At lunch on a muggy afternoon just 10 days in, we chose the lofty dining room over the extremely tempting patio with port view. There are lots of dishes on the menu, including raw bar offerings of halibut ceviche ($9), Dungeness crab deviled eggs with chipotle aioli ($9), black bean soup ($7), and burnt carrot and arugula salad with avocado vinaigrette ($9).But we felt carnivorous, as well as corny. We tried beef tenderloin crudo ($8), tender rosy raw beef, oiled and topped with crunchy jicama and carrot strips, bitingly hot minced rocoto peppers, and fat fried capers. Two crisp little empanadas ($5) were stuffed with smoky sautéed mushrooms and sweet corn kernels, dressed with a bit of lime crema.
Three fat-rimmed strips of chewy, flavorful Mishima Ranch short-rib steak ($16), served charred rare as requested, were draped atop a fruity and assertive, happily undersweetened pineapple ancho salsa. And Brentwood corn ($6) was grilled, slicked with lime butter, and flecked with parsley. Everything was tasty, but no single dish made us sit up.We didn't have room for dessert, but admired the look of cream-cheese flan ($8) in its fancy wrapped presentation, served with organic huckleberries, strawberries, and candied grapefruit and rose petals, served to a neighboring table.
We would have enjoyed our cucumber gimlet more if we didn't remember with every precious sip that it cost $13 (cocktails range from $10 to $14). There are bargains to be had on the wine list, which features Spanish and Portuguese wines as well as North and South American ones.
And there were service mishaps that can turn a hot meal lukewarm -- dishes not appearing in the order requested, toted by servers with no idea which one of three side-by-side tables they were intended for. The boxed-up remains of grilled steak never made it back to our table -- we had to mount an intervention. But those are gaffes you have to overlook in a restaurant still finding its legs. And Bocanova's setting -- its bayside location and glamorous room -- is swell, and the menu intriguing. We'll give the place another whirl.
Bocanova 55 Webster (at Jack London Square), Oakland, (510) 444-1233