Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! In junior high, “Beavis & Butthead” was popular, and blonde, pyromaniac misfit Beavis would freak out when he saw flames. The owners Camino clearly have a thing for fire as well, but Chez Panisse alum Russell Moore and wife Allison Hopelain are more interested in harnessing the energy from their hearth than seeing things end up as cinders.
The couple opened Camino just over four years in Oakland’s Grand Lake neighborhood, and their hearth burns almond and cherry woods, enticing diners with dancing flames and intoxicating aromas. The rest of the restaurant supports the centerpiece, complete with brick and wood walls. Giant wrought-iron ring chandeliers strung with dried herbs hang overhead.
We received a tangy, banchan-like dish of pickled turnips to start.
Cocktails had simple names like Rum Drink and Tequila Drink.
I appreciated the coarse texture of grits, crunch from roasted almonds, and pleasant pucker from rings of sweet and sour onion.
The flavors worked well together, but we should have doubled down, since this pork dish was no splitter.
We found success with snacks and starters, but it was a struggle to find an enticing entree, especially considering that even wood oven-baked eggplant cost $22. My father opted for grilled white sea bass with beets, fennel, nettles and apricots, a good, seasonal dish, no doubt. That seemed to be the standout of the trio.
Sure, the meat was clearly high-quality, and it got supporting balance from ingredients like rhubarb, and creamy walnut dip, but the accompanying flatbread wasn’t very fluffy (or big) and the meat, while juicy and sporting a good sear, came in a small portion.
Camino has an impressive ally in their wood-burning hearth and oven, which does wonders with almost anything that graces their grates and cavity, respectively. However, since the owners are so committed to seasonal, of-the-moment ingredients, choices were too limited, and ultimately, the menu was unapproachable. Of course, we could have had a different impression on another night, when more dishes may have struck a chord, but during our dinner, my meat and potatoes loving brother practically passed entirely when trying to decide. Camino is more user friendly for people who enjoy every ingredient, and the food was fairly good, but in general, their approach may be too constrained.