When we eat out together, a friend of mine regularly announces his aversion to green, watery vegetables. His palate is offended, most of all, by cucumber and celery. When he grabbed the serving spoon to scoop up another helping of Daytrip’s thinly sliced celery salad ($12), I raised an eyebrow. With a splash of habanero chili oil and some Sardinian sheep’s cheese, Chef Finn Stern had won him over. I could have eaten the entire, refreshing plate alone in my kitchen after midnight or on a romantic summer picnic.
Stern’s menu is a complicated read that comes across as fussy and highfalutin. There’s at least one ingredient in every item that some diners might be baffled by if they don’t have a culinary pocket guide handy. For example, the first ingredient listed for the celery salad is a lemon verbena chlorophyll. The language center in my brain mistakenly associates chlorophyll with chloroform, that anesthetic made infamous in melodramatic TV movies. But chlorophyll is actually an antioxidant, the green pigment in plants that’s used as a health supplement.
I didn’t detect that amplification of greenness in the dish. Amidst the celery crunch, I tasted the habanero heat coupled with cooling bits of cheese. As Stern executes the dishes, the menu turns out to be fanciful rather than fancy. A tomato and Berkshire bacon toast ($16) looks elegant on the plate but is also hearty. The bread is house-baked and that night was described as a sprouted farro loaf. As it’s cut into quarters, everyone at the table had a couple of corners. We also split a bunch of spinach leaves ($13), the stems still connected. Instead of wilting it, the delicious bunch was lightly sautéed with garlic, lemon, fish sauce and chili.
Daytrip is self-described as a “party restaurant and bottle shop” serving up shared plates. Alongside Shuggie’s Trash Pie + Natural Wine in San Francisco, Daytrip’s aesthetic approach is determined to summon up the vibrant, clashing colors of the late 1960s and early 1970s. When I was a kid, some homes I visited had proudly installed bold, deliberately contrasting colors of shag carpet in every room. That vibe is finding its footing again in the Bay Area. Music, conversation and clinking glasses erase any trace of minimalism. White tablecloths and cloth napkins are not on trend.
Daytrip’s general manager, co-owner and Chef Stern’s wife Stella Dennig said that the décor evolved during a process of trial and error. “Whether or not it’s easy to put it to words, there’s clearly a vibe when you walk into our space,” Dennig said. She and Stern’s initial mood boards looked extremely different from the end result. Dennig explained that the process of putting the restaurant together was piecemeal, one step at a time. And, apart from some help from friends and family, they did the work themselves. They started with the paint colors. The walls are pink and black. Next came the yellow chairs. “It was a very organic, iterative process.” They’d pause at various points, look at the overall effect and then allow the space to evolve.
But it was the designer Brijean Murphy who ultimately had a big footprint. Brijean created the Daytrip logo, designed the menus and is the artist of the rectangular painting that takes up an entire wall. “Those three things are the defining features of our space,” Dennig said. Centrally located in the Temescal District, Daytrip also has a parklet with sidewalk tables out front on a busy section of Telegraph Avenue.
Dennig admits that, as a concept, natural wine is pretty blurry and means different things to different people. They’ve chosen to serve wines from small farmers who are “farming in regenerative ways that are good for the future of this world.” Since they take this approach to the products and ingredients they buy for their food menu, it follows that the wine too wouldn’t come from businesses with toxic business practices. And it tastes good. She added, “As with anything, the better it’s farmed, there’s a higher possibility to create unique and delicious products.”
Daytrip, open Wed, Thurs and Sun 5-9pm, Fri and Sat 5-9:30pm. “Nitetrip” bar open Tues 5-9pm. 4316 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. @this.is.daytrip. thisisdaytrip.com