Good Taste: Occitania brings a new flavor to Oakland


Welcome back to Good Taste, your weekly menu of Bay Area treats and feasts. Today we share insights from a veteran of the local restaurant world.

Paul Canales has seen a lot of come and go in the Oakland restaurant scene. From 2000 to 2010, he was executive chef at the recently closed, 35-year-old Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, when he opened his own Spanish restaurant, Duende.

Canales recently invited me to dinner at his new restaurant, Occitania, which opened June 1st at the new Kissel Uptown Oakland Hotel on Broadway, just half a mile from Duende on 19th Street. As I sat enjoying the chilled atmosphere, high ceilings and dishes inspired by the south of France and the Basque Country, where Canale’s father is from, I felt excited as if I were in an elegant restaurant that lives in any busy city in the world could world.

Salade Occitania: lettuce with moutarde violet vinaigrette and fine herbs

It’s still pretty quiet out on Broadway, though, and that made me wonder what Canales thinks will happen to the hospitality industry in this area in the next few years. I emailed him some questions as soon as I got home and digested. Not only are his answers of interest to guests, he also provides some good advice for potential food companies considering opening in Oakland.

48 HILLS What is the current scene in the East Bay and Bay Area for French restaurants in general, and what do you think will happen in the near future? Here in SF we have seen Jardiniere and La Folie closed in recent years, even before the pandemic, but gained the One65 empire.

PAUL CANALES The only real French restaurant in the East Bay that I know of is the Reve Bistro. I only had dinner there once and had a very nice experience. Very classic and as you would expect from a “French bistro” in the US. I have no idea what the future of French food will be like. When we opened Duende there were no Spanish Basque restaurants in the East Bay, and there aren’t any today. However, after our opening in 2013, several others have opened in SF!

Steak fries in Occitania

48H Is Uptown Oakland Still Pretty Quiet? What do you think will happen in the region in the next few years?

personal computer I can’t speak for the entire uptown borough as there are several micro-districts within uptown. The area that Duende is in has always been pretty quiet unless there’s a show at the Fox or Paramount. However, the bars do get busy at night and Duende has always been a popular dining destination. There just isn’t much foot traffic driven by retail and other services.

Occitania is in a completely different area. With the Oakland YMCA and all the development surrounding the Beehive, there’s a lot more activity during the day and night independent of events in the area. But that is by no means a guarantee of success, as the closure of Brown Sugar Kitchen shows.

I don’t have a crystal ball into the future, but continued development will help consolidate the gains made in Uptown. Developing the empty field/space across 19th Street from the Fox Theater will be crucial. This is earmarked for development, including a boutique hotel, but nothing has happened in several years — apparently the ball is in the hands of the City of Oakland. not particularly encouraging.

There’s a vibrant eating and drinking scene that continues to grow and expand uptown, but I think sustainability will only come with increased housing density and a vibrant retail economy. And then there’s COVID, and it’s really hurt businesses, and not just uptown. I think we’d all like to think it’s over, but it’s far from over.

Occitania fried oysters with grilled txistorra sausage and fried shishito

48H What are your early favorites from your opening menu?

personal computer Menu items are like kids – it’s impossible to pick a favorite as each one is unique and special!

48H Do you have any advice for people looking to open restaurants or grocery stores in Oakland? is it a good time

personal computer It depends on so many things! Firstly, I would say that you really need to think hard about the concept – do we need it and is it compelling? Second, adequate funding is crucial. Many food companies fail due to poor capitalization. Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, is location. Very few grocery stores have managed to open in remote areas, so careful consideration should be given to location.

Read more thoughts on food on Tamara’s website Food in California.


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