Restaurants along the waterfront often focus on seafood, so it might surprise some to find Belcampo, a new temple to meat with views of the bay, in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
But the restaurant, which opened this summer in the former Bocanova space, feels right at home in the large space. Belcampo founder Anya Fernald has kept the bones of the restaurant with the large dining room and U-shaped bar, but she’s added a butcher shop selling organic, fresh-from-the farm meats.
While Belcampo has other locations around California, the Oakland restaurant is very much its flagship, at 7,000-square feet and seating for more than 200 diners.
Sure, there’s a “dock to dish” fresh catch option on the menu, but not surprisingly most of the dishes are meat-heavy, from beef tartare to burgers to steak.
Even when I visited for brunch on a Sunday with a group of friends, most of us gravitated to the burgers rather than the breakfast fare. There are five burgers to choose from, and with the exception of the lamb burger, most are made with beef. (Not surprisingly, the restaurant is not vegetarian-friendly; there’s no veggie burger and all the salads are topped with meats.)
I ordered the Double Fast Burger ($14), which consists of two thin beef patties served with house sauce, butter lettuce, tomato, onion and cheddar cheese sandwiched between a potato bun. I thought the patties would be twice the meat of a normal serving, but instead, it was more like two thin patties mushed together to create a regular-sized one. The meat’s flavor, perhaps due to it being grass-fed beef, was a bit gamey for my taste, and overall, the burger lacked oomph.
One friend decided to be extravagant, ordering the 100-day Dry-Aged Burger with the hefty price tag of $32. As its name suggests, the patty is made with beef round, dry-aged for 100 days. It’s served with caramelized onion, raclette, watercress and “dijonaise,” all on a brioche bun. While the burger was cooked to the right pinkness and it did have an intense beef flavor, my friend was disappointed. The expectations raised by its high price left her wanting something more.
Ironically, it turned out that everyone at our table enjoyed the house Belcampo Burger ($18), a 28-day aged beef patty with house sauce, cheddar cheese, caramelized onion, and butter lettuce on a brioche bun (basically a less fancy 100-day dry-aged burger). We all felt the beef flavor came through most in this version.
The other brunch items were straight-forward options like steak and eggs, eggs Benedict, pancakes and French toast, but elevated more by the quality of the ingredients. In fact, that came through when I returned for dinner and I ordered the Bone-in Heritage Pork Chop ($32).
The thick chop was cooked well, and with the first bite, I could savor the fresh pork flavor that tasted clean but intense, like a good 24-hour pork bone broth. It was served on top of pickled red cabbage and roasted root vegetables. Some may feel the dish is too simple, but just drag your pork pieces in the accompanying beet dressing to give it another layer of flavor.
The sauces do well to help the simply seasoned meats. For example, a starter of beef heart skewers ($14) were chewy and plain, but the accompanying shiso salsa gave the skewers a nice needed kick in flavor.
The U-shaped bar in the center of the restaurant is a popular spot for diners to order a drink and enjoy dinner. Some of the craft cocktails have fun names like “Beets by J” (Arette Anejo tequila with beets and citrus-spiked agave) and “Between the Mattress” (a gin cocktail with Chateau de Laubade Blanche). There’s also a weekly cocktail special, like the “No Second Chances” I tried on my visit, made with black tequila, coconut milk, yellow chartreause, simple syrup and lime. It tasted light and tropical at the same time.
While service is generally professional, on both visits, I felt a bit of aloofness from the servers. And this may be a coincidence, or a reflection of the servers still adjusting to the large restaurant, but both times there was something wrong with my order. During brunch, my burger came with the house Kennebec fries even though I paid extra to substitute for a salad. At dinner, a side order of Brussels sprouts never came with my pork chop and my server didn’t seem surprised when I mentioned it after I had already finished eating my pork chop.
In both cases, the servers either comped the dish or removed it from my final bill, but they acted nonchalant about the errors, as if these types of mistakes happen often.
There’s no doubt that Belcampo’s ingredients are of the highest quality, and they’ve taken full advantage of the large space to create an impressive and festive spot. But the mixed service and pricey-yet-simple dishes make it an experience that you’ll feel more in the pocketbook than the stomach.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.