The coiled end of a tentacle, the perfect curve of a suction cup: these are examples of the troubling geometry that cephalopods pose on a plate. Disguising them with an Italian name and a dunk in marinara is the Olive Garden way, a road frequently traveled. You don’t see the severed limbs of a squid inside a deep-fried dredging of flour and spice. A simple sauté, however, assumes the great risk of rubbery flesh and the presentation of the naked thing itself.
But at Parlour in Uptown Oakland (Italian cuisine by way of California), they’ve named the dish Spanish Octopus ($15) and there isn’t a trace of breading around.
This particular octopus is cooked down to a deep purple, complemented by black olives, purslane, an eggless aioli and tender fingerling potatoes cut lengthwise. Summer Squash ($7) arrived in a cast iron skillet filled with the creamiest green and yellow pattypans, roasted to a near perfect char and dusted with a light snow of ricotta salata. This is the correct way to honor vegetables in season.
Crisp, sweet pieces of pancetta were set adrift inside the Chitarra Carbonara ($16), with an expected egg yolk ready to ooze off the summit. Sadly, the pasta, shaped like guitar strings, had the unfortunate consistency and chew of wet, flavorless ramen. Pappardelle with Early Girl Tomato ($15) might have been a tastier bet to wager on, a sure thing like the Margherita pizza ($16) with tomato, basil, burrata, and parmesan. That good, thin crust had bubbled and blistered in the wood-fired oven, inspiring the selfish thought, “Must this be shared?”
For dessert, there were several sorbets and gelati ($3 each) to choose from. The espresso gelato — flavored with whiskey and dotted with bittersweet espresso beans (so close to the taste of cocoa nibs!) — was the hands-down winner over the crème fraîche, which left a soured-milk aftertaste that even an aniseed biscotti couldn’t combat.
The Parlour menu, waitstaff and atmosphere are clear, confident and comfortable, respectively, and perhaps interchangeably, but the owners have yet to figure out who their returning and regular diners will be. A forced jollity blasts through the speakers at This Is Spinal Tap’s decibel level 11, which sentences the intimacy of a romantic dinner, or a long overdue meal out with a friend, into exile. Why alienate the art of conversation in a restaurant’s public space? If a Bach piano sonata landed on the playlist from time to time, are fits and tantrums anticipated? To paraphrase the late President Reagan, “Turn down this volume!”
Parlour, 357 19th St., Oakland, 510-451-1357