Oakland typically gets a lot of negative press, but increasingly it is being hailed as Brooklyn West for the food culture, art scene, and music outlets. Located just across the bay for SF, it’s also becoming a more affordable locale given the sky-high housing costs in SF and the Peninsula.
In March, Sheila and I, along with our friend Chuck and Shawni decided to make the BART ride over to check out Oakland’s “First Friday”, a street, art, and food festival along Telegraph Ave. We had made reservations at Mua, a sprawling 6,500 SF loft space that is part bar, art gallery, dance club, and restaurant. It’s hipster heaven, with exposed ducts, oversized abstract paintings, light installations, and a DJ booth spinning the latest tunes.
The brainchild of a Korean-American artist, Mua has an energy all it’s own. The menu is an eclectic mix of comfort foods with an Asian twist and tons of vegetarian options. The service was efficient but a bit slow which was expected since the restaurant was filled to the brim on this First Friday. After perusing the menu, we decided to order a few small plates and a couple of entrees to share family style.
Kimchi mung bean pancakes – The pan fried cakes were golden brown crispy and had the consistency of shredded squash or zucchini. This was a good dish, but not memorable. Across the board, we couldn’t taste the kimchi and expected a bit more heat. Also it would have been nice to have a sweet/sour dipping sauce.
Brussels Sprouts in Brown Butter – The sautéed sprouts with brown butter were fresh and light. They were cooked well and had good flavor. We’ve had similar dishes before and would put this on par with the rest.
Burrata with portobello mushroom, sweet pepper, squash and balsamic – A good touch was that the veggies were roasted which added a bit of sweetness. The burrata was pull apart soft and the balsamic had an acidity to cut through the richness. This is one dish that we would order again.
Mac-n-cheese with butternut squash and cream – This was delicious and our favorite dish of the night. We would have never known it was vegan as the squash and cream added great flavor. This was the dish we couldn’t just eat one bite of and wish it came as an entrée rather than a small plate. We would definitely order it again.
Vegetable ragout with couscous, kale pesto, wild rice, green lentil, and root veggies – The couscous was cooked slight al dente and the ragout had a nicely developed Asian flavor. Each component was placed around the plate and ranged from sweet, to salty, to sour, to rich. I was expecting it to be fully integrated so that flavors could seep in across the components.
CBQ burger with aioli, and fries - Made with chickpea, bulgur, and quinoa, this burger was really good. A hearty dish and quite a large patty I don’t think any of us would have been able to finish it on our own. The bun was lightly toasted and the aioli has a nice tart and creamy flavor. My only complaint was that the burger was very delicate and came apart rather easily. The accompanying shoestring fries, were addicting in their own right. We would order this again.
Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream – There was a good sweetness to tartness ratio. There was a nice consistency with the oats, warm apples, and cooked down raisins. The ice cream was rich and creamy. This dish was quite large and could be shared by two people quite easily.
Pineapple upside down cake with coconut gelato – It had a strong caramel flavor, cake was moist, and pineapple was fresh. However the real star was the coconut gelato. Sheila commented that she would order this on its own if given the chance.
We all agreed that if we were in the area, we would certainly return the Mua. However it’s tough to say when we’ll be back given the wonderful food scene that exists in SF. I guess it’s no different than what Manhattanites say about leaving the island to go to Brooklyn. Nevertheless, Mua receives a solid 7.5 out of 10.