence of celery, the small scoop made us swoon. If sorbet is the true gauge by which dessert chefs are ultimately appraised, Waggoner is a wizard. Her olive oil cake with crème fraiche ice cream and cocoa powder wasn’t too bad either.
A classic and cozy bar
Haven’s bar offers barrel-aged craft cocktails with house made bitters, local beer, and wines that pair well with the a la carte bar menu of pastas, the delicious Haven burger, and the not-to-be-missed charcuterie board featuring their yummy house made pastrami.
Like the dishes on its menu, Haven’s interior décor is homemade and handcrafted. On display are shelves of homemade vinegars, jams, and giardiniera – all available for purchase. Featuring an abundance of warm wood, the industrial space is accented with tree limbs and greenery hung from the rafters, creating a feeling of safe shelter – a true haute haven.
SoCal native Matt Brimer’s past gigs include Le Charm and Bizou in San Francisco with Jen Biesty, and Coco 500, where he worked closely with Loretta Keller. After serving as sous chef at Bin 38 Wine Bar & Restaurant and then Maverick in the Mission District, he went on to open Central Kitchen with Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, then Ame in the St. Regis as executive sous chef.
Now living in the East Bay with his family, he’s joined the Daniel Patterson Group (DPG) to helm the kitchen at Haven – whose daily-changing California-cuisine menu spotlights seasonal, local produce sourced directly from farms and purveyors.
Brimer will maintain the waterfront restaurant’s house-made charcuterie program along with in-house pickling, curing, fermentation and whole-animal butchery.
Some highlights from his new menu include:
• Wagyu Beef with Smoked Potato Pave, Scarlet Turnips, New Onions and Yuzu Kosho
• Monterey Squid on the Plancha with Meyer Lemon, Celery Hearts and Fermented Chili
• Smoked Mt. Lassen Trout Rillette with Horseradish, Pickled Beets, Creme Fraiche and Dill
• Brassicas with Smoked Egg Yolk, Bagna Cauda and New Onion Soubise
• Lemon Verbena-Cured Fluke with Fennel, Granny Smith Apple, Meyer Lemon and Puffed Quinoa
Since opening at the end of 2011, Oakland’s Haven, in Jack London Square, has cycled through several executive chefs. Charlie Parker is the latest to move on, to San Francisco’s Alfred’s Steakhouse — which was recently sold to the Daniel Patterson Group (DPG) — and executive chef Matt Brimer has come on board.
Haven — also owned by the DPG — has had a family-style menu since its inception, under executive chef Kim Alter. But when Parker came on board, he introduced a “breaking bread” starter course, giving the restaurant a chance to show its charcuterie chops by offering several kinds of housemade breads, crackers, vegetable spreads, and cheeses. As the dessert and side dishes were fixed, the diner was left with only one choice to make: a vegetarian or meat entrée.
While this may not be the ideal concept for picky eaters or those with lots of food sensitivities, under Brimer — who has worked in the kitchens at Coco 500, Maverick, and most recently, at Ame, in the St. Regis — it isn’t changing. We’re very glad about that, seeing as we were big fans of the breaking bread spread the first time we tried it earlier this year, and were more than happy to sample it again on a recent visit.
What it included: burrata with fennel confit and capers, smoked trout rillettes with horseradish créme fraiche, chicken liver mousse with huckleberry and chicken crackling, pâté campagne with dijon mustard, charred scallion hummus with radish and house pickles, Monterey squid with Calabrian pepper and tapenade; Oregon Dungeness crab fritters with Meyer lemon-mango aioli. With such a feast arriving before you have a chance to finish your deftly crafted cocktail, the entrée almost becomes superfluous, but before that we still had to sample a gorgeous hamachi crudo.
With such variety, one can really get a sense of what a chef can do. (Among the highlights were that positively airy chicken liver mousse, the burrata, the squid, and the trout). And jars of the housemade pickles and bags of pasta are also for sale, so you can bring some of Haven’s goodness home.
Our entrees, a Wagyu beef and halibut, came with a dish of chard and farro, accented by golden raisins to share, and dessert included smoked white chocolate. The menu costs $65 on weekends for four courses, and $49 on weeknights for three courses, which, combined with the excellent service and sheer quantity of food you get, could be characterized as a fine-dining deal, if there is such a thing. There’s a supplement for wine pairings (need we say we recommend this?) and on the night we visited, there were also two foie gras offerings (torchon and seared) for a little extra. With this much food, such additions are gilding the lily, but sometimes such gilding is warranted.
Note: the lounge and bar area has a completely different menu, too. While it’s mostly charcuterie, there are also a number of bar snacks, pastas and a burger, too.
