With a name like Degrees Plato, one could be forgiven for thinking that the taproom and bottle shop in Oakland’s Laurel district is all about the beer.
For the non beer-geeks: according to Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine, “the Plato gravity scale is a measurement of the concentration of dissolved solids in a brewery wort. Degrees Plato is used to quantify the concentration of extract (mainly sugars derived from malt but also including other soluble material in wort) as a percentage by weight.”
You still with me?
If yes, the fact that Degrees Plato has close to 50 taps of predominantly California craft brews, with a few international ones thrown in for good measure, would also suggest this. As well as its extremely-well-curated selection of bottles for sale, too.
Owner Rich Allen (with his wife Mercedes Sperling, who live nearby) has spent over a decade working in the beer industry, including at Mikkeller, which may explain the taproom’s illustrated aesthetic.
All of this could lead one to think that the food at Degrees Plato could be an afterthought, and that one should head here specifically for the beer. That would be wrong.
The chef at Degrees Plato, Flor Crisotomo, is from Oaxaca. She has worked in some of Oakland’s more upscale Mexican restaurants (Calavera, Nido), and here, she is turning out beautiful plates of food, but at Laurel district prices.
Nothing on the menu is more than $11, and these prices include a 15% tip for the staff. The beer prices are also a bit lower than what you’ll find in other places around town.
We happened to go during a slow lunch period, and appreciated that the woman at the counter asked what kind of beer we liked, and let us sample several before committing. Of course at a taproom one expects to be able to sample, but it’s not always offered up and often, one has to ask. Not here.
The menu is meant for sharing and consists more of small plates as opposed to proper entrees (another reason why prices are lower).
While the inclination for some is to think of mole negro when they hear “Oaxaca,” since the inky, chocolatey sauce with 30-plus ingredients is a staple of Oaxacan cuisine, it isn’t prominent here, though it is does show up on one torta.
One can snack on tortilla chips (extra thick and crispy) with either guacamole ($7) or salsa with crema and cheese ($5), a salad (at the time we visited, there was one with watermelon and roasted pumpkin seeds ($7)), or go for something more substantial, like an epazote quesadilla ($7), tacos ($9 for three) or taquitos (also $9 for three).
Of course a taco plate is a great barometer for judging a Mexican place, and we liked that there were three varieties on the plate: squash and sweet potato with pumpkin seeds and salsa; grilled chicken with cumin, with orange and tomatillo salsa; and carnitas with pineapple salsa, all garnished with pickled onions in a fetching shade of fuschia. While we guessed that we’d like the carnitas the most because of pork being pork, we were wrong. The pork was a bit on the dry side, and given that, there was a bit too much of it in the filling, so the taco felt too heavy. But the vegetarian and chicken tacos were perfect; both in flavor and proportion, we felt each were excellent specimens of the form.
We also loved the taquitos, which had a potato and cheese filling. The potatoes (which seemed mashed) were the right foil for the crispy tortilla, and the presentation was beautiful with a mound of red and green cabbage and queso on top, with some guacamole on there as well.
Among the tortas — there were four to choose from — we chose the Choriqueso ($11), which has house-made chorizo, Oaxacan cheese, guacamole, aioli and escabeche. While the flavors were spot-on, we wished there was just a touch more filling; we felt that once again, the ratio was a tiny bit off.
For those who don’t drink beer, a few of the taps at Degrees Plato pour wine, and cold-brewed coffee and perhaps kombucha are in the works.
Allen and Sperling’s intention was to open a place that caters to families with young children, and one full wall is devoted to small tables and chairs, with some toys to play with, and books to read, too. With the interesting art on the walls by a Danish-born local artist, they’ve struck a rare balance — a place with a top-notch beer list and more than satisfying food that is both family-friendly, yet welcoming to pre-kids hipsters, too. And for those who are not yet familiar with the Laurel district, Degrees Plato is a great place to start.
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