This Hot Oakland Pop-Up Makes the High-End Tasting Menu Accessible
Chefs Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor, both former painters, serve stunningly intricate cooking at Abstract Table, where they reinvent the menu every season.
Developing a menu can be one of the most painstaking parts of opening a restaurant, not to mention the most pivotal to its success. But chefs Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor like a challenge. When launching their permanent Oakland “pop-up” Abstract Table, which serves five- and seven-course meals on Friday and Saturday nights, they decided to introduce an entirely new menu each season.
“The challenge with developing a new tasting menu every three months simply comes down to cohesion and achieving that,” Greene says. Not only do the courses in each menu he and Kwitkor create have to make sense together, but the duo also strives to weave common threads into every season’s offerings, emphasizing Japanese influences, fresh fish, and artful plating.
Take their third menu since they opened Abstract Table in October, titled “Atolls.” As the restaurant’s website states, an atoll is both a “ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon” and an invitation to “leave winter behind and escape to the tropics” through food. The menu is a riotous showcase of sea life — oyster, scallop, squid, shrimp, and octopus — with wild boar belly and braised goat also slotted into starring roles.
The delicate sea bean salad course, the third in the seven-course lineup, is an unexpected knockout among these heavier hitters. The brininess of the sea beans, which aren’t beans but the fleshy stems and branches of seacoast plants, is counterbalanced by the natural sugars of fresh guava and pineapple. A chili-yuzu vinaigrette lends a touch of piquancy, while a lightly sweet, razor-thin black sesame wafer laid across the dish adds crunch.
Other standouts include the wild boar belly with mango-nectar poached carrot, jackfruit kimchi, and plantain puree, as well as the dessert course. The chefs could not have devised a more on-theme (or delicious) finisher than the Hawaiian cinnamon buckwheat cake with white chocolate-lime mousse, finger lime, and appealingly grainy chili sesame “sand.” The beverage program features sake, beer, and wine. (The wine arrives in mason jars, in line with Abstract Table’s fine-dining-in-a-casual-package concept.)
“Our passion for Japanese food lies with the idea of respecting each ingredient and utilizing it to its fullest potential,” Greene explains of his and Kwitkor’s culinary approach. The pair cooks with a focus on both flavor and presentation, not surprising considering their backgrounds as painters: They first met while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute. “Having been fine artists for the latter part of our lives has given us the ability to visually conceptualize food and how it’s going to look on a surface,” Greene says. “The colors, shapes and textures are not unlike the colors, shapes and textures one can create with paint.”
Greene and Kwitkor also have an eye to making their interpretation of fine dining accessible, from cost to ambiance. Their menus are priced in the $50 to $70 range, and the restaurant’s atmosphere is best described as casual. Set inside The Gastropig, a brunch best known for its “#Baconslut” breakfast sandwich, Abstract Table features cement floors, communal seating, and a rock-centric playlist piped in at a volume that allows for easy conversation. It’s clear that when choosing which of the typical hallmarks of an upscale eating experience to incorporate, the chefs kept the focus on the plate. “We want our diners to always enjoy their journey and really soak in the love that we put into these meals,” Greene says.
Thanks to Abstract Table’s rotating menu, the restaurant has a fresh shot at winning over guests every three months.
“Our next menu concept will be based on our love for street food around the world, blending these cultural techniques and flavors in each dish,” Greene says. “Thorough Fare” debuts on Friday, June 21. Wherever Greene and Kwitkor are finding inspiration, reinvention is their theme.
Abstract Table, 2123 Franklin Street, Oakland, 415.754.9845.