Feeling at Home at Homestead
Homestead, a new farm-to-table restaurant in a historic Julia Morgan building in Oakland, has a feel of a hospitable home—beautiful yet unpretentious, busy but welcoming, and filled with aromas of fresh bread, warmed cheese, and grilling meats.
A cozy dining room in a corner of the 1920s red brick architectural gem does not seem overcrowded, with generous elbow space between the tables. Wide windows are decorated with bunches of bright-red Fresno peppers and country-style curtains. Exposed Edison lamps give every face in the room a complimentary glow. An open-fire oven emits a crackling sound….
A warm hunk of sourdough from Firebrand Artisan Breads arrived on our table with some fresh, soft butter lightly sprinkled with salt crystals, and the party began. The restaurant focuses on simple yet sophisticated fare derived from local meats, humanely and sustainably farmed, and locally sourced, seasonal produce in its prime.
Executive chef Fred Sassen and his wife Elizabeth (Liz) Sassen co-own the place and work side by side in their sparkling-clean open kitchen with a copper exhaust overhead—a picture-perfect couple of hard workers fully invested in their labor of love. Watching Liz throwing tender squids on the grill or removing rib bones from a juicy piece of roasted pork loin in one motion is a show all its own.
While Fred is working on delectable sides, roasting Brussels sprouts, searing artichokes, or sautéing corn kernels, Liz moves around the fire practically non-stop, removing the squids, cleaning the grill, browning quails, cutting pork, and supervising the perfect plating at the same time.
My squid escabeche contained sweet corn, bits of avocado, and cumin cracker. The squid was first grilled and then marinated so it came out soft and absorbent with olive oil, lime juice, and salt. My dining companion tried his grilled quail with roasted Brussels sprouts and fresh apple slices and told me he had never tried a quail so perfectly done.
I loved my delicate goat cheese soufflé, nicely contrasted with crisped chanterelles, artichokes, and Treviso radicchio.
Slow-roasted pork was another star of the menu, oozing with freshness on a bed of creamed corn and topped with halved cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, and paprika.
For dessert, we chose a souvenir from Mexico, hot cocoa with churros and horchata ice cream, and had to fight a little over the last morsel. All-American apple pie with added cheddar cheese and vanilla ice cream proved to be another crowd pleaser.
A 15-year-old Amoroso sherry from Spain provided a smooth finish to a great meal. All in all, there was not a single thing in our dinner I would’ve changed.
However, the menu is changing often—understandably so when you have not one but two creative artists in the kitchen oriented toward seasonal ingredients and daily market catch. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to Homestead as often as I can, not only to get this cozy feeling of being at home again but also for the sake of exploring the abundant culinary talent of its creators.
To enhance the wonderful array of scrumptious dishes, Homestead serves carefully chosen craft beers and international wines, such as a 2011 Favorita (of Sauvignon blanc kind) and a 2011 Barbera d’Alba, both from Italy.
Homestead is located at 4029 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, California. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. For more information and reservations call (510) 420-6962.