“Hospitality” on the Waterfront in Oakland
More dining options have been possible with all the cultural, racial/ethnic and economic changes Oakland has been going through in the last few years. In the past, Arabic cuisine was not an option. Today, we have an Arabic restaurant located at the waterfront at Jack London Square. What used to be “Haven” is now hospitality “Dyafa.” I’ve been to Dyafa (hospitality in Arabic) only once and have been day dreaming about the food especially the kenafeh (a semi-sweet cheese dessert).
I wasn’t hungry when I went to Dyafa but that was perfectly fine because the dishes we ordered with the exception of dessert were light. Between two people we ordered the mutabbal (eggplant) ($11), mana’eesh bread topped with za’atar (a blend of dried savory herbs) and olive oil ($6), and the zidbiyit gambari (shrimp dish) ($19). Everything was delightful and we ate it up like we were starving – it was that good. We ate the bread by itself and also used it to scoop up the eggplant.
As suggested by our waiter, we did not order pita bread since we were already getting the mana’eesh. I’m glad we listened to him.
When the zidbiyit gambari (shrimp) came, the dish looked very pretty (it was the reason I ordered it). The yellow chickpeas sparsely sprinkled across the dark clay dish were a nice addition to the dish. At the bottom of the clay dish was a thin layer of tomato based sauce which made the dish what it was. The dish looked picture perfect and it was also very tasty. The dish had the perfect amount of acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes which I love. The shrimp were cooked perfectly too. I have no dish to compare it to but it faintly reminds me of Shakshuka.
One negative thing I can say about this dish was that it could have used a few more shrimp or even chickpeas. The entire dish was very tiny. It’s a hot “shared dish” but I definitely couldn’t and didn’t want to share it but I had to. Luckily, my dinner companion let me eat 4 of the 5 shrimp. Six or eight pieces of shrimp would have been nice for the price of $19. However, I know restaurants are trying to cut cost. Adding more chickpeas wouldn’t have costs much but I guess the dish wouldn’t be as pretty. I’m not sure how others eat the dish, but I ate it with a spoon. I made sure I had a shrimp, chickpeas and sauce in one large mouthful.
Overall, despite the slightly high price, I would go back to Dyafa but only for a special occasion or if my company is paying for it (which they did!).
During our team building dinner, I started with a Dark–Skinned Nightingale ($13) which is maybe thee best cocktail I’ve had in Oakland. It consisted of Coruba Jamaica Rum, Medjool date, almond, coconut and egg white. It was a smooth creamy drink almost like a pina colada but so much better and much more sophisticated. The cocktail wasn’t too sweet, you couldn’t taste the rum (but can feel it), and the coconut wasn’t too overwhelming. The egg white froth was done to a perfection. I should have asked who the bar tender was! Excellent bartenders are hard to find!
For bites, we shared the mutabbal (eggplant), mana’eesh bread topped with za’atar and olive oil, and the hummus kawarma ($16) with the spiced lamb on the side since my two co-workers are vegetarians. We also ordered the za’atar chickpea pancake ($3) which looked very plain but smelled very good. It was good, but wasn’t very memorable.
For the main course we had four dishes to pick from. One of them was a vegetarian dish (maklouba – $26) which both of my co-workers shared with the advice of our beautiful and helpful waitress. I ordered a chicken dish called muskahan ($28) which is sumac-spiced chicken confit just for myself. My waitress warned me that the muskahan is a big dish but I told her, “I’ll finish it. I eat a lot.” Boy, did I have to eat my words. The dish was enormous and would’ve fed the three of us if we all ate meat. I ate one or two pieces of chicken and took the rest home. My co-workers shared the maklouba, the dish is absolutely photo worthy. The crispy potatoes were pretty much potato chips. Needless to say, none of us finished our main course. Since each dish feeds about 2 to 3 people, I think the price is right. I would definitely go back any day and share a main dish.
Initially, we were planning to get all three desserts but were too full, so we shared the kenafeh. The kenafeh is a baked dessert consisting of (cow) cheese curd with shredded phyllo, orange blossom, pistachio and apricot or cherry (fruit changes).* It comes in a clay bowl and looks picture perfect and resembled shredded coconut to me. Pictured is the one apricot. Our waitress called it a “cheese cake,” but it’s far from a cheese cake. Overall, we had a great time at Dyafa and my suggestion to go there was praised. Service was fabulous, food was great and the ambience was great too. I hope Dyafa is here to stay.
44 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607