"Alameda residents swear by this lovely little no-pretense bistro where they can enjoy a consistently good Cal-Med meal and friendly service without crossing a bridge; it's a rare night when not every table is filled with fans of the generous portions that add up to a real value."
Back to top
Best Overall Restaurant, Best Chef, Best Vegetarian Dish, Best Wine List.
John Thiel is a master of Cal-Med cooking and uses his 4-year-old restaurant for his own brand of gourmet home-style cooking where simplicity and inventiveness shine. A local guy, Thiel is a California Culinary Academytrained chef and caterer with stints at Bay Wolf and Delfina behind him, and his bistro — fortuitously anchoring the mid section of the burgeoning theater district — puts seasonal and local produce, cheeses, meat, fish and poultry front and center.
Vegetarians this summer found Thiel pairing Ratto Farms watermelon with feta and mint, mixed baby lettuces with Cypress Grove goat cheese and summer squash strata with Pecorino cheese and sautéed greens. Fall will no doubt bring additional delights. Thiel’s way with Liberty Ranch duck, Creekstone Farms beef and Hobbs bacon is memorable, too. Enophiles will enjoy his far-reaching wine list: Travel north to the Anderson Valley, south to Santa Barbara County, east to Calaveras County, or west to the Sonoma Coast. Or forget California altogether and instead sip varietals from Italy, Spain, France or Germany.
Back to top
by Martha Levinson
Modern, rustic, and warm describe Pappo, Alameda's nod to fine dining Cal-Med style. A wooden banquette stretches the length of the restaurant and provides seating for polished wood tables; corks line the wall behind the wine bar and pendant lights cast a gentle glow against exposed brick. The menu is equally ambient with locally grown and sustainably raised choices that reflect the changing seasons. For autumn, starters include butternut squash and fuji apple soup with pecan dust and sage mascarpone, and a fritto misto plate of fresh calamari with anchovie stuffed olives, topped with rosemary aioli. Regular diners request that entrees like braised Liberty Ranch duck legs with polenta pancetta and wilted escarole or grilled ribeye steak with crisp garlic herb fries and gorgonzola butter stay on the menu regardless of the time of year.
Dessert choices like fallen chocolate souffle or warm bananna bread pudding will tip you off to the realization that there's a pro in the kitchen. Chef John Thiel, formerly of Bay Wolf, has joined the growing group of high-profile cooks who return to their hometowns to share their talent and good eats.
Back to top
By Johnathan Kauffman, Nov 30, 2005
Daniel Patterson meant to shock Bay Area foodies, and he did. The San Francisco chef wrote a rant about California cuisine for the November 6 issue of T, the style magazine of The New York Times, titled "To the Moon, Alice?" Patterson is a brilliant cook who made his name at Elisabeth Daniel and published his first cookbook, Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance, last year. His essay lauded Alice Waters' "beautiful revolution" but then argued that it had resulted in a junta. "So deeply embedded is the mythology of Chez Panisse in the DNA of local food culture," Patterson writes, "that it threatens to smother stylistic diversity and extinguish the creativity that it originally sought to spark."
Local foodies foamed at the mouth. I even got a few calls asking, in hushed tones, had I read this, and was I okay with it? The thing is, I mostly agree with Patterson. His core argument is that diners here brook no departure from our simple, seasonal cuisine, which he considers gussied-up home cooking. Patterson speaks from experience: He cut short his latest stint as executive chef at hotspot Frisson not long after my SF counterpart, Meredith Brody, noticed that the menu had been mysteriously dumbed down.
The world is arguably going through one of its most marvelous periods of culinary innovation. Some call the millennial style of cooking molecular gastronomy; others call it science-fair experiments. It's risky and kinda cool: In New York, WD-50's Wylie Dufresne tops a square of pureed oysters with olives and apples, and to their surprise, the critics rave. In Chicago, Alinea's Grant Achatz pairs bison with blueberries and the smoke of burning cinnamon sticks, and gastro-geeks sigh in delight. While at this moment in Berkeley, three dozen chefs are getting ready to serve watercress salad with roasted beets and goat cheese.
All Patterson is really asking is that Bay Area diners support some of this wild invention. Coincidentally enough, he's got a new restaurant opening up soon, and anyone who's heard me grumble that I haven't gotten to write about a single foam, vegetable sorbet, or freeze-dried anything should know I'll be making a reservation.
But several things did rankle me about his essay. One was that he issued his charge in the Times, not a local publication, and you could just smell the New Yorkers' self-satisfaction. The other quibble revealed itself as I finished up my first meal at Pappo, the best restaurant to open in Alameda this year. I dined there on simple dishes such as mixed greens with apples and walnuts, and leg of lamb with wild-mushroom bread pudding. It was a meal with no surprises, but many delights -- and you probably wouldn't eat this sort of food prepared this well anywhere else in the country.
ike it or not, the Bay Area has a style, which is becoming as distinct as Southern or New England cuisines. Like theirs, ours is a pastiche of other culinary traditions. But unlike older regions, ours is a top-down cuisine, incubated in restaurant kitchens and spread through cookbooks and markets into homes. The spread is hardly complete, as you'll increasingly observe as you drive inland. And down-to-earth cities like Alameda still need places like Pappo, where they can get unstinting, true California cuisine.
Though Pappo is only two months old, locals filled its dining room on both my visits. This is gratifying to chef and owner John Thiel, who opened the restaurant with sweat, labor, and credit cards. A CCA-trained chef who has cooked at Bay Wolf, Thiel managed the front of house at Delfina and ran his own catering company. When his parents moved from Oakland to Alameda, he noted that the island lacked for bistros. He eventually took over the old Skylight Cafe and took ten weeks to update the building. In the East Bay right now, that means pulling down the drywall to expose the brick, and installing sturdy wooden chairs and banquettes. Pappo now looks like a former stable or machine shop, casually attractive, with overhead lighting that's clean, albeit a few shades too bright for romance.
Back to top
By Karola Saekel, Feb 8, 2006
If you like the food and the atmosphere at Pappo, tell John Thiel. If there is something in the experience that displeases you, tell John Thiel. That's because Pappo, a 4-month-old restaurant in the heart of Alameda, is essentially a one-man show. Thiel created the restaurant in the space of the defunct Skylight Cafe. He creates the menus and crafts the eclectic list of European and West Coast wines and beers, and he is both chef and No. 1 host. He's the sole owner, so there is no one to share the credit, the blame or the bills. The room is utterly unpretentious yet inviting, with an exposed brick wall on one side and bright local artwork on the other. Polished dark wood tables with small votive lights and comfortable ladder-back chairs add up to a homey feeling, in character with what Thiel calls "home-style gourmet" food.
Thanks where it's due Thiel credits Oakland's Bay Wolf, where he was the lunch chef for three years, and its owner, Michael Wild, with his culinary orientation: food that's simply prepared and artfully paired, highly seasonal and, whenever possible, sustainably grown or raised. This translates into a compact menu of seven starters, six entrees, a couple of side dishes and five desserts. The mid-winter menu, which is served until the day after Valentine's, offers a rich cream of mushroom soup ($6) with herb croutons. It's comforting, although the tarragon oil drizzled over the soup almost obscured the earthy mushroom flavor on one visit. The other warm starter is a well-executed, intensely lemony fritto misto ($10.50) of calamari, Meyer lemons and anchovy-stuffed olives with rosemary aioli. On the lighter side, arugula-blood orange salad with fennel, Gorgonzola and candied pecans ($8.75) hits all the right, bright notes. A cold antipasto plate ($11.25) with two kinds of meat, fried provolone, cornichons and grilled bread offered good taste and texture contrasts, though it was rather small. In fact, the size of servings can be puzzling. On the first of three visits, my juicy, tender pork chop ($17.75) with fingerling potatoes, roasted pear and a mustard jus that pulled it all together was so generous that I took part of it home. Small but succulent Yet the cassoulet ($17.25) ordered by one of my companions certainly left room for dessert. The dish had the expected robust flavor, but the duck leg was slender and the fennel-scented sausage was small.
The same was true of our vegetarian friend's delicious deconstructed wild mushroom lasagna ($16.50), which consisted of three stacked pasta rectangles with a fine ricotta-kabocha squash filling, drizzled with truffle oil. The size made it seem like a starter rather than a main course. Grilled mahi mahi ($18.75) with caramelized fennel and crispy potatoes was attractively paired with blood oranges and olives, but would have benefited from a moist topping to the fish. Lamb seems to be a constant. One time it came braised North African-style with couscous, fennel, olives and carrots ($18.25). Another night, a Colorado lamb sirloin ($18.25) with mushroom bread pudding, pancetta and Brussels sprouts made excellent winter fare. Big is better Both these dishes were large enough for sturdy appetites, as was another night's flat-iron steak ($21), the assertive flavor of the medium-rare natural beef (from Creekstone Farm) nicely offset by Gorgonzola butter. Our server at that dinner either didn't know the wine list well or was disinclined to make a recommendation; that was disappointing compared to previous dinners where waiters were eager to make suggestions and were generally more attentive. It wasn't that she was rude, but on a slow mid-week night, the "everything all right?" seemed perfunctory and the pacing slower than seemed necessary.
However, the Pappogato ($6.50) we ordered for dessert -- two scoops of rich ice cream in a bowl with a little pitcher of Thomas Kemper root beer -- was worth the inexplicably long. It's not as sophisticated as the thin apple tart ($6.50) I had on another visit, or as indulgent as the classically executed creme brulee ($7), but how could what is essentially a root beer float not appeal to the kid in all of us?
Back to top
"Our Birthday party of ten had a wonderful time at Pappo--great food and outstanding service. Two of us usually have Sunday dinner at Pappo and we have never been disappointed by either the food or the service. Note to the Restaurant: Thanks to all at Pappo for making my birthday dinner on November 8th a memorable occasion. You guys ROCK!" (11/09)
"We went here for our 5th anniversary. We had the best waitress we have ever had anywhere ever!! The food was outstanding, the Tuna Tartar was so flavorful and fresh. We will dine here again for sure!! Thanks for making this is such a wonderful evening for us!" (11/09)
"Pappo is a favorite Alameda restaurant. It's directly across from the Alameda Theater and in a wonderfully vibrant and changing neighborhood. The food is excellent and the servers are knowledgeable and friendly. We must get here more often!" (11/09)
Back to top