Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Plum: Daniel Patterson


One of the many reasons that I thought Celia and I would make a good partnership besides our backgrounds was that she lived in Oakland. And as good as my intentions are I often fall far short of exploring the East Bay and it's varied and rich offerings. I know so typical. I really never meant for it to be this way. (It makes me feel like an LA west-sider that never crosses the 405 when I'm so obviously an East-sider.) So thanks to Celia for helping me cross that bridge a little more often and for introducing me to Plum. So here's Celia...

Plum opened its doors shortly after I moved to Oakland, and even though I still had a laundry list of new [to me] restaurants to try out, the hype was just too loud to ignore. And, oh boy, am I glad I gave it a try... again, and again, and again. Yes, Plum has become one of my absolute favorites, and a place that I recommend to just about everyone. 

The simple and compact space, with its intensely dark plum walls and family-style seating, is both elegant yet warm and inviting. Like all great Oakland restaurants, it is far from stuffy. Personally, I'm a big fan of sitting at the bar and watching the meticulous chefs in action. The menu is innovative, but not at all intimidating or overwhelming. The plates are small enough that if you happen to go with a somewhat larger group, ordering everything, yes EVERYTHING, off the menu would not only be totally acceptable, but also highly recommended. So the next time you find yourself in the bay area, make sure to give Plum (and Oakland) a try. 

Don't forget to check out Plum Bar (right next door), and Haven, Daniel Patterson's newest Oakland venture, too.


Q: With the success of Coi, why was Plum opened in Oakland? Why not another restaurant in the city?

DP: I live in Oakland. It's a great city, full of people who care about community and food. There aren't enough good restaurants here, although that's changing.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the overall look of Plum?

DP: The restaurant was designed by Scott Kester, who designs all of our restaurants. We wanted a neighborhood restaurant, but elevated, something artsy and cool that fit the neighborhood. Scott envisioned the weathered look of the walls of an art studio, but with black walls instead of white (they're actually saturated purple). He's rather brilliant, and he has a talent for creating spaces that are dramatic and beautiful, but also warm and comfortable. There are a lot of handmade touches, from the reclaimed wood to the hand-blown glass shades.

(KW: Sorry to but in here but I just have to comment that the walls that look like the skin of a plum are one of my favorite details of the space. So rarely do you see anyone do anything innovative with the walls. Bravo Scott, bravo.)

Q: All of the seating at Plum is communal unless you sit at the bar, which in and of itself can also be considered communal. What was the thought process behind this decision?

We knew the size of the space would lend intimacy to the dining experience, but we also wanted diners to experience the sense of community that thrives in Oakland. Having communal seating is our way of encouraging people to get to know one another and to share their experiences.


Q: Who took those fantastic photographs of plums that cover your walls? We are enamored.

 DP:  Catherine Wagner took the photographs. She is an internationally acclaimed artist, whose work has appeared at LACMA in Los Angeles, the MOMA and DeYoung in SF among other museums. She also designed the artwork for Coi.

Q: We couldn't help but geek out when we noticed that your tableware is by Heath Ceramics. How important would you say picking tableware is when plating dishes comes into consideration?

DP: Very. We're partial to handmade ceramics.

Q: From plating to the actual food, Plum's menu always feels so fresh. How often is it changed?

DP: All the time. Some dishes may stay on for a while, some for shorter periods of time, but we're always responding to the changing weather, produce and whatever else inspires us.


Q: We think it's safe to say that vegetables are front and center on your menu; something you don't often find at a non-vegetarian restaurant. What's the inspiration behind this?

DP: Flavor. Vegetables are what we do best in this area. Also, it's a flavor palette that's far more diverse and interesting than meat. We still always have meat and fish on the menu, though.

Q: Alright, let's talk beef. Any plans on bringing back the beef cheek/oxtail burger? Or, any burger for that matter? Not that we're complaining... we're just a little obsessed.

 DP: We have a burger on the menu at lunch right now.

Q: Traditional fine dining seems to be on the wane. How would you describe the service at Plum. What's the "feel" you're going for?

DP: We aim to have service at Plum be refined yet approachable. We want people to return to Plum not just because they are offered good food and service but because they become emotionally connected to the restaurant and the people that work there. And by the way, we don't agree. Coi is fine dining, and it has been extremely successful.

Q: Onto music. It's not common to walk into a restaurant and hear PJ Harvey playing in the background; we like! What's your approach when it comes to making playlists for Plum?

DP: Fun, interesting, upbeat.


Q: Not only do we love that you automatically add gratuity to every check, we're ecstatic about the fact that it is shared with your kitchen staff. How was that decision made, and do you think that other restaurants will eventually follow suit?

We already do that at Coi. So does the French Laundry and Chez Panisse.

Q: What have you found to be the best form of advertising for your business?

DP: Word of mouth.

Q: Name three East Bay restaurants that are absolute must-tries.

DP: Pizzaiolo/Boot & Shoe (same owner), Camino, Commis.

KW: Thanks Daniel for your time and your insights. I'd also like to quickly point out that Daniel credits and lists his collaborators and this makes me so incredibly happy. I really wish more restaurants would do this. He does this for Plum and Coi

PLM07 All photography Kelly Waters

 And just in case you missed them... Serpentine & Thermidor were featured in previous weeks.

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