News broke recently that Haven executive chef Charlie Parker was moving across the Bay to Alfred’s Steakhouse, recently taken over by Parker’s boss,Daniel Patterson.
Replacing Parker at Patterson’s Jack London Square restaurant is Matt Brimer. We got a chance to chat with the new East Bay resident—as he was fighting I-80 traffic on his way down to Jack London from El Cerrito—about his background and his plans at Haven.
What’s your background?
I was at Ame for a few years before this at the St. Regis Hotel, where I was executive sous chef. The chance to work for [Ame co-opporator] Hiro Sone was great, I had the chance to work with more Japanese flavors, which I hadn’t done before and work a lot more with fish. I love working with raw fish—that’s one of my passions.
Before that I was at Maverick for about a year and helped open up Central Kitchen after that. But one of my big experiences was working at Bizou for five years under Loretta Keller and Jen Biesty, who’s now doing Shakewell. Jen was a big influence on me.
So what made you want to take this position?
It’s a great opportunity to get in with a good restaurant group, a growing restuarnat group that’s expanding and opening up more projects—so they must be doing something right. Haven is also a concept that I can really get behind—the family-style tasting menu where some dishes are shared, some are individual, and everything is made in-house. It’s great.
Did you have a chance to work with Charlie?
Yes, there was a nice transition period where I got to hang out with him, which was nice. He shared with me what’s worked for him at Haven and what hasn’t worked. It definitely seems like coming out to the East Bay people want some more bang for their buck, and I think the $49 four-course meal provides that—in a lot of cases, like 60-precent of the time, people don’t even finish all their food. We have the “Breaking Bread” first course format down so that the food comes out in waves in the beginning almost like Korean banchan, where you get hit with all these different snacks that you didn’t even know you ordered. That, plus appetizer, entrée, and dessert: It’s a good amount of food.
Are you changing much on the menu?
The format is remaining the same; we’ll still be switching up the entrees every day on them menu. I’ll probably just tweak things a little bit. I’m switching up the charcuterie board, I’m adding a porchetta di testa from the head of the pig.
But I would actually say our styles are pretty similar, just very seasonal and market driven. I’ve been trying to go to the farmers market three days a week, using a lot of Dirty Girl produce. I’ll probably use a bit more Japanese ingredients, like yuzu kosho and I’m testing out different seaweeds. I’m slowly building things as I get my feet under me.
Chef Matt Brimer is well-versed in San Francisco’s restaurant scene, having spent the past decade in some of the city’s most iconic kitchens. But his growing family, and the opportunity to join the Daniel Patterson Group, spurred a move to Oakland, where he’s now heading up the kitchen at Haven, DPG’s Jack London Square restaurant. Here, he speaks on the Bay Area’s changing restaurant scene, his reasons for heading to the East Bay, and his plans for Haven in 2016.
Having spent years in a range of acclaimed San Francisco kitchens, how do you think the city’s restaurant scene has evolved in the past decade? The first thing that comes to mind is social media. It’s a blessing and a curse in a lot of ways, but things like Instagram have allowed chefs to share what they are doing and what inspires them, which is great. It’s also allowed for more talented people to access funding quickly, through things like Kickstarter, which would’ve taken years to find 10 years ago. Do you think that Oakland is moving in a similar direction? It’s been sad to see lots of great cooks have to leave the City because of the cost of living. That’s definitely had an impact. I moved my growing family to the East Bay this past summer for more room because there simply wasn’t anything in San Francisco that would work for us. Though the East Bay is quickly catching up in high rent prices, I’m hopeful it doesn’t have as drastic an impact as it has in the City.As far as the actual types of restaurants that are opening and styles happening in each city, I think they’re really comparable. I don’t really see it as East Bay vs. San Francisco — there are so many talented chefs in Oakland performing at the same level as some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, or anywhere for that matter. I see it as a Bay Area scene. What excited you about joining Haven’s team? What kind of changes are you planning for the menu? I’ve always had a lot of respect for Daniel Patterson and his group and Haven is not only a beautiful space, but a great concept. I don’t plan to change the format – I really like the family-style prix fixe, but I will be focusing on expanding the larder program, like fermentation projects, pickles, cheeses, house-made pastas, etc. What’s keeping you busy right now? I’m looking forward to a busy holiday season, working out the New Year’s Eve menu now. I always enjoy working with winter produce, and I’m excited for citrus season in particular. What are your plans for Haven in 2016? As for 2016, I would love to bring the chefs counter back. There used to be one, and we are getting quite a few inquiries for that. I’d like to offer an elevated experience for the guests – extra courses, special wine pairings, while interacting with the kitchen. Being able to experiment and have fun, offering high quality and creative flavors…that’s my vision for what’s ahead for Haven.