Top Chef contestant and restauranteur Nelson German offers a rich cultural heritage on the plate and in the glass in Oakland.
The Chan Chan cocktail at Sobre Mesa in Oakland
With its deep, emerald-green walls, buttery caramel leather booths and flourishes of plant life, both real and painted, Sobre Mesa appears as an Afro-Latino mirage in the heart of downtown Oakland. Central to the lush space is a long, L-shaped bar with a range of colorful concoctions lining the illuminated glass shelves behind it. But the real star of Sobre Mesa is what gets served on the plates and in your glasses—all of which reflect the restaurant’s vibrant design.
The restaurant is the brainchild of executive chef and owner Nelson German, who also oversees Oakland’s popular seafood restaurant alaMar Kitchen & Bar. The Top Chef Season 18 contestant pays homage to his Dominican roots by sharing the rich, cultural stories of the African and Caribbean diasporas through cultural foodways at both restaurants. After a temporary closure due to the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place, the restaurant officially reopened last year and has been in full swing since. In fact, the restaurant has new offerings for 2022.
“We’re launching a new cocktail club in March, which gives guests the opportunity to subscribe and become members of unique cocktail parties featuring rare spirits that you can’t find in stores,” says German. “You can meet the makers or an ambassador and participate in tastings and pairings. This gives people the chance to mix and mingle and be part of an exclusive party, like being in a book or wine club.”
Sobre Mesa and alaMar Kitchen & Bar chef and owner Nelson German
Behind the bar, German says he and his team are working on interactive cocktail experiences, including a new guest series featuring mixologists from across the country looking to represent their stories and specialty cocktails.
Of course, not everything is new. German says there are clear menu favorites that aren’t going anywhere. “People love the smoked cocktails,” says German. “I plan to go deeper into West African ingredients and dishes, while still representing my Peruvian side. These are some of the changes to the menu I’ll be making, but we have our staples, our big sellers that will remain, of course.”
The ever-popular smoked cocktails at Sobre Mesa.
Not to be missed on the tapas menu: steak suya empanadas (Oaxaca cheese, steak suya, two-year-aged cheddar, salsa brava), roasted stuffed ripe plantain (avocado, Impossible Meat ragu, olive, soy chorizo), and gambas al ajillo (Gulf shrimp, garlic confit, nit’ir qibe spiced butter, house bread). New to the menu: hushpuppies with plantains served with mojo sauce, goat cheese fritters served with beets, and tossed arugula and arancini with cod served with pickled pearled onions.
The colorful bar at Sobre Mesa sets the tone for an adventurous culinary evening.
Just a few blocks away, German reopened alaMar Kitchen & Bar, bringing back menu favorites like the seafood boil (available with four seafood options: peel-and-eat shrimp, whole Alaskan snow crab, whole Dungeness crab and Salt Spring mussels) and seafood family feast (one whole Dungeness crab, two whole Caribbean lobster tails, head-on shrimp, mussels, snow crab leg clusters, Yukon Gold potatoes, Brentwood corn and andouille pork sausage).
“For 2022 at alaMar, I want people to feel like they’re traveling to the coast of France, eating shrimp with a great sauce and bread,” says German. “Come eat delicious seafood with your hands, get messy and have a blast while watching Warriors games.” 1618 Franklin St., Oakland, 510.858.7544
Photography by: PHOTOS BY THOMAS KUOH/COURTESY OF SOBRE MESA