skull opened on an upswing in Oakland, bringing a tasty menu of Mexican food and craftsmanship with an emphasis on Oaxaca. The restaurant, which was open to the public on the weekend, is a love work by partners Chris Pastena (Lungomare) and Jessica Sackler (Flirty, Oyamel) and Miguel Iglesias (Coqueta, Oyamel), is in new mixed use development The beehive.
cook Christian Irabien ‘A colorful ode to Mexico’s food and traditions, the menu is primarily focused on the Oaxaca region, although it is originally from Chihuahua, MX. The cook who was with before Jose Andres’ Oyamel In Washington, DC, many traditional cooking methods come to the fore. This includes a specially made wood-fired grill and plancha, as well as ingredients like huitlacoche and chapulinas (grasshoppers). The tortillas are a special pride made from heirloom corn from Anson Mills, which the Calavera team transforms into masa every day through the process of nixtamlization (which involves soaking the corn in lime and grinding it into masa). A sedated tortillera is provided that shapes each tortilla by hand before cooking it on the plancha. “We are one of the few who are making this effort,” said Irabien. “But you can really taste the difference.”
With that in mind, the menu includes a lot of hard-to-duplicate details, such as the chapulinas that were hand-eaten from an agave plantation in Oaxaca. The locusts are cleaned, sun-dried, roasted with chilli and lime and sent straight to Calavera, where they decorate the guacamole and appear on the menu. Other dishes include ceviches made from super-fresh, locally caught fish, treated almost like sushi, thinly sliced and marinated to order, as well as Irabia’s complex 35-ingredient mole sauce. (The full menu can be found here.)
There are more striking details on the drinks side, including an extensive wine list from wine director Jessica Sackler (an anomaly found in many Mexican restaurants). Expect a wide variety of Rieslings (both dry and dry), as well as wines from Mexico, Europe, and California. There is also a selection of wines from Mexican-American producers based in Sonoma and Napa, an often overlooked part of the wine country’s heritage. And in the cocktail zone, a range of boldly flavored beverages await you with ingredients like passion fruit, ginger and chilli, as well as a selection of oaxacan salts with guajillo chilli, ground agave worms and chapulina added. The bar, run by Michael Iglesias, also has over 150 bottles of mezcals and tequilas, many of which are hard to find.
The living space was designed by Oakland architects Arcsinetogether with the Calavera team. In the 18-foot-high ceilings of the former industrial building is a sculpture of local Mexican-American welders with hand-carved wooden hummingbirds hanging from it, as well as hand-made lights by artist Louise Mann. A leather-covered bar features traditional patterns and complements colorful handcrafted tiles and wooden shelves designed to mimic the “cantina walls” found in Mexico. Colorful Oaxacan folk art sculptures called alebrijes are scattered all over the place. And while the weather can’t compete with Mexico, an outdoor deck studded with lights makes the sunnier East Bay weather optimal.
The restaurant is now open for dinner seven days a week and has the following hours: Monday through Thursday from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm; Friday-Saturday from 5.30pm to 11pm and Sunday from 5.30pm to 10pm, lunch and breakfast will be at the party for the next few months.