Dining review: Seawolf reinvents Jack London Square institution
Seawolf, Oakland’s newest gastropub, comes into existence with a legacy to live up to: The towering Victorian structure the pub occupies was, for years, home to the Warehouse bar, the city’s premier watering hole for police officers, firefighters and other public safety workers.
The Warehouse wasn’t exactly known as being one of the East Bay’s top culinary destinations, content to serve standard pub grub. With Seawolf, owner Monica Plazola and chef Jason Moniz hope to elevate that standard, pushing the pub menu a little further into fitting in among Oakland’s exploding restaurant scene.
When you walk into Seawolf — a few blocks from Jack London Square, nestled among the seafood and produce wholesalers who draw huge crowds of restaurant buyers in the morning, then go quiet before sundown — the Warehouse’s history is hard to miss; though some of the police paraphernalia has come down, the largest wall remains dominated by badges, insignia and more gear from departments around the world.
The bar’s interior is … humble; a promised renovation has opened up the space with higher ceilings and let more light in, but the vibe is still more “corner bar” than “elite eatery.” Fortunately, Moniz’s menu outshines its surroundings.
The bar doesn’t have a cocktail menu, something of a surprise in a city whose restaurant scene is dominated by mixologists offering you their own personal blend of cilantro bitters and wormwood-infused vodka, but a well-curated beer list hits most of the best-known craft beer highlights you’d expect in the Bay Area.
Simple starters like Crispy Mac & Cheese Balls (five for $8) with arrabiata sauce and Fried Green Beans ($7) with a Thai citrus-chile vinaigrette are executed well. The Mac & Cheese bites are small enough to be a decadent starter bite, rather than the gutbusting grease bombs they can be in some establishments, and the mildly spicy edge of the sauce cuts nicely into the bites’ richness.
A corn, zucchini and arugula salad ($10) was generously dressed with cilantro vinaigrette, but that dressing, ubiquitous though it was, didn’t offer much in the way of flavor, leaving the dish in the middle of the road, as flavors of radish, avocado and queso fresco melded into each other for a lot of earthy flavor with no real pop.
For the pub classics on the entree menu, Seawolf’s kitchen is mostly on point. A double cheeseburger ($15, $10 for a single-patty burger) was juicy without being too messy and seasoned perfectly. A Korean fried chicken sandwich ($14) had a thin, crackly batter coating that stuck to the chicken and crunched on every bite; I wouldn’t have minded some more heat from the gochujang sauce served on the sandwich, but that’s a personal preference.
The West Coast Street Tacos (3 for $11, 6 for $19, 12 for $35; $1 more per fish taco) are the shining star on this menu; the carnitas and carne asada both threaded that rarest of needles, being both tender and crispy-charred. Adobo chicken had a nice bit of gentle heat, which mixed well with creamy avocado and tart pickled onions, while beer-battered fish was on point with a light coating and crunchy cabbage slaw.
Seawolf doesn’t offer any desserts (yet), so our meal ended with dinner. Seawolf may be starting simple in changing the identity of an Oakland institution, but it has the potential to grow into a welcome neighborhood spot for residents in the Jack London area.
2 ½ stars
Where: 402 Webster St., Oakland
Contact: 510-891-1660; www.seawolf.pub
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until midnight Fridays; 9:30 a.m.-12 a.m. Saturdays; 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays
Prices: Entrees $11-$15
Vegetarian: Several options, including salads and cauliflower and mushroom tacos
Beverages: Full bar
Noise level: Medium
Parking: Street parking
Kids: Children’s menu includes hamburger/cheeseburger, tacos
Pluses: Solidly executed menu of pub classics with small flourishes
Minuses: Atmosphere is a little grimy.
Date opened: February
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