Camino: Playing With Fire in Oakland [CLOSED]

Restaurant Oakland

Camino has become an Oakland destination for seasonal ingredients and wood-fired cooking.

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 ago 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.

Bread Oakland

Our server followed with a plank of baguette-like epi served with creamy butter pats and sea salt pinches.

Cocktails had simple names like Rum Drink and Tequila Drink.

Cocktail Oakland

My Mezcal Drink ($10) was a frothy, aromatic sipper that incorporated lemon juice, honey, rosemary and egg white.

Chefs Oakland

Cazuelas rest on a wood counter in the center of an open kitchen, in front of the hearth.

Oysters Oakland

We started with Fried Oysters and Torpedo Onions ($6) coated in whispy pakora batter.

Toast Oakland

Grilled Pancetta and Pickled Cherry Toast ($5) used good crusty bread and greens, but tasted extra salty.

Fish Oakland

It took some nifty knife-work to pry juicy, skin-on meat from wood-roasted sand dabs ($13), but it was worth the effort.

I appreciated the coarse texture of grits, crunch from roasted almonds, and pleasant pucker from rings of sweet and sour onion.

Pork Oakland

Thin-sliced, grilled pork loin joined crisp, collagen-rich pig’s head fritters on a bed of crisp, curly endive with sweet figs and frizzled lovage ($12).

The flavors worked well together, but we should have doubled down, since this pork dish was no splitter.

Mushrooms Oakland

Another seemingly simple starter featured firm Grilled Hen of the Woods Mushrooms ($12) with a creamy sheep’s milk ricotta slab and bright notes from summer squash and basil.

Corn Oakland

Very few vegetables say summer like Grilled Corn ($10) and Camino complemented the cob’s natural sweetness with mild chile butter and lime juice.

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.

Lamb Oakland

My Grilled Lamb Kebab and Lamb Shoulder-Brisket Kofte Kebab ($26) was fine, but ultimately disappointing, especially considering so many great Middle Eastern restaurants in L.A. offer comparable dishes at a fraction of price.

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.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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