In 2016, Melissa Axelrod and William Johnson closed the doors to their Oakland bistro, which they opened in 2013 at 1745 San Pablo Ave. Fortunately for fans of the Uptown eatery, this wasn’t the final curtain for Mockingbird. The closure was only temporary, as Axelrod and Johnson had found a bigger location in the city, one with a full liquor license — something they were having trouble getting at the San Pablo space.
On June 21, Mockingbird reopened once again in its newfound space, found right off of 12th Street BART in downtown Oakland. The new locale is definitely an upgrade. Not only is it closer to the city center and multiple public transportation options, but its 4,200-square-foot space feels roomy and comfortable, without feeling empty or cold. Inside, diners will find a casual dining space with booths and tables in the back and several window-side café tables up front, a 20-seat bar, as well as a mezzanine area for accommodating large groups.
The fledgling iteration of Mockingbird took its time to take fully take flight again, relaunching in stages, first with counter-service and table service lunch at its opening, then rolling out happy hour a week later, and finally with its dinner service since early July.
Last week, NOSH stopped in for dinner as a guest at Mockingbird. Here’s a look at what we ate:
Returning Mockingbird diners will recognize a good number of menu items — tried-and-true signature dishes that it was smart to kept on its new menu. One of these fan favorites is its fried Brussels sprouts starter, served on a creamy layer of confit garlic aioli, glazed with rich, raisiny saba and studded with nuggets of piquant blue cheese.
Another returning starter is the duck liver mousse, which comes with slices of grilled Acme walnut bread. If you’re put off by the usual strong mineral, gamey flavor of paté, you might want to try Mockingbird’s version. Spread on the walnut bread, the creamy mousse has an approachably mild flavor that you could possibly even tempt an openminded kid into trying and liking (just don’t tell them it’s liver). The bright acidity and delightful crunch of the star-anise pickled beets, young carrots and stone fruit that came along with the mousse was an added bonus.
The star of the meal was the grilled prime hanger steak topped with a mixed herb salsa verde. Our friendly server explained the salsa verde was made with bone marrow mixed into it. The marrow was detectable in that it added an amazing boost of umami, which takes this dish to the next level. The steak was perfectly seasoned and melt-in-your mouth tender, further accentuated by the fatty marrow-laced topping. This dish comes with Mockingbird’s french fries, handcut from Kennebec potatoes. We asked our server for a side of ketchup for dipping our fries and she suggested an additional side of the confit garlic aioli — we’re so glad she did.
We also tried the overnight pork sugo. This braised pork dish comes with rosemary spiked polenta cake wedges and is topped with sheep’s milk cheese, arugula and pickled red onions. Hearty and rich, this is true comfort food, but be prepared to want to take a nap shortly after eating.
And finally, to close our meal, we tried Mockingbird’s most summery-sounding dessert: a deconstructed strawberry shortcake, served with slices of grilled angel food cake, macerated strawberries and two scoops of condensed milk ice cream. The grilled cake was a little overwhelmingly charred in flavor and dried out the tender sponge we expected from Angel food. We could’ve also used a few more fresh strawberries. Still, we appreciated the diversity of textures — the creamy, rich ice cream, the toasted cake and the slippery, sweet-tart strawberries — of this new take on the classic dessert.
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