Occupation: Children’s Book Author
Favorite Restaurant: Flora
Reviewed Flora: Friday, February 8, 2013
Flora gets its name from the old floral depot where it’s housed, and the space has high ceilings, deco fixtures, and a beautiful bar. A huge poster for Carter the Great, the legendary San Francisco magician, hangs on the wall. The space is elegant but not imposingly so—you’re comfortable eating and drinking and talking and laughing, but you can also sit back and admire your surroundings.
Flora is remarkable for its appeal to a cross-section of the city: Oakland old-timers, kids with one pant leg cuffed to avoided their bikes’ gears, Bay Area outdoorsy types in fleece, office workers and chefs and musicians. Everyone is there and seems glad to be.
The food is fantastic—the menu changes often but the burger is always there and always great—they’re very good with chicken, and also with fish. The fried Brussels sprouts are particularly good; I am a lover of Brussels sprouts but these Brussels sprouts are exceptional. They’re fried and tossed with lemon juice and chili flake—a little hot, a little citrusy, crispy, tender, delicious. Flora’s menu changes regularly. Buttermilk fried chicken shows up often, and is worth ordering; your first bite of chicken releases a puff of steam, and the dish always comes with good sides like grits or a celery root remoulade. The fish is always good, but last time I went, as is true more often than not, I ended up ordering the burger. Caramelized onions are mixed into the patty, which is juicy and flavorful. The bread is served on an Acme bun—Acme’s a Berkeley bakery that makes the East Bay’s best bread—with lettuce, tomato, onion, and homemade pickles. There are enough pickles to load up your burgers and have some left over to pop in your mouth. Still, I like to try something new each time I visit. Last time we ordered the shrimp cocktail and we weren’t disappointed; the shrimp was very fresh and the cocktail sauce was tangy and homemade—it was a classic dish simply executed.
And dessert — their caramel pudding is justly famous: a white dish filled with velvety caramel and topped with sea salt crystals. Eavesdrop on another table and you’ll probably overhear people lauding the dessert.
The bartenders are some of the best I’ve ever come across—the cocktail list is long and thoughtful but you can go off-book without stumping the staff. Still, the bar’s not stuffy in a mustache-twirling mixology way. Bar staff wear white shirts and black suspenders, but they don’t look costumed; it just looks right. The bar itself is long and beautiful—glittering bottles line illuminated shelves. It’s a good place to eat, particularly if you don’t have a reservation on a busy night (bar seating is first come, first served.) I love getting to Flora in the late afternoon. I grab a barstool and order a drink, and the light pours in through a bank of tall windows. When the sun sets, the Fox Theater turns on its colored lights and staff light candles on the tables. Flora glitters inside, fills up with people, and it’s time for Brussels sprouts and probably a burger and another well-mixed drink.
Occupation: Special Education Teacher
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Barrio Fiesta Restaurant
Reviewed Flora: Saturday, February 9, 2013
There is nothing like a restaurant with a great bar. The food comes a little faster, you can share food easier, and when conversation goes dry, the action is always straight ahead. From the bar, you see everything happen. Flora is a marvelous restaurant, but it’s the bar that I’ll keep coming back for. Its color, a deep, romantic mahogany; its layout, spacious; its view, rousing.
We began with two reds and the County Line Harvest chicories salad. Bitter, spicy radicchio leaves were tossed in a garlicky, anchovy-strong dressing. Preserved lemons added a lingering citrus, making the whole dish completely earthy tasting. ($9)
What’s next? We surmised and decided on the sweetbreads ($14). Diner’s note: “sweetbreads” do not equal “sweet bread.” We found out the hard way.
“It’s thymus.” The server revealed, when we looked lost in our dish. “Veal.”
After going home and googling it, we found out what sweetbreads were — throat glands and pancreas glands of calves. However, because the name is a little discrete, perhaps it would have been useful for the staff to ask politely, “Have you tried them before?” for those who may not be schooled on offal.
Next were our bone-in NY Strip and Burger. The strip ($39) towered over the plate. The hickory salt embedded a smoky essence and the accompanying Swiss chard was weighty and richly flavored. The Burger ($16), which was grass-fed and house ground, was juicy and had that charcoal, backyard barbecue splendor.
We ended the night with a French red and the chocolate mousse. Burnt marshmallows and graham cracker ice cream made the whole dish reminiscent of campfire s’mores. We licked our forks with delight.
Flora is a little gem in downtown Oakland. Although the menu is a bit limited (one fish, one meat, one chicken), creativity is abounding and the atmosphere is timeless.
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Zare at Fly Trap
Reviewed Flora: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
We had reservations for 7:30 and arrived about 7:10. Street parking is not a problem. We decided to get a drink before dinner (We were a party of seven and four of us were early) so we ordered 4 “Carter Beats the Devils.” This is the Flora version of the margarita. The combination of Tequila, Mescal and the chili made for a smooth drink with a bit of a kick. I liked it so much I had another at dinner. The rest of our party arrived and we were seated promptly at 7:30. The restaurant is across the street from the old Fox Theater. There was a concert that night at the Fox and there were a lot of pre-concert people at the restaurant. Flora has a very extensive cocktail list of very interesting and unique drinks. I tasted some of the drinks at the table (Salt and Pepper, Ninth Ward) and thoroughly enjoyed them all! We then ordered dinner. I had the Chicken Liver Pate as my starter. The pate was softer than butter and spread on a toasted baguette topped with the pickled jalapeno. It was delicious. My only problem was I had to share it with the other people at the table. My wife had the Savory Baynes Clams. These were done in a very tasty broth and the chili wasn’t overpowering. Very good appetizer. The sweetbreads were battered and deep fried. Sweetbreads are too delicate for deep frying. My friend had the pork loin and it was amazing. The pork loin is not your typical dry leather… These pork loins (yes, there were two thick slices… not just one) were succulent, juicy, and left you wishing there were three. I ordered the lamb stew. It came with bite size pieces of lamb around the perimeter of the bowl, again, a large portion. The couscous and the vegetables swam in a wonderful gravy in the middle of the bowl. I would definitely order it again. My wife ordered the polenta and vegetables. The polenta was done Sicilian-style, fried so that the outside is nice and crispy and the inside is creamy and melts in your mouth. She loved it. One of the other entrees was the buttermilk fried chicken. The chicken sausage was better than the fried chicken. This was not my favorite entree. We ordered three desserts to share. The first was the Caramel Pudding. Wow, this was the best dessert, the combination of the rich pudding and the sea salt was the perfect recipe. The chocolate mousse had a great mix of different flavors with the cinnamon-smoked almonds and the graham cracker ice cream. This was a very good dessert. My least favorite dessert was the spice cake as it was a little bland.
Overall I really enjoyed Flora Restaurant. The wait staff was very friendly and attentive. The place had a nice vibe. Their drinks are the best I’ve had, while the food was top notch. I’ll definitely return.