Sunday, May 18, 2014


Oakland, May 12, 2014 (but written May 18)—
ALREADY NEARLY A WEEK since we assembled, last Monday, in this fine Oakland restaurant! I plead three excuses: first, I've been unusually preoccupied with other matters. Next, the dinner didn't seem to me to come quite together, and it's difficult to discuss this, as I really like and admire the restaurant and its chef, and don't want to suggest it's anything but a destination of merit.

And finally, the occasion itself was bittersweet, emotional, and dispiriting to a degree — which no doubt affected my response to the food, and affects my thinking and writing about it.

We were gathered, a dozen or so of us, at a farewell dinner for a very dear friend, a Berkeley woman we've known for many years, who is leaving her beloved home for Seattle, where she'll be living in a setting better adjusted to her present needs — but devoid of the comforts and surroundings that have been at the center of her life these last fifty years.

It's a thing many of us face, and I take some solace with Cicero:
…life comes to its best end when, with mind unimpaired and senses intact, nature herself breaks up the fabric to which she first gave form and order. Now in every case, things freshly put together are hard to pull apart; things that have gotten old come to pieces with ease.

—Cicero, On Old Age, tr. Frank O. Copley
It is of course not easy to give full rein to the sensual delights of dinner while thinking such thoughts, the more so when that first subsidiary clause of Cicero's is, well, not completely pertinent in the present case. So it's a tribute to Russ and his restaurant that the meal was as delightful and interesting as it was.

It began — we needed a drink — with a Hanky Panky, a favorite of ours (I write here for Cook as well as myself): equal parts gin and bittersweet Italian vermouth; a healthy slug of Fernet Branca; shake with ice and strain. And then at table I had the plate you see here, of whose details I now recall only the lightest possible brandade croquettes and a fine aïoli. Stupid me, not to have kept the menu at hand, or to have written about this earlier!

IMG_2481.jpgIt was "Kebab Monday," a feature of the month of May, and I went on — indeed most of us did — to this Tunisian-inspired lamb entrée: kebabs of cubed lamb and lamb not-merguez-sausage, made in house of course, with peas and parsley and flatbread and plenty of flavor.

I had in fact not ordered well: the two courses did not complement one another, nor were they intended to. But each was delicious on its own terms, and Lindsey's panna cotta was smooth and rich and fragrant. It's not extravagant to say the same of the conversation: it was rather an overwhelming night.

• Camino, 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland, California; 510-547-5035

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