Farm to table cuisine is as ubiquitous in the Bay Area as overpriced apartments and stunning vistas—it's so intrinsic to our culture that it's part of our DNA and, like those magical views, it never grows tired.
But it isn't every day that a local farmer actually opens a restaurant; even Alice Waters wasn't growing her own French radishes when she opened Chez Panisse. That's what makes the story behind Oakland's newest produce-driven restaurant so sweet: Pomet, which means "orchard," is owned by the grower herself.
Black-and-white photos of K&J Orchards celebrate the restaurant's farmer-owned pedigree.(Aomboon Deasy)
Aomboon Deasy is a second-generation farmer and the owner of K&J Orchards, which will be familiar to farmers market shoppers Bay Area–wide as well as to our most notable chefs: When Deasy's parents (a registered nurse and pomology professor) got the farm up and running in the early 1980s, The French Laundry was one of their earliest clients. K&J quickly became one of the largest and most trusted fruit and nut suppliers in the region.
Oaklanders who've dined at the Piedmont Avenue restaurant Homestead in the past decade have already gotten a taste of the produce from K&J, a longtime supplier, which is carrying on the tradition of seasonal Californian fare at now-closed Homestead's former address.
But don't expect Deasy to be doing the cooking. She's hired a legitimate executive chef for that: Alan Hsu, who hails New York's farm-to-table darling Blue Hill at Stone Barns and San Francisco's three-Michelin-starred Benu.
Housed in a building designed by the famed architect Julia Morgan, Pomet retains much of Homestead's original charm: the brick exterior and interior accent wall, large windows, and an open-concept copper-clad kitchen. But Deasy has added touches of her own, including caramel leather chairs set around butcher-block tables and black-and-white photographs of the orchards hung on navy blue walls. Copper light fixtures add a warm glow to the cozy 50-seater space, which manages to feel airy despite its small size thanks to the high ceilings and windows.
The menu? It doesn't get fresher or more local than this.
"Pomet is a seasonal and product-driven restaurant, and the menu reflects what is available at the farm and what has been preserved from previous seasons," Chef Hsu says. "The inspiration is the opportunity to represent the people raising and growing amazing products in the greater Bay Area, and the multitudes of cultures and backgrounds that thrive here."
Hsu's own background at Asian-inflected Benu comes through in whispers here, as in the starters of sashimi-style cured Bodega rockfish with thinly sliced fermented radish and Shin Li Asian pear with kohlrabi, bitter greens, and pomegranate. Additional small plates on our visit included roasted asparagus atop sesame puree with dollops of emulsified egg yolk squeezed from an icing piping bag; and triple-cooked (boiled, fried, then grilled) Zuckerman potatoes with buttermilk ranch dressing.
The entrees represent a little bit of everything, from smoked Half Moon Bay black cod with sunchoke to Liberty duck with sweet potatoes. The presentation of an aged Stemple Creek Ranch short rib is as impressive as the meat's melt-in-your-mouth texture and taste.
Vegetarians will also find options, including our favorite dish of the night: the "ugly" mushroom–filled pasta, so called for the "cosmetically challenged" fungi in play. "They still taste great and are useful," says Hsu, explaining that Pomet also aims to "reduce loss" and "make sure farmers can still make money on food that isn’t up to a visual standard." The pasta, similar in shape to an agnolotti, is dressed in honey-nut miso butter from Shared Cultures. It's a little sweet, a little salty, and very much savory, a dish that our server swore even mushroom haters will love.
As the parade of all-caps vendor names on Pomet's menu attest, the restaurant is intentional about where it source its ingredients, and sustainability practices are top of mind.
"We choose to source from our neighbors and highlight the work they do in the field on our plates, so our guests can taste the difference between soil-focused agriculture," Hsu says, citing the integrity of Tomales-based Stemple Creek's soil-raised cattle and sheep. "From the sea and rivers, we source local and abundant seafood with minimally invasive fishing techniques with our purveyors Monterey Seafood and TwoXSea."
Another respected Bay Area name is responsible for Pomet's approachable wine list: The Morris owner and sommelier Paul Einbund (previously of Frances and Coi), consulted on a curation of 15 wines that can all be ordered by the glass or bottle. There are also a handful of local craft beers, the odd sake, and a seasonal offering of low-ABV and non-alcoholic drinks.
So how's the farmer holding up in the restaurant world?
"I knew farming was difficult enough and to dive into a restaurant project—insane!" says Deasy. "Running a restaurant for the first time has been interesting, exciting, exhausting"...and rewarding. "The reward I get to see and feel at the end of the day is the expression of people's joy that the meal was simply delicious, and the satisfaction that the team feels when their work is completed."
// Pomet is open for dinner both indoors and out, Wednesdays through Sundays; 4029 Piedmont Ave. (Oakland), pomet-oakland.com.
Pomet executive chef Alan Hsu.(Aomboon Deasy)