The restaurant occupies a large brick building that was once a furniture showroom and now bears a pleasingly rustic resemblance to a medieval castle dining hall. Iron chandeliers hang from the ceiling and long wooden tables stretch nearly the length of the restaurant. These long tables are accompanied by adorable antique wooden chairs that have small wooden pockets on the back to hold a hymnal (see the photo below.)
I was really taken with the chairs and actually asked Allison about them. She told me that they are originally from a church in England -- she bought them on eBay. The chairs are just one of many carefully thought-out, unique touches throughout the restaurant.
The focus of the restaurant is the open kitchen and waist-high brick fireplace in the back. You can watch Russell and the other chefs roast your dinner by hanging hunks of meat from strings to roast in front of an open fire (every once in a while, they wind up the string which then unspins and spins for a good long while, turning the meat for even cooking in the process.) The chefs also rake the coals out from the bottom of their traditional Uruguayan brazier to heat several cazuelas and pots of beans and vegetables that sit and stew slowly in the fireplace, slightly apart from the main action.
Although the menu is very small (only 8 items total!), the food is incredibly high quality and prepared with great skill and attention. You can tell that Russell takes food very seriously. For example, the restaurant has made an executive decision not to serve decaffeinated coffee because they feel that the process ruins the taste of the beans. Although some diners (especially those who've given up caffeine but are still hooked on coffee) may find that inconvenient, I took it as just one of many signs of Russell and Allison's devotion to good food. The whole place is basically a labor of love.
Without further ado, here are some photos and comments on our meal (which was delicious).
The bread was served on cedar planks with two big pats of butter - a presentation I found strangely delightful.
We began with two salads: Grilled Pork Salad With Beets Cabbage & Mustard ($10)
And the Arugala, Herb and Fennel Salad With Avocado Toast ($10)
Followed by the Eggplant Gratin With Roasted Escarole, Tomato Confit & Roasted Olives ($17) The eggplant was amazingly tender and sweet!
And the New Potatoes Cooked In Duck Fat ($6) (note to self, if you ever need something to taste good, just cook it in duck fat, you really can't go wrong!)
I also ordered the most delicious drink (non-alcoholic) I've ever had - a little tumbler filled with a sublime combination of grapefruit, tea, and thyme. Although I did practically have a heart attack when I noticed that it cost $6, it was so tasty that I was actually inspired. And I don't think that 6 bucks is really too dear a price to pay for inspiration.
Dessert was an incredibly yummy collection of little homemade cookies - three round dark chocolate hazelnut shortbread cookies and two small hunks of honey almond nougat. Though small, they were absolutely amazing! I'd never appreciated nougat before but this was like food for the gods.
Camino also offers a swanky new "rustic modern" bathroom with the most powerful hand drier (the "XLERATOR") I had ever experienced. I could not resist a picture.
Although the prices will probably keep me from becoming a regular diner, I would definitely recommend checking out Camino a toute de suite. And be prepared to worship your meal.Camino is located at:
3917 Grand Ave
Oakland, CA 94620