Dine About Oakland: MuaNovember 22, 2008
To kick off my winter project of hitting up all the new restaurants, we had dinner at Mua last night. It’s a great space, and an exciting addition to Auto Row. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, though, you may miss it altogether—and in a few months, that may be a good thing! Mua is tucked into the plaza at Broadway and Webster near 24th Street where the new martial arts studio Soja and Bay Area Bikes are located (and where Cafe Noir will be). We knew where to look for it and still walked right past the first time—right now it’s marked by an overhead roll-up door that has “Mua” graffitied onto it, highlighted by a big spotlight. Once you walk through the door, though, the scene transforms.
The place has a very Uptown vibe: it’s loud and they like it that way. Michael Jackson’s greatest hits echoed off of the concrete floors, and as ten o’clock approached, staff began stacking up the tables and chairs in half of the restaurant, presumably to create a dance floor. It’s housed in an old warehouse—it might have been a car dealer or an auto shop; neither of us could remember. It’s been gussied up with a schmancy bar and various wall hangings (and a lot of mirrors!), but retains a very industrial feel. Above us, Miyazaki films ran silently on the walls, and large graffiti art hung against the back wall. We were there on a Friday night, and I was somewhat surprised to find the place about two thirds full. It’s new and off the beaten track, after all, so I have to think this bodes well for it.
The Mua menu reminds me a lot of Wood Tavern and Luka’s, which is a good thing, since they’re two of my favorites. It’s high quality food—good, sustainable ingredients; creative combinations—but simple at heart. You can get a good burger with fries. There’s fried chicken and cornbread. But like Luka’s and Wood, it’s simple food taken up one giant notch. And like those spots, you can go in and get a gourmet burger and a beer for under $15, or you can have a four-course meal with schmancy wine or cocktails and spend waaaay more than that. It’s a nice balance.
We tasted an endive salad with fennel, persimmons, pomegranates, almonds, and raddichio; sautéed chanterelles on crostini with goat cheese; a burger with bleu cheese and fries; and a caramel pear tart to top it off. I also tried the strawberry ginger lemonade cocktail with Alameda-made Hangar One vodka (I know, I know—but it was good!), while D. stuck to North Coast’s Scrimshaw, one of the two local beers on tap. (They have a long list of others by the bottle, including a healthy selection of Belgian brews.) We didn’t explore the wine (and sake) list this visit, but it’s quite lengthy and at quick glance included some solid California options, the first thing we look for.
All of our food was tasty. The salad was the least exciting and could have used a bit of a kick, but the crostini were exceptional. The burger was excellent as well; not quite up to Wood’s gold standard, but on par with Luka’s, which is saying a lot. The crispy fries passed with flying colors, though I prefer the accompanying condiments at Wood and Luka’s—these just came with a tray of fairly standard ketchup. (Apparently the side of fries does come with a house aioli, though, so maybe they’ll start including this with the burger, too.) One standout feature of the burger was its distinctive char-grilled taste, something I’ve never noticed elsewhere. Yum! The pear tart, which turned out to be pears and walnuts in caramel sauce sitting on a shortbread crust with vanilla ice cream, was good but not amazing. (“Too many nuts, not enough pears,” D. noted, “but not bad.”) They had some other interesting sounding desserts too, though (D. wondered, could we order just the top half of the pumpkin crème brûlée??) so there’s lots of potential there.
I’ve never been to Soizic, so I can’t compare the two, though D. was there many years ago and remembers liking both food and vibe there a bit better. I’m guessing the owners were going for a different scene here, though. In general, it’s a good one, though Mua may not be the right choice for a heart-to-heart or a first date. The service was excellent as well. The only thing that really bugged us was the bamboo table, which was so lightweight that it kept rocking and sliding as we ate. (After we saw the stacking of the tables and chairs begin midway through the meal, though, we caught on to why they would choose such lightweight furniture!) Not sure what the solution to this is—maybe they can weight down the base in some way? There’s also a large communal table a la Camino that looked like it wouldn’t have that problem.
Bottom line: this is good food in a great location (for us, at least!) It’s exciting to have an excellent restaurant within walking distance. I like Wood Tavern’s quieter mood a bit better, but that’s just me—and quite honestly, we will probably end up spending more time at Mua anyway for the simple reason that it’s walkable. If you love Luka’s and the energy there on weekends, you’ll love Mua too. It’s the next big thing. They’re also open for lunch, and on Mondays Oakland artists get 25 percent off—not a bad deal! There’s parking on the plaza in front of the restaurant, but it’s also very close to 19th Street BART and is right on the 51 bus route. You can easily walk from Uptown or the lake. Go check it out!