BayWolf Restaurant is located in Oakland on bustling Piedmont Avenue which is lined with restaurants, pubs, and an eclectic assortment of East Bay shops. The residential area which surrounds Piedmont Avenue is a comfortable mix of large, older homes, and newer residences that have been developed with an eye for interesting details. Parking for BayWolf may be found on these residential streets and the short walk to the restaurant is pleasant. Should street parking elude you, there is also a parking lot nearby on the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Yosemite.
BayWolf Restaurant just celebrated its 34th anniversary and continues to exhibit the innovative cooking and constant creativity that enable a restaurant to achieve thirty-four successful years in a seriously competitive dining community. Michael Wild and his partners opened BayWolf in 1975 with the intention of serving the best quality local ingredients using thoughtful and new combinations served by a well-trained and professional staff. The roots of the Bay Wolf cuisine were generated by Wild’s Russian and German parents and their love of authentic home cooking. The family lived in Wild’s birthplace of Paris which, along with Wild’s travel through Italy and the Mediterranean, colors the cuisine of BayWolf. While the restaurant has been in business for quite a while, their constantly evolving, ever changing cooking style will ensure a fresh dining experience for years to come.
BayWolf faces Piedmont Avenue in an older, renovated wood-shingled house. From the sidewalk you will walk up a short flight of stairs to what used to be a wrap-around outdoor porch. The porch has been enclosed and heaters installed to make this a comfortable year-round dining space. You walk through this area and through double-doors into the reception room. A four-person standing-only bar is located at the back of the hostess stand. This is the busy hub of the restaurant where guests are greeted with a genuine smile and then escorted to one of the dining rooms or back out into the large screened porch.
As my dining companion and I were led to our table we were both struck by the innovative interior of the restaurant. All the walls in the restaurant are used as a gallery for a very contemporary collection of art, one piece of which is being drawn directly onto the walls as an ongoing installation by a local artist. The traditional wainscoting is stained soft sea foam green and the walls above the wainscoting are painted in alternating soft yellow and goldenrod blocks. A low partition divides the left side of the dining room into smaller spaces; hanging over the partition is a modern mobile-type sculpture that is unexpected, but fits the elegant atmosphere of the restaurant. The modern art and the wall treatments are in direct juxtaposition to the age and details of the house itself and made us wonder what other delightful surprises might be in store for us at BayWolf. Dinner guests were nicely yet casually dressed and they all seemed comfortable and relaxed. The white tablecloths reflected the glow of the candle on each table and it seemed, from the conversations going on around us, that the guests were interested in good food, travel, and cooking. They were also eagerly anticipating whatever the BayWolf kitchen was offering that evening. The menu changes monthly to offer local, seasonal produce through the growing season. At BayWolf, they believe that Bay Area sourced organic produce, meats, poultry, and fish should be considered standard ingredients for preparing good meals and they have rejected calling “fresh and sustainable” a restaurant concept. The BayWolf concept focuses on a California interpretation of classic European/Mediterranean cooking with a fondness for duck dishes.
As we sat at our table, we were promptly greeted by our waiter who presented us with BayWolf’s current dinner menu for the month, and the wine list. Wines are offered by the glass, half bottle, and by the bottle at BayWolf. The list is edited to two pages and features Champagnes as well as French and Californian white wines. Red wines are offered from Italy, Spain, and California. In addition, there is a selection of dessert wines on the dessert menu card. The BayWolf corkage fee policy ($18) is unique: if you buy a bottle of wine you can bring a bottle of wine and they will waive the corkage fee.
After we had ordered and sipped our wine, we started to relax and realized that one of the reasons we were enjoying ourselves so thoroughly was because we could hear each other speak. The acoustic ceiling tile, well-spaced tables, and carpet go a long way at BayWolf to mute the bustling restaurant noise and create a very relaxing environment.
Looking at the menu, my companion was very eager to try one of the famed BayWolf duck dishes, making his selection process easier than mine. It is a concise menu, but everything is so appealing, it was hard to make a choice. Even though BayWolf changes its menu monthly, the Duck Liver Flan is a customer favorite and it stays on the menu year-round. The traditional definition of flan is a dessert tart with a custard type, so it’s an interesting selection to turn into an appetizer. The BayWolf flan has been masterfully created, and fulfills the custard requirement by containing duck livers with cream and eggs to form a savory flan that’s also seasoned with wine, peppercorns, and herbs. It is served with a grilled and sliced baguette, cornichons, and an olive assortment. The flan itself is smooth like silk and the flavor of the duck livers is delicate and sophisticated.
We also started with a half order of Goat Cheese Filled Ravioli topped with beets, sharp tasting greens, nuts, and some crème fraiche. The ravioli pasta was light, transparent, and cooked expertly. The goat cheese stood up to the beets and nut topping assertively and the combination was delicious as well as comforting. It is interesting to note how BayWolf reworks recipes over time. At an earlier date the beets, green, nuts and crème fraiche were served over fettuccine but the fettuccine was replaced with the Ravioli and another innovative dish emerged. The result of these culinary creations exhibits the creative skill that is put into each plate that comes out of the BayWolf kitchen.
Coq au Vin is never to be ignored as an entrée. In the hands of the kitchen staff at BayWolf, this French classic arrived in an entirely new way. The complex aroma of the wine-based sauce arrived at our table just a second before the chicken appeared. And while the smell was familiar and comforting the BayWolf version of Coq au Vin is unlike any I have ever had. There were the traditional accompaniments of carrots, marble-sized potatoes, onions, and mushrooms, to be sure. But it appeared that the chicken itself was roasted with these vegetables, while the sauce was prepared separately and then combined with the chicken and vegetables only when they were ready to be served. The chicken was flavorful and tender, the taste of each vegetable was deliciously concentrated, and the sauce was rich and smooth. This is a new take on the preparation of Coq au Vin for me, and it is totally delicious!
My companion was having an All-Duck evening and his eyes lit up when the Duck Breast with Duck Confit was placed before him. He had requested the duck breast medium rare and was thrilled when medium-rare was how it was served. The tender breast was served on a bed of green lentils and the combination was mouth watering. To make the confit, cooked duck meat was wrapped in cabbage leaves to form a small purse. It was served with fresh green onions which were an unusual but great addition to the duck breast itself. BayWolf has a great reputation for their duck and it is evident that they enjoy preparing it many different ways.
We continued to sip, talk, and relax until our dessert, the Chocolate Soufflé Cake arrived. This is a somewhat crumbly chocolate cake served with chocolate sauce and a crème anglaise that had been infused with the scent and soft flavor of Earl Grey tea. It was decadent and the two sauces complimented the cake so well that all we could say was “Yum.”
BayWolf has been a Bay Area icon for over 34 years. It is a wonderful place for celebrating family milestones and it is perfect for a romantic dinner for two. The professional staff is there, the diner feels, to facilitate the selection and serving of a well-planned and sophisticated meal “without extravagance or pretension”, to quote the patron saint of BayWolf, Elizabeth David. The food is delicious, prepared from a fresh perspective, and so honestly good it is easy to see why Bay Wolf has become a legend.