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One-to-watch chef and restaurateur Nelson German of Oakland’s alaMar Kitchen & Bar has just opened his highly anticipated Uptown lounge, Sobre Mesa, and it’s already breathing new energy into what used to be The Payback.
At a ribbon cutting and preview party Wednesday night, Oakland-based Brazilian band Namorados Da Lua played hip-swiveling tunes as German hosted high-profile friends like restaurateur Tanya Holland and rapper Mista F.A.B. with signature drinks and seasonal tapas from the menu, which is inspired by the flavors of the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
If you love rum, consider this your new spot. Sobre Mesa, which officially opened to the public Thursday, focuses on refined tropical drinks made with small production rums plus mezcal, cachaca and bourbon. Here’s a first look:
THE VIBE: Swanky island bar. Structurally, not much has changed inside since The Payback days. The bar still features black subway tiles, big mirrors, globe-like lighting and lots of plants. But there’s a distinctly fresh Caribbean vibe now, starting with a huge fern wall mural.
When you first enter, you’ll find a plant-dotted lounge with sofas, cocktail tables and a dedicated bartender. It’s open to walk-ins for drinks and a limited tapas menu. Walk a bit farther in and you’ll hit the full-service “dining room,” which consists of two camel-hued leather banquettes that are reservation-only. Forgot to make a rezzie? You can sit at the striking black marble-top bar, which has white, soft-as-butter leather chairs and also offers the full tapas menu.
THE FOOD: Latin American-inspired tapas made using fresh, local ingredients. From the menu’s Tapitas ($7), select Truffle Patatas, a spin on patatas bravas, spiced with chipotle, oregano, lime and a smoky guava barbecue sauce. They’re delectable. Among La Isla ($9), which are bites dedicated to the islands, we loved the Stuffed Platano Madura, four sweet plantain bites stuffed with Impossible Meat, manzanilla olives and salsa criolla with a dab of Meyer lemon romesco.
Peri Peri Petite Wings, from the protein-dominated La Mesa ($12) part of the menu, will satisfy — but don’t expect heat. Instead of the bird’s eye chile commonly used in fiery peri peri preprations, German uses sweet peppers (and a touch of serrano) before braising the wings for 2 1/2 hours and pan-frying them in duck fat. Yes, still tasty.
DON’T MISS: The drinks, of course. Sobre Mesa’s beverage program is comprehensive, featuring tropical classics ($12-$14), including a mai tai; spirit-forward cocktails ($12-$14) like the Blanche Devereaux, made with spiced rum, coconut-oil washed over-proof rum, bitter grenadine, passion fruit, yuzu shrub and lemon; shareable punches ($40-$60); and a shot called The Birdcage ($14) with seven spirits in it. No joke.
Our Caribe Colada ($12) had three kinds of rum, including a proprietary blend crafted with Berkeley’s Mosswood Distillers. It was balanced but may feel boozy to rum newbies. Best to come with a bread base. Oh wait, German thought of that, too. House Bread Bites, a tapita, comes with yummy braised chicken butter and smoked sea salt. Staying sobre? Try one of three non-alcoholic libations, like the cinammon-y Havana Soda ($6).
PERFECT FOR … Rum aficionados. Or a serious cocktail and tapas before walking to a show at the Fox Theater. Or partying to an epic house playlist of up-tempo Latin music.
DETAILS: Reservations required for dining room. Open from 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (until 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday) at 1618 Franklin St., in Oakland, a few blocks from 19th Street BART. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. daily; www.sobremesaoak.comFor more food and drink coverage
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