A toast to Dana

Dana King has made the transition from TV star to successful artist.  Last night was the opening of her first solo show at the Thelma Harris Gallery in Oakland.

Her work is largely figurative sculpture, but there were paintings as well.  She spoke for a few minutes to the large crowd jamming the gallery, talking about the meanings of her work:

Dana is every bit as gorgeous as she was in her TV days.

Dana is every bit as gorgeous as she was in her TV days.

She had one particular sculpture that Gail couldn’t resist–after the show it’s coming home to live with us.

Prison, by Dana King

Twenty Years to Life, by Dana King

You read so much about stuck-up, entitled, self-centered celebrities that it’s an incredible pleasure to know someone as open and pleasant and unassuming as Dana.  Damn good artist, too.

After the gallery, we trooped to the other end of the block on College Avenue to the new, hot restaurant Toast, for an excellent dinner.

The bar area, with a big sign in case you are confused.

The bar area, with a big sign in case you are confused.

We had a reservation for 8:30, but there were 8 of us and Toast only has one table for 8.  And the people who had it weren’t leaving.  We grabbed a table in the bar, ordered drinks and waited.

The house was very attentive and concerned.  They bought us a round of drinks and kept us informed about their attempts to get things moving.  Eventually, I think they bribed the people holding on to our table with more drinks if they would move to the bar and let us eat, which worked, so we went into the other room.

The sign in the other room.  You know where you are in this restaurant.

The sign in the other room. You know where you are in this restaurant.

The 8 of us at dinner

The 8 of us at dinner

The menu is the usual modern California assortment–some appetizers, some small plates, some large plates.  All fresh and local, yada yada yada.  The decor is modern casual, with interesting stainless steel tables and a row of booths like an old time diner.

We started with three orders of the apple-brandy spiked chicken liver pate on toast.  Each order gave us two small rounds of toast topped with an excellent pate, although I don’t think I noticed the apple brandy.  At $4 apiece, this is a deal and a great way to start off.

I had the soup:

If Jackson Pollock was a chef.

If Jackson Pollock was a chef.

This was a puree of red lentils, with yogurt, paprika oil and mint. Excellent, and just the thing for a rapidly cooling evening.

Gail chose a small plate–the meatballs.

A very large small plate

A very large small plate

These are spicy pork meatballs.  For a “small” plate, this was quite a filling dish.  The arugula helps lighten the meal as well as improve the presentation.

Not being a small plate kind of guy, I had the large plate of scallops:

Scallops, beans, cauliflower and wild nettle pesto.

Scallops, beans, cauliflower and wild nettle pesto.

This dish had perfectly seared scallops, roasted cauliflower and cranberry beans, which is all well and good and tasty, but the interesting part was the wild nettle pesto.

1) “Pesto” is a sauce that is pounded in a pestle (the word comes from pestare, to pound)  These days you use a food processor, not a mortar and pestle, but it’s the same thing.  We tend to think of it only with basil, but you can smoosh up other things to make a pesto, too.

2) They don’t call them stinging nettles for nothing–the tiny spikes on a nettle plant exude formic acid, the stuff stinging ants sting with.  But it turn out that boiling them removes the acid and wilts the spike and makes the plant very edible.

The pesto is intensely green, and slightly tangy.  An intriguing addition to the dish, if only I knew where to buy nettles.  The menu lists these as wild, but I don’t see me out foraging.

Bob had the chicken.  Every place serves chicken.  This one looked pretty good:

Chicken.  Veggies.  Dinner.

Chicken. Veggies. Dinner.

We didn’t sit down to eat until 9; it was now after 10.  Nobody wanted dessert.  The staff were cleaning the joint up.  It was time to go.

The bill for 8 of us, including tip, was $400, fifty clams apiece.  A very reasonable price for a very good dinner.

Toast is pretty hot these days, you’ll want to make a reservation on opentable.  Get there early, walk down to the north end of the block, go up the stair and check out the Thelma Harris Gallery.  Nothing like art and food to make a perfect evening.

Toast on Urbanspoon

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