Camino: Oakland’s New Darling

Right before school let out for summer break, I started taking a prenatal swim class at the Y. It’s great, the pool is filled with women with big bellies bobbing laps (we wear floaters on our feet and sort of pedal around). It’s more of a work-out than I thought it would be though there are some women in the class who think it’s cake.

During finals, I thought it would be a great idea to go to class, but Mister forgot about my new activity and made reservations at Camino, a new restaurant on Grand Ave. in Oakland, started by … ta dah! Chez Panissers (and, of course, as such warranting immediate coverage by Michael Bauer of the Chronicle who, like so many, thinks any venture from a CPer is blessed by the food gods). (Even the NYTimes Weekend Edition has sampled Camino’s dishes.)

Although I would have liked to bob around the pool with my belly hanging out, I also wanted to see Camino, which opened in what had been a lovely (and expensive) furniture store blocks from where I grew up and a couple of doors down from my childhood orthodontist.

Camino is beautiful inside. Exposed brick and beams complemented by long tables (and short tables that can be moved together to extend seatings) and fantastic chairs (purchased from a church via an eBay auction).

The back is an open heart kitchen. You can see the chefs doing their thing, including sampling dishes before serving them. Always a good sign if they are using clean spoons.

Mister loved the whole experience. I really enjoyed it, but thought the prices were too high. (Most egregious: lemonade for $3. Note my empty glass to the right. Yes, that’s it. The one with the giant ice cubes in it.) We share a salad, I had the polenta with mixed vegetables, and Mister had duck. We shared pudding for dessert. He loved his well-matched red wine. (No, I don’t remember exactly what it was).

Two days later I spotted the chef (and sous-chef?) at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Derby picking up flats of berries. Additionally, one of the waitresses was there shopping and we chatted about the dinner. I love seeing local chefs at the market picking up items. Always makes me wonder what they are going to do with things they find.

Overall, the people are great, the experience is lovely, and, despite what I consider an over-priced menu, Camino is worth going back, especially if I can get a bigger glass of lemonade.

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