It’s yet another indication that Oakland is the place to be when a chef who worked at a Napa restaurant with three Michelin stars leaves to be in his own kitchen on a nondescript corner of 42nd and Market streets.
That’s just what Marcus Krauss, a former cook at the Restaurant at Meadowood, did. He left the celebrated Restaurant at Meadowood to become a partner and executive chef at Salsipuedes, a restaurant a long time in the making.
Salsipuedes was built by The Half Orange‘s Jay Porter in a former salon in North Oakland’s Longfellow district. A wrap-around mural in sea-tone blues is still being painted on the outside by a local artist, while the inside gives off a casual, beachy vibe with white tiles and aqua walls. There’s one large communal table in the middle, with bar seating around the open kitchen, and facing the street.
Longfellow has yet to undergo the same changes as neighboring Temescal, but it’s been identified as an up-and-coming neighborhood. Many don’t know that it’s called the Longfellow district at all.
Recognizing that the neighborhood is “greatly underserved,” Porter first signed a conditional lease for the space in September of 2013. He spoke to NOSH about the restaurant in early 2014. After a successful sale of pre-opening credit, the restaurant is currently in soft opening mode and will have its grand opening August 20.
Salsipuedes is named for a bay in Ensenada on the Baja coast of California. Roughly translated, it means “get out if you can,” so when Krauss decided to join the team, he and Porter took a trip to the namesake bay for inspiration.
“It wasn’t to eat specific dishes, but to get my head around the vibe and the atmosphere and how the food felt,” said Krauss. “After coming back, I started writing a draft menu, and about 90 percent of it is on our opening menu.”
Porter, who frequently traveled south of the border when he lived in San Diego, wanted to combine the approach to food in Ensenada — think beachside barbecues with significant Japanese influence —with a Bay Area spin, using the best of local, seasonal ingredients.
For his part, Krauss is excited to be at the helm of his own kitchen. “The kind of food I was cooking under [Christopher Kostow at the Restaurant at Meadowood] had really clean flavors with some Pacific Rim influence,” but that’s where the similarities end, he said. “This is a lot more casual and it’s not even the same type of cuisine, but the cleanness of the flavors really translate.”
Nonetheless, he’s held on to his tweezers. While Porter and Krauss may describe the food as “beach barbecue,” it’s certainly more elaborate and pretty than most of us are accustomed to at such a meal.
The current menu has one snack, corn nuts with seaweed salt ($3.50), four cold dishes, and seven hot dishes, all of them on small plates, meant to be shared. Salsipuedes treated NOSH to quite a few of them.
We first tried the tiradito, a Peruvian crudo of raw black cod fish in a spicy yuzu ponzu sauce with Serrano chile slices ($17).
Porter also suggested we try what may be his favorite dish on the menu: roasted corn with nixtamal nieves and trout roe ($12). We didn’t realize the dish included savory corn ice cream (or hominy ice milk, if you want to be more exact) in addition to the roasted corn until it came out. With its garnish of sea grass and bright orange trout row, this dish was not only stunning, but was among the most unusual.
Tempura sea beans — served with a kewpie mayo — were dredged in rice flour, making them not only gluten-free but delightfully crunchy ($8). Both Porter and Krauss are also excited about their version of Cioppino, which is nothing like the traditional stew. Theirs is made with heirloom Rancho Gordo cranberry beans, clams, fish and Mendocino seaweeds ($18), with no tomatoes in sight.
“I consider it a bean dish more than a seafood dish,” said Krauss. “This one has really great beans with a bit of seafood and seaweeds as well. It has the aroma and flavors to evoke the coast.”
Krauss’s “Octopus Melt Bao” offers a similar mash-up of flavors, with Oregon shrimp and pork cracklin’s ($15).
Last, we tried the drowned chicken torta ($13). It’s given a Japanese treatment, covered in a bright orange katsu sauce with kimchi and wakame seaweed inside. Krauss calls it “the most delicious, messy kind of thing on the menu.”
On Tuesdays, the torta is highlighted. Salsipuedes is offering it as a kind of “burger and fries” special alongside sea bean tempura and a draft beer for $20.
A few of the menu items we did not try were a salad of local greens with stone fruit, tomato and cheese ($9); shisito peppers with grilled fruit and salt plum ($7); grilled eggplant and tomatoes with olive oil and pistachio ($10); and a pork steak with cipollini onions and sorrel ($27).
A beef tongue dish with sea urchin, seaweed and green salsa ($18) has already proven to be an early favorite. In fact, it is so popular that the kitchen had already run out of it during our visit.
Dessert was a rose petal ice cream with rhubarb and pickled strawberries ($5). Porter is working with the artisanal ice cream brand Nieves Cinco de Mayo to include specialty ice creams for dessert. (Luis Abundis, the owner of Nieves Cinco de Mayo, is also a partner in the restaurant.)
To drink, Salispuedes has a carefully-curated wine list. “The beer selections are all food-pairing driven,” said Porter. “They’re typically under 6% alcohol by volume because the higher-alcohol beers don’t typically pair as well with delicate flavors as you’ll find in our menu. With that in mind, we’ve got a variety of very well-crafted beers made locally and in Ensenada.”
The wine list was put together by Bradford Taylor, owner of Oakland’s Ordinaire wine bar. Glasses range in price from $8.50 to $15 and bottles range from $32 to $58.
“The wine list is composed entirely of natural wines from coastal and maritime regions to go with our food,” said Porter. “Bradford selected a range of flavors and types of wine that pair well with the specific dishes on the menu and give a good breadth of options, and also that are exciting and perhaps not yet well-known.”
If Longfellow becomes the next Temescal, let it be said here first that Porter and Krauss should be given the credit